301. Pray Anything

(originally aired February 9, 2003)
This isn’t exactly a startling conclusion, but it seems over the last five seasons or so, characters have become much lesser versions of themselves, more caricatured and toothless. I refer to them as “neutered,” because it feels like a core element of some of these beloved regulars has been taken out, leaving them with a large emptiness… by which I mean their testicles. Homer’s slight sense of decency and humility has been lost, but replaced with a rampant sense of entitlement and assholery, but even more devastating is what’s happened to Marge. Once the voice of reason, and Homer’s guiding light through the world, it seems that Marge is content with standing on the sidelines while her husband either does something incredibly reckless and life-endangering, or something deplorable and selfish. Marge is a nagger, remember? One of her core character traits? Though it’s hardly nagging for her to speak up about some of the crazy shit Homer’s done, this episode being one of the most awful of his exploits.

This show as a whole is kind of strange, I felt like I got what it was going for, but the way it was handled was so unfocused and sloppy, it just didn’t read correctly. But anyway, it starts almost as a reverse of “Viva Ned Flanders” (what good news!) where Homer inquires as to why Flanders lives such a good and lucky life. He eventually concludes that prayer is the answer, and proceeds to pray for incredibly minor items that coincidentally come true, like finding the TV remote or coming up with a new delicious snack treat. There’s no real plot to speak of yet, and already Homer is kind of being a selfish jerk, but don’t worry, he gets better. Homer somehow ends up falling in a small hole on church property, and with the help of a lawyer appearing out of thin air, decides he’s going to sue the church. This is apparently to pay for repairs to his own house, which was presented in the last scene as a gag, not an actual concern for Homer. For reasons that escape me, Marge is mostly silent through the rest of the episode, popping in every now and again to meekly ask Homer reconsider his horrible actions, which of course he doesn’t. Get the fuck out of here, Marge, you’re ruining my good time being an inconsiderate dick! Aren’t I a likeable main character?

So Homer wins, somehow, to the tune of one million dollars, for some reason, and Lovejoy, not having that kind of money, must give up the deed to the church. And apparently the Lovejoys live in there, so they’re forced to move out. Homer shows absolutely no remorse or any kind of feeling toward anything he’s done, and proceeds to live in the church rather than make repairs for the house. He heartlessly kicks out an AA meeting from the building, and in its place starts up a multi-day hedonistic bash, with food, drink and debauchery. It’s obvious what the intent is here, with Lovejoy gone, Springfield becomes God-less, making the former church almost like a modern-day Sodom, with drinking, gambling and worshiping false idols. Many regulars participate in this, and it makes you feel all the worse for them. I know many citizens of Springfield are disgusting, shameless slobs, but this is stooping to such a sorry low. And Homer’s the ringleader here, making it even more uncomfortable. So eventually there’s a flood that drives everyone to the church roof, Lovejoy shows up on a helicopter for no fucking reason to pray for God’s forgiveness, causing the rain to stop. Then rather than have an actual ending, we have Lisa to give a bullshit explanation for how the impossible stuff we just witnessed could happen. Except it makes no sense. I feel I’d be more pissed at this episode if it actually felt competently made, but it wasn’t clicking for me it all. The whole twenty minutes just kind of washed over me, and when it was over, it was over. What a glowing review, huh?

Tidbits and Quotes
– Tell me if this sounds like natural Bart dialogue to you (“Check out Janeane Giraffe-alo!” “That’s Fung Pang Li, the seven-foot sensation from Sichaun.” “Sichaun, eh? No wonder she’s so spicy!”) Then he growls. What the fuck? Then Homer wonders what it would be like to be with a woman that large. But you were, don’t you remember last week when your wife was burly and muscular? What happened is that you were raped.
– The WNBA is a very boring setpiece, with the only gags coming from “they’re women, and they’re playing basketball!” Their mascot is a sexy basketball with legs (revealed to be Gil, which Moe keeps trying to court, a gag that goes on and on and onnnn…), then we get a look at the WNFL, whose logo is a football sitting at a hairdresser’s. Because that’s what ladies do, amiright?!
– Guest star Lisa Leslie (another worthless celebrity appearance) is incredulous about Flanders actually watching sports, so he responds with a funny list (“Speed-walking, ballroom dancing, rhythmic gymnastics, extreme choir…”) Here we have neutered Flanders. Remember in the past when Ned was actually like a guy, who enjoyed football, could lose his temper from time to time, and enjoy some of the artificial splendors in life? Now he’s just a lame, Bible-thumping wuss pushing to an unbelievable degree, making him less of a character and more of a caricature, like many characters nowadays.
– Flanders’ good luck cuts Homer too deep when he’s allowed to drive home in the Wienermobile (“It’s not fair! I’ve always wanted to drive a food-shaped car!” “The steering wheel is a giant onion ring!” “They thought of everything!”)
– I feel like this story of Homer abusing the power of prayer could have worked, like in the third act something actually horrible happens and Homer has to work his way out of it himself, with the message being God can’t solve all your problems, and sometimes you have to be willing to put up or shut up yourself. But no, let’s have a flood instead.
– Homer announces he’s going to sue the church, one of the most horrible ideas he’s ever had. What is Marge’s reaction? “You can’t sue the church! They’ll poke fun at us in the church bulletin!” That’s her immediate thinking process. Every line doesn’t have to be a joke, especially when it’s a lousy one.
– The trial zips by like a bullet train. The Blue-Haired Lawyer shows a video displaying how Homer is naturally accident prone, which cracks up the jury, who then immediately finds the church guilty. What? Also Homer is in a leg cast in the courtroom, then the next scene at the church his leg is fine. So was it all phony? Like “Bart Gets Hit By a Car” phony bandages? I guess so. Man, what a flaming asshole. The third act may be the worst he’s ever been, actions-wise, but he drifts through the episode in such a fog that it’s hard to be mad at him, for some reason. Though I was extremely pleased when he gets struck in the mouth by lightning, somehow. He really had it fucking coming.
– “Got two of every animal. But only males, I don’t want any hanky-panky.” I fucking hate this line. Why would Ned do this? I feel like a fucking moron having to explain this, but God commanded two of every creature be put on the ark so they could recreate, so Ned reformatting this for his bizarro anti-sexual self, he’s decrying God’s law. Does that sound like Ned to you?
– The ending is so horrible. Lovejoy literally appears with no explanation or reason, and causes the rain to stop. Then Lisa feebly explains what happened, even though it makes even less sense than the flood in “Mom and Pop Art,” which was a big enough stretch as it was.

