Category Archives: Season 11

241. Missionary: Impossible

(originally aired February 20, 2000)
I guess at some point I’m just going to have to accept this show is just another cartoon now. I throw that term around a lot, and let it be known, I am in no way decrying cartoons. It’s all about context; I don’t expect to see an episode about sleazy public figures or marital spats on Dexter’s Laboratory, and nor do I expect to see superstrong babies or mythical creatures on The Simpsons. And yet, I have, and the series shows no signs of getting any less ridiculous and wacky. But I just can’t go along for the ride; I’m not saying the show has to be firmly grounded in reality all the time, it never was, but if you’re going to make that reach, at least have it make a little bit of sense, or at least be funny. The show manages to do neither. Take the lead-in with this one, where Homer makes a phony pledge to PBS to get them to stop interrupting programming with a pledge drive. When he’s exposed for not having the money, he’s chased by an angry mob, consisting of Mr. Rogers, Yo Yo Ma, Teletubbies who shoot fucking lasers, and Big Bird, who flies in like a hawk. I mean, this is like Family Guy shit. It’s ironic that the writers would take a shot at them at the end of the show, considering that at this point, the series isn’t that much worse than them. Man, I never thought I would say that…

Reverend Lovejoy assists Homer in his escape from PBS, in exchange for acting as a missionary on the small island of Microatia. Now, bizarre set-up aside, I don’t think this premise makes much sense from a story point of view. Homer the missionary? What’s the point, other than to have him engage in wacky antics and berate the natives? Maybe if he had been paired up with Flanders, who proceeds to curry the favor of the people, and Homer out of jealous attempts to one-up them, and the two egos get the best of each other in the end. That might have been interesting, and made more sense as a basis of a show. Here, it’s just silly and pointless storytelling. He builds them a casino for reasons that escape me, which ends up backfiring, and then he goes back to finishing off the chapel. Which turns into a big disaster and then we have our PBS ending, which feels like less of a clever callback than just a cheap cop-out. It really honestly seems like the writers are caring less and less about these episodes being somewhat meaningful or having a point. Just throw in a bunch of wacky shit, and we’re good.

Back home, the rest of the Simpsons keep in touch with Homer via ham radio, which Marge seems to know how to use, and is able to get reception from where what must be on the other side of the planet. Also it’s daytime in both places during their call. But who cares, right? Homer makes Bart the man of the house, which of course means that now he has to go into work for him. And Lenny, Carl, and Burns can’t tell that it’s a kid. This stuff just really aggravates me, and departs the series even further from the reality it once was in, if that were even possible. You’re telling me Burns doesn’t realize he’s talking to a ten-year-old? Lenny and Carl have met Homer’s son, they don’t recognize him? I’m putting more thought into this than the writers did, they just thought it’d be funny if Bart actually acted like the “man of the house.” Doesn’t Bart have school? How did he get to the power plant? Why would Marge put up with this bullshit? Doesn’t matter. None of this matters. I’m getting a headache. We’re done here.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I like pretty much everything before the mob chase: “Do Shut Up” being England’s longest running series (“And today, we’re showing all seven episodes,”) the pledge gifts of a tote bag, and an umbrella with a picture of the tote bag, and Betty White, who gives a great performance (“If you watch even one second of PBS and don’t contribute, you’re a thief. A common thief!”) I also like Homer’s contentment with thinking he’d get away with his anonymous contribution, then being hoisted by his own petard (“Ohh, why did I register with Insta-Trace!”)
– Lovejoy’s pretty good for the little screen time he has, wishing he had never taught Homer the word “sanctuary,” and this great runner (“Please help me, I’ll do anything! I’ll light a candle! I’ll help with your next charity scam!” “The word is drive.” “Sure, sure, Bob’s your uncle, let’s just get out of here!”)
– If nothing else, I can credit this episode with giving us the word “Jebus.”
– More dumb cartoony shit with the butterfly burrowing into Homer’s arm and crawling about his body. It’s like the penny thing in “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” but even more disgusting.
– I do kind of like the native girl Lisa, Jr., though I wish her relationship with Homer had been played up a bit more, acting as Lisa’s surrogate whose presence makes Homer want to do a good job in helping the natives. That’s sort of the case, but not really.
– It’s a small line, but I hate when Bart cuts off Homer’s nonsensical diatribe to ask him if he’s been licking toads. Like, why would Bart even know about that, let alone think to ask his father that question? To make the joke work, of course. Never mind that none of this sounds like actual dialogue a real person would say, we need to set up and pay off our clunky material.
– I fucking hate his scene, but I do like Burns’ outrage that Homer apparently sold plutonium to the Iraqis, with no mark-up.
– This whole thing’s a cartoon now. They built that whole casino, and roulette wheel and everything? And later one of them holds up actual playing cards, which came from God knows where. Although through all of it, I liked the idea of Homer making his own beer, which to me feels like a call-back to “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.”
– I like this token Homer line (“Well, I may not know much about God, but I have to say we built a pretty nice cage for Him.”)
– The pledge ending feels like a cop-out, like I said, but I do like the idea of it, and seeing all the other FOX stars waiting for your call, including Hank Hill, Bender, Thurgood Stubbs from The PJ’s, and of course Rupert Murdoch. And I do love the shot at Family Guy, but honestly, this show should not be throwing stones at “crude, low-brow programming” considering what I’ve been watching for the last two seasons.

