Original airdate: May 7, 2017
The premise: Nigel, an old colleague of Burns and creepy British weirdo, seeks to win a bet by breaking up Homer and Marge, making Moe in charge of a new upscale bar in order to win over Marge.
The reaction: Thankfully marriage crisis episodes have become further and far apart than they used to back in seasons 15-18 or so, but they’re definitely a lot more painful to me, just because of how much poorer the writing has become. This is a pretty bonkers episode and I really have no clue what to make of it. We’re introduced to Nigel, an old schoolyard chum of Mr. Burns. He’s married to a young-looking woman who’s an eccentric, sporting a pull-string veil, and later inflatable tentacles (???) He mentions she’s cheating on him, which leads to Burns championing true love, for some reason? Nigel formulates a bet: he’ll break up Homer and Marge, or give up five million dollars. So he drags Homer to Moe’s, but finds him seemingly unresponsive to the idea of other women. But, he finds out that Moe has a crush on Marge, so he gives him control of a fancy rooftop bar atop a huge hundred-story tower that he has a helicopter drop right into Springfield… this is one of those episodes I feel like I don’t even need to comment on. Just read the synopsis. This is real. This is happening. Marge is upset with Homer per usual, but still agrees to come to Moe’s new bar. Neither of them, or anyone else, asks Moe about what the hell is going on and how he got the bar, mind you, I guess it’s not that important. Moe talks up Marge and has a dance with her, and she is fairly receptive to it all. Meanwhile, Nigel and Burns are like these perverse busybodies watching all this unfold, with Nigel upping his bet to his entire fortune versus Burns giving him Smithers, which he accepts. In the end, Moe can’t bring himself to bang Marge, so he gets the two back together, because Homer shows Marge a flip book he drew in crayon as “Close to You” plays, as “The Way We Was” spins violently in its grave. This episode is really bizarre, and I’m kind of at a loss for words in discussing it as a whole, but it really felt like one of the worst of the entire series.
Three items of note:
– In the last five years or so, Homer/Marge episodes have shifted more from “Homer does something stupid and has to make amends” to “Homer is all around a horrible, irredeemable life partner.” Marge is a beaten down husk of a woman as our story begins, her and the kids waiting at the dinner table for the drunken patriarch to return. Homer slams into the drive, catapulting Flanders’ mailbox through the window. Maggie then climbs out of the mailbox, and she tosses it onto a pile of Flanders lawn signs and ornaments in the corner of the room. I’m not quite sure what this is about, how did this happen? What was she doing in the mailbox? I don’t understand this joke, but regardless, Homer effectively almost killed his own infant daughter, and Marge is so dead inside she doesn’t bat an eye. Homer drunkenly stumbles inside, having gotten loaded on not-St. Patrick’s Day, and the scene ends with Marge sadly going upstairs. Later, Marge surprises Homer at work with a picnic basket, wanting to give things one last shot. So things seem to be just fine, until Nigel keeps Homer from going home, leaving Marge disappointed once more. Homer returns home, but Marge is unmoved by her excuses (“I just have to accept that you’re never going to change.”) We then fast-forward through the night of Homer sleeping like a log and Marge crying her eyes out for hours. By morning, Homer happily awakens and asks Marge how her night was. Emotionless, she responds, “The usual.” And that’s our act break! Our hilarious jokey joke going into commercial is this sad, beleaguered woman who thinks her marriage is dead. And it basically is. She’s right, Homer will never change because nothing in this show does. Nothing holds any weight, nothing has any meaning. For the last fifteen-plus years, the series has just been like watching a bunch of broken wind-up toys stumble about for twenty minutes. The same old routine, giving you nothing but waste your time.
– Toward the end, there’s a meta joke where Marge finally calls Moe out on calling her ‘Midge’ (“First of all, it’s ‘Marge.'” “No, I know, I don’t know what my deal is with that.”) This is the problem with the show’s slavish devotion to the past. As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, Moe is a gross, depraved man who primarily sees Homer as an ATM he can serve cheap swill to. He really only knows Marge from afar, the two sharing just a handful of scenes in the first ten seasons or so, thus him not knowing the names of Homer’s family. Surely Homer’s mused about them a bunch of times at the bar, but Moe could care less. On the flip side, Marge harbors a deep seeded resentment toward Moe, his establishment being the reason her husband doesn’t come home most nights (as clearly explained in the wonderful line from “Lisa on Ice”: “You caught me at a real bad time, Moe. I hope you understand I’m too tense to pretend I like you.”) But now, we’ve seen a multitude of episodes where Moe seems to be like a close family friend to the Simpsons. Marge has acted as his life coach of sorts several times, and they’ve shared many cordial moments together. That being the case, Moe not knowing her name now makes no sense. So why does “Midge” still exist? Because that’s what Moe used to do, so we have to keep doing it. And now, we get a lampshading of it, and even that they can’t do properly. Moe doesn’t even give a joke explanation, he’s just like, eh, whatever, who cares. I’m guessing the writers broke early for lunch and just left that space blank or something.
– As Homer and Marge kiss at the end, Burns and Nigel are looking down on them, as the latter writes out a check. But Smithers comes in from behind asking him who he’s talking to. He convinces Burns that there is no Nigel, getting him to rip up the check (thinking it’s a yogurt coupon) and storm off. This was Smithers’ way of sticking it to Burns for agreeing to put him up as collateral for the bet, but for a good twenty seconds or so, I really thought they were going to pull this for real, that Nigel, despite having interacted with Homer, Moe, and setting the entire plot in motion, was a figment of Burns’ imagination. But when it’s shown to be a fake-out, it still feels just as bad, because a) it’s another shining moment of pathetic, easily manipulated weak Burns, and b) an insult to the audience for even implying that all of this was just a weird fantasy. The scene ends with Nigel coming back in and kissing Smithers, as there had been allusions to him being gay and interested in him the entire episode. Too bad it doesn’t actually mean anything.
One good line/mo… oh forget it, you know this is gonna be BLANK.