This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 32 Episode 5
It feels like weeks since Homer last tasted the sweet temptation of bitter fruit, but there’s lime in his cognac, and extramarital peril in the air on The Simpsons season 32, episode 5. “The 7 Beer Itch” is, hopefully, the season’s traditional flirt gone awry episode. The Simpsons, as a family, like to keep their options open when it comes to romance, but with every near event the show confirms what we all know. The only thing Homer really loves more than Marge is beer.
The title refers to the film The Seven Year Itch, which is about how marriage gets stale after about seven years, and people are more susceptible to outside influences. But by limiting the time frame to seven beers is unrealistic. Homer’s way ahead of them on that. This season has been very musical, and Groundskeeper Willie gets to warble the explanatory song. It’s a tale of two cities, London and Springfield. Willie is singing it for Nelson, which makes it slightly rueful, and he doesn’t accompany himself on bagpipes. Those he saves for a major beatdown in a British pub fight against some wankers who are all in love with the woman of his dreams.
Olivia Colman (The Favourite, Hot Fuzz), voices Lily, a woman so vivacious and magnetic, Willie uses forks and knives in her presence. Her mission is to make life fun. She’s the kind of grand dame who can turn Macbeth into a comedy. She plays cricket on pool tables. Lily is a minor sensation, but like the Beatles and balmy weather she was too hot for England, and is banished to America, or as Willie calls it, Britain’s penal colony. Scots really know how to breathe new life into old jokes. Willie even dangles his haggis as a punchline.
The trip to America sequence is filled with a barrage of effective one-liners, as it tells the story through quip. Lily causes emotional turbulence on the plane. She gets Leonardo DiCaprio, in an uncredited cameo, to admit he plays the same part in every movie before he pleads with her to marry him. She has the same siren effect wherever she goes. Men hold up signs reading “We can kill my wife together.”
The Simpsons always affords more visual gags than might meet the eye to each installment, and while previous seasons lagged on it, they have been making a comeback since last season. While on vacation with the kids to the vinelands, Marge reads a book called “What to Read When You’re Reading.” These little bits, like Sergio Aragonés drawings in Mad, are consistently effective humor enhancers on the show. They are a happy distraction, and the episodes are much more fulfilling with them.
An errant wind on a dart board, because all Brits settle life decisions with pub acts of fate, sends Lily to Springfield: “America’s least romantic city,” a line which works on its own, but is actually a set up for the punchline about it being where men have the lowest testosterone. The most effective jokes follow the rule of three, so by the time she sees the “Welcome to Springfield, we put the sit in obesity” sign, the entire trip is underscored by as much inferred humor as it is moved forward through the musical numbers.
“There are songs about drinking,” a bewildered and besotted Barney asks. This is enough for the whole gang at Moe’s to fully embrace the British invasion. They’re as happy as the “little Nazi kids in Sound of Music,” the revelers enthuse with a deliciously subversive twist. Lily even turns Moe’s frown upside down, actually it’s his whole head, and quite surprising how much better he looks. It is at this point the episode plays with format. None of the Simpsons have made an appearance yet. Groundskeeper Willie makes note of it, and informally addresses his own second-fiddle status as the featured Springfieldian. He is only a small part of the story he narrates, because, even though he still treasures the last letter from Lily reminding him to never come near her again, this is all about Homer.
Homer is a loner in this episode. He’s been left alone before, with some chaotically funny results. This is enough to convince the family to leave the pets, and Abe, in the Flanders’s care. This and the “no Homer” clause in the three-week vacation offer is enough to set Homer up for temptation. Meanwhile, back at the bar, Lily is singing a song which ends “drink it up and throw me down.” Hallelujah. The show gets in a jab at English cuisine, however, when she has to validate her cooking skills as post-’90s.
While Homer spends most of the episode brooding over his missing family, Mr. Burns finds Lily stirs feelings in him he hasn’t felt “since they took cocaine out of Coca-Cola.” He tasks Smithers with tasking Homer with asking Lily for a date on his yacht, “Gone Fission.” The show continues the charade of Smithers’ sexuality when Burns explains he couldn’t have his lacky ask the woman out for him because he couldn’t trust him to keep his “hands off the ladies.” Smithers gives the knowing rejoinder. “How well you know me, sir,” with an underplayed acquiescence. His straight-line composure goes completely against the tried and true buildup, and the grin he brings to it is the subtlest of oral delivery.
Burns, on the other hand, goes full on James Bond villain: He hires a small orchestra like he did when he kidnapped Tom Jones to woo Marge in an early season installment, evilly strokes a cat, and giggles and giggles. Every giggle more maniacally villainous than the last. When Lily makes not of it, he appreciatively says “She gets me,” which, again, is a fine twist on a known cliché. It’s all going less than swimmingly until Burns does his princess cake dance, singingly wonderfully like Gypsy Rose Lee, “and his cardiologist makes three.” It is a grand move, but an anticlimactic ending.
The transition feels like a shortcut even though Homer gets to say “I hear you and I almost understand you” to Lily, which makes up for it. That and his admission that he specializes in saving people from trouble he gets them into. The climax almost comes when Lily asks for a damn proper kiss. Even though he and Ned got married in Las Vegas a few seasons ago, Homer has always maintained himself at unsafe distances. But the one element this almost-incident is subliminal. Lily says he’ll see her in his dreams, and the suggestible Homer takes it to an extreme and surreal level. Although his first concern is his dreams are where he keeps all his stuff.
Homer is very suggestible. Listen to how he routinely repeats every succulent description of any food mentioned on the show. He is a Pavlovian poster boy, the way he drools at the mere mention of even an appetizer. This actually gives the moral battle some suspense. It’s The Simpsons, and while we know the dilemma probably won’t go in that direction, the series finds another inroad to conflict.
On the vacation, Bart gets sick, which leads him to give a good take to a forced joke. When Marge asks if he’d like to watch “Itchy and Scratchy,” he moans, “I am itchy and scratchy.” Between this, the cobblestone roads which are torturing Maggie in her stroller, and the high costs of tourist traps, Marge decides to come home early. For an animated series, The Simpsons does a good job at skirting a delicate situation confined to a home. The unspoken conflict culminates when Homer actually makes an excuse to take a cell call. From a marketer, no less. You know how sensitive they are. The whole scene is actually played down, which adds tension.
The seduction comes down to who can more appetizingly sing about pork chops. Whether kindness, children and a true soulmate overrules the Mary Poppins of the barfly crowd, or if the whole thing can be written off for the chance to watch hot dogs spin at a stand. Homer is not a complicated man, but he is a big one, filled with fried food and heartbreak. Homer makes amends, but he is blameless because he is clueless. This usually works for him, as his cluelessness is his one great superpower. It’s saved him from an unknown quantity of calamity.
In the past, Homer was more self-conscious of the temptations. He really isn’t a witting partner tonight. He almost exhibits a thoughtful obstinacy, it takes so long to register. This robs the episode of friction, and tips the balance. It turns Lily into more of a predator than she needs to be, but it also makes it all the more predictable. “The 7 Beer Itch” is loaded with funny lines and sight gags, but it doesn’t cover up how many times they’ve given us this premise. They can dress it up with a British accent, but it offers a performus interruptus payoff.