Category Archives: Season 11

248. Behind the Laughter

(originally aired May 21, 2000)
Somewhere out there, there must be a parallel universe in which this exists as the show’s series finale. What a world that would be, huh? The show acknowledging the well had gone dry and decided to go out with an insanely meta episode that put that realization at the forefront. Not only does it send up itself, but it also deftly parodies all the tropes and cliches of the “rise-and-fall” story of so many bands featured in “Behind the Music.” They even have Jim Forbes do the narration to authenticate it. The idea itself is so strange, in revealing that this is a “real” show and the Simpsons are actors, but actually still a real family. Kind of like when Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd would talk about their contracts with Warner Brothers and address the audience. I remember absolutely loving this episode when it first aired, and while I don’t think it’s quite as funny or clever as I used to, it definitely stands out; the concept alone makes it a landmark episode.

There’s not really a plot to describe, so to speak. We find the Simpsons show got its start when Homer filmed his own crude demo tape of his family after getting frustrated of never seeing families like his on TV, similar to the inception of the show in real life (“TV families were always hugging and tackling issues.”) Turned down by all the real networks, Homer must settle for FOX, who orders thirteen episodes, and the rest basically can write itself. The episode recreates the history of the Simpsons’ fame, but as if they were real characters. Bart Simpson T-shirts, cash-in records, and money by the truckload, the Simpsons were a national phenomenon. There’s so many great nods to Simpsons lore, like Bart’s insistence of never having said “cowabunga,” which reminded me of Matt Groening’s assurance that he never did, and for the first time actually addressing Homer’s strangling for what it really is (“And that horrible act of child abuse became one of our most beloved running gags.”)

As so many rock bands before them, the Simpsons are fast and loose with their cash, dwindling their savings to almost nothing before the IRS busts them on tax evasion. Things only go downhill from there until they have a huge falling out, a fence that can only be mended by one man: Willie Nelson. This episode’s patron saint is Jim Forbes, delivering all of his lines with such professionalism and seriousness (“That night, fate wore a cummerbund… of suspense.”) The new intro sequence, the phony “coming-up-next”s, it all authenticates the experience that you’re watching something different. In its decline segment, the series actually takes some harsh shots at itself for pandering guest stars and nonsensical plots, but in my opinion, not harsh enough. But the episode is ballsy, I’ll give it that. I feel there’s more to dissect in this one in sections than in an overall summary, so I think I’ll wrap it up. Once again I’ll reiterate how perfect this would have been as a series finale. After a season filled with over-the-top crazy cartoonish nonsense, the show just throws up its hands and forgoes its established universe entirely, going out with a show that not only exposes the entire series as being a fraud, but “reveals” where Springfield is in the last minute. Could’ve been a wonderful outro. Yep. Would’ve been sweet…

Tidbits and Quotes
– I don’t know why the opening title sequence is still on the episode. It should just start immediately, since this is technically a different show. Then the fake-out with going through the clouds to the still shot of the family on the couch would have worked.
– Part of me kind of wishes they had pushed the personalities of the characters in weirder directions, since these are technically just actors. Marge gets it a little when she tells Homer to shit or get off the pot, but it would have been fun to push it a bit more.
– Again, much love for Jim Forbes. Great bit of calling Homer a “penniless Peckinpah.”)
– Great take on doing a Beatles parody in having girls go mad over footage of Bart, then it’s revealed to be taking place in a hysteria ward.
– Nice swipe at the Bart Simpson T-shirts with the lifted slogans (“Life Begins at Conception, Man!”) Reminds me of the DVD commentary story of the Bart billboard on the FOX lot going from clever quips the writers would come up with to just announcing executive’s birthdays, and eventually “Increase Productivity, Man!”
– Love all the labels placed beneath each interviewee, calling Grampa a “coot,” Krusty as “disgruntled,” and Gloria Allred, of course, a “shrill feminist attorney.”
– Always loved this read from Moe (“Homer was spending money like a teenage Arab. He bought me a Rolex and, uh, Cashmere jeans. I felt kinda guilty ’cause I was always trying to score with his wife. So, when do we start filming? …oh.”)
– The explanation of why Homer had to do the gorge stunt is pretty amusing, as is the aftermath. But here’s where I take issue: “Somehow, Homer became addicted to painkillers. It was the only way he could perform the bone-cracking physical comedy that made him a star.” Homer becoming popular and a beloved character had nothing to do with him getting hurt in ridiculous ways. If you’ll notice, the quad-screen of clips shown during that bit are all from seasons 9-11, and are all horrible, especially listening to them all at once. Then later we see other clips while Homer is talking, all shorter, one from “Sideshow Bob Roberts” and the other from “A Milhouse Divided.” Moments of Homer getting hurt and screaming are few and far between in the first eight years, and that’s what made them so funny. One of the greatest moments of the series ever is Bart hitting Homer with the chair in “Divided,” it’s a perfect storm of funny, that it had a set-up, but also was totally random that he would do it in the tub. Castellaneta’s screams and wails are hysterical because it’s not just out of pain, but also shock and confusion of what the hell just happened and why. I love Homer for so many reasons, but his ability to take great amounts of pain is not one of them. But I guess the writers don’t agree.
– Somewhat disturbing image of seeing Marge’s scolding visage on a diaphragm. That’s easily a mood killer.
– I love how poorly Apu is obscured in the shadows as the anonymous tipster. You can see the Kwik-E-Mart behind him, he has no voice distortion, and you can see his hand when he gestures to the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny tray.
– I’ve always loved this exchange (“Dad, I want to go to bed. Aren’t there child labor laws?” “Who told you about those laws? Was it Marge?”)
– So the show takes a shot at itself using gimmicky premises and nonsensical plots, highlighting “The Principal and the Pauper.” Good, but better if they also mentioned fucking nonsense like “Saddlesore Galactica” and “Viva Ned Flanders.” Also they mention “trendy” guest stars like Butch Patrick, Tom Kite and Stephen Hawking. I guess the joke is that they’re not exactly what you’d call ratings-grabbing guest stars, but I still would rather see more brutal honesty and show such disposable and worthless celebrities like Mel Gibson or Britney Spears.
– My favorite bit of the show is when Forbes talk about the later Simpsons episodes resulting in yawns in the ratings. Clip of a guy yawning. “…angry yawns.” Clip of a guy yawning angrily. It happens so quick, and I had no idea how one yawned angrily before that point, but whatever that noise was, it completely nailed it.
– Love the family’s solo careers: Homer in “Rent II: Condo Fever” (“I literally chewed the scenery,”) Bart filling in for Lorenzo Lamas in “Renegade,” Marge’s dinner show (“So the next time you see a sheriff, shoot him… a smile!”) and Lisa’s tell-all book (“To prolong the run of the series, I was secretly given anti-growth hormones.” “That’s ridiculous. How could I even get all five necessary drops into her cereal?”)
– Kinda like that Hibbert was fraternity brothers with Willie Nelson (“I’d do anything for Kegmeister Julius.”)
– Revealing the Simpsons as living in northern Kentucky is amazing, since it’s not really a reveal since this is the location of the “real” Springfield. But it also explains why the town isn’t really anywhere, since it’s shown here as a fake show. Re-runs would switch back and forth between Kentucky and southern Missouri, but on the DVD, it’s just Kentucky. I love that they just threw it in at the end to blow minds.
– Bittersweet moment where Homer leans over to the editor and comments, “This’ll be the last season.” If only. Not only that, but the clip they’re editing was used in the next season’s finale “Simpsons Tall Tales,” so you think maybe they were right. But nope. Not even close.
– “Next week on ‘Behind the Laughter’: Huckleberry Hound.” “I was so gay. But I couldn’t tell anyone!”

