317. The Regina Monologues

(originally November 23, 2003)
I’ve touched on the de-evolution of travel episodes in the past, but just to quickly recap, what once were shows that revolved around a story that was present and made sense for the family to go overseas and contain some biting satire are now replaced with shows that just want to get from tired set piece to tired set piece utilizing the most bargain basement stereotypes imaginable. A premise, or God forbid a heart, is lingering there somewhere, but both are pretty much abandoned the moment the family lands in Europe. But before that, our stupid ass first act, where Bart comes across a thousand dollar bill. What does he do with it? Start a museum in his treehouse, of course, the Museum of Modern Bart. The scene with Hibbert talking to Marge about joining the “Friends of Bart” program at the “gift shop” with MoMB shirts on the wall particularly struck me that this show has departed from any semblance of reality. Of course that line has already been crossed many a time and shit upon, and it’s something I really shouldn’t get so upset over anymore, but when the show feels it can just do anything regardless of its universe and whether it makes any sense, it just becomes groan-inducing, even when it comes to a dumb joke like that. The owner of the bill, Mr. Burns reclaims his lost currency, but Bart has made a good three thousand from the museum, and decides to spend it on Marge for a nice family vacation.

Why Great Britain? Grampa recalls having spent a wonderful night with an English girl before getting shipped off during World War II, so the Simpsons propose they go find her. They get to England, check in their hotel room, then Grampa is left behind. We don’t see him again until the very end of the episode, at which point we pathetically close off this “plot.” The moment Homer shuts that door, the episode is without a purpose, just jumping from tired bit after tired bit. New Britain is high tech and advanced, like James Bond! Fish and chips, effeminate rich fops, double decker buses… None of this is particularly funny or original, and it all acts as killing time before we can get to the stupidness of act three. Plus, pile on the guest stars! Tony Blair, J.K. Rowling, Ian McKellan… all of their scenes start exactly the same way: Lisa introduces them and says what they do, then some mild ribbing and off they go. Even the motherfucking Joe Millionaire guy gets a single line; I’d look up his name, but I really don’t give a shit.

Homer bursts through the gates of Buckingham Palace and rear-ends the Queen, getting him thrown in jail and facing a death sentence. It sounds serious, but the episode treats everything so callously and clumsily that it doesn’t even matter. The episode retains the same lame jokey tone from start to finish. Homer is being kept in the Tower of London for some fucking reason, then the rest of the family appears below his room at night, seemingly past all the guards, instructing him there’s a secret passage that will help him escape… right into the Queen’s bedroom. Homer bullshits his way out of trouble with the Queen and they all go home. But first we see that Grampa had an illegitimate child with his old flame and skedaddles. Whatever. The saddest parts of the episode revolve on the supposed “emotional” center, where Marge wishes for just one good family vacation, and Homer screws it up. “Itchy & Scratchy Land” this ain’t. Homer commits a heinous crime and is a loudmouth jackass in court, and Marge claims it’s partly her fault (“I’ve been nagging you so much on this trip, you couldn’t know which nags to focus on.”) Homer is an invincible asshole, always coming out on top with everyone loving him despite doing awful, awful, awful things. America embraces him, and now England does too. I’m so, so sorry, you guys.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Burns is a disoriented, weak pathetic old man, and Smithers is a homosexual. Those are their characters now. At this point I need to stop complaining, since nothing’s going to change from this point, but any time I see either of them on screen, I’m just really bummed out.
– The first act is basically terrible. Why the fuck are people like visiting Bart’s “museum”? Especially when it comes to folks like Krusty and Dr. Hibbert who I’m sure are very financially well-off. Between that and the aforementioned stupidity of the Museum of Modern Bart shit… it just sucks. We end the act with Homer standing at his gun cabinet that he apparently has deciding which to bring with him overseas. Because Homer is apparently a violent insane madman. I guess.
– I smirked at this bit with Grampa on the phone (“Did you spend an unforgettable night with a soldier from the US Army in 1944? You did? Was he from the first infantry division? He was? And was he a gentle, caring lover? He was? Sorry I bothered you…”)
– Marge mentions that she nagged Homer a lot during the trip. We get that in one scene, where she “nags” him about punching out three people on the street. Really, when did the writers decide it okay that Homer is impulsively violent and destructive like this? There’s nothing that excuses this kind of behavior.
– The sweets freakout is a horse of a different color, but just pales in comparison to the brilliant Squishee bender from “Boy Scoutz N the Hood.”
– The end of act two really doesn’t make any sense. They get caught in a roundabout, then Homer veers off across three lanes of traffic. Cut to Marge and the kids screaming. Homer smashes through the palace gates. Cut to Marge and the kids screaming again, the exact same animation. What, was Homer unable to hit the brakes during that long sequence? It just felt very clumsily directed.
– The only emotion I buy in this episode is Marge’s exasperation at her husband’s assholery (“Why did you let him be his own barrister?” “What difference could it make? He hit the frigging Queen!”) Of course next scene we see her apologize to Homer for some reason and everything’s right as rain, so it doesn’t matter.
– The Queen, who at the trial demanded Homer be locked up forever and ever, is swayed by Homer’s speech, which consists of calling Canada gay as swelling music plays in the background. She accepts in exchange of Homer returning Madonna to America, which he does so in a giant duffel bag. Then Grampa’s old lover shows up with a daughter that looks and acts just like Homer. The joke could not possibly be more obvious, but then we get this exchange (“This is my daughter, Abby. She’s fifty-eight years this month.” “Fifty-eight? Well, fifty-nine years ago, your mother and I were ha… oh.”) This episode fucking sucks.

