This is a strange one. The Office’s Steve Carell does more than a cameo in “Penny-Wiseguys,” he’s the central figure of the entire episode. It feels like a backdoor pilot for another series, in which Carell’s character, a nebbishy accountant named Dan Gillick, gets involved with different colorful clients every week.
Dan is briefly introduced as Homer’s neighbor and bowling-team partner before he goes off on his own adventure. It turns out that this blandly affable guy is the number cruncher for the Springfield Mafia. When Fat Tony (Joe Mantegna) is finally netted by the criminal justice system (for jury duty, ha, ha), he appoints Dan as the temporary don and asks him to reduce the mob’s bloated corpse of a budget. “We are bleeding red ink,” Fat Tony laments, “which is the only thing we should not be bleeding.”
Is this meant to be a parody of The Mob Doctor? Did Fox think enough people would be watching that show to want a parody of it? Either way, there’s not much to laugh at in yet another flat episode.
Carell and his character, who has oddly normal body proportions for a Springfield resident, are not a great fit with the show. Carell speaks faster than everyone else, and he gets some uninterrupted, improv-like “bits” that add to the sense that he’s not really interacting with the other voice actors. His high-pitched nervousness (though more restrained than Gene Wilder’s nebbishy accountant in The Producers) comes off as a fun, good-sport role, in contrast to, say, Mantegna’s more committed inhabitation of Fat Tony.
For no good reason, Homer tries to stop Dan, who’s suddenly drunk with power, as he tries to get rid of the fat on the mob’s payroll. (“There are redundancies, like Shotgun Pete, Shotgun Mike, Ronnie the Rifle, Shotgun the Rifle…”) We get some Godfather-type scenes of wiseguys almost getting whacked, but no one is hurt, in contrast to the race-car drivers, bicyclists, and sinkhole victims who apparently meet grisly ends in previous episodes this season. In the end, Fat Tony returns, and Dan runs off to operate an ear-piercing stand in a mall somewhere (because he likes to use the ear-piercing gun, you see). That is, until the overwhelming popularity of this episode causes Fox to order 13 episodes of Gillick’s Travels.
For the third consecutive episode, Lisa gets the B-story, here trying to compensate for the lack of iron in her vegetarian diet by eating bugs (properly served on a plate, not just plucked out of the ground). At least there’s some fun, “Treehouse Of Horror”-style animation here, as Lisa has a nightmare about riding a horse-sized grasshopper on a ranch full of giant insects, who assure her that they do, in fact, feel pain.
Lisa also inadvertently breeds a swarm of grasshoppers in the Simpsons’ basement. They attack Dan to no lasting effect (no metamorphosis to a hit man who tears off people’s heads with his mandibles, unfortunately), but they’re responsible for a cute gag at the end involving a corn maze.
- Very quick couch gag: The image of the family watching TV turns out to be a tattoo on Marge’s “tramp stamp” area.
- Fat Tony and the gang meet at Luigi’s restaurant, which has a sign in front reading “CLOSED FOR SECRET MAFIA MEETING.” Luigi stands out front, fretting in a cartoon Italian accent, “Just for a-once, why can’t they go to a-Applebee’s?” Poor Artie Bucco can’t even inspire a decent Simpsons character.
- More sign humor in a season full of spelled-out gags: “Band Concert Tonight/Flesh-Colored Earplugs Only/These Kids Have Feelings.”
- Lisa’s iron deficiency is discovered after she faints during her solo at the band concert. I did laugh at the sound effect of Groundskeeper Willie raking her off the stage, but that might have been due to a positive association between The Simpsons and rakes.
- Old man at insectivore banquet: “Waiter, there’s no fly in my soup!”
- Homer and Bart watch the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movie Screams, which isn’t funny past the title, but I did like the simplicity of their exchange when Homer forbids Bart to enroll in any AFI classes. Bart: “How about the Disney minority program?” Homer: “Now, how would you qualify for that?” Bart: “I’m the son of an oaf.”