This review of THE SIMPSONS contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 17
“Highway to Well,” begins with the network mandated warning message about adult topics, so know now there will be spoilers here and stoner humor.
It’s a scary world. Whales are eating up ocean plastic. Pre toddlers learn best in a parent-free environment and Marge is leaving Maggie alone for the first time since she was born. This leaves her with a lot of extra time on her hands. The mommy blog “Yass Mom” suggests she spin herself to death with the other land manatees at the gym. When she tries to sexprize her man at work, Jerry, the guy who monitors the workstations, ruins the mood by asking the couple to surreptitiously frolic on top of the desk. Marge knows a good line when she sees one, so when she spots people queuing up for a job, she is sure it’s worth the wait.
In a moment of disorderly attention deficit, the potential employer, a legal cannabis dispensary called the Well+Good store, is so sure she’s the perfect candidate they delete all other resumes. The Simpsons loves overstating the simplest of solutions for ironic effect, but here they may be on to something. Marge recently cut a major umbilical cord and she gives off major mom vibes. She is obviously ethical, although she wants to know the color of the wallet she theoretically may find before promising to turn it back. We instinctively know even if she kept the wallet she’d probably return the money inside it.
Marge starts working before she can even figure out what she’s selling. Is this what RadioShack is now? She sees candy, bath bombs and blow torches, but can’t put it together. This works for her. It shows how little anyone needs to know about what they’re peddling to move it. Superintendent Chalmers falls for her no-frills fumbling sales pitch and she makes a hundred dollar sale. Marge tells Principal Skinner’s mother that while she can’t fix her phone she can help with her arthritis. After a couple Yummy Gummies, Agnes Skinner is just happy enough to make Seymour’s life slightly less miserable. Agnes is also very impressed by his shiny objects and, for the first time in the series, her son’s job.
The Simpsons have always said yes to pot, except for Marge, apparently, although she did once credit her parenting skills to LSD, love for her son and daughters. When Lisa was president in a flash-forward episode, the only favor Bart asked was to legalize it. Even Chief Wiggum jammed to Bob Marley tunes while investigating who let the dogs out. Now that it’s legal in Springfield, who better to sell it than Marge. Everyone trusts her as a voice of reason and as the greatest enabler in the county. Springfield thrives on its freedoms, which have earned it such accolades as having the heaviest residents in the country. Marge is positively stoked by her immediate acceptance into the cannabinoid cabal, but she can’t see herself as a reefer sales lady. “Water skiing is also legal,” but you won’t see her selling that, she reasons. It is a little strange she’s the one who resists. She’s treated with respect at the Well+Good store and even her hair is considered cool.
Krusty the Clown never met a fad he didn’t feel compelled to leech off and his advertising has always been comedy gold. His Krusty-Os have come with tummy-tearing jagged metal surprises and flesh eating bacteria, his Krusty Burgers were made from real mad cow diseased meat, and his rib sandwiches go on their own tours. He’s also consistently out-of-date and steps on his own jokes with his big clown shoes. The Krusty’s Munchy Mouthfuls commercial starts with sitar music, which might have been hip as a cinematic tipoff back in the sixties, except it wasn’t and continues not to be. He also promises it’s “high time” you try them. Just when you think he can’t be less transparent, he throws in a “wink wink” or a “get it” to hammer the thinly veiled circumlocution home. This isn’t to say Krusty can’t be subtle. He is offering his deep-fried ribwich on a doughnut and spaghetti filled sandwiches after all.
We’ve been getting to know quite a bit more about secondary characters this season. We delve deeper into Drederick Tatum and learn he became the World Heavyweight Champion with a very specific and offbeat boxing training. He’s got a punching hand and a blocking face. The imagination soars at how he could have remained undefeated, and conscious, for so long. Simpsons history says he’s never suffered a knockout. But we learn his head and hands both took a hard beating that can only be eased by a few pulls on a Pikachu bong. Tatum is also very upfront. At one point he greets Marge by saying he hopes her husband wasn’t too upset about the treachery. I loved his reading of “thank you monster man hallucination” when he first meets Moe.
