Politics everybody! This episode is kind of prescient with the wonderful world of Presidential debates firing up, and it really hit home a fact that the Simpsons taught me dearly. Politics suck. I feel like the only thing that the Simpsons taught me to be cynical about more than religion, was politics. There’s not a single honest politician on this show (except Mary Bailey I guess, but she’s not really a character, she’s just a foil for Burns) and it really hit home as a kid to not trust them. True, none of them are usually shown to be particularly malicious, but they’re not exactly competent either. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen Mayor Quimby do anything intelligent in his long career.
The episodes stars with Bart and Lisa fishing at a river when a very strange trend I’m noticing in these early episodes occurs again: an older man they don’t know shows up to talk to the Simpsons kids. It’s pretty weird, and happens way more than you’d think. And the weird man du jour is Dave Shutton, a reporter for the local newspaper the Springfield Shopper. I really like Dave Shutton as a character, the mopey sad-sack investigative reporter working for a lame paper. He’s fun, but I feel like Kent Brockman is an obviously superior “news” character, and he just got phased out, just like the real newspapers (social commentary!). Anyway, apparently Shutton is just wandering around looking for a feel good story when he stumbled upon the Simpsons kids fishing, and as he’s talking to them, they end up catching him a serious story. Blinky, the three eyed fish! Apparently Bart and Lisa’s ol’ fishin’ hole is down river from the nuclear power plant, and they’ve discovered a little mutated fish. So of course Shutton publishes a story about how unsafe the Power Plant is, and the shit hits the fan.
I love that when the people from the Nuclear Safety Commission show up, their Geiger counter freaks out the second the get out of their car. We then get a great trope of the show that I really love, just how incredibly unsafe the Power Plant is. They literally wade through nuclear waste. And of course, in the face of a huge fine and some much needed safety improvements, Mr. Burns tries to bribe the Safety Commission by just leading them to a room with a table piled with cash. Not one of his more subtle or insane bribes, but it’s pretty great. Unfortunately the Safety Commission doesn’t take the bribe, and Burns is informed that he’ll need to update the plant, or it’ll be shut down, leading him to getting super drunk in his office and singing a sad song while weeping. It’s a pretty sad scene. Yeah, Burns is typically portrayed as a bad dude, but you actually feel bad for the poor guy whose learning that his life’s work may be shut down. But while he’s crying, drunk in his car (who hasn’t been there?) Homer happens to walk by, and comes to comfort his boss. While trying to make him feel better, Homer gives him the idea that if he ran for governor, he could change the safety laws, and the plant would be okay. And that’s all the convincing Burns need, he’s in politics now!
So Burns hires a team of image consultants, campaign managers, and spin doctors, and starts running for governor. I love that when he’s making his campaign commercial he has to be told how to smile. Then he starts trash-talking Springfield on an apparently live commercial, before realizing he’s on. And boy is Burns’ commercial weird. He talks about how he can take everyone’s criticism, but that we shouldn’t take it out on poor defenseless Blinky. Then he has an actor come out dressed as Charles Darwin to explain that Blinky isn’t a terrible mutant victim of nuclear waste, he’s just evolving! And because pretty much everyone in Springfield is an idiot, the commercial works, and Mr. Burns becomes the front runner for the position. Because that’s how America works! Mr. Burns then continues to run a ridiculously shady campaign, ending in him having a big speech where he parodies Citizen Kane, because if there’s one thing the Simpsons love, it’s referencing Citizen Kane. I seriously feel like you could splice together probably 50% of that movie from Simpsons clips.
The night before the election Mr. Burns’ team decides that he could get a serious bump in supporters by having dinner with a “common” family to show he’s down the Earth. Now, the entire time that Mr. Burns has been campaigning, Homer has been totally on his side, afraid to vote against his boss, but Marge is strongly against him, voting for the incumbent Mary Bailey. So of course, when the campaign team decides the Simpsons should be the family that Burns has dinner with, it causes some strain in he marriage. Homer convinces Marge to go through with it though when he says she can cook whatever she wants. C’mon Homer, she was being super shifty when she agreed, clearly she has a plan! The campaign team comes to the house to prep the family, giving Lisa a pre-written question to ask when the dinner is televised. When the dinner starts, Burns shows up and is tackled by both Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II, which is a pretty ridiculous joke. The dinner is off to an awkward start, but everything seems to be going good for Burns until Marge brings out the main dish. She cooked Blinky! Poor fish. But of course, Burns won’t eat the thing, since despite what his campaign keeps saying, Blinky is a mutated monster. But Burns tries to eat it, knowing his campaign will be ruined if he doesn’t, but unfortunately he can’t keep it down, and spews the fish out, live on TV. So of course his campaign is ruined and he loses the election. Homer is a little frosty to Marge after humiliating his boss on live TV, but as is he case for most of the episodes I’ve watched so far for this project, they talk through things in bed, and everything is returned to the status quo.
This was a pretty great episode, not only for it’s great jokes and political satire, but because this was really the first episode that been primarily about an ancillary character. The Simpsons are certainly in the episode and they end up being integral in the start and inevitable end of Mr. Burns’ political career, but this is really an episode about Mr. Burns. Burns is one of my favorite non-family characters, and man does he shine in this episode. He’s so funny and openly villainous. And man I can’t help but assume that most politicians get into politics for reasons closer to Burns’ than not.
Take Away: Don’t trust politicians. Some of them aren’t bad, but you shouldn’t assume that they’re going to be one of the good ones. And don’t eat mutant fish.
“Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish” was written by John Swartzwelder and Sam Simon and directed by Wes Archer
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons