“Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” Is Boring

Wild Barts Can't Be Broken2

“Wow, you look really hung over, Dad.  What did you do last night?” – Lisa Simpson
“Last night?  Um . . .” – Homer Simpson

Last week I came across a blog post titled “How to End the Simpsons – Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind (s19e09)”.  The author loves The Simpsons, says that he “has some significant misgivings about the current state of the show”, and tries to imagine how they might go about finally ending the thing.  While he’s not too keen on Zombie Simpsons, he is optimistic that they could end the show decently, and, as you can tell from the title, he takes as his starting point Season 19’s “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind”.  He goes on to praise that episode as something that effectively shows the townspeople, focuses on Homer and Marge, and generally works well.

Now, I’m not trying to pick on this guy.  Respect and even admiration of “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” is fairly common.  It comes up quite a bit in other articles and blog posts I see.  And if you look at the IMDb user ratings, it’s the only Season 19 episode that’s over an 8.0 and the only Season 19 episode that’s in the top 100 rated episodes (nothing else is even close).  So I think it’s fair to say that “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” is generally considered quite the outlier in terms of quality for Zombie Simpsons.  But, in the immortal words of Mr. Burns, I disagree.

As always, I’m not here to tell anyone which episodes they do and do not like.  That’s up to you.  But I don’t think “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” merits any kind of special attention in Season 19 any more than “MoneyBART” merits special consideration in Season 22 just because it was the one with the Banksy opening.  Indeed, except for its highly memorable YouTube part, “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” doesn’t strike me as being in any way different from the bland and boring norm for Zombie Simpsons.

For starters, and in typical Zombie Simpsons fashion, individual scenes don’t make any sense and characters appear and disappear for no apparent reason.  Toward the beginning of the episode, Homer walks into Moe’s to try and figure out what happened.  After he’s spent a minute and a half of screen time talking to Moe and Krusty, it’s suddenly revealed that Chief Wiggum and Snake are sitting behind him.  Wiggum is there to drive the plot forward by telling Homer about what happened, but, because Zombie Simpsons doesn’t care about which characters are in the room, he’s just been silently sitting there the whole time Homer was asking Moe about what happened.  Wiggum isn’t there until Zombie Simpsons needs him to be, and then he just materializes.

This happens with different characters several times over the course of the episode.  When Homer gets to Frink’s lab, the Old Jewish Man is sitting in a row with other old people.  Then Homer and Frink go elsewhere so Homer can go on his little memory adventure.  When Homer wakes up, the Old Jewish Man is suddenly all alone and right next to them.

Magical Old Jewish Man

Six old people . . . no old people . . . one old people, not one of these shots fits with either of the others.

Similarly, right when the episode needs them to, Patty and Selma mysteriously appear on the bridge to give Homer a plot necessary shove.  In the few seconds it takes Homer to fall off the bridge and onto the boat below, the two of them manage to move from the bridge to the boat without jumping off of anything.  All the wizards and magic xylophone ribs in the world can’t keep you from being surprised when they show up at the boat party after their presence on the bridge was the entire reason Homer is on the boat.

People changing locations isn’t the only problem, they also have a tendency to change clothes and the very atmosphere around them.  The entire episode takes place during winter, all the scenes are built around snow . . . right up until Homer lands on the boat.  At that point, all the snow is forgotten instantly.  Not only are Patty & Selma now out of the winter coats they were wearing on the bridge, but all of the people on the boat are dressed for a balmy summer evening.  Observe:

1) Homer begins his fall:

Snow and Winter Coats

It’s snowing heavily, just as it has been all episode, and Patty and Selma are dressed appropriately.

2)  A couple of seconds later:

No Snow and People In Short Sleeves

And there’s no snow and people are wearing shorts and short sleeves.

3)  Oh, and Patty and Selma are back and dressed for summertime:

Only Witches Can Fly

They’re as surprised to be there as I am to see them.

If you look at the images, you’ll see that Sideshow Mel in particular should be bordering on frostbitten, but that just raises another question: what the hell is Sideshow Mel doing at a party for Homer Simpson?  Other nonsensical guests include Mayor Quimby, Krusty, Smithers, Burns, and Kent Brockman.  Just like so many other Zombie Simpsons scenes, the character attributes of these people are completely ignored and they’re inserted as little more than background filler.

