Lifetime of Simpsons

S30 E02 – Heartbreak Hotel

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Hey there everyone! Last week we opened up the thirtieth season of the Simpsons with a shockingly bad episode, giving me a whole lot of fear that I was in for a real painful season of recaps. Usually the show would try and put its best foot forward and start the season off with something new and different. And, that general sense of unease is going to linger, folks, because this week is real weird. Not as bad as last week, but kind of equally confounding.

The episode starts off with the Simpsons sitting around, eagerly watching the season finale of a terrible reality show that they all love. It’s some sort of hybrid of Survivor and the Amazing Race, called the Amazing Place, and this is apparently the Simpson’s favorite thing in the world. Just watching couples race across giant lily-pads in order to win a million dollars.

The whole family is really into the show, but none of them hold a candle to Marge. This show is apparently her life, and she’s watched all 47 seasons of it, becoming an absolute expert in the show. So, when the episode ends by saying that they’re getting ready to cast the show’s 48th season, the kids get a great idea. Homer and Marge should try out for the show!

Marge is pretty reluctant to even discuss the idea, and the kids are baffled. Lisa and Bart are convinced that she would be the perfect contestant, since she’s watched every episode and knows all the tricks, and they can’t understand why she doesn’t think it ‘s a great idea. They end up hectoring her for days, nagging her to try out, until they’re both hoarse, and Marge ends up snapping at them.

Which is when Marge decides to tell them the real reason she doesn’t want to apply. She has. Dozens of times. Her and Homer have applied to be on this show almost every single season, trying out a whole litany of different gimmicks, and they’ve never been called back. She’s just too defeated, and doesn’t want to every try again, content to just watch the show and not add another failed audition reel to the trunk of tapes in the attic.

But, the kids don’t accept that. They think that they can convince the show to let Homer and Marge on by playing up the fact that it’s a sob story. So, Lisa takes all the tapes that have been sent in, and edit them together to one depressing montage of failure. They then head down to the pier where the show is auditioning everyone in town, and they play the video for them. And, the people love it. They think that the depressing story of the show’s number one fan never getting to be on the show, only to make it on, would make for some good spin.

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So, a few days later, Marge is going through the mail and comes across a letter from the Amazing Place letting her know that she and Homer have been accepted. She’s shocked, since she didn’t even apply, and that shock is multiplied when the host of the show and a camera crew walk into the room, telling her what’s going on. Bart and Lisa admit what they did, and Marge is completely stoked.

She and Homer are then flown out to the island where the show is filmed, and are given a small bit of orientation. But, as soon as that’s taken care of, things get wild. They announce that their first challenge is already starting, on the tarmac. Because one wrong item has been placed in each of their suitcases, and they have to find it. So, Homer and Marge start ripping through the suitcases, looking for their false items, using all of Marge’s expertise.

And they fail. They’re the only couple who weren’t able to find the errant item, and thus are the first people to kick off the island.  Marge is aghast, baffled at how she wasn’t able to find the strange item in the suitcase, and is completely shattered. And, to make things worse, they’re then told that they can’t go home, because people might see them and know that they got kicked off. So, for the next six weeks they’re going to have to stay in a mediocre airport hotel in order to keep things kayfabe.

And Marge hates it. Homer kind of loves it, since he gets away from his job and the kids and gets to just live in a free hotel, but Marge absolutely can’t stand it. Homer’s able to be selfish for a whole week, but finally sees how miserable Marge is, and decides to try and cheer her up. And it works! He sings a goofy song, and they actually start to have a good time. Which is when they come across the edit bay for the Amazing Place, which is inside the hotel for some reason.

They sneak in, and the people inside just so happen to be editing the episode they lost in. They watch it, and Marge ends up finding out that it wasn’t her fault. Homer found a giant novelty candy bar in his suitcase, and ate it rather than telling anyone he found the mystery object. So, it’s all his fault that she lost her one chance at winning her favorite show. And she’s furious.

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Marge is incredibly pissed at Homer, and they’re still stuck together for several weeks, trapped in a hotel, letting that fury fester. Which is when this episode takes the logical choice to become a parody of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Makes sense, right? Things get black and white, there’s all those depth of field changes, and they just trade barbed quips at each other, sliding into insanity. They even invite two other contestants into the room, a husband and wife, and Marge starts to talk about how much she loved the husband Nick’s work on the show. It’s a weird scene, and it goes on for a long time.

The next day though, they get some strange news. For the first time ever the show is giving the losers a chance to get back onto the show. They’re taking two people to compete in the final challenge, it just has to be two people from different couples, meaning someone has to screw their partner over. And, since Marge is furious and crazy, she offers to ditch Homer and take Nick as her new partner.

Nick goes with it for some reason, and he and Marge participate in the final challenge, which is to take mangoes off a tree, make mango margaritas, and walk across a bridge full of feral monkeys with them. And, Marge and Nick are the first to finish the task. Unfortunately, it turns out that she messed up the margarita recipe, causing them to lose. And, since it was her fault this time, she’s full of extra shame, and has to forgive Homer. And then things end incredibly abruptly without any real reckoning with anyone’s behavior.

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Listen, this episode is better than last week’s episode. That wasn’t a high bar to hurdle, but it still counts for something. But, while last week didn’t make sense on a narrative level, this episode just doesn’t make sense in terms of when it’s being released. This plot makes sense. It’s not great, and really just kind of ends without any closure, but it makes sense. The issue I had with it, apart from not being funny in the slightest, is just the general confusion of how this episode wasn’t released ten years ago. Survivor and the Amazing Race are still on TV, but I can’t imagine that they’ve been culturally relevant in years, so the decision to take them to task with an entire episode is really crazy. And to then do an extended Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? parody, even going so far as to have George Segal appear as Nick, is just insane. I have no idea how this episode exists, especially in 2018. It’s just weird. And unfunny. I don’t know folks, I’m not really that confident in Season 30.

 

“Heartbreak Hotel” was written by Renee Ridgeley and Matt Selman and directed by Steven Dean Moore, 2018.

 

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