Monthly Archives: September 2012

343. Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass

(originally aired February 6, 2005)
Sometimes episodes strike just the right level of batshit crazy that keep me from hating them, like “A Tale of Two Springfields,” to a much lesser extent, “Bart-Mangled Banner,” and now this one. Lots of times the show does ridiculous, insane shit, but still wants to be tethered to some kind of grounded emotional story element, causing it to fail miserably. This episode begins bizarre right off the bat, where we see Homer beat his son at a carnival game, do an elaborate and endless celebratory dance routine, and the crowd around him applaud and cheer him on. It sets you up for this kind of episode perfectly, and is almost bulletproof. Should I complain that Homer is acting out-of-character? Why bother? For brainless maniac Homer, the plot here actually makes some sense. His crazy video goes viral online, leading him to be approached by professional athletes for tips on how to showboat at games so their clips get shown on sports center highlight reels. Ridiculous? Of course. But it’s a good shot at the media semi-intentionally glorifying rowdy behavior, and uses nutjob Homer in a logical fashion: coaching others to be nutjobs.

Where I can bizarrely go with the Homer story, I hate the one running alongside it involving Flanders. Displeased by the state of sacrilegious TV and film, he decides to shoot his own Biblical films, depicting all the violence and gore the Good Book has to offer, soon getting financial backing from Mr. Burns to make bigger and bloodier pictures. Clearly this is aping off of the success of the extremely graphic Passion of the Christ, and more of Flanders being the show’s outlet for wacko ultra-Christian gags. I don’t think Flanders would approve of the over-the-top violence in Passion, let alone make a film where one of his sons stabs the other to death with obscene amounts of blood. The two stories converge when Homer is called upon to direct the Super Bowl half time show, and with no ideas, collaborates with Flanders to do a grandiose recreation of the story of Noah’s Ark. Their efforts are all for naught, as the show is universally reviled for being blatantly non-secular, in an admittedly excellent twist. I found myself going along with a lot in this episode, but there was just as much stuff there that annoyed me as well. But in such an aggressively bland season, this one stands out as somewhat of a good effort. Kinda.

Tidbits and Quotes
– This episode reveals Comic Book Guy’s real name: Jeff Albertson. In an interview, Al Jean said that they did this deliberately to annoy fans, and chose to do it in this episode specifically, which aired after the Super Bowl with a highly inflated number of viewers. It’s great to hear that the writers are intentionally trying to piss off their loyal fans. It really doesn’t matter to me, though; did they think that hardcore fans would be enraged that they tell us what CBG’s name is? Who gives a shit?
– The joke was kind of labored and dumb, but I like the Donkey Kong bit with Homer throwing trash cans at Mario.
– Rod and Todd ask their father questions about the Bible, that if Cain and Abel were Adam’s only children, how did humanity continue? Flanders disregards them completely. It’s making jokes about analyzing the Bible, and hardcore Christian types side-stepping any and all logical fallacies within… but this is Flanders we’re talking about. He’s an admirable character, one we’re not supposed to harbor any negative feelings toward. Also he’s got Rod using a cardboard knife, meanwhile his final film features a huge stack of burning animals, realistic blood splatter and part of his face melting off.
– I laughed at Homer using a pathetic crippled kid to garner the football player’s sympathy enough to stomp the opposing team’s mascot into the dirt, who is just a single mother in a costume. It’s so ridiculous in so many ways, I couldn’t be offended by it. Same with all the end zone dances; when you’ve got him pulling a hibachi from nowhere to grill up the football, or ripping up the astroturf to take a nap (complete with Homer’s clipboard diagram of the play), I just had to go along with the absurdity.
– All the guest stars wear conveniently labeled hoodies so they can be easily identified, and none of them really stand out. It’s just a random assortment of sports stars they cobbled together. The only line of any of theirs I laughed at came from Tom Brady (“You guys think Homer’s mad at me? I waved at him in the parking lot and he stared right through me!”) Between that and his “Give all your love to Tom!” showboat, it makes it seem like Brady has an inferiority complex. It strikes me the days the show would make characters out of its celebrities, instead of just having them show up and be living in the Simpson house for some reason.
– Nice wordplay intro to the sports show (“Tonight on the Jock Center: Clipper and the stripper, a Jones that’s chipper, and did Joe Torre shoot Flipper?”) The drawing of an irritated Torre shooting the dolphin in mid-air is pretty funny.
– Homer watches a history of half time shows, from the very first featuring just one man and his tuba, to the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man, following by them and the ghosts dancing to “Let’s Get Physical.”
– Harry Shearer does Vin Scully at the Super Bowl, getting in some good lines (“This brand new, $300 million stadium was completed just one short week ago, and is scheduled for demolition early next month. America’s priorities are a joke! Now here’s the kickoff!” “Don’t stop watching in the second half, points count double!”)
– The Noah’s Ark show is a lot more in character for Ned then those gore fest movies; I like his modest “Thank you” after he reads the concluding passage. And I honestly love the twist at the end with people being pissed about the religious half time show (“You try to raise your kids as secular humanists but these showbiz types keep shoving religion down our throats!” “Mommy, why wasn’t I baptized?” “You see? You see?”) It’s extremely rare I’d call something in this show to be clever… but I gotta say, it’s pretty clever.

