“Anger is what makes America great. But you must find a proper weapon for your rage.” – Sgt. Crewe. Personally, I watch Simpsons episodes produced during the show’s decline and complain about them on a blog.
Airdate: February 21st, 1999
Plot: While trying to flee a variety show, Homer sees the four-wheel strength of the Canyonero. He goes to buy it, only to get the “F-Series” – a version of the car targeting women. His fear of being labeled gay has him toss the keys to Marge (read, has him hotwire her old car). Marge gets behind the Canyonero, and immediately gains some impulse. Unfortunately, this translates into road rage – one that gets her sent to Traffic Court. This proves ineffective, though, and eventually, her license is suspended… just in time for an incident at the zoo that, for some reason, requires her help. (Go on, guess why?)
As I mentioned in my review of “Coach Steven”, America seems to be the nation that runs on pure, unbridled Id. Power seems to permeate from every single thing we do – the biggest homes, the most powerful cars, the most passionate politics, etc. Granted, this is a broad generalization, but there is truth in the stereotype of the powerful American. Here, this episode takes a look at the SUV – arguably the most powerful type of car in existence – and how even the meekest of us can become power hungry. Unfortunately, it’s in execution where the episode falls apart.
Before anybody asks, yes, we have seen Marge become more impulsive before. This was back in Season 6’s “The Springfield Connection” – an episode I previously compared to “Mayored to the Mob”. There, it happens that Marge has the ability to capture criminals, and feeling a lack of thrills in her everyday life, decides to join the SPD. There, she gets a first-hand look at the corruption within the force. The episode is complex, examining gender roles and police corruption – far more than today’s episode.
While this may seem like a petty complaint, I don’t think the standards by which I judge an episode should be dramatically lowered in these later seasons. I think there are a couple of episodes comparable to the nearly impeccable classic era, and I’m trying to keep my hopes up. This means that this episode should be analyzed as it would be if it was from Season 6.
So, compared to those behemoths, this episode happens to be rather simple in it’s plotting and character structure. But you can still make something of it. I really, really like “Bart on the Road”, and it’s a pretty simple, silly episode.
Why does that work instead of this?
There, not only was attention paid to how the characters interact, but everything seemed to have a natural flow into everything else. The jokes were well constructed, and despite the inherent wackiness of Bart driving a rental car, it’s actually a rather straightforward episode – anything close to zaniness is few and far between.
The problem here is that the episode feels so disconnected. For an episode that “changes scenes” so often, so to speak, many of the scenes feel so pointless, crammed with jokes that miss more than hit. It’s like they wanted to get from one plot point to another, and did so quickly and lazily. (They could’ve explained why Krusty was at the school. What, was he a quasi-judge?) And they still ran low on energy, to the point where the climax featured a rhino chase involving Homer, because… pineapple, I guess.
Back to Marge for a minute, I can see where the episode was going. Presenting the SUV as a natural stimulant for anger is a pretty quirky idea, and putting it in the hands of one of the show’s more timid characters could work. The problem is that, honestly, there’s no thought to the emotion, nor natural character development. Everything happens so suddenly that, by the end, you don’t feel like you’ve journeyed with a character – you merely feel like you’ve watched one of the most bizarre character derailments in the show’s history.
The world around us feels like it’s gotten more cartoonish, less realistic. Even in silly episodes like “Deep Space Homer“, the show used to feel real, because the characters felt real and not like set-pieces. Here, whatever little characterization is here is alien – Homer is an ass, Marge feels like a cartoon who shifts from neutral to top gear in an instant, and the rest are just vacuums used to tell stupid jokes.
And, again, there’s the stupid ending. Caused by some jerkass (guess who) causing Disaster Dominoes, Marge is recruited to drive the Canyonero to round up the rhinos. They’re pacified, even the one rogue rhino (how original), the car is trashed, and I am baffled at just how zany and cliche this entire ending was. While I did like the callback to Marge’s reference to analysts (seen at the beginning and at the end), by that point, I was just flabbergasted.
The worst part is that they did have some flashes of brilliance here. The aspects revolving around the SUV are actually pretty good. There’s the arguably sexist automobile styles, the societal contrast between a “masculine” SUV and a “soccer mom” SUV, the predatory auto loan industry, and how the strength of the car is more bark than bite – tipping over and catching fire at the drop of a hat. Again, there’s also the idea that it gives the driver a sense of perceived power – that it can drive the unusual suspects into fits of rage.
What almost was a brilliant satire on the power that an SUV brings people is, unfortunately, quite underdeveloped. The end result is one of the weaker episodes of an already shaky Season 10. Poor character development, zany plot pacing, and more miss than hit jokes contribute to this being a flop of an episode.
Or, more succulently, this episode is a car crash.
- Admittedly, I didn’t completely hate the Variety Show at the start of the episode. Sure, it could’ve been far more fleshed out (what the hell was its purpose), but I did like the botched partnership between Chalmers and Skinner (at least this time). You can feel that they didn’t want to be there. It was bad enough to drive everybody out.
- While I liked the traffic court scene, the lack of Troy McClure definitely weighs heavy over the film strip. Granted, this is no fault of the writers – having McClure after Hartman’s death would be a great disservice to the character.
- Gil, yet again, returns. We do get a tad bit of character development – apparently, his complete failures have driven his SO to cheat on him, yet he still sticks around. Joke’s startin’ to get a bit old, guys. Just a tad bit, though.
- This episode also marks the last writing credit for David M. Stern – a writer who started in Season 2 with “Bart Gets an F” and wrote for three seasons. He came back in Season 10 and wrote “Viva Ned Flanders” and this. Hard to believe that he wrote for both seasons. I’m starting to think that Scully’s vision of the show warped episodes that could’ve been good.