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20 responses to “317. The Regina Monologues

  1. I did like the Abe joke (“He WAS??”) you mentioned above, and the Joe Millionaire joke is actually pretty clever if you’re at all familiar with The Cherry Orchard. And I love the delivery of “Yes, quite.” when the two gay British guys kiss.

    But yeah, this one’s pretty bad. Maybe not “Simpson Safari” awful, but definitely down there. Abe’s plot is just glossed over for wacky, meaningless Simpson family antics. The roundabout joke was much funnier in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”. And the third act was particularly egregious.

    And the guest stars, outside of the brief and clever Joe Millionaire spot, are some of the worst executed ever. Tony Blair just rattles off the famous stuff to see in the U.K. and rockets away; this is something The Simpsons would make fun of back in the day. J.K. Rowling has a throwaway joke that’s not really that funny. And the Ian McKellen scene just goes on and on, repeating the same joke over and over just to make sure we got it. See? Every time they say “MacBeth”, Ian gets bad luck! Get it???

  2. Also this was the last episode done by John Swartzwelder. How the mighty fallen.

    • Yeah, I’ve always wondered how Swartzwelder could possibily have written some of the absolute worst episodes of the whole show. His books clearly show he’s still funny, so my guess is either a) No one, not him, not Meyer, not anybody can possibly produce new, funny material about the same characters and setting after 15 years on air. b) Because he stopped attending rewrites due to the smoking ban, Scully and Jean ruined his scripts while he wasn’t there.

      And this episode is just fucking terrible. I wasn’t offended by it. Having Britain mocked by the Simpsons should have been hilarious. But it wasn’t. It was just the same, tired, cliched shit and random celebrities appearing on the street. Like they do. It’s like those Friends episodes. But that was fine. Because the focus was on an actual story. Here is just, nothing.

      • I always heard that “Written By” was just basically whoever came up with the original concept/draft/whatever. I’m sure the GOOD jokes are still Swartzwelder’s, and this concept isn’t the worst ever. But when just about every other writer/the showrunner/whoever has influence on the episode itself, the original concept/script/whatever will probably still turn out like this.

      • “I always heard that “Written By” was just basically whoever came up with the original concept/draft/whatever. I’m sure the GOOD jokes are still Swartzwelder’s, and this concept isn’t the worst ever. But when just about every other writer/the showrunner/whoever has influence on the episode itself, the original concept/script/whatever will probably still turn out like this.”