Season 11 Final Thoughts
Hoo boy, well I’ll say this, even though there seemed to be a lot more shit in this season, the bar set at season 10 was pretty much kept still. Pretty much all the awfulness that occurred last season was confirmed to be here to stay in this one. The proficiency of storytelling has pretty much evaporated, replaced with whatever the hell the writers can come up with for unrelated set ups and ridiculous, out of left field climaxes. Characterization waxes and wanes depending on what cheap joke or plot turn they need to pull off. Humor is coming more from over-the-top physical comedy and dumb jokey jokes than actual satire or multi-layered gags. Homer is now completely brain dead, barely resembling a functioning human being anymore, and the rest of the cast has begun their process of caricaturization, turning in one-note shades of their former fleshed-out selves. Though there are a few glimmers of quality and brilliance, this season and the show’s future is pretty dark. The series has reached a low point, and there’s no telling how much lower it can possibly go. And I still have nine more seasons left. Holy macaroni…

With classic seasons, it was always so difficult to pick out the best episodes because there were so many, and the worst because there were basically none. From this season on… it’s pretty much going to be the reverse of that.

The Best
“Treehouse of Horror X,” “E-I-E-I-D’oh!,” “Grift of the Magi,” “Pygmoelian,” “Behind the Laughter”

The Worst
“Beyond Blunderdome,” “Saddlesore Galactica,” “Alone Again, Natura-Diddly,” “Bart to the Future,” “Kill the Alligator and Run”

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247. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge

(originally aired May 14, 2000)
Marge episodes must be so very hard to write. Even in its classic days, the series seemed to struggle a bit with handling the character; that being said, what chance does the show have now with it? Last season we had the ridiculous road rage episode, which was pretty lame, but at least premise-wise had a somewhat workable idea in its head. This episode, I don’t know what they were thinking. Marge’s jealousy turns into insane rage, turning into possible insanity? If it were written perfectly with no plot holes or flimsy characterization it would be a stretch, but here, this shit just don’t make no sense. But first let’s clear through some other business. We open with Otto proposing to his girlfriend Becky, and thanks to Bart’s generous nature (and tendency to not ask permission), the wedding is held at the Simpson house. Now, Otto has never been the most developed or dynamic character. “The Otto Show” displayed his limited range, but still gave somewhat of a deeper insight into our favorite lowlife bus driver. Here he feels so one-note. He proposes to his girlfriend in the bus, drives to and from the wedding in the bus, why does he drive the bus everywhere? Rather than expand out characters, later seasons would relegate them into their little boxes to be further caricatured. Otto is the heavy-metal loving bus driver, nothing more and nothing less. Until standards and practices lessened up and they could get away with more drug references. SO EDGY.

When Otto calls off the wedding, Becky lives with the Simpsons. For some reason. She really had nowhere else to go? I guess she was living with Otto, but he wouldn’t let her stay? And Marge “breaking them up” didn’t make any sense. I’m all over the map here… The point is that explaining why Becky had no home would have shed some light on the situation and developed her as a character more. Perhaps Marge would have taken pity on her and let her stay, then later regretted it when she found how much she was stepping on her turf. Instead she’s bulldozed by the rest of the family as usual and grows more and more displeased by Becky’s presence each day. A visit to Patty and Selma puts it in her head that Becky intends on killing her and stealing her family away. And Marge believes it. This is just bonkers. Even when Marge acknowledges her sisters are pulling their information from fictional sensationalist movies, she still becomes paranoid about Becky wanting to off her and sleep with her husband. Okay, maybe it could have worked. And that’s a big maybe, but if you lay enough track down for your plot, I can buy it. A big problem in these later seasons is that events happen with barely any or no set-up. Patty and Selma plant the idea in Marge’s head, her brakes get mysteriously cut, and then next thing you know she’s manically attacking Becky with a jagged ice cream cone. That scene is cringe-worthy, like what am I watching here?

Act three is absolute garbage. Marge is put on trial and deemed insane, for no reason whatsoever, and proceeds to escape, triggering a manhunt. How do the rest of the Simpsons react? They appear worried at first, but none of them seem to concerned about it. They spend most of the act sitting on the couch in front of the TV. Shouldn’t they be out trying to find and help their wife/mother? And how long is this hunt going on? It seemed to be no longer than a day, but seems long enough to hit the local news, for Krusty to make a sketch out of it, and for Bart and Homer to talk about how she’s become a local schoolyard legend. None of this shit adds up. And nothing happens in the third act besides Marge finding out Becky was innocent. Or maybe she wasn’t, as Becky reveals that she actually did intend to kill Marge the whole time but got hung up on what kind of shovel to buy. So Marge vocally says because of this, she’s not crazy, and everything turned out okay. It’s maybe not as egregious, but I say this episode is to Marge as “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love” was to Mr. Burns; if this is the best they could come up with as a story for her, maybe it’s time to pack it in.

Tidbits and Quotes
– They make a joke about it, sure, but Springfield Elementary is poorer than poor, and yet they could get a camera to each student.
– Nice joke that Otto’s wedding invitations are done out on rolling paper.
– I guess we’re at the point where “Homer does stupid shit for no discernible reason” is fair game, as we see Homer at the kitchen table stabbing his hand with a knife repeatedly. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the fuck that’s about.
– Marge should not be such a wet blanket in this episode. She folds so quickly regarding holding the wedding and then letting Becky stay with them that you don’t feel sorry for her as much as you are annoyed that she’s taking so much shit laying down. Also her meddling with Becky’s affairs seems so wrong for her to do. And thinking Homer is the perfect husband just to set up an awful joke where Homer gets part of his tongue ripped off onto an ice sculpture? …wow, this episode is terrible.
– Becky walks down the completely open aisle. When she unplugs the power, big long electrical chord going across the threshold. I know it seems like I’m nitpicking, but at this point I’m half paying attention to these episodes and I’m still noticing these overt animation errors. Are the people making this show test screening these at all?
– More just shoving characters in scenes. What’s Moe doing at Otto’s wedding? Barney? Grampa and Jasper?
– How the fuck did Homer get the car lifted up on that wicker basket?
– More needless and boring suspense with Marge not being able to brake. Even though they threw in some lame jokes, it still felt so vacuous since you know Becky didn’t do it and also you don’t care.
– The end of the second act is fucking terrible, but it’s got two great bits in it. First the employees being paralyzed by getting eyes full of sprinkles (“I can only see a horrible rainbow!”) And also the line “I know where you live! My house!” I’ve used multiple times with my roommates.
– Wiggum teaching his son to kill people, Homer and Bart seeming to not give two shits Marge is in danger and needs help, the obvious and easy newspaper headline jokes… it’s like I’m watching a totally different show. And I am. I read a great article on the show’s downfall years back, I’d credit it if I could remember it. It said something along the lines of that the classic years would end an episode by having Homer bike off into the sunset with the love of his life, and a later episode ends by having him shoot a tranquilizer dart into her neck. I don’t think there’s much more than needs to be said, do you?
– …one more thing. What the fuck is with the living room being transformed into a gothic dungeon? With cobbled walls and everything? Let’s say that was like some wallpaper, and they got together some working torches, a cutting table and straps, cobwebs, chains, a big cage, all this junk was just lying around somewhere. Even with all of that, what are they doing? Marge is missing and they’re doing this elaborate shoot for Bart’s stupid fucking video? Man, fuck this show. How many seasons I got left?

246. Last Tap Dance in Springfield

(originally aired May 7, 2000)
Another episode where I find myself with not much to say… not so bad in the way that it’s totally bland and not impacting in the slightest, just that I don’t have any specific commentary to dole out. Inspired by a ridiculous (and very amusing) Latin dance film, Lisa decides she wants to take up dancing, but ultimately takes up tap under the tuteledge of famed child actor Little Vicki. Vicki is a pretty good character, playing off of Shirley Temple basically, with a sort of bitter, spiteful streak to her. Like most great adults in Springfield, she isn’t shy or hesitant about belittling young children. She works for what she is, and gets her fair share of laughs (“Turn that frown upside down! …that’s a smile, not an upside down frown. Work on that too!”) There are a couple other isolated moments of greatness, coming from the likes of Chief Wiggum and Professor Frink, but they seem to be few and far between.

This isn’t really a bad episode, but there’s definitely not much here. It feels empty; Lisa wants to pursue dancing like she saw in the film, but ends up in tap basically as a result of a joke. So when she’s no good at it, there’s no real desire for her to continue since she didn’t want to do it in the first place. That’s why they needed to shoehorn the completely out-of-left-field notion that she didn’t want to let her parents down by giving up, when they shower her with praise and call her their “Broadway baby” apropos of nothing. They should have either bore that in earlier in the show, or gave her another reason not to quit. I could be mistaken, but a later episode had Lisa take up ballet when her mother failed at it, so it had an angle of Marge living through her child. I’m sure it was awful, but even that makes more sense than this does.

And now for our big dumb ending. We can’t even have a simple Lisa show without resulting in an over-the-top climax. Professor Frink notices Lisa’ plight and figures he can help; he places a sensor into Lisa’s shoes that will move in reaction to sound, thus she will be able to tap in time with the rest of her class. Now, this… doesn’t make sense. Let’s say that it could work that if Lisa manages to control her own upper body while her feet move of their own accord. But it just becomes more and more of a stretch when she starts doing splits, slides and back flips when Little Vicki tries to outdo her in the performance, then starts going absolutely mental when the audience applauds wildly. This ending just feels way too out of place in what should have been a smaller, more intimate show. So yeah, it’s a pretty average episode slightly tarnished by a ludicrous ending. Oh, there’s also that B-plot of Bart and Milhouse in the mall, but I got nothing to say on that. Amusing at parts, but wholly disposable. You’re telling me there’s not one camera in that whole mall that wouldn’t have picked up the kids’ antics? Only in Springfield…

Tidbits and Quotes
– I really like the Cyborganizer (“I can streamline any procedure, except this thing you call love,”) and Homer’s bemoaning of how the network retooled it so that he’s a single father.
– Homer getting eye surgery is just another excuse to give Castellaneta’s vocal chords a work out. And to have a truly disgusting shot of his eyes crusting over. [shudder]
– Odd that this season we’ve had the only other two characters Yeardley Smith has played, and since her voice is so distinct, they’re both parallels of Lisa. Here, it’s Lisabella, the mousy librarian turned sexy dance star in Tango De La Muerte. It’s full of lots of great bits and lines (“There is just one dance that will beat them: the Tango de la Muerte.” “Only one man was crazy enough to dance that dance, and he is dead! “My twin brother, Freduardo. But where he died, I shall live… in his apartment.”)
– Great sign gag with the Little Vicki dance school, as the motorized pinky into the cheek continues to bore into the metal sign.
– Vicki’s “tappa-tappa-tappa” schtick starts to grow a bit thin, but it’s saved by this line (“Back when I was your age, I had forty three movies under my belt, and I had to do it without tappa-tappa-tappa! I would’ve killed for tappa-tappa-tappa!”)
– For some reason, Allison and Alex Whitney are in the dance class. More of them just shoving characters wherever they like.
– Now, Bart and Milhouse skip out going to camp to hide out at the mall. Then later the mall owner mentions that it’s President’s Day weekend. …okay. Couldn’t they have made it Memorial Day weekend? That would make it a bit closer.
– It’s silly and obvious, but I love the bit with Wiggum and the ACME anvil (“Gosh, that cheese looks good. Think I could grab it before that anvil hits?” “I don’t know, Chief. It’s a million to one.” “I like those odds!”)
– The mall story really has no end. They bring in a mountain lion for some reason to catch a rat, then Bart and Milhouse dissuade it with some yarn. A string hangs from the lion’s mouth, and Lou assumes it’s the rat’s tail, and that’s the end. …okay?
– Love the violent nature of “dimpling” and how cheerful Vicki is about enforcing it on children (“Now this may hurt a lot! What am I saying, ‘may’?”)
– Me and my friends have quoted “Why walk when we can dance!” many times over, it’s just a wonderfully dumb line for this dumb play. Homer is enthralled though (“Where’s Lisa?” “Shhh! This plot is hard enough to follow as it is.”)
– Homer’s been pretty absent here after the eye surgery thing, so we gotta cram in some Jerkass-ness at the end. First in him trampling over Frink’s attempts to cheer Lisa up, then we close on more Homer screaming after he grabs Frink’s weasel weapon. …that sounded unintentionally sexual, I apologize.

245. Kill the Alligator and Run

(originally aired April 30, 2000)
I think at some point, John Swartzwelder noticed the decline of the series or he himself lost interest, and just began punking his fellow writers, and then nobody got the joke. The man responsible for some of the greatest episodes of the series’ prime now has his name attached to some of the worst of these later years. Now either the scripts got completely botched in the rewrites (of which Swartzwelder is not present), or he’s just fucking with us. I kinda feel it to be both; you flip through some of his novellas and you know that not only is he still hysterical, but he is quite partial to over-the-top silliness. So basically I’m not entirely sure who to point the blame for some of these episodes, particularly this one, definitely one of the worst of the entire series. Messy, uninspired, derivative, directionless… I could throw about more negative adjectives, or I could just give you a plot synopsis. I don’t even need to critique that much; just read this shit. It speaks for itself.

