Scullyfied Simpsons: "Marge Simpson in: Screaming Yellow Honkers" (Season 10, Episode 15)

“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?)

Review:

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. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday" (Season 10, Episode 12)

Homer in Super Bowl Jail.
These nutjobs have earned the prestigious honor of Smooth Jimmy Apollo’s Lock-Up of the Week!

Airdate: January 31st, 1999.

Plot: Through a series of barely connected events, Homer meets up with a travel agent who manages to get him and his friends to ride a coach bus to the Super Bowl, all for free. Thing is, their tickets have a problem – they’re fake. Their attempt to go to the game… well, just look at the above image and guess how well that fared.

Review: I am a fan of the New York Football Giants. I’ve never been to a game (because being in the largest media market gives you the right to charge $100 for a low-end ticket and god-knows-what for food and stuff), but I’ve been watching the team on TV practically every fall for the past twelve years. The 42nd and 46th Super Bowls were some of the greatest sports memories of my life. And even with the team’s recent malaise, I won’t give up hope that the Giants will reach the top of the Football Mountain once again.

What does this have to do with “Sunday Cruddy Sunday”?

UHF Wheel of Fish


…nothing! Absolutely nothing!

…I kid, I kid… the episode does feature Football. And, much like the end of the past four Giants seasons, it hurt to watch and barely held any connection to anything.

Mike Scully actually joked that they slapped it together in the commentary. Here’s the thing – it actually does come off as rather slapdash. I think they got word that they would get the slot at the end of XXXIII, failed to come up with a good idea, and threw something together just to appease the FOX executives.

Thing is, they were placed in a timeslot where they needed some of their best work. For those that live in another country, the Super Bowl is the single biggest sports event in America, and gives the World Cup a run for it’s money in “biggest sports event in the world”. So, maybe this episode was intended as a prank on the audience?

Well, sort of. If so, it’s a pretty daring prank. It probably could’ve almost worked if it wasn’t for certain factors which I will mention later.

However, I’m grading this episode on it’s own merits. So… let’s start with the characters. Oh, sorry, I meant “random townspeople that run around with Jerkass Homer”.

On one hand, I get the variety, so to speak, of characters that are on the Super Bowl bus. I’d argue that the game is one of our great national unifiers. No matter what your political alliance, your favorite TV show, watching football is one of the most shared interests, and again, more people watch the Super Bowl than any other TV event on a year-to-year basis. That said, there seems to be little variety in the characters and their interactions. Outside of a line or two, they largely act like “football fans following a moron”. Idiots.

In particular, Wally might be among the biggest character wastes (except for a lot of Bart’s girlfriends.) There is very little about his character that is particularly memorable. I think that his role as a character was that of a loser travel agent who easily fell for scams and is self-depreciating, I guess. Still, there’s so little to work with as far as his character interactions go. Fred Willard does an acceptable job with the subpar role he’s given, but still, rather annoying.

Oh, and Homer is in full blown “bombastic” mode. It’s irritating. Thankfully, he gets a decent dose of punshiment… until he and his crew wind up in the winning locker room.

Now, the plot. Um… there was so little of consequence, I can’t even comment. It was just silly moment after silly moment, and the plot was very, very loose. Honestly, the only thing that really interested me plot-wise was Rupert Murdoch chasing the gang out of the skybox. It’s wacky, but at least it almost had substance.

If there was a good aspect of this episode, I did like some of the Super Bowl related jokes. The halftime shows were cheesy at the time this episode aired, the pre-game entertainment is even cheesier, the commercials have little to do with the product, and the game is pretty flipping brutal. Too bad there were too few of them, and we got more bombast from Homer and Co… which is made worse by the boring plot.

So, yeah. On it’s own merits, it’s a pretty subpar effort from the writers. For a Super Bowl episode, this is pretty bad. However, on a larger level, there is one major strike against this episode.

Seth MacFarlane.

This episode was the second part of Fox’s 2-part lead-out. The first part was the debut of Family Guy – the episode “Death Has A Shadow”. Truth be told, that was not a bad episode. I’m not a huge FG fan, but that episode had pretty effective (if more “blue”) comedy, a plot that had substance, and it didn’t flat out insult the intelligence of it’s audience at the end.

I don’t think “Death Has a Shadow” would draw in too many disillusioned fans of The Simpsons. However, for first time viewers of both shows, watching this after Family Guy probably didn’t impress them. (There’s nothing that says you can’t watch both shows, however.)

A poor episode at the worst possible time, not a whole lot more needs to be said about “Sunday Cruddy Sunday”. In the words of John Madden at the end of this episode, “It was kind of a ripoff! What a way to treat the loyal fans who put up so much nonsense from this franchise!” And the nonsense isn’t going to end anytime soon.

In short, watch “Lisa The Greek” instead. That’s my warp of the week for the best football-related Simpsons episode.

Tidbits:

  • Oh, yeah, there was also a subplot where Marge and Lisa paint eggs with the Vincent Price kit. It was intentionally constructed to be as boring as possible. It succeeded too well.
  • Skinner repeating a boring trip, while not joke-free, was done better in “Bart Gets Famous”. “My boy’s a box!” Oh, and there’s a rather awkward joke about Skinner being safe from shooting rampages as an Elementary School principal. It was awkward before Columbine, really awkward afterwards, and in the wake of Sandy Hook, the joke makes me wonder what the four writers (yes, four people made this) were thinking.
  • The jokes involving covering up the mouths when announcing teams was pretty silly. I know The Simpsons is intended to be a satire on our everyday world, and putting two other teams could’ve backfired badly, but I honestly would’ve jokingly put two subpar teams in that slot just for comedy purposes. It was funny when they did it with the President, if only because they made a joke later on about Al Gore measuring the drapes in the Oval Office.
  • I did find Lisa’s comment about the Catholic Church commercial (and Super Bowl commercials in general) interesting, given that, three seasons later, she went through a crisis of faith because of the commercialization of the First Church of Springfield. (Before you ask, on the FXNow edit, it’s simply referred to as “The Church”. Apparently, specifying the church caused a bit of a tizzy.) 
  • Oh, and the “big” guest stars include Willard, Madden, Pat Summerall, Rupert Murdoch, Dolly Parton, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, and Rosey Grier. 
Zaniness Factor: 3.5. Silly twists and nothing of substance.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3.75. Obnoxious, bombastic, and he barely gets any comeuppance – if any. (I did like the joke about him talking to President Clinton, if only because he did it before, in “Deep Space Homer”.) 
Favorite Scene: I guess I liked the scene at High Pressure Tire Sales. We’ve all been pressured to buy unnecessary stuff before.
Least Favorite Scene: The only scene to really infuriate me was John Madden’s aforementioned quote. Were they trying to get hate mail? Honestly, they should’ve just given up the slot to a second Family Guy episode. 
Score: 3.5.

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Viva Ned Flanders" (Season 10, Episode 10)

“Couldn’t we have gone to Branson instead? C’mon – you can’t hate Andy Williams.”

Airdate: January 10th, 1999

Synopsis: Dust from the demolition of Burns’ casino sends the Simpsons to the car wash. There, Homer finds out that Ned uses the seniors card to get a discount. At church, Homer gets a confession out of Ned – he’s actually 60 years old. His youth comes from a rather clean lifestyle. However, Ned comes to think about his point in life – that he just might be a bit too predictable.

Upon seeing Homer act like an idiot, he tries to get advice from the man. Homer’s advice involves going to Burns’ Casino… which was blown up. Therefore, the two take a road trip to Las Vegas. Homer’s lifestyle eventually makes an impression on Ned, and the two wake up the next morning hungover, in a suite, and married to two cocktail waitresses.

Review: In the season 5 episode “$pringfield”, the town decided to legalize gambling, with Mr. Burns as the main investor in the initiative. With Burns’s Casino, “$pringfield” lampooned the entire casino establishment – the encouragement of gambling even towards addicts, the incompetence at trying to quell problem gamblers from their worst urges, and even the hidden vices that are found in the most unlikely of characters – in that case, it was Marge that turned out to be a gambling addict. It was a quirky episode, and a fun one at that.

In this episode, “Burns’s Casino” is blown up. And while it’s unintentional, I can’t help but feel the irony, as this episode does a damn good job spitting on the classic era.

Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"" (Season 10, Episode 8)

Airdate: December 6th, 1998

Truly a heartwarming moment… that will be spoiled in two seconds.

Synopsis: The whole family (plus Abe, for reasons needed to generate the plot) take a trip up to Bloodbath Gulch, a ghost town turned tourist trap. There, Abe drinks way too many sasparillas, and Homer refuses to stop for a rest stop on the way home. End result? Abe’s kidneys blow out, and Homer is the only available donor. While initially willing to go through with the procedure, fears brought on by his friends cause Homer to bolt from the operating table.

Review (SPOILER): To paraphrase Futurama, Mike Scully, you raised my hopes and dashed them quite expertly, sir! Bravo! Yup, two steps forward with “D’oh-in” and “Lisa Gets an “A””, and one moonwalk back with “Kidney Trouble”, among the most despised episodes in The Simpsons history. So, my expectations heading into this episode were lowered quite a bit.

And I still left, not only disappointed, but disgusted.

When Homer’s transition from “loveable, if somewhat insensitive and self-serving goofball” into “obnoxious madman cartoon” is discussed, this episode often comes off as an event horizon of sorts. Something about, I dunno, letting your father die because you don’t want to take the risk of a kidney operation comes off as more than a bit callous.