All of the above are the kind of lazy and/or apathetic mistakes that are hallmarks of Zombie Simpsons: characters appearing and disappearing, scenes changing radically for no apparent reason, characters being in places it makes no sense for them to be.  But this episode’s problems are not limited to those pernicious but otherwise minor Zombie Simpsons calling cards.

The entire story is built around Homer trying to remember what happened during one crucial moment the night before.  The episode revisits the scene four times: when Homer returns from Moe’s and looks at Marge’s picture, when Homer is in Frink’s machine, again in Frink’s machine but now accompanied by Bart and Lisa, and while Homer is falling off the bridge.  In each instance a little bit more about what happened is revealed, but outside of the first time there’s no reason for his memory to get better.

Once he’s in Frink’s goofy plot device, he should be able to recall everything, but for some reason he can’t so he gets Lisa to help him.  That would make sense except, as Lisa herself says, she’s not really Lisa, she’s just Homer’s memory of Lisa.  Once he’s back out of the machine he finally recalls everything clearly.  No reason is given why his memory should be any better than when he was in the machine (with or without memory-Lisa), it simply is.  Homer’s memory doesn’t improve because of any actions the characters take or any explanation the episode offers, the plot progresses because, hey, that’s what plots are supposed to do.

That all happens just in time for the episode’s exposition heavy (and snow free) scene on the boat.  Despite all of the emphasis on the story in “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind”, they still have to resort to having people straight up explain away multiple inconsistencies.  Marge as well as Patty and Selma have to retcon away some of their actions from just a few minutes before, and then Santa’s Little Helper appears on the boat suddenly (see? it happens throughout the episode) to fix another problem before conveniently disappearing.  

Season 12’s “Trilogy of Error” was similarly heavy on a convoluted plot, but for all of its shortcomings as a comedy episode, those three stories really did tie in quite well together.  Here you can’t even say that.  The story doesn’t make a lick of sense the first time you see it, and the more you think about it the less sense it makes.  Primarily, the story is an excuse to let them indulge in MacFarlane-esque flights of randomness, so we get things like the bit about the Ice Age squirrel, the bizarre cell phone commercial, and memory-Bart fighting two different memory-Homers for some reason.

The most famous of these needless asides is the Simpsonization of one of the most viewed YouTube videos of all time.  It’s got the same pleasantly mind fogging piano music as the wildly popular original (21 million views as of this writing) and is easily the most entertaining part of the episode.  I can’t prove this, of course, but I’m of the opinion that this brief one minute segment is pretty much the only reason this episode gets high marks on-line.  It’s not much in the overall scheme of the episode, the vastly lamer “Power of 10” couch gag takes almost as long, but it actually is clever in parts and is exactly the kind of pop culture mashup that the internet loves so much.

When you add it all together, what you have is sixty seconds of video, designed to go viral on-line, surrounded by just another random, poorly plotted, and altogether (forgive me) forgettable Zombie Simpsons episode.  That YouTube part may be the only memorable thing in all of Season 19, which may indeed make “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” the best episode of that entire season.  But that doesn’t make it a good episode.

22 Responses to ““Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” Is Boring”

  1. 1 Izzy
    25 October 2011 at 9:00 pm

    The part where Patty and Selma magically appear on the boat has always driven me nuts. The fact that they commit attempted murder on Homer is stupid enough (and shows little respect for the characters), but then having them just appear on the boat is so lazy. I’m glad someone else was annoyed by this part as well.

  2. 2 kokairu
    25 October 2011 at 11:04 pm

    I think it’s all about context in cases like this. Eternal Moonshine is less shitty than anything that The Simpsons came out with in the 7 years before it aired, and it probably felt like a real pay off for those that were still watching the show in hope of some improvement. I caught most of this episode on Sky One a couple of years back, not knowing anything about it beforehand, and it did stand out to me as upholding a surprisingly consistent storyline; the fact that the first act is related to the rest of the episode, for example, is a real achievement for Zombie Simpsons. Though as you point out, its storytelling technique is far from having its flaws.

