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.

38 thoughts on “357. Bonfire of the Manatees

  1. Worst episode ever goes to that horrible Moe/dishrag episode in season 23. But luckily, you will never see that episode since you will stop at episode 444.
    Seriously, my hopes for the show were already lower than low, but when I saw the dishrag thing, I died a little inside. I almost recommend watching it just for the horror.

    1. I know I will get shit for this, but I kinda thought the dishrag episode had its clever moments. It was a bit boring and had the worst concept ever, not to mention the first few minutes with the dancing are amongst the worst things ever aired on television…. but the actual little stories within had some decent moments. I can see why people hate it, though.

      Worst episode ever? One word: “Sadgasm”.

  2. Jacques was a far more memorable threat to Marge and Homer’s marriage than Caleb was.

    On some of these recent episodes, I have to go back into the archives and see what I originally liked when it first aired, they’re that forgettable. Apparently I liked the gag where the sports commentators were so busy talking to someone plugging a new reality show that they barely acknowledged a touchdown. I don’t really remember specifics of that gag, but I doubt it was as funny as “It’s going, going, going, my technical director today was Stan Kadlubowski, it’s out of here!!!”

    About the ending with Burns and Smithers washing the manatee to Rose Royce’s “Car Wash”: It’s hack writing to add such a song to such a scene. It’s incredibly predictable. Yet look at the entire -episode- of “King of the Hill” where a new car wash opened in town. They never used that song once.

  3. I predict by the end of this season, “Secrets of a Successful Marriage” is gonna look a whole lot better to you.

    That’s not one of my favorite classic episodes either, but it had more dignity, laughs, and believability than any of these modern marriage crisis episodes.

  4. This episode pretty much sets the scene for Season 17, which I still regard as the absolute worst fucking season ever. Dickhead Homer, doormat Marge, and a hollow marriage crisis that’ll be solved by episode’s end for no goddamn reason.

    I remember when I watched this one, I walked away thinking “What the fuck was that?” The one thing that sticks out the most in my mind is the image of Homer, beaten, bedraggled, and vomiting all over himself, and Marge swooning over him for bizarre twisted reasons only known by Al Jean’s horribly unfunny writing staff. The Homer/Marge relationship is horrendously depressing. She honestly has no legitimate reason to stay married to this asshole. It’s awful. Just…awful.

    Gah, I’m choking on my own rage here.

    1. Season 17 is the absolute worst, thats for sure. Season 18 might be dull and forgettable, but it doesn’t have too many “infuriating elements”.

      1. What about that episode where everyone in town harasses Bart over losing a baseball game and he attempts suicide? That set a lot of people off.

  5. Look at it this way. You’ve already seen the worst episode this season. There’s still a lot of crap to sit through, but it doesn’t get as bad as this.

    1. I don’t know about that. “Milhouse of Sand and Fog”, “The Italian Bob”, “We’re On the Road to D’oh-where”, and “Homer Simpson, This Is Your Wife” all give this one a serious run for its money.

  6. Trying to pick a “worst episode ever” from Zombie Simpsons is like trying to pick what kind of animal shit tastes the worst. Sure, if you wanted to split hairs you could probably compare them all and figure out which one grossed you out the most personally. But who cares? Just don’t eat any of them.

    P.S. Thank you for entertaining us with your stories of eating animal shit. Metaphorically.

  7. Hey, Mike, will you stop at episode 444 or 500? Just curious. If no comment, I do hope it is 500. Regarding this episode, I did enjoy it for some reason, a few scenes, idk why.

    1. It’s 444, because that’s when I officially gave up on the show. A part of me is curious to watch the ensuing episodes since I’ve never seen them, but I’m so exhausted at this point that I just want to call it quits as soon as possible. This is my fan retrospective, so ending it where I left the show makes the most sense.

      1. Oh come on, man up. You MUST watch at least until 500!!! Well, mostly because that 500 days of Homer site dude never made it past 44 episodes. Plus, you are missing out on some good episodes such as an Inception spoof, a Social Network one, and Homer imitating Glen Beck.

