After yesterday’s unpleasantness let’s count our blessings and check out this episode. It’s only marginally bad! Hell of an improvement!
Things start off with Homer walking around in the Plant, which he doesn’t really seem to do much anymore, when a piece of a pipe breaks and crashes down on him. Smithers and Burns spring out of nowhere, worried that this workplace accident will cost them a fortune if Homer sues. So they decide to pay him off with skybox seats to a hockey game. Wait, isn’t that the same premise as the time they found out Homer was sterile and decided to make a fake awards show to avoid suing? Whatever.
So the Simpsons head down to the arena to check out the hockey game, which no one but Lisa is really that enthused about. Which I guess makes sense, since she used to be a pretty great goalie. But they aren’t really planning on watching any of the game anyway, because the box seats are awesome, and have a lot of alternatives. They get their portraits painted, eat sushi, and basically just act like they’re in a spa. Hell, Homer even pours fondue chocolate down on the peasants in the regular seats when they get uppity.
But this behavior starts to irritate Lisa, who actually wants to watch the game. So she leaves the box and heads down to the glass, where she’s somehow able to get so close that she can give one of the players the advice he needs to win the game. And he’s so thankful that he gives Lisa the game-winning stick as a prize. So she and the family head home, and nail the stick onto her wall before going to sleep.
Which turned out to be a terrible plan, because that stick was full of weird Russian termites, who flee the stick during the night and begin destroying the Simpson’s house. So they wake up that morning and are shocked to find the house falling apart. They jump on the situation and call up a terrible exterminator, who gets to work. And after getting in the mindset of a bug, he tents up the house and begins pumping in poison, telling the Simpsons that they will be homeless for six months. Which sounds absurd, but whatever.
After a brief and baffling King of the Hill reference the family decide that they need to find somewhere to live for six months, and start hitting the town. They stop by Lenny’s amazing apartment, but bail when they find that he shares a common wall with a squash court. Next up they go to try Comic Book Guy for some weird reason, but find him too lonely and creepy. So they just end up at Moe’s where Homer pitches them just camping there.
No one else is a fan of that idea, but the barflies do have a suggestion. Apparently there’s a new reality show filming in Springfield where the participants have to live in a house and try to act like it’s 1895. So the Simpsons head down to the studio, audition, and prove that they’re a weird and volatile enough family to be entertaining while slowly being driven mad. So the studio hires them, get them dressed up in silly costumes, and have them move into the old timey house.
The family get acclimated to their new house, checking out the chamber pots and video confessionals, and get ready to live there. Which turns out to be horrible. It takes Marge and Lisa six hours to make breakfast, Homer passes out from blood-loss after shaving with a straight-razor, and they have to take a steam powered vehicle to the Kwik-E-Mart where they’re only allowed to buy items that existed in 1895.
So yeah, things are terrible. They’re all cold, hungry, and smell terrible. And the people love it. They’re apparently a huge success, and everyone’s tuning in to see which one of them dies first. But then the unthinkable happens. They start to get the hang of it. Marge gets used to corsets, Bart makes prank telegraph messages to Moe, and they just generally start working together as a family to make their life great. Which people obviously hate.
The network suits then decide to spice things up, and obviously send over Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley to live with them. Oh, and they gave him a taser to add stakes. Unfortunately this genius idea doesn’t work, so they suits have to buckle down and start flipping through TV channels to find some other idea to steal. And they find a great one.
That night while everyone is asleep a helicopter show up, rips the house from the foundation, and flies it to the Amazon, where they drop the house into the River. The house sails down the Amazon River, falling apart, until they smash into some land, and fall out, watching their house get destroyed. So now they’re homeless, Squiggy-less, and trapped in the Amazon. It’s now a Survivor clone. And when the film crew that’s waiting for them won’t help them, they decide to head into the jungle and figure out what to do.
And while in the jungle they make a shocking discovery. They find a civilization of people who have been surviving alone in the jungle after being abandoned by a previous reality show. They make a deal with the Simpsons, and storm the film crew’s camp in order to overpower them and return to civilization. So the tribe attacks the film crew, steals their helicopter, and return to civilization, just in time for the Simpsons to move back into their house and complain about the state of scripted television after watching Law and Order: Elevator Inspector Unit.
This episode kind of frustrates me. Yeah, reality shows are stupid, and their prevalence at the time that this episode was written would have been daunting and incredibly irritating. But the episode didn’t really have that much to say other than, “reality shows are dumb.” And there’s a part of me that feels like this is such a topical reference for the show, that it doesn’t work. Obviously reality shows have stuck around way longer than any of us expected, but at the time this was probably a new phenomena. Which makes it weird that the Simpsons would focus on that. The show usually has a kind of timeless quality about it, dealing with issues that could happen at any time period. That’s obviously not always the case, but I feel like it was around this point that the show started to get way more topical, which makes it get really dated. They started getting flavor of the month celebrities to cameo and gripe about things that were annoying at the time, but that wouldn’t have any lasting power. Which this episode kind of embodies for me. Don’t get me wrong, this was a far better episode than yesterday’s but it left me with a bitter feeling, knowing that things were going to get worse in the coming seasons.
Take Away: Don’t except gifts from strange Russians, and maybe don’t support reality television.
“Helter Shelter” was written by Brian Pollack and Mert Rich and directed by Mark Kirkland, 2002.