Homer is shocked after taking a magazine quiz revealing he only has three more years to live. It’s basically the beginning of “Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” but worse, where we have him become a sleep-deprived insane wreck. A lot of times Homer has acted like a mental patient, but here where he actually is one, it’s just as not funny. The plant psychiatrist suggests he take a sabbatical, and soon the family is off to sunny Florida to get some rest. Unfortunately they’ve arrived during a rowdy spring break bash. Despite him being completely incapacitated prior, Homer is now an insane wannabe party animal, acting as boorish and obnoxious as possible. There’s also a runner of him trying to look cool to today’s youth, another plot string that’s been lifted from a previous episode. When spring break ends, Homer tries to keep the party going and drags his family along with him, but ends up mowing down the beloved town mascot, Captain Jack the gator. Now the family is on the run from the law, and holy shit, we’re not even to act three yet…

So more crazy shit happens… they work at a diner in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, they’re caught and put in a chain gang, end up catering at a fancy high class party for some reason, then try to escape and fail, then the gator’s alive again and they can go. Whatever. What a fucking travesty of an episode. There’s just so much shit in here that makes so little sense it’s frustrating. Why would Homer want to tackle a lost child? Why would the entire family fall asleep while their goddamn car is being pushed by a train? Why does the family become a bunch of hicks for some reason? Why be so complicit with Homer after he’s basically ruined everything? As you may have guessed, there’s no concurrent theme here; it’s like they had four stories lying around and just pieced them together. They attempt to justify that Homer’s exhaustion from partying and subsequent passing out cured his insomnia, but it’s done so haphazardly. This episode doesn’t care about its own rules, or logic, or proper characterization, or humor. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens, but done in the least coherent and least funny way possible. A true landmark of awfulness for the series.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer’s a swell guy right off the bat giving Flanders a ‘sex test’ and belittling him for all the crying he did. Apparently he forgot that his wife died (“Six months ago. You were at the funeral. You fell into the grave!” “Oh, yeah. I saw a gopher. What a day!”) Fuck Homer.
– I did smirk at the ridiculous set-up for one of Homer’s quizzes (“There’s a black widow at the door, a rattlesnake in the window, and a scorpion on the phone…”)
– Why would Marge recoil in horror after checking Homer’s life expectancy quiz? She shouldn’t be giving it any credence at all.
– More useless guest stars to add to the pile. Was having Charlie Rose and Robert Evans on the show really necessary?
– If nothing else (and really, there is nothing else), this episode gave me the moniker of Florida being “America’s Wang,” which has come in handy since I’ve moved here.
– Do the writers realize when they’ve turned Homer into an asshole, and how it’s really kind of worrying? Act one ends with him helping some rowdy teens flip the car with his wife and children, including an infant, inside. They could have been really hurt. But oh that wacky Homer, so fuuunnnnnyyy…
– I don’t mind Kid Rock and Joe C., they fit perfectly into spring break. It’s just they have no material written for them. They’re just reacting to Homer’s moronic escapades. Homer’s just this comedy imp now, just appearing on stage for no reason to get drunk, then takes the mike and plays for the crowd. Just a drunken idiot raving like a lunatic. That’s our lovable protagonist.
– I did like the bit of Homer attempting to drive without a license, and being surprised that the engine was able to start.
– So the car jumps over the railroad tracks, and stops. We see the car has stopped in frame and it’s still on road. Cut back to the sheriff. Then cut back to the car, which is now on another set of tracks. Fucking lazy. What is happening? And once more, why would the family just fall asleep? Even for Homer this is a stretch. And the conductor wouldn’t have stopped after hitting a vehicle with people inside, let alone wait for many, many hours to do something about it? Fucking bullshit.
– I really don’t even feel like talking about this episode anymore… I can’t really dissect or explain what the hell happens in act three, because it really is just whatever the writers could pull out of their ass. Like there’s this diner literally in the middle of the swamp, that can afford four new employees, and the owner lets them sleep in her trailer. Then they get caught and are sent to prison for a relatively minor misdemeanor. People run down gators all the time. The fact that it was the town mascot, maybe that’s a bit more severe, but still, a jail sentence seems so harsh. And Bart, Lisa and Maggie are in the chain gang! What?! Actually, I did like this exchange (“No listening. You hear me?” “Uh, no.” “You just don’t learn, do you?”) Then later when the family tries to escape, whip guy whips the door shut then whips over a torch creating a ring of fire around them. And the family applauds him for no fucking reason. Then Jack is okay and they’re banned from Florida, and apparently every other state but two, in a fucking stupid ending to a fucking atrocious fucking show. …fuck.

244. Days of Wine and D’ohses

(originally aired April 9, 2000)
So here we have our last of the “big change” episodes of this season, where Barney takes a vow of sobriety. And like all the other changes, it barely had any effect on the rest of the series. Barney was still always planted at Moe’s, only now they rotated in a new clean model sheet for him and gave him a coffee mug in place of a beer stein. And then a few seasons later he was off the wagon. So forget about the “impact” of this episode because there isn’t one, we’ll take it as its own story. I do feel like it could have been a lot worse… but similarly feel it could be a lot better too. So rock bottom for Barney is when he sees videotape of his birthday party, which he doesn’t remember, where he gets absolutely plastered, per usual. Seeing this footage horrifies him, and he vows to give up drinking. In its place, he challenges himself to take up helicopter lessons. It isn’t long before he and Homer have a falling out regarding Barney musing of the time he wasted at Moe’s, and the two must patch things up before show’s end.

