Category Archives: Season 12

269. Simpsons Tall Tales

(originally aired May 20, 2001)
So after “Bible Stories,” we get “Tall Tales,” another three-story episode, and I’m just as ambivalent to this one as I was with that one. There’s nothing really to hate here, but also not much to love; these episodes always kind of have a phoned-in feel, where I’d rather be watching a normal twenty-minute story. While riding the rails to Delaware, the Simpsons have a run-in with a kindly hobo, who regales them with three tall tales. First the legend of Paul Bunyan, a big lovable oaf who of course is played by Homer. Then we get the story of Johnny… err, Connie Appleseed, played by Lisa. And then we have Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn… not really a tall tale, but whatever, portrayed by Bart and Nelson. Oddly enough being a non-religious type, I remember less of the specifics of these stories than I do the Bible ones, but for what I do recall, a great deal of liberties were taken in these renditions. So at least I can credit this one more than “Bible Stories,” which played most of their stories fairly straight to the source material.

There’s amusing bits and moments throughout all three stories, but it’s a little difficult reviewing these episodes. I find there’s a lot more going on in Halloween shows to elaborate on, but these are a bit thinner and don’t have much to really comment on. I’ll say what stuck out to me the most was the odd feeling I got from the wrap-around. All the Simpsons felt like a weird unified entity, all reacting in unison to almost everything the hobo did; it’s kind of hard to explain. But then they also had Lisa be the mouthpiece for the audience, another example of a few this season where they’ve done this just to have another character shoot them down and call them stupid for having valid complaints. And when the strange, creepy smelly man starts to take off his clothes and ask for a sponge bath, none of them even bat an eye. Marge doesn’t object, try to shield her children’s eyes, no one acts disgusted, it’s just like a wacky comedy bit. It’s a small moment like that that reminds me that any semblance of realism this show once had has pretty much evaporated, and this is what we’re left with: Homer scrubbing the cracks and crevices of a homeless man’s body. Eight more seasons to go…

Tidbits and Quotes
– We open the show with the dialogue we saw at the end of “Behind the Laughter,” but here taking place at the airport rather than in the Simpson living room.
– “Stupid anti-fist-shaking laws!” Really? That sounds like a line that I wrote in comics I wrote in middle school. Between that and “The Simpsons are going to Delaware/riding the rails!” the dialogue feels clunky from the start.
– Like the hobo vernacular for those with homes being “no-bos.”
– I honestly don’t have much to say about each segment. The only bit I liked in the first act was Big Holes with Beer National Park. The love montage between gigantic Homer and normal-sized Marge is pretty sweet, but is then ruined when Homer asks when they’re going to consummate their relationship, if only because of the mental picture it gave me. I mean, really, his genitalia has got to be bigger than her.
– The running gag of the easy-to-kill buffalo is kind of amusing, as is the Simpsons changing their last name to Bufflekill. But the story kind of just ends as Lisa randomly returns to the troupe with apples and saves the day. I do like the wrap-up with the hobo at the end (“And thanks to that little girl, today you can find apples in everything that’s good: Apple wine, apple whiskey, apple schnapps, apple martinis… uh, Snapple with vodka in it, apple nail polish remover…” “Don’t forget apple sauce.” “Yeah, I suppose you could grind some pills into it.”)
– The cast members do their darnedest at Southern accents in the third act, and are mostly successful. It’s definitely the funniest of the three: Nelson reckonin’ he can get a new neck from a cat, Marge bolting after Grampa finally turns down his shotgun, leaving Missouri and entering Missoura, the photo of a young lady flashing her “privates” (the best line of the show, “All for Silas, all for Silas!!”), Apu’s indictment of the high prices at the 99-cent store, the powerful-weak Derringers… Now I’m just listing stuff though. There’s not much to evaluate with these shows, it’s just mentioning what was funny about them. Just like “Bible Stories,” this one’s amusing enough, but wholly disposable.

Season 12 Final Thoughts
After seemingly hitting rock bottom last season, the series is just as ramshackle as ever: plot turns that make no sense, sorry attempts at humor, slapdash characterization for whatever is convenient for the scene… A few new awful things cropped up this season. Firstly, a lot more direct shots at the viewer, sometimes through Lisa commenting about how something makes no sense or is questionable, followed by her being interrupted or belittled for her point. There were plenty of times when the writers deliberately pointed out how their shit made no sense and figured that made it okay, but all it did was further emphasize how the writing was shit. Quite ballsy, but doesn’t make for a good show. Also on the rise are the number of crude, tasteless sex jokes, which all feel very out-of-place and strange. This show has slipped in plenty under the radar in the past, but being more overt about it is clearly not their strong suit. But here we are the end of Mike Scully’s reign of terror. When Al Jean took the helm, things seemed to level off a bit in terms of quality. Will this be a good thing? I guess we’ll have to see.

The Best
“A Tale of Two Springfields,” “Pokey Mom,” “New Kids on the Blecch,” “Trilogy of Error.” Yeah, just four this time. And three of them shock me that they ended up on the best list. Things are looking mighty grim.

