45. Flaming Moe’s

"And happiness/Is just a Flaming Moe's away..."

“And happiness/Is just a Flaming Moe away…”

  • First broadcast: Thursday 21 November 1991, Fox Television
  • First shown on UK terrestrial television: Monday 17 March 1997, BBC2
  • Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss
  • First draft: Robert Cohen
  • Writing staff: Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky, George Meyer, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, Jeff Martin, David Stern
  • Storyboard: Raymie Muzquiz
  • Animation directors: Rich Moore and Alan Smart

Two close friends who have known each other for years come up with a product that becomes a popular sensation and which takes the country by storm. The pair stand to make millions from their creation until they fall out over who should take the most credit and how the profits should be divided. An almighty dispute breaks out, leading to rancour and a dramatic parting of the ways. But enough about The Simpsons’ co-founders Matt Groening and Sam Simon.

Plot
Two close friends who have known each other for years come up with a product that becomes a popular sensation and which takes the country by storm. You know the rest, and to what extent real life inspired the events of this episode is a matter for other people’s memoirs. Simon is dead; it’s now only Groening who gets to shepherd The Simpsons up and down (mostly down) history’s barometer. This episode will outlast even his attempts to grind the show’s reputation into the dust, however. It compresses into 22 frantic minutes all of the things The Simpsons had learned to do best and permits no room for the worst. The rise and fall of the Flaming Moe drink, and Homer and Moe’s concurrent sulk-off over who is most responsible for its success, is one of the programme’s finest capers so far and is stout enough to survive even a gratuitous cameo and a lousy ending. 9

Characters
Had Moe been depicted here as someone without any charm whatsoever, let alone any grace, it goes without saying his outrageous behaviour would render this episode rotten. Instead his flaws – and there are a lot of them – are tempered with a sort of crabby, accident-prone cowardice that leaves him more pantomime villain than diabolical mastermind. He seems always so panicked by his own behaviour, teetering on the edge of despair at his own good fortune then overplaying his hand at exactly the wrong moment. Plus he’s ultimately a man with a very lowly station in life. He keeps a glass eye in his lost property box, spent his last $10,000 on a Love Tester machine, and carries on with women as if the American version of our own Timothy Lumsden:

Moe [after bedding his glamorous new female bartender Collette]: Now that’s what I call a happy hour!
Collette: Maurice, something troubles me.
Moe: Don’t worry baby, my mother won’t be home for another 20 minutes.

In later years Moe, like Homer, would suffer from being portrayed as vindictively stupid rather than comically thoughtless. For now both characters are their own worst enemy, digging their own holes then failing to understand why others prefer to overlook their plight and have a good time. Witness Homer’s delightful rage when Bart parades around the house wearing a T-shirt with the logo ‘I Got Toasted At Flaming Moe’s’. 9

Locations and design
Moe’s bar gains a good few dozen more metres of floor space when it transforms itself into Flaming Moe’s, enough to encompass both a salad bar and a stage with full amplification system. Thankfully it still never quite manages to shake off its familiar look of architecture in mourning. The drink itself is the colour of startled prune juice. It might not look particularly unusual these days, but remember this was the early 90s when the world knew alcohol mainly as a beverage of muted hues rather than fluorescent horror. A special mention too for the calling card of Tipsy McStagger’s Good Time Drinking and Eating Emporium:

moe4

“There is no Tipsy McStagger,” its vice-president tells Moe, “he’s just a composite of other successful logos.” 7

Pardon My Zinger
Bart’s not got a huge amount to do in this episode, but he does get to demonstrate to his class how his father is the real inventor of the Flaming Moe. “Bart, are those liquor bottles?” yelps Mrs Krapappel. “I brought enough for everybody,” reassures Bart. There’s a vintage switcheroo when Bart rings up Moe and asks for “Hugh Jass” only for your actual Hugh Jass to answer the phone. “I’ll level with you, this is a crank call that sort of backfired,” Bart admits before hanging up. “Better luck next time,” replies Mr Jass, adding to no one in particular: “What a nice young man”. Homer spends almost the entire story in a rage, but the right kind of rage: amusingly over-the-top. He is appalled equally at the sight of Patti’s unshaven leg (“that hairy yellow drumstick!”) as the Flaming Moe promotional tie-ins: “If there were any justice, MY face would be on a bunch of crappy merchandise” (you can bet Sam Simon had fun seeing Matt Groening’s reaction to that one). Moe doesn’t get many zingers, his predicament supplying most of the laughs. But he does get to yell “Do you know how much of my blood and sweat are in this drink?” prompting the entire bar to spit out their mouths and for Moe to add hastily: “Figure of speech!” 7