    Similarly, in the past few years I have rewatched season 9 twice; once after catching a good number of awful episodes on Channel 4, and once after watching the entire series from the beginning (finishing the end of 9 last week). You can guess which instance I enjoyed more; it’s in a league of its own compared to a few years down the line, but compare it to seasons 1-8 and it’s a really poor quality run of episodes. Eternal Moonshine could never stand a chance against the single digit seasons… To have it rated so highly on IMDB is very wrong indeed!

    • 3 Thrillho
      26 October 2011 at 1:14 am

      The first paragraph sums up my thoughts. If this had aired in the single digit seasons, it would have felt out of place, but I recall admiring the fact that ZS was doing something different from the usual “Homer gets wacky job/Zombie Simpsons go to (country)/X character seeks advice from Zombie Simpsons and hijinks ensue” scenarios that the show had been churning out for the past few seasons. I guess I like it on that level, but a good Zombie Simpsons episode is not in the same ballpark as a good Simpsons episode, in my opinion.

  3. 25 October 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Great post. “I can’t prove this, of course, but I’m of the opinion that this brief one minute segment is pretty much the only reason this episode gets high marks on-line.” sums up my feelings completely. This is actually one of my favorite moments in any simpsons episode ever, it’s beautiful and touching and brilliant… and, yeah, it’s about the only reason I’d ever want to watch this episode again. I’m sure a LOT of people feel the same.

    …But, eh, that one episode with “Ludacrest” was on recently (season 18 I think?) and I thought it had some okay moments here and there (if memory serves me, though, wasn’t worst-episode-ever “24 Minutes” the episode that followed the very next week? That’s bad…). I guess that’s the sad thing, as I was sitting and watching it, I can usually recall one or two cool or funny or interesting moments in a lot of Zombie Simpsons episodes. A couple of compelling things, in a half-hour show. Whereas non-Zombie Simpsons had compelling things every couple of a seconds.

    Come to think of it, you could probably take all the best scenes and lines from the past 13 years or so, paste them into episodes, and make half of a decent season out of them. It wouldn’t make any sense, but the show doesn’t make sense anymore, anyway.

  4. 5 Frank S.
    25 October 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Here’s my thesis: Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind, like That ’90s Show, 24 Minutes,Trilogy of Error and some others, is not simply Zombie Simpsons but Meta-Zombie Simpsons. These episodes seem to be saying “Hey, since we’re zombie anyway, let’s blatantly send up continuity and/or mess with the format. It’s not like we’d be killing The Simpsons – because this is just Zombie Simpsons.” And while they’re definitely not in the league of classic Simpsons, their fever dream-like sense of play – even when clumsy and less witty than classic era – is more entertaining (to most viewers) than a typical episode of Zombie Simpsons. At the very least they’re more memorable than most. So they get talked about more and sometimes are rated fairly highly.

    • 27 October 2011 at 2:19 am

      I don’t know if it was intentional, but 3 of the episodes you mentioned — Eternal, 24, and 90’s Show — were all part of season 19. Interesting.

      And you’re right, they are memorable, but I’d rank 24 Minutes and 90’s Show as 2 of the worst episodes ever.

      • 7 Thrillho
        27 October 2011 at 12:05 pm

        24 Minutes was actually the end of Season 18, but you could stick it in any of the last 9 or 10 seasons, and it wouldn’t feel out of place.

        • 27 October 2011 at 6:13 pm

          D’oh! I stand corrected. I guess, yeah, a lot of those episodes, and seasons they’re apart of, blur together.

          I just watched season 19’s HUSBAND AND KNIVES, one I’d never seen before, because it has Daniel Clowes in it (he’s my favorite comic book artist.. uh… ever). It was a fairly pointless episode, though it is sorta strange that Homer only has one line (one word, actually) for the first 10 minutes. And then the last 10 minutes have NOTHING to do with the first half in any way whatsoever and it ends in some weird dream sequence thing. Beyond horrible.

  5. 26 October 2011 at 12:22 am

    This is the one Season 19 episode I’ve seen. I remember randomly tuning in to The Simpsons one night in 2007, just for the hell of it, to see if I’d be entertained. At the time, I enjoyed the episode well enough, but the more I thought about it, the more holes appeared.