The Worst
“Homer vs. Dignity,” “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes,” “Tennis the Menace,” “Day of the Jackanapes,” “Simpson Safari”

I’ll start up Season 13 at the start of next week; see you then.

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268. Children of a Lesser Clod

(originally aired May 13, 2001)
There’s this odd air of “whatever” that permeates through this entire episode, it’s like they banged out the entire story in an afternoon and never revised it. There’s some kind of idea here, striving for an emotional connection, but it is not executed to that effect at all. The thing about garnering sentimentality in your story is that you need to set it up early so the episode is cohesive and feels like it builds. Instead it feels like they got half-way through and realized there was no point to the episode and crammed one in. Homer gets a terrible knee injury and ends up wheelchair bound for a few weeks, a fact he bemoans, which of course is funny because he does little more than sit on his ass normally. He agrees to watch Flanders’ kids for a night, and enjoys their company so much that he decides to open a daycare center out of his home. This is like half the episode at this point, and everything feels so slow and aimless. It’s like instead of things building to this point, they tripped and fell into the plot.

So the “emotional” element of the story is that Homer is investing so much time and care into the kids of Springfield, but not to his own. Bart and Lisa that is; Maggie is suspiciously absent, presumably because she can’t speak, but it would have been cute to give her some pantomime moments in going along with her two siblings. It’s not exactly clear why Bart and Lisa care so much about this, nor why Homer all of a sudden is the world’s funnest substitute dad. We get like two scenes of showing him playing around with the kids, but it all feels so empty. So when the documentary crew shows up at the third act saying he’s up for a “good guy” award, it feels so bizarre. This plot angle also kind of deflates thanks to one “joke” where Homer claims to have made little felt heart pins for his kids himself, then smash-cut to Bart and Lisa toiling in the garage making them all. Cruel parenting? Yeah, but beyond that it sort of betrays the conceit of the show. The idea is that Homer is blindsighted by his new venture that he’s semi-unconsciously pushed his actual kids to the way-side, not acknowledging their existence. But here we see he’s put them into slavery. Makes no sense.

Bart and Lisa enact their vengeance during the Good Guy Awards by splicing in home movie footage into the documentary, revealing Homer as the boorish, borderline psychotic lout he actually is. The crowd immediately turns on Homer, who snaps and corrals all the children into a van and takes off with them. This is a truly bizarre, almost creepy twist, but vicious commentary between Arnie Pye and Kent Brockman save it. Then rather than have a conclusion showing the consequences, we hand-wave over it with a “Three Mistrials Later” chyron so we can move onto the resolution of the Bart and Lisa story, which is absolutely spectacular. I don’t even need to comment on this, this is the resolution of the emotional arc of the episode (“Why did you rat me out, kids? Was it because I showered love on those other children while ignoring you?” “Yep.” “Pretty much.”) Brilliant. I can’t even hate this episode because it just feels so inept. And this is another episode written by Al Jean; between this and “Jackanapes,” I don’t know what the fuck happened to this guy. And he’s been our show runner for over a decade now! I’m getting pretty scared…

Tidbits and Quotes
– There’s nothing really that funny about the YMCA set piece, only lots of little observations. First, Burns and Grampa together feels so, so wrong ever since “Flying Hellfish,” but now they’re just two neutered, caricatured old men, not their actual characters. I actually really like Coach Lugash, modeled after Olympic coach Bela Karolyi, but I remember him being stronger in a future episode where Lisa takes gymnastics. Comic Book Guy wears a Muttley shirt, of course, and for some reason is playing basketball. Okay. Then we have an uncomfortable scene where Homer is giving a pep talk, then argues with himself as Moe and Skinner look at each other confused. They’re like the audience whenever some shit like this happens, except it feels even weirder in-universe.
– The writers must have thought it was hilarious to give Homer a morphine addiction; there’s like four jokes about it in here, and they’re all unfunny.
– I do like this bit when Homer is being released from the hospital (“You’ll have a full recovery from your spinal cord injury.” “What spinal cord injury?” “Oh, he fell off the gurney.”)
– A terminally bored Homer tries to breed the dog and cat by throwing them in a sack. Then he criticizes them for not having sex properly. These are the jokes, people.
– Nice exchange between Ned and Homer (“Would you mind watching the kids? I’m kinda in a pickle here.” “Well, they would keep me company, and this pickle you’re offering only sweetens the deal.”)
– The only golden bit this show has to offer is the “Kids Say the Darndest Things” clip, with Bill Cosby manically riffing about Pokemon. An Internet meme is born.
– Ralph asks if he can touch Homer’s disgusting festering scar. Which then heals over his fucking hand. It’s the grossest thing I’ve ever seen on this series; it’s disgusting and absolutely not funny.
– It only took a season to age up the octopulets into toddlers. I thought it was next season where Apu has an affair, I forgot it happened this soon. (“Hello, I would like to take advantage of your baby prison.” “We’re calling it day care.” “Yes, whatever, just take them.”)
– Lots of jokes about teamsters in the third act, and it feels like another of their insider jokes. Like, do you know exactly what a teamster is and what they do? Or not do, which seems to be the case? I don’t think most people know.
– Like Skinner being up for and winning ‘Biggest People Pleaser,’ unable to attend the award show (‘Having Minor Surgery.’)
– Homer absconds with the kids and drives off, then we pan over to Kent Brockman standing a few feet away giving his report. It just happened, why didn’t he react or do anything at all? I guess a real reporter gives the news, not makes it. But tell that to Arnie Pye (“I can see them right below me! I’m going to try to nail the driver with one of my shoes!” “Arnie, please, leave this to the police.” “I’m sick of being the reporter, I want to make the news!” “Arnie, this is not the time…” “You’re not the time, Kent! You’re not the time!”) The read on “I can’t see through metal, Kent!!” is hysterical.

