Give The Simpsons credit for still being relevant. This week’s episode reflects a headline from just a couple of days ago: “Rate of suicide jumps among baby boomers.” That demographic group certainly includes bartender Moe Szyslak, who keeps a length of rope called “Noosey” in his storeroom. In “Whiskey Business,” we learn that he’s been obsessed with killing himself for years, but a lucky accident prompts Homer, Marge, Carl, and Lenny to help turn his life around. Temporarily, of course.
I’ve been complaining about the dark humor in many Simpsons episodes this season, but it’s unimaginative dark humor that’s disappointing. I’m a champion of the episode “Homer’s Enemy,” all the way to its grim conclusion, and I love every blood-spurting moment of the Itchy and Scratchy cartoons. But “Whiskey Business” just bangs on the one note of Moe being so depressed he can’t even muster the energy to end it all. An episode that actually depicted a suicide would at least win points for going to extremes.
The episode starts with Moe literally sending cries of help to Homer and the barflies. Tired of being ignored, he stands on a chair and slips the noose around his neck, but he pauses when he glimpses a sign for a suicide hotline. (“Maybe I should call. Give one of the new kids a chance to talk to the legend.”)
Unfortunately, the new Buzz Cola Suicide Hotline is nothing but a voice menu system that plays an easy listening version of “Suicide Is Painless” (the theme from M*A*S*H). This is bad enough, but then the bartender gets another prank phone call from Bart, asking for “Mo Ron.” The enraged Moe accidentally kicks his chair away and comes close to hanging himself, but Homer saves his life with CPR performed to the beat of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love?”
Moe is grateful but soon sinks back into depression. (“This post-suicide afterglow gets shorter every time.”) So Marge suggests a road trip with Homer, Carl, and Lenny to boost his spirits. Moe insists on taking his rope: “Four guys, a chick, and a noose. Just like the movies I like to watch.” They get to Capital City, and he’s still inconsolable, whining, “All I see is two million people happier than me.”
He finally perks up on Fashion Avenue (“formerly Sweatshop Alley,” says the sign) when he thinks the gang is stopping at “Gentlemen’s Whorehouse.” When Lenny explains that he’s misread the sign for Men’s Wearhouse, and that everyone is pitching in to get him a new suit, Moe responds, “A new suit! I’ll be the best-dressed john in the whorehouse!” OK, the one note in this episode is that Moe is always depressed and he’s sexually warped.
The new suit gives Moe enough confidence to clean up the bar, which attracts a couple of similarly natty customers. They like Moe’s homemade whiskey enough to bankroll his own company—Maker’s Moe, natch—but he panics when his suit is destroyed by a pair of elevator doors. Marge reassures him with the story of Dumbo (“The magic was in him the whole time”). But this ain’t a Disney cartoon, so Moe’s friends dump him as soon as they see him in his regular barkeeper’s uniform. The episode ends with Moe back where he started, in the bar with his noose ready in the storeroom. “Not today, old friend,” he says. “But don’t worry, holidays are just around the corner.” Ew, please don’t give us a Moe-centric Memorial Day episode.
- Bart’s B-story is straight out of Sanford And Son, as Grampa takes a tumble off the roof and makes his grandson play nursemaid while he lies in bed. At least Bart isn’t being selfless here. He’s hiding Grampa in the basement instead of taking him to the hospital so that Homer and Marge don’t find out that the accident happened with Bart was supposed to look after the old man.
- Lisa visits a jazz club and is appalled to see a hologram of Bleeding Gums Murphy, the blues musician she befriended in “Moaning Lisa” and who died in “’Round Springfield” (one of the show’s more ambitious efforts in attempting to deal with loss). She writes a letter of complaint to She Done Left Me Records, threatening a boycott “and girlcott” of their catalog. The record company taunts her with a hologram of Sonny Rollins, and the story just ends.
- Other holograms in the episode include rapping Princess Di and worm-dancing Mahatma Gandhi, who gave me a bad flashback to the break-dancing Alfred Hitchcock in “Love Is A Many Splintered Thing.”
- Lenny: “Capital City has a twin?” Carl: “It moved to California to become a star. But it just turned into Glendale.”
- I do like the description of Moe as “Quasimodo without the pathos.”