378. Homer and Marge Turn a Couple Play

(originally aired May 21, 2006)
Just as the season began, we end with another shitty Homer-Marge episode. Kinda. The best I can say it’s nowhere near the abomination of “Bonfire of the Manatees,” but it is boring and stupid. The Isotopes’ new best player Buck Mitchell’s game is getting affected by his hot pop star wife, and is in need of some marriage counseling. And why ask a trained professional when you can consult two random strangers who showed up on the stadium kiss cam? So Homer and Marge help the young couple out, sort of. But, through misunderstanding, Buck believes he overhears his wife and Homer fooling around, which is not a cliche hackneyed premise at all, or poorly executed and ridiculous, and things go sour one more. This also gets him in Marge’s bad graces. But everything gets resolved in the third act one way or another, as it always does, whether we believe or care about it or not.

This whole episode… just, who cares. We meet these two new characters: Buck we know nothing about, and Tabitha is just a pastiche of sexy pop stars, hoping to keep the audience awake by flashing as much yellow skin as possible. We see Homer and Marge “counsel” them twice, which consists of Marge reading from a therapy book and dispensing simple pleasantries and ideas. Around this, the characters just tell us the information rather than show it: Lisa comments how weird it is that her parents are dispensing marriage advice when their own is so shitty, Kent Brockman talks about how Homer and Marge are responsible for Buck’s improved performance, and then a sportscaster comments on how they screw it up. Do we care about Buck and Tabitha, these two strangers, and whether they’ll get back together? No. Do we care for the sake of Homer and Marge, who worked so hard to keep them together? No, because we barely see any of it. Do we even care if Homer and Marge stay together? At this point, I honestly don’t give a crap. Three more seasons to go…

Tidbits and Quotes
– I remember teenage me quite enjoying Tabitha Vixxx in this episode. And you know what, between her design and Mandy Moore’s voice, her scenes were the only interesting parts of the whole episode. I’m not quite sure why…
– “You remember when we used to kiss like that, Carl? With our respective girlfriends.” Please stop, writers. Just… please. Stop.
– I’m confused why Marge’s gossip circular has a photo of old Groucho Marx Krusty as we’ve seen in the future episodes with the headline “Krusty’s Sad Last Days.” Is this a periodical from the future?
– The main issue seemingly is that Buck feels embarrassed and uncomfortable with his wife’s music career involving her wearing as little amount of clothes as possible. It’s what makes him lose focus at the game, and the first thing he brings up in consoling. Is it ever brought up again, or resolved, or discussed further? Nope!
– Buck hearing Tabitha and Homer’s moans through the door as he gives her a neck rub is unbelievable, like how lame and unoriginal can this show get? And the “protection” bit is just annoying. I could hear the trombone “wah waaaahhh” sound when it’s revealed to be a bib.
– There’s a bit toward the end where Tabitha volunteers to polish Marge’s lamp, and proceeds to just do a pole dance. There’s some satire to be had involving vacuous pop stars, that perhaps their sexy demeanor and behavior is more absent-minded, like just a compulsion they can’t control. It could have been delved into, considering it’s the main source of Buck’s frustration. Instead, it’s just a gag. Whatever.

Season 17 Final Thoughts
Not much left to say at this point. The series is broken in nearly every respect and shows no sign of any attempted repair. A token chuckle or two every episode is the best I hope for, and sometimes I don’t even get that.

The Best
“Milhouse of Sand and Fog,” “My Fair Laddy”

The Worst
“Bonfire of the Manatees,” “See Homer Run,” “Million Dollar Abie,” “Regarding Margie,” “The Monkey Suit”

377. The Monkey Suit

(originally aired May 14, 2006)
As he has gone from goody two-shoes neighbor-eeno to psycho Christian conservative, Ned Flanders ends up the subject of greater scrutiny nowadays, even filling the role of minor antagonist. Marge staunchly opposed his ultra-violent religious films in “Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass,” now Lisa butts heads with him in this intelligent design show. In another example of how this show tries (and fails) to tackle hot button issues, Flanders is shocked to find an evolution exhibit at the museum without one mention of the Bible. As such, he and Lovejoy pressure the school to teach Creationism. Seeing the two of them stand by glaring as Skinner delivers the news to the students is unsettling to watch. Organized religion was always poked fun at in the show, but never was it vilified or truly belittled in the way it’s done here. Lisa opposes this curriculum change, citing several conservatives who believe in evolution, because it makes sense for an eight-year-old to know that. When she resorts to teaching evolution in secret, she is promptly arrested for it and prepares to stand trial.

The third act becomes a shitty Inherit the Wind knock with the two representatives that not only mirror Brady and Drummond, but share their fucking names too in case you didn’t get it. The trial is a farce, none of it makes sense, and we’re never told what will happen to Lisa if she loses. What could happen? She’s just a kid. Around this, barely, is Marge and Lisa butting heads on beliefs, kind of like “Lisa the Skeptic,” but more shoddy and disingenuous. Marge finally ends up reading “The Origin of Species” and manages to help Lisa prove her innocence. Established in the trial is the missing link between ape and man, so when Marge gives her husband a bottle of beer, he hollers and thrashes it about like an animal trying to open it, mirroring said missing link completely. This convinces the entire trial, and the case is dismissed. I thought the ending of “The Call of the Simpsons” was a silly stretch, but this is just ridiculous. In the end, Lisa makes amends with Flanders, though I don’t recall them having one conversation in the whole damn show. It’s stunning how the show can’t even mock such an easy topic like intelligent design. In the past, this series managed to deride groups of all kinds, but here all they can come up with is that creationists are retarded. How biting.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening with Bart’s last-minute summer vacation fun, I believe was left on the cutting room floor of “I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can” from three seasons back, so rather than waste such great material, they slapped it on here. Never mind the bit where Bart watches a Men in Black type film seemed dated at that point, no one will notice a thing!
– Before Flanders becomes our maybe antagonist, Homer gets in his share of assholery, cutting Ned in line at the museum and getting aggressive when he meekly objects (“Dude, I was totally here! You calling me a liar? In front of my kids! ‘Cause I’d take a bullet for you, man! Right in the mouth!”) The rest of the line takes advantage of his wishy-washy nature, and to the back of the line he goes.
– Everything at the museum is so painful to watch. Maggie pulls a switchblade on her mother. Homer shoots himself repeatedly wearing a bulletproof vest, because it’s safe to have live ammunition at a museum, terrorizing the entire room. Bart uses a medieval body stretcher on Milhouse that audibly dislocates his bones. I could not stop cringing. After that, Flanders is stuck in the horrifying Hall of Man, full of depictions of human ancestors and fossil records. He then proceeds to yell at his kids as they ask dumb questions and do dumb things. The only laugh I got is when Raphael points out the only mention of creationism in the museum: a moving diorama of God’s finger erecting life on Earth to the tune of “What a Fool Believes.”
– Lisa and Marge’s discussion at the kitchen table is an incredibly bizarre scene. It’s like “Skeptic” where the two have differing beliefs involving science and religion, but here Lisa asks her mother point blank, “You really have to choose here between science and belief.” Then we get slow push-ins on them as Marge thinks and emotional music plays… and we end with her running outside and joining her husband bouncing on a trampoline. End of scene. What?
– Act two ends with Wiggum watching and joking as Snake stands atop the Kwik-E-Mart gunning down innocent people. Hysterical!
– Marge finishes reading “The Origin of Species” and she’s truly enlightened. What is her commentary? (“Darwin’s argument is incredibly persuasive! And his ship was the Beagle, which reminds me of Snoopy, my favorite Peanut!”) I honestly don’t understand not only how a writer comes up with a joke like this, but deems it funny enough to pitch in the writer’s room, let alone for it to end up in the actual show.
– Nelson’s disguises the puzzle piece transitions is probably a reference to something. I thought about looking it up, but by this late in the episode, I was so worn out I don’t even give a fuck.

376. Regarding Margie

(originally aired May 7, 2006)
As if the gender swapping episode wasn’t cliche enough, now we have Marge getting amnesia. How does it happen? Doesn’t entirely matter, as the five minutes building toward it aren’t addressed or paid off in any way whatsoever. The episode is invariably a Homer-Marge episode: Marge quickly regains her memory of her children, but is unable to recognize her own husband. So the conceit of the show is Homer must make her remember their marriage and love for each other. His first attempts involve showing her photos of him savagely beating up people and suggesting that they have sex. You see, this is aggressively violent and moronic Homer, so the fact that there’s a mental block keeping Marge from remembering him seems more like a godsend than a problem that needs to be resolved. Given how much crap Homer has put her through over the years, it’s become almost impossible to believe that he truly deserves to be with Marge at this point, and nothing he does in this episode makes it feel any different.

The final act involves Marge being pushed by her sisters into a speed dating event, where she meets a seemingly nice guy. Then he abruptly ditches her when she tells her of her condition and that she has kids. Sure, why not. Homer shows up and delivers some nice pleasantries about Marge, which is kind of nice, and she gets back into her good graces. But how do we wrap things up? Marge had remembered her kids by triggers: Maggie’s pacifier sucking, Lisa’s intelligence, all telltale traits of their characters and what they mean to Marge. So what’s Homer’s? Beer, of course (“You get drunk all the time!” “But you also remember that you’re an enabler?” “Of course I do! That’s why we’re such a great team!”) So the thing that makes Marge finally remember the love of her life is that he loves to get wasted, and that’s our heartwarming ending. On top of that is her gleeful admission that she enables that behavior, it’s like “Co-Dependent’s Day” all over again. This moment is really the whole crutch of the episode, and this is what their relationship is hinging on. So Homer does stupid, reckless shit, and Marge puts up with it. That’s what the writers think of the core essence of their marriage now. These Homer-Marge shows are just making me depressed…

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening is ridiculously stupid. Bart, Nelson and Milhouse come up with a “scam” of spray painting people’s house numbers on their curbs and demanding pay. Homer refuses, leaving a “74” on the front curb. This results in him getting all the mail from 74 Evergreen Terrace, because if you’re a mailman, it makes perfect sense for the numbers to go 740, 74, 744. Marge receives the house cleaning contest winner notice, but is confused as to why she got it. Then nothing is ever made of it. Four minutes of stupid, stupid filler.
– I feel like the idea of Marge tidying up the house before the professional cleaners get there is kind of amusing and within her character, but then it just gets pushed way, way too far. And that’s how she gets amnesia. Alright then.
– Once more they play around with the severity of Homer strangling Bart, where a memory-lapsed Marge is alarmed by it. Bart weakly comments, “It hurts when I swallow,” prompting Homer to strangle him again. Hilarious!
– I mention it every time they use it, but Homer’s elongated moan seems to be a favorite clip to reuse again and again. It wasn’t funny the first time, and continues to be not funny every time.
– A rare Dubya mention in the photo album: first a picture of Homer fighting Bush Sr. from “Two Bad Neighbors,” then a picture of Homer fighting Bush Jr. in the Oval Office. It’s an amusing joke that would have worked a lot better in another context.
– Homer takes Marge out on a date to get her to love him again, which is the first sweet thing he’s done all show. They go to Luigi’s, who sings them a backhanded song (“That Homer Simpson is quite a guy/He paid me ten bucks so I would lie/The truth is he’s not so great/He is the one man I truly hate”) It’s another instance of showing how Homer’s gone from just some random schmoe to a town-renowned asshole. What run-in could Homer and Luigi have had that would cause him to hate him that much?
– Act two ends with Skinner and Krabappel crawling out of the mini-golf castle, having just fucked. Krabappel coldly comments, “Birthday’s over, Seymour.” Then she leaves. Funny?
– The nice guy at the speed dating builds an immediate report with Marge. He even has two brothers who bear resemblance to Patty and Selma. Then in case you didn’t pick that up, we show Patty and Selma adjacent. Why explain it? We get the joke.
– Lenny and Carl phone up Homer to tell him about Marge’s date. This has been going on forever now, but it’s just ridiculous how these two are joined at the hip. Do they lead separate lives at all? They were just Homer’s two work chums, now they’re like hetero (maybe) life partners.