267. I’m Goin’ to Praiseland

(originally aired May 6, 2001)
This episode I feel won’t be too hard to dissect, because within the three acts are three glaring, dismantling issues. A slightly consistent amount of humor, a lot coming from isolated bits, keep this show from being utter shit though. So thing start off at a church ice cream social, where Flanders once again runs into Christian singer Rachel Jordan. He offers her to stay the night at his place, which is still adorned with photos and mementos of his dearly departed wife. That’s all well and good; we’re trying to establish Ned as a man who hasn’t yet moved on and is still dealing with his lost, something that “Alone Again, Natura-Diddly” kind of lacked. Then we see that Ned is preserving his wife’s imprint on the bed with starch, and he later cuts Rachel’s hair to look like Maude’s while she sleeps. We’ve gone well past the point of creepy here, this is basically crazy behavior. Rather than go for a subtler touch, the writers went over-the-top, but in the end makes Ned look like an insane weirdo, which isn’t so good to do in your first act when we should be rooting for him through the episode. I was more puzzled than anything though, thinking why they thought this was a good idea.

Realizing he’s still living in the past, Flanders enlists the Simpsons to dispose of all Maude’s belongings. Amongst them is an old sketchbook, where Maude had outlined a Christian amusement park named Praiseland. A pie-in-the-sky dream if I ever heard one. But let’s make that dream into a reality! Things start out believable enough, with a good callback to Storytime Village, now a dilapidated husk that the Rich Texan donates to Ned as a tax write-off. Ned puts his all into repairing the place and gets hand-outs from various townspeople, but ultimately when you see the finished park, you have to wonder how the fuck Ned managed to afford to build it. “King David’s Wild Ride” has a giant ride building, track and a big animatronic King David, that must have cost a pretty penny. And I get having Maude as the statue at the center of the park (with nice name plate “She taught us the joy of shame, and the shame of joy”) but who the hell would want to buy a Maude mask? Why not Jesus? This park is a monumental investment, and I just don’t see how it could ever have been built. This big factor could have been hand-waved if things made sense or were funny, but there’s not enough here.

The park seems to be a flop, or at least until Skinner experiences an unexplainable vision in front of the Maude statue, claiming to have witnessed his own personal version of heaven. It’s seemingly a miracle, or at least until Ned discovers it’s a result of a gas leak. An incredibly obvious gas leak that apparently nobody saw, and that Ned does not experience the ill effects of when he sticks his face right in it when he discovers it. This dumb plot twist is only saved by the great scenes of showing Disco Stu and Comic Book Guy’s visions, and the conclusion of Homer and Ned frantically tackling two poor orphans before they can light candles before the statue. Then Rachel Jordan returns, and instead of giving Ned a restraining order, agrees to give him another shot. And then is never seen again. This episode is kind of a big hot mess, and I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be about. It seems to want to be about Ned deciding to move on with his life, but that message is kind of lost amongst all the theme park stuff and hallucinogenic visions. It’s pretty bad, but there’s enough choice chuckles to keep it bearable.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Like the different flavors at the social: Blessed Virgin Berry, Command-Mint, Bible-Gum, and Lovejoy’s specialty: Unitarian ice cream (“There’s nothing here.” “Exactly.”)
– Don’t care for the bit with Homer’s gigantic ice cream cone; it feels like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon seeing that cone fifty scoops high.
– I kind of like how all the Simpsons kind of playfully goad Flanders and his obvious crush on Rachel, it’s very cute.
– I feel like I should be more offended by Homer and Bart chucking all of Maude’s possessions in a wood chipper, but it’s just so completely absurd that it becomes funny. Even better that Ned mistakes it as “some kind of sorting machine.”
– To those you think that a religious amusement park is farfetched, I propose you come on down here to Orlando and visit the Holy Land. I’ve debated going out of curiosity’s sake, but I don’t think it would end up being worth it.
– Like the insane runner of the Rich Texan becoming irate and calm at the drop of a dime (“Oh, you are so full of it! God’s grace, that is. It’s really sickening… there aren’t more people like you. Now, get out… your pen, and we’ll make it official.”)
– Nice bit of Homer scorching the earth around Bo Peep and her two sheep, incinerating them, revealing two wire frames and one sheep skeleton. I also like his demands upon taking up the “begging” initiative (“I’ll need a sack and something sharp.”)
– I love Quimby’s drive-by dedication (“It is with great pride that I dedicate this new school, sports arena, or attraction.”) Reminds me a lot of Krusty’s “I heartily endorse this event or product.”
– Ned walks by the Whack-a-Satan, runs the souvenir cart, works at the beverage stand and is at the exit with a hand stamp. Are there any other employees at this park?
– I’m not too big on Skinner becoming Captain Exposition and having to explain how he saw his own specific vision of heaven and then describing it.
– Disco Stu and Comic Book Guy’s visions alone almost make this show worth the price of admission. They couldn’t be more perfect.
– Kind of like Ned on the phone with the gas company (“How poisonous is your gas? …wow. But I’m talking about, you know, outdoors with plenty of ventilation… How could that be worse? …okay, permanent brain damage, or just temporary?”)
– Love the smile on Wiggum’s face after the crowd finally gets his “Crazeland” for “Praiseland” joke.
– In addition to Ned apparently being a creep, so is Homer, who appears outside, then inside Ned’s bedroom throughout the episode. What a wacky guy.

