641. Heartbreak Hotel

Original airdate: October 7, 2018

The premise:
Marge’s longstanding dream of competing on her favorite reality show is immediately dashed when she and Homer are the first to be eliminated. Homer tries to raise her spirits by helping her embrace their new temporary life at the fancy hotel they are required to stay in until production wraps.

The reaction: Even if you don’t keep up with them, reality competition shows are still alive and kicking; genre forefathers Survivor, Big Brother and The Amazing Race are still going strong with respectable ratings (on CBS, the only network to still actually get ratings). But reality show parodies really feel old hat to me, with every show and that show’s mother getting their shots in during the reality show boom of the early 2000s, including this show, with “Helter Shelter” in season 14. So even though the characters comment that their favorite show “The Amazing Place” is in its 48th season, none of their reality jokes feel like anything I haven’t already heard over a decade ago. But unlike “Helter Shelter,” which was all about parodying the current TV landscape, this episode isn’t really about that… I’m not sure what the message of it is, exactly. Marge is a huge “Amazing Place” fan and has submitted tapes to be on the show since the beginning, so Bart and Lisa convince the producers to accept her, with her sob story being a great marketable angle. Unfortunately, she and Homer fail the first challenge immediately on arrival and are eliminated. To keep the mystery of the competition show from being ruined, the two must stay at a swanky deluxe hotel for six weeks until filming is finished. Marge is despondent she failed to live out her dream, and just as she was getting over it, she discovers that Homer was responsible for failing the challenge and gets extremely bitter. When the show’s producer returns, announcing one final challenge for the losers provided they dump their partners for it, Marge immediately accepts, but ends up failing that too by her own fault. So what’s… the take away from this? The show ends with Homer basking in for once not being responsible a screw-up, rather than actually comforting her in some way, or Marge apologizing for him for how awfully she treated him and dropping him like a sack of hot rocks to be on the show one last time. She was a hue fan girl who blew her one big chance… and that’s about it. It’s one of those episodes I’m not sure how exactly to critique because I don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from it. Every season there are always a decent handful of episodes that feel more pointless than normal to just pad the season out; pretty surprising to see one already as show #2.

Three items of note:
– A brief montage sequence of Lisa editing together Marge’s old audition tapes to make a new one to submit while Bart goofs around is set to library music frequently used in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I don’t know if the song is actually royalty-free or they had to acquire the license to used it, but that score is so intrinsically tied to Sunny that there’s no way it was unintentionally used. So why is it there? Bart feeds Santa’s Little Helper marshmallows until he gets super fat while Lisa is on her computer… that’s it. It would make more sense if it were played at Moe’s as Homer and the gang are talking about something or plotting a scheme, at least the reference would make sense. Here, it’s just… random.
– I guess once they decided to name the show after the Elvis song, they figured they could have Homer sing a parody version of it, trying to sell Marge on the cushy lifestyle they could live up stuck at the airport hotel. He sings the first stanza with no music, then there’s a weird brief pause, and the music slowly starts to come in during his second stanza. It’s hard to explain without actually watching it, but the whole sequence feels halfhearted, like they didn’t want to fully commit to a music sequence, or just didn’t want to bother.
– Act two (I think?) ends with Marge discovering it was Homer’s fault they failed the first challenge. After commercial, we come back to an elaborate black and white sequence of the two returning to their hotel and proceeding to bicker back and forth with each other. It’s an elaborate three minute tribute to the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Castellaneta and Kavner channel Richard Burton and Liz Taylor as they banter back and forth, invite over guests (another couple voted off the show), Marge flirts with the other husband, and she and Homer argue some more. First off, who the fuck is this parody for? This is a fifty year old movie; I wouldn’t have known what they were doing if I hadn’t read about it first. But here’s the thing, they’ve done this parody before. In season two’s “War of the Simpsons,” during Lovejoy’s marriage counseling, we spend a moment with John & Gloria, a bitter couple (also voiced by Castellaneta and Kavner) who are based on the two leads of Woolf. But here, you don’t need to be familiar at all with that film to understand what’s happening and find it funny. Their angry yelling over each other is amusing (“Queen of the harpies! Here’s your crown, your majesty!!”) and the kicker of Lovejoy’s request for them to look into each other’s eyes immediately making them do a complete 180 on their attitudes and solving all of their problems is just perfect (as is Lovejoy calling at them as they leave to remember their eternal happiness when he passes the collection plate the following week). This scene takes about a minute, has a lot of jokes, and works within the plot, providing an absurdly positive marital contrast to the following scene with Homer and Marge. In this episode, it’s just Homer and Marge performing the script to Virginia Woolf. With some variables changed to match the episode’s plot, there are entire sections and lines taken verbatim from the film. The neighbor, Nick, is voiced by George Segal, playing the same character as he did in the film, which I guess the staff was tickled by? There’s no parody element to this, it’s just the character performing straight scenes from this movie for no reason. The only attempt at a unique joke is Marge and Nick doing a three legged foot race that’s supposed to simulate sex (Marge repeating “In! Out!” before they collapse on the bed). The whole sequence is just embarrassing and baffling, a complete time waster in place of actual character development. We already know Marge is upset with Homer, we don’t need a three fucking minute sequence devoted to elaborating on that fact.

