551. Pay Pal

Original airdate: May 11, 2014

The premise:
Marge melodramatically concludes she’ll never have any adult friends, and not wanting her daughter to suffer the same fate, pays a little girl to spend time with her and pretend to have similar interests.

The reaction: I feel like there have been a couple shows of late featuring Marge acting kind of horrible and manipulative, but this is the worst of all. When she gets invited by some new neighbors to an adult game night, it starts off like “Scenes From the Class Struggle in Springfield,” begging and pleading with Homer to be on his best behavior. He’s been pretty restrained from his insane wild outbursts the last few seasons, so it felt like a little too much. The man of the house (John Oliver) introduces this incredibly elaborate murder mystery game, then Homer unintentionally ruins it by reading his card and saying who the killer is. It was an honest mistake, but the host reacts by angrily slapping him, which Homer then retaliates, and after a very brief scuffle, the guy tosses the Simpsons out. Despite the neighbor physically attacking her husband, Marge is pissed at Homer, which then turns into passive-aggressive resignation (“I think it’s time we learned to live with being ostracized. I give up.”) Then, halfway through the episode, we switch gears to Marge wanting to get Lisa a friend. What happened to her new Starving Games friends from last episode? Her characterization waxes and wanes nowadays, she’s either a content, sometimes smug loner, or a sad nerdy girl desperate for attention. Here, she’s the former, so Marge’s efforts are really just a projection of her own yearning for companionship. One day, Lisa pairs up with some Asian girl (who is never given a name throughout the entire episode) who just so happens to share all of her interests, and a suspicious Bart discovers that Marge is paying this child to be her friend. This is really fucked up. Like, really fucked up. Can you imagine how humiliated you would be if your mom did this to you? A teary eyed Lisa confronts her mother, and runs off crying. So we got two minutes left, how do we resolve this? Abe conveniently tells a story about how he paid a young Lenny and Carl to befriend Homer, and still does to this day, to which Marge responds, “That makes me feel better!” Why? Because someone else did the same horrible mistake you did? When she leaves, Abe admits his story was bullshit, but I’m not sure if he told it to make Marge feel better, or because he’s a senile crazy person. Okay, so our final confrontation. Marge goes to Lisa’s room, and she’s still pissed. Lisa angrily tells her mother she’s going to tell future psychiatrists what she did, which makes Marge cry. Then we get some inner monologue from Lisa, because even when the character’s aren’t talking, their minds will speak the exposition instead (“Wow, I made Mom cry! What unimaginable power! I could use this to get anything I want! But, right now, all I want is for Mom to stop crying.”) This dialogue just keeps getting worse and worse. The two have a sobby reunion, Lisa apologizes with reasoning that makes no sense (“It’s funny, but hurting your feelings made me feel better,”) and Marge never apologizes or shows remorse or even understands why what she did was incredibly shitty and embarrassing to her eight-year-old daughter. And Lisa wishes her a happy Mother’s day! Marge is supposed to be the family rock, a never-ending source of love and encouragement for her husband and children. So seeing her deceive her own child, especially Lisa, and not even acknowledge how wrong it was, was pretty hard to watch.

Three items of note:
– Marge meets neighbor John Oliver at the Evergreen Terrace Block Party (“Two Bad Neigbors,” anyone?), where the latter tries some of Ned Flanders’ famous No-Alarm Chili (“You can only taste the spoon!”) I can’t think of a more apt direct compare and contrast for the degradation of a character. Of course, in “The Mysterious Voyage of Homer,” a crestfallen Ned must admit to Homer that his five-alarm chili is merely two alarm, two-and-a-half tops, and he just wanted to impress his two boys. What a wonderful moment; embellishing the truth to look like a big shot to his beloved children at a local carnival. It’s almost like he’s behaving like a normal, flawed human being. Nowadays, one of the only two or three legally acceptable jokes for Ned is that he’s a gigantic worrywart wuss, so the joke is that his chili is the blandest ever! I thought back to “Viva Ned Flanders” for what we can blame for this character turn, with Ned preferring plain white bread in rejection of chunky or smooth peanut butter (with a glass of water on the side for dipping!) But the point of that episode was to exaggerate Ned’s overly cautious lifestyle, which led him to want to put some spice into his way of living. But, as we’ve seen with “Lisa the Vegetarian” with Lisa, “Homer’s Enemy” with Homer, “The Old Man and the Lisa” with Mr. Burns, the writers pluck these character traits out of context, and infuse them into the characters regardless. So now that’s just who Ned is. And it’s terrible.
– Shauna appears as a cashier at not-Trader’s Joe’s, and her scene ends with her forcibly making out with Gil. Sigh. This is the last time I talk about this awful, awful character. The joke is she’s a little whore! She’s like a younger version of Mrs. Muntz. Also, I have to circle back to the age question again; she attends Springfield Elementary, and like the other bullies, her age is nebulous, but she most definitely has to be somewhere in her teens, and definitely under 18. It was creepy and weird to see her repeatedly suck face with Bart, but for her to make out with a sixty-something year old was incredibly disturbing. And also, why? What’s the joke here?
– There’s a scene in this show that is just unbelievably bad. Homer and Marge are in bed, and Marge laments the fact that they have no adult friends. First, it’s a carbon copy of a similar scene from “A Milhouse Divided,” which I don’t besmirch them for, except that instead of them talking like real people, they’re just sitcom joke spitting machines. But through the scene, we cut to Lisa, then Bart standing at the bedroom door. They appear, say the over-explanatory “joke,” and then leave the scene. It’s the worst version of this trope of characters randomly appearing I’ve seen yet. And all these characters aren’t having a conversation. They’re just saying dialogue. Lisa says she’s doing just fine without friends, then she leaves, then Marge repeats what she said to the audience (“Okay with no friends? That’s the saddest thing I can imagine my daughter saying to me.”)