266. Trilogy of Error

(originally aired April 29, 2001)
I was getting a little worried before re-watching this one, but thankfully the episode was as clever and well-executed as I remembered; the solitary season 12 gem I was waiting for. I’m even more shocked that in a season where they can barely tell a single story competently, here they manage to string together three of them occurring on the same day, weaving between each other until they reach a mutual conclusion. Parodying the structural concept of the movie Go, this show follows the events of an oddball day through the eyes of one character per act: Homer the first, Lisa the second and Bart the third. An accident in the kitchen leaves Homer with a severed thumb, resulting in Marge having to rush him to the hospital. This leaves Lisa without a ride to school, so she hoofs it, but ends up at the unusually similar West Springfield Elementary. Meanwhile, Bart and Milhouse uncover a cave filled with illegal fireworks, and end up working as informants for Chief Wiggum to track out their supplier: Fat Tony.

So Homer’s whole story is told in the first act, and we see Bart or Lisa, but things happen without explanation that will be filled in later. Marge seemingly deserts Homer at Moe’s, Cletus’ truck gets stolen, Dr. Nick’s office explodes, and the grand capper of them all, Lisa’s grammar robot explodes off in the distance, leaving Homer in mourning. It leaves you completely hooked in, as you want to know how all the pieces fit together. Even with all the choice interactions and elements between stories, the episode never comes off feeling too gimmicky, it strikes the right balance. Lisa’s story hinges on her desperately trying to get to school, with her running montages set to the score of the great film Run Lola Run. Her story ends with Bart coming out of a manhole, which immediately perks your interest since we don’t know a thing about his exploits at all yet. Then by Bart’s story, all the blanks slowly start to get filled, culminating in an amazing finale on why Linguo blew up, and we have an ending that satisfies everyone. Except Mr. Teeney, he’s pretty pissed.

