535. Labor Pains

Original airdate: November 17, 2013

The premise:
Homer helps deliver a baby in a broken down elevator, and forms a special bond with the child in secret. Meanwhile, Lisa takes on the Rich Texan in helping a band of cheerleaders unionize.

The reaction: This show continues to baffle me in its incoherence in its stories; I simply cannot believe the writers can watch an episode like this and not realize how little sense most of it makes. So Homer’s out playing poker with the guys, and heading home, he shares an elevator with a pregnant woman, who does nothing but spout cliche lines (“The most beautiful moment of my life is happening now!”) In the end, Homer manages to deliver a perfectly clean, umbilical cord-less child. Over the next few days, or weeks, he ends up going back to this woman’s house to spend time with the child, Homer Junior. Now, what do we know about this woman? Homer addresses her as Gretchen when he meets her the second time, though neither of them told each other their names. Later, she needs him to babysit as she leaves to an undisclosed location. Does she work? What’s going on in her life? What’s the deal with the absentee father? Isn’t this information we should know at least a little bit about? Or that Homer would bother to ask? But no, she’s barely involved in the story, it’s all about Homer and the baby, and him keeping it a secret from Marge. The excuse for this is that he would have to admit he was playing poker instead of staying late at work when this happened, but this was such a huge event, I feel Marge would be sympathetic about it. When the truth is revealed, Marge seems uncomfortable about it, which is understandable given her husband has also been spending a ridiculous amount of time with this child (“I’m glad you did a good deed, but you shouldn’t come here again.”) As we round toward the end, we finally get to the point (?) that Homer is spending more time with this baby than his own children, particularly Maggie. So then we get a scene of Homer taking the four kids to the zoo. Where’s Gretchen? Why didn’t Marge ask this woman any other questions, why are you relying on my husband to take care of your kid, what’s the deal with your living situation… nothing. In the end, Gretchen’s boyfriend returns, having finished his tour of duty. Homer didn’t know that. He didn’t even know his name. This character of Gretchen is effectively an empty vessel, so what does that leave us? A show about Homer bonding with a baby that’s not his, then at the very end, the dad comes back, and he has a quick scene with Maggie to make it all better. What?

Three items of note:
– I don’t have much to say about the B-plot, mostly because the main story used up the majority of my anger. Lisa is enamored by a troupe of cheerleaders after they bring her onto the field during a packed game, magically put her in a midriff-exposing outfit and make her cheer along with them to the leering eyes of the crowd. Later, Rich Texan shows up to give the ladies their meager paychecks personally for some reason, and appears again on the field when Lisa rouses them up to strike. Then we get a boring montage, featuring the scab replacements of Patty, Selma, Nelson’s mom and Crazy Cat Lady. Guess we have to make use of our meager, unmarried female cast. It’s funny because they’re wearing skimpy outfits and they’re unattractive! The plot ends when Rich Texan just shows up at the Simpsons door and flat-out concedes. Wow, that was easy. I guess it was absolutely impossible for him to find more hot twentysomethings to exploit. What the hell was the point of all this?
– No one in this series talks like a regular person anymore, instead they are just joke machines, spewing out the most inane, senseless dialogue to get out as many hacky goofs as possible. There’s two scenes here that exemplify how fucking bad this is. First is the birthing scene; rather than act uneasy or worried as anyone would be when a woman is going into labor in front of you, Homer instead yammers on and on about the movie Alien and lists off his favorite lies for some reason. Having just delivered this new life into the world, he comments, “It’s a dude! And he’s uncut! Very Euro!” He was there when Marge delivered Bart, does he… not know how circumcision works? The second scene is even fucking worse, maybe one of the absolute worst scenes ever. Marge tracks Homer down outside Gretchen’s door, where we get the shitty gag of him overhearing him playing with the baby, but it kind of sounds like he’s messing around with another woman (“Oh baby, shake it! Homer like!”) So she catches Homer, Gretchen is also there for some reason, says Homer Junior’s name, so things appear to be even worse. So here’s the dialogue that follows (“You have a baby together?” “Oh, it’s cool, we did it in an elevator!” “I’m a Schwarzenegger wife!” “But you’re also the housekeeper, so it’s all good!” “It’s not good! None of it’s good!” “I haven’t had a drink for a week!” “That is pretty good.”) Act break. This scene is thirty seconds, but it felt torturous. It’s so fucking dumb. Homer could have explained what was happening in one sentence. As dim a bulb as he is, even him at his dumbest in the classic years would understand how bad this looks, and come clean to Marge and tell the truth. But as I said, these characters aren’t people anymore, they’re all about saying and doing dumb, goofy things, so Homer and Marge just go into a little comedy routine. I hate it. I fucking hate it.
– Homer takes Bart, Lisa, Maggie and Homer Junior to the zoo. By the way, he calls the baby Ho-Ju, which is annoying that they co-opted the great joke from “Marge vs. The Monorail.” Anyway, apparently Homer Junior is a little asshole, stealing bites off Maggie’s ice cream cone, despite her shoving him to stop. Then he ends up pushing Maggie stroller away. One push from a newborn sends the stroller careening through the whole zoo. Also, Homer Junior is able to ably stand up; he’s got to be close to a year old for that, how long has Marge allowed this shit to go on? So instead of running to help Maggie, Homer, Bart and Lisa just stand there and shout at her. When Maggie manages to save herself, Marge randomly appears to pick her up. Where the hell was she? She angrily tells Homer that’s the last time he can see “that elevator baby.” Should we feel sympathetic toward Homer at all? Beyond this whole situation being so insane, we now see that Homer Junior is a little jerkoff that tried to off Maggie. Thinking about this whole thing just makes me madder and madder.

One good line/moment: For some reason, over the credits, we get a montage of images of the various pieces of Atomettes merchandise. I don’t know why, but there are a few amusing items, like the book “Doorways of Cheerleaders’ Homes” and Ra Ra Raw Cookie Dough.

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6 responses to “535. Labor Pains

  1. Ok, here’s one I actually saw. God knows why.

    I remember there was something specific about the cheerleader plot that bugged the living shit out of me. No idea what though.

  2. Why would she even name the baby “Homer Junior” and not just “Homer”? Do the writers even realize how naming children is supposed to work?

  3. The episode might have worked… if it had focused on the Maggie-Homer relationship.

  4. Ererrrrrrrrrrrr

    Elizabeth Moss (Fred Armisen’s ex-wife) plays Gretchen. She’s not given much to work with. But there were 2 scenes I liked:

    “Here’s your sweater. I may have stretched it out a bit.” “Geez, that was a pregnancy sweater.”

    and:

    “We’re so close, we can hear the players on the field.” “I’m gonna kick your ass, Milhouse!”

  5. put her in a midriff-exposing outfit and make her cheer along with them to the leering eyes of the crowd

    Lisa is eight years old. I know you writers prefer to write her as a 25 year old women’s studies grad with a secret desperate need to fit in with the cool kids, but she’s EIGHT!

  6. The timeline on this episode makes no sense (or, more likely, our brilliant team of writing geniuses know zilch about babies). If Homer Jr. is a newborn, he really shouldn’t be left alone so frequently or brought to the zoo or eating ice cream and absolutely shouldn’t be able to walk….so does this episode take place over the course of 10-12 months? That is, as you say, a long time for Marge to put up with this shit (and likely can’t work alongside a B plot). And no mention of boyfriend during any if this time?

    Maggie, we know, is perpetually a baby but it really doesn’t work when you have other babies born and grow up around her (see also, Apu’s octuplets).

    Fuck it, who cares? Clearly not anyone on the Simpsons staff.

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