To be honest, this isn’t really a story I cared much about seeing. It took us eleven seasons to come up with the concept that the town drunk should go sober? Maybe they thought it would tread over the same ground as “Duffless.” And now I have to compare this to that great episode now. Alcohol is Barney’s life, being drunk is his primary character trait. If done in an interesting way, taking that away from him could be interesting, to give him a whole new side of his personality. Bring back the academic Barney we’ve seen in flashbacks, but with a twist. Here, we really barely see Barney actually struggling with wanting a beer; compare this with the eternal struggle Homer had all throughout “Duffless.” Speaking of, Homer is all over this episode of course, and serves only to distract and annoy. A killer scene is when he and Barney have their falling out in the helicopter, where Homer basically acts like a petulant irrational child. Barney explains to Homer that while he’ll always cherish his Moe’s memories, he’d rather not spend his days getting smashed beyond belief. Homer’s reaction: “Oh, so you’re better than me, is that it!” He then tells Barney to take him home or he’ll scream, and cries up the stairs like a little girl once home. Always good to make your hero a petty, insufferable baby, right?

Though there’s plenty of material you could have gotten from the A-story, the writers ran low I guess, so we have our side story of Bart and Lisa going around town trying to find the perfect picture to enter to be the new Springfield phone book cover. It’s amusing enough as filler, but in the end intertwines with the main story when the two are caught in a wildfire, and it’s up to Barney and his helicopter to save the day. The climax is a bit over the top, but dramatic enough. I do like the stupidness of how Barney almost relapses, and how Homer takes one for the team, and how touched Barney is by it (“You brave man. You took six silver bullets for me!”) With any other character, it wouldn’t work, but with Barney, who knows beer better than anyone, knows the impact and the danger it has. So here I am once more at another impasse: an episode that’s sort of middle of the road. There are a few bits that I did enjoy about it, but the plot really could have been expounded on more to give us more insight into Barney and his addiction. Instead we got lots of dumb Homer jokes. Plus knowing the writers would do nothing with sober Barney, the feeling of it all being for naught lingers over this show. So yeah, nothing special, but nothing horrible either.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening with Homer and the tiki is absolute garbage, just more of him being a idiotic child rather than a dim adult. So he redirects the gas line, and ends up catching it on fire. He darts off to Moe’s as the fire is crawling down the line. The whole house could have caught on fire, perhaps triggered a reaction from something inside, and caused an explosion. Homer running from a raging fire at his home stranding his wife and children? Classic comedy!
– Great bit of Moe’s other tape, desperately waiting for a mysterious package to be slipped through the mail slot. I can only imagine what filthy, awful thing he’s got in there…
– Carl’s “morning-after” stationary is fantastic (“I’m deeply sorry for…”)
– So act two we see Barney cleaning out his apartment of all liqueur bottles and beer ephemera, going to start anew. Then he slides down a fireman’s pole into Moe’s, asking for a beer. Easy joke, yeah. But… he lives above Moe’s? We’ve see the building hundreds of times, and it’s very clear there’s only one fucking story. They could have just done a smash cut of Barney at the mirror to him rushing into Moe’s. It’s just another example of the mentality of, hey, we’ll throw this gag in here, who cares if it makes no sense or not.
– I like the asshole announcer for the phone book contest flashing the mailing address on the screen for mere seconds. Searching for a camera, Bart and Lisa check the elusive closet in the foyer, which is chock full of callbacks to previous episodes, from the Mr. Plow jacket to the town crier hat and bell.
– Nice shot of the Play-Doh factory. Feels like a good ol’ classic gag.
– Barney returns to Moe’s to make amends for his misdeeds (“I broke bar stools, befouled your broom closet, and made sweet love to your pool table, which I then befouled.” “Well, that would explain the drop-off in play.”)
– Firetrucks would be putting out the wildfire, but are all being used for Burt Reynold’s latest movie. Reynolds himself explains (“I play Jerry ‘Fireball’ Mudflap, a feisty Supreme Court justice searching for his birth mother while competing in a cross-country firetruck race. It’s… garbage.”
– I kind of like the payoff to the photo story, where Bart and Lisa submit the whole roll of film and are shocked to see the new book cover is them as babies sitting on the toilet nude (“I guess some baby pictures were on that old roll of film.”)
– Even Barney’s new coffee addiction could have been expounded upon. Just a little bit more than a quick joke at the finale; it’s a good observation of how one could jump from one addiction to another, where the problem isn’t so much the substance itself, but the dependency on it. I think that kind of thinking might be too much for the show at this point though…

243. Bart to the Future

(originally aired March 19, 2000)
It almost seems unfair that this episode must inevitably be compared to “Lisa’s Wedding,” one of the greatest, perhaps the most touching show the series has ever done. But that’s the risk you run when you return to the well, I suppose. Certainly the writers can take another stab at interpreting the Simpsons’ future, go in a different direction and explore the personalities in a different time, place and mental state decades down the road. It may not be “Wedding,” but it can be its own unique enjoyable experience. Or, we can get this episode, which is unimaginably lazy and completely devoid of anything interesting or funny to say about the future, or anything else for that matter. Our intro to the future vision is even clunky: while “Wedding” spent time setting up the Renaissance fair, as well as Homer and Lisa’s strained relationship, this episode literally shifts gears on a dime to an Indian casino, where Bart ends up getting caught sneaking in by the management. The casino manager shows unto Bart a vision of what his future holds if he does not change his bad boy ways.