However, before I utterly tear apart the writers for massacring one of the greatest characters in sitcom history, I do want to play “devils advocate”, or at least, try and play “devils advocate”.

The big hangup people have with complaints about this episode is the fact that none of the risks were exposed by Doctor Hibbert beforehand. On one hand, no, Homer was not made aware of the risks until his friends informed him, and the nurses wanted him to sign a liability waiver so that the hospital wo

However, not only did the fat jackass shoot down Hibbert’s attempts to give advice (we can assume that the doctor was going there with his “long wait-list” thing), but his reasons for being petrififed were as follows – he wouldn’t be able to handle getting drunk, and his organs would be harvested after he died. (And besides, even if Hibbert didn’t care, that’s a rather bit off for his character.)

Let’s see… the “Abe being a rather ineffective father” defense? Well, that would’ve at least been interesting (if rather macabre) if it was explored beyond a flashback, and if Abe was a nuisance in this episode. And even then, Homer’s treatment of Abe crosses a line itself, so that piece of “devil’s advocate” is shot. (At least, in my view.)

Oh, there’s the “friends focus on bad and are idiots” argument… shot down by the fact that, really, Homer ignored the Doctor’s warnings about negative side effects in the first place.

Other than that… yeah, nothing here in the sympathy department.

He trashes his father’s kidneys, leaves him to die on the operating table, is concentrated on his own shame when he tries to go to sea, comes back apparently remorseful, leaves Abe again, and then wants to poach his ten year old son’s kidney at the end. Certainly no Ace Rimmer we’re dealing with.

Not helping is that, yes, everybody fawns over the idiot over the 22 minutes for being “brave” and “courageous”. Yes, the kidney transplant has risks, but Homer blew out his dad’s kidneys in the first place. Even his cowardice is treated more with a sense of mild-to-moderate disappointment from his family rather than the utter disgust that it should’ve been treated with. And everybody is so forgiving at the end of the episode…

It would’ve been more tolerable if this episode tried to have a consistent tone. The story tries to be this sobering one about an old man whose kidneys blow out, and what is a plot point? Homer disgusting a ship of lost souls. That’s about as insane and loopy as any prior episode, it bears little bearing on the plot… it’s just like the writers wrote themselves into a corner, and needed to kill two minutes. It clashes with the episode, and doesn’t alleviate from the utter misery that is a beloved character on his deathbead, thanks to the main character.

What else can I say? I came in with rather low expectations, and was blown away with how inept this episode was. We still have almost 3 seasons to go, people.

Tidbits:

  • Look, I know that Abe has been something of the butt of many jokes regarding how the family treated him – stuffing him in a retirement home and all that. Thing is, here, it just seems to cross a line of discomfort, where the entire family hates him despite not being as annoying. (And even if I did factor earlier episodes in, no, that is not a justification for letting him die of kidney failure.)
  • I did find Homer’s declaration that “the sea forgives all, unlike those unforgiving mountains” rather interesting. Not only a decent use of continuity, but the mountains were where Homer found out that Abe took a rather cowardly way down the Murderhorn. Ironically, there, Homer realized that he couldn’t beat the shame of that. In this episode, I think he did. (And no, Abe wanting to eat McAllister is not a justification for leaving him to die.)
  • The closest thing to medical satire that I could find is Marge saying that by donating his kidney, Homer cut his life expectancy significantly, so Abe could get a slight extension. Three problems, though. First off, coming out of Marge, it sounds rather callous of her. Second, Homer had his kidney stolen from Dr. Hibbert (which is rather off for him.) Third off, he didn’t sacrifice his kidney, and threatened to steal it back. How can you defend this man?
  • OK, there was the liability waiver joke.
  • I’m not even angry that the writers flunked biology, since kidneys don’t explode that way, but that’s only because the rest of the episode is so bad.
Zaniness Factor: 3. It would’ve been a 2, but the episode tries to combine a serious story with something as out there as “The Ship Of Lost Souls”.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 4. Oh, is Homer a selfish coward in this entire episode. Easily the most odious he’s ever been… so far.
Favorite Scene: Again, I did like the liability waiver joke. That, and “Bloodbath Gulch” was cute, at least for the first couple minutes.
Least Favorite Scene: There are so many scenes in the third act I could choose, so I’ll just go with the end – Homer reaching for his son’s kidney. Loveable character, writers. Who wrote this junk…
John Swartzwelder?
One point deduction, because I expect better from him. (Not that I would be too much more lenient towards a rookie, but still.)
Score: 1.5. The half a point is for a couple minutes at Bloodbath Gulch – and even then, you could just watch “Selma’s Choice” for similar jokes and not want to punch your TV screen. An utterly deplorable episode.