The Sacrifices We Make
When I started out writing for hubpages I knew there would be sacrifices. I knew there would be sleepless nights as I struggled to put the finishing touches on an article I'd been working on all day. I knew that trying to make a successful blog about the inanities of life in a virtual world already drowning in blogs--many of which are even more inane than mine--would be difficult, if not nigh impossible. I knew no one would truly understand what I was trying to do. That I was trying to live the American dream by following my passion--not just hearing about others doing it and then impatiently waiting for my turn. As I said I knew there would be sacrifices.
But I wasn't prepared for the sacrifice the following article was going to bring upon me, my family, and my health. And yet, I wrote it for you the reader. I wrote it so you might not have to suffer like I and so many others already have. Am I a hero? No, no I'm not a hero. Teachers, firefighters, those are your true heroes. I'm just a man. Just a man who saw a need and filled it. I'm a man who chose to review the worst episode of The Simpsons ever, so that hopefully others can learn from my experience, hold these words close to their hearts, and not make the same mistake I made.
I am of course talking about The Frying Game. It is an episode so deplorable, so abominable, that to not write this review, to not implore others to steer clear of it would be unconscionable on my part. And that is why I write this article--in the hopes that people might spare themselves the mental lacerations of watching this episode. And in the following paragraphs I'll tell you why!
22 1/2 Minutes Of Hell
This article could be thought of as an accompaniment or companion to the actual episode--though that would mean you would need to watch the episode itself, which I strongly urge against. However, for the first half of this article I will be watching the episode itself and, barring some unforeseen brain hemorrhage during viewing, will be giving a play-by-play of the episode. After this I will give insights into the madness of the writers, some other background information, and perhaps if there's time, some other trivia that will win you bar bets if you are at a very silly bar.
Now close your eyes and let me set the scene for you.The year is 1973 and The Exorcist has just been released into theaters causing much calamity, fainting, and even a few terror-related deaths. It's a different world from the care-free days of Gone with the Wind and the titillation of listening to "the d-word" on the silver screen. Now we watch with a fascinated horror as our very existences are mocked by a little girl with a stomachache. Then for about 30 years nothing happened. Until...
The Frying Game (2002)
The opening couch-gag greets us with a seemingly innocuous parody of Charlie Chaplin, lulling us into a false sense of both whimsy and reminiscence. Then we are shown Homer finally remembering to buy his wife an anniversary gift of a Koi pond--unlike when he selfishly and belatedly bought her a bowling ball for her birthday. Now, on a personal note, Koi kind of creep me out. I like fish, uhm small fish. Goldfish, Angelfish, those little Clownfish I saw in that movie. But there's something creepy about a fish that's big enough to see its little feelers and big suction-y lips. I like my fish small enough that if things got out of hand I could still flush them down the toilet without them returning for revenge.
Around the two-minute mark we see Lisa and Marge meditating by the Koi pond until they are interrupted by the screeching sound of the Screamapillar--a sound so grating, so obnoxious that a banshee would be forced to cover her ears. This screaming then continues for about three minutes or so--I'm not entirely sure how long because at this point my sound has been turned off so as not to disturb the neighbors. Now here's where it gets weird. This whole Koi pond/Screamapillar scenario had absolutely nothing to do with the 'actual' episode, but rather was merely a 5 minute segue into the real storyline. This is fairly common with The Simpsons as for some reason it's apparently hard to write a 22 1/2 minute episode, so they find ways to cut down the main story to a lean 15.
So, some random things happen and at the halfway point of the episode (around the 10-minute mark) Homer and Marge are now playing the part of butler and maid, respectively, to an elderly woman, Mrs. Bellamy. This would be the actual episode so try to forget about the unrelated Screampillar incident. Honestly, it doesn't even matter how these events occurred because the episode up to this point is so preposterous that you simply have to nod your head (or shake it instead), and continuing slogging through.
