The Simpsons, Season Nine, Episode Seventeen, “Dumbbell Indemnity”

One thing that amuses me is watching older works and seeing proto-examples of ideas that have taken over the public consciousness. I watched Seinfeld for the first time this year, and was deeply amused by how much George Constanza’s actions and views lined up with what we now call ‘incel’ culture – his mixture of low self-esteem about his appearance and abilities, an absolute conviction that there was one great trick he only had to unlock to become wildly successful and attractive to women, and a complete lack of any actual self-awareness or willingness to change – except what he took unthinkingly, incels articulated in eye-bleeding detail. This episode treads a similar path; it’s not quite “women are not vending machines that you put friendship tokens in until sex comes out”, but it’s definitely about the same kind of instinct. Moe is completely convinced that his only real value to Renée is in the material objects he can provide her when she actually enjoys his presence for its own sake, and the scenes of the two of them are so marvellously written and played to convey that Moe’s charm and desperation are fighting each other, and Renée sees both but figures the desperation is harmless and will wear off in time. If Moe had simply realised that she liked him for who he is, he would have avoided a lot of trouble and he’d still have her at the end. 

What’s wonderful is how this is all a support structure for a wonderful old-fashioned Simpsons story. The opening scenes unfortunately have a strong Jerkass Homer thing going on, but once he gets involved in Moe’s scheme, he ends up being wonderfully goofy; even his stupidity (like his inability to recognise Moe is clicking with Renée) is endearing, and he’s mostly sincerely trying to help his friend find love, which makes Moe selling him out all the more hurtful. It’s this fundamental storytelling that makes the show so great and makes the themes something more than a fascinating combination of thoughts. Like, it’s hard to find an interesting way to say this episode was really fuckin’ funny – all the moreso because we’re genuinely invested in the turns the story takes. “Must kill Moe… WHEEE!” is hilarious because it undermines the seriousness of the situation, which requires a serious situation to undermine in the first place. The Simpsons gets a lot of its comic power from making you genuinely care about what happens in it and then using that against you.

Chalkboard Gag: Silly string is not a nasal spray.
Couch Gag: The family sit and are crushed into a cube like a car.

This episode was written by Ron Hauge and directed by Dominic Polcino. Hauge was inspired by the thought of trying to write a story about illegal activity, and he named Renée after his wife. Helen Hunt guest stars as Renée and loved her character’s design. Hunt was dating Hank Azaria at the time, which may have added to their chemistry in the show.

It’s amazing how, even as the show declines, almost every episode has some really true-to-life scene about kids, with this one having a Texas Snowball Fight. I love Moe wearing his suspenders. I don’t know if it’s iconic but I think about “Homer, I insist you steal that car” all the time, especially when I’m wondering if someone will approve of something I’m doing. 

The title and most of the plot is a reference to Double Indemnity. “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees plays over the love montage. We also hear “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” by Amos Milburn and “Brick House” by the Commodores.

Iconic Moments: 6. “I’m just gonna die lonely and ugly and… dead.” | “I want the finest food you have stuffed with the second finest.” / “Excellent sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos.” | Homer’s “Stealing a car for Moe” song. | “That’s what you get for not hailing to the chimp!” | “Stop saying Hawaii in there!” | “Must kill Moe… WHEEE! Must kill Moe… WHEE!”
Biggest Laugh: “Stop saying Hawaii in there!” was pretty close but ultimately the hilarious exasperation of this won.