      2. All I know about the Inception one is the scene where Homer wants to fuck Marge wearing a diaper. I would not like to know anything further than that.

      3. I hate the Glenn Beck gravy-on-head one a lot, but I thought the Inception riff was well made, and Holidays of Futures Passed was… watchable.

        Still, as much as I love Mike’s writing and look forward to reading this blog, I wouldn’t wish anymore horrible episodes upon him!

      4. I think the only reason I liked the Glen Beck one was because of the crawls going across the screen like, “Congress postpones end of world until 2013” and “Steve Jobs unveils the iGhost.”

        However, Holidays of Future Past is definitely an incredible episode, almost classic level, and the best future episode since Lisa’s Wedding.

    1. Hmm. You’re referring to the one where Homer thinks Abe is not his real dad, right? Cuz that is one of the worst ever. Though That 90’s Show and ROMEO AND JULIEH (just a horrible title) are probably even worse, somehow…

  8. Eh, thanks for explaining that Mike. You have done a great job so far reviewing these episodes; I don’t know how one man can do it all, and many of your reviews echo my own thoughts on this show like this review here! Anyway, 500 is an even number (I think?) I like even numbers, but if 444 is your goal/where you want to finish, that’s fine with me. I’m surprised you’ve made it past 300 episodes btw, I hope you back this blog up when your done or before, and consider making it into a book and/or ebook. Yes, it’s that good, and you are The Angry Video Nerd (from youtube) of Simpsons reviews, which is a good thing! 🙂

  9. – 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.

    Fucking what?
    I literally do not know how to react to that. Just…..what?

  10. So I took Season 17 out of the library today because I need an episode from it as I am planning to do a Worst Episodes video on my channel (I consider Homer’s Paternity Coot to be the worst episode of the series). I decided that I might as well watch the season and put finishing Season 2 on hold since I’ve got it and haven’t watched it since 2012. It was easily my least favorite season of the 23 seasons I marathoned back then. It also didn’t help that the quality of the files I had were down right dreadful and I was feeling a burn out by that point. Thus, I thought, “YOu know what, maybe I will feel differently about this season if i watch it now.”

    So I watched the first two episodes. Wow, just wow. It just got me to change my top 10 worst episodes list as this episode just got added to the top 5. Not only did I forget how much of an ass Homer is in this episode, but it clearly shows that Marge is suffering from stockholm syndrome. It’s pretty disgusting. Additionally, that ending with Smithers and Burns is completely out of character for them, especially since I just watched “Bart Gets Hit by a Car” yesterday.

    On one hand, I kind of should just forget about watching the rest, but on the other, I’m a masochist and since I started the season, I need to finish it.

  11. Blimey! I completely forgot how horrible Bonfire of the Manatees was since I only saw it once, and for good reason. I still believe Flanders’ Ladder is the worst episode ever, but Bonfire is a close second or third, for sure. Honestly, Bonfire of the Manatees and Every Man’s Dream are sooooo baaaaad, they make Dangers on a Train and I Want You (She’s So Heavy) look good in comparison. At least Homer gave a crab about Marge in those episodes, and those two episodes have a hundred times more love in them than these two episodes, which got none at all.

  12. What’s interesting about this episode is how similar the plot is to “Life on the Fast Lane”, just done 16 years later. Caleb is very much similar to Jacques, and her interest in the manatees mirrors the interest in bowling. The difference being how both of these things are nowhere near as interesting or captivating as they were in LOTFL, and while Homer was a believable and sympathetic character in that episode, he’s just a thoughtless dick here. This episode is a complete failure because of that, there’s no reason to care at all on the conflict, meaning the only thing the episode can rely on is humor, and the humor in this episode fucking sucks. There were maybe 2 moments in the episode that I found amusing at all, and I can’t even remember them (not a good sign). A nice capsule of how the show has fallen to this point.

    (I disagree about this being the worst episode ever though. Homer’s actions in “Co-Dependent’s Day” are a million times worse than what he did here.)

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