This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 33 Episode 11
After a three-episode, one of them a two-parter, rally of undisputed heavyweight wins, The Simpsons fail to cover the spread. Season 33 episode 11 “The Longest Marge,” is loaded with cynicism, bad sportsmanship, and subversive scrimmages, but the usually reliable, and equally economical, Monty Burns is shaving points. This is what earned Burt Reynolds the bad rep which preceded his character Paul “Wrecking” Crewe in the prison football classic comedy The Longest Yard, and it costs the installment the game ball.
The premise is solid. Mr. Burns backs a rookie football bad boy, Grayson Mathers, voiced by Beck Bennett, as the perfect spokesman to turn his sipping brandy into a guzzling brandy in an effort to increase sales. The hard-living image destroys the player on the field, and only Marge feels sorry enough to take care of him. Hilarity should ensue. It’s an almost guaranteed game plan. Episodes which pit Marge and Burns as adversaries are traditionally among the funniest. But she doesn’t serve him his own three-eyed fish tonight.
The episode opens with an expectant but ambiguous air. Sector 7G is empty. The entire nuclear plant appears deserted. Is it a disaster? No, the Springfield Atoms, one of the worst football teams in whatever league it is that would have them, had their worst season. They went 0 and 17, intentionally losing their way to the bottom so they could get the top rookie picks for the new season. And their prize, Grayson, looks like the start of a winning football dynasty. While this appears on the surface to be a masterfully cynical maneuver, it is really funny because it should be true. This mini-subplot could have been an episode.
The episode has fun with football. The bit about all the opposing players quitting their team to join the Canadian Football League is funny, but also poignant when you realize they are giving up fair catches. The Sportwardies sequence is a fairly accurate sendup of most awards in general, not just sports. But the categories, like worst contract, appalling owner’s lifetime achievement award, and biggest entourage, work as easy field goals. Adam Schefter plays himself in the episode. John Mulaney plays Warburton Parker. Both add to the breathless excitement of sports fanatic authenticity which Grayson tosses off for soft body soap.
The best game commentary is when Grayson tells Marge his own very twisted backstory, which, again, is probably funnier because it should be true. There should be a football academy to snatch up young Texans while they are still in the development stage and train them in an all-football environment until legal age to play. It would work, and the proof is that the players get into Alabama Tech with degrees in Communications. It is perfect Simpsons logic in an imperfect world. It also may be one of their predictions which will come true. So, when Grayson comes to play for Springfield, he is truly off the right farm.
The fans’ reactions to the rookie star player are very well played. The first thing the Springfield Nuclear Plant workers do is throw a victory riot which makes Philadelphia football fans look like croquet enthusiasts. The player, Grayson, distinguishes himself immediately. “I do me,” he declares at his acceptance press conference, and then proudly presents himself as the most willfully uninformed individual on the grid. Bennett captures the arrogance, and the writers skewer his comments to make this tip into Semi-Tough territory.
The football star is cringingly self-incriminating about just about every topic he can spike, although he does apologize to Peyton Manning for calling him a chicken fried Frankenstein. Grayson will go on to brag about conspicuous displays of vulgar wealth, like his six matching Ferraris, while tauntingly admitting he’s never been inside a school in his life to earn them. It is no wonder Mr. Burns has an affinity with him. But once the money and the friendly hugs get confused, the suspense actually shows its first signs of flagging. Burns’ inner turmoil between seeing Grayson as a pigskin-throwing commodity or some kind of heirloom apparent never rises to the tortuous levels it needs for classic Simpsons.
Homer’s poetic waxing over the football player, however, is inspired. As consistently as it is delivered, it is consistently surprising how he is sometimes written as being barely articulate and yet has such amazing depth and eloquent insight when needed. He digs a shallow grave when Grayson fumbles, though, as a bookmark to the spoiled promise. The bad boy football star who only drinks brandy has an effective downward arc, even letting cockroaches loose in Springfield Elementary School, and the pressure of letting down an entire town makes for the kind of twisted redemption story worthy of a Lurleen Lumpkin.
This gives Marge a real chance to shine. She is America’s most representational mother, and regardless of how enabling she is to Homer, she’s a very effective deterrent with Grayson. She gets an apology out of him within moments inserting herself into his life. Some of Marge’s observations, such as how both Homer and Grayson each need 9000 calories a day to live, are classic throwaways. Just when we think Homer and Grayson might be alike, though, we see them in the shower together in a very subtle, but absurdly effective sight gag.
The bonding in the family is done with a deft balance between humor and sweetness. Lisa improves Grayson’s dishwasher-loading skills by showing him video playbacks, and Bart of course, is the inside source to the sports reporters. It is all commentary, and yet builds into the central anguish of the athlete at the center. It appears he really was damaged by not having a real family. We know his game is going to be better, but the idea that it is messing with the real game is still too vaguely drawn to feel dangerous.
The high point of the episode is Mr. Burns’ realization his protégé has been ruined: “Marge Simpson, what have you done?” While his voice is flagging and his demeanor slightly flattened, Mr. Burns can still infuse a scene with his presence. Pairing them as opposing parental figures, with the young athlete as the nurturing versus natural ordering prodigal son at the center is an unusual choice, but should have gone farther to nail the joke and the tension.
“The Longest Marge” ultimately plays too safe a game to do a victory dance in the end zone. It works on every level, but not quite hard enough. There are excellent individual gags, exchanges, and visual puns. The premise, promise and preface set up all the makings of a killer payoff, and then it cops out with a boozy Parent Trap scenario which doesn’t quite satisfy. The installment almost pulls off a seditious treat when Grayson throws it all away for his trophy future wife Kaitlin, the guru of a faith-based yogurt yoga chain which you eat while doing yoga. It is only a tease, however, to the savage satire which could have been delivered. One Hail Mary pass should have done it.