The three concurrent story structure leads to all new opportunities for gags, and setting up gags. The best may be the one revolving around 123 Fake Street. In act one, scared she might go to prison for her accidental thumb-cutting, Marge gives Wiggum the phony address, which of course he buys. In act two, he asks Mr. Teeney for directions to said address. Then in act three we see Bart and Milhouse run into a safe house, which before we even see the address, we know what it is: 123 Fake Street. Another great reveal is when Lisa overhears Wiggum’s stakeout in act two, where he blows his informants cover over the radio and seemingly gets him shot dead. Later in act three when we see it was Bart and Milhouse, it feels even worse; obviously we don’t think they’re going to get shot, but the comedy is even darker in that Wiggum almost got two ten-year-olds killed. Then we find the gunshots were actually fireworks Bart and Milhouse used as a distraction to escape. The episode is literally filled with these kinds of moments, and this experimental format is utilized to its fullest. Again, I’m stunned that they were able to pull off this kind of episode given what shit we’ve seen this season, but I appreciate them for trying something new, and even more so for putting so much care in it and succeeding.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Those two gags at the start of the episode must have been tough to write, since they are repeated two more times at the start of each act. Any gag is going to lose its luster the third time around, but “Son of a diddly!” and the newspaper headline (“First Day of Spring: Ants, Picnicers Reach Last-Minute Accord”) are pretty good jokes.
– Homer ruins Lisa’s project by pouring beer down the robot’s throat, but it doesn’t feel so jerky here; he acting more out of naivety than anything (“I’m sorry, I thought it was a party robot!”) It also gave us a Lisa line for the ages, which I use quite often (“This is why I can’t have nice things!”)
– Storytime at the Flanders’ (“And Harry Potter, and all his wizard friends, went straight to Hell for practicing witchcraft!” “Yay!”) Then he throws the book into the fire. This is right before Flanders became a parody of any insane conservative religious type, and this kind of joke still kind of fit his character.
– Dr. Hibbert is of no help to Homer (“Your HMO doesn’t cover this type of injury.” “But I have finger insurance.” “A thumb is not a finger!” “Isn’t there anything you can do?” “Well, I could cut off the other thumb for a sense of symmetry.”) Upon leaving, Marge comments, “Hibbert’s really losing it,” a seemingly conscious line given how much wackier and less professional he’s gotten over the last two seasons.
– Love Homer attempting to hitchhike and not being able to figure out why it isn’t working.
– Great Dr. Nick line regarding his exploded office (“‘Inflammable’ means ‘flammable’?! What a country!”)
– The first act break is fantastic (“Linguo… dead!” “Linguo… is… dead…”) And Homer shutting the robot’s eyes is a brilliant touch.
– Lisa has some difficulty with her creation upon repairing it (“Almost done, just lay still.” “Lie still.” “I knew that. Just testing.” “Sentence fragment.” “‘Sentence fragment’ is also a sentence fragment.” “…must conserve battery power.”) The eye shift on the robot just makes it.
– The whole thing with West Springfield Elementary being exactly the same building, or even existing at all, is a little silly, but given the silly episode, it doesn’t faze me. We have the “en francais!” laughing to show for it, and that’s enough for me. There’s also Thelonious, Lisa’s intellectual star-crossed love. Voiced by Frankie Muniz, he’s another throwaway guest star, but is nice for the scenes that he’s in (“You can’t sacrifice grades for romance. That’s not the girl I fell for.” “Will I ever see you again?” “Of course you will. At the magnet high school. Now go!”) I’m only bitter because his show Malcolm in the Middle usurped Futurama‘s 8:30pm slot, effectively dooming it to cancellation. Fuck that show. Fuck it up Muniz’s ass.
– Marge sees Lisa and says she’d give him a ride but she has to wait for Homer. Then when she hears his drunken Blue Man Group ramblings inside, Marge figures she’s got a few hours to kill.
– Bart and Milhouse horsing around with the fireworks is a great montage. I especially love where they attach four to the front wheel of their bike, which causes it to shoot off down the street. It’s really visually neat, and plus that has a purpose as it shoots into Dr. Nick’s office, causing the explosion.
– God, I love the ending with Linguo, overloading with grammatical errors from Legs and Louie’s stereotypical gangster talk (“They’s throwing robots!” “They are throwing robots.” “He’s disrespecting us. Shut up-ah you face!” “Shut up your face.”)
– Ironic that the episode ends with Mr. Teeney screaming about how the plot made no sense, when it basically made the most sense of any plot this season. By a wide margin.

265. Simpson Safari

(originally aired April 1, 2001)
Travel episodes are normally best when they have a character-driven story behind them. “Bart vs. Australia” saw Bart’s prank as the epicenter of strife in American-Australian relations, “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” had Lisa go to the capitol for her award-winning essay on American, only to have her faith tainted by corrupt politicians, these episodes have some heft to them because they directly involve the family. But even if your show is just a series of culture-clash set pieces, that has a chance of working as well; that’s about all that “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” was, and that was a pretty good show. But this episode is pretty much DOA from the start: a ridiculously stupid lead-in brings our family to Africa, which is one nonsensical gag and plot turn after another. Absolutely none of the Africa material works; since very few of the viewers know much about how the continent really is (myself included), they just made it over-the-top silly and inflated stereotypes, except none of it is funny and it all sucks.

So here’s how we get to Africa: a bag boy strike causes a near-famine in Springfield. That’s the kind of gag that maybe works when you’re joking around in the writer’s room, but in execution just feels so completely ridiculous. What about the Kwik-E-Mart? Or a gas station? There’s a myriad of places that you can find food. It’s just the right kind of illogical nonsense to get you in the mood for this episode. Santa’s Little Helper uncovers an old box of animal crackers, which contains a solid gold piece, as part of a contest where the winner is sent to Africa. Once the Simpsons are there, as I mentioned, it’s just one dumb impossible gag after another: rhinos hatching from eggs, gigantic spiders, bees being used as blowing darts, hippos being afraid of water, Bart getting a lip disc… I could just keep going. Even worse is how clear it was that the writers put some of those jokes in to fuck with the viewers; through most of the episode Lisa acts as kind of a narrator, giving out exposition and actively commenting on things not making sense (“Wait, rhinos don’t come from eggs.” “What did you just see, Lisa?”) I have no problem with writers wanting to fuck with fans once and a while, but it’s usually best if your show is actually good.