One good line/moment: There were actually a few brief moments I chuckled at: some PAs pushing Homer in front of the camera when the crew arrives at the house to film Marge, the confetti being vacuumed back up into the sky after the bait-and-switch of Marge actually losing, and the sequence of Blue Haired Lawyer monitoring Marge’s call home to make sure she doesn’t reveal anything about the show wasn’t bad either.

Wherein I become a content creator begging for cash: After being asked about it in the past, and once recently, I decided to open a Ko-Fi for donations, which you can find at the bottom of the right sidebar. I’d considered a Patreon in the past, but I feel I don’t generate enough to content to justify people paying monthly. But if you’ve enjoyed my many years of suffering through Zombie Simpsons and want to give back any amount you’d like, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m really glad people have enjoyed my writing through this entire journey and comment to tell me so, and that’s really enough thanks for me and incentive to keep slogging through the muck; you shouldn’t have to feel obligated to contribute, but I figured having the option if someone wants to is no big deal.

16 thoughts on “641. Heartbreak Hotel

  1. “But reality show parodies really feel old hat to me, with every show and that show’s mother getting their shots in during the reality show boom of the early 2000s, including this show, with “Helter Shelter” in season 14. ”

    Not only that, there were even 2 shows that parodied the reality show genres- the Comedy Central series “Drawn Together”, parodying Big Brother by having none of the contestants be eliminated (except for one hardly-ever-seen contestant in their final episode), and overall not even focusing on the reality portion for the most part, just making it a sitcom that used the reality show setting as a ploy, and the Canadian animated series “Total Drama”, which managed to parody the genre by copying it’s cliches and typical characters beat for beat, even changing the name for each new season (and would even do a similar Amazing Race parody, called “The Ridonculous Race”.) By coincidence, the latter show had announced it’s effective ending a few days before this episode aired.

    My point is, how the hell they thought this would work now, is beyond me. Really, how it’s even relevant is beyond belief.

  2. I just wanted to say in that picture Marge has an horrible look (I won’t say it horribly drawn since it is not hand-drawn).
    I mean, they have fucking computers full of ready on-model characters to be printed on the screen(ala South Park) and they have not got a Marge with her head down? Or they are simply too incompetent to draw decently? It seems they took Marge base head and sloppily morphed with Photoshop.
    Not to mention her feet. She sits on the bed and her feet are parallel to the bed.. Great, she’s got broken ankles..
    How the fuck did they edited this shit? The first raw seasons of South Park put more quality in its look than this inept show.

  3. Parodies/references should be entertaining whether you understand the reference or not. This Virginia Woolf section seems like nothing more than an opportunity for the writers to show off an old film that they happen to know.

  4. This episode was pretty bad, though I guess it could have been worse. I did get a laugh out of the scene when the dude got fired for asking if they should exploit people and then the ending with Homer’s relief. The black and white segment made absolutely not sense at all and I’m a Film Noir fan. The constant camera going in and out of focus on the characters got annoying after a couple times, though I guess it would have worked if that entire scene didn’t feel like it came out of left field. Were they trying to parody something there?

    Also, Marge was completely in the wrong here. How the hell was Homer supposed to know the chocolate was not her item? She went off on him and treated him like s*** for no reason. It also doesn’t help that good god was Kavner’s voice dreadful in this episode. She sounded like a cat being crushed by a garbage disposal.

    1. Crap, I wish I could edit that.

      Anyway, yeah, the Virginia Woolfe parody made no sense to me and I remember you talking about it in another article, which as you said, was “War of the Simpsons.”

      It was awful and made no sense to me. It was also quite jarring with how the show was suddenly in black and white without any explanation whatsoever.