375. Girls Just Want To Have Sums

(originally aired April 30, 2006)
Ho-hum, another boring episode. It’s sad the series has gotten to this level of unremarkable where entire episodes (and possible seasons) can be completely written off. The Simpsons see the Itchy & Scratchy musical, which is a big Lion King rip-off, and though a bit too on-the-nose, is probably the only interesting bit in the whole show. After the show, Skinner has a bizarre conversation on stage with the director Juliane Krellner (or Julie Taymor, continuing the show’s tradition of taking a name, tweak it slightly, and there! Instant joke!) Here’s what’s said (“It’s no surprise you became such a success. You always got straight A’s in school!” “Well, I remember getting a B or two in math.” “Well, of course you did. You are a girl!”) I honestly can’t figure out why he would say that. The road to our main plot hinges on this, and it feels so flimsy, and eventually becomes nonsensical, in multiple ways. People are outraged by Skinner’s incidental sexism and he’s replaced by a new principal (Frances MacDormand, another fine talent wasted), who jumps to the conclusion gender integration is to blame for the grading disparities between the sexes, and demands the school be split in two: a boy’s school and a girl’s school.

Lisa is excited for a challenge in girl’s math, but is shocked to find the class is focused on getting in touch with feelings and instilling confidence boosting (“What does a plus sign smell like? Is the number seven odd, or just different?”) On the surface, this is mildly clever, but I don’t get how we got to this point. If the offense was taken by statements that girls weren’t as smart as boys, what’s the deal with this class? I guess the response to the criticism was that women need to be split from the aggressive, rowdy men, except that doesn’t tie into wishy washy Skinner. Anyway, in order to get intellectual stimulation, Lisa masquerades as a boy, where the show reaches She’s the Man levels of comedy. By the end, Lisa receives an award for her outstanding mathematics, and reveals her true identity. Bart stands up and declares he deserves the credit for teaching his sister to act like a boy, to which Lisa throws the award at him, then quickly realizes what she’s done and what she’s become. Except we never see any of that. Her truly blending in with the boys is told over a montage toward the end; maybe if more time had been spent on that, showing her going native and being terrified of it, could have been interesting. Instead it’s just a dry, dull affair.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The musical at the beginning has some good stuff in it, like the giant puppet knives and the guys in organ suits doing curtain calls at the end. I also like them alternating between using Itchy & Scratchy’s real voices, and their actually musically inclined equivalents.
– Why he so uniquely shot himself in the foot is strange to me, but I like Skinner’s fumbling to cover up his missteps to a bunch of angry feminists (“It’s the difference, of which there are none, that make the sameness exceptional! Just tell me what to say!!”)
– I guess the school had the money to reconstruct the building, creating two separate entrances, two separate cafeterias, amongst other things.
– There’s a small runner of Marge’s strife toward Homer, thinking he believes women are mentally inferior. It’s silly and goes nowhere. We also get a flashback lifted from “Mr. Plow,” where we see young Marge studying for calculus before she’s whisked away by Homer, leaving her ignorant forever. It feels a bit more devastating than funny here, but the line following it is pretty good (“Since then, I haven’t been able to do any of the calculus I’ve encountered in my daily life!”)
– The boy’s school is just a feral, violent, animalistic society, which I guess is the gag, but it wears thin pretty quickly. I like Nelson’s obsessive gun drawings, but that’s about it.
– Bart instructs Lisa how to be a boy in the third act. First he teaches her about eating dirty disgusting food off the floor. Then we get a Homer-Marge scene. Then we get her final test: pick a fight with a boy. We hear Lisa’s thoughts (“A fight! That would mean rejecting the last part of me that’s still a girl!”) That’s for explaining that. Also, what? We’ve seen none of that whatsoever in this episode. Maybe if we had, it would have been interesting seeing her transformation, but like modern Simpsons always says: tell, don’t show. Lisa gives a big speech at the end that’s supposed to be our message, about how she compromised everything she believed in, even though we didn’t see any of it, then they cut her off anyway, so if the show could care less, than I care even less than that. Whatever.

