The Simpsons “Pulpit Friction” Review

the simpsons credits

Church episodes aren’t always the easiest thing for me to discuss because as a godless heathen I simply feel rather far removed from churchgoing culture. My folks usually only remembered their faith on holidays or when they wanted to tell me all about how awful I am. I remember that I once escaped out the window of my bedroom on one of those churchier days.

When pop culture gives me a peek into that world it always feels more than a little strange. Sometimes I find the pomp and ceremony interesting, other times I end up feeling rather lost. I’m not gonna lie; when the episode was over I actually had to go look up what a deacon was.

Anyway! Despite my theological ignorance, the episode is really solid, so let’s move right along. I could be wrong, but I think for the first time, the couch gag was actually a real part of the episode. It kicks off the whole story really. The Simspons are skydiving, and they crash through the roof of their house onto the couch, destroying it.

The death of their much-beloved couch hits the family pretty hard, so they order a new one online. Homer in particular has a good moment where he kind of mimes sitting where the couch once was as though it were still there.

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24 years of loyal service comes to an end.
The new couch, alas and alack, has come from Brooklyn, and is teeming with bedbugs that waste no time in spreading all over town. Everyone holes up in the church and begin to argue. Lovejoy tries to get everyone to shut the fuck up, to no avail. In walks Edward Norton, a hip young priest who’s come in from Shelbyville. He quickly wins over the mob with a laid-back attitude and a whole big pile of pop culture references.

There’s another little sidestory for Marge and Lisa wherein they attempt to track down Marge’s missing wedding dress, lost in the confusion of the great bedbug purge. It’s not terrible, but it’s entirely unnecessary. It doesn’t really tie into the main plot, and it doesn’t really go much of anywhere. Odder still, it wraps itself up with at least another act to go, making the whole exercise feel even more pointless. It’s made entirely of unnecessary padding, just like my new bra.

I’m not sure I understand The Simpsons‘ apparent need to give each family member a storyline in every episode. Not every plot will require every character, and I think having said characters have minimal appearances that week is fine. Fabricating a B-plot so clearly tacked on as this does nothing more than waste time. Or am I talking out of my ass, here?

Lovejoy protests Edward Norton’s methods, since I guess religion isn’t supposed to be fun, but Norton’s got Springfield wrapped around his finger. Lovejoy falls out of favor and leaves the church, and starts selling hot tubs. It’s reasonably funny, but we don’t see a whole lot of it.  The focus is really on Homer becoming Edward Norton’s new deacon. As Bart says, he ends up acting like a fatter, more obnoxious version of Flanders.

Forgive me if I’m misremembering my Simpsons trivia, but aren’t Homer and Bart Catholic still? I seem to recall another charismatic young priest, played by Liam Neeson, getting the two to convert to Catholicism like ten years ago. Or did they undo that?

I guess it doesn’t matter.

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Bart gets sick of Homer and his sanctimonious shit real fast. He decides to un-Deacon him by causing some trademark mischief, and turns to another sanctimonius shit, Ned Flanders. Ned turns out to be worse than no help, so Bart goes to Milhouse instead. The two boys use the sacks of dead bedbugs to lead a whole army of frogs to descend on the church as darkness looms in the sky.

There’s a lot of really funny sight gags in this sequence, and doing it all set to the music from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice makes it even better. It just goes to show, sometimes you can go a minute or two without continual dialog and it’ll be for the better.

Speaking of needless pop culture references, let’s talk about Edward Norton’s character here. The Simpsons is often knocked for allowing references to override the show at times, so I think it’s a nice subversion of that expectation for Norton’s character to have his reference-spewing be an integral part of the plot. References are a garnish, and with no meat underneath, they make for a poor meal indeed. That’s why Norton’s character, hip and with-it and…..other young-person words as he is, he doesn’t have the substance to back it up in a crisis, and everyone sees through that.

Granted, Lovejoy isn’t exactly the wisest man on earth, but when he rolls through the church doors, safe from the deluge of frogs within his hot tub, and starts spouting actual scripture he’s welcomed back with open arms. He gives everyone the reassurance Norton was unable to provide.

So, Norton goes away, Lovejoy’s back, and Homer’s not a deacon anymore. Then he and Bart moon the Google van. THE STATUS QUO IS RESTORED. WOOHOO!

I have to give Bill Odenkirk props for this script because not only does the first act plot of the bedbug infestation not disappear into the ether in favor of Homer’s deaconship, but it acts as a throughline that runs through the entire episode and plays a part in the climax. The bedbugs also act as a mirror to the later frog plague, as both stories end with the townsfolk taking refuge in the church and a priest gaining favor by calming them down. Not to mention, the bedbugs take the place of the locusts as a plague preceding the frogs.

Aside from Marge and Lisa’s needless little adventure, “Pulpit Friction” is quite a solid episode. Good sight gags, clever jokes that nearly all hit their marks, and a plot that unfolds in a logical fashion. Plus, the episode plays with established formula in a couple ways without feeling like a parody, and that’s always interesting to see in a long running series. Good stuff!

More like this, FOX.

Rating Banner 3-5