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240. Alone Again, Natura-Diddly

(originally aired February 13, 2000)
In 1999, Maggie Roswell had a falling out with FOX regarding a pay dispute. This left the show in a minor pickle; while it’s not as devastating as losing one of their big six performers, Roswell still voiced her share of memorable characters, including Helen Lovejoy and Maude Flanders. It’s not exactly the hugest problem though; her roles were at best tertiary, and keeping them mostly silent with a recurring replacement guest voice every now and then wouldn’t have been too difficult to pull off. But instead, this gave the writers the opportunity to pull off a big fat gimmick episode and kill off Maude. I remember the promotion for this show, making a big deal that someone from the cast was going to die, and that it could be anyone. Rumor had it it was going to be one of Marge’s sisters, but it had already leaked that it was Maude. There’s something about this episode that’s terribly misguided, perhaps linked to the circumstances that led to its inception. It doesn’t feel like a story they particularly wanted to tell, and it’s certainly clear they can’t handle the heavy subject matter. All in all, it’s just incredibly clumsy.

Let’s start with talking about what killing off Maude means. Though his role has shifted slightly over time, Ned and the Flanders flock have represented everything Homer and his family is not. They’re loving, well-off financially, and things always seem to go their way. Ned always has a smile on his face and a kind word to say to his neighbor-eeno, as Homer toils away at a job he hates, with kids who don’t respect him and the butt end of fate’s cruel, cruel jokes. But in killing Maude off, Ned is cut down a peg, his happy life burnt to cinders. He can no longer play this role anymore, and must be reborn in a way. …he hasn’t, but this gave the writers the opportunity to build on this character in the future. …they didn’t, but that’s news for another time. So this could have been an interesting role reversal show, where Ned at his time of need takes solace in the dysfunctional Simpson family, who need to work together to get him on his feet and help him move on. Instead we get bonehead Homer making him a dating tape and hiding out in mailboxes.

