(originally aired April 3, 2005)
Another one of those episodes with so many infuriating elements, but ultimately I really feel nothing for it as a whole; another disposable show to fill up a season. We open with the Simpsons visiting Shelbyville, which I guess is now some kind of affluent, cultural capital with high end shopping centers and musical theater. So chalk this up for yet another thing modern Simpsons has tainted: instead of Springfield and Shelbyville being two towns filled with morons trying to one-up each other over, now it’s snobs from Shelbyville looking down at their poorer, dumber neighboring city. Hearing their “hate hoots,” whatever the fuck those are, is a lot more interesting and entertaining than “Lemon of Troy,” surely. Marge gets famed architect Frank Gehry to build a music hall in Springfield, but it goes belly-up instantly when the townspeople, despite voting for the $30 million building in the first place, realize that they don’t like culture. I feel another “character” dampened over the years has been the town itself: mob mentality made a lot more sense in the older shows, it was more about the crowd being easily manipulated and blind-sighted, not being complete idiots. Maybe new Shelbyville has it right.
Mr. Burns steps in, volunteering to take on the town’s debt to convert the music hall into a prison. Why is this? No reason. Then Homer applies to be a prison guard? Why is this? Because he can, I guess. Wasn’t he already a prison guard for two minutes last season? Then Burns meets with Quimby, informing him he needs help as his profits from the prison are down. You assumed the town’s debt, and now you need help with your random business venture? Whatever. Next Homer is arrested when Wiggum starts enforcing ridiculous, unchecked on-the-book laws, and unwittingly becomes a prison snitch. There’s no reaction by Marge or the kids that Homer’s in jail, which you think there would especially be given the ridiculous circumstances that got him in there. But why spend time on that when we can milk the snitch angle and make Homer even more unlikable, having Drederick Tatum go into solitary for his youth group “gang” tattoo while Homer gets a plasma screen TV in his cell. Marge randomly appears to get Homer during a prison riot to kill him, then they’re saved, the prison is shut down and things go back to normal. Or whatever. I was more confused than anything through most of this, so many parts of it made no sense to me whatsoever. A complete mess of an episode.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Another unnecessary guest star, but Frank Gehry got maybe the only laughs of the episode, with his shocked inquiry that Marge wrote that he was the “bestest” architect, and seeing how his buildings are constructed, by building a normal structure, than smashing the steel beams with wrecking balls into their warped shapes.
– I was mistaken, this is Charles Napier’s final appearance as the head prison guard. He had better lines in the same role in “The Wandering Juvie,” but it’s great to hear him again anyway.
– This episode has a subplot, but there’s no point to it and it literally doesn’t have an ending. The kids notice Snowball II is getting fatter, then discover it’s wandering off during the day to be primped and spoiled by another family. Lisa confronts them, but finds that the cat likes being with the other family better. Bart goes in to get more answers, but becomes just as won over with their cakes, ice cream and jukeboxes. And that’s it. I thought about this further for some reason… perhaps this is actually Snowball II’s real family. Remember that this actually isn’t Snowball II; this is the cat that wandered by the house in “I, D’oh-bot” that Lisa adopted and named after her poor dead cat for convenience’s sake. Who’s to say she hasn’t been doing this all along, that Lisa is keeping this cat as her own when she really belongs to this other family? It’s all bullshit anyway, we don’t need the cat in the show anyway. They tried killing her off, now we see her happier with another family, just get rid of her, what does it matter?
– “This is worse than when we thought Mom was having an affair! Turned out she was just going to the library to cry.” I fucking hate one-off lines like this, that callously throw out just devastatingly sour information about the family. Just think about it, Marge huddled between the aisles of the library weeping about her moronic asshole husband and her awful station in life. Hilarious, right? Above it all, the Simpsons have always been a loving family; now it’s considered joke-worthy to mention that they’re completely miserable.
– Wiggum makes a shot at CSI (“That’s it! Lots of flash and no meaning!”) Once again, this show has absolutely no ground to stand on when it comes to mocking the quality of other series.
– The ending is just one puzzling thing after another. The prisoners get all the guards out by feeding Homer fake information about a prison break, which I guess made it possible for one of them to reach the prison door opener lever that’s conveniently placed on the wall next to his cell. Homer hides out in the basement when Marge arrives to find him. The convicts show up, and rather than run out the exit door, instead lock themselves in the gas chamber. Rather than just turn on the gas, the prisoners instead try desperately to get the door open. Then the guards return, knock all the convicts out with tear gas, then in come Mr. Burns, and Governor Bailey for some reason. Homer proceeds to blow the lid off of the horrible conditions in the prison… except we didn’t really see anything all that bad. The guards were malicious and sadistic? You mean Lenny, Carl and Otto? And feeding them horse meat? No worse than the gym mats being served at the school. So the prison gets shut down and Bailey announces the convicts will be sent to a garbage island. You know where she should really put them? Into Springfield fucking Penitentiary. They never mention the actual working prison a single time time in this whole show. Did they just move all the inmates? Is it under dilapidation? It could have been excused in one scene where we show that the prison is falling apart, so Mr. Burns’ plan to convert the music hall into a new prison would be favorable. That’s all you need. But instead, out of sight, out of mind. But not quite.