342. Mommie Beerest

(originally aired January 30, 2005)
Homer’s frequency to Moe’s is another one of those show staples that’s really dower when you think about it; this man liquoring himself up in a dank bar instead of spending time with his family. As a result, we see that Marge really harbors a disdain toward the place, and its proprietor Moe, who is by all accounts a miserable, misanthropic psychopath. This episode posits the idea that these two could have an emotional affair of sorts, which is a mighty big leap for these two personalities. How is the connection made? Well, it’s not; we’re just told that it is, and for latter-day Simpsons, saying something is happening instead of actually developing it logically is good enough. Moe’s is closed following a disastrous health inspection, and a crestfallen Homer offers to foot the cost of re-opening, taking out another mortgage on his house just as he had just paid off the previous one. Marge is incensed when she finds out, and decides to get involved in Moe’s business considering she’s technically co-owner. She and Moe completely renovate the place to be like an old time British pub? Why? I dunno. Where did they get the money for such a lavish renovation? I dunno. Do I care? Nah.

So yeah, the new tavern is a smash. Moe thanks Marge for her help, and that’s basically all the build-up we get out of their new relationship. Now they’re best of buddies (“I used to think of Moe as a scabby, dead-eyed hunchback, but now that I’ve gotten to know him, we’ve kind of bonded.”) I’d really like to know how or why this is, but the show can’t be bothered to explain. The bulk of the second half is focused on Homer’s worry that he’s losing his wife, a conceit that not only feels so tired at this point, but strikes so sour. Between digging himself further in debt after having just escaped it and telling his wife he hates her mother, Homer isn’t exactly very easy to root for. The clock is ticking when Marge and Moe leave for the Tavern and Restaurant Owner’s Convention in Aruba, where Moe intends to make his romantic move. Lisa comments as her mother leaves (“If Hollywood movies have taught us anything, it’s that troubled relationships can be completely patched up by a mad dash to the airport!”) The show specifically highlights one of the most tired cliches ever… and then does it, and plays it completely straight. Gone are the days when the show would buck convention, now not only do they go by the numbers, they highlight it as if that makes it any better. It doesn’t.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening with the family at brunch is pretty empty, and ultimately reminded me of that fucking awful episode I saw last season, “Them, Robot,” which also featured a fancy brunch.
– I think this is the first episode where we see the leprechaun from “Treehouse of Horror XII” in a normal show, here appearing at Moe’s “funeral.” Somehow he just entered into the regular universe, like all of a sudden this leprechaun is real.
– More lazy, uninspired gay material with the bar “The League of Extra-Horny Gentlemen.” The She-She Lounge, this ain’t.
– I’ve spoken of the tarnishing of Moe’s character, and he’s effectively dead at this point. I didn’t mind them showing a more vulnerable side to him as we’ve seen in “Dumbbell Indemnity” and “Moe Baby Blues,” but they’ve just pushed it way, way too far, making him the loneliest, saddest man on the planet, a pathetic troll who’s had his number blocked by the suicide hotline and sleeps in a pink bathrobe and curlers. Then they try to keep him an asshole at times and it’s like dealing with two completely different characters. You can’t have your characters change and still stay the same, it doesn’t work that way.
– The writers reveal an awareness to the web community by having Homer feign ignorance to Marge to get out of taking care of the kids, identifying himself with a specific moniker (“How many magic beans should I sell the baby for? Three? Duhhh, duhhh, that’s me, Jerkass Homer!”) It’s especially insulting in that they have seemingly read the complaints, but don’t understand what “Jerkass Homer” means. It’s not Homer being a brain dead idiot, it’s him being an inconsiderate, needlessly reckless asshole. It’s not that hard to discern.
– We get an all-CG DreamWorks parody trailer “Cards,” which mocks the studio’s penchant for pop culture references and stunt casting, i.e.: Jack Nicholson as the jack of diamonds. It’s alright, mostly just neat to see another animation style on the show, but it’s also another instance of pot calling the kettle black; poking at DreamWorks for its lame jokes and empty cultural references when this show is basically doing much of the same.
– Lenny and Carl pep talk Homer at Itchy & Scratchy Land, which makes no sense given the long cross country trip it took the Simpsons to get there last time. We also get a ghastly joke where Homer inadvertently causes a ride vehicle to crash, potentially killing a young boy’s father.
– Each episode is at least worth one or two chuckles in a silent twenty minutes, but I smirked at Homer’s paranoid mind turning the bird in the cuckoo clock into Moe (“Cuckold! Cuckold!” “What’s a cockold?”)
– This is another episode where the plot just keeps going up until the end and nothing is resolved. What will become of Moe’s now? What about he and Homer’s relationship? Surely it must be strained considering his attempts to steal his wife from him. Nope, the reset button solves everything. This mentality is exemplified perfectly by the end bit involving the Simpson kids inexplicably contending in a hot air balloon race in Paris. Lisa asks if this is alright, to which Bart replies, “Sure, why not!” I imagine the writer’s room is no different (“Hey, let’s do this incredibly stupid and random joke!” “Sure, why not!”)

