The newest member of the Pin Pals, Dan (Steve Carrell), is an accountant for the Mafia who is briefly put in charge while Fat Tony is busy with jury duty. The boss demands that he balance the mob’s books, even if that means letting some people go, so to speak. Meanwhile, Lisa develops an iron deficiency from her vegetarianism and takes to eating insects.
Celebrity guests on The Simpsons long ago ceased to be a big event, and if anything, they now make me brace myself for an episode revolving around the guest turning up in Springfield and/or becoming pals with one of the Simpsons for no real reason. Steve Carrell’s character avoids this, by and large, but it’s not because of terribly strong writing, but rather some strange choices. Carrell isn’t playing himself, which I think is actually a good move, but he just kind of……turns up.
Carrell’s storyline is largely divorced from the goings-on of the Simpson family. While Springfield is certainly home to a large and varied cast of secondary and tertiary characters, having the entire A-plot hinge on the guest character is quite a gamble. That’s not to say you can’t do an episode about Fat Tony or Otto or the Sea Captain, but the difference there is we’d seen those characters and gotten to know them before they’re turned loose on their own, as it were. With Dan, he’s just a one-off character the audience doesn’t have that sort of attachment to.
Other shows have pulled this kind of thing off quite well indeed, and Steve Carrell is a funny guy who makes this particular story work. Both his initial fear of the mob characters and his later alpha-dog attitude towards them lead to some quite funny gags helped along by Carrell’s delivery. When he finally does share significant screen time with Homer, I was quite impressed with the rapport he had with Dan Castellaneta. We got bondage jokes and a wonderful scene of Homer and Dan squabbling over a gun.
This conclusion of this storyline is also quite clever. Outside of the Halloween episodes The Simpsons isn’t really one to have a high body count, and so of course Dan’s not going to kill a bunch of mobsters. However, his solution of the mafia only getting one gun between them is really rather wonderful.
Meanwhile, Lisa’s story was also pretty intriguing, though more from a meta point of view. She passes out at the school concert due to an iron deficiency. She can’t stomach the iron supplements Dr Hibbert gives her, and so Lunchlady Doris gets her eating bugs instead. It’s kind of a stupid idea, really, but I was curious to see just where this idea was going.
I was a little concerned they were going to make Lisa a carnivore once again. One of Paul McCartney’s stipulations when appearing in the episode where she gives up meat was that Lisa would remain a vegetarian thereafter. At this point, it’s become quite ingrained in her character.
I was glad that Lisa brought up the promise both she and the production staff had made all those years ago. I suspect that line was in there quite purposely to placate folks like me. Of course, by the end of the episode she’s back to not eating meat at all, though there’s no mention of if she’s gonna suck it up and take the supplements or if she’s found another solution. I would almost have preferred if Lisa’s story was the A plot, but as it is, it’s some harmless fun.
This episode isn’t spectacular, but you’ll have some laughs for half an hour. It’s pretty middle of the road, but that should stop you from enjoying yourself. There’s nothing offensively bad, and it contains one of the best and most well-used guest stars The Simpsons has had recently.