Airdate: March 22nd, 1998
Synopsis: After noticing that Ralph is constantly bulled due to his “off” character, Marge arranges a meetup between Ralph and Bart, much to the latter’s chagrin. As Bart realizes the power his father lords as the chief of police, such as having the master key, Bart begins to use Ralph to break into various places, like a toy store, a bakery, and a local jail.
Review: If ever I were to pick the best “valentines day” episode of any show ever, it would probably have to be “I Love Lisa”. Not only does it have a simple yet compelling story between the ditzy yet soft-hearted Ralph and the intellectual yet occasionally aloof Lisa, but it also showcased that Ralph was more than just a prop character, a “kid in the back”. He was a loner, ostracized because of his ditzy behavior, yet was an utter savant when it came to the stage. It’s probably my favorite “holiday” episode of The Simpsons by quite a margin. If ever you need proof that the classic seasons of The Simpsons were able to craft some of the most fantastic characters in TV history, watch that episode.
I bring that episode up because, again, Ralph is the center of an episode revolved around him. You can feel the difference in the two episodes. One gives him natural character development that pulls at almost every emotion imaginable, whilst not being overly sappy. The other tries too hard to be funny, and as a result, it seems to reserve its characters to joke fodder.
The Scully Era was infamous for taking certain traits that the characters had, exaggerating them, and making it the center of their characters, if not their only discernible trait. As I mentioned before, Homer’s moments of selfishness and his occasional lapse in judgment were transformed into an impulsive sociopath at the center of the universe. However, he was merely the most infamous example: pretty much every character was either mishandled or exaggerated, and Ralph got it almost as bad as Homer. From a somewhat ditzy, slow on the uptake kid, Ralph rapidly degenerates to outright insane levels of ditzy-ness.
Now, cartoonish exaggeration of traits can be a good thing… but they have to be done well. Take, for example, Rimmer from Red Dwarf. Series 1 and 2 just showed him as a neat freak jerkass who never seemed to have moments of happiness. When Rimmer acted like a jackass from Series 3 on, he was portrayed as a madman who made you wonder why Holly never turned him off. However, that was balanced by insights into his life, which showed a childhood that was miserable in every regard. Thus, while the character was still funny, he was also very much a relatable character.
Ralph does get a little bit of development- walking into a haunted penitentiary to get the master key, and chasing after a rat do suggest a braver Ralph- yet it’s but brief, and only used to lead to the stupidest episode conclusion thus far.
Every single maneuver, every single line… it’s all coincidence after coincidence. Poor attempts at red herrings abound, and the end result is a mess. Lampshading it, at least in this instance, does not help matters. I’ll give the writers that the town is stupid, but the dearth of comedy? Come on.
It’s really just an episode that’s not really memorable for the humor as much as it is for the potential character development it squandered. If anything, this episode is a sign- character development and comedy were slowly being replaced by zany plots, insert character here.
- I’ve got nothing. This episode was really a dead-zone for comedy.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 1. There was nothing really irritating about Homer here.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5. Most of the silly stuff is done based on coincidence.
Favorite Scene: OK, I’ll give the scene at the Knowledgeum credit. That was pretty damn funny.
Least Favorite Scene: It’s a tie between the first half of the second act, and the last four minutes. Can’t choose what irritated me more: the dryness or the stupidity.