341. Midnight Rx

(originally aired January 16, 2005)
The series has never shied away from dealing with large real-world topics, but nowadays, it doesn’t have a clue how to execute them. This episode tries to tackle corporate health plans and rising drug costs and is utterly, woefully lost. We start at a SNPP corporate event at the local air and space museum, where Burns inflates his employees’ spirits high enough for him to announce that he’s cutting their health care plans. The real Burns would just have done it without giving two fucks, forget all of this rigamarole. And it doesn’t work since the employees go after him anyway, and he escapes in a flying machine with Smithers. Okay. So other companies follow by example and soon the whole town is out of luck in acquiring drugs. But Grampa has a solution: sneak drugs across the border of Canada, through his international liaison Johnny, who I guess fought with him in the war, we don’t really get to know his character. We also get to make more Canada jokes, cutting edge satire that they talk slow and love maple syrup.

Apparently everyone in town takes drugs of some kind, even the Simpson children, and not all of it seems to be out of necessity. This over-dependency on medication seems like a topic that would make sense to address, but the show is too busy focused on the town celebrating Homer and Grampa as heroes, as Homer pulls a string of drug balloons out of his throat while his son downs a handful of pills. One fateful trip, he and Grampa are caught at the border in the stupidest, mildly racist way possible, and are out of the drug business. But when Burns finds that Smithers is ill and in grave danger, he beeches the two for some reason to make one last big score. They take his gigantic plywood plane, which earlier Burns mentioned couldn’t fly more than six feet and caught fire in rain, but I guess it works now since they’re flying it intercontinental in a rainstorm. They get the drugs, the plane crash lands conveniently in Springfield, Grampa is about to be arrested but the townspeople stand up for him, so Wiggum just lets him go. A lot of these episodes seem to wrap themselves up via Wiggum just not doing his job. God bless ’em. Close out with a gag involving Homer potentially having a serious medical condition with no healthcare, squashing all the efforts made in the whole episode, and you’ve got… an episode. Just another episode to chuck on the pile.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The air and space museum is boring, and occasionally painful. Character narrate the situation, with Lisa commenting how Burns acting nice seems suspicious, as if we can’t figure out what’s happening. This is later reiterated with Homer and Marge right before Burns’ speech in case you forgot. Then more weird shit like the guy in the Burns head, Moe inexplicably bartending this corporate event, and Agnes Skinner being a wing walker in her youth, even though she has no lines. I’m sure that had to be a cut. I’m also sure it wasn’t funny.
– Not only does Burns go through all these theatrics to appease his workers regarding healthcare, he seems to give a shit about office affairs, I guess because they couldn’t think of a joke to end the act on. Not to mention “Next stop: Pirate Island!” Huh?
– All these episodes are running together at this point, but this show just seemed to have something annoying in every scene: Homer randomly suggesting he be on Friends as an Irishman, Krusty needing kids to send him drugs, even though surely he can afford them, the long pharmacy tape which turns into just animating a Huey Lewis music video, the way-too-blunt manner the nurse addresses the elderly (“Your pills have become very expensive, and no one gives a rat’s ass about you…”) Perhaps the worst case is Homer using a belt sander to erase his fingerprints as the family and Grampa are all in the room. Why does no one react to this? Because it’s just a single shot of Homer, and in the show’s mind, that’s all who’s there. It’s another modern Simpsons staple of forgetting about or ignoring characters in the scene who are not in the shot.
– Apu and Flanders come along with Homer to Canada for some reason. Why couldn’t they just tell Homer what to get and have him get it for them? But anyway, the two bicker about their religions, because Flanders is now childish and petty regarding this issue (“Save me, Shiva!” “Why don’t you just call out for Hawkman?”) Then we get how they get caught, which is one of the most insulting things the show has ever done. On the way back home, Flanders offers Apu some coffee. He takes a sip and finds it’s incredibly hot, burning his tongue and causing him to make undulating cries, which sound vaguely kinda Arabic. Like in the same way that “Derka derka Mohammad jihad” in Team America does, except not even in the same league humor-wise. Flanders offers to cool him off by wrapping a wet towel around his head, which he just so happened to have. So yeah, it looks like a turban, and border patrol now thinks he’s a terrorist. I get it, they want it to be satire that they immediately jump on him (“Stop him! He’s expressing his faith!”) But it really does still feel kind of racist. Plus it makes no sense, why the fuck would Flanders put the towel on his head like that? Then I think back to his earlier bitching with Apu, and I think maybe he did it on purpose. I have no clue, all I know is that the scene is some ol’ bullshit.
– Another Canada joke: they speak French there! Homer and company get their rights told to them in two languages, even though why would they do that considering they’re English-speaking Americans.
– If not being able to handle the healthcare material wasn’t enough, we get a gag about the fallacies of the death penalty, as in repayment for his help, Johnny asks if he can come see a mentally challenged man get put to death (“In America, we do it four times a week!”) So, is he a sick fuck? Why would he want to see that? It’s just a really bizarre scene in an episode full of ’em.
– The only thing I laughed at was at the end: Sideshow Mel can taste a Krusty-brand milkshake thanks to lactose intolerance pills (“Terrible!”) The read is great, as it always is with Mel, and it’s a nice callback to such a minor character trait.
– Seeing Smithers groan in pleasure when he awakes to find Burns kissing him is disturbing. Well, beyond the obvious reason, it’s another flagrant misuse of his character. As I’ve already talked about, Smithers loves Burns because he’s the ultimate sycophant, he worships the ground his boss walks on. It’s much different to me than he’s actually in romantic love with his boss. It’s all in the way that it’s handled, and this Sleeping Beauty shit is weird and creepy.