      As for this episode being a reality TV parody, I thought the one they did before was called THe Frying Game? Am I thinking of the same episode you are talking about?

      1. “Helter Shelter” featured the Simpson family being on a reality show taking place in an old 1880s home. But yeah, the early 2000s seasons had several instances of the family watching reality shows on TV, as well as that “Frying Game” ending, that make revisiting this well pretty pointless.

      1. Really difficult.. I’d say The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and just to vary I put a modern one, The Long Goodbye. But Double Indemnity should be up there too. (Touch of Evil it’s been decades, I should re-watch it).

  5. “A brief montage sequence of Lisa editing together Marge’s old audition tapes to make a new one to submit while Bart goofs around is set to library music frequently used in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I don’t know if the song is actually royalty-free or they had to acquire the license to used it, but that score is so intrinsically tied to Sunny that there’s no way it was unintentionally used. So why is it there?”

    I hear that. It’s jarring to hear the “It’s Always Sunny” music in other shows, even though those pieces were originally created decades ago.

    On the subject, though, have you seen this?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHXg4XWKHRY

  6. “just as she was getting over it, she discovers that Homer was responsible for failing the challenge and gets extremely bitter.”

    I was on board for this episode until I read that. It seemed like a neat enough premise without forcing another “Homer is a bad person” plotpoint.

  7. I was just bored during the whole episode. The only chuckle I got was the bevy of hashtags during the end.

    Homer relishing in a Marge screw-up is yet another sour spin on their relationship. I get what they were going for, but it’s one of those areas you need to really tip-toe around to be funny without being nasty. They were able to pull it off back in $pringfield, but not here.

    Incidentally, listening to Marge say anything is just plain painful. I’m sure I’ve said that before, but it just gets worse with each new episode.

  8. One of the early fears that the writers had on the show was doing poignant moments that involved exploring characters in their emotional states, because they didn’t want to cross the line into “sap”. The thing is, they realized that you could have characters show emotion, and that actually is possible as long as you understood when to do it and how long to sustain it. Everyone always goes to “Lisa’s Substitute” for this, but I feel like a better example is “Principal Charming”, because you get to see the emotional state of three characters; the lovelorn Patty, the hardhearted Selma, and the rigorous Skinner Better yet, this was the episode that gave those three characters, who had been incidental characters up to that point, a chance to showcase themselves. I still get teared up whenever I think about the point where Seymour realizes that Patty’s affinity towards her twin sister will mean they cannot continue their relationship, but they don’t linger on this as Skinner suddenly realizes that this relationship has caused him to slip up his authoritarian control of the school and reaffirms himself… and we cut to Selma at Moe’s where Barney is rambling about leaving the military.

    It seems like in the past 15 or so years, the writers decided that they weren’t going to bother with “touchy-feely crap” so whenever you have a moment where a character can showcase the emotion you feel is justified or earned, it’s instead swerved in which a character misbehaves or forgives the transgressions of the abuser, possibly because they believe that doing so will point out the flaws in a character and force them to *GASP* encourage continuity! And continuity is the one thing these writers are more afraid of than emotion, since you would have to call attention to this. Popular shows these days have long since abandoned the “daily funnies” format of the Simpsons, where they look at character development and story arcs, which is something you’ll never see from 50-70 year old writers who grumble about millennials being snowflakes. That’s why reactions to potential moments to build character are met with characters accepting they are shit and purposely avoid doing anything about it, which you saw plenty of in last season (such as Marge giving up on Bart after he gets his revenge) and, for a modernist take, going as far back as Season 22’s “Angry Dad: The Movie” where Bart forgives Homer for being a jerkass, even though Homer was clearly in the wrong the whole time for stealing credit.

    The episode, had this been considered in the early days, would have focused on Homer and Marge’s negative states and how they would have to conquer them, usually in absurd and unhealthy ways. Like, Homer’s decision to fail the challenge on purpose because he didn’t want to be part of the show, and Marge’s exceptionally high opinion of her abilities due to her not having a life or a chance to show a personality could be interpreted into amusing ways, before the characters reconcile in a manner befitting Homer realizing the only thing he has in their relationship is “Complete and Utter Dependence”. But, no, Homer had to rub salt in Marge’s wound because that’s easier.

    And because I was the one who suggested the Ko.Fi, I’ll make sure to chip in a few bucks here and there, and I promise I won’t treat you like garbage.

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