“Wow, you look really hung over, Dad. What did you do last night?” – Lisa Simpson
“Last night? Um . . .” – Homer Simpson
Last week I came across a blog post titled “How to End the Simpsons – Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind (s19e09)”. The author loves The Simpsons, says that he “has some significant misgivings about the current state of the show”, and tries to imagine how they might go about finally ending the thing. While he’s not too keen on Zombie Simpsons, he is optimistic that they could end the show decently, and, as you can tell from the title, he takes as his starting point Season 19’s “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind”. He goes on to praise that episode as something that effectively shows the townspeople, focuses on Homer and Marge, and generally works well.
Now, I’m not trying to pick on this guy. Respect and even admiration of “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” is fairly common. It comes up quite a bit in other articles and blog posts I see. And if you look at the IMDb user ratings, it’s the only Season 19 episode that’s over an 8.0 and the only Season 19 episode that’s in the top 100 rated episodes (nothing else is even close). So I think it’s fair to say that “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” is generally considered quite the outlier in terms of quality for Zombie Simpsons. But, in the immortal words of Mr. Burns, I disagree.
As always, I’m not here to tell anyone which episodes they do and do not like. That’s up to you. But I don’t think “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” merits any kind of special attention in Season 19 any more than “MoneyBART” merits special consideration in Season 22 just because it was the one with the Banksy opening. Indeed, except for its highly memorable YouTube part, “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” doesn’t strike me as being in any way different from the bland and boring norm for Zombie Simpsons.
For starters, and in typical Zombie Simpsons fashion, individual scenes don’t make any sense and characters appear and disappear for no apparent reason. Toward the beginning of the episode, Homer walks into Moe’s to try and figure out what happened. After he’s spent a minute and a half of screen time talking to Moe and Krusty, it’s suddenly revealed that Chief Wiggum and Snake are sitting behind him. Wiggum is there to drive the plot forward by telling Homer about what happened, but, because Zombie Simpsons doesn’t care about which characters are in the room, he’s just been silently sitting there the whole time Homer was asking Moe about what happened. Wiggum isn’t there until Zombie Simpsons needs him to be, and then he just materializes.
This happens with different characters several times over the course of the episode. When Homer gets to Frink’s lab, the Old Jewish Man is sitting in a row with other old people. Then Homer and Frink go elsewhere so Homer can go on his little memory adventure. When Homer wakes up, the Old Jewish Man is suddenly all alone and right next to them.
Six old people . . . no old people . . . one old people, not one of these shots fits with either of the others.
Similarly, right when the episode needs them to, Patty and Selma mysteriously appear on the bridge to give Homer a plot necessary shove. In the few seconds it takes Homer to fall off the bridge and onto the boat below, the two of them manage to move from the bridge to the boat without jumping off of anything. All the wizards and magic xylophone ribs in the world can’t keep you from being surprised when they show up at the boat party after their presence on the bridge was the entire reason Homer is on the boat.
People changing locations isn’t the only problem, they also have a tendency to change clothes and the very atmosphere around them. The entire episode takes place during winter, all the scenes are built around snow . . . right up until Homer lands on the boat. At that point, all the snow is forgotten instantly. Not only are Patty & Selma now out of the winter coats they were wearing on the bridge, but all of the people on the boat are dressed for a balmy summer evening. Observe:
1) Homer begins his fall:
It’s snowing heavily, just as it has been all episode, and Patty and Selma are dressed appropriately.
2) A couple of seconds later:
And there’s no snow and people are wearing shorts and short sleeves.
3) Oh, and Patty and Selma are back and dressed for summertime:
They’re as surprised to be there as I am to see them.
If you look at the images, you’ll see that Sideshow Mel in particular should be bordering on frostbitten, but that just raises another question: what the hell is Sideshow Mel doing at a party for Homer Simpson? Other nonsensical guests include Mayor Quimby, Krusty, Smithers, Burns, and Kent Brockman. Just like so many other Zombie Simpsons scenes, the character attributes of these people are completely ignored and they’re inserted as little more than background filler.
All of the above are the kind of lazy and/or apathetic mistakes that are hallmarks of Zombie Simpsons: characters appearing and disappearing, scenes changing radically for no apparent reason, characters being in places it makes no sense for them to be. But this episode’s problems are not limited to those pernicious but otherwise minor Zombie Simpsons calling cards.
The entire story is built around Homer trying to remember what happened during one crucial moment the night before. The episode revisits the scene four times: when Homer returns from Moe’s and looks at Marge’s picture, when Homer is in Frink’s machine, again in Frink’s machine but now accompanied by Bart and Lisa, and while Homer is falling off the bridge. In each instance a little bit more about what happened is revealed, but outside of the first time there’s no reason for his memory to get better.
Once he’s in Frink’s goofy plot device, he should be able to recall everything, but for some reason he can’t so he gets Lisa to help him. That would make sense except, as Lisa herself says, she’s not really Lisa, she’s just Homer’s memory of Lisa. Once he’s back out of the machine he finally recalls everything clearly. No reason is given why his memory should be any better than when he was in the machine (with or without memory-Lisa), it simply is. Homer’s memory doesn’t improve because of any actions the characters take or any explanation the episode offers, the plot progresses because, hey, that’s what plots are supposed to do.
That all happens just in time for the episode’s exposition heavy (and snow free) scene on the boat. Despite all of the emphasis on the story in “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind”, they still have to resort to having people straight up explain away multiple inconsistencies. Marge as well as Patty and Selma have to retcon away some of their actions from just a few minutes before, and then Santa’s Little Helper appears on the boat suddenly (see? it happens throughout the episode) to fix another problem before conveniently disappearing.
Season 12’s “Trilogy of Error” was similarly heavy on a convoluted plot, but for all of its shortcomings as a comedy episode, those three stories really did tie in quite well together. Here you can’t even say that. The story doesn’t make a lick of sense the first time you see it, and the more you think about it the less sense it makes. Primarily, the story is an excuse to let them indulge in MacFarlane-esque flights of randomness, so we get things like the bit about the Ice Age squirrel, the bizarre cell phone commercial, and memory-Bart fighting two different memory-Homers for some reason.
The most famous of these needless asides is the Simpsonization of one of the most viewed YouTube videos of all time. It’s got the same pleasantly mind fogging piano music as the wildly popular original (21 million views as of this writing) and is easily the most entertaining part of the episode. I can’t prove this, of course, but I’m of the opinion that this brief one minute segment is pretty much the only reason this episode gets high marks on-line. It’s not much in the overall scheme of the episode, the vastly lamer “Power of 10” couch gag takes almost as long, but it actually is clever in parts and is exactly the kind of pop culture mashup that the internet loves so much.
When you add it all together, what you have is sixty seconds of video, designed to go viral on-line, surrounded by just another random, poorly plotted, and altogether (forgive me) forgettable Zombie Simpsons episode. That YouTube part may be the only memorable thing in all of Season 19, which may indeed make “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” the best episode of that entire season. But that doesn’t make it a good episode.