340. Fat Man and Little Boy

(originally aired December 12, 2004)
This episode appeared to be a potentially interesting Bart story, then got swayed by silliness, locked its focus into loud, obnoxious Homer, then at the end of the third act, remembered Bart’s story and brought him back to resolve it. To Bart, losing his last baby tooth signifies the end of his childhood. It’s a premise that could work, examining Bart trying to man up while still remaining a kid. Instead, he adopts a cynical attitude via sarcastically sloganed T-shirts, which he soon turns into a business. For some reason, the entire town goes apeshit over them, despite it being a ten-year-old writing on blank shirts with magic marker in plain stock text. He eventually gets a distributor in Goose Gladwell, an eccentric Willy Wonka-type who runs a local joke store. Bart is soon rolling in cash, because these shirts are somehow a red hot commodity and can bring in hundreds and hundreds of dollars a week in Bart’s share alone. I guess a simple story about Bart’s malaise about losing his childhood wasn’t interesting enough.

The story gears shift to Homer when he’s laid off and becomes dependent on Bart’s earnings, which, again, must be so great that they can support the entire family. Plus Marge doesn’t appear to be annoyed by any of this at all. Homer fears for his position as alpha male of the house, but instead of rectifying it, takes the advice of an on-the-nose animal program and decides to spend his time nurturing Lisa. Currently she’s building a diorama on the history of nuclear power, though I’m shocked that current-day Lisa isn’t protesting its dangers to the environment. Wanting to help her out, Homer acquires some plutonium from the plant and makes it an actual nuclear device. He crosses paths with Bart, who has just been swindled out of his T-shirt rights from Gladwell, so he ends up threatening the man with atomic annihilation until he gets the money his son is owed. So I guess now it’s a father-son show somehow. The show had promise initially, then the whole T-shirt thing just distracted from the emotional core it was setting up, and the episode got lost. Ah well, not like I should expect any different at this point.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer being shocked at Lisa and Janey’s playground limericks of almost-swears just didn’t work. I know they tried, but I don’t think there’s a way you can time that properly. Plus why is he surprised? Homer loves childhood limericks (“You lie like a fly with a booger in its eye!” “The fly was funny, and the booger was the icing on the cake!”)
– The beginning actually has some good stuff in it: Bart praying that the tooth fairy, God’s daughter, not take money off the top from his bounty, his Sgt. Activity fantasy turning into a life insurance commercial, even a dumb joke about Homer getting a potato peeler pierced through his forehead is staged and timed in a funny manner. I also like Bart’s Viking funeral for his toys, but before that we get a scene of him naming them off, all Mapple-style names where they just tweak the names of actual products (Duopoly, Parchoosey, Ravenous Ravenous Rhinos). It must take a bit to come up with these names, and I ask, why bother?
– “I like T-shirts with a nice joke, like ‘Support Our Troops!'” I genuinely do not understand this Marge line. I feel like I almost get it, but I’m not quite there. Can someone help me out here?
– Bart selling his shirts on the schoolyard and them being a hit makes sense, but to all the adults in town? And then later possibly across the country? I just don’t get it. Also Wiggum shuts his shop on his front lawn down for no reason whatsoever.
– I guess the writers thought Goose Gladwell was funny because he’s kind of like Willy Wonka. He’s not funny. The only thing I laughed at is when he leaves the Simpson home, Marge comments, “What a delightful sprite!” Don’t know why, but I was amused by that.
– Lenny and Carl appear at the Gilded Truffle apparently just to chew out Homer. Homer then proceeds to berate a waiter who considers it pathetic that he takes money from his ten-year-old, which it is. Marge tells him to use his inside voice. “I don’t have an inside voice!!” Yeah, we’ve figured that out over the last seven seasons or so.
– Homer playing Malibu Stacey with Lisa is a cute scene, but it would have been better if the episode had been leading up to this point.
– The Krusty Brand Geiger Counter is a pretty good gag (“That thing’s gonna blow! Drop this toy and run!”)
– So did Homer actually build a miniature nuclear reactor? It seemed to have some functionality as it raised the temperature, so it must be dangerous in some capacity. It just seems a little… stupid.

