Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 16: "Dumbbell Indemnity"

Airdate: March 1st, 1998

Insert joke about remembering when The Simpsons used to be good here. (Image stolen from Wikipedia).

Synopsis: Moe has been entering into something of a depression: he has no companionship. While initial attempts at getting Moe a girlfriend at a local disco ultimately prove fruitless, he winds up meeting Renee (Helen Hunt), a local flower seller, and the two hit it off. When Moe wants more money to keep treating her to the finer things in life, he decides to commit insurance fraud… with Homer as his “guinea pig”.

Review: The Mike Scully years of The Simpsons featured some awkward character development. As our primary characters were either phased into the background or turned into wacky, centre-of-the-universe type characters, the secondary characters were seemingly fleshed out to try and show more than just their identifiable features- Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders, for one, were seemingly transformed into characters with hidden hearts of gold, or ones that had deep-seated “white-bread” lives. However, the scripts were haphazard, and the characters lost a lot of their humorous traits. In effect, the characters flattened as the show slowly transformed into one that wouldn’t be out of place on a cheesy Saturday morning cartoon. (I kid: at least some Saturday morning cartoons around this time had well-written characters!)

It didn’t hurt Moe Syzlak as bad (initially): it would be understandable to see his deep-seated loner tendencies, and try and show why he keeps failing to make friends or find romance. Again, this would degenerate as the scripts became more haphazard, but it’s more tolerable here.

This episode’s main hangup is that, for all it tries to paint Renee and Moe in love, this episode’s heart is still connected to Homer. He starts the episode with the unnecessary water heater incident, and is the right-hand man for Moe, through the rest of the episode.

The problem with this is that it does not lead to a whole lot of development for the character that’s supposed to be in love with Moe, Renee herself. What is her character, anyway?  Sure, she pity-dates Moe, then falls in love with him on a more genuine level. Apparently, it’s his “insecure, sweaty charm”. It’s implied a few times that she’s only in love with him because he spends money on her, yet also has standards on how said money is procured.

However, as an individual, we learn little, if anything, about her. Her character pretty much revolves around Moe. We don’t learn anything about her as a character, what her background is, what her quirks are. She’s just a prop- she’s the raison d’etre for the insurance fraud scheme that Moe and Homer commit.

I think, to provide an accurate comparison, we have to take a look at another “love interest” for the show: Jessica Lovejoy, from “Bart’s Girlfriend”.

Ah, when one-shot characters had deep character development in the span of 22 minutes. (Image taken from Wikisimpsons).

In that episode, Jessica begins something of a relationship with Bart over their skirting of authority- in this case, the church. That episode gave us a look at some aspects of Jessica’s past, her present standing, how she is able to manipulate anybody and everybody, and how she pushes Bart to her limit. Given that she’s a one-off character, she’s given as much depth as the time allows.

Here, Renee just exposits the relationship between the two. (This will be a problem in later seasons: exposition will trump actual storytelling). Again, she has no backstory, no flaws… she’s just there.

Now, Homer and Moe’s scheme, I can buy. While some would criticize a pairing like this as just another example of “Homer buddies up with some character to get him into the center of the plot”, I can see why Homer became Moe’s right-hand man. Homer always seemed just a little bit closer to Moe, compared to the rest of the patrons at the bar. In a more immediate sense, Moe’s sense of self-doubt could explain why he felt he needed to throw money around to keep Renee happy.

Homer is, well, something of his jerkass self. He gets into the center of the plot, winds up as part of a zany scheme, survives the impossible, and winds up in a violent rage (for a few seconds). It’s a bit more tolerable here: he was pressured by Moe into the zany scheme, and Moe’s betrayal would drive anybody a bit loony. Still, it was a bit over the top.

Humour is really a mixed bag. Most of the jokes that work are the quick comic gags, such as Snake trying to rob Homer’s car, everybody’s reaction to the bar tabs being called in, and of course, “Hail to the Chimp”. The good character comedy is more sparse, although I think this is because one of the characters is practically a prop. Even then, Renee gets one or two decent lines. (“Yes, Moe. I’m going to find corpses.”) There were also jokes that dragged on for just a bit too long, such as the “car drowning” scene. Once was fine. Twice, enough. Three times? A bit too much.

I don’t know: it’s not really a memorable episode. It’s got the good, it’s got the bad, it’s got the Jerkass Homer, it’s got some Moe character development, but it’s really just… alright. Maybe it’s just dragged down by Renee’s bland character, but still.

Tidbits:

  • It’s worth noting that, around the time of this episode’s production, Helen Hunt and Hank Azaria were dating. The two were even married for about a year.
  • While the disco scene was alright, I was thrown off by Otto being there. What, was he reluctantly there on a date? Did he get roped in some other way?
  • This episode was written by Ron Hauge, who wrote “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace” (which was also not memorable) and would later write “Mayored to the Mob”. My expectations aren’t exactly high.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2, but only for his getting into the center of Moe’s plot and surviving seemingly impossible injuries. He’s actually relatively mild: it’s the more outlandish tendencies that got to me. Who knows: maybe I’m preparing for the worst.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5. The only thing remotely zany in this episode was the car’s plummet in the ocean.
Favorite Scene: A great bit of physical comedy occurs when Homer has to bail out of Moe’s car. He rolls out, and thanks to a rock, winds up back in for….
Least Favorite Scene: …the plummet into the ocean. Went on way too long. Second place is the infamous boiler incident. Cut both of these down, and the writers could’ve put in some good Renee character development.
Score: 7, mainly because of the quick comedy. I’m feeling generous.
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