The Simpsons Bowls a Perfect Game Thanks to a Season 1 Guest Star
Marge gives lessons to a bowling instructor, leaving Albert Brooks to pick up a spare as The Simpsons save a Springfield landmark in “Pin Gal.”
This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 34 Episode 17
The Simpsons “Pin Gal” is a retro delight, even beyond the Facebook reference. The story has one focus, and every line is a laugh line, setting up a joke or landing the punch, and always picking up the spare. It also benefits from an almost full showing of the family. The Simpsons work better as a team, truly shining when something in Springfield is in danger, and the whole town can rally behind them. It doesn’t even matter if the town is cheering them on or chasing them down, a unified Springfield and a tight family unit is the best recipe for a classic episode.
Of course, the tastiest spice added is Albert Brooks reprising his ever-provocative bowling instructor Jacques, from season 1’s “Life on the Fast Lane.” Perennially billed as “A. Brooks,” he is like the secret sauce to The Ribwich for The Simpsons. He threatened the civilized world, but had a great vacation plan as Hank Scorpio, brought out “Bart’s Inner Child” as Brad Goodman, domed the town as Russell ”Russ” Cargill in The Simpsons Movie, and is the genius who changed a Swedish tennis instructor into a French bowler, because it was funnier. When The Simpsons bring him in, they can always be assured of a strike.
Brooks is also one of the few guest actors who can challenge Dan Castellaneta on asides and ad hoc monologues. We don’t know if they are scripted or improvised, and that makes them more fun. “Toilet plunger” may never sound the same again, and Corvair, as horrible a car as it is, now joins éclair and Fred Astaire in classic hair pieces.
By the time Jacques says he can make any sentence sound dirty, it is an already foregone conclusion, even if the character is not quite as sharply written as 33 years ago. His cheese ruse, however, is quite inspired. As is Lisa’s turn filling in for Burgess Meredith’s Mickey in a Rocky takeoff. During the central bowling tournament, before a very difficult split, Marge cracks a nail, and Lisa is in her corner, tweezer in hand, and a broken accent in her throat.
It is also revealed that Lisa gets intuitive feelings, which are always accurate, and definitely an early sign of neurosis. She knows things are awry, beyond Bart’s relative absence in the installment. There is also an element of surprise left unexplored. There is still enough palpable suspense to go around, and it’s not just about whether eggs are a healthy food or a death trap time bomb. The Springfield Bowl-O-rama, a place that nobody goes to anymore, is closing, and that is a crucial element of life for the Simpsons. It was Homer’s dream job, the only place outside Moe’s where the gang can be seen in proper footwear, and as we learn in this episode, it is where Homer discovered Nachos, which is “like licking the face of God.”
Fred Armisen puts just enough spin on the wealthy hipster to keep him out of the gutter. Introduced in the episode “The Day the Earth Stood Cool,” Terrence loves bowling because John Waters wears bowling shirts, but hires a man who bowls for a living as his champion to close the alley. Marge’s strategy as the lady of the lane, is well imagined, crafted as she stares up from her bed before sleep, with all the geometric patterns laid out as easily as Lisa did for Bart while teaching miniature golf. And Yabba Dabba D’oh, Marge even throws The Flintstones at the pins in one of many throwaway gags. It’s like watching a butterfly that can kick field goals. Homer also teaches a valuable lesson which should pass the test of time, “pizza tastes as good off the ceiling as it does off the floor.”
Marge and Jacques’ bond steers towards the “Life on the Fast Lane” dynamic, but the series deftly avoids dumping another marriage crisis on an already crowded trope. Homer even learns about appreciation when he gets to Jacques apartment, even if the secret shrine to Marge is a little too much like Artie Ziff’s obsessive collection. Homer doesn’t get jealous, he goes on the offensive, leading to a very well rendered bowling ball sword fight. Jacques is a world class antagonist, skeevy and creepy, with charm enough to deport him back to France, where he will waste the rest of his life on sex and August vacations.
Jacques’ ultimate role as Marge’s competitor would have added another dimension to the subterfuge if it was revealed from the beginning. In retrospect, the game he plays with Marge can be taken as seduction or an insidious plan in service to the wealthy hipster who wants to buy the Bowl-O-Rama (formerly Barney’s Bowlerama, owned by Al Gumble).
The episode is a testament to the Simpson couple’s long-enduring relationship, and Homer has rarely been as supportive, going as far as saying Marge bowls “like a 60-year-old Teamster.” Homer hasn’t been awed into silence like this since Marge played in “Streetcar Named Desire.”
The episode also has many background gags, poor Hans Mole Man has an entire arc in miniature, while Fat Tony whacks any pin left standing. The soda machine in the pool hall doesn’t take phones, there’s a crypto.com Boulevard in town, and a new “Stalk my Spouse” app. The best is Luigi’s Hall of Fame three-hole-punch meatball. It is suitable for framing, chopped up as a special today, thrown into the soup tomorrow, then to the dogs, and back into the soup. Its arc is as fulfilling and conclusive as the episode’s.
Directed by Chris Clements, and written by Jeff Westbrook, “Pin Gal” deepens Homer and Marge’s relationship, brings the family together, and saves the remnants of a cherished public space. The entire installment is entertaining, without any down time, and the few gutter balls it throws still score on someone’s board. Al Jean as showrunner sets it up to play in any alley.