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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 24.22 - Dangers on a Train






Oh, boy, time for the final episode of Season 24! Though the first one tonight was encouraging, this season has been so hit-and-miss (emphasis on miss) that I don’t expect it to hold up. This, in turn, gives The Simpsons a really good chance for a pleasant surprise. Challenge accepted, guys?

Title joke: Otto slides down a rainbow. No opening credits. Couch gag: a loon, a Canadian hockey player, what appears to be John A. MacDonald and a beaver all sit on the Simpsons’ couch. O Canada plays. The Simpsons rush in and shove them aside, but being polite Canadians, their guests say nothing. Maggie sucks on a hockey puck. OMG CANADA YES. Is this episode going to take place there? Hey, Simpsons, want to visit my shitty hometown? I await in anticipation. Way to hook me, you pandering bastards.

A caption tells us that we’ve gone back “almost nine years agoâ€, where Marge, Homer (with hair) and baby Bart are shopping at the high-end Towne Centre. They’re celebrating their first anniversary. Wait, didn’t they have their eleventh airniversary a while back? How could it be “almost nine years agoâ€? This timeline, it makes no sense. Anyway, they’ve lasted a year, against the expectations of all naysayers (though Grampa’s still not retracting his wedding toast). Marge comments that accidental motherhood is the best thing that can happen to a woman, and Bart has finally outgrown his misbehaviour – oh, look, he’s gone. The panicky parents rush around, only to find him trying to nurse off a mannequin. Since most don’t have nipples, I wonder how he’s even latching. Homer manages to remove him and get him back in the stroller, and they continue their blissful anniversary. However, as they’re about to kiss, Bart literally gets in between them. Flanders, walking by, offers to babysit him for a bit. Homer hands him over – and Bart promptly calls Flanders “Daddyâ€, adding “Nice Daddy†just to rub salt in the wound. Homer, meanwhile, is “Fat Daddyâ€. Less than a year old and he has the world figured out. Marge and Homer make their escape. “Just call me Borders Books,†says Homer, “because I’ll always be here.â€

As the Love Story theme plays, the couple enjoy a day at the mall, getting massages and making out in the (glass elevator) – prompting Baby Nelson’s first word, which is of course “Ha ha!â€. They ride the novelty train, called the “Lil’ Lisa†(hmmm) and generally have a very romantic time. As they drive past a harried Flanders, Homer promises Marge that every anniversary will be as good as this one. (Also, Squeaky-Voiced Teen never appears to age, even when everyone else does. Is he thirty-five and still squeaky-voiced?)

Cut to the present, where Homer takes the kids around the dilapidated Towne Centre and tells them how he failed to live up to his promise. Lisa wants to know – was she really named after a train? Homer says yes, just like BART. Anyway, this year he wants to recreate that wonderful first anniversary, complete with a ride on the train. Which is being dismantled. Oops. The Surly Guy tells them that it’s being dismantled in favour of a medical marijuana kiosk, which will both garner profit and increase business for the food court. I...could get behind that, I’m not going to lie. Otto steps forward for the chance of a lifetime.

Meanwhile, Homer is without an anniversary idea. He explains that it was one of only three good ideas he had in his life (the other two were marrying Marge and using a hot dog as a straw). Surly Guy lets him take it home for his own use without a fight. Lisa questions the wisdom of this decision as usual, but Homer dismisses her objection. He’ll revamp it and bring back old memories, which even his cynical daughter agrees is pretty romantic. She says it gives her a twinge in her heart, which prompts Otto to offer her a joint. Lovely. Homer demands that the stoner stay away, unless he’s driving the kids to school – or babysitting, as he is supposed to tomorrow night. Homer drives back dragging the train, with the kids riding in the cars. The bullies pull up and taunt them. They then move up and bug Homer about his “lardo carâ€.

