Kredit Kookies: No chalk board gag due to credit abbreviation. In the couch gag, the Simpsons are hand-painted onto the couch – once it’s completely finished, Maggie sucks contentedly on her pacifier.
We open on a highway in the midst of a dark night. Homer and Abe are driving toward casa Simpson in Homer’s car, Grandpa at the wheel. Thanking his dad for driving him home, Abe is surprisingly modest – and unsurprisingly hates whatever music’s on the radio. "Too much jazz! Too little jazz!" he complains as he switches channels, distracting himself and causing an accident on drifting into another lane. We pan into the oncoming car as it drives away and the occupants are a pleased Patty and Selma. Wow, the writers are really hammering home how much P and S hate Homer this season…
The Simpsonmobile swerves off the highway and rolls down an embankment – after it comes to a stop, Homer emerges unscathed; Grandpa is injured but alive. Homer takes out his cell phone and starts a call to 911, but before he hits the final one Grandpa reminds him that convalescence is in order, and he’lll have to stay with Homer during his convalescence. Homer puts away his phone, places his hand over Abe’s mouth and smothers him to his apparent death. (?!).
Don’t get too emotionally invested in that Sopranos parody above – Homer’s only been dreaming "pleasantly" while driving Lisa around the neighborhood. She hops out of the car and enters City Hall, intending to sell Mayor Quimby Scout Girl cookies. He’s interested but unable to pay for the delivery – the towns’ surplus cash is completely gone, having been spent in an attempt to come up with a new town slogan. Lisa, the proud owner of a skepticism badge, doesn’t buy his excuses, and an unsuccessful struggle over the cookies takes place.
Cut to another town meeting; a desperate Diamond Joe takes ideas to replenish the town’s cash flow. Homer suggests staging a fake natural disaster and ripping off FEMA for the cash. Cut to a littered town square and Mayor Quimby and the townspeople meeting with an agent from the government branch. Ultimately, they’re left with a pile of forms to file for a cash refund from a FEMA agent for the ‘tornado’…and told to send a hundred-thousand-dollar deposit to get the ten million they’ve been promised.
Cut back to another town meeting; it turns out the agent was a scammer who’s plunged the town even deeper into debt. Brandishing a toy gavel, Quimby demands answers. Lisa rises and announces that, according to her research, the town’s owed millions of dollars in uncollected back taxes. An excited Mayor Quimby declares they’ll pursue everyone, conveniently skipping over his own name and Montgomery Burns’ on Lisa’s list.
Cut to Kent Brockman giving a report on the collection process. Clearly bitter about having to pay the town his own share, he declares that everyone else on the list has paid up except for Lurleen Lumpkin. He explains that she once had a strong, promising career – we cut to a clip of her performing a version of "Bunk with Me Tonight" for Kermit the Frog, which naturally results in Kermit being beaten up by a surprisingly ambulatory Miss Piggy – but she soon embarked on a downward spiral. Cut to the Simpsons watching the report in their living room; Homer remarks with dismay that he’d told Lurleen not to do that whole downward spiral thing. The family recalls the events of ‘Colonel Homer’, and he’s unable to remember Marge’s reaction to Lurleen – cut to Marge grinding her teeth together slowly, just as she had done in "Colonel Homer".
Kent informs us all that there’s a city-wide manhunt on for Lurleen; cut to downtown Springfield, where most of the citizens are indeed canvassing the city. The funniest moment sees Nelson Mundtz trying to trap Lurleen in a box with a free Grammy; he springs the cardboard-box-and-stick trap, only to discover a desperate Krusty the Klown cuddling the award. "I just wanted to win an award honestly!" he cries.
Homer witnesses the town’s mania on his way home from work – he laughs, saying that if he were Lurleen he’d be a million miles away from Springfield. No points if you correctly guessed Lurleen was hiding in Homer’s back seat during this entire speech. She explains that she lost all of her money, and begs Homer to let her stay with him. He knows how this will go over with Marge, but drives Lurleen there. Homer drives into his garage and closes the door; the couple’s argument over fostering Lurleen is hilariously handled by muffling the entire vehement exchange. Homer’s car exits the garage, but it’s Marge driving Lurleen back downtown.
The address Lurleen gives Marge takes them to a graffiti-plastered overpass; Marge begins to soften when she realizes Lurleen is homeless. It’s worse than that – before she can drive away Marge figures out Lurleen’s been working as a maid for her fellow destitutes. Marge pulls around, urges Lurleen to get in, and drives her back to Evergreen Terrace.
To thank them, Lurleen barbeques dinner – she jokingly says she’s cooked them possum ("Eww!" cries the family), but it’s really chicken ("eew!", echoes Lisa). She patches things up with Marge, and just as things seem peaceful Chief Wiggum leaps from the Simpsons’ roof and arrests Lurleen – and injures his back.
