When a show has run as long as the Simpsons, they’re bound to feel like they’re out of ideas. Nineteen years of stories kind of feels like the well may be running dry. Which I could conceivably think would lead to you looking back into the past to see if there was something that you could drag back up and try to revitalize. Maybe bring back a guest-star who hasn’t been on the show for more than a decade. Maybe there’s one classic episode that you really love, and that you want to write a sequel for. I don’t know the real answer, or if any of that has anything to do with today’s episode, but let’s talk about Lurleen Lumpkin.
The episode begins with Grandpa driving Homer around at night. Grandpa is in charge of everything, and decides that he should start futzing with the radio, trying to find the right Tommy Dorsey song to listen to. And while he’s messing with the radio disaster strikes. Grandpa kind of drifts into the other lane, and they end up getting side-swiped by a car, driven by Patty and Selma, and end up swerving off a cliff. They briefly land on a lower road, but then fall right off another cliff, totaling Homer’s car.
Great way to start! Oh, and what the hell’s going on with Patty and Selma, last week they pushed Homer off a bridge and now they’re trying to make him drive off a cliff? I guess it’s okay, because when Homer and Grandpa crash the second time and Homer starts smothering Grandpa we learn something crazy. This was all a dream that Homer was having while driving Lisa to Town Hall to deliver some Girl Scout cookies to Mayor Quimby. This is a promising start.
Anyway, Lisa get to the Town Hall, where Quimby is apparently living, and gives him the cookies. Unfortunately Quimby doesn’t have any money on him, and takes Lisa back to the cities treasury to get her some cash. And when they get inside they find that there’s no money, because Quimby blew it all trying to buy a new slogan for Springfield. So the city is screwed, which obviously means Quimby is going to have to call a Town Hall meeting.
So the town meets up to discuss the budget crises, and they of course are ready with some insane ideas. Well, Homer is at least, because he gets right up and says that he has a plan to fake a disaster and then steal money from FEMA when they arrive. The town overwhelmingly loves this plan, and they get to work staging a fake hurricane. And when the FEMA representative shows up he’s ready to give the town a check, as long as they pay a processing fee.
Unfortunately this man was a conman, and he stole that registration fee from the town. So that was a swing and a miss. But the Simpsons continue to have ideas, and this time it’s Lisa’s turn. She does some research and ends up finding that Springfield is owed millions in uncollected taxes. Quimby is thrilled, and after making sure he and Mr. Burns don’t have to pay any taxes, they begin ruthlessly tracking down the missing money.
And after a while of work, the town realizes that the biggest delinquent is actually country music star Lurleen Lumpkin, who somehow owes the city $12 million. But she’s been missing for years, ever since her career fell apart, so there’s no way to collect on the taxes. Which of course leads the townsfolk to start scouring Springfield for her. And the lucky winner ends up being Homer, when he finds her lurking in his car.
Because Homer is an idiot, he decides to bring the woman who almost destroyed his marriage home, without running it by Marge. And she is not pleased. Marge freaks out and decides to drive Lurleen home and out of their lives. But when it turns out that “home” is actually underneath a freeway, Marge decides she’s being too harsh and brings Lurleen home to live with them for a while until she can get back on her feet.
And things actually go great for a while, with Lurleen ingratiating herself to the family. But it’s all ruined when Chief Wiggum shows up, having found out that Lurleen was there. She’s promptly arrested and brought before court, where it’s decided that she’ll have to pay back the taxes. But since she’s broke, they just garnish her salary for the foreseeable future. Which means Lurleen needs a job. And since no one is interested in her music anymore, she has to start working at Moe’s.
Lurleen’s life is pretty depressing, working at Moe’s and living in the Simpson’s basement, and one night she begins playing a new song in the basement, which travels through the house. It’s all about how her dad left her when she was a girl, and Marge decides that this is Lurleen’s biggest problem in life, and that she needs to fix it. So Marge begins working on finding Lurleen’s father, and after an exhaustive search finally comes across Royce Lumpkin, the slimebag who abandoned Lurleen.
Marge somehow convinces Royce that he’s a sleaze, and that he should make amends with Lurleen, so he agrees to come see her. Marge and Royce then show up at the house, where Lurleen promptly slaps her father. But apparently that was all pent-up rage she had, because she then immediately forgives him, and starts being thrilled that her dad is back in her life. The two become inseparable for a while, spending all of their time together, and Lurleen even writes a new song about how thrilled she is that her daddy’s back.
This was a tad premature though, because the night that she sings her song and decides that her life is finally looking up, Royce splits again. In the middle of the night he sneaks out, and leave Lurleen’s life yet again. This causes her to become completely crushed, and she kind of loses it. The Simpsons try to brighten her mood by telling her how great her new song is, and that it could get her back on track. Which is when she turns on a TV, and sees a performance from the Dixie Chicks, who have a new song. And it’s a total ripoff of hers. And, wouldn’t you know, it looks like Royce is working with them as their new songwriter.
Lurleen is ready to just give up on a life and fall apart, but Homer and Marge decide they can’t allow that. They get dressed up in their country-fried costumes and become Lurleen’s new managers. And their first order of business is to storm down to a recording studio where the Dixie Chicks are working. Lurleen exposes Royce as a sleaze-bag who stole her song, and the Dixie Chicks immediately fire Royce and hire Lurleen as a song-writer and opening act. So Lurleen is back on her feet, and is able to leave the Simpsons, making everything go back to normal.
This is a very strange episode. I think I spent most of it thinking to myself “really, Lurleen Lumpkin? After 16 years the story of Lurleen Lumpkin was really needing to be completed?” It’s just such a strange decision. Reaching all the way back to Season 3 to bring a character back is an odd decision, and I feel like you’d need a really great story to justify that. And this was not that. It’s fine I guess, nothing too objectionable other than the weird opening murder scene. I like the idea of Springfield becoming super broke and trying to screw over FEMA, and I guess the tax thing is a solid way to bring back all sorts of rich guest-characters. But there was just something that fell flat about this episode that I’m really struggling to put my finger on. It may be that Lurleen just wasn’t an interesting character taken out of the love-triangle context from the original episode, which is one I like quite a bit. Whatever the reason, this episode is just kind of a dud. Not really bad, but just utterly forgettable and kind of nothing.
Take Away: Don’t trust shady estranged parents. Especially if they’re named Royce.
“Papa Don’t Leech” was written by Reid Harrison and directed by Chris Clements, 2008
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons