313. Moe Baby Blues

(originally aired May 18, 2003)
Simpsons apologists have about four or five episodes at the ready to defend the sorry state of the last decade of shows, and this is one of them: an genuine, emotionally driven story focused on our favorite gargoyle-ish bartender. And yeah, there are parts of it that are definitely very sweet, and it’s probably the most solid, enjoyable episode of the season. But when people start throwing stuff around like “as good as the classic era,” I have to call bullshit, because there’s also a lot in this episode that feels too exaggerated within this simple, emotional story. We start with the entire town flocking to the botanical gardens for the blooming of the Sumatran Century Flower, which as namesake suggests, opens once a century. The only one not there is Moe, and when he does arrive, he’s kicked out as the garden is one over capacity. I get Moe is a lonely guy, and he has crippling emotional issues, but this opening just paints him as way too sad. Moe may be bitter and despondent, but like many of the characters, seemed reasonably content with his lot in life, even if it was just providing intoxicants to other despondent losers. But now he’s just this super pathetic guy who is so desperate for human contact, he lets Chief Wiggum push him down a muddy hill.

Nothing left for Moe than to commit suicide, I guess. This would eventually become one of his character quirks, because suicide is hilarious! Just as he’s about to jump off a bridge, Maggie comes falling down into his arms, having been flung from the Simpson car due to Homer being a shitty, inattentive driver. Moe is smitten with the little tyke, and eventually falls into the role as Maggie’s babysitter. The scenes between these two are absolutely adorable, with Moe still retaining his personality (“It’s so nice to be with someone who can’t understand the horrible things I say.”) The highlight of course is when Moe’s story time where he regales the story of The Godfather using dolls, much to Maggie’s enjoyment. It’s not long before Homer and Marge start getting annoyed by how involved and overprotective Moe becomes of Maggie; the scene at the party really works showing how despite Moe being a bit overbearing, Maggie still seems to have a stronger bond with him than her actual parents. But then they push things too far into a creepy realm by showing Moe has his own baby monitor and video camera in Maggie’s room, the final straw for Homer, who tells Moe he’s not allowed to see her again.

The story is all about Moe, but as the show goes on, you start to think maybe it’ll turn where Homer, and maybe even Marge, need to step up their parenting game when Maggie starts to take a shining more to him than them. There’s one scene where Homer realizes this, and needs to be a better father-figure to her, but that’s basically completely dropped after that. The ending involves Maggie following the mob in the middle of the night, after seeing Fat Tony imitate Don Corleone as Moe did to her. It ends up in a mafia standoff at Luigi’s, and Moe has to risk his life to rescue Maggie. Normally I complain about episodes focused on secondary characters that have the Simpsons shoehorned in, but in this case, I feel they weren’t incorporated in the story enough. I’m fine with the ending as is, and I like how it tied into Moe’s Godfather story (not entirely sure why the mob hangs out outside the Simpson house though), but I feel it would have been more emotionally satisfying if it involved Homer and Marge more, trying to win their daughter back. But I don’t want to step all over this episode, it’s definitely really sweet, has lots of funny moments, and is ultimately pretty satisfying. A real gem in a shit season.

Tidbits and Quotes
– More awkward and weird Homer dialogue (“Every time you say pick a number from one to ten, it’s always seven.” “That’s because there were seven apostles.” “No, there were twelve.” “Boy, that’s a big staff, and still he wasn’t that funny.”) Also you could see the Venus Fly trap gag coming from a mile away.
– I’m quite partial to the Beverly Hillbillies Go Down Under (“Hey Granny, I’m gonna be a professional didgeridoo player!” “Now it’s a didgeri-don’t!”)
– I really didn’t like how Homer basically almost caused the death of his infant daughter. He slams the gas in the middle of a traffic jam, then must jam the brakes and ends up smashing in the back of someone. Maggie’s safety harness breaks and she ends up flying through the sunroof. If it weren’t for Moe, she’d be dead, and Homer would have been responsible. How horrible would that have been? Actually, I’m morbidly curious what that show would have been now. Maybe Marge was the one who bought the shitty safety lock and both parents blame themselves for the incident. Hmm.
– More neutered Burns, as we see Homer is in his “carpool.”
– The sweetest moment of the show is when Moe gives Maggie back her nose (“There yah go, yah little idiot.”) Funny, heartwarming and in-character all at the same time; just because the episode as a whole isn’t classic-worthy doesn’t mean there aren’t excellent moments in it.
– I love Moe misinterpreting the woman trying to pick him up because of Maggie (“Aww, what a face! She looks just like you!” “You calling her repellant? ‘Cause you ain’t exactly Karen Allen yourself!”) He goes from zero to sixty in a second, cracking his knuckles like he’s about to punch this poor woman out on the spot. Also great is the bumper car scene where Moe smashes Nelson’s vehicle with a crowbar, much to Maggie’s amusement. Amazing.
– Moe retells The Godfather, and we take a look at a classic scene (“I think we can scare that movie producer by putting a horse’s blanket in his bed. Imagine waking up and seeing you’ve got the wrong kind of a blanket?” “How about a horse’s head?” “Aww, you see here, that’s why you’re the Godfather!”)
– I really like the birthday party scene, it walks the line perfectly of Moe being sweet and somewhat overbearing, right before it falls into creepy territory in the scene following it. Him fixing her bow (“I know it don’t seem like it matters, but she hates looking like crap,”) yelling at one of Apu’s children playing next to her (“Sure he was, Nahasa-pasa-I’m-raising-a-pervert,”) and his gift to Maggie: a Moe’s Tavern playset, with classic drunk Barney! And the figures talk too (“I peed my pants!” “I recorded that for private use!”)
– It is rather disturbing when Homer, Marge and the police stake out Moe’s thinking he kidnapped Maggie, and it looking like he’s thrown her in the oven. But of course, it’s just a ham.
– I like Don Castellaneta (three guesses who he’s named after); when Fat Tony and his associates all spill wine on themselves at the same time and go to the restroom, he comments, “Those boys should really consider sippy cups.” Also, great bit where the President of the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League is present in the restaurant… who then proceeds to take out two guns himself (“This really burns my cannoli!”)
– I want to see a Moe and Maggie spin-off. I don’t know what it would be about; maybe they could solve mysteries, with Maggie as the brains and Moe the brawn.

Season 14 Final Thoughts
There may be a point where I forgo giving my final thoughts per season, and that point may be right now. This season is really no different than the last, and I feel the show is going to stay at this plateau of quality for a while now, and the only direction to go is down. The series is in such a sorry place, with all of the issues and problems of the past just getting more and more flagrant, and any sincerity or realism that the show once possessed has been almost completely obliterated. Dead Homers coined the term “Zombie Simpsons,” and it really couldn’t be more apt; the show is lifeless and sterile, an empty shell vaguely resembling the actual soul that actually once resided in it. Harsh words, yes, but I really don’t even know how better to describe it. Perhaps the biggest indictment of all is that a lot of these episodes just barely even registered with me. I considered putting a couple on the “worst” list, but then realized that I didn’t even give a shit about them. Scully episodes will piss me off, but Jean episodes are just so innocuous. The show’s deader than dead, and I still have six more seasons to go. I do it only out of obligation now; I can’t have come this far to stop now.

The Best
“The Dad Who Knew Too Little,” “Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington,” “Moe Baby Blues”

The Worst
“How I Spent My Strummer Vacation,” “Helter Shelter,” “The Great Louse Detective,” “Three Gays of the Condo,” “Brake My Wife, Please”

312. The Bart of War

(originally aired May 18, 2003)
I’m trying to keep my level of exasperation down, but with episodes like these, it’s really hard. You have to wonder exactly what the writers and producers are thinking when they’re color screening these shows, that despite almost every single scene having a glaring issue, be it clunky dialogue, questionable characterization, or stupid plot turns, they deem it good enough to air as a Simpsons episode. I’d like to say that there’s a decent premise buried here, but that’s me being really generous. Bart and Milhouse get into some massive hijinks, in this case breaking into Flanders’ house and destroying his secret room of Beatles memorabilia. Why it had to be the Beatles is irrelevant and this is just the quick set-up to our story, except it takes the entire first act, so you realize that the writers were scrambling to bring this one to length. The two kids end up in separate youth groups: the Pre-Teen Braves, led by Homer, then later Marge, and the Calvary Kids, led by Kirk Van Houten.

The kids are in youth groups, which perform community service and promote wellness and responsibility amongst children. A kid like Bart is going to have no interest in something like this. Homer starts off as a predictably incompetent leader, but Marge soon takes the helm and shows the kids the wonders of the Indian peoples, winning them over immediately by showing them a smoke signal. From that point we hand-wave any contention the kids might have and they’re all super-psyched about spending their sunny weekends picking up litter. Bart’s fellow members are Nelson, Ralph and Database, and Milhouse’s are Jimbo, Martin and Cosine, one of the Superfriends. Nelson gets a few lines, and Ralph is literally used as a prop, but none of them feel like anything but utilities for this pathetic story. The older bully Jimbo in a community-minded organization with two big nerds? Doesn’t matter, just throw whoever in there. We’re at the point where the same faces get recycled over and over regardless of it makes sense; why waste time making new designs when you can regurgitate the old ones?

So the two groups have a tiff over who gets to clean up some Godforsaken field, which immediately creates their rivalry, instigated by Marge, of all people. At that point, it’s just a tired exercise of the two teams one-upping each other, until eventually they make amends in a grand fashion. Let’s just skip to the end: the Pre-Teen Braves impersonate the Calvary Kids, singing a botched National Anthem at Springfield Stadium, incising the crowd. The real Calvary Kids show up and a fight breaks out. Then for no apparent reason everyone in the crowd starts fighting each other. I know the town loves a good mob, but goddamn, there’s no impetus for this. Marge laments she just wanted to teach the kids good citizenship, despite the fact she went along with their petty rivalry, and starts crying. A cameraman turns and shoots her, for no reason, which ends up on the Jumbotron. Then Homer says the worst line of dialogue ever (“Oh my God, that’s my wife! And she’s crying!”) The crowd sings the Canadian national anthem and takes another crack at America, and the episode ends. I can’t even feel mad about this one, it’s just so pathetic and inept in all aspects. Like… whatever.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I guess in response to their “shot” at them, the show tackles South Park, except here, I’m not exactly sure what the parody is. They show the series has fart humor, and violence, and features celebrities, except they’re dated celebrities like Calista Flockhart and O.J. Simpson. I don’t quite understand what they were going for with this. The “Simpsons Already Did It” episode of South Park was so brilliant, and this is just a sad follow-up.
– I want to get to the point where I stop complaining about characterization, but they keep throwing shit at me. Flanders chastises his son for feeling good for doing charity (“Sin of pride, Roddy!”) then for apologizing (“Sin of regret,”) freaks the fuck out when he finds the house is busted up and goes to the padlocked panic room, then freaks the fuck out of his children as he posits the possibility of a killer using a blowtorch and getting in to slay them through song. It’s just as disconcerting as it sounds. Secondly, we get this brilliant piece of dialogue, when Homer tells Ned he never knew he was a Beatles fan (“Of course I am, they were bigger than Jesus!”) Now, current caricatured Ned, the psycho-Christian, you’d think he would have completely vilified the Beatles for such a statement. But I guess a line like that is supposed to be funny because it contrasts with the exaggerated character that Flanders currently has? I guess? But ultimately it doesn’t matter, since the Beatles stuff is nothing short of random, just killing time with stupid bullshit because there’s no story to be had here. All the time the artists must have spent laying out and designing that Beatles room for no point at all.
– This is the first show where we see Nelson’s emotional crippling due to his father having left him, even though we’ve seen him in the past in “Bart Star.” It’s nice that the show treats the devastating sadness and mania of a young child so callously and as a big goof. The second time it happens, Marge comments, “For God’s sakes, I can see why he left.” How wildly inappropriate and out-of-character.
– “What are we gonna do to that field!” “Clean it!” “And why are we gonna clean it?” “Liberal guilt!” CHECK OUT OUR BITING COMMENTARY, YOU GUYS!!
– “Those Calvary Kids are bigger credit hogs than the Red Cross!” AREN’T WE EDGY? WE CAN BE EDGY TOO!!
– Ralph, an eight-year-old, gets thrown through a window with a note taped on him, spouting a one-liner. At this point I declare his de-evolution complete, from slightly challenged youngster to brain dead one-liner-spouting prop.
– So did Homer inject each and every candy bar with laxatives? There were dozens and dozens of boxes? How did he do that? Oh, who gives a fuck…
– The only chuckle I got from this show was from the Junior Dandies (“Oh, the indignity!”)
– “Well, Bart, we’ve learned that war is never the answer.” “Except to all of America’s problems.” “Amen.” BITING COMMENTARY, GUYS!!