        Well, it depends on the era. From what I understand, even though there were still rewrites in the early days, there was more of the individual writer’s “thumbprint” present in the final draft. But I think over time, this was the case less and less of the time, to the point that credited writers were, like you said, mostly responsible for the main story outline and not necessarily for every single joke within.

        All you have to do is look at “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming”; Spike Feresten was credited for it, but apparently very little of his initial draft made it into the final show. They did -heavy- rewrites of that one. Now, that one came out great regardless. Which only makes me suspect that the writing staff was simply much better than they are now. I mean, Swartzwelder’s scripts from about season 6 (roughly when he stopped attending the writing sessions) through season 9 were all quite funny and well-plotted, but suddenly there was a big drop-off in quality after that. Hmm, I wonder why.

  3. Oh man, THIS episode. As a Brit myself, I was really looking forward to some great jokes and observations made at my country’s expense, but they did absolutely nothing with the setting at all – apart from spout one tired groan-inducing cliche after another.

    In fact, some of it is kind of insulting. Homer is sentenced to death, but the death penalty has been illegal in Britain since the 1950s. (And even if it wasn’t, people obviously wouldn’t be executed just for dangerous driving, even if they did hit the Queen.) It just doesn’t sit quite right for the US – a nation that still does execute criminals – to depict Britain as being so backward, even if just for a stupid joke. Though I admit I did smirk at the watermelon thing.

    Also, they reference the fact that Britain uses kilometres instead of miles – except it doesn’t. If any of the writers had actually visited Britain, they would find that *all* road signs use miles. I guess the idea that the UK uses metric units for some things and imperial units for others is just too difficult for the Simpsons writers to grasp.

    Really, the whole thing is just pointless and boring. They got the real prime minister to do a guest voice and they completely wasted him. The only part that got a laugh out of me was the sheer panic Marge displayed when driving onto a roundabout. I had no idea roundabouts were so uncommon in America, so the idea that a motorist would be petrified by such an ordinary road junction was pretty funny.

    • > In fact, some of it is kind of insulting. Homer is sentenced to death, but the death penalty has been illegal in Britain since the 1950s. (And even if it wasn’t, people obviously wouldn’t be executed just for dangerous driving, even if they did hit the Queen.) It just doesn’t sit quite right for the US – a nation that still does execute criminals – to depict Britain as being so backward, even if just for a stupid joke.

      Yeah, I’m glad they didn’t do anything like that when they went to Australia. 😡 I think they were waaaay more insulting there than in this episode, even though I do like the episode.

    • I don’t think roundabouts are all that uncommon around here anymore. I live in a very very small town — population about 40,000 — and we’ve had two roundabouts, uh, “installed”, since this episode came out. But WHEN this episode came out — 9 ish years ago? — I had no fucking idea what they were… hah.

  4. Literally the only thing in this episode that still gets a laugh out of me is “Wow! I can’t believe we met Mr. Bean!”

    A couple of months before this episode aired, a poll was conducted in Britain asking people to rank their favorite American cultural icons, from real-life celebrities and political figures to fictional characters. Homer Simpson made the number one spot on the list. And I can’t help but wonder how many Brits immediately reconsidered their decision upon seeing their favorite animated American take a crude, boorish shit on their country. Sorry, guys.

    I hate, hate, hate this era’s insistence that Homer is supposed to be likeable because he’s a loud-mouthed madman with no common sense. Of course he has to cut across three lanes of traffic, hit Queen Elizabeth’s carriage, and insult the entire country in court, because the writers think this is normal now. To them, Homer Simpson is just a wacky, zany, nutty guy who does whatever he wants all the time and doesn’t give two shits about anything other than himself. I know this is an extremely common complaint, but looking at episodes like these really makes it clear why this awful reinterpretation of the character simply does not work. Seriously, this is criminally insane behavior. In real life, a man who acts this way would most likely be in a mental institution. Why on earth are we supposed to believe that the rest of the family, or for that matter anyone Homer comes in contact with, would allow him to keep doing the terrible things he does? And if we don’t believe in the characters, why the fuck should we care about them?