One good line/moment: The opening Itchy & Scratchy starts as a parody of Ratatouille, where a little Itchy hides under Scratchy’s chef’s hat and puppeteers him to mutilate himself. I was pretty shocked, because for once they were actually doing a clever parody, and not just trying to get brownie points for making a culturally relevant reference (to a seven year old movie, but still). Unfortunately, the cartoon runs twice as long as it needs too, and as usual with I & S’s these days, it becomes unnecessarily crude and gross with no real humor to it. Also, for some reason, Bart is watching this in the kitchen on an ancient looking portable TV that looks like this. I couldn’t understand why, but thinking back on it, I think I got it. They do a joke where Marge and Bart try to drown each other out, Marge turning up the food mixer and Bart turning up the TV. But if Bart was using a tablet or a laptop to watch the cartoon like any modern day kid would, that joke wouldn’t be as easy to communicate visually than if it were an old TV with a knob on it. So, instead of thinking of another joke that would have made more sense, they give Bart an old TV to watch. But why did they give him such an old looking TV? I had a portable TV as a kid that just looked like a small tube TV. Was this an in-joke? I don’t get that part. Hm. Looks like this section that’s supposed to be positive turned pretty negative. Oh well. It was a shit episode anyway.

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12 responses to “551. Pay Pal

  1. What the absolute hell at that episode resolution? It reeks of one of those angsty fanfics teenagers write then become absolutely ashamed of afterwards.

  2. The title is also pretty bad: a shit, lazy reference and a spoiler.
    But I have to admit that I like Bart as a detective…

  3. This episode is plain disgusting, on characters level, on plot level, on human level, on an artistic level… nothing works.
    I don’t know how they managed to do it, but in this later seasons Marge has become the worst character on the show. Another great achievement, writers!

    • One of the biggest casualties of post-classic Simpsons is how off-model the characters are. I don’t think I can name a single primary or secondary character that acts like they did in the classic era.

  4. Even with these awful episodes I feel like the majority of them have good story ideas that just end up being executed terribly. This is one of those rare exceptions where the central idea is so bad that there’s no way to make it good. Well done writers. You couldn’t even come up with a good core premise.

  5. Marge has gotten a lot more shallow in the newer seasons, that is for certain.

    Also, this plot would make much more sense if Homer was the culprit. In that Homer would somehow feel responsible for Lisa not having any friends and comes up with this hair-brained idea after seeing Smithers bay people to “befriend” Mr Burns, without thinking that that Lisa would be so attached to her and feel regret.

    Also, instead of the Murder on the Orient Express opening, they should have Homer thoughtlessly ruin a birthday party for Lisa

    You know, something in which both parties can be sympathized with. Homer can more easily get away with things like this, so long as he doesn’t act like a jerkass

    • That does sound better, but it’s also pretty much what “The Dad Who Knew Too Little” was.

      This is what modern Simpsons has sunk to. It’s making Season 14 look good.

  6. We’ve seriously reached the point where one of Mike’s most hated episodes from the Scully years can be compared favorably to a HD era episode.

    The only bit in this episode I liked was the veeeeery brief moment where Homer ruins the murder mystery game by reading his card out loud. It felt like a very “classic era” thing for Homer to do since he wasn’t acting like a jerk or being completely braindead. Of course they immediately ruin it by the host being a complete ass and Marge not siding with Homer.

  7. Ererrrrrrrrrrrr

    “Wow, I made Mom cry! What unimaginable power! I could use this to get anything I want! But, right now, all I want is for Mom to stop crying.”

    That may be one of the worst things I’ve ever heard on this show. For one, that first part is not only WILDLY out of character for Lisa, but is an amazingly horrible thing for her to consider. Also, the fact that they’d immediately backtrack her with that second part shows they don’t care a damn bit about character development. Even negative character development.

    This plot is so fucking irritating to me. Why would BART, of everyone, want to try and ruin Lisa’s happiness? Why is he so interested in this? Maybe if it was one of Bart’s forgotten friends (or even a new character that they claim is his friend for this episode only- they’d done it before, you bet your ass they’d do it again), I’d understand, but they never really show why he can’t let Lisa have her friend, especially since they showed how bad Homer and Marge want it. Maybe if he found out, then saw how happy she was and how bad it meant for Homer and Marge and decided not to reveal it, I could understand. I’d still hate it just as much, but I’d understand.

    The one thing I liked in the episode, was the music they used during Bart’s sneaking montage- “Back Stabbers” by The O’Jays. It was fun to listen to. Everything else was horrible. This episode is bad, bad, BAAAAAD. One of the worst eps I’ve seen, but not THE worst. That was one you’ll find out when Ben reviews it. And I know you will agree.

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