On the Jockey Elves and the Land of Chocolate

Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk8

“Well, uh, I wish the candy machine wasn’t so picky about taking beat up dollar bills . . . because a lot of workers really like candy.” – Homer Simpson
“We understand, Homer.  After all, we are from the land of chocolate.” – Horst
“Mmm, the Land of Chocolate.” – Homer Simpson

There’s little doubt that “The Principal and the Pauper” is the most infamous episode in the history of the show, in no small part because it was one of the first episodes that was basically 100% boring.  Prior to Armin Tamzarian blazing his way into the history of the decline and fall of The Simpsons, even episodes that hadn’t been up to the show’s all but impossibly lofty standards still contained plenty of excellent material.  “The Principal and the Pauper” was so demented, however, that everything that might have resembled humor got squeezed out in favor of trying to make that painfully ditzy plot move along.  “Saddlesore Galactica”, coming two and a half worsening seasons later, had many more bad episodes to hide amongst than “The Principal and the Pauper”, but manages to make a strong case for second place on the infamy list by doing essentially the same thing: having a main premise that is elementally, painfully and incomprehensibly bad. 

At it’s most basic, having horse jockeys be subterranean elves is a decently Simpson-y idea.  Jockeys really are small, sometimes frightfully skinny people, and if one dressed as an elf for Halloween he’d be a shoe in for best costume at most parties.  Taking that stereotypical and mildly offensive similarity and making it funny is exactly the kind of thing The Simpsons did. 

The difference is that when The Simpsons put up impossible flights of fancy, it kept them fantastical and it kept them short.  When Snowball II and Santa’s Little Helper are watching the news late at night in “Bart’s Comet” and feign sleep as Bart walks by, it’s something that you know isn’t serious.  When Homer flings himself out of the power plant and crashes the car while singing the Flintstones’ theme in “Marge vs. the Monorail”, it doesn’t affect the story, it’s just a funny way to open the episode.  When they show Vishnu working switches at the center of the Earth in “Bart vs. Australia”, it doesn’t change any other scene, it’s just a background gag to keep things lighthearted.  As a concept, “all jockeys are really elves” fits in well with those.

But instead of being tucked safely into a real story like it should’ve been, the jockey elves were put on center stage and left out to dry.  This is the crucial failing of this episode, the one bad rivet that sends the whole bridge crashing down the ravine.  It’s so unexpected and plainly stupid that, like Skinner being an imposter and then everything going back to normal, you have to wonder how anyone, let alone professional comedy writers, could ever have thought it was a good idea. 

To illustrate just how bad this is, consider what “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” would’ve been like if, instead of being efficient German technocrats, Hans, Fritz, and Horst had actually been candy gremlins from the land of chocolate who chased after Homer through the streets of Springfield.  You could leave every other joke, even the entirety of the brilliant first act, in place, and that plot twist – real life candy gremlins chase Homer through the streets – would’ve spoiled the whole thing. 

Fantasy and Reality

The Land of Chocolate works between Homer’s ears, less so on Evergreen Terrace.

The same can be said for what “Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes?” would be like if it’d had a Tamzarian twist where the Herb who came back was the real Homer in disguise.  Similarly, Guy Incognito was funny as hell, but he also wasn’t Homer’s long lost brother.  The guy who was tired of people making fun of his giant hand didn’t use it to strangle anyone, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. 

That the show felt that it was both necessary and okay to rest entire episodes on overly absurd ideas was still surprising in Season 11, which is why the phrase “jockey elves” sends shivers up the spines of so many Simpsons fans.  By Season 12, it was basically routine.  So episodes like “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes”, “The Great Money Caper”, and “New Kids on the Blecch”, which have endings that are just as insane and magical as the jockey elves, don’t register as much.  Since then it’s been pretty much the same, up to and including Season 23, where a super powered Lady Gaga, an immortal talking bar rag, and swarms of magic robots (twice!) are just par for the course. 

19 Responses to “On the Jockey Elves and the Land of Chocolate”

  1. 1 Anonymous
    31 July 2012 at 2:30 pm

    OK, at the risk of getting totally flamed, I’ll make my confession. While I hated “Saddlesore…”, I actually liked “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes”. Although it probably would have done better as a halloween-like episode. I guess maybe I liked that cool 60’s style hallucinogenic-style grooviness that was going on. I don’t know.

    But I guess we’re all allowed to like one of the new ZS episodes, right? right???

    We should make a guideline – we’re all allowed to like 1 or 2 episodes (ok, maybe 5) from the ZS era. Any takers?

    • 2 Thrillho
      31 July 2012 at 3:04 pm

      I happen to like a handful of ZS episodes myself. I believe this blog is geared toward those who think the show has gone completely downhill, so as long as you fit that criteria, you can like a few ZS episodes.

      And I can’t wait to read your write-up of Saddlesore Galactica.

    • 3 Charlie Sweatpants
      31 July 2012 at 4:37 pm

      “But I guess we’re all allowed to like one of the new ZS episodes, right? right???”

      Heh, I wouldn’t sweat it too much. Like Chris below, I kinda liked “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” right up until it went careening off a cliff by (poorly) imitating a 1960s show that was unknown to all but a tiny fraction of the audience. I distinctly remember watching it the first time and thinking it wasn’t half bad, and then being mildly traumatized as it devolved into koalas, druggings, and nonsense.