Marge is ordering Homer’s anniversary gift online when Patty and Selma walk in, having taken Maggie and Ling to Baby Beethoven. They’re still Tiger Mom-ing, from the looks of it. When Marge tells them that she ordered the gift, they immediately seize another opportunity to disparage their brother-in-law. Charming. It’s a case of his favourite snack cakes, Dolly Madison. Unfortunately, she has accidentally signed up for Sassy Madison, based on a website we all know about which caters to bored married people. Patty and Selma are thrilled. Marge is horrified.

They show her a short commercial which looks terrifyingly like something from the old Cartoon Network, about a wife who found happiness browsing the site, ending with the tagline “It’s not cheating if you don’t know the person well.†Sage advice. Marge has just given them all their information, and is soon inundated by requests from Kirk Van Houten, Mayor Quimby, Apu, Rainier Wolfcastle, Disco Stu, and Professor Frink. The “come hither†kind of picture she chose isn’t exactly helping. Selma wonders if she should get married in order to get in on the action. Marge replies that cheating is a sin and she would totally never do it, ever. (So we’re just going to forget about Jacques? Well, he was twenty-four years ago.) She says she’s going to let down all the men – but watches the commercial again. When her sisters call her on it, she says she’s a fan of animation. Uh-huh.

Over at Moe’s, Homer has assembled the barflies for his romantic project. Reverend Lovejoy is summoned to pray over the train, which he is all too pleased to do, and they get to work. Not without an epic ton of beer, of course.

Marge sends a “sorry I’m not interested in cheating†message to all the guys she heard from, typing each one out as she has apparently never heard of group messaging or copy-paste. When Homer comes in, she starts to tell him about it, but he’s scared he’ll blow the secret. In order to disguise his project, he pretends to have forgotten, which he is really good at. He ends up babbling, screaming and running out of the room. Marge is fooled, and massively offended. Suddenly HornyinHaverbrook doesn’t seem like such a bad prospect after all. She gets a message from a guy calling himself “Ashamed but Interestedâ€, telling her she’s way too nice for this site. Wow, what a smooth operator. Marge falls for it, telling him how she ended up there. He thinks it’s “cuteâ€. He then asks if she’s over eighteen – and assures her that it’s his real voice. Observant viewers will notice that that voice sounds an awful lot like Seth MacFarlane. Oh, man, it feels like dividing by zero or something. Homer makes things worse by getting a call from Moe. Sound like he’s hosting a crazy party with strippers – only they’re paint strippers. Welp, looks like Marge has nothing to lose. Might as well shag the voice of Peter Griffin. Shudder.

The next morning, Marge asks if he wondered why she was on the computer all night. He suspects Yelp reviews. Marge wants to be honest with him. In Homer’s mind, honest = revealing the anniversary present. After a fight with his brain, he tells he has to go. When Marge asks why, he panics and flees.

While at the high-end “Swapper Jack’sâ€, she gets another message from her online suitor. When she texts him back, she hears a ringtone in the next aisle. It’s him. Marge runs for it – only to find him at the end of the aisle. He seems like a really nice guy, saying he was sorry to startle her, etc, etc. Sleazebag. Just as Marge is about to remark on how normal he seems, Maggie (ever the genius) squirts him with ketchup, creating a scarlet A on his chest. Attagirl. Marge offers to get the stain out – in private, she adds as Helen Lovejoy pops out from behind a stack of watermelons. In the Lite N’ Healthy section (littered with corpses and tumbleweeds – wait, that makes no sense, isn’t it the hipster store where everyone buys the freshest quinoa?), she fixes up his shirt. In exchange, he offers to buy her a coffee – or a Danish. She accepts the former, but assures him that she’s happily married. After babbling about her upcoming anniversary, she remembers that Homer seems to be off getting hammered (which he is, only with real hammers). She plays up to Loverboy, who is an extremely talented flirt and unhappy in his marriage. He breaks out the Stewie voice while quoting his favourite show which is – yeah, okay, it’s Downton Abbey. Does every single show on television have to have a parody of that marvelous British saga? How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, Community.  They call this one Upton Rectory  - pfft, you’re not even trying. Anyway, Marge and Loverboy are big Upton (shudder) fans, but Homer finds WWI and stair-climbing too depressing. Great, now Margie has a built-in excuse. They make a date to live-blog the season finale. The mischief begins.