Special guests
Aerosmith are the first band to appear in The Simpsons as themselves. They turn up, do The Song, say a few lines then disappear. They don’t bring anything special to the episode and could have been substituted for any other rock group. They symbolise the show’s increasing tendency to use guests not as characters but as themselves, and for the purpose of padding out rather than advancing the plot. In 1991 their appearance was a great publicity coup for both the band and the programme; in retrospect it marks the beginning of 25-year (and counting) parade of musical cameos, hardly any of which have contributed a crotchet’s worth of substance. 2

[insert generic rock band here]

[insert generic rock band here]

Music
Aside from the inevitable burst of Walk This Way, Aerosmith are also heard over the end credits performing Young Lust. If you like their music you’ll be thrilled; if not you’ll be lunging for the mute button. Alf Clausen gets two chances to shine: once during a montage showing the ascent of Moe’s bar into the celebrity stratosphere, which is scored to pounding brass and drums; and then again during Homer’s delirium (see below). But the highlight of the episode by a long way occurs at the start of act three, when a pastiche of the opening titles to Cheers is accompanied by a parody of the show’s theme Where Everybody Knows Your Name, beautifully and meticulously composed by Simpsons writer Jeff Martin. 7

Cue the piano

Cue the piano

Voices
Hank Azaria plays Moe with more energy and at a higher pitch than in later seasons. This version certainly suits the episode’s tempo along with this defiantly peppy incarnation of his character. He’s matched at all levels by Dan Castellaneta, who’s required to push Homer to new heights of sarcasm (“Oooooh, look at me! I’m making people happy!”) and also to melodrama, when Homer exacts his revenge on Moe by revealing the drink’s secret ingredient while standing in the rafters of the bar in delightfully over-the-top Phantom of the Opera-style histrionics. 8

Animation direction
So often in The Simpsons a high standard of plot and characterisation can inspire equally lofty quality of animation, and it’s definitely the case here. Two directors worked on this episode and it shows, from little touches such as Bart hiding behind a paper bag that is shaped like his own head:

moe5

moe6

– to more extravagant sequences such as Moe lighting an entire row of drinks with a blowtorch:

moe7

A third director, David Silverman, helped shape one of the best scenes, where Homer leaps and prances around the bedroom during his “making people happy” speech:

magical

“I’m the magical man from happy land!”

As for the sequence where Homer fantasises the entire town has assumed Moe’s likeness, rarely has The Simpsons managed to fashion something so triumphantly disturbing. 9

All work and Moe plays makes Moe a Moe Moe

All work and Moe play makes Moe a Moe Moe

"HI HOMER!"

“HI HOMER!”

Homages, spoofs, fantasies
The episode opens with one of its strongest spoofs to date. Eye on Springfield is a spot-on pastiche of the sort of noisy, trashy current affairs programmes we’ve never really had over here but which are rampant – then as now – in the US. “We watch Springfield’s oldest man meet Springfield’s fattest man!” booms an excitable Kent Brockman.

moe2

The programme’s titles are packed with gratuitous shots of breasts and bikinis and Kent being discovered doing various “wacky” things, plus an update on The Great Springfield Tyre Yard Fire:

"Twenty-five years and still going strong!"

“Twenty-five years and still burning strong!”

and “An elephant who never forgets… to brush!” Along with the parody of the opening titles of Cheers, Moe’s assistant Collette is based on the show’s character Diane Chambers. There are some lovely touches in the animation during the Phantom homage:

"FOOLS!"

“FOOLS!”

As an added bonus there’s a North by Northwest spoof when Bart tries to flee the antics of Lisa and her slumber party friends. 9

"Run for it, boy!"

“Run for it, boy!”

Emotion and tone
As with all Simpsons capers, the heightened sense of reality and frenetic pace make it hard to feel much in the way of emotion. Even Moe and Homer’s spiciest rows are played more for spectacle than pathos. Come the anti-climactic ending, Moe shows absolutely no sign of holding a grudge against Homer for blowing the secret of their drink and losing both of them them chance of sharing a million dollars. This just makes the entire story feel even more like a hiccup in reality that never really threatened to disturb the order of the Simpsons universe. 6

Verdict: 73%
Moe would never be quite this likeable again.

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