311. Brake My Wife, Please

(originally aired May 11, 2003)
It’s no picnic being married to Homer, more so in the last few seasons, anyway. Marge acts more of a smiling Stepford wife, cleaning up the messes created by her husband’s wacky schemes with little more contention than a slight protest or irritated murmur. This set-up always made you feel bad for Marge, but those shows were always so hyper-focused on Homer, there wasn’t really any time to dwell over that. Here, the show takes focus on this issue they’ve callously joked about of Marge secretly resenting her husband, then proceed to wrap the story up in four minutes at the very end. It really is a big issue, one that you can fully sympathize with Marge given how Homer has acted in this episode, and for the last few seasons. In this show he buys a bunch of useless appliances for his car, which cloud his vision and his mind, causing him to drive off the pier. With his license revoked, Marge ends up having to do all the driving for the family, while Homer discovers the joys of walking.

Marge flat-out describes in this episode how typical this conceit is, where Homer gets in a mess and she has to clean it up, and that he’ll eventually bounce back better than ever to wreck more havoc. Homer’s compassion for his wife’s newly frazzled state is basically slim to none. He does nothing to help the situation, no attempts to try to get his license back, he just sits back and watches his wife slowly but surely have a meltdown. It really is uncomfortable to watch him act so callously to her, considering she’s stressed out as a result of his imbecilic actions. I picked that particular image above because it encapsulates this episode, perhaps even the Homer-Marge dynamic for the last decade. Homer is joyous and upbeat and pulls off moronic stunts and mayhem, while Marge fixes everything. Whenever Homer spends a good amount of screen time smiling, you know you’re in trouble; it’s a lot more interesting when your character goes through a gambit of emotions rather than just blissful ignorance.

