This is a weird week guys. We’re going to get some really dark stuff, and some really silly stuff. But we start things off with one of my favorite episodes of all time, which is strange because it’s essentially half a Marge episode, and half a Reverend Lovejoy episode, which aren’t two characters that usually rank as my favorite characters. Plus we get one of the most bonkers B plots the show ever did.
The episode starts off with the incredibly realistic gag where Bart and Lisa are up early on a weekend morning, watching Itchy and Scratchy and doing their best not to laugh loudly and wake Marge and Homer up. But the episode is too funny, and they end up making a lot of noise, waking Marge up who realizes that they’re almost late for church. Luckily she apparently wears her church clothes to bed, so she’s ready, but the rest of the family aren’t as excited, as shown by Homer’s amazing like “I have a lot of work to do around the bed.” But she manages to wrangle the family up, and get them to a typically boring sermon. Reverend Lovejoy starts his sermon up as everyone in the audience starts to fall asleep, even Marge and presumably the Flanders’. So Lovejoy has to wake everyone up with a hawk screech sound effect, and sends everyone on their way.
The family head home where we get one of my favorite interactions and lines about church:
Marge: “Hey, calm down. You’re wrinkling your church clothes.”
Homer: “Who cares? This is the best part of the week.”
Lisa: “It’s the longest possible time before more church!”
So great. And after dropping that nugget of wisdom on Marge the heathen members of the family head off to the dump like a normal family does on a Sunday. Marge apparently doesn’t want to go to the dump, so she decides to go back to church to talk with Reverend Lovejoy. But before we see what they’re talking about, we start up the B plot with the rest of the family. They get rid of their dried out Christmas tree, and then just start scrounging around looking for fun stuff. And while Lisa and Homer strike out, Bart comes across something amazing. A strange cardboard box with Japanese writing all over it, and what appears to be Homer’s face.
But while they’re puzzling about this mystery we see Marge chatting with Lovejoy about the lack of passion in his sermons. Lovejoy is surprisingly not that offended by Marge’s accusation, and pretty much admits that he’s lost his love for this work. And during the discussion Marge says that she’ll volunteer to help around the church. So she comes into his office and watches him take some phone calls, where he just tells Principal Skinner to read the Bible to solve his issues. Nothing in particular, since it’s “all good.” Turns out when he graduated from seminary Lovejoy was super passionate and really cared about ministry. But then he met Ned Flanders. And slowly but surely his passion and soul was broken down by Ned’s incessant calls. Marge is shocked by Lovejoy’s lack of interest in religion, and ends up answering a phone call for him when he just wanders off. Marge then ends up helping Moe and his cat with their issues, since she actually gives a crap, and realizes that this may be a new calling for her.
Marge announces to the family that she plans on volunteering in the church and helping parishioners, but Homer’s not really cool with it, since he passionately doesn’t like volunteering. But Marge doesn’t take him seriously because while he’s ranting about volunteering he’s also obsessing over the mysterious box with his face on it. And to get some answers Homer decides to go to the Happy Sumo and get Akira to translate it. Which he easily does. Turns out it’s a box of Mr. Sparkle dish detergent. Which still doesn’t explain the picture, but at least gives him a next step. So he and the kids head to the library to get a phone book for Hokkaido, Japan where they call up the Mr. Sparkle factory. Homer then gets to talk to a guy who barely speaks English, and who thinks Homer just wants to invest in the company, but agrees to mail him some information about the product.
But while Homer and the kids are investigating the origin of Mr. Sparkle, Marge is starting her career as the Listen Lady, where people who go to the Church can come talk to her and basically just chat with her. I’ve mentioned before that my wife works at a church, and she has a Masters from a theological university in what’s called pastoral care, which is basically what Marge is doing. Being a therapist without the psychological training, and functioning mainly as a shoulder to cry on, and source of wisdom and advice. And people are loving it! To the point that they’re heckling Reverend Lovejoy during his sermon to praise Marge. She’s even getting crowds out groupies after the sermon, seeking her advice, while no one is doing that with Lovejoy. And it’s finally starting to get to him, making him sad and jealous. Lovejoy even has a weird vision where the stained-glass saints in the sanctuary come to life and mock him for having so little vision.
And before we finish the Marge episode, let’s wrap up the mystery of Mr. Sparkle. Homer and the kids gather around with a package from Hokkaido, which contains a VHS meant for investors. A huge fat guy in a hot tub congratulates the viewer on picking Mr. Sparkle. We’re then treated to a commercial for Mr. Sparkle, which is full of amazing English translations and weird visuals. And while the commercial is amazing, it didn’t really explain why they use Homer’s face. That is until the end of the video, when it reveals the logo is an amalgamation of two company’s logos, a fish and a lightbulb. So that’s solved. And the story ends with the amazing scene of:
Lisa: “Hey! It was all a coincidence.”
Bart. “Yep. There’s your answer, fishbulb.”
Homer: “Well, it was a good ride while it lasted. Come on kids, let’s go home.”
Bart: “We are home.”
Homer: “That was fast.”
But now that the Mr. Sparkle storyline is wrapped up, let’s get to the crazy baboon-fighting ending of the Marge story!
Things have been going well for the Listen Lady, but after getting Captain McCallister to come to terms with the loss of the Gameboy, she gets a call from Ned. Apparenlty Ned is at work at the mall, and is put off by Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney, who are just loitering outside his store. Ned asks Marge for advice, and she tells Ned to tell them to leave. So he does, and that quickly infuriates the bullies, causing them to corner Ned in his store, circling him with their mini-bikes. But they cut the line, and Marge just assumes everything sorted itself out. That is until the next morning, when Maude comes over to reveal that Ned never came home that night, and was chased across the state by the bullies all night.
Marge is terrified that her advice led Ned so astray, so she comes to Lovejoy for advice. And that simple gesture is enough to get Lovejoy’s zeal back, and he suggests they go out to find Ned. They finally get a call from Ned, who is hiding at a gas station, and the Simpsons and Lovejoy head out to save him. But after hanging up the phone Ned has to escape again into a zoo that’s across the street. The bullies finally lose interest, but just as Ned is starting to feel safe, he finds out he’s hiding in a baboon exhibit. Our heroes show up at Baboon County, USA only to find Ned getting attacked by baboons. They give conflicting advice, like Marge saying “swipe at the dominant male! C’mon Ned, knock that monkey down!” But when the zookeeper tells them Ned is doomed to death by skin eating, they kind of give up hope. Except Lovejoy, who ends up getting into Baboon County by driving a little train that goes through the exhibit. Lovejoy saves Ned, and as the little train heads out of the exhibit, they end up fighting a couple of the baboon on the train, like they’re in a James Bond movie. And in the end, they get out of Baboon County, Ned is safe, and Lovejoy has regained his love for his job, as demonstrated by his new sermon about how much baboon ass he kicked.
This episode is spectacular. I’ve talked before about how more often than not we don’t get episodes that have strong A and B plots. The B plots can often come off as super half-baked and vestigial. But this episode nailed both of them. The tones of the two stories are very different, but they oddly work great together. I love the weird little mystery that the Mr. Sparkle story revolves around, and it was fun seeing Homer do some detective work. Although the thing I think I love about that story the most is seeing Homer, Bart, and Lisa goofing around together. I’ve talked before about how much I love stories where Homer and Bart are pals, and it was even better with Lisa tossed in, because we so rarely get to see her joining in with those two knuckleheads. And then there’s the Listen Lady plot, which is also great. I really love Reverend Lovejoy and his weird detachment to the religion that he represents. Marge was initially coming off as super obnoxious in this episode, judging her family for their lack of interest in church like that was a problem with them, and that they should all be like her. But instead of being an episode like “Bart After Dark” where Marge comes off as bigoted and stubborn, she switches things up and decides to not argue with people who aren’t passionate about religion and helping people, and instead decides to just be more passionate, and help more people. Seeing Marge really dive in and help people was great, and even though I’m not a fan of organized religion, it was also nice to see Lovejoy and his passion for helping people get rekindled. Although I always like Lovejoy more as a defeated pessimist towards religion, but that’s my own thoughts about religion peaking through.
Take Away: It’s good to help people, but don’t take one person’s opinions as gospel. And if you’re looking for a good mystery, the dump is a great starting place.
“In Marge We Trust” was written by Donick Cary and directed by Stephen Dean Moore, 1997.