    I think the episode has a great premise. However, the fact that said premise is executed by the Season 19 writing staff guarantees that it’s full of lapses in storytelling logic, jokes that don’t work, and blatant efforts to waste time (like the Power of 10 couch gag and the Ice Age joke, both mentioned above). If this had been the series finale, as several folks have postulated it could be if it had to (Al Jean included, apparently), it might have been serviceable, but it most certainly wouldn’t have been the memorable conclusion that the show deserves.

  6. 10 lennyburnham
    26 October 2011 at 12:03 pm

    I looked up the YouTube parody you mentioned since I’d never seen it and it seems to have some logic problems of its own. It’s supposed to be a picture a day, right? But you see the alligator crawling through that hole instead of only seeing the alligator in the background one time. The whole thing is really inconsistent– sometimes Homer is aging relatively rapidly and yet another time you see the balloons gradually floating up in the background. Obviously, I wouldn’t expect them to totally realistically animate a picture a day, but there are sometimes when there are very clearly only a couple minutes between photos.

    • 27 October 2011 at 2:17 am

      It’s just a part of his memories, though, which only highlight the most memorable moments of his life for us… the little “picture of myself every day for 40 years” youtube thing probably didn’t even need to be added in actually since we all got the joke from the music and whatever.

      I actually just rewatched this episode because of this blogpost.. and have to take back some of what I said. THis episode actually has some great moments beyond the youtube parody. It actually has some genuinely funny lines (“DYSLEXIA — DUFFMAN’S SECRET SHAME!”) and moments (the “one frame at a time of Moe making ugly faces” was great) and avoids most of the pitfalls of Zombie Simpsons (no overlong scenes, not too many stupid jokes, no celeb cameos). The parts where he flies through his memory are actually really cool, visually. All in all, a surprisingly entertaining episode, and by far one of the best Zombie episodes ever.

  7. 12 Mr. Snrub
    26 October 2011 at 1:05 pm

    This whole post is a complete face palm.

  8. 27 October 2011 at 2:22 am

    One thing I’ve wondered… obviously the episode title and certain parts of the plot are reminescent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.. but you know the part where he falls forever and lands on the rubber bed thing? I wonder if that was a reference to THE GAME, the Fincher movie with Michael Douglas, which has a similiar ending.

  9. 27 October 2011 at 2:29 am

    Oh, I’ve asked this before I’m sure, but do you happen to like any Zombie Simpsons episodes? Even a little bit? I know you said the first 30 minutes of the movie aren’t too bad, but… that’s all I can remember at the moment. I know it’s more entertaining to trash bad episodes than priase good ones (or good parts of bad episodes) but I’m still curious. Forgive me if there’s already a blog post that answers this question.

  10. 20 Stan
    27 October 2011 at 7:49 am

    Wow look at this 15 comment debate with people repeating each other… Anyway, to shit some of mine out on a fan here, I think Charlie’s right. EMotSM is clearly one of the “good” episodes of its era (I wouldn’t compare it to MoneyBART though, I think what we’re looking at here is actually the Roosevelt one that aired three weeks ago), but for any single-digit season that would be unimaginable crap.

    Remember the episode where Homer tries out a hallucinogenic pepper and goes on a mind trip, with Marge-shaped bushes, talking coyotes, walking turtles and whatnot? Sound nonsensical, right? Well, with ever fair amount of randomness, that episode still managed not to suck and resides today in the golden era of the show. All because back then they cared about the plot, to write something decent and even funny about mind trips. Today, even if the direction the plot takes in EMotSM is good, comes out another 20 minute long shit on a stick.

    • 27 October 2011 at 6:11 pm

      What do you mean by “we’re looking at here is actually the Roosevelt one”? Because of the Ren and Stimpy opening? Because the only reason he mentioned Moneybart was to say that people only remember the show because of its Banksy opening, just like people seem to remember this only for the youtube scene. I am not clear what you meant by this point.

      Heheh, MYSTERIOUS VOYAGE OF OUR HOMER is one of the best episodes, isn’t it? “He thinks he’s the pope of chilitown….”

  11. 27 April 2012 at 12:09 pm

    But Homer can create stuff in his imagination thing. If he can create a phone calling a pizza guy, surely he can create a clever Lisa. I do agree that the snow thing was a bit disappointing, but nearly all of the episodes have goofs. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire had about ten or more.

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