Things just feel so haphazard here, and the way in which they deal with Maude’s death is so crass. I don’t mean to bring the tone down, but this blog is about my specific reaction to each show, and having not seen this one in years, re-watching it struck me in a different way. My mother passed away last fall, and seeing this definitely brought up parallels. Some of Ned’s behavior reminded me of my dad, struggling of what to do with his life and how he could move on. But with stuff like the “Let ‘Er R.I.P.” T-shirt and Homer’s jerky behavior through the whole show, the episode felt so wrong, like it didn’t even try to blend the jokes with the serious story. I felt offended with how terribly out of place some of these bits were and the tonal clash they created. Now, don’t get me wrong, any subject is fair game for comedy. Hell, this show has done fabulous shows about death in the past. Episodes like “Old Money” and “‘Round Springfield” were thoughtful portrayals of how the death of loved ones affects us, and how we can make due with life without them, and on top of that, communicated all that in a funny way. What does this episode communicate? I haven’t a clue. If there’s any episode I can point to that truly shows how far the series has fallen, it may be this one. Sure, “Saddlesore Galactica” is absolute shit, but this is what the series now considers to be a meaningful, emotional episode. Play this one back to back with one of the episodes I just mentioned, and the differences could not be more stark. The former is a brilliant show, and the latter just has no idea what the hell it’s doing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– A lot of these set pieces in these later episodes are kind of hard to talk about, since there’s not that much there that’s funny or memorable. Lisa is shocked to find part of the nature reserve has been gutted to build a new racetrack. So, they proceed to cross the road while race cars are speeding down it. I can see Homer doing this, but the others? The animals adapting to their new environments, racer Clay Babcock, the stuff at the actual race itself… I got nothing. It’s only offensive in that it’s not funny. The only good bit at the race was this exchange between Ralph and Chief Wiggum upon seeing Homer shirtless (“Mommy has bosoms like that!” “Yeah, I wish.”)
– Okay, so Maude’s death. I guess I don’t have a problem with the ridiculously absurd reason for her demise. I do take great issue that Homer is indirectly responsible, but only in that it’s another sizable example of them setting something up and doing nothing with it. Even someone as thick as Homer has to realize that he was accidentally responsible for someone dying (don’t bother bringing up “Homer’s Enemy,” as that context is totally different). As such, you’d think this would affect him in some way. Maybe make his overenthusiastic desire to help Ned is a response to this sense of guilt. But instead Homer remains locked in jerk mode; even at his nicest, he still feels like a creepy weirdo. Plus the great joke about Homer parking in the ambulance space at the hospital delaying resuscitation that could have saved Maude’s life. That may be the worst line in the history of the series. Homer is basically a reprehensible monster at this point.
– The funeral also feels so wrong. Instead of being meaningful, it just becomes a big meta commentary about how Maude was a tietiary character… in life, and is one of the few major changes that has happened to the series like Apu getting married and having kids and the Van Houtens breaking up. It felt pathetic, like the writers crowing, “Look at all this stuff we changed! Aren’t we innovative!” Also the Fandamonium girls being there felt really wrong. They made a joke about it being part of their settlement due to the accident, but how inappropriate. It’s a cruel joke that maybe would work if it were geared toward a dislikable character, but Ned? The people indirectly responsible for his wife’s death are at her funeral, shooting off the very shirts that killed her. And Homer finally gets his fucking shirt with a fucking crass slogan on it and is oh so satisfied. Fuck this show.
– There are glimmers of Homer being a nice guy here, like when he tucks Flanders in the first night, but it immediately flips back to him wanting to chuck rocks at him (and pocketing some in case he needs them for later).
– One of the few, few laughs here is the zoom-in on Ned’s pin number during Homer’s dating video. Which is then ruined by the next scene, Ned in the shower with pixellation obscuring his seemingly large genitals, a completely tasteless scene.
– I guess we get some foreshadowing to the whole Nedna thing here. …wait, what the hell am I saying, foreshadowing? That implies it was planned that they would get together, not another gimmicky ass pull. The scene’s not funny anyway.
– Ned’s crisis of faith and falling out with God is another interesting plot turn that could have happened in this episode. It could have been great; the senseless death of his wife being the thing that breaks Ned, turning his back on the Almighty, and the citizens of Springfield needing to bring him back. But no, we’ll just make a quick joke out of it. No sense in doing a show about actual character development when we can have more silly Homer antics.
– So if this is the boat we’re in, Ned could do worse than Rachel Jordan. She reappeared next season in a wholly disposable episode, so she doesn’t have much in the way of character, but she could have. So we have our “hopeful” ending (“My name’s Ned Flanders, and I’m here every week. Rain or shine,”) with the writers hoping to garner some sentiment, but all it does is remind me how little there actually was. And in case you weren’t annoyed already, we end on a final song bit from Miss Jordan (“It’s a show about Ned/About him losin’ his sweet wife/She landed on her head/But now it’s time to get on with his life.”) Jesus Christ, fuck you guys. FUCK YOU.

239. Saddlesore Galactica

(originally aired February 6, 2000)
This is a pretty infamous episode, and if you’re a fan, you know why. In fact, I can feel your blood boiling through the computer screen right now. But don’t worry, we’ll get to it. And to dispel any mystery up front, yeah, this episode blows. Even before we get to the controversial third act, this show is pretty limp, with fragmented acts, sporadic characterization and plot turns, and spits at the face of the audience for “daring” to point out that part of this story has been done before (and so, so, so much better). We open at the state fair where Lisa is competing in an elementary school band competition, whose award is swiped by Ogdenvillians through their use of non-rule-approved glow sticks in their finale. Her outrage and seek for reprisal is played out through the episode, but there’s really not much to pick through here. The fair is your typical Simpsons set piece, except with none of the jokes really working at all. Instead we have Homer acting like an moron/dickhead, screaming at BTO and bemoaning having to sit through his daughter’s recital.

Also at the fair is Duncan the diving horse, an act that is swiftly cancelled when his owner is charged with animal cruelty and flees the scene. Bart, who has taken a shining to the animal in all of fifteen seconds, guilts his mother into taking in the horse. “Lisa’s Pony,” right? Except with none of the realism. We get a scene where Marge tabulates how expensive it will be to keep Duncan, which is absolved by the insistence that he can be a lightning fast race horse. And Bart can be the jockey, for some reason. Alright… Duncan is intimidated by the other horses at first, until Bart and Homer give him a new punk identity, rechristening him as Furious D. We haven’t even got to the third act and I already feel like I’m watching a cartoon: the horse has a goddamn nose ring and is glory hogging on two legs at the finish line. The relationship between Bart and Duncan could have been something sweet to be developed, but a large amount of this episode is focused on Homer as the “trainer,” reaping in the awards and being an overall asshole while doing it.

