“Well, here we are at the Brad Goodman lecture.” – Homer Simpson
“We know, Dad.” – Lisa Simpson
“I just thought I’d remind everybody. After all, we did agree to attend this self help seminar.” – Homer Simpson
“What an odd thing to say.” – Bart Simpson
Near the end of “The Spy Who Learned Me”, Homer and Marge are running away from a nameless (and apparently Bolivian) guy who has just pulled a gun on Homer. This is the dialogue . . .
Marge: Why is he trying to kill you? And why did she call you her love?
Homer: It was all a training exercise to make me smooth for you. Of course, she fell for me, and of course I wanted no part of her. Now the only one who can help us is Stradivarius Cain.
Marge: The guy from the movie?
Homer: I’ll explain later! Strad, come back! I know you’re in there!
. . . and then Homer bashes himself in the head a few times with a rock. I like this scene, not because it’s funny or entertaining, but because it crams virtually every problem from the rest of the episode into a single moment.
To begin with, it’s mostly unnecessary exposition. Take “Now the only one who can help us is Stradivarius Cain”. There is absolutely no reason for Homer to say that. The audience already knows who he wants to see, and while it’s true that Marge doesn’t, she’s about to vanish from the scene without explanation, which is another problem this episode has in spades. From Nelson robbing kids right from Willie’s hand and Krusty just appearing in that movie to all those women Homer hits on, “The Spy Who Learned” me has a boatload of mysteriously appearing and disappearing people. And there’s the fact that the scene itself makes no sense: no one else at this fancy party noticed the violence or the gun, Homer and Marge make it to the woods in no time at all, and, despite the fact that the guy compliments Homer on his hiding skills, Homer wasn’t hiding at all. He was standing up and talking out loud, a very poor way not to be seen.* When all is said and done, this scene is so dense with problems established earlier in the episode that, in a weird, funhouse mirror kind of way, it’s almost like an actual plot climax.
There was a B-plot as well, something that started about childhood obesity but then ended with Nelson getting into ludicrous shape with help from a personal trainer. It had many of the same problems, starting with the fact that Krusty’s mansion is shockingly accessible to anyone who wants to wander into it.
Anyway, the numbers are in and they are just awful. Last night only 4.75 million viewers realized that their imaginary friends say more interesting things than that total waste of Bryan Cranston. That’s good for #2 on the all time least watched list, and means that (counting a tie between Season 22 and Season 23 at #5), all five of the five least watched episodes ever have come this season (numbers are millions of viewers):
#1 23-13 4.33 The Daughter Also Rises
#2 23-20 4.75 The Spy Who Learned Me
#3 23-18 4.86 Beware My Cheating Bart
#4 23-16 4.96 How I Wet Your Mother
#5 23-19 5.00 A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again
#5 22-18 5.00 The Great Simpsina
The Season 23 average is now a mere 6.31 million viewers. That’s more than 10% down from Season 22’s 7.10 million, which was already the lowest rated season ever. As recently as five years ago this show was averaging more than nine million viewers per episode, now it’s barely two thirds of that.
*Mr. Idle, you’re better than this.