As Homer and Marge are cleaning up the dining room, the shrill cry of Mrs. Bellamy, now deceased, is heard from the next room. The real killer--an unknown man with sparkling braces--is seen only by Homer and Marge. However, the police disbelieve them and Homer and Marge are soon in jail for murder. Are you laughing out loud yet? With five minutes left in the episode Homer and Marge are still in prison awaiting their executions at midnight. There are some throwaway gags for levity's sake, though I think we'll need a little more than the image of Homer gluttonously eating his last meal to wipe the discomfort from our minds.
With three minutes left, Marge begins to sob as the gravity of the situation sets in. This is naturally the perfect time for a dated and forgettable cutaway parody of The Green Mile. Clearly nothing's funnier than a mother crying about not getting to see her children grow up--especially in a 22 minute sitcom. This episode is similar to all those episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that attempted to focus on social issues like gun violence and racism, instead of actually trying to be funny. With two minutes left, Homer, having a wet sponge placed on his head and electrodes sticking to his chin, waits for the warden to flip the switch.
Surprise! It Was All A Joke!
Clearly they weren't really going to kill Homer--or if they were it probably wouldn't have been in such a grisly manner. But with time quickly passing and just under a minute left, how could the show possibly end any other way? As it turns out the entire episode was merely a lead-up to a fictional reality show called 'Frame Up', where people are framed for crimes they didn't commit and then the hilarious reactions are filmed. That's really about it. Mrs. Bellamy reveals that she was actually Carmen Electra and the murderer (ie. 'the man with the braces') was just some random actor. Electra's role is about as deceiving as the entire script for Mission Impossible: 2 and twice as shallow. So everyone hugs, Bart makes a joke about eating too much shrimp, and the credits roll. The end.
So.. What Just Happened?
Interestingly, this episode can be primarily attributed to John Swartzwelder who is without a doubt the most prolific writer on The Simpsons, being credited with 59 episodes. For comparison's sake, the second most prolific writer, Jon Vitti, wrote 25 episodes, or less than half as many as Swartzwelder. Many of these episodes became instant classics, among them being: Bart the General, the original Treehouse of Horror, Homer at the Bat, Radioactive Man, and, well the list just goes on and on. Indeed it could be said that the faceless puppet master behind the patriarch and his family for first ten years was John Swartwzwelder.
Swartzwelder is a known anti-environmentalist as well as a staunch conservative, so there is a definite argument to be made that the first part of the episode--the Screamapillar--was a satirical jab at the government for enacting the Endangered Species Act. I'm not entirely sure using a sitcom for your political soap-boxing is the best route even if I may agree with some of the ideas. I once had a very annoying woodpecker wake me at 6 a.m. every morning and continue pecking until the mid-afternoon. I very much just wanted to twist that little bird's neck and hear it snap. However, as it turns out, the woodpecker is an endangered species resulting in a 500-dollar fine for killing one. So in that regard, I can certainly compare my woodpecker to the Screamapillar. Still, using the social satire angle is not a valid excuse for writing an episode that is so cringe-inducing that it's better to just fast-forward through it (to use an antiquated term), than to have to sit through all the screaming and absurdities.
Of course the whole idea of using satire or parody to forgive awful writing is easier when it's a mere segue into the actual story. But when the next 17 minutes are a parody specifically poking fun at the vapid, beaten-to-death topic of reality shows, there can't be as much forgiveness for writing, considering there ought to be volumes of funny material available. Self-referential or not, the episode loses a lot of its power when it's on the same network as Joe Millionaire and Temptation Island. I understand the notion of subversion from within but this seems like merely an empty gesture meant to prove that The Simpsons are still socially relevant when they haven't been relevant in at least a decade.
I'm sure writers on the show--especially Swartzwelder himself--will point out the ludicrous storyline and even more mind-boggling ending as 'biting satire' and indicative of the slippery slope reality shows have begun sliding down. But satire alone isn't enough to excuse a poor episode with a very dissatisfying conclusion. Therefore, channeling my inner-Comic Book Guy, it is with no joy that I declare this to be the WORST. EPISODE. EVER.