The end of the second act is where shit gets serious, when Marge seemingly accidentally mows down Homer with her car, and from that point does things to hurt him still, like spill hot soup on him and kick his cane over. Homer suspects that she secretly hates him, to which she explodes at her husband, saying she hates him. This is an unbelievably serious situation to spring so late into the episode, but off we go to a marriage counselor. This basically encapsulates the later season mentality: the counselor had asked Homer to write down the most important people in his life, and Homer has written himself down three times. Remember the Homer that would do anything for the sake of his family? The Homer that not only loved Marge with all his heart, but knew that he doesn’t really deserve her? Well that Homer is long gone, his wife and kids are now like his roommates, or potential pawns in his zany schemes. Marge is understandably upset (“I care so much about you, Homer, but I’m not even on your list!”) It’s kind of heartbreaking, and this whole thing just kind of opens the floodgates of thinking of all the shit that’s happened over the past five years that she’s had to put up with. But hey, we literally have four minutes and change left, so Homer can make one big romantic gesture to make everything okay. What is it? A big fancy backyard banquet, with special appearance by Jackson Browne, which makes as much sense as Marge being able to get Weird Al a few shows ago. And even when Homer is singing his make-up song to Marge, he mentions how they should have sex, something that he would like. His whole mentality for the ending feels more like him trying to cover his ass more than realizing what he’s done wrong and wanting to make amends with his wife. The episode is pretty cringe inducing leading up to the final act, but then dives into depressing territory after that. You realize how far Homer has fallen that one of the core elements of the show, one that really helps elevate his character for just being a dumb oafish boob, that he loves his wife and will do anything for her, is tossed around and played with callously. It’s about as sour an ending as it sounds. One of the worst third acts in the history of the series.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I actually like some of the aquarium stuff at the beginning: the irate tour guide, showing that sea lions feed off of the food left behind by documentary crewmen, fish being held in little baggies while their habitat is being cleaned, and while Bart horsing around in the aquarium itself is kind of hokey and dumb, I was surprisingly fine with it, seeing it as a callback to one of the old Tracey Ullman shorts.
– We’ve established at this point that Homer goes and gets drunk in the mornings instead of going to work, but this time for some reason he was out picking out a video, where he got stuck in a feedback loop watching a comedy and a drama in the store at the same time. It’s a sequence the writers seem to think is a lot funnier than it actually is.
– Lindsay Naegle appears from nowhere to get Homer a cell phone. I get this is supposed to be her thing, but when she showed up on top of the ramp at the end of “Barting Over,” it was just getting goddamn ridiculous. And normal characters are starting to do it too, so it’s just whoever we need for what scene, just have them show up.
– Carl, Lou, Dr. Hibbert and Drederick Tatum, despite having jobs at different locations and being in different income brackets, carpool together. It’s just, let’s group all of our black characters together for one shot because Homer has to make the black power salute. Yep. All four of ’em.
– I like the salesman referring to the cigarette lighter as the car’s “dash hole.”
– Homer’s car chock full of appliances really goes too far; it’s not even absurdist funny, it’s just dumb. He comments to that effect himself (“Even think this is crazy,”) though he still continues to drive after that anyway.
– Now banned from the road, Lisa suggests Homer use public transportation. Homer retorts (“Public transportation is for jerks and lesbians!”) If someone can explain this joke to me, go right ahead, but it feels kind of offensive. But even if that’s the case, at least Homer has his latent homophobia back. It makes more sense than the “I LOVE GAYS NOW!!” Homer from “Three Gays.”
– Homer walks all the way to Moe’s, which is revealed to be a mere three houses down from his house. Now, I’m really not a stickler for this shit, getting bent out of shape about buildings showing up in different places in different episodes. But this feels like such a big, big cheat. Unlike the bit of showing the power plant parking garage right behind the house, this time the joke doesn’t feel worth it.
– Ruthless, heartless bureaucrat Mr. Burns stands at the door of the plant, ready to congratulate the first employee to clock in. Then he proceeds to attempt to “walk” and falls down on his face like a pathetic old man. Everything I loved about old Burns is pretty much dead at this point.
– I really like when the Peruvian fighting frogs go at it, they play their typical fighting music, but now with a more bluegrass twang to it. Hey look, a compliment!
– Homer’s walking son is quite boring. Also a great actor like Steve Buscemi is wasted with a nothing part. At least he’d come back in a few seasons playing an actual role. I did smirk at the visual of Homer and Buscemi skipping hand and hand across the globe together though.
– Homer gets hit with the car rather forcefully, yet the start of the third act he’s sitting in bed with his head wrapped up still with a smile on his face. It’s really bizarre, it’s almost unsettling now whenever Homer is smiling for so long.
– I really like the voice of the marriage counselor, I’m surprised after fourteen seasons, Azaria can pull out a voice I haven’t really heard before. Also bonus points for hitting Homer with the clipboard and calling him an idiot. If I can’t do it, thankfully someone in-universe can.
– Pointlessly long cutaway showing that Homer has called Flanders away to Montana to supposedly meet Jesus to keep him out of Marge’s banquet. It only lasts about seven seconds, but it’s the longest seven seconds ever.
– This is supposed to be the chipper ending where Marge gets her accolades, yet we squeeze in a joke where Captain McAlister gets pissed off and curses her for not making a bigger deal out of the platter that he had his men die for. Also the Mayor and his wife are there for some reason. So are Patty and Selma, who you’d think would have had something to say about this episode, but at this point they’re glorified background characters. Also they’re sitting with Rainier Wolfcastle. Whatever.

