So here’s a first: I have to admit my acknowledgement of the show’s decline with an episode I found genuinely bad. There are a lot of individually great moments, both comedically and satirically, but the concept and its conclusion rub me the wrong way. I’m someone who thinks that people who hate musicals are cowards, but having a faux-Mary Poppins wander into town, warping everything into a musical with her very presence, feels like something that would work much better in a “Treehouse” kind of context – an alternate reality that plays by different rules. To put it another way, I’ve talked in the past about the show playing by the rules of different genres, and what made that work was that everything still felt like it was playing out in a plausible-for-Springfield kind of way. This feels like the reverse, forcing The Simpsons to act like Mary Poppins characters to limited success. It’s the kind of thing that would work like gangbusters in something like American Dad, which does this kind of reality-breaking as a matter of course. My issue, really, is that this feels thoughtless and crude, which is not something I come to The Simpsons for; individual moments can be worked out in great detail, but there’s a lot of sloppy jokes and the whole thing doesn’t feel like it fits in the universe we’ve been in for eight seasons.
I do want to talk about the things I love about this episode, because I’m not totally down on it. The whole thing is a satire of American laziness, with the plot kicking off because the family are so slovenly that Marge is losing her hair from stress, and while we’ve seen things like the opening scenes before, it’s a good riff on those ideas, and it leads well into the various satirical points. My favourite song is the parody of “Spoonful Of Sugar”, because it’s a perfect distillation of the exact attitude that the show has skewered all this time – thoughtless, short-term solutions that fall apart in minutes and are all over American culture. There are also points where the parody is genuinely a jumping off point for the Springfieldianites to be themselves, like the great sequence of Willie as Bert from the film, but going with the absurdity of a relationship between him and Sherry Bobbins. This kind of thing is what makes the shift from the Golden Era so frustrating; there are still moments of brilliance and insight that make watching the episode worthwhile in some way even when the whole aggravates.
The conclusion is what really gets my goat about the episode, though. The family reverting to their old self almost instantly and Sherry Bobbins driving herself mad trying to fix them is funny, if predictable. But the family giving a big musical number about how they’re happy living in their rut feels like the wrong kind of cynical for this show. The Simpsons has always been about people trying to find the best in a bad, unfixable situation, and it’s always been about trying to work hard and find even the small victories in life. This feels like something out of Family Guy, a lazy reverting to the status quo with nobody having learned anything and everyone being too lazy to try and improve their situation. It’s a lazy, heartless solution in a work that I’ve always been drawn to because of its thoughtfulness and kindness, and ending the episode with it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not hide the teacher’s prozac.
Couch Gag: After a second of nothing, we cut to the family, locked out.
This episode was written by Al Jean and Mike Reiss and directed by Chuck Sheetz. The idea was spawned back when Jean and Reiss were showrunners, and originally Reiss rejected it for being a bad idea, though he came around on it to the point of considering it an integral episode of the show. Originally, Julie Andrews was tapped to guest star, but the producers decided to go with regular Maggie Roswell after hearing her performance, and whatever my misgivings with the episode, I think that was genuinely a good idea. Wikipedia says that Quentin Tarantino was asked to guest as himself but found the lines insulting, but I’ve also heard that he wasn’t offered the role in the first place and lamented that.
It’s stupid to be proud of this but I spelled the title completely correctly on the first try, because I memorised the whole word at some point when I was a kid. It’s also stupid to be aggravated by the complete mischaracterisation of Tarantino’s attitude, but here I am.
The episode, as said, is a parody of Mary Poppins. Krusty parodies Mad About You very badly. The montage of Marge losing her hair is set to “Hair” from the musical Hair – specifically, a cover version by The Cowsills. Homer assumes every woman who applies for the nanny job is a man in drag because of Mrs Doubtfire. Homer’s imagination has a parody of Steamboat Willie, with “Turkey In The Straw” playing. Bart drops “Pop quiz, hotshot” from Speed. Burns drops a “Bah, humbug” from A Christmas Carol. Groundskeeper Willie covers “Maniac” from the movie Flashdance. Principal Skinner selling Jimbo is a reference to a scene from the Oliver Twist movie. The Itchy & Scratchy short is a reference to Reservoir Dogs. Sherry and Barney sing a cover of “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet.
Iconic Moments: 4. “KKK? That’s not good…” | The whole “I’ll take up smoking and give that up!” bit. | “You have my undivided attention.” | “I’m an original character, like Rickey Rouse and Monald Muck.”