      • 4 Patrick
        2 August 2012 at 6:37 pm

        That’s the problem with seasons 10-12 episodes they start off good then they constantly fuck the ending up that’s why one of it’s writers went to the (then) new show Family Guy as it was pissing her off.

        • 5 Charlie Sweatpants
          2 August 2012 at 6:48 pm

          Really? Who was it? That’s awesome.

          • 6 Patrick
            4 August 2012 at 12:25 pm

            I’m not sure when I listen to the commentary again I’ll tell you and also it was on the Movin’ Out episode that has the Quagmire and Marge scene cut out which the commentators when on a sweet rant about the bias Fox had in favour for the simpsons.

    • 3 August 2012 at 5:19 pm

      I can think of about 5 zombie-ish episodes I enjoy, though they all have flaws (Computer, Eternal Moonshine, Hungry Hungry Homer, HOMR, Weeekend at Burnsies… probably one or two more even). To be honest, nearly every episode has a line or scene or something that works. But the show still sucks.

  2. 8 Chris
    31 July 2012 at 3:09 pm

    I thought The Computer Wore Menace Shoes was decently funny up until the 3rd act, which completely ruined everything the episode had built up.

    • 9 Patrick
      2 August 2012 at 9:12 pm

      That’s the thing satirising the internet (and anonymous in a way as homer blanked his face out. Before they even existed) wasn’t done much as the internet wasn’t well developed during the show’s heyday so that episode should have been saving grace really for a new topic to be given the simpsons treatment they succeeded during the 1st 2 acts but ruin it with a horribly obscure reference that it not only creepy, also completely random and irrelevant and if the writers actually could write a proper script they would use Homer’s lies to turn against him in horrible ways resulting him in being a shunned pariah as he even tried to reveal he was Mr. X during the episode.

  3. 10 Dan S.
    31 July 2012 at 9:24 pm

    You say you don’t like flights of fancy but I really loved when the Stratego pieces came alive after being placed in the magic cupboard discovered by Bart at the old magicians garage sale in Bart of Darkness.

    • 11 Dan S.
      31 July 2012 at 9:27 pm

      It was unfortunate that it was merely a setup to act two when a miner accidentally diffuses the bomb incorrectly and blows up a secret underground network of tunnels under the Simpson house that lead to an entirely different plot.

  4. 12 Hank
    31 July 2012 at 9:43 pm

    “Saddlesore” is, to me, the ep where Simpsons become zombified and never came back. It was the episode where the writers decided that all they had to do was have Comic Book Guy say “worst episode ever” and pretend that acknowledging bad writing excused bad writing.

  5. 1 August 2012 at 2:57 am

    To be fair, there are hardly any episodes that go completley jockey elf crazy in seasons 13, and 15.

  6. 14 cyberen
    1 August 2012 at 1:19 pm

    The jockey elves is when I knew the Simpsons had gone off the deep end. The flights of fancy were only supposed to spice up the realistically depressing world the family was in, but to throw it out the window was definitely a departure, doubly so for the computer episode which should have been a Halloween special.
    From then on it hasn’t been about a relatable family but about the wacky antics of Homer & Friends.

  7. 15 Kevin
    1 August 2012 at 6:03 pm

    I’ve always thought the criticism of this as The Simpsons “going off the deep end” was overblown. I was actually surprised that the negative reaction was so strong at the time, and I still don’t think it’s THAT much more ridiculous than everything that came before it. I think the show had gradually been becoming more and more bizarre, starting with season 2 really. At first this was a good thing, but somewhere it started crossing the line where it started detracting from the show. What point this is, I don’t know–I imagine it depends on your personal tolerance for that sort of thing.

    But this episode, for whatever reason, seemed to be the tipping point where enough people seemed to notice it. It’s not because the episode is a point where they suddenly “threw reality out the window.” They had been gradually moving away from reality for years. This was just the point where everybody noticed how far from reality we had drifted.

    To make an analogy, it’s like when Wile E. Coyote is running off the cliff, and he doesn’t fall until he looks down. The point where he finally realizes his predicament and plunges to the rocky bottom isn’t anything special. Whether he had noticed one step before or after was, in the end, arbitrary. He was already off the cliff, and his fate was sealed. That point is only significant because he noticed.

    Anyway, I look forward to the crazy noises. I actually go against the general consensus in that I don’t hate the episode that much. I would definitely consider it above average for season 11, at least.

  8. 16 D.N.
    1 August 2012 at 7:16 pm

    The whole “Homer-being-chased-by-jockey-elves” thing reminded me of an episode that came before… Was it “Little Big Mom” where Homer was being chased by the enraged characters from PBS? Big Bird, and the Teletubbies shooting lasers or something? Oy, vey.

    • 17 Charlie Sweatpants
      1 August 2012 at 7:36 pm

      Sadly, that has yet to come. It’s in “Missionary Impossible”, which is just two after this one.

      • 18 D.N.
        2 August 2012 at 4:51 am

        Ah, right. I guess my brain was mixing up the leper colony from “Little Big Mom” with the island village in “Missionary: Impossible.” My memories of season 11 are pretty hazy (not that I’m complaining).

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