  5. I still do not even understand the title of the episode. What the hell does the name Regina have to even do with this episode? There is no one in this thing named that.

    • Little Thin Man Accused in Robbery

      It’s the legal term for the British crown when the reigning monarch is female, so a legal case would be Regina vs. Smith, for example.

      And yeah, another Brit saying how awful this episode is. It’s just dumb and lazy, I don’t think there’s a single joke on this episode that I haven’t heard several times before, any time an American sitcom has done a ‘British episode’. I can’t remember, is there a joke about how ‘fag’ is slang for a cigarette? That’s the level we’re talking here. The Simpsons used to be able to do new jokes. Compare to Lisa’s Wedding (The botulism joke for example) and it just looks weak. Worst of all, Sky used to show this episode all the time, as if it was somehow special because of the subject matter. Inexplicably it got replaced by Coming to Homerica later, so I guess if there’s one thing we Brits love more than hackneyed, tepid, fifty-year-old jokes about ourselves, it’s anti-immigration humour. Hurrah!

      • No fag joke to be had. There’s a funny bit from Clerks the Animated Series though.
        “Pack of fags, please.”
        “You’re a fag.”
        “It’s a cigarette, mate.”
        “I’m not your mate, fag.”

      • That brief Clerks scene was funnier than this entire episode.

  6. I think that sweets trip thing is a reference to Trainspotting, at least I think, It’s too stupid to tell. I guess they just thought “Hey, that film’s British, let’s just stick it in for a gag with no actual context what-so ever!” This entire episode is just “Lol, British people act different ” repeated until the credits. I’m a Brit who usually doesn’t mind a good self laugh, but I was actually offended. That’s quite an accomplishment.

    • Yeah, it’s mirroring the opening scene to Trainspotting, which MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE! The Simpsons are going to London so……let’s “parody” a scene from a film set in Edinburgh? Just shows how stretched they were for ideas here.

      I do love Lord Datfwager, though.

  7. This is probably the worst of season 15 right here save for maybe Bart Mangled Banner. It’s astonishing how many of these bottom of the barrel episodes were credited to John Swartzwelder. People like to defend him by claiming the other writers were ruining his scripts, but this one, The Mansion Family, Kill the Alligator and Run, Kidney Trouble, and The Frying Game all seem to share this special type of awfulness that even the other really bad episodes don’t usually exhibit.

    • Swartzwelder has a lot of dark, crazy ideas. With stuff like that it’s all about the execution–brilliant if you can pull it off, but painfully bad when it fails.

      Swartzwelder probably saw it as a really sweet deal–just sit at home, throw together whatever half-assed script he want, and send it in for a huge pile of money. He was probably like, why should I give a fuck what they do with my scripts? But eventually he saw they were so terrible he didn’t even want that anymore, so he stopped.

  8. forbidden donut

    Apparently, Swatzwelder had never heard of Kid Rock when Kill the Alligator and Run first aired, despite being the writer. I’ve just assumed the Swartzwelder-credited episode past season 9 were mostly written by the whole writing team and then credited to him because the scripts were too embarrassing for anyone else to take credit. And Swartzwelder was only involved with Hungry Hungry Homer, I Am Furious Yellow, and Mr. Spritz.

  9. This is actually the last episode I ever saw in full. There’s a story behind this–my sister was marrying an English guy, so when we went to the wedding my father brought a video of the episode with, and we all watched it together. For the record, it got a decent amount of laughs. Not enough to make me want to watch the show again, but still.

    Interesting to see that this is the last episode Swartwelder wrote, as well. It’s like we both said goodbye to the series with the same episode. Also interesting that, like Swartzwelder, I had given up on the series last season but circumstances made both of us stop at this point.

  10. Also here’s a major factual error in this ep. outside buckingham palace is a curve across the far end of the statue not a roundabout around the statue (which in turn if the statue and the surroundings were depicted accurately that FAKE roundabout would have been a lot bigger.

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