(originally aired March 19, 2006)
Man alive… not only is this episode boring, confusing and dumb, but it’s got a message. This show has integrated morals and characters learning lessons before, I guess, but here it’s so obvious and ham-fisted, like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. There’s very little story here, so it’ll be quick to burn through. Marge starts to babysit Rod and Todd Flanders, and is surprised to find they’re even more milquetoast and namby-pamby than their father. She tries to open their eyes to more “daring” things like using a see-saw and playing Clue, which worries a paranoid Flanders. Now, Ned has always been somewhat cautionary, but never to this extent: he forces his kids to crawl up the stairs after he finds Todd had cut himself, and his idea of a fun activity is staring at bread. There’s a slightly saddening explanation that Ned has become especially protective because since Maude passed away, the kids are all he has, but the seriousness of that is just buried under a barrage of stupid jokes that are ridiculous. Vilifying Uno and bubble wrapping trees? Come on.
A B-story gives us our episode name, which is definitely one of the more bizarre titles of the whole series, and I don’t entirely understand why they chose it. Is it like a gay thing, like he has lesbian parents? Anyway, Bart is kidnapped by a mother ape at the zoo, who is yearning for her actual son, who turns out to be Mr. Teeny. Both stories come to a head when the monkey takes Bart to the top of the newly constructed church steeple, and someone needs to swap him with Teeny. Having climbed a rock wall earlier at a kid fun zone, Rod opts to go, and now Ned must learn to encourage his son and tell him to believe in himself. Excuse me while I go vomit all over myself. It even has a pathetic music cue to go with it as Ned brings himself to let his son go. It feels so goddamn forced, and when the episode ends with Rod ignorantly screaming that he’s gay, the tonal shift couldn’t be more stark. This show used to reign supreme in terms of expertly balancing emotional moments with snark, but nowadays, they’re woefully lost on that point. In the end, this episode’s as disposable as they come.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The church fair at the beginning is a mixed bag. I like Lenny and Carl’s bluntness (“Ah, it’s all a big scam.” “This booth?” “No, religion in general,”) but the hell mirror is just dumb. Lovejoy’s fundraiser to build a bigger steeple to one-up the neighboring Unitarian church works, but then they ruin it by having to explain it further as Lovejoy mutters that it compensates for his “sense of smallness.” The duck race is boring, and just another excuse to put Homer through as much laugh-less pain as possible.
– I like Bart and Lisa’s reckless indoor jousting, if only that it shows Lisa being a fun-loving kid again, for once.
– Rod and Todd being so safe and lame feels weird to me, it’s just played up to as ridiculous a level as Ned’s paranoia is. We don’t know the kids as well as him so I can’t exactly pinpoint why it seems so wrong, but it just feels too exaggerated.
– I don’t exactly know how Homer covered for Bart’s absence for so long, save for the endless scene where he goes on a sarcastic tirade. “Help me, Lisa! I have serious mental problems!” No shit. Also, wouldn’t the ape have to sleep at one point and then Bart could make his escape? Or better yet, just tranquilize it and it’s a done deal. The plot could be over within a few minutes. Also Homer has a peach full of antifreeze, which he holds onto instead of rolling into her cage, and sure enough she would probably eat it. Instead he eats the poisoned fruit, and later accidentally inhales his own tranquilizer dart. Homer in pain = funny!!
– Lovejoy tries to comfort Marge by showing her the plaque they’ve made for the new steeple “just in case”: Bart Simpson Memorial Steeple. What a horrible thing for him to do, and how the fuck did he have time to print a plaque based on something that had just happened?
– During Teeny and his mother’s reunion, for some reason we get a quick flashback to Homer cuddling his rubber duck. What’s that about? Whatever. This is one of the most boring shows ever. Right next to that astronomy episode.