310. Old Yeller Belly

(originally aired May 4, 2003)
Another show I’m at a complete loss about, as it didn’t seem to be about anything. I guess I’ll go through the whole thing and comment as I go. Bart’s treehouse gets destroyed in an absurdist fashion, and Homer promises he’ll rebuild it. After some ridiculous and unfunny wacky Homer antics, Marge surmises that it’ll never get finished, so figures she has to call in some pros. Ringing a bell summons a troupe of Amish folk, who build the treehouse bigger and better than ever, because that totally makes sense. The new treehouse has a grand opening, and now seems to be as large as an upscale spacious loft. This is held by one tree, how the fuck is it so huge? And everyone in town is invited, and everyone knows everyone else, evidenced by Bart greeting Bumblebee Man and Hans Moleman like they’re old friends. I liked it better when it was a normal town where not everyone was best friends. The treehouse catches fire, leaving Homer stuck inside. Santa’s Little Helper flees, but Snowball II gets Homer to wake up and manage to escape.

Now Snowball II is a hero, for some reason, as Homer parades her around on a royal pillow as townspeople cheer for her, and Quimby holds a ceremony in her honor. Conversely, Homer disowns Santa’s Little Helper for his cowardice. So what’s the point of this episode? The dog has to get back in Homer’s good graces? Homer barely acknowledges the pets, they’re Bart and Lisa’s. You can’t do a Homer/SLH episode unless you establish a connection with them, since they really have none. But I guess they couldn’t get to this point without the treehouse first act, so whatever. By random chance, Dave Shutton, once seemingly a competent reporter, snaps a shot of Santa’s Little Helper drinking a beer can balanced on his nose, a photo that intrigued the Duff corporation, and Howard K. Duff in his second (disposable) appearance. Outing the lazy, loutish Duffman, Duff’s new mascot is Suds McDuff, party dog. This is of course an allusion to Spuds MacKenzie, Bull Terrier “spokesman” for Budweiser in the late 80s. Apparently it was quite controversial, some saying the cute dog was targeting children, and also the reveal that the actual dog was female, but marketed as male. Reading Spuds’ Wikipedia page for thirty seconds is much more interesting than anything in this episode; SLH as Spuds MacKenzie isn’t a parody, they just made SLH Spuds MacKenzie.

SLH is back in Homer’s good graces since he’s making him lots of money now, at least until the dog’s original owner returns to rake in his former mutt’s dough. You know, when SLH was No. 8 in “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” It feels so weird to hear them talking about stuff from the very first episode aired, since thinking back it feels like a completely different show… because it is. Even though surely the Simpsons have ownership papers for the dog at this point, the old owner, who isn’t even given a name, takes the dog on the spot. Now an elaborate scheme must be concocted: reveal SLH as a coward, have a disgraced Duffman redeem himself to get his job back, and the old owner will disown the dog, having lost his gravy train. The only interesting part of the whole show is seeing Barry Duffman, Duffman’s mild-mannered alter ego, teaching at the mission. He goes along with the stunt, SLH is shown to be afraid of water and the crowd boos and chastises the poor dog, Homer almost gets attacked by a shark, Duffman ultimately doesn’t get his job back but still has the costume, and the old owner gives SLH back, thinking it should be with a family that loves him, for reasons that escape me. This is another one of those shows I can’t even be mad at, because it doesn’t even feel like they’re trying. I can’t complain about how they fucked up because I don’t even understand what they’re trying to do. The storytelling has gone from ‘bad’ to just ‘inept.’

