This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 5
The Simpsons, season 31, episode 5, “Gorillas on the Mast,” pits the joys of altruism against the pleasures of self-interest and, oddly for the series, beneficence wins. The sad news is it is at the cost of the humor.
Latter day Simpsons episodes are increasingly front-heavy. They chum the water with dollops of brilliance, like asking Groundskeeper Willie to help free a whale, which is a pointed but subtle reference to the 1993 screen classic Free Willy, or watching him play air bagpipes, but haven’t been landing the big catch. Too many of the last few seasons’ entries peak during the first segments. “Gorillas on the Mast” ships two subplots, Homer buying a boat and Bart and Lisa freeing vicious animals. Homer’s story peaks by the time Marge has come around to his way of thinking. Lisa and Bart’s sails evenly over what should be rougher waters.
The best boat-buying gag actually does come a little later, during Homer’s quest to haul Carl and Lenny into a time-share plan. The set-up, where Homer wheels and spiels his way into his co-workers’ interest, is about average-good for The Simpsons. We’ve seen this before, and it’s not done too badly, apparently peaking at a stadium game where Homer is on a screen with a little sign reading “Eh?,” but it is saved by Lenny’s late-night call to hear details. We get the illusion it comes out of left field, but adds the final payoff when Homer seals the deal by saying Carl’s already on board, and then asks to speak to Carl, who is, of course, sitting right next to Lenny. The two characters are permanent fixtures to each other so this breaks a reality solidly in half, landing the final punch line.
Most of Homer’s boat ordeal doesn’t quite get over the gunwale. We know the boat’s going to sink at some point, and we’re pretty sure it will be an ongoing dunking, otherwise Homer wouldn’t be getting his money’s worth. The used boat salesman, and his wife as we discover in a revealing scene, are wonderfully seedy, but we buy him. And anything else he might be selling, just as Homer does. Homer’s always been the most gullible of TV dads, but ultimately the most optimistic and visionary. Homer’s whale-eating fantasia is so inspired even he has to admit it gets a little too weird. Homer’s best aside is admitting another broken dream: doing a sit-up.
The smallest of the appearances are the funniest. While giving navigation prompts to his first mate, Monty Burns tells Smithers to splash an expensive oceanside dining area. Ned thanks the lord for fire ants. Moleman dies again, though we wonder why he’d go out on the water in the first place if he never learned to swim. BTO, Canada’s answer to ELP, gets one more chance to play “Taking Care of Business,” and don’t have to skip to the “working overtime” part. Maggie greedily takes sunscreen both externally and internally after Marge asks her if she wants to grow up to look like Grandpa.
Abe has a warm moment with his son after a lifetime of cold fish behavior. He is truly proud of the accomplishment of Homer finding a parking space at the marina, but when he hits the deck of the boat, Something Fishy, he gets down right familial. The family, though, is The Sopranos, and the scene which most have popped into his dead is when Tony, Paulie and Sylvio whack Big Pussy on the Stugotz and toss him overboard like so much bilge.
Homer buys the boat in the first place because it is a dream his father crushed when he was young. We see this in a flashback to the pair fishing while preteen Homer sings his interpretation of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” Abe wets his whistle by carping “men have good times in silence” and shuts the kid up with “Scottish feel-good juice.” This, he says, makes him a great father, by the standards of the day, tweaking the glorified past with inglorious truths.
Lisa is in agony from the very beginning of the trip to the aptly named Aquatraz Water Park. She sees this as a prison by the sea. She weeps at the inhumanity of the treatment the wet captives receive. And what carnage! She walks past Whack-a-Walruses and endures a penguin funeral every twenty minutes. Her outrage finally reaches its breaking point at seeing the sad dented dorsal fin and she has to be sedated with a cuddly toy. She succeeds both in getting her family thrown out of yet another amusement park and in her saturated prison escape scheme. She gets the added bonus of teaching Bart about selflessness and karma.
Jane Goodall spoofs herself well, first by trading the gorilla’s degrading name of Lolo to the equally degrading moniker Popo. This is the magnificent best who was once one of the smartest primates on earth. He knows how to sign the words friend, enemy, hate, kill, vodka and Seinfeld. We’re neither surprised when he goes ape after being lured out of captivity, nor when he bonds with Lisa over their mutual disdain of Newman. Goodall then proceeds to reason the hope out of every one of Lisa’s dreams and yet still offering the most encouragement the middle Simpson child has ever gotten in her life.
Bart’s character has the most growth, but even so, is stilted. He gets a good feeling from doing good thing but once he sees his deeds go down, his intentions follow. This is perfectly keeping with his realm of being. Chaos rules, and it is so much rewarding than imposing order on savage bestiality. Bart has an epiphany, and we’re led to believe he’s reached a truly magnanimous conclusion. It is far more satisfying when he twists this into planning to continue on a rampage of freeing dangerous animal inmates. He not only balances Lisa’s social justice, he tips the scales to true Simpson family values.
“Gorillas on the Mast” doesn’t quite founder. It contains classic celebrity mockery like worrying about Johnny Depp’s financial troubles and shaving gorillas so they can body double for Bruce Willis, or take his roles if they behave. But it doesn’t truly shine. There are a lot of very funny lines and gags, but nothing which truly distinguishes it as comic gold. This isn’t the fault of Lisa’s social justice warmongering. Kent Brockman offers cutting commentary after Lolo wreaks havoc on Springfield saying, “The police, as always, are useless.” Which cuts to a scene where Springfield’s bluest kill a perfectly harmless balloon. The water is only tepid and while good gags are on tap, they are not premium blend.
“Gorillas on the Mast” was written by Max Cohn, and directed by Matthew Nastuk.
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 voice: Jane Goodall as herself.
The Simpsons episode “Gorillas on the Mast” aired Sunday, Nov. 3, on Fox.