Okay, so here we go. The jockeys are irate about Duncan winning race after race and confront Homer about it. In their underground lair. Where they live in trees by a chocolate stream. And they’re elves. Mother. Fucking. Elves. But this is a trick, right? They can see how thick and gullible Homer is, so they concocted this ruse to scare him into forfeiting the next race. That would make some sense, right? Nope. All jockeys are elves, and if Homer doesn’t throw the race, they’ll eat his brain. Do I even need to comment? We’ve seen some pretty improbable and impossible things over the last two seasons, between sword fighting with motorcycles and the Loch Ness being real, but this just takes the cake. At least Burns seeked Nessie for a purpose and it had a pay-off. Here Duncan races and wins anyway, the elves chase Homer and Bart with swords, and they’re subdued by a hose. And thrown in a garbage bag. It’s like the writers could care less. And yes, I just used “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love” as a favorable comparison. A completely bankrupt episode with an inexcusable third act, this is complete garbage. One of the worst episodes ever, for sure.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I like Mr. Largo’s close-mindedness at the beginning (“Very well, Lisa, what rousing Sousa march would you have us play?” “Well, I thought for once we could play a song that wasn’t written by Sousa.” “You mean something… just arranged by Sousa?”
– All the fair stuff is crap: Homer being a dick posing as a veteran to get out of paying fifty cents (though I did smirk at him saying he was stationed at “Margaret Cho,”) and a useless appearance (and blatant name-dropping) by BTO with Homer yelling and screaming at them and being a brain dead moron. There’s also a bit that is so unbelievably lazy. Lisa bitterly comments, “I can’t believe those idiot judges were impressed by glowing plastic tubes.” What’s the punchline? Can you guess? Homer mesmerized by a bunch of glowsticks on his neck. Cutting edge comedy. Indicative of how low the standards of this show have gotten.
– Comic Book Guy appears to act as the viewer, and is promptly ridiculed and demeaned. It’s like the writers realized they were treading over old ground, then said not only fuck it, but we’ll mock anyone who informs us of this. It’s kind of like “Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie,” but way worse since that was an actually good episode. They’re telling us the viewers to shut the fuck up, and then turn around with this steaming pile of shit? That takes some brass balls, fellas.
– Random, stupid, and not funny dream sequence of Homer being rich with pearls. Just filler, I guess.
– More cartoony crap as we see Moe’s heart literally jump out of his chest like an old Tex Avery short. They make a joke about it, but it’s just fucking ridiculous. That shit shouldn’t happen in a show like this, period.
– I do think it’s kind of cute that Bart rides Duncan wearing his Krusty pajamas. And instead of a riding crop, he has a toilet brush.
– The few good lines come from the racing announcer (“It’s Chock Full O’Drugs followed closely by Stalker, with Old Levis fading fast!” “In a bizarre twist, a horse is abusing a jockey! Might this be the start of a terrifying Planet of the Horses? In this announcer’s opinion, almost certainly yes. And away I go!”)
– Shouldn’t… Duncan be disqualified for viciously knocking other jockeys off their horses? Oh wait, I guess the joke is that Duncan might beat them up too, so give him the prize, make him happy. Way too much consciousness out of this horse; as Matt Groening’s mantra, animals are a lot funnier when they act like… animals.
– A perfectly good Cake song is tainted by being featured in this episode. Quite a shame.
– Jockey elves, jockey elves, fucking jockey elves… even after 23 seasons, it’s still one of the lowest points of the series. And, really, there’s no point to them. The threat is absolved immediately, and out of nowhere. And even though they’re still pretty big, like maybe five foot, they all manage to fit in a trash bag. And that’s the solution? They can’t break free of the bag? The garbage men will come, notice there are living things in the bag, tear it open, then the jockeys will escape and kill Bart and Homer. That would be a more satisfying ending than this. And also the Bill Clinton thing, which would be funnier if it actually made any sense. Also his outro line, “Hey, I’m a pretty lousy president” stings even more now knowing who would come after him…

238. The Mansion Family

(originally aired January 23, 2000)
Like “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder,” this is a relatively new breed of episode, one we’d see often in the future. It’s a “stuff just happens” show; there’s a lot of different tenuously connected set pieces, and things definitely do happen, but none of it is cohesive or have a consistent theme whatsoever. Also the actual point of the story is unclear. What exactly is this episode about? If it’s about Homer desperately wanting to cling to this billionaire high life, they sure did a poor job communicating it. Or staying focused. We open at the Springfield Pride Awards, hosted by Kent Brockman and… Britney Spears. Now, many celebrities have appeared at hometown events in the past (Leonard Nimoy, Barry White, James Brown, and so on), but all of them either were somewhat related to the subject of the event, and were really funny. As preposterous as it was for a big star to be at a local festival, you accepted that they were there. But megastar Britney Spears hosting this? No way. Just more bullshit stunt casting. Also her caricature doesn’t look much like her, but to be fair, this era’s Britney basically had that generic blonde jail bait look anyway.