Future Bart is a wanna-be musician and worthless bum, living with Ralph in a shitty bungalow by the sea. When they are booted from said residence, and all other attempts at mooching off loved ones proves fruitless, Bart is left with one option: move in with and incessantly bother Lisa, President of the United States seeking re-election. It makes for a great story when your main character is a pathetic loser who aggravates everyone for the entire running time, receives an unearned “success” at the end and learns nothing. Plus, what a boring interpretation of Bart. A slacker who still has his ten-year-old mentality? The Bart in “Wedding” makes a lot more sense. Hell, him as a Supreme Court Justice makes more sense than the Bart we have here. It’s just plain sad to see him like this, and irritating that I harbor so much hatred for this character. Everyone else is just as much a bore. Lisa as President? Again, unoriginal and improbable characterization. And to pad the story out more, we’ll have Homer search for Lincoln’s gold. Brilliant work, guys.

Everything in this show just feels lazy and off. Not only have none of the characters matured, but neither have their voices. Bart, Ralph and Milhouse in particular still sound like kids; call back to the great voice Cartwright did for Bart in “Wedding.” What happened? I guess they figured it would be too much work. The future technology is not funny and too outlandish, providing no interesting or telling views for life in the future like “Wedding” did. …yeah, this whole review has just been comparisons to the other future show, but what do you propose I do? The differences are clear as day how one is brilliant and the other is crap. “Wedding” created a vision of the future that was believable, both in terms of the characters’ position later in life and of the universe it created and what differences there would be based on trends in our present. In this episode, it’s all just characters doing wacky things and old future jokes we’ve seen so many times before (Soylent Green! Outrageous!) Putting aside the comparison to the transcendent “Wedding,” this episode is just abysmal. It really felt like they were sleepwalking through it. But even that gives them too much credit.

Tidbits and Quotes
– How they get to the casino is really astonishing. They turn back from the insect-overrun campground, there’s a brief pause in the car, then Bart announces impromptu, “Hey, look, a casino!” And Homer immediately turns in, and there we are. I guess the impulsive nature of it could be the point, but it was just so fast and random, it just felt like they had no idea how to segue and just gave up.
– I guess I should address the return of Gabbo and Arthur Crandall. Or maybe I won’t, since there really isn’t anything to say about it other than it’s there.
– This future world doesn’t strike me from the start. Ralph rooming with Bart? I mean, realistically, I feel Ralph will need to be living with assistance since he’s mentally handicapped. But why have him in the episode at all? We don’t get into what his job is or what his future is like; he’s just there. It would have made more sense if Bart was mooching off Milhouse, who could have had a lucrative job and maybe a girlfriend or wife who convinced him to kick him out, then that starts the plot moving. I’d buy that. But instead, we have Milhouse as Lisa’s secretary for some Godforsaken reason. And Kearney’s part of the secret service? What? It’s like they desperately needed these familiar characters to fall back on rather than develop some new material that could stand on its own. Just sad, really.
– Future Bart really is just obnoxious. Seeing him bilk a blind Flanders out of more money is really disheartening. As is the cheap joke of making Rod and Todd gay.
– I guess the fanboy in me likes that Nelson’s outfit is kind of fitted like Biff’s from Back to the Future Part II. And I buy him as a sleazy nightclub owner. But then for no reason in the third act he’s there with Bart at Camp David.
– There’s very, very little positive I can say about this episode, but I like this exchange explaining why the country is broke (“Remember when the last administration decided to invest in our nation’s children? Big mistake.” “The balanced breakfast program just created a generation of ultra-strong super-criminals.” “And midnight basketball taught them to function without sleep.”)
– The air of not giving a shit is so strong in this show… the other Simpsons just appear in the White House for no reason, Bart manages to barge in on Lisa’s live address, and everywhere else for that matter. There’s also the scene where Homer axes through the floor, revealing he’s right above the Oval Office, which makes no sense, then our next scene starts with an expansive shot of said office, where we see the ceiling is completely intact. Amazing.
– Bart really is awful in this episode, almost effectively blowing Lisa’s re-election chances. Then he’s handled with kid gloves until the very end, where he “saves the day” by stalling the world’s leaders saying they’ve sent “checks” out. Even though that makes absolutely no sense and only “solves” the problem in the most temporary of ways. Lisa would have been better off accepting Kearney’s secret murder plan.
– The only other bit I like is the Chinese representative (“You pay now! Now!” “What happened to you, China? You used to be cool.” “Hey, China still cool! You pay later! Later!”) It’s not particularly funny, but it’s an amusing performance, and something I quoted with friends quite a lot for one reason or another.