Tidbits and Quotes
– The clubhouse gang consists of Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, Martin and Database. Remember when Nelson was the bully the schoolyard feared? And Bart would be embarrassed to be hanging out with the nerds? But they’re recognizable faces, so just cram ’em in there. Just as egregious is Sherri and Terri hanging out with Lisa; they hate her, don’t they?
– Homer removes planks of wood from the railroad tracks, under the belief they’ve been out of use of years. Of course just then a train barrels down the track, which then causes every single train to flip over in midair multiple times and land perfectly fine back on the track and ride off. It’s like the ending of “Maximum Homerdrive,” except even worse that because in “Homerdrive,” they wrote themselves into a corner and that was their stupid excuse for a climax, but here, it’s just a ridiculous joke at the beginning that we’re supposed to accept is fine and move on.
– Some of the dialogue here is just insufferable (“Did Frank Lloyd Wright have to deal with people like you?” “Actually, Frank Lloyd Wright endured a lot of harsh criticisms.” “Look, I have no idea who Frank Lloyd Wright is.” “You said his name two second ago.” “I was just stringing words together.”) Stupid and drawn out, those are the best jokes.
– Not only do the Amish appear from nowhere, so do the Mennonites, who just show up in the next door driveway for a quick joke.
– They spend all this time setting up the treehouse, for it to appear for literally thirty seconds before it all burns down.
– Lisa reads over the Duff contract, because she’s the smart one, and an eight-year-old can read and understand an elaborately written legal agreement. Then we get a dream sequence of Homer on a private jet being horrified to find there’s no pilot. Simultaneously, I’m horrified to find there’s no joke.
– Why are there airing a Duff commercial on the ad break for a kid’s show?
– I’m surprised they even went back and bothered to match the voice for SLH’s old owner, but Hank Azaria done good.
– There’s a smidgeon of sentimentality here with Bart missing SLH, but you barely get any of it within all the wackiness. Instead of being the emotional crux of the show, it’s just yet another thing that’s happening in an episode where things happen.
– Nothing says an aimless, humorless episode like an aimless, humorless ending (“It was probably that stupid cat.” “That cat saved your life.” “What has he done for me lately?” “He woke you up when you stopped breathing last night.” “Yeah, but he ate the last can of tuna.” “Dad, you ate the last can of tuna.” “Everyone’s against me.”) Cut to black, cue theme, good work everyone! Also they keep referring to Snowball II as male, when she’s a female. I buy Homer not knowing, but Marge certainly should. Though I don’t know why I keep thinking the writers give a shit about this.

309. Dude, Where’s My Ranch?

(originally aired April 27, 2003)
The episode began. A bunch of stuff happened. Then the episode ended. That’s pretty much as good of a review as any for a lot of these shows. Most of the time I can scrounge up a couple topics of conversation, but I’m really at a loss for a majority of this one. I can’t make heads or tails out of the opening alone: getting struck down from singing copyrighted Christmas carols, Homer takes a crack at writing his own, but ultimately ends up writing an up-beat hate ballad about Flanders. Incredibly random and silly, but hey, he’s still got some of that BeSharps talent left, so okay. Then David Byrne shows up out of nowhere and turns Homer’s song into a big sensation. We’re like four minutes into the episode and I’m seeing Homer’s record being mass-produced and him performing on stage with a celebrity to throngs of cheering fans. How is this happening? Why is this happening? Why has a song directly referring to a man from a small town become a nationwide phenomenon? Oh, whatever. The ultimate point of this is the Simpsons get tired of hearing the song over and over and want to get away for a while, so they decide to spend a weekend at a dude ranch. I guess this was the most logical way to get to this plot point.

At the dude ranch we get two stories. One involves Homer and Bart helping some Indians get back their land by destroying a beaver dam. I have absolutely nothing to say about this story. It plays out like a Saturday morning cartoon, with Homer’s sorted plans backfiring on him and him getting hurt from them. There’s no point to it whatsoever, so why bother commenting on it. The other involves Lisa, who initially is Little Miss Activist and is complaining how the ranch glorifies cruelty to animals and the taking of the Indians’ rightful land. So yeah, Lisa’s not a little girl anymore, she’s a priggish, socially minded killjoy. Her constant complaining and griping makes her unlikable, and if there’s one character in this fucking show who shouldn’t be unlikable, it’s little Lisa Simpson. When asked if she’d like to ride a pony, she responds, “I’m sure she’d be happier without someone sitting on her back all day.” What the fuck? Do the writers remember “Lisa’s Pony”? Or care? Instead of being an eight-year-old with girlish dreams and desires who happens to be intelligent as well, she crows on about her “animal equals” and screams about freeing Tibet. Which Lisa sounds more interesting to you?