At said award show, Mr. Burns realizes he’s the oldest man in Springfield, and decides he’s due for a medical check-up. So who will watch his spacious mansion when he’s gone? One of his many servants, cronies, or business friends? Nope, let’s just get that big dumb idiot to do it. This is more sanitized Burns, he’s stuck in his helpless old man mode we saw in “The Old Man and the Lisa.” His ruthless nature appears to have evaporated; his reaction to the doctor’s bad news feels so pathetic, when I feel he should be irritated in some way. But, anyway, the Simpsons take residence at Burns Manor, where, as I’ve said, stuff happens. It’s a bunch of isolated scenes at first, then seem to be gearing towards Homer planning a big party before Burns returns. Homer’s a blind moron here, driving drunk in the house, swirling Brandy over his daughter’s face, and just being a generally irresponsible child. This idea of Homer living the high life and not wanting to give it up feels like it had potential, but it appears none of it actually made it to the screen.

When he finds out booze can’t be sold until 2pm on Sundays, Homer holds his party on international waters, where they can drink all they want. Having them all go out to sea for the third act kind of divorces yourself from your main story. You know what else does that too? Fucking pirates. The ship is attacked and taken over by pirates. What exactly is the point of all this? And what the fuck is happening? We get an unwelcome return of dumb action sequence endings that occurred in every single season 10 episode, even though we’re on a boat and Homer has no place he can hide or get away to. It’s all just clumsy filler, and I’m busy checking my watch praying it will be over soon. So we end on improbable and moronic reasoning for their escape, Burns returning neutered as ever, and a tacky hokey resolution to the main “story.” To some degree, I don’t even feel I can hate an episode like this or “Gutter”; they don’t even seem to try to be about anything or make a point, so at least they didn’t fail at their mission. But still, this is what the series has become? Aimless non-stories with unrelated sequences and an ending with goddamn pirates? Not The Simpsons I know…

Tidbits and Quotes
– The whole Springfield Pride Awards idea bothers me. When we’re at the point where we’re showing Lenny and the other characters getting awards, it’s getting closer and closer to everyone in town knowing everyone else. Everyone in town has their separate collective, but soon Barney will know who Cletus is, or the Sea Captain will acknowledge Milhouse. This is a town full of pride for good ol’ Jebediah and their history, but I’m not too sure they have much pride in each other. Plus there’s no good jokes in the scene whatsoever. I smirked at Chapman taking a bullet for Huey Long. And oh, Spears’ kiss killed the old man. Hilarious. And Brockman acts so cavalier about it, nudging his corpse aside. Feels more cruel than funny to me.
– “Who’s that fellow who always screws up and creates havoc?” “Homer Simpson, sir?” “Yes! The way I see it, he’s due for a good performance!” I hate, hate, hate this bit. It’s not enough that he’d trust Homer, but that he acknowledges that he’d fuck shit up at his house. Why would Burns do this? It’s just a clumsy wink-and-nod about how of course he’s going to pick the Simpsons, but they could have done it in a way that was funny (call back to Smithers’ database search in “Homer the Smithers.”)
– We see Marge’s painting of Burns from “Brush With Greatness” in the hallway, with his genitals obscured by a nearby flower. Just makes me wish I were watching that one instead.
– Crass joke and out-of-character bit of Marge scratching her ass with the supposed ass-scratching fork.
– I do like the animation of when Homer collapses from the brandy, the glass shifting around and hitting his head with a “tink!”
– One of the few parts I liked was Homer’s call to Thailand, where he “uh-huhs” once or twice before… (“That’s some language you got there. And you talk like that 24/7, huh?”)
– I dunno, I kind of like the explanation of Burns’ condition (Three Stooges syndrome), but it does feel way too dumb. Burns’ callous reaction to it doesn’t help much either.
– I really don’t have much to say about the boat stuff… just the characters acting like idiots and pirates show up. And as if we didn’t have enough improbably and physically impossible things this season, the net full of people floats. Any explanation for this? Any attempt at one? No. Whatever. Fuck you.
– Dan Castellaneta does an amusing ad-lib over the credits, screaming and whining about how everyone is rich. An adequate way to end an abysmal show.

237. Faith Off

(originally aired January 16, 2000)
Some of these episodes are getting harder and harder to write about… I liked a few parts of this show, and the core idea is something that could have worked… maybe, but by the third act basically everything collapses into empty tension and stupidity. A lot of it just felt very vacuous, over all. Anyway, we start with Homer returning to Springfield University for an alumni party, which is dangerous territory, given inevitable comparison to one of the greatest episodes ever, “Homer Goes to College.” The nerds return, but feel more like generic nerd characters than they did before. Dean Peterson is gone and replaced with an actual crusty old dean, and having Homer’s hatred and pranking of him actually be justified is a lot less funny than him being misguided. This is one of the first times the show has attempted to go back to the well, mining old characters and set pieces to try and either have lightning strike twice or get petty recognition points from viewers. It would get more egregious as time went on, but here it’s not so terrible, since it’s only part of the first act. It’s more a harbinger than anything else.