374. The Wettest Stories Ever Told

(originally aired April 23, 2006)
I really don’t like this trilogy episodes, they’re of absolutely no interest to me. They were mildly amusing and novel at first, retelling Bible stories and tall tales, but now it’s just like random stories that the Simpsons happen to be in. This time it’s three stories that all involve boats… okay. First is the Mayflower’s voyage to America, second the infamous mutiny on the Bounty, third is The Poseidon Adventure. It seemed like the idea with these episodes was putting our beloved characters in the roles of famous fictional or historical figures, like Milhouse as Moses or Homer as Odysseus. It doesn’t really apply in this case, it’s just going through the motions of these stories you know of, with Simpsons characters in it as they crack insufferable joke after joke. The first segment is about how Puritans talk funny and are crazy religious types, the second is Skinner vs. the kids a la “Skinner’s Sense of Snow,” and the third, I don’t even know what to make of it. The characters take the time to introduce the story and their roles within the story itself, so it couldn’t be more lazy. I can’t even pad this more than a paragraph, I feel nothing for these episodes. Just twenty minutes of white noise.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The wrap-around involves the family waiting for their meal at the Frying Dutchman, and with Captain McAlister’s lack of knowledge of sea stories, the family takes their crack at telling some. Makes sense. The trilogy format also has started becoming self-referential, which for most running gags and elements means it’s probably about time to stop doing it (“Homer, you can tell the third story. Bart will tell the second, which is usually the weakest.”) But why do that when you can run the same shit into the ground for years to come!
– Flanders is at the helm of the Mayflower, and with the joke being the crew are religious fanatics, it’s quite the feat that they made Ned even more psychotically devout, whipping himself merely for acknowledging Marge is a woman, pouring salt into the wound as he does.
– I’ve been noticing over the past few seasons, but especially in this one an abundant use of “gay,” mostly by Homer, to slight something for being effeminate. Bart and the bullies use it too; it makes more sense with them since they’re kids, but even then, that alone doesn’t work as a joke. Think back to “Lisa’s Date with Density,” and the bullies’ cutting jab at Nelson (“You kissed a girl? That is so gay!”) That’s using the slang term and making it funny. But now, calling someone gay and homosexuality in general is kind of treated as a big goof. There’s three gay “jokes” here: Homer calling the ship the “Gayflower,” the kids’ drawing of Skinner making out with a merman, and at the end with Bart saying Dolph is gay for Kearney. None of these are funny whatsoever; I’d hesitate calling it homophobic, but it just feels unnecessary and misguided.
– There’s one joke I chuckled at. Flanders goes down to the brig to find the crew drunk and gallivanting about (“Horseplay! Rough-housing! Horse-housing?!”) We see a drunken horse with a little house over him. A dumb visual gag, but it worked for what it was.
– Joke types in the three stories seem to carry over, such as the hilarious in hindsight gags. Homer mentioning how fundamentalists will rule America by the twenty-first century, Skinner’s incredulous nature about a possible mutiny (“On the Bounty?!”), and the entire first half of the third segment is literally all jokes about the ship will soon be tossed upside down.
– Similar to last episode, there’s also many jokes involving Homer’s blind ignorance toward the misfortune of others. He celebrates the new year surrounded by dozens of dead shipmates, then he kicks CBG into the water and ignores his dying plea after he had just saved his ass.