So the family ends up getting hopelessly lost and stumble upon the reserve of famed chimp researcher Dr. Bushwell, obviously a parody of Jane Goodall. Her compound is being threatened of being ambushed by poachers, but those “attackers” are revealed to be from Greenpeace. Turns out Bushwell had put her animals into slavery, working in a diamond mine below her home. An woman off the edge, she desperately offers everyone diamonds to hush up… and they take them. And then that’s the end. I suppose there’s some kind of story there, but it’s in the third act and had no set-up and something I could really care less about. I feel I can’t comment at what point this show went off the rails because it was pretty much awful at the start, and never let up. That the writers seem so pleased with themselves and their work that they feel they can directly say fuck you to their viewers is pretty ballsy, especially given the episode they’re doing it in. I guess you could say they’re underachievers… and proud of it? …seriously, fuck this episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The stupid jokes start almost immediately as we see Maggie has gone to the emergency room for swallowing an entire fucking magazine. An odd thing is the first time we see the X-ray, the title of the magazine is digitally blurred, which I thought maybe there was a title there and then they found out they didn’t have permission to use it and couldn’t reanimate. Then in the next shot you can clearly see it’s Time. Hmn.
– Homer incessantly pokes the bag boy with a baguette (“Hurry up! I can’t stand here jabbing you all day.” “Ow! Stop. Bag boys have feelings, too, you know.” “No, you don’t.”) Yep, that’s our lovable protagonist! It’s to the point that even the exasperated supermarket manager addresses him by name and asks him to leave, implying numerous instances in the past of him being an insufferable ass.
– I guess the whole bag boy strike leading to famine thing is supposed to be absurdist, but I just wasn’t buying it. Why couldn’t Lenny have put all his shit in a bag? And why were the striking bag boys allowed on the roof of the supermarket they’re protesting?
– When Homer is frantically looking through cabinets, we see Bart standing with the rest of the family. Then four seconds later, we see him out the back window with a bird’s nest. Guess he just teleported or something.
– The only thing I like in this episode is how they get to Africa. The animal crackers are so old that the company that made them doesn’t even make crackers anymore (“We make household poisons and Christmas lights.”) They’re about to throw Homer out on his ass until the string of the box the executive is holding snaps and accidentally swings into Homer’s eye (“He could sue us.” This defective string…” “Yeah, it’s got very sharp corners.”) The execs do damage control and agree to send them all to Africa.
– I know this has been present for the last few seasons, but it really bugged me here, that I’m really kind of sick of Tress MacNeille voiced every single woman character. The old waitress, the female executive, the flight attendant, Dr. Bushwell… it’s all basically the same voice every time. Now, Tress is definitely very talented, and has done great work with many characters, like Agnes Skinner, the Crazy Cat Lady, Mom on Futurama, but some variety would be nice. With male incidentals, we have Castallaneta, Azaria and Shearer in rotation, so why not bring in at least one other female actress? Pamela Hayden could come and do some stuff, or Russi Taylor, or hell, just a woman from the office to deliver a few lines. Just so it’s not all Tress, all the time.
– The scene leading up to the warthog reveal is so drawn out, way too much time wasted for such a small gag. And you know it’s coming because Lisa’s hair is being pulled out of frame, you’re just waiting and waiting until the payoff so they can move on.
– Homer is really nonplussed about any of the danger going on in the third act, he’s just this mindless cartoon character spouting stupid jokes. He even brings up the bagboy strike from the first act, which then later appears as a dedication at the end of the show, more of the writers acknowledging their shit makes no sense.
– The family ends up going down Victoria Falls, which is in Zimbabwe, nowhere near Tanzania. It could have just been a random giant waterfall, why did it have to be named at a location nowhere near where they were? We see them falling straight down the water, then near the bottom we see they land in a gigantic flower a fair distance from the falls. Totally unharmed. Just landed comfortably in a giant fucking flower. Which then proceeds to “eat” them, and then Homer just pushes his way out. These are the jokes, people.
– So the Simpsons are rich now, right? You can’t just end your episode with them carrying armfuls of diamonds and just do a reset. This isn’t that kind of cartoon. At least it used to not be…

264. Bye Bye Nerdie

(originally aired March 11, 2001)
Let’s talk about silly endings. As insane as episodes in the classic season got, they would always end in a way that was believable within the established context of the show, or at least worked as some kind of parody of something. But lately we’ve had a fair share of endings that are kind of random and stupid, and here it’s not just the end, but the entire third act devoted to this conclusion; it feels like one of those things that you’re either on the train or off the train for, and I was most certainly off. Lisa attempts to make friends with the new girl Francine, but only gets viciously bullied for her efforts. She attempts to make sense of why Francine only targets the nerdy kids, figuring there must be some logical explanation. The answer surprises her: it’s all chemical. She finds that the smartest among us emit a certain chemical, which she dubs “poindextrose,” that attracts physical attack from bullies. And yeah, that’s really the ending.

I do kind of like the first half of this show, that Francine is just this stone wall that Lisa cannot get through to or understand why she’s abusing her so violently. It is, however, an absolutely criminal waste of guest star Kathy Griffin, who gets maybe five lines, which boil down to maybe twenty words. I like her bully voice and screaming, and keeping her mostly mute works for her character, but if that’s the case, they could’ve had anyone do the voice. Instead they wasted a brilliant and funny comedienne with a nothing part. I also like Lisa’s consultation with Nelson, and seeing how organized and efficient the world of bullying is, their rules and regulations, their own code of ethics. Examining the psychological urges and motivations of bullies, but in an absurdist, comedic way could have been great. But I really can’t get on board with this ending; Lisa spraying herself with salad dressing stopping Francine from her lunge like a confused animal is just plain bizarre. The whole final act is devoted to this ridiculously preposterous finale; I wasn’t so much annoyed as I was bored, I felt like they could’ve come up with a better ending but were apparently quite tickled by this one. I guess.