Cut to Springfield Court. Lurleen explains that she neglected her taxes because she owed alimony to all of her three ex-husbands – who all resemble Homer. Judge Snyder declares he’ll take it easy on Lurleen – but she’ll have to pay back what she owes to the city. Lurleen works off her debt by waitressing at Moe’s. As she serves them, Lenny and Carl both hit on her, but she turns both down firmly. Marge is surprised when Homer tells her of this and wonders who could’ve hurt the young girl so badly – she then hears Lurleen strumming a song from her basement room about her deadbeat father. Everyone within hearing range is effected – Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II wrap their paws around each other’s shoulders, Lisa sits listening intently, Bart pauses in staging a mock-execution of his Mister Potato Head, and Maggie calls Gerald on her toy phone (?!), causing him to cry.
Marge begins canvassing the neighborhood looking for Lurleen’s papa, realizing that healing her heart is the first step to getting her out of the house. She finally finds Royce Lumpkin, a deadbeat who realizes he could’ve never been a great father to his daughter. Marge encourages him to go see Lurleen; he has to heroin up his orange juice to gather the courage to go through with it.
Cut to the Simpson’s basement, where Lurleen is moping. She hears someone slapping their knees rhythmically – and no one ever played hambone as well as her father. They reunite joyfully, heading out to get better acquainted with each other. Bart, Homer, and Lisa follow, with the kids’ mischievousness resulting in Homer ending up with a tee-shirt featuring a picture of his own behind with the words "Daddy’s Special Pair" emblazoned on it. At home, this leads to a Musical Moment as Lurleen celebrates the return of her father, Marge plugs Estee Lauder, and Grandpa bursting in after it’s all over with an otter. He took a bus to get there for this!
At night, everyone’s peacefully sleeping; Marge and Homer are wrapped up in each other’s arms, Grandpa’s cuddling the otter on the sofa bed downstairs…and Lurleen’s father is slinking sadly away into the night, leaving his daughter once again.
In the morning, Lurleen is downtrodden. Lisa tries to cheer her up by pointing out that her career is starting to take off again; on TV, an announcer says there’s a new song ripping up the country charts "like a rocket with a rocket up its butt." It’s by the Dixie Chicks, and musically sounds exactly like Lurleen’s reunion song for her dad. The lyrics are one of the best things in the episode, a savage self-parody featuring the Chicks, among other things, celebrating Fox News. It’s not surprising when Royce is revealed as the writer of the song and mid-song takes center-stage with another hambone solo.
A crushed Lurleen takes to the basement, and it’s up to Colonel Homer – and Major Marge – to pep-talk her into getting her gumption back. When Marge tells Lurleen she’s relying too heavily on men for her happiness, it’s the shot in the arm Lurleen needs. She storms to a recording studio where Royce is assisting the Chicks in creating a new album and furiously confronts him, breaking a guitar over his head. Once the Dixie Chicks realize Royce is a fraud they fire him.
Back at the Simpsons’ home, Lurleen explains that she’s back on her feet again, she’ll now be an opening act for the Dixie Chicks and will be able to pay off her back taxes to Springfield. And she thinks she’s found husband number four, who – unsurprisingly – looks like a grungy Homer and takes her money. She says her goodbyes to Homer in a playfully affectionate manner, leading Marge to hug her goodbye – and snarl to her that she better not set foot in town again. Cut to the credits and the Dixie Chicks’ self-satirizing song.
This was a wildly uneven episode, and would you believe there’s actually too little Homer? I wish they’d concentrated on the bond he had with Lurleen instead of the nearly schizophrenic contact between Lurleen and Marge, whose characterization turned on a dime in a way that made Marge look sort of bananas and negate Marge’s usual tendency toward self-repression. It would have been nice to see Marge and Lurleen settle things for good, because Marge’s pep-talk was perfect.
Homer’s characterization is similarly all over the place. Some bits were inspired, but smothering Abe – even in a dream and a clear and obvious satire of The Sopranos – goes against his earlier attitude about his father. Homer used to alternate between desperate pandering for Abe’s love and sloughing off Abe’s own clinginess. I don’t find it horribly off-model, but going that extra inch feels a step too far. The suicide axe joke, however, shows desperation on the writer’s part. I like Family Guy, and I like The Simpsons, and I don’t like it when Homer suddenly starts acting like Peter Griffin in a desperate attempt to stay contemporarily relevant.
Lurleen’s pop felt like a bit of a straw man, except for his sadness in abandoning Lurleen once again. His character could’ve used a bit more shading.
Everything else was golden, with good use of an always-sympathetic Lurleen, some really nice jokes (the niftiest being the vintage-feeling tee-shirt gag), some nice appearances by Lisa and Bart, and a good performance by the Dixie Chicks. The band might just win this year’s Richard Dean Anderson Cup For Best VA Work on The Simpsons this season. Sharply self-mocking, their song is a clear jab at their own Taking The Long Way and its lead-off single "Not Ready to Make Nice". They have a self-awareness that helped things tremendously.
In the Nielsens, the show pulled a 6.9 overnight (ouch!), lower than last week’s 7.5 for "Smoke on the Daughter". It really is being positively slaughtered by Oprah’s Big Give lately, with the best news being that it beat out a Family Guy repeat for the first time in three weeks. Next week’s episode looks to be a repeat, the soonest fresh episode being "Apocalypse Cow", set to air April twenty-seventh. May does, however, promise four new episodes as Fox struggles to regain its dominance over ABC. In the meantime, check back here on the nineteenth for a klassic rekap of "E Pluribus Wiggum!"