Fittingly for an episode centered on Springfield’s leading comic book geek, “Married To The Blob” takes a minor, one-note supporting character and attempts to build a resonant story around his hitherto-unexplored potential. Unfortunately, Comic Book Guy is no Animal Man, and credited writer Tim Long is no Grant Morrison. (Fellow comic geeks will think that reference is trenchant and insightful. The rest of you—just trust me.)
It’s not that there’s inherently anything wrong with Comic Book Guy as a character—but there’s nothing especially interesting either that suggests he should play a more prominent role, or that the show should turn an entire episode over to him, which is essentially what “Married To The Blob” does. (Homer remains instrumental to the plot, but the rest of the Simpsons get but a few lines each, and I’m fairly sure Harry Shearer got the week off entirely.) The guy works in small doses, is all I’m saying. Indeed, CBG has been a virtual catchphrase machine over the years—if someone, imitating Hank Azaria’s singular delivery, proclaims, “I’ve wasted my life,” or, “No cutting! I’m looking at you— Mister Cutter,” or, of course, “Worst... episode... ever,” any Simpsons fan is going to have fond memories. But this episode, in which he falls in love with a Japanese manga artist touring America’s most tragic cities, contains one truly lovely sequence, and otherwise proves nothing so much than that CBG should stay behind the counter in the Android’s Dungeon where he belongs.
After an extended opening where Bart and Milhouse envision the action of the recently published “Death Of Radioactive Man” comic, Homer (eating from a piñata) agrees to take the boys to the comic book shop for the midnight release of the new issue. It’s there that we see CBG’s typically secure petty fiefdom crumble when cool hipster comic book guy Milo (from season 19 episode “Husbands And Knives”) punctures CBG’s comfy superciliousness by introducing his equally thin hipster bride, Strawberry. The fact that decidedly un-slim Homer also has known the touch of a woman doesn’t help CBG’s self-esteem either, and, after an indifferently-penned musical number about his loneliness, he’s rescued by the appearance of the aforementioned Kumiko Nakamura—who succumbs to his bouquet of flowers in a Hulk hand and the ghostly advice of Stan Lee and agrees to a date.
I’ve been critical of The Simpsons’ latter-day penchant for cluttering up episodes with random bits of business that detract from the emotional core of the story at hand. So the fact that “Married To The Blob” picks a story and sticks to it should be satisfying—except that it's built around the mushy core that is Comic Book Guy, so it’s difficult to get sufficiently invested in what happens to him. Again, CBG’s an indelible character, but that’s due to his strategic deployment. When he and Skinner’s mother (another character only effective when seldom seen) had their own episode, falling in mutual like over their affinity for sarcasm and cruelty, it was treated as the funny idea that it was, but we weren’t expected to actually care that two mean-spirited misanthropes were bumping improbable uglies beyond that. Here, we’re supposed to let our affection for a humorously clichéd character sustain our interest, so the whole thing feels especially thin.
It would help if the episode were funny, but there’s a dearth of memorable lines. I’ll give the nod to Kumiko’s explanation of how hard it was to draw CBG since he’s “either looking down in disgust or up in disdain.” Azaria’s outraged Japanese father had some personality—I especially like how he can’t help but give useful computer advice to CBG even while spiriting his daughter away, and his on-the-nose summation of his dream revelation (“The monster is me. Who’da thunk it?”) and CBG’s zinger about how a tchotchke-laden eatery should “spend less time on the kitsch and more on the kitchen” is a solid burn. But the relative sparseness of good put-downs only underscores again how CBG is a seasoning best used sparsely.
There’s one truly memorable part of the episode: The Simpsons’ homage to the work of legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, which even makes thematic sense, as Homer, trying to smooth things over with Fumiko’s salaryman father, drinks some cobra wine and hallucinates their way into some recognizably surreal encounters. Unlike the striking Guillermo Del Toro sequence from the Halloween episode, Miyazaki had nothing to do with the tribute, but it’s nicely observed and lovely nonetheless, with a haunting little musical piece imbuing the imagery with a satisfying otherness. And the Kwik-E-Mart clambering up on rickety legs and trundling away while Apu cries, “I am ruined by whimsy!” was a funny capper.
I don’t want to be too hard on this episode. It’s always promising when the show tries something new, even if the results ultimately prove that not all experiments work out. And while I can’t say I’m clamoring for Comic Book Guy to enter The Simpsons’ regular rotation, the ending was a touching example of catchphrase re-purposing.
- The Simpsons writers have been listening to your comments concerning last week’s episode if the chalkboard gag, “Judas Priest is NOT death metal” is any indication.
- I’d heard about the Miyazaki homage planned for tonight, but seeing Bill Plympton get the couch gag again was a nice surprise. (He’s done one three years in a row now.)
- A double Mallrats callback, with Stan Lee giving love advice to a comics-obsessed geek and Lisa echoing Shannon Doherty’s rant about comic companies suckering fanboys in with overhyped gimmick issues.
- Milo was originally voiced by Jack Black, who didn’t make the trip this time out. Possible reference to that fact comes in the musical sequence where Milo is singing alongside Strawberry, who appears to be playing Meg White’s drum kit. So Jack Black becomes Jack White! I’m a genius!
- Harlan Ellison joins the throng outside the comic shop and parodies his own legendary curmudgeonliness and litigiousness by freaking out on Milhouse’s Terminator-referencing time travel idea. Good sportsmanship aside, these sorts of cameos have been done with more imagination before. I mean, why make Jasper Johns a kleptomaniac? Because it’s a weird, funny idea.
- My Neighbor Totoro is an essentially perfect children’s film. I will brook no argument from you people...