339. She Used to Be My Girl

(originally aired December 5, 2004)
Another boring Marge episode… Sigh. I’m really thinking about bumping these reviews from three paragraphs to two; most of the time I’m either struggling to fill up space, or it seems I’m just reiterating the same points over and over. The problems these shows exhibit are just running together, and I’m sure they’ll still be around over the next five seasons, exacerbated even more so. We open with a Quimby sex scandal causing national news attention for some reason, one such reporter being Chloe Talbot, who Marge studied journalism with in high school. The two reconnect, and Marge immediately becomes discouraged by how much more successful her friend is, and how much Lisa looks up to her. The two have a falling out, Lisa disobeys her mother and goes off with Chloe on an assignment, which soon brings them both to a active volcano that erupts and traps them, and Marge has to end up saving the day.

My interest was waning from the start, but I mentally bolted within the first act. The Quimby scandal is huge, huge news, you’d think this should be the main topic of our episode. We see a whole group of pregnant protesters (I guess women Quimby allegedly knocked up?) standing outside Town Hall. Pan over to show Chloe and her cameraman, where Quimby just casually walks by. No response from the protestors, he’s just cool as a cucumber. Chloe asks him a question, we get a quick joke. Then Marge and Lisa walk by holding groceries. Why they’re walking across Town Square and not driving home is beyond me. Quimby just stands there and watches, then hurriedly books it back into Town Hall. That’s the last we hear of this plot at all. That a plot point this big can just be disregarded and moved on from just shows how little the writers care about any of the characters or situations. Characters are props, cram jokes in wherever, and if all else fails, have there be an active fucking volcano in Springfield that erupts and spews lava everywhere. Marge feels bad for her lot in life, uncharacteristically acts like a bitch to her daughter, they make up, next episode please.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Seeing all the Quimby sex stuff really got me thinking about how tired the show has gotten. It’s similar with the Nelson “ha-ha”s from last episode, I think that when you have a series run this long, a show that’s an episodic comedy, you need to shake the foundations a bit to keep things sort of interesting and fresh. Experiment with your characters, have them try new things, explore different relationships, while maintaining the same style of humor and satire. If the writers cared and worked at it, The Simpsons could have stayed entertaining up until this day. But instead, everything is just sort of locked down where no change is allowed whatsoever, and the change that is there involves whittling the characters down to one or two modes. Last show we had Nelson the pathetic dirt urchin, now Quimby is the sleazy sex maniac. In the past we saw more of Quimby’s misdeeds including drug use and secret murders, as well as his general contempt toward his constituents, but now it seems all the gags involve him banging other women, particularly nowadays with Miss Springfield, another goddamn Tress MacNeille voice. I’ll always try to remember her from “Whacking Day” (“Gentlemen, start your whacking!”)
– The FOX News van playing “We Are the Champions”… so fucking on the nose. I bet they were really proud of themselves getting this joke out a month after the election. We’re so topical, we’re just like South Park!
– This show has wasted so many wonderfully talented and funny guest stars before and since, and in this episode which heavily features this Chloe character, we get fucking Kim Cattrall. Not to say she’s a bad actress, just not someone I’d want to give a major part to on this show.
– Another episode that attempts to taint the sweetness of “The Way We Was,” painting teenage Homer as a ball and chain that kept Marge from journalism school. Also Chloe was with Barney for some reason. Those two were high school losers, and Homer ended up with Marge by the sheer grace of God. No fucking way young Barney would be with a girl as hot and successful as Chloe, at least not following his first beer that turned him into a mindless lout.
– This show cements that they’ll just have Homer do anything stupid for no reason whatsoever. Over the course of one scene we see he’s written “Homer Rocks!” in grime in the bathtub, and walks in naked on stilts. Why? Because he’s Caaaaaaaaaaptain Wacky!
– There’s a moment in bed where Homer cheers Marge up, telling her she’s the glue that keeps the family together and that he hates seeing her upset that comes dangerously close to actually being sincere and emotional, then is immediately undercut by a dumb joke (“You know what would be a good name for Maggie? Chloe!”) Why would he mention that just now, or want to rename his infant daughter at all?
– Dead Homers just did an interesting compare & contrast about sober Barney then and now, and it really comes into play here. Barney rescues Chloe at the end in his helicopter, pledging he wants to make their relationship work. Then we get this: “How about a half-hour of pity sex?” “Is there any other kind?” Sober Barney in classic Simpsons was a real fucking man, an intellectual, an Adonis, even kind of an asshole at points, like shooting out Homer’s tires in “Mr. Plow.” Now, he’s just pathetic and spineless, like many of the male characters on this show have become. And we close on the helicopter rocking up and down to Sex & the City-type music, in case you went this whole show not realizing who Chloe was voiced by.
– For some reason, on certain episodes this season, we’re “treated” to a deleted scene over the credits. I feel like Troy McClure passed out on the couch, then when jostled awake says, “If that’s what they cut out, what they leave in must be pure gold!”

338. Sleeping with the Enemy

(originally aired November 21, 2004)
Next up on the roster of characters the show is intent on ruining is school bully Nelson. We’ve slowly seen glimmers of him being poor and his troubled family life, but this is where it really comes to a head, where Nelson is now a poor little urchin boy. The show wants to have it both ways and keep him a threat to Bart, but when you push him so far in the pathetically needy direction, any intimidation he might have had just dissolves. Following a particularly lame party she threw for Bart, and distance from Lisa concerning a B-plot we’ll get into later, Marge feels unappreciated by her children. Enter Nelson, who we first see fishing for tadpoles in a pond to eat them for lunch. Marge offers him a sandwich, which he hesitates for and quickly grabs like some kind of wounded animal. She begins to take a shine towards the boy, who seems to appreciate her kindness, and gets him to do chores around the house. Not long after that, Nelson’s mother leaves him home alone, so he’s given residence at the Simpson house, much to Bart’s chagrin.

We get a better sense of Nelson’s sad home life in this episode. We already know his father abandoned him long ago, but here we get our first good look at his disheveled, uncaring mother. The joke here is that she’s a whore: she openly talks about who she’s slept with and wanting to take her top off, and her panties drop in public. And it’s funny because she’s a dancer, but she’s haggard and old. That’s all the thought that was put into her character. Everything in this show with Nelson is treated so deadly seriously, but last season we had a show that began with him being poor and pathetic being a big gag. You’re either going to mock him for being destitute or make us feel sorry for him, you can’t do both. Or you could, if this show was written better. This series used to champion itself with having its cake and eating it too, garnering sympathy while getting laughs at the same time. Now you can literally hear the gears violently shift between a cloying and forced scene and a stupid gag.

As for the B-story, it’s another instance of writing the kids older as eight-year-old Lisa becomes conscious of her weight, and proceeds to over-exercise and not eat. It’s not really much of a plot, just this thing that’s set up at the beginning and is left running in the background. At the very least they address in the end that this kind of story about female body issues can’t be resolved in twenty minutes, but ultimately makes it feel like an exercise in futility since the story didn’t illuminate anything about the issue at all. Lisa gets teased, stresses about getting thinner, then snaps and engulfs herself inside a cake. I guess going on insane diets can turn you into a maniac? Maybe, but it just doesn’t work. I’m sure at this point there are grade school girls who are worried about them being fat, which is horrifying to think about, but this story just doesn’t work for someone as young as Lisa. So nothing in the episode really works too well. I’m definitely more annoyed with this show than “Oven War” for tearing Nelson down, but in the end, it’s just another whatever episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– A gag where Homer illustrates “the Simpson butt” turns into a weird “how-to-draw” lesson where he sketches a perfect drawing of himself. Then he proceeds to talk to himself in a different high-pitched persona and eat a gigantic sandwich he pulls from nowhere. The man needs to be put in a clinic.
– Here we have the first of many instances where we see Skinner and Krabappel together again: they’re fucking, but Krabappel asserts it means nothing. And it doesn’t. The connection they had way back in “Grade School Confidential” was kind of sweet and endearing; now Krabappel is an uncaring, miserable harlot and Skinner a spineless wuss. The march of characterization goes on…
– A sick Milhouse appearing at the party via speaker phone, complete with a framed photo of him beside it, is an alright gag. The call quickly begins to break up (“I told him to use a LAN line!”) The rest of the party is just bizarre though, with Martin apparently being an expert artist (maybe he took lessons from Homer), and Ralph repeatedly saying “duck” in Duck, Duck, Goose, a gag the writers seemed to think was so funny they used it as the first act break, a joke that goes on far, far, faaaaaaaaaaaarrr too long.
– “Ha-ha! You’re nocturnal!” “You don’t have to impress me by making fun of others. I already like you.” “Ha-ha! I’m starting to let down my guard! Ha-ha!” I feel at some point with running gags you need to learn how to pack it in. “Ha-ha!” may be Nelson’s catchphrase, but it just feels so overplayed and overdone at this point. In the classic years we had him calling Bart on the phone to laugh at him, and greater than that, see him have an out-of-body experience so he could appear in someone’s thoughts to laugh at their misery. That’s really pushing it to a wonderfully ridiculous place, and that was a decade ago.
– This is the last episode directed by Lauren MacMullen, and she brings her usual visual flairs: panning across the Bowlarama logo to fade into a ball going down the lanes, an upshot over the frying pan of pancakes… visual flairs like these are much appreciated in such a boring show.
– “I get the feeling Bart isn’t everything he could be in the son department.” That’s a quote from Nelson. What kid, let alone Nelson, talks like that? My mind reeled after hearing that, I had to pause the episode to process exactly what I had just listened to.
– Given the episode title, the conceit of Bart’s life being made miserable living with Nelson isn’t really explored at all. We see he finds his father in the end because he wants to get rid of him, but we really don’t get much of why. It also hurts that Nelson’s been such a sad, pathetic character up to that point, that it’s jarring when he flips back into bully-mode. And then flips back when he starts singing fucking Yentl. I had to fast-forward that part, I just couldn’t take it.
– The sequence showing where Mr. Muntz had been all this time is so insulting and crazy… I barely even want to describe it. He’s at the Kwik-E-Mart and eats a candy bar, which he claims he didn’t know had peanuts in it, even though we see it’s a “Nut-Nutt.” His entire face puffs up, downgrading his speech to incoherent garbles, and he runs into a traveling circus outside. Cut to him in a burlap sack as the star circus attraction. So what, was he stuck at the circus for years as a prisoner? I guess they try to explain how he stayed in his sickly state by the audience chucking peanuts at him, but the swelling never went down even at night to the point he could talk and possibly escape? And people were chucking peanuts at him at every single show, every single day of the year? Maybe the barker told them to, like it was part of the act. In that case, maybe he knew that the peanuts would aggravate his condition and he did it on purpose. Where is this evil barker and how can he get away with this? Are there other members of his freak show that he’s kidnapped and forced to work for him? What the fuck is happening? Oh, who gives a shit…

337. All’s Fair in Oven War

(originally aired November 14, 2004)
Poor, poor Marge. Why is it so hard to write episodes for you? Wacky antics and boyish pranks from Homer and Bart are easier to come up with than a story involving the emotional and mindful Simpson women. I love Marge and feel there’s so much you could explore with her character, but I don’t have much hope with a bland and boring episode like this that they’ll ever give this woman her due. Homer and Marge attend the open house next door (I guess the Powers are officially gone for good now), where Marge is enraptured by their lavish, modern kitchen. Hearing his wife’s concerns regarding their own crap shack, Homer gets to work remodeling their kitchen, just so we can have some wacky physical comedy of him getting electrocuted and mindlessly smashing through walls with a sledgehammer. Eventually Marge hires a professional, and the result is an absolutely gorgeous, high-end kitchen, one that we will never, ever see again ever. It doesn’t even look like it belongs in the Simpson house, it’s so large that it seems like it would take up two-thirds of their bottom floor. Couldn’t they have just used the regular kitchen as a base model and just made it more flashy and nicer? Plus it has a $100,000 price tag, which I guess Homer can afford and Marge was a-OK with spending. All these small bits just eat away at me; the show used to champion itself in its attention to detail, now it’s just whatever we need, throw it in.