Anyway, Lisa falls for thirteen-year-old Luke Stetson, a character whose name I had to look up because I couldn’t remember it, similar to Grady in the last show. Jonathan Taylor Thomas gives an alright performance, he just barely has anything to work with. Lisa is taken by his consciousness of animal rights and call to activism, similar to Jesse in “Lisa the Treehugger,” but here it’s done in a more exaggerated and knowing fashion so it just feels completely false. There’s a big hoedown coming up and Lisa overhears Luke talking to a girl named Clara on the phone, and believes that she’s his girlfriend. She’s devastated, but upon running into Clara on the trail out of town, she sends her down the wrong, dangerous path due to her jealousy. Totally sounds like something Lisa would do. What is this? Partway through the show, Marge comments how her kids are acting more and more like teenagers, which can definitely be said for all episodes nowadays, but this storyline of Lisa vs. this other girl for Luke’s affections feels way too mature for her. So Lisa saves Clara from drowning, Luke is disgusted by what she did, and the family high-tails it out of there. Then they come back. Who gives a shit. This episode sucks balls. Big, sweaty horse balls.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer is in the middle of banging out a new carol, then Flanders appears from nowhere in his own house, in an early instance of characters showing up randomly whenever they’re needed.
– For those who loved the joke about Homer taunting Ned about his dead wife last episode, we get another one here! One of the lyrics has Homer singing in a condescending manner, “Don’t yell at Ned! His wife is dead!” How fucking tasteless can this show get?
– David Byrne sings and dances on the hood of his car, which stays in motion for some reason. Then he slips, falls into Moe’s car behind him, and is then kidnapped since Moe is a creepy weirdo, and possible celebrity killer. Or something.
– The Lazy “I” Ranch sign is alright (“Formerly Wandering “I” Nudist Colony.”)
– Andy Serkis is wasted with a stupid and pathetic Gollum joke. Why even bother getting these guest stars if you’re not going to make good use of them?
– Marge is with Homer and Bart and the Indians in one scene, then in the next when Lisa and Luke are riding off somewhere far away, she’s hiding behind a cactus with her arms outstretched. What?
– The only laugh I got from this episode came from good ol’ JTT. After diverting Lisa’s eyes away from a bucket of cow tongues and Cookie about to shoot a chicken tied to a stump, he directs her gaze to the clouds. A cloud shaped like a cute little lamb… who then gets its head cut off by a cloud axe. “Aw, dammit!” He gave the exclamation a real intensity, and in that accent to boot.
– Maggie dances to Britney Spears in a Spears-type baby outfit for some Godforsaken reason, but what the fuck’s that radio doing there? Didn’t they come to the dude ranch because it was cut off from the media where they could hear Homer’s song? Also, the first joke we get at the dude ranch is the Rich Texan telling Comic Book Guy he could get Internet connection there. Why have the setup if you don’t even give a shit about it?
– Why did they bother with the weird bit with showing Clara’s name all over her necklace, her ring, her saddle… she could have just introduced herself, instead of appearing like some crazy person with her name inscribed on everything she owns.
– The action sequence of saving Clara is really bizarre. The music keeps building and gets more intense when nothing is happening. Bart gets the beavers to cut the tree down, and that’s basically it, since Clara can easily walk over it to safety, which she does quickly. But the music is still present and intense you think something else is going to happen… then it doesn’t. What a bunch of fucking shit.
– Lisa mourns over Luke, calling him her “first crush” (“All it did was make me do terrible things, and then break my heart.” “Lisa, welcome to love.”) The ending feels so cynical, then attempts to backpedal, but fails. I guess we’ve forgotten all about Mr. Bergstrom, Nelson, even her obsession with that punk kid from the library made more sense and was more entertaining than this fucking episode. All of these were back from when Lisa was a real character, and stories made sense. Now we get an episode where Homer drives off with his car lifting on its back wheels like a horse.