There’s also a side story here, but not much to report on, really. After a visit from an eye-opening, but expensive, baby-proofer, Homer goes on a crusade to make the world a safe place for Springfield’s littlest ones. The reason? I’m not entirely sure, but you know that wacky Homer and all his crazy non-work-related adventures. There’s a bizarre scene before the baby-proofer shows up with him and Marge sitting at the kitchen table struggling to come up with something to talk about, with Marge about to point out that their marriage is suffering a bit before the doorbell rings. It’s a joke that kind of feels so sour and sad within this overly silly show. Be it filling a dangerous pool with Jell-O mix or bubble wrapping an entire playground, Homer is making waves in protecting youngins everywhere. So what’s the resolution? The answer is there isn’t one. Well, just barely. Homer sees on TV that many industries are being hurt by Homer’s crusade: Dr. Hibbert can’t afford a new boat because of healthy babies, the get-well-soon baby card factory has shut down, laying off hundreds. As such Homer takes to the streets, calling for all infants to do their part and get injured. It’s not really an ending, it’s just an incredibly bizarre joke. Both stories in this episode has completely ridiculous climaxes, but that really takes away from any emotional connection or attempt at realism the plots had at the start. This episode had promise, but any goodwill basically evaporates come the third act.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Itchy & Scratchy cereal commercial is kinda fun, but I feel it goes on a little too long.
– Good Homer line when Marge is shocked that he’s not at work yet (“They said if I come in late again, I’m fired. I can’t take that chance!”)
– I know we’re well past the point that I should be annoyed at overly cartoony stuff happening in this show, but seeing Otto and Marge drag race in the aqueduct system just made me kind of sad, like this is what this series has come to. This is believable now that Marge would do this. I kind of like the payoff though that Otto gets to the school, then forgets he had to pick up a new kid, and drives back around again, making it all for nothing. Then the kids wonder what the new kid is like, three thought bubbles that I guess the writers forgot to write jokes for.
– I do like how long and how much effort it takes the baby proofer to get the cap off the product under the sink, and her unphased conclusion to it (“You see how quickly your baby could have been drinking this… Similac Baby Formula?”) Wrapped up in the theatrics, Homer is horrified and stomps the bottle flat (“This is such an eye-opener. I always pictured the kids dying in the living room.”)
– From what we’ve seen of Homer’s past, I don’t really see him as being a bully. Also he seems to be pummeling a nerdy-looking Smithers.
– The scene at the lockers with Lisa and Francine sports some pretty great animation, the low angle of the spit-out Malibu Stacey head, the fluid motion and posing of Francine shoving Lisa in her locker, it all seemed particularly strong.
– I really like the interplay of Lisa and Nelson discussing bullying, and how serious they take it. I almost wish he played a larger role in the third act. Instead, Lisa uses him as an unwitting guinea pig when he swabs Drederick Tatum with nerd sweat. Then Nelson’s fists have minds of their own and begin punching him and giving him a wedgie. I can’t stress how dumb this is. Though I like Tatum’s non-plussed reaction (“Please don’t hurt me!” “You leave me little recourse.”)
– Willie’s penchant for secretly videotaping people comes out again as we see his lair (labeled ‘Keep Oot’) with dozens of monitors (“Why does the school need to watch us all the time?” “School?”) I also love his shock at seeing one of the men’s rooms (“That roll of paper towels is nearing the end! It’s on double red stripe!!”)
– I have to say, whenever I think about or sing along to “The Safety Dance,” I always sub in Homer’s lyrics (“You can dance! You can dance! Everybody look at your pants!”)
– The only thing I like about the nerd conference is the one voice in the crowd or murmuring scientists audibly saying, “Let’s not listen!” But then they use the clip again after Lisa’s experiment is a success. Absurd? Or lazy?

263. Hungry, Hungry Homer

(originally aired March 4, 2001)
I can’t tell how much this show has gotten me numb now. Here’s an episode that has very few of the glaring issues of these later seasons, and even a fair share of admirable ideas and scenes, but as a whole, it didn’t do much for me, and I’m having a little trouble pinpointing why. Maybe there were too many silly elements in what was really a more realistic down-to-earth story. Maybe it’s another show that took way too long to get into the meat of the plot. But whatever it was, something kept this episode from getting beyond anything from a slightly affable “meh.” A word this show spearheaded. We open with a family trip to Blockoland, legally distinguishable from LEGO. When Homer confronts a shopkeep who sold Lisa a playset with a missing piece, he develops a newfound passion for standing up for the downtrodden. There’s one or two smirk-worthy moments, but this is the whole first act, and in terms of the main story, is wholly disposable, time wasted that could have been better spent in getting us to the point quicker.