The new kitchen inspires Marge’s cooking mojo, enough to enter into a big bake-off competition. Once in, however, she finds her fellow contestants are not so cordial, and proceed to sabotage her dish during the contest. It’s all very random and strange how everyone immediately pounces on Marge specifically and flat-out ruins her entry with no consideration or repercussion. Discouraged, but incensed, Marge sets out her revenge by dousing the other entries with baby ear medicine, cinching herself and Brandine (whose entry she thought was garbage) as finalists. However, Lisa witnessed her mother’s misdeeds and confronts her about it, in the most melodramatic and heavy-handed manner possible. Think back to “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” where she had a similar disillusionment to a parent: her childlike demeanor and innocent, but incredibly mindful questioning of her father’s actions were believable, and enough to eat away at Homer until he relented in the end. Here, Lisa completely vilifies her mother and corners her in a harshly direct fashion. No longer a child, now just an insanely moralistic rabble rouser.

At the finals, Marge sets out to cheat once more, even though it’s done before a live audience and surely she could whip up something better than whatever gutter trash Brandine is making, but admits to her misdeeds and wins Lisa back. Yawn. There’s a B-story here too, one that I’m having some trouble understanding. Marge uncovers Homer’s old Playdude magazines, and calls her husband’s bluff that he only kept them for the articles and cuts out all of the centerfolds. Bart and Milhouse uncover the edited nudie magazines, and decide they want to adopt the Playdude lifestyle, like suave bachelors from the 60s, wearing cushy robes and listening to smooth jazz. It’s that weird thing where they write Bart (and Lisa) so adult in recent years, it feels like whiplash slamming him back into an infantile mindset, talking ignorantly about orgies and “getting some” without having any concept of sex. I really don’t know what to make of it, and I’m thinking that the writers probably didn’t either, just figuring that Bart talking about Norman Mailer and James Caan randomly appearing was funny. Another lousy, but ultimately innocuous episode to throw on the pile. And this was their premiere? Wow-wee.

Tidbits and Quotes
– “Blacula Meets Black Dracula” isn’t bad; “You mean a honky rink!” and their little strut is pretty great, but I still prefer “The Blunchblack of Blotre Blame.”
– The Playdude Cover “The Girls of Kent State: Four Nude in Ohio” is wonderfully tasteless.
– Homer flips around from being braindead and an asshole this show: plastering the kitchen ceiling two feet above the ground, then chucking items and screaming at the contractor Marge ends up hiring.
– Thomas Pynchon is at the church pot luck for some reason, spouting a bunch of joke references to things I don’t know about. I guess they had some extra time after they recorded him for “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife” and scribbled down a part for him in this show real fast.
– Flanders encourages Marge to enter the bake-off (“Up against you, I wouldn’t have a Hindu’s chance in heaven!”) Odd of him to say with Apu a short distance away. Plus I guess Apu hates his family and wants to ditch them now.
– Walking into the bake-off, competitors have nameplates, but some just read “Lunchlady Doris” and “Jasper” for some reason. Also Ruth Powers is there. Maybe she moved to another house in town or something.
– James Caan is just there in Bart’s treehouse. No explanation, just there. In “$pringfield,” not only did Bart opening his own casino tie into the main story and make sense for a kid to do, we got a great bit of how he got Robert Goulet to perform there (“Hi. You from the casino?” “I’m from casino.” “Good enough, let’s go.”) Here, it’s just like “We’re The Simpsons. We can get celebrities. Here’s a celebrity.”
– Marge prides herself for feeding her family on twelve dollars a week, meanwhile she just let her husband spend a hundred grand on a new kitchen. The family can either be rich or they can be poor, you’ve got to choose one, guys.
– The dream sequence of Homer meeting all the food mascots is pretty good (“Blood for cream!”) but it could’ve been shortened a bit. I also hate Homer calling out the mascots (“The Koobler Dwarves! Snip, Crinkle and Poof!”) It’s just like the real ones, but tweaked a bit! No different than Sprawl-Mart or Mapple.
– Lisa’s card is so pathetically saccharine; one scene she’s scornful and passive-aggressive like an adult, now she’s been reduced to child level again.
– We end with James Caan getting horribly killed in a similar fashion as his character from The Godfather. It’s just the toll booth scene redone note for note, so it’s not exactly a parody at all. Remember “Mr. Plow” when they actually did a parody involving Bart getting pelted with snowballs instead of bullets? It’s funny there because Bart is reacting with such effort as if he was getting shot. Even something like Marge beating up the mugger in “Strong Arms of the Ma” is better than this, it’s just as much of a non-parody, but at least it works as a payoff to our main story. Here, it’s just this random bizarre tag where we kill off our guest star. Very strange. And not funny.