242. Pygmoelian

(originally aired February 27, 2000)
After the last few clunkers, this episode is decidedly, and surprisingly, a breath of fresh air. A solid enough story, nice characterization, humorous set pieces and gags, I thoroughly enjoyed a fair amount of this show. The beginning at Duff Days was really fabulous, not only as an opening gag fest, but had a cynical, inappropriate edge that the show does best, from the barbed wire fence holding the non-drinkers and the glorification of getting kids simulatingly drunk. I don’t even mind Homer’s fake fire drill at the beginning; it feels more like a bonehead plan born out of his rampant enthusiasm for the even than him being a total jerk. The highlight of the festival is a bar-tending contest, hosted by the grand reintroduction of Duffman. Introduced right at the edge of Oakley/Weinstein and Scully, Duffman feels like the last classic character, and I absolutely love him here, a bombastic, mindless corporate shill. Some of his best lines come from this episode (“Duffman can’t breathe! Oh no!”)

Moe competes and wins the competition, with the prize of having his face on the new Duff calendar. Put off by his ugly mug, Duff higher-ups release the calendar with multiple stickers on his face. This puts things in perspective for Moe, pondering of whether he’s really that hideous. I feel this characterization of Moe of being this pathetic insecure mess to be pitied has been stretched farther and farther in later seasons, but here it still feels genuine, as you get a fair blend of the innocent and the bitter anger. Moe opts for plastic surgery, which gives him a glorious new handsome visage. What then? Find everyone who wronged him in his past and rub it in their faces, which feels like a true petty thing Moe would do. His last stop is at the local television studio, who turned him down for a soap opera role back in his acting days. And wouldn’t you know, he ends up getting hired for that exact role when he barges in to chew them out! That’s some great timing, huh?

I like the bits we see of “It Never Ends,” but I feel the few bits of what we saw of Springfield’s other soap “Search for the Sun” in the past ripped soaps a whole lot better. It’s later in the third act when the story goes awry. It feels like they wrote themselves to this late point and realized they had to wrap it up and panicked. So Moe gets a delivery in his hands, a book conveniently labeled “Future Plot Lines,” and is shocked to find that they’re killing off his character. To get vengeance, Moe has Homer sabotage the show as an “angel from the future” and reveal the premise of future scripts live on the air. Yeah, live. Why would they broadcast this live? And why would the executives allow it? It just feels like an all-together rushed ending. And while it does make no sense for Moe’s face to turn back to normal after a gigantic wall falls on it, I’m not so bothered by it, since you know he’s going to be back to normal by the end anyway. Perhaps there would have been a better reason for it, but it’s not terrible. So despite some hiccups with the ending, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. A pretty solid episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Duff Days set piece is everything something like the skiing opener of “Little Big Mom” is not: consistently funny. From the front gates with Surly Duff (“Drink Duff! …responsibly,”) the internment camp-esque Duff Designated Drivers’ Rockin’ Fun Zone (“When we get home, there’s going to be a lot of opened pickle jars,”) surly robot Babe Ruth facing down surly robot Ben Franklin, and a tipsy Bart and Milhouse (“This guy… this is the guy…”) All funny, and on point about the questionable nature of the festival.
– Moe’s other two contestants are perfectly indicative of other bartender stereotypes: Michael Finn, the burly Irishman, and Titania, the Hooters-type waitress with a sizable chest. Or as Moe casually refers to them as, “the Mick and the chick with the rack.” The competition is great as well. Trick pouring easily goes to Titania, who overflows two taps as her natural assets bounce up and down. A quiz round goes to Titania as well, despite her not knowing the answer. By round three, it’s obvious there’s some jury tampering (“You said if I slept with you, I wouldn’t have to touch the drunk!” “Duffman says a lot of things! Oh yeah!”)
– The little runner with the pink elephant balloon is sort of empty, but an amusing time waster. The balloon itself is another great small detail from the fair, and the payoff is pretty good of it ending up at the gay Republican headquarters. Lisa receives a bumper sticker for her efforts (“‘A Gay President in 2084?'” “We’re realistic.”) In all honestly, where we are now, that feels like a little too soon.
– Another slight sore spot in this episode is Homer. Shocking, right? The writers seem to love making him an impulsive madman at this point: stealing money from Moe’s register, throwing a rock through a woman’s window, giddily dousing the soap opera set with kerosene. He’s like a big kid desperate for screen time in another man’s story. Those three instances were basically it, but they stand out as blights to this episode to me.
– Re-use of a classic Dr. Nick joke of anesthetic actually being ‘New Car Smell,’ but slightly saved when the nurse switches the two-option dial over.
– This show has a lot of small jokes that normally fall flat but are great here, like Snake helping his son with his first theft (“That’s my little dude!”)
– I love Castellaneta’s voice for the actor playing Dr. Tad Winslow. So over theatrical. Almost like a more pompous Sideshow Mel. I also love he has an eyepatch tan line on as he removes it for seemingly the only time in his career.
– Nice brief exchange between Lenny and Carl walking to the bar (“So, Lenny, how are things working out between you and that girl next door?” “Eh, it’s over. She got a window shade.”)
– I do like how Moe being on the soap is sort of a call back to when he was a child actor in the Little Rascals. It’s not totally random (“As a child, I was bitten by the acting bug. Then it burrowed under my skin and laid eggs in my heart. Now, those eggs are hatching and… the feeling is indescribable.” “I know what you mean. Our dog had that.”)
– As I said, the ending is dumb, but I like Marge taking notes and that after reading three plot lines, the producer screams that Homer has blown a whole year’s worth of programming. Makes total sense, since soap opera stories drag on, and on, and ooooonnn…