(originally aired March 26, 2006)
If there’s any series more in desperate need of some fresh creative blood, it’s this one. Writers come and go, but with Al Jean entering his twelfth year at the helm, the series seems to be in an endless stagnation. This couldn’t be more evident in this episode, “written” by Ricky Gervais. I use quotes because thanks to massive rewrites, the show to his name feels as innocuous and identity-less as any other episode. The only evidence of his involvement comes from the character he plays, which is more or less another version of his normal role, a dogged, flustered man who attempts to make humor, but fails to recognize his audience. His humor style of awkward pauses and long silences doesn’t exactly gel well with modern Simpsons’ joke-every-twenty-seconds mentality. This couldn’t be clearer in one scene where Gervais’ character Charles tells Marge a slightly offensive joke. In one of his shows, it would be told uninterrupted, and the comedy would come from the recipient’s offense and Gervais’ endless backpedaling to cover himself. Here, Charles is interrupted many times by Marge’s inane commentary (“That’s just the set-up!” “Well, you’ve set me up for laughs down the road!”) Any attempts at alternate types or rhythms of humor are trampled upon.
Another episode with basically no story: to get the money for a flat screen TV, the Simpsons go on a reality show where two families swap wives, in this case with a British couple with a frosty marriage. Homer is stuck with a cold English harpy, while Marge lives with Charles, who becomes instantly smitten with her kindness. There’s barely any reality TV commentary here (wasn’t “Helter Shelter” enough?), so most of the show is just seeing the families new lives. English wife Verity makes the Simpsons write reports and do chores, which is boring, and Charles attempts to woo Marge, having seemingly fallen in love with her based upon… she’s nice? That and Marge is apparently a total dummy (“I wrote this song for a woman: you.” “What an odd thing for a man who’s not interested in me to do!”) She’s always been naive to certain things, but I think she’d be able to pick up on this guy’s intentions. There’s a handful of other things to whine about, but largely this show is shockingly empty. I’d love to see whatever Gervais’ first draft was, and see just how much they tore it down to size to fit in with the rest of the slop this season.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Lenny holds a party at his apartment. The guest list? Skinner, Krabappel, Sideshow Mel, Ned Flanders, Dr. Nick, the Van Houtens, the Hibberts, Professor Frink… basically all of your Springfield regulars. How do they all know Lenny? It’s more of that “everybody-knows-everybody” thing of later seasons that I hate so much.
– Why the fuck would Lenny allow Homer to live for days on his couch? I get maybe he doesn’t want to be mean, but I can’t imagine this would go on more than a day before he would kick him the fuck out.
– In an irrelevant, out-of-nowhere joke, Homer completes collecting fifty years of The Family Circus, then throws the scrapbook in the fireplace. I’m quite confused, but mostly at the fact that he’s gluing a comic into the book, then we see in the next shot that it’s taped in. Is anyone watching this shit?
– Gervais has already tackled exploitative reality shows on the Extras finale, which was a bit bloated at ninty minutes, but is still well done, and has an alternatively scathing and heartbreaking finale. It won’t be quite as powerful if you don’t know the context, but here it is. He’s hit or miss at times, but Gervais is a very strong writer, but in this episode, none of it is allowed to come through.
– Not big on Homer and Bart openly mooning the camera crew and this family they’ve just met, but it’s partially saved by this exchange (“Ugh! We better pixellate those.” “There aren’t enough pixels in the world!”) The cameraman’s panicked read on that is great. But in the spirit of ruining good jokes, they add on one too many (“Yeah, just cover it with Ryan Seacrest’s head.”) Oh snap!
– The only clever moment in the show is Homer’s summation of Charlie: “You take forever to say nothing.” It’s a great read of how one might see his kind of rambling humor.
– This show is just filled with awful, awful Marge lines. Again, it appears that no one knows how to write her as a normal human being anymore (“I don’t choose the committee as such, but I choose where they meet. This year, I’m thinking of Conference Room C.” “Oooh! That leaves A and B available for overflow!”)
– My only other laugh came from the quick bit of Itchy & Scratchy. They’re in old English garb, Scratchy is thrown into a guillotine… then Itchy shoots away at him with a Tommy gun.
– I’m sure Gervais’ song went untouched, but I’ve never been a fan of any of the comic songs he’s done. Save of course when he’s serenading Elmo. The sequence goes on foreeeeeeever, and it couldn’t be less funny. And then they extend it over the credits!
– On top of it all, the show gets a Homer-Marge slant at the end. Marge says she misses Homer, and Charlie randomly says he does too, despite the fact that they met once. Marge explains why she loves him: “He’s loved me ever since the first moment he saw me, and he’s never stopped, and whatever it takes to make me happy, he’ll do it, even if it kills him.” Cut to when she returns home to find Homer with slices of pizza strapped to his bare legs. In the best moment of the show, she comes in with such joy, then sees the state her husband is in, and completely deflates (“…put your pants back on.”) It’s so unbelievably sad; her delusions of her husband are completely swept away as she instantly realizes she’s once again stuck to this sloven ape-like man who whines about having to spend time with their children. The end of the episode features Homer finally having got his stupid TV and singing about it, while Marge is clasping her pillow on her head trying to get some sleep. In the past you’d understand why these two are together. But now, I just don’t get it. I feel so bad for Marge in some of these shows.
– And on top of that we have our great finale: Varity has hooked up with Patty, joined by their mutual hatred of Homer! And Patty’s in a plaid shirt and jeans, dressed like a man! Because she’s a lesbian!