The Simpsons, Season Nine, Episode Ten, “Realty Bites”

You know, I think I prefer the straight-up bad episodes of this season to the blander entries like this. This episode’s concept isn’t even too far out from other Golden Era episodes – it reminds me a lot of “The Springfield Connection” – but it lacks much of the precise humour and emotional throughline; in fact, Marge’s arc is pretty much beat for beat from “The Springfield Connection”, but lacking both the power of novelty and the precision of good plotting. It’s not as aggressively offensive as something like “Lisa The Skeptic” or “The Principal And The Pauper” and it’s not unfunny but the episode isn’t really sticking with me. Weirdly enough, if the meanspiritedness of some of this season points to the unpleasant depths of the Scully era, the blandness of this episode points to the tedious whatever of the post-Golden Al Jean era and what we now call modern Simpsons. A Marge episode is about her being naively kind and honest, so let’s throw her in a new job where that’s a deficit, watch her abandon her sense of decency, see the results, do the right thing, wrap up with a lesson, roll credits. I’ve been complaining about the thoughtlessness of some of the comedy that has lead to things like Jerkass Homer, and I think this is that same thoughtlessness applied to the plotting and character work. An older version of this show would have sweated out the right details and the right action to push the story forward in a way that’s funny and true to Marge, to Springfield, and to the story they’re telling; this episode said “eh, good enough”. Lionel Hutz is funny, and he gets some of the choice lines of the episode, but using him feels like just slapping a funny character on a situation like duct tape on a leaking tank of water. If “The Springfield Connection” feels like the creation of a formula, this feels like the first use of that formula, and the thing about a formula is that it stops you from needing to think through what you’re doing. The Simpsons is not Always Sunny, and the joy of it does not come from seeing impulsive reaction exploding, it comes from seeing precisely the right action for this particular moment. I feel like that opening joke really set the tone for the whole thing – the best version of this show would have thrown us right into “Not like that fake Saturday that almost got me fired,” and let us work it out from that, as opposed to giving us all that needless setup. The best version of this show would have rewarded us for overthinking it.

Chalkboard Gag: There was no Roman god named “Fartacus”.
Couch Gag: A live action hand spins the frame of the family, causing it to spread everywhere.

This episode was written by Dan Greaney and directed by Swinton O Scott III. The episode’s point of inspiration was Marge doing a job that didn’t work out, which to me only speaks as to how low inspiration was at this point. Gil Gunderson and Cookie Kwan make their first appearances here, and Lionel Hutz makes his last speaking appearance before he was retired due to Phil Hartman’s murder. Initially, the writers intended for Kirk’s sandwich to be cut the way he wanted, but George Meyer suggested he get his arm cut off instead, something that made the entire room break into long, sustained laughter. I found this interesting because I thought that was a needlessly tasteless joke that didn’t fit well with the tone of the show, which might speak as to how distinct my and the writers’ vision for the show is at this point (although I noticed Kirk showing up in unemployment with a bandaged arm for the first time on this rewatch, which made me laugh again).

Conversely, there were a few jokes that felt like the old days. Homer’s guileless response to Moe revealing he was testing his knowledge was hilarious, with Homer’s blissful face only accentuating it (“I see!”) and definitely influencing my humour, I laughed and laughed at the Futurama-esque “Man, the air feels good on my neck!” and the ‘fired’ jacket feels like a classic Simpsons punchline. It’s really stupid but the ending gag about Marge reacting to unemployment with “Three hundred dollars for doing nothing?” grated on me, as a guy who strongly supports the welfare system and can clearly see its necessity here in the COVID-19 infected 2020.

The title is a reference to the movie Reality Bites. Gil Gunderson is a riff on Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross. Homer sings the lyrics to “Luka” by Suzanne Vega. Snake’s piano wire attempt against Homer is a reference to the Road Runner cartoons. Todd mutters “Red room, red room” in reference to The Shining. Lionel Hutz reading the damage report to the house is a reference to the Lethal Weapon movies. The newspaper reporting the murder house murders is a riff on the cover of the New York Times reporting the Titanic sinking.

Iconic Moments: “She needs premium, dude! Premium! DUUUUUDE!” | “There’s ‘the truth’ and ‘the truth’!” | “Please don’t tell anyone how I live.” | “Purple drapes!” is used in a lot of shitposts.
Biggest Laugh:

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