The Simpsons: The Seemingly Never-Ending Story
I sacrificed my gorgeous body for nothing. This must be what it's like to have a baby. -Mr. Burns
After the first few years of The Simpsons, when it became clear that the show wasn't going to be going anywhere for awhile, it became necessary to focus on side characters for certain episodes. The family itself could carry most episodes, but for a show that's been on this long it makes sense to delve into the lives of the other characters once and a while and expand the Simpson's universe a little more, further stretching the "elastic reality" (to paraphrase Matt Groening) of the series.
Last night's episode utilized the same kind of fractured storyline used in other "experimental" episodes like "22 Short Films About Springfield" and "Trilogy of Error" while at the same time building a story that seemed to go nowhere around big players like Moe and Mr. Burns, as well as fringe characters like Snake and Rich Texan (one of my favorite Simpsons names). When the family becomes lost in a cave (and Homer stuck upside down in a hole) Lisa tells them the story of how she and Mr. Burns got trapped in his attic by an angry ram. This leads to Mr. Burns telling the story of how he once worked for Moe, which leads to a story about Moe stealing gold coins from Snake, and etc etc etc.
I watched the episode twice, which I think is necessary for any episode of The Simpsons if you really want to catch everything. Focusing on one side character, or a relationship between two side characters can be a welcome respite from stories that always revolve around the family, but I start getting wary when they try to toss in too many fringe characters. It wasn't a bad episode, and I liked the gimmick of layering one person's story onto another person's until the whole thing came full circle, but I'd be lying if I said the whole thing didn't play out like a series of vignettes that were too weak to support a whole episode on their own. At least we got to see Snake before he turned to a life of crime, and I liked the inside joke about Snake once being "Professor Jailbird," a sly reference to the fact that "Snake" was listed in scripts as "Jailbird" for the first few seasons. All in all, a decent episode, but nothing I can get too ecstatic over.