Homer gets an edumacation in this episode. First, he learns some families spend dinner time discussing something they learned that day and then he has a true epiphany. His hopes and dreams are palpable when he discovers people can actually work in a liquor store. It’s like Dennis Leary’s bit about how the Irish should envy Russians because they figured out how to make vodka from potatoes. It is a sad irony of life such riches are held from those most thirsty. The series plays with its own clichés as Bart brushes away the imagination clouds forming around his father and tells the big guy to stay with it.
The generation gap at the center of the episode doesn’t come just because some people think the weed dispensary is some kind of Apple store. Its very existence drives Otto to drink. All his life he’s waited for legalized weed and now that it’s arrived, it is a buzzkill. Moe knows all about this, and truly commiserates. The bartender understands the days of the dark corner tavern are on their way out and tomorrow’s stoners will never know the joy of sitting on the toilet barfing into their underwear. Even bars were more fun when they were called speakeasies, wink wink. There’s something to be said for the lurid appeal of forbidden pleasures. Black market items sell themselves.
Homer, Moe, and Lenny get a license to sell cannabinoids legally and give it that old illicit feel, right down to the stems and seeds, but adding a muted disclaimer about the package being legal in the state. This is said several times in the episode, to keep it politically safe enough for TV-14 rating. The fly in the CBD ointment is that the cool place to score could push kush back to the dark ages of 2018. The episode makes fair use of stoner jokes. Pot is for Cheeches and Chongs, it makes CNN much funnier, and has the power to voice cameo Matthew McCaughey turning his Dazed and Confused catchphrase all wrong, all wrong, all wrong. Thank goodness there’s totally a drug for hurt feelings.
While the down-low weed spot gains street cred, Marge’s face is getting made up for Tatum’s upcoming fully-realized upscale cannabis resort and spa. It is even endorsed by Dave Chapelle and Harrison Ford, who is flying himself in for the opening. She and Homer get into a drug war. Their differences couldn’t be clearer. Marge dresses like a doctor, Homer like a cool toddler. She’s a healer. He’s a dealer. But Marge is ethical, and knows her husband isn’t doing anything worse than she is. She is an enabler to the end.
Marge betrays Homer with cheeseballs. She takes part in an undercover sting for the health department to get her fat bastard of a husband to offer some to one of his customers. To be fair, she pulls off some heavy entrapment to do it. She actually tells Homer to share the offending non-insured edibles with his guests directly. The cheeseball dust on Moe’s fingers are enough evidence to book them all for a $25 fine.
Homer is so convincing as Kevin Smith’s father even the Clerks director believes him. When he blows the cover of “cabana boy health” by saying Marge has never tried pot, the joke works subversively. She is the one the townspeople are supposed to trust, and if she’s not out of her gourd on chicken pot pot pie, who can the customers believe? He further muddies politically correct waters by accusing his wife of nonchalant sexism. When Marge has a paranoid freakout reaction to the product, he is also the one who is able to assure her. “You’ll be OK in two hours that will seem like 12,” he says.
The genius Alf Clausen is now composer emeritus on The Simpsons, but the incidental music on the show remains a highlight, even to the most disappointing episodes. Here it shines like a crazy diamond. When Marge is first feeling the effects of the oils and THC-laced napkins she sells, she says she feels like she’s on an elevator that’s going up and down at the same time. The accompanying soundtrack captures the sonic electricity of the first wage of marijuana hitting the pleasure centers. It’s almost like beaming down to a planet on the original Star Trek, where most alien atmospheres hummed with local ambiance. Unless, of course, the producers found a way to make it so only people who are high can hear this.
This is a bittersweet episode highlighting a vast divide. The children of today, who are the stoners of tomorrow will live in a hassle free environment where they won’t fear lockups, and will have self-driving, or at least self-parking, cars. Without the danger, both the ride and the jokes lose their flavor. By the end of “Highway to Well,” status quo is maintained, as it always is. There’s something about The Simpsons‘ season 31 which feels like the writers are just choosing last year‘s hot topics in an effort to stay contemporary. This probably means we’ll see a coronavirus episode in two or three years.
“Highway to Well” story was written by Carolyn Omine.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Krusty the Clown and Groundskeeper Willie, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Comic Book Guy, Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum, Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr., and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Pamela Hayden voices multiple parts. Guest stars: Kevin Smith as himself, Billy Porter as Desmond and Chelsea Peretti as Lauren.
The Simpsons episode “Highway to Well” aired Sunday, March 22, on Fox.