This episode does a great job on both of those fronts. In fact, while I tend to prefer episodes where Earl gets to cross something off his list, this episode would have been just fine if Earl hadn't been in it at all. I'm not sure I'd watch a show with Randy or Joy as the main character (although last week's My Name is Randy/Joy/Crabman sequences make me wonder), but they can each certainly hold their own in a fight. Or at least we know Joy can.
The best episodes of The Simpsons contain several layers, mixing the absurd and sophomoric with the heartfelt and sincere. Seventeen seasons down this long road with no forseeable end in sight, it's normal to catch an occasional episode where everything doesn't quite fit, even if some elements still work.
That's just my long-winded way of saying last night's episode didn't exactly rock my world, but there were parts I liked. As far as the "gags" they all pretty much left me cold. I don't think I had a single "laugh out loud" moment, though Homer going through a mill in the beginning in order to get his rubber duck back into a charity race was a fun bit of Chuck Jones-inspired insanity. Also, seeing the expressions of pure elation on the faces of Rod and Todd when they use a see-saw correctly for the first time was amusing. Bart's relationship with his surrogate monkey mother had several nice little subtleties, and I loved how easily he fell into the role of "son," immediately taking advantage of his fake mother's natural instinct.
At the heart of the episode was Marge and how she teaches Flanders and his two sons that it's okay to take risks and get hurt once and awhile. It's that element of humanity that's in all the best Simpsons episodes. Even if it was a bit weak in this instance, I'll call it okay but forgettable. Besides, next week is the Ricky Gervais episode, and I have slightly larger hopes for that one.
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