Homer’s prank backfires and he ends up with a bucket glued to his head, with no hope for removal. His salvation comes when the family winds up at the service of Brother Faith, a bombastic faith healer who claims he can expel Satan’s hold from the afflicted. He has Bart remove the bucket from his father’s head, and informs him that he has “the power.” Bart takes this to heart, and starts his own faith healing charade in his backyard. I felt this story would have worked a lot better starting smaller, than building. Like have his sermons just be for the kids, then expand into gullible adults. It kind of does this with Bart using his new “skills” at the schoolyard, but then right after that he does some kick boxing moves in church and everyone (even Flanders) wildly applauds. Next thing you know everyone’s going to Bart’s “church,” leaving Lovejoy a shepard without a flock once more. If the show really wanted to be about faith healing, why not make it more about Lovejoy’s response to this more upbeat, in-your-face sermonizing? The title of the show is “Faith Off,” after all, and it would have made more sense. …nah, let’s not do that.

The third act takes place at the college football game between Springfield U and Springfield A&M, in an attempt to bridge both “plots.” Homer has decided to make a homecoming float, of his own accord for some reason, but ends up getting drunk while driving it onto the field and mowing down the star player. Pretty irresponsible behavior, right? Is he arrested? Punished? Nah. He’s also sober by the next scene, when Fat Tony randomly appears, who has money on the game, wanting retribution. Homer hopes to wiggle out of his by having Bart attempt to “heal” the athlete. I guess it’s supposed to be a sweet moment when Bart says he’ll do it for his dad, but when Homer caused the problem to begin with and is using his son to get him out of it, you don’t feel so bad for Homer as much as you start to get pissed off at him. The episode ends in such a ridiculous fashion that it almost becomes funny (so close…) and cuts to credits on a dull, groaner line. This one’s got a bit of a leg up (ha ha ha…) on “Little Big Mom” for having a few good lines and ideas, but ultimately feels just as disposable.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I do like Benjamin’s enthusiasm of his contribution to society: a device that downloads Internet porn a million times faster. Homer is very appreciative.
– One of the only bright spots in this show is Springfield U’s “all-American” kicker Anton Lubchenko, football all-star with a Communications major (“Is phony major! Lubchenko learn nothing! Nothing!”)
– The twist of a bucket of glue already being over the Dean’s door, and no one noticing it, is pretty dumb, but I think it still works. It was those rascals from Kappa Gamma Tau (“Last in grades, first in pranks!”)
– It really doesn’t make much sense that Hibbert can’t remove the bucket. Again, he’s becoming less and less of a professional each episode he’s in. I do like the horrifying squish noise made when Bart permeates Homer’s eye with a drill, and also the animation of Homer’s limited POV driving and ending up in a ditch (“That had nothing to do with the bucket.”)
– Don Cheadle gives an energetic performance as Brother Faith, he did a pretty great job. My favorite part is when he searches for a “holy helper” to assist Homer (“Someone who believes!”) Turn to Lisa, who emphatically says no. Faith recovers, “Okay, movin’ on!” and goes over to Bart. I also love how violent he is in helping Cletus (“I done sprained my elby-bone, so it goes in the oppositty direction”) and Krusty, who gets his comedy “K’s” back (“King Kong cold-cocked Kato Kaelin! Hey, you Gentiles are alright!”)
– More brain dead Homer as he draws flip books of Moe in a hula skirt, and when Lisa tells him to think of something school-related for his float, he draws Superman fighting Godzilla. Homer’s funnier when he’s dim, not mentally disabled.
– “Testify” is an alright song, I guess. It fits the atmosphere of the scene and has a nice rhythm to it. But it certainly can’t stand up to some of the greats of the show’s past. It was used as the title song of the third album they put out of all the songs from seasons 11-on, and you can certainly hear the difference in quality if you want to venture and give it a listen.
– There’s a really awkward joke delivered by Milhouse at the start of the third act (“This cast is real itchy, and I tried to scratch and the fork got stuck in there and I think there was some food on the fork.”) Then we see ants climbing into his cast. It’s such a clumsy and lengthy line read for such a minor joke. We’d see plenty more of those in the future.
– Nice bit with Brockman’s frustration at his nephew repeatedly using “fever” in his report, having lost his thesaurus (“In preparation for the big game, Springfield Stadium has caught additional seating capacity fever.”)
– I like Captain McAllister approaching Bart to help him, but being turned away, having to look elsewhere to ease his crippling depression. Bart is surprised (“Man, and I thought he had it all.”)
– Homer somehow manages to build a gigantic float that has a working mechanical arm on top of it. How did he manage that? Also, I think the joke of his float being offensive and grotesque would have worked a lot better if the actual Springfield U float didn’t feature a public hanging of their rival’s mascot.
– Part of me does like how stupid the ending is; that shot of the dismembered leg flying in to kick the ball again over the goal post is so ridiculous. But why oh why would Hibbert not attempt to recover the leg? Why is he becoming as incompetent as Dr. Nick these days?

