Category Archives: Season 17

357. Bonfire of the Manatees

(originally aired September 11, 2005)
What is the worst episode ever? It’s a question as subjective as choosing the best episode, and not one I want to waste much time delving into. But to give my thoughts quickly, I think the most egregious modern episodes are the marriage crisis shows. Homer and Marge’s relationship used to be so endearing; Homer acknowledges how lucky a fat, dumb schmoe like him is to have landed a prize like Marge, and he would always try his dardnest to prove his worth as a provider for her and the family, only to be sabotaged by fate, or his own gross incompetence. Now, these episodes normally involve Homer being a flaming asshole and driving Marge away, and the two inexplicably getting back together in the end for no reason other than twenty minutes are up. I’d always considered this to be the worst of that type of show, so could this be my worst episode ever? I dunno, but it sure feels like a contender. Homer is incorrigible from beginning to end: exaggeratedly moronic, selfish, arrogant, and unbelievably thick. Every single scene he’s in, he irritates the shit out of me. We start with him falling for a football betting scam, even though Lisa flat-out tells him it’s a scam, blindingly borrowing money from Fat Tony to cover his bets. Since he can’t pay up, Homer agrees to let them film an X-rated movie in his house. Marge finds out, is mortified, and leaves, without the kids, strangely enough. I guess she’ll let Homer explain what was happening in there.

Marge ends up south of Springfield and calls Homer on a pay phone. At this point, both characters have commented on how this happens all the time; Marge seems depressed and resigned to the fact that she’ll come back home and this cycle of Homer’s jerkass behavior will continue over and over again. Which we know it will. Whatever happens at the end of this show, this will happen again and again and again, so from this point, the show feels completely sour. Marge joins forces with Caleb, a rugged activist devoted to protecting the manatees. Meanwhile, Homer is searching for Marge, and ends up at his country cousins’ house, characters we’re just now meeting in the third act. They don’t even have names, and the joke is that they’re bright, affluent people, but Homer belittles them by calling them stupid rubes, and is condescending to them the whole time, despite their hospitality, and them saving his ass in the end. Homer stops some jet skiers from wailing on manatees, which they’re doing for some reason, then invokes their wrath when he insults them. Seeing him get pummeled and attacked is the best part of the whole show;  after putting up with his douchebag behavior for so long, it was so satisfying to see. Eventually he’s saved, he’s battered, brain-damaged and vomiting profusely, and Marge couldn’t be happier, somehow. The gag is that Homer mirrors the manatees, this big, dumb stupid animal that Marge needs to take care of, but the sadness surrounding the joke is overwhelming. Homer’s like this destructive, insensitive tumor Marge is saddled with, endlessly getting into shenanigans that place his life and the family’s well being in jeopardy, and Marge goes back to him every time. Their marriage has de-evolved into a form of an abusive relationship, and it’s perhaps the worst thing modern Simpsons has done. If not the worst episode ever, then definitely in the top three. I can’t be bothered to rank that shit.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer is irritating from the start. Hearing Lisa explain the football predictions form to him kind of reminds me of giving her rock analogy in “Much Apu About Nothing,” but there Homer just couldn’t understand it, and here he’s just flat out ignoring his daughter’s warnings. He then later lies to his wife’s face, and manages to absolve all her niggling doubts with some empty sweet talk. What a fucking wonderful guy.
– Santa’s Village is a dead set piece. Storytown Village was a believable and wonderfully shitty amusement park. Here, everything is way too dilapidated and run-down that it’s just more dour than funny, and in case it wasn’t sad enough, ends with Bart mentioning “Santa” being taken away in a body bag.
– I can’t get over how awful the scene of Marge on the pay phone is; it’s her stating why these types of episodes are awful, but in a completely straight, unironic fashion. That and they just pile on more of Homer being a dick, showing him eating the apology chocolates and whining to her about how to write a check.
– Caleb introduces himself to Marge, revealing his passion for protecting manatees. What’s the first thing out of her mouth in response? “What if by harming a manatee, you could save two manatees? But before you answer, consider this: the manatee you have to harm is pregnant.” I can’t think of a more unnatural line than this. Someone tosses this shit to Kavner and she has to figure out how the fuck to say this kind of line and make it sound right. No one fucking talks like this.
– It’s amazing how Homer just gets worse and worse as the show goes on. His treatment of his country cousins is the most deplorable though (“Do you folks want to see a quilt that’s been in our family for five generations?” “I warned you he was an idiot!”) He openly insults them at every turn, and for some reason tells them that Marge is dead, at the dinner table with the kids sitting there. If all of this wasn’t random enough, then we find out the family connection: their dogs are related, as we see Santa’s Little Helper and his country brother with a straw hat and a fucking hayseed in his mouth. And on top of that, we have a stolen joke from “Who Shot Mr. Burns” (“We don’t have an outhouse.” “My recording studio!”)
– I honestly could pick this episode apart scene by scene, there’s that much wrong with it. The weird rhythm between Homer and Caleb’s confrontation, Bart randomly pointing out the manatees, the bizarre reactions from the jetskiers, the fucking awful ending with Burns and Smithers… This episode is just absolutely dreadful from the first frame to the last. Maybe it is the worst episode ever. But even if it’s not, it’s still total fucking garbage.