At home, Homer comes in singing “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroadâ€, which he explains he’s singing because it’s in the public domain. Just then, the phone rings. It’s Moe, which does little to make Marge happy. He claims Moe’s been depressed, which Marge just rolls her eyes at. Erm, wasn’t it like three episodes ago that you spearheaded the whole “Stop Moe from Killing Himself†intervention? Anyway, Moe’s in a panic because Lovejoy stepped out and in the meantime the train has gone to pieces. What’s more, it’s crushing Lenny. Homer runs out, but of course Marge misinterprets this.

Marge settles in to watch what is basically an animated shot-for-shot remake of Downton (grr, you are not even trying), but is constantly interrupted by the kids, so she goes into the bedroom. ALERT! ALERT! DANGEROUS TERRITORY! She gets a call from Loverboy – AKA Ben – at that moment. Against her better judgment, she answers. He can’t watch it because his wife (Lisa Lampanelli) is watching a dumb reality show. Marge gets a bright idea – and no, it’s not to bring him into her bedroom exactly. It’s to have him watch via Skype while Marge drinks a boatload of wine. Anna Bates’ clone is talking to some other parody of Bates or William or something and argh you can diverge a little guys! Anyway, Marge is showing incredibly poor judgment again.

Just as Ben’s confessing that he doesn’t think he wound up with the right person, Patty cuts in asking Marge for a favour. “Not a good time!†Marge snaps as the Earl of Grantham’s clone delivers a soliloquy. Sorry, guys, the Downton ripoff-not-parody is really bugging me. They have done some great parodies in the past. This is lazy. How Not to Write Comedy 101: Exhibit A. Even the Dowager Grandmum gets in on it, giving them her ring from India. Apu, watching from his own bedroom, exclaims in disgust over all the cultural imperialism, but when pressed by Manjula, admits that he likes the costumes. Back in the Simpson house, Marge and Ben exchange a satisfied sigh. Between the wine, the show and the subterfuge, they’re getting a little too familiar. I kind of want to run in there with a hose. Ben, quick on the uptake, takes the opportunity to suggest that they watch it in the same room – which causes Marge to slam the laptop shut and run away. Once again, poor Ben comes on too strong. When she realizes that the computer is still on and Ben can hear her worry, she throws him in a drawer with a picture of Homer, causing him to scream in pain. She chugs the rest of the wine.

On the morning of the anniversary, Marge is awakened by the kids bringing in a giant gift. Maggie even has a noisemaker instead of a pacifier. When Marge opens the lid, they stick their heads through holes cut in the bottom. The gift is three kids with no money but plenty of love. Cheapskates. Marge pretends she likes it, then wonders what Homer has done. Suddenly she hears him shouting in pain from the bathroom. He claims he’s thrown his back out and needs her to get a prescription in sketchy Drugtown. Immediately she assumes that he’s trying to get out of it, to which he reminds her that she said “for worse†on their wedding day. Marge stomps off. See, Homer, this is what ten/twenty-four years of being a selfish jerk will get you.

As soon as she’s gone, Homer instantly jumps up from the bed and calls for his friends to appear. They do so, clutching various pieces of train machinery. Time for the setup. We also learn about Moe’s shrub fetish, which we could have lived without. Homer tells his friends that they’re the best, and he’ll think of them as he’s holding Marge in his arms tonight.

Meanwhile, Marge speeds along the road, muttering to herself that it’s never going to get better. This includes a fantasy of Homer at 800 pounds, which we also could have lived without. She then fantasizes about Ben asking her to take the kid (he’s surprised to find out it’s kids plural) and run away with him. Marge angrily dismisses it. Jesus, is this Life on the Fast Lane 2013? Please, no. At that moment, however, the fantasy Ben says goodbye, and her dreams shatter. We do get a goodbye song, though, always a treat from Seth. Marge’s eyes widen. She has let go, and angrily tells his Sinatra-parody alter ego to go away. Thank God. She decides to do what she has done her whole life – “suck it in and smileâ€. Beautiful. Unfortunately, at that moment she drives past Wiggum and Lou, who immediately figure out that she’s unhappy with her partner.