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16 responses to “301. Pray Anything

  1. “I feel like a fucking moron having to explain this, but God commanded two of every creature be put on the ark so they could recreate, so Ned reformatting this for his bizarro anti-sexual self, he’s decrying God’s law. Does that sound like Ned to you?”

    “Why me, Lord? Where have I gone wrong? I’ve always been nice to people! I don’t drink or dance or swear! I’ve even kept kosher just to be on the safe side! I’ve done everything the Bible says; even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff! What more could I do?”

    [To be fair, it’s a gay joke. If there’s two of only male animals they are going to just fuck each other. At least that’s what I took away from it.]

    • No, the “joke” is Flanders feels the need to prevent animals from having sex. I guess because animals can’t get married so there’s no way they can do it that isn’t “sinful.”

  2. Man I read your thought wrong, and I can’t edit! It’s pretty egregious that Ned would think to improve on a bible story. For a minute i was like “Well he’s trying to incorporate… something” and trailed off mentally. Ned is pretty bible thumping. but he knows what’s in it. He’s got two kids for christ sake. Ah fuck it the whole thing is too dumb.

  3. I keep forgetting this episode exists. It’s utterly pointless, and nothing meaningful happens. I really wish the classic era writers had struck upon the idea of Homer praying to get ahead in life, because you’re right, that concept is rife with comedic possibilities. But instead we get monkey figure skating, Flanders’ same-sex ark, and Lovejoy sermonizing from a bowling alley. What the fuck is this?

  4. Lousy episode, for the reasons you listed. And don’t worry; there’s plenty more character destruction for Ned and Marge in the coming seasons.

    Off the top of my head, the only bit I like is Lovejoy trying (and failing, due to the noise) to preach in the bowling alley.

    Trivia: The lawyer who approaches Homer is based on a real lawyer in the L.A. area: Larry H. Parker. His motto is “We’ll FIGHT for you. Se habla espanol.” It’s a funny joke if you live in L.A. (I lived there for a few months, so I saw his commercials all the time), but for those outside of L.A., this is yet another “insider” joke that falls flat, such as the teamsters jokes.

  5. I do have a question about the show; at this point, was the writing staff filled with former stand-up comedians? Because a lot of the dialogue you print, that seems so stilted and unnatural, sounds like something that might come from a stand-up comedian. Bart and Marge all of a sudden throwing quips around, for instance. Stand-up comedians aren’t, you know, writers and therefore don’t know how to write natural dialogue, they only know how to throw jokes around and make observations.

    • I think the writers found it was a lot easier to write stale punchlines and hackneyed jokes than it was to write actual believable dialogue. That’s basically all the show is now: what were once characters are now sad, empty shells, their souls replaced by “joke” machines.

      • This wouldn’t even be terrible (IMHO) except so often the jokes are bad. So we get character derailment and hollow plots and not nearly enough humor to make up for it.

    • [QUOTE]I do have a question about the show; at this point, was the writing staff filled with former stand-up comedians?[/QUOTE]

      Well, Dana Gould wrote some episodes, but other than that, it was pretty much the same people, only their idea of what’s funny for the show was going into hacky new directions.

  6. That was a really, really well-written analysis of this episode. Nice work. Also, can’t believe you’re already at 301 (!). Fatigue setting in yet?

  7. forbidden donut

    This feels like a shitty, preachy version of Homer the Heretic. It’s so unpleasant to see the characters behaving like this. While Homer the Heretic is in my top 5, this is probably in my bottom 5.

  8. This was so wrong. Flanders breaking down and crying over Reverend Lovejoy leaving, and hosting sermons in a bowling alley. Why didn’t all this happen in Flanders’ house. And why of all people did Flanders not get mad at Homer. Homer did pretty sacreligious stuff, yet nobody really minds.

    And why didn’t the Rev let the mob punish Homer, especially if Homer has become a demon now 😦

    Very very bad. I do wonder if this is what Homer the Heretic had become if Al Jean was in charge in 1994

  9. ‘Homer wonders what it would be like to be with a woman that large. But you were, don’t you remember last week when your wife was burly and muscular? What happened is that you were raped.’

    Oh lordy that made me laugh. Your writing, not the scene itself, obviously.

  10. Roger Meyers, Jr.

    Remember when Marge told Homer that even though she loved him, she would chose her faith over him? Yeah I miss the fourth season too!

  11. I agree that Marge is neutered in later years. She definitely just kinda lets Homer do whatever at any cost to the family. Maybe the Brad Goodman Something-or-Other worked too well. After all, didn’t she go there because she was worried about her chronic nagging

    nagging

    nagging

    nagging

    nagging

    *Boom*

    sorry, it does that

    • Also, Lenny and Carl have the only lines in this episode I liked:

      “Covet some more chili fries?”
      and then Carl worshipping the old hunting trophy. “Man, I must be wasted.”

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