The Simpsons: “The Man In The Blue Flannel Pants”
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The Simpsons: “The Man In The Blue Flannel Pants”

The very idea of satirizing Mad Men is a good one, even if it’s a year or two past timely. However, this episode was thin on satire, as if they cast John Slattery first and then tried to hang a story around him. It wasn’t particularly funny but neither was it particularly bad. They stayed away from the odious “dumb Homer” tropes and the obnoxious “cram a bunch of random crap together and call it a joke” tendencies that clutter the worst episodes. Usually, the writers trot those out to mask the lack of a strong storyline. If anything, “The Man In The Blue Flannel Pants” does have a strong storyline. It has other elements that often crop up in the better episodes, like a focus that does not stray too far from the Simpson family and a B-plot that works. However, the jokes are so low-key and mild that the episode zooms by without raising a single chuckle or smirk. The show goes a long way to try to recreate the sense of simultaneous ennui and foreboding that partially fuels Mad Men, but it does not stop to think about how to make all that boredom and fear funny.

The first act has Krusty facing the PR flacks for Absolut Krusty, a vodka that Krusty refuses to drink. They suggest a viral marketing campaign in the form of a house party at a hip young Springfieldian. As unlikely as it seems, the party ends up at the Simpsons’ house. It is quite the success until Mr. Burns shows up like the wettest and richest blanket in town. In an attempt to get him to lighten up, Homer convinces Burnsy to join a rousing karaoke duet of “Come Josephine In My Flying Machine,” the sickest jam of 1910. Burns is impressed by Homer’s gracious hosting and decides after overhearing him tell an uncharacteristically droll joke (which, to be fair, probably appeared in the first issue of Playboy) to give Homer a new job. With this, we are into the second act and main plot of the episode. It’s probably not worth mentioning that the writers just went to the well of Homer’s job only three weeks ago. Probably not, but I just did.

So, Burns gives Homer a promotion to Accounts man. The current guy is Robert Marlowe, voiced by John Slattery more or less playing Roger Sterling, who is due to retire in two weeks. Homer moves on up to a corner office in the Executive Building where, under Marlowe’s direction, he quickly turns into a fedora-and-suit-sporting Mad Men type. He and Marlowe wine-and-dine the Mayor. The most surprising part of this segment is when the story strongly suggests that the Mayor and Marlowe step away from the table to snort some coke.

In the B-plot, when Homer gets home, he is too horny to read to Lisa, so he suggests that Bart do so. Bart tries to read Little Women to her, but he struggles so much that Lisa offers to help him become a better reader. This is accomplished during a one-minute montage of Homer growing more soul-sick and weary in his work, complete with a recreation of the famous Mad Men lawnmower scene. Back to that in just a second. By the time we return to Bart and Lisa, Bart is reading well. He is shocked to learn that he can now read other books besides Little Women.

Homer’s transformation into Don Draper is complete by the next scene, where Marge interrupts him drinking alone in the dark. He complains that his work is meaningless, but she counters that he makes electricity which powers hospitals. He says, “You can’t touch electricity, Marge. You can’t feel it,” and Marge points out that doing that would kill him. Homer says that she’s the only one he can talk to, because his wife just doesn’t get it. “I’m your wife!,” says Marge. Homer goes off on a tangled metaphor and the whole exchange ends with Maggie, presumably drunk on milk, getting into an accident in her toy car and pulling her Raggedy Ann doll over to the driver seat. This is where the episode could have gotten very funny very fast, but it doesn’t bring any of these jokes home. Don Draper is a sad character, true, but there is some real comic potential in his pretensions and vanity. The writers are tapping into this aspect of his characterization to a small degree, but they aren’t really satirizing it. As with the recreated lawnmower scene, the main gag seems to be that Homer Simpson is channeling Mad Men. Channeling is the key word here. It is not inherently funny to have Homer Simpson act like somebody else or do something in the style of somebody else. There has to be a barb in it. Rather than restating some of the themes of Mad Men, the episode should have made them seem ridiculous, but it appears that the staff was not willing to ridicule the show. Without ridicule, the jokes are less ridiculous than lifeless. Having Maggie stage a drunk-driving accident was a nice splash of bad taste meant to dirty up the proceedings, but it seemed more random and bewildering than absurd and funny.

After a scene where Marlowe attempts to seduce Marge, Bart is caught reading Little Women at school by Nelson and the bullies. They force him to read to them and get caught up in the drama, although they agree that Bart needs to work on differentiating the character’s voices more. In the final act, Marge insists that Homer accompany the family on a family rafting vacation. However, Mr. Burns wants Homer to entertain some visiting federal regulators at the same time and suggests a rafting trip, too. Homer decides that he can do both, but naturally, the ensuing jinks are not low ones. Homer is torn between his family and his job, but he decides on his family and returns to his old job by the end. Next week: Joan Rivers and a script by Dan Castellaneta.

Stray observations:

  • “Redonkulous!” “Off the dilch!”
  • Absolut Krusty Presents: Celebrating Friendship With The Stimsons
  • “I have never heard an analogy involving sports! I love it!”
  • The Loin King.
  • Poor Bongo. Lisa has turned him into Madame Bunny.
  • “Your fists are sisters?” “Yeah, Pocahontas and Sacagawea!” “Nice save.” 

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