236. Little Big Mom

(originally aired January 9, 2000)
This episode has a weird presence throughout, for one reason or another, nothing really felt right for the whole running time. From the opening set piece to the main thrust of the story to the random ending, it was all so off, like some novice writer took his stab at writing an episode without really understanding the series. At the start things just feel so lazy as the show attempts to jump into the skiing opener by acknowledging how random and abrupt the transition is. It doesn’t work. The first act is pretty much laugh-free, save for the immortal “Stupid sexy Flanders!” bit, which is immediately made irritating as Homer gets hit in the crotch repeatedly at the top of his lungs. Hey guys, volume does not equal funny.

So the crux of the story is Lisa filling in for Marge in keeping the house together, but realizing it’s more hassle than she thought. Now, this whole premise doesn’t work for two big reasons. Firstly, it’s an egregious example of having Homer and Bart being partners in crime rather than father and son. Call back to “Bart After Dark” and their hilarious lazy and awkward escapades at having the house to themselves. Here they’re two big kids, horsing around at the hospital and Homer laughing derisively at his daughter’s request to turn the TV down. Homer is a man child for sure, but not to this degree. Second, I feel this role doesn’t exactly befit Lisa. It’s sort of reminiscent of “My Sister, My Sitter” where she wants to be viewed as more mature, but this is a bigger leap. Shows like “Homer Alone” and “Marge in Chains” have shown how the house goes to shit without Marge, where we see that Lisa is just as much a kid needing her mother as anyone. Lisa the authority figure just feels like her flimsily adult-child characterization she’d be saddled with later on.

To get back at her father and brother, Lisa makes them think they have leprosy, by applying fake oatmeal and poster paint sores on their body. I can buy this a little bit; you could use the joke that Homer and Bart don’t bathe to explain why the sores stay on. But when Flanders takes pity on them and sends them to Hawaii, then all good will evaporates. How could these trained professionals not see it’s just fucking oatmeal? It just felt so silly, and not in a good way. This whole episode is filled with either big dead spots with no laughs, or stuff that makes no sense and feels out of character. Like “Sleaze,” despite its laundry list of problems, I can’t say I hate it, but I certainly rue and lament it.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Even the Itchy and Scratchy feels wrong. It’s way too long with too light of a payoff.
– Lisa is in mini-adult mode in this episode, but still goes along with Homer and Bart as they try and get the box of junk back from Goodwill.
– The skiing opening is pretty much a dead zone. I like the name Mt. Embolism, but all the other material just kind of laid there.
– I hate Homer and Bart at the hospital, but I do like this exchange (“You’re wasting thousands of dollars of interferon!” “And you’re interfere-on with our good time!”) Also what happened to Hibbert being a competent doctor? A bone in Marge’s leg piercing her brain? What?
– Homer is not only a complete child but in full idiot mode here; having him talk into that candy phone like it was real was pretty aggravating in that’s what they felt was a great joke.
– I do like Tress MacNeille’s grizzled Lucille Ball voice, the sequence was kind of silly, but has the only few laughs in this show (“Lucy Macgillacudy Ricardo Carmichael. And I think there’s some more.”)
– I guess it’s kind of neat they got the AOL guy to voice the Virtual Doctor. Kind of. A little. …not really. Though I do like that it’s from the creator of “Sim Sandwich.”
– Apart from “stupid sexy Flanders,” the only other golden bit occurs when Bart and Homer claw through Flanders’ mail slot like zombies (“Braaains… braaaiins… use your brains to help us! Your delicious braaiins…”) There’s a few other amusing bits there too, with Ned being upset Maude saw Ben Hur without him, and urging the boys to get him the alcohol-free alcohol.
– It involves more Homer screaming and yelling, but I really like the performance of Castellaneta singing “Aloha Oe” punctuated with needle lacerations. And the Hawaiian version of the end theme is pretty great. At least I can give the ending that.

235. Grift of the Magi

(originally aired December 19, 1999)
Again, I don’t know if it’s a slight lift in quality or just my nostalgia taking over, but this season is full of a lot of iconic elements. Funzo is one of them, the result of tireless market research cobbling together every conceivably dumb want a kid could ask for in a toy. It’s an abjectly pandering, soulless corporate money-making machine, and as such, Funzo is creepy as hell. This is a pretty solid Xmas show, taking a look at the capitalist side of the holiday, aping on the then-recent frenzies over toys like Furby and Tickle Me Elmo. Our path to get here is a bit silly, but it kind of works. Bart ends up with his ass in a cast and Skinner is forced to finally make his school handicap accessible. And by ‘forced,’ I mean bamboozled by Fat Tony and his goons, who construct ridiculous ramps all around the building which subsequently collapse upon its grand opening. While it feels kind of dumb that they’d seriously make it out of bread sticks, and Skinner feels a bit too wimpy in not raising complaints earlier, it’s the level of stupid that is ridiculous, but doesn’t go too far as to not be funny.

In order to pay off the mob, Springfield Elementary must close its doors. But before long, it reopens, thanks to the efforts of Kid First Industries, who look to engage kids by talking about their favorite toys and why they love them. I really like this conceit; similar to how junk food and soda companies want their products and brand present in schools, this is the next step: completely usurping children’s education in order to do market research to make their dumb toys sell well. Lisa eventually discovers what’s going on, just in time for Kid First to get out of dodge and use their ill-gotten information to unleash a new toy unto the world. Enter Funzo, a precocious Furby-like creature who boasts everything a kid could want, regardless of any purpose to the toy itself. The marketing campaign is quite aggressive (“Funzo! Funzo! Funzo! If you don’t have Funzo, you’re nothin’!”) The toy of course is a humungous hit, with the two Kid First heads eating up the footage of people getting trampled at local stores trying to get their hands on the new hot toy.

As if its conceit isn’t bad enough, Bart and Lisa are shocked to find that the Funzo dolls are literally wiping out their competition as it proceeds to destroy all their other toys. A visit to Kid First ends up being fruitless, so they’re left to resort to other measures. They enlist Homer to sneak into everyone’s houses on Christmas Eve to confiscate all the Funzos and destroy them. Their plan goes off without a hitch, until the arrival of security guard Gary Coleman. It starts off as a superfluous guest appearance, but he gets a fair share of great lines and I love how the plot is “resolved” as he and the Simpsons have a long discussion over corporate hijacking of Xmas, before coming to a sound conclusion (“Lets just agree that the commercialization of Christmas is, at best, a mixed blessing.” “Amen.”) This is a pretty great episode, with a thoughtful core conceit and topic, lots of great bits, and kind of a heartwarming ending, as Xmas cliches fly hard and fast, including one to explain how the school will ultimately reopened. And especially compared to the last Xmas show, this one is pretty golden.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Not sure why Marge has a box of wigs in her closet. I like Homer’s thought process upon walking in on Bart and Milhouse (“What’s going on?! And I want a non-gay explanation!” “Uh… we’re drunk. Really drunk.” “Oh, thank God.”)
– Bart’s butt cast is pretty silly, but I do like the family laughing at hearing Hibbet say ‘coccyx’ (even Marge), and the medical interns vigorously taking notes staring at Bart’s ass. And good thing Hibbert installed that viewing window, how else would he… relieve himself?
– I do think Skinner is a bit too wimpy, but Fat Tony’s got some great lines here (“Do we really need all those ramps?” “Who’s to say? Does a peacock need all those feathers?” “Look, you’re getting a little philosophical for me.” “I suppose so. They say it happens in the autumn years.”) Also great, of course, is “I don’t get mad. I get stabby.”
– Great speech from Skinner at the groundbreaking ceremony (“This is a proud day. Now when people ask if we’re in compliance the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1975, I can say, we are closer than ever before! To inaugurate our ramp system, here’s the first of what I hope will be many disabled students, Bart Simpson!”)
– It’s pretty silly, but I do like the play they put on for Burns, and his reactions to it (“I never liked that Dr. Stupid.”) Not a fan of the gravity-defying trap door though.
– Love Milhouse’s explosive enthusiasm of describing his dream toy (“Its eyes should be telescopes! No, periscopes! No, microscopes! Can you come back to me?”)
– Great how the name that Lisa gives off the top of her head ultimately becomes the name of the toy. Shows just how little thought the company is willing to put into these things. Also great is the role reversal of Lisa having to write on the chalkboard as punishment for doing math in class. Bart eats it up (“Lisa’s in trouble. The ironing is delicious.” “The word is ‘irony’.” “Huh?”)
– Classic bit from Krusty as he signs off for the season (“So, have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a kwazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan. Now a word from my god: our sponsor.”)
– Love the ridiculous accessories you can get for Funzo: Funzo’s dream fortress, Funzo’s lower back pain chair, Funzo’s European Voltage converter…
– More great Springfield mob mentality as Lenny breaks through the glass store door with a giant candy cane and the masses rush to get their Funzos. Lindsay Naegle watching on security feed would like it more if there were some trampling. Cue Moe (“Ow! Now why would you wear cleats to a store?!”)
– The best line comes from Coleman, pulling up to bust Homer, Bart and Lisa (“Well, what do we have here? Looks like the biggest rip-off since Webster!”)