Original airdate: January 16, 2011
The premise: Discouraged by Mr. Burns’ fervent lack of respect for him, Smithers seeks out a new life venture, which he finds when he teams up with Moe to create a more openly accepting gay bar. But conflict arises when Moe misdirects his clientele into thinking he’s gay himself. Meanwhile, Skinner falls in love with the new music teacher for some reason.
The reaction: One of the things that discouraged me the most as this show went on was the squandering of its insanely large cast. With such an immense parade of secondary and tertiary characters, the number of stories you could do in the town of Springfield seems almost endless to me, but for whatever reason, the show seemed dead set on always having a Simpson take center stage in some regard. Meanwhile, most of the supporting cast wasted away until they became one-dimensional shades of their former selves. An episode like this has some immediate promise; pairing up two side characters and seeing their personalities bounce off each other is certainly an intriguing idea. When Smithers first walks into Moe’s and the two have a conversation, my interest actually perked up a bit, maybe this could turn into something. But ultimately, it’s an episode that doesn’t really say anything or do anything all that interesting or new. The main thrust of the episode switches from Smithers to Moe fairly quickly; once their gentlemen’s bar opens, Moe pretends he’s gay to fit in, and Smithers becomes his nagging voice of reason, who only appears from that point on to pull him aside two or three times to confront him about it. It all felt like such a shallow conflict, and ultimately really meant nothing. There’s also this weird thing going on in the first half where they just won’t say the word “gay.” Concerning Smithers, the show at this point is still tiptoeing along the very edge of just flat out calling him gay; they finally “officially” outed him last season, I think, which felt like fifteen years too late. But Smithers and Marge both ask Moe, “Do these people think you’re really… one of ‘them’?” Like they’re another species or something. Then in the back half of the show, they champion Moe and urge him to run as the first openly gay councilman, and at that point, everyone just starts saying “gay.” It was quite strange. As far as episodes about homosexuality go, it’s nowhere near as offensive as something like “Three Gays of the Condo” was; the lazy, uncreative gay stereotyping of there (something like The League of Extra-Horny Gentlemen feels so much less progressive than The Anvil from fifteen years ago), but it’s all so banal here. It was more boring than anything else.
Three items of note:
– The B-story is so flimsy and disposable, there’s not much I can even say about it. Mr. Largo leaves the school with his new lover (though I’m sure he’ll be back in future shows; can’t afford to lose such an integral character) and is replaced by Jennifer, some stereotypical hippie dippy woman. Skinner has a crush on her, for no explainable reason. He enlists Bart to help him with his courtship; if Bart take Jennifer’s daughter out on a date (a girl we’d never heard of prior to this), Skinner could chaperone and get closer to her. What kind of plan is this, and why would he trust Bart to do this? But apparently, his asinine plan works; over the course of a fifteen second exchange chaperoning the date, Jennifer says she likes Skinner too. When Bart breaks her daughter’s heart, Jennifer announces she’s leaving the school, and begs Skinner to go with her, which he does. Then the episode ends with Skinner returning from some kind of radical rave after being dumped. This premise of a major secondary character running off with the supposed love of his life takes up making a third of the episode’s run time, everything about it feels meaningless and incoherently rushed. Also, Jennifer is voiced by Kristen Wiig, at that point a major player on SNL, and her daughter by Alyson Hannigan, star of How I Met You Mother; two pretty huge comedic actresses whose services were absolutely wasted in nothing roles like this, particularly Hannigan, who gets barely three lines.
– We’ve been spending a lot of time at the school this season, and every single time we’ve seen Superintendent Chalmers there. This is a situation that cropped up in the last five or six seasons or so; the writers I guess were so in love with Skinner-Chalmers interplay that they just had Chalmers at the school every day, all the time, even though he surely has other schools under his jurisdiction. He might as well be living in Skinner’s office at this point.
– Moe gestures to his wall of past failures to reinvent his bar: turning it into an English pub with Marge in “Mommie Beerest,” his post-modern take in “Homer the Moe,” and… Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag, in “Bart Sells His Soul.” It doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s always sad and uncomfortable when you see a sling of references to past episodes, and they throw a classic one in there. It just feels so alien being put in sequence with a bunch of other junk.
One good line/moment: Like I said, I actually enjoyed Moe and Smithers’ first scene together. It was fun at first seeing two characters who I don’t believe ever had an interaction before have a conversation (“Can I have a scotch and water?” “My scotch is a scotch and water.”)