This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 29 Episode 16
Music may soothe the savage breast, but Bart’s fiddling conjures beasts on The Simpsons season 29, episode 16, “King Leer.” The baddest boy in Springfield is told to stifle his worst urges by pushing them through a musical instrument, only to find much uglier urges rising from the comfort of his own cushions. The episode introduces us to the Szyslak family, none of them look quite as ugly as bartender Moe, but you can still feel the ugliness coming off them.
While Lisa tries to cajole Bart into playing the clarinet, which is kind of like a cool recorder, all Marge sees is the further damage her son can do to the community. The world may see the trombone as the class clown of instruments, Marge envisions the rock ‘em, sock ‘em potential. Woodwinds become flame throwers and violin bows become arrows to a boy who grew up on Lil Bastard sling shots, the only thing he learned from the Bible.
The first highlight comes early in the form of a sight gag sequence featuring Homer protecting the $420 dollar violin from the destructive will of a boy who will not play. The gags ends with Bart filling the violin up with beans and putting them on the oven, only to have Homer save the day, by disconnecting the gas, only to succumb to the fumes as an added punchline. The Simpsons’ asides consistently outwit the story streams, and even when Homer isn’t saying anything, Dan Castellaneta still sounds funny.
The sequence also introduces a running gag. After Homer decides to do the same thing he did to Bart’s dreams to his brain, with an unexpected discordant epiphany, he gets stuck by his court-appointed breathalyzer ignition. His stupid drunk breath can’t get the key past the ignition, and the stupid drunk dog he apparently trained to breathe into the device is worse than him. That dog will return to chase his tail.
Homer’s designated picker-upper, Marge, decides to tail the bartender Moe after the pair see him doing something that looks suspicious, even for Moe. Basic rules of self-preservation and all basic human decency teach us that following Moe could never be a good idea. They come upon the saloon keep as he’s shoe slapping an old man. But not just any old man, this old man is Moe’s old man Morty, and he’s played by Ray Liotta, so we know he knows funny.
Moe’s family is both everything and nothing Simpsons fans have been lead to expect. He’s the Mattress King of the Springfield Mattress District, although the title was self-inscribed, and not by blood, at least not regal blood. We know from Simpsons history that Moe was a Little Rascal, went through an Ellis Island experience and did soap opera work when he was growing up. We could easily believe he was a bed-wetter, as he’s often mistaken even now for a human toilet, but a mattress salesman with a conscience is a hard sell.
Liotta and Debi Mazar are great East Scum Street stereotypes, and the cut-throat family dynamic explains a lot of why Moe is whatever it is he is, a man who recycles pickled onions but can’t put Hungarian mattress gnasher bedbugs in the beds of his competitors, the Sleep N. Snooze family. Moe and his family are now only connected on Linked In, which is worse than no connection at all, and Marge thinks that’s just terrible. Not quite terrible enough to actually bring herself to provide Moe with platonic physical comfort, but she gets a few yards closer than anyone has so far.
The one thing Homer learned in all his years of marriage is how hard it is not to rub the horrible screw-ups of loved ones into their faces. From the very beginning he knows getting involved with the stinking family problems of the Szyslak freakshow is a bad idea, and he does everything but tell Marge so, to the point he can’t even tell her so.
Moe’s lines, like how he buried his dream so deep inside him, “no amount of self-harm will ever carve it out” consistently mix heart-rending pathos with gut-wrenching imagery. But only he sees the relative comfort that the mattresses he sells were “made in Filipino sweatshops by the cutest kids you ever saw.” That is until he commits the most heinous of crimes. Those tags you’re not supposed to remove under penalty of law? Penalty of Law? Moe removes them.
“King Leer,” written by Daniel Furlong and Zach Posner, is a highpoint of the season, but mainly because of the side gags. Moe is great in small doses, but you can be assured to catch a dose just by sitting on one of his barstools.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Ray Liotta as Morty Szyslak; Moe’s father, Debi Mazar as Minnie Szyslak; Moe’s sister and Jonathan Schmock as Salesman.