This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 3
The Simpsons, season 31, episode 3, “The Fat Blue Line,” is a supporting character-led episode, focusing on Chief Clancy Wiggum, the worst cop the state attorney’s investigating officer ever had the pleasure of humiliating in front of his men. While stories focusing on secondary character stories on The Simpsons have had as mixed success as Wiggum’s policing, this episode works with only minor appearances from the titular family itself.
After the couch gag recreates Queen’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert, with Homer doing Freddie Mercury, Lisa as John Deacon, Marge as Brian May and Bart as Roger Taylor all being produced by Maggie, the episode dives straight into fast-paced comedy without coming up for air. Jason Mamoa, who played Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones, plays himself, the superfish. But he’s not there to sign boobs as Aquaman, that’s done at conference room C at the local Marriott. He is there to open the San Castellenata street festival, which honors Brother Ignatius Castelleneta, who in 250 A.D. was martyred three times. He was dismembered, shot with arrows made of frozen snakes, had his eyes pulled out and replaced with chocolate-covered pistachios, was boiled, and still would not recant his Christian faith. While this is not the most delicious of stories, he has been doubly immortalized in the form of spumoni ice cream and Springfield’s only Italian block party which has nothing to do with Christopher Columbus.
If the San Castelleneta festival sounds familiar, it should. It was named after Dan Castelleneta, who does the voice for Homer. The first segment is stuffed with as many target-hitting one-liners as cannolis are filled with sweet creamy middles. The best of them have to do with Homer’s ass, which may hold the key to solving the rash of pickpocketing which plagued the festival. “Thank god that thing is on our side,” the chief investigator proclaims before Homer’s butt entices criminals across town to the tune of Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious.”
Local anchorman Kent Brockman gets in more alliterative headline quips than should be allowed by the laws of either comedy or physics, though the closing line from Fat Tony D’Amico is a true understated classic: “So this is what it feels like to be innocent,” he says after being set up as the culprit who purloined the back pocket fortunes on Springfield’s citizenry. He is accustomed to defending himself from crimes he did commit, but even his lawyer, played by Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odinkirk, doesn’t buy his innocence. This is especially condemning after the many, many true crimes he has gotten away with. The best defense they can come up with is this time he didn’t do it.
In the 1991 episode “Bart the Murderer,” Chief Wiggum assures the public “Fat Tony is a cancer on this fair city. And I am the, uh, what cures cancer?” The top cop in Springfield, with a voice like Edward G. Robinson, has a spotty record when it comes to solving crimes. Sure, he caught “Beer Baron” Homer when the feds couldn’t get a tap, but even Fat Tony wished him luck in his many attempts to curb the town’s Mafia chieftain. That comes around tonight as Fat Tony commits grand theft larceny by stealing Wiggum’s heart.
Marge expands her enabling abilities this week. She sees Wiggum at a low point in his life and props him up, in spite of her reaction to finding out he is only 38 when she was sure he is somewhere in his mid-50s. Bart and Lisa have precious little to do this episode except laugh at the many ways Homer is made to be the butt of the crime joke. Their laughter is as much a punctuating punch line as the increasingly daring verbal attacks on Homer’s derriere.
There are two great comic innovations recurring on season 31 so far: overlapping dialogue and the lack of subplots. The high point of the season opener was a scene with Homer and Bart each grumbling their side to a podcast prank gone violently awry. Tonight, one of the best exchanges is told through the pronunciations of Italian foods. It is pure poetry told in what becomes an unfettered onomatopoeia fettuccini.
The episode throws in references to The Godfather and The Sopranos, even closing with a recreation of the famous ending scene of the game-changing HBO gangster series. It features Maggie as Meadow, trying to parallel her Big Wheel in time to make it for the onion rings. Fat Tony’s character was transformed by The Sopranos, which was The Simpsons biggest competitor when it aired on Sunday nights. While we don’t know who Fat Tony is specifically based on, Genovese crime family underboss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno died in a hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Salerno fronted as the family’s top boss for a while and didn’t rat when he was sentenced to 100 years for racketeering. While this makes it almost unfathomable for The Simpsons‘ Fat Tony to wear a wire, the “remember the phrase” gag is a wonderfully tight homage to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s “Who’s on first” routine.
Johnny Tightlips has always been one of my favorite characters. Tony Soprano lamented the old time strong, silent type personified by Gary Cooper, and Tightlips is the epitome of the character. Tightlips is the guy who, when shot, refused to tell say where, and when asked what he should tell the doctor, replied “tell him to go suck a lemon.” He has more lines tonight than all his appearances put together, and you kind of want him to shut up. Like Robert Baccalieri Jr., played by Steve Schirripa, he says so much with very little, and is ultimately placed to take over the family business should he big man go down. It is good to see him finally step up, even though his staunchest supporter is a mug whose nickname is “Kiss Ass.”
The music is excellent throughout the episode. From Homer’s ode to Italian cuisine at the festival through the peasant songs and Godfather theme references to the show tunes Fat Tony admits he sings in private, they all score major points. “Baby Elephant Walk,” by Henry Mancini looms large in the Simpsons legend. It was the song Dancing Homer wowed sports fans with. But elephants figure in Wiggum’s tenure as well. He passed off several emergency calls about an elephant running amok in Springfield when the Simpson family’s pet got loose in an earlier season. Tonight he and his son Ralph bond in elephantine pleasure which epitomizes their relationship.
The episode is filed with visual gags, but the license plates at the Italian restaurant are the high point. Each one is a mob cliché, from KILLS 4$$ to SLEEPS WITH FISHES, they get increasingly silly and yet contain a hint of danger. This is where the series’ humor thrives best, straddling the line of perilous fun and irreverent mockery. “The Fat Blue Line” is loaded with Italian stereotype-gags. They are told lovingly and yet without the respect due.
The closing sequence shows Fat Tony, Chief Wiggum and Homer enjoying a plate of braciole. The trio hasn’t always had the happiest of interactions. Fat Tony threatened to whack Homer when he replaced Wiggum as Springfield’s police chief in the episode “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Badge,” extorted or threatened him on several occasions, and has a professional interest in staying on the wrong side of the law Chief Wiggum endeavors to uphold. But here, sitting in the sun in front of a pork store, they are not that different.
“The Fat Blue Line” is a nearly perfect episode. Although the same length as all installments, it leaves the audience wanting more within its framework. Yes, the jokes come at machine gun speed and the laughs are full, but it leaves room for one more segment. Like there is always room for pastry and espresso after a meal. Not spumoni though, there is a reason Wet Panther spits that out. The Simpsons are stretching incrementally this season and each episode is more satisfying than the last.
“The Fat Blue Line” was written by Bill Odenkirk, and directed by Michael Polcino.
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 voices: Dawnn Lewis as Lenora Carter, the investigator from the State Attorney’s office, which state remains in question, Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony, Jason Momoa as himself and Bob Odenkirk as Mob Lawyer.
The Simpsons episode “The Fat Blue Line” aired Sunday, Oct. 13, on Fox.