Marge arrives home only to run into a blinding light and hear a train whistle. Confused, she goes to investigate – and finds the train, renamed The Majestic Marge, with a smiling husband and kids wishing her a happy anniversary. She is overcome with delight, touched that Homer could have done something so thoughtful and romantic. “Do you think we’ll last twenty-five years?†Homer asks. “Nothing should,†replies Bart. OKAY GUYS, WE GET IT, YOU KNOW YOU’RE PAST YOUR WELCOME. Now do something about it. Marge and Homer take a ride around the track as Moe, Barney and Lovejoy beam at them. Lovejoy claims that trains can fix every marriage. Right on cue, he gets a text from his wife, wanting to know if he’s still working on “that stupid trainâ€. He complains that he’s been derailed by the “Bipolar Expressâ€. Preachers, amirite?

What looks like the whole cast shows up to wish them a happy anniversary, which feels more than a little self-congratulatory on the writers’ part. Does the town really care that much about some random couple’s marriage? Apparently so. Save this for the series finale, guys, which I hope isn’t far off. Ramona (AKA Mrs. Ben) suddenly runs in demanding to find Marge Simpson. Ben lamely protests that he didn’t  think she would actually use Marge’s name and address. She accuses Marge and Ben of – gasp! – watching British TV together. Will the horrors never end? Homer threatens Ben until Marge assures him that it was a costume drama, not a naughty comedy. Phew, moment saved. Marge tells Ben and Ramona that the secret to a good marriage is no secrets – except good secrets like that train. So you’ll just forget all the confusion and angst this caused you, which led to the whole situation in the first place? Homer takes the moment to go on about all his secrets, which are both numerous and shameful. However, he concludes that it’s no secret he loves Marge, so it’s all good. They smooch. Ramona is inspired by their love and tells Ben she still cares, recalling a fond memory about their airport hookup (to which he quickly covers his “That was you?†reaction). They go home to go through Ben’s browsing history just for funsies. Ben, as you can imagine, is just thrilled. Homer wonders exactly what happened between Marge and Ben. She starts with the snack cakes – and he cuts her off there, satisfied. Aww.

As a closer, we get a “Simpton Abbey†opening, basically a shot-for-shot remake of the opening credits, which I’ll admit is kind of funny, if obvious episode filler. They should have used it for the couch gag and had it as Marge’s dream or something. We see the closing credits as a parody of the parody Sassy Madison commercial, which tells Marge’s story. Love conquers all, and Ben goes back to cheating...but winds up on a date with Selma. “Date on the web and you deserve what you get/three awesome kids and a life of regret.†Grampa starts a song, but is cut off. All’s well that ends well!

Okay, first things first. Seth MacFarlane was used wonderfully in this episode. Lampanelli did well, but Seth was a true standout. Sexist Oscar appearances and woefully repetitive animated shows aside, he is a very funny man, and stuff like this just reminds us of it. The episode itself? Ehhh. It trod familiar ground for the umpteenth time (Marge and Homer are mad at each other) and added little that was new. There’s more of Marge to explore, more of Homer, even more of Marge and Homer together – can we have some of that? I feel as if Life on the Fast Lane did the same plot much, much better, and that was nearly a quarter century ago. And – sorry again, guys – that Downton “parody†was weak, weak, weak. The episode wasn’t bad, exactly, but it was definitely uninspired. Carl Carlson was much more fun. As a season ender, it was sweet and all that. But we all know that even if it was the worst thing ever, well – we would still be tuning in for Season 5. Thus ends my regular programming for Worldly Distractions, except for Mad Men. See you in September, primetime fans!

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