In attempting to get a season ticket refund for Lenny, Homer discovers a terrible secret at the ballpark: the Springfield Isotopes’ new owner at the Duff corporation is planning on moving the team to Alburquerque. I think my favorite part of the show is Stacey Keach as Henry K. Duff VIII; he gives a funny and intersting vocal performance, trying all he can to discredit the man in the way of his goals. No one will take Homer’s word over Duff’s, so he vows to go on a hungry strike to get them to fess up. Now, of course, Homer must be absolutely dedicated to do something this drastic, and we believe his motives for doing this (“I don’t mind being called a liar when I’m lying, or about to lie, or just finished lying… but not when I’m telling the truth!”) He’s an earnest guy trying to do what’s right in his own stupid way; it’s almost a return to form of classic Homer, certainly a refreshing change from the moronic jackass we’ve been watching these last few seasons. For the first time in a while, I’m rooting for Homer to succeed, and when he finally is exposed as right in the end, we’re as happy as he is with the big finale.

Yet even with all of that, there’s still something that’s keeping me from loving this show. There’s a lot of silly moments throughout connected to the main story that I’m kind of conflicted about. Like the big “PRIVATE” room that has all of the Albuquerque Isotopes merchandise and insignias properly displayed… it kind of felt a bit much, but then I laughed later when Homer opens the door for reporters and reveals a guy playing the “wah-waaaaahhh” on the trombone. But what annoyed me most was the ending; I buy Homer identifying the southwestern ingredients on the new hot dog and that being the catalyst for the reveal. I buy Duff wanting to test his new product out and knowing the dummies of Springfield wouldn’t make the connection. But that they have the hot dog wrappers say ‘Alburquerque Isotopes’ on them… really? No one noticed this? They had to cap off Homer’s triumphant moment with that unbelievably dumb reveal. So, yeah, as unusually iffy as I am with this episode, I definitely place it in the better ones this season. Homer’s admirable behavior alone makes it notable amongst a season of him being an insufferable ass.

Tidbits and Quotes
– While I swear it’s been said on the show before, this episode gave us the formal introduction to “meh.” Very notable.
– BlockoLand has a few cute moments; the square wheels on the tram, the girl bumping down the block slide, Marge thinking “Squaresville” sounds cool, and security escorting Nelson out after winning Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots. The only jerky Homer thing here is him repeatedly splashing Lisa with blue blocks that make up the water in the boat ride, which he then manages to sink in somehow. But that gag is saved by the Blocko leeches.
– What’s with the snowglobe Homer’s got with his face on it? It’s a really misfired gag, in my opinion.
– I’ll say that there were two gags here that I was expecting to go one way and stay there that they actually pushed one step further, which I really appreciate. Homer vows to stick up for the little guy, then notices cops beating down Snake in the road. He revs his car up and scatters the police away. I thought they would leave it at that, but they then reveal the cops were beating out Snake’s shirt fire (“My heart was in the right place, jerk!”) In a later scene, Duff calls in for a special brew of Duff which you’d think would erase Homer’s memory. Then Duffman injects him in the arm and he passes out, leaving Duff to his tasty beverage (“Man, that’s malty. But he’ll never know!”)
– The first act is really a blight on this show. First we have Homer masquerading as a kid at the school that no one calls out and is never explained. Then later we have a servicable gag where Homer cross-checks the funds at Marge’s salon to see that they would be ruined if they honored her coupon. Then it’s coupled with Homer giving advice on how to lighten one’s loafers (a slightly questionable gag in and of itself) out of nowhere (“You get the same results with a mincing gel!”) These two scenes are precursors to horrible bullshit to come, where characters will just show up wherever, or say whatever, for whatever the scene or joke calls for, regardless if it makes sense for that specific character. Care used to be put into every scene in this show; now I can’t chart this fumbling up to anything but laziness.
– Duffman is great in this show as Duff’s lackey (“Joel Duffman, ‘The Newsly Times.’  What’s with the smear campaign against this beloved brewer?  And weren’t you once in a loony bin? Oh yeah!”) His line toward the end is bonafide classic (“New feelings are brewing in Duffman! What would Jesus do?”)
– Nice gag with the discomforting omen of the other poor soul who protested against the stadium owners: a skeleton shackled to a pole similar to Homer’s with a sign reading “Clean the Ladies’ Room.”
– We see Skinner and Krabappel on a date; Krabappel assures the ice crem cone Skinner bought her will go straight to her thighs, and Skinner retorts that that won’t be the only thing. Not only is this too shrewd a line for a lameduck like Skinner, but really, this is twice this season we’ve had an awful sexual inneuendo coming from this guy. It’s a little bit disconcerting.
– I really like the plot turn of Duff having Homer transported to the outfield, and touting him as an Isotopes superfan, negating Homer’s entire platform. His callous attitude toward Marge regarding her husband’s well-being is great too (“We won’t let any harm come to your husband, Mrs. Simpson. He’s fine.” “He’s not moving!” “He’s probably resting from all the moving he did before you got here. He’ll start moving in a second; I’m sure of it.”)
– I criticized this show for being too silly at parts, but I still like the very end in Alburquerque. It still could have worked with the other silliness taken out, our sincere earned ending capped off with a final bit of craziness (“Dang! That town’s got too much spirit. Looks like we’ll have to steal some other baseball team.  See what Dallas wants for the Cowboys.” “Uh, that’s a football team, sir.” “They’ll play what I tell ’em to play… for I am the Mayor of Albuquerque!”)