The careless construction of latter-day Simpsons episodes is never more pronounced than in “Walking Big & Tall,” a slapdash amalgam of two marginally promising plots which would have benefitted from some room to breathe. Even more than the usual resulting thinness of main and sub-plot, “Walking Big & Tall” sets up one A-story and simply abandons it in favor of another, the baffling result of which is a confused two-headed monster of an episode whose flashes of amusement wither under the latter plot’s mean-spirited succession of fat jokes.
In the first, better, plot, the people of Springfield discover that their beloved town anthem (we’ve never heard of such a thing before, but that’s fine) was actually purchased from a traveling music salesman by Hans Moleman—who was the mayor 30 years ago! There’s no reason to quibble on the Moleman continuity here—he’s been an old man, a prematurely aged guy in his 20s, so I’ll allow it. Especially since there’s no reason why it has to be Moleman who bought the anthem, and no memorable jokes come from the decision. But there’s a lovely silliness to the song (most memorably the couplet “Of all the cities on the map-y/ You’re the one that makes me happy”), and the montage of assembled Springfieldians singing it over the ensuing decades builds up a storytelling richness that the rest of the episode seems poised to continue. Unfortunately, the anthem plot gets wrapped up at about the ten-minute mark, when Lisa and Bart team up to debut a new anthem. Again, the Lisa and Bart plot is promising, before the episode rushes past it.
For one thing, it’s always nice to see the Simpsons siblings team up, and the rationale here that Bart’s gift for insulting wordplay makes him a human rhyming dictionary helps to make the pairing make sense. And the song they eventually come up with is well-done, too, passing the storytelling hurdle of appearing to come from the characters’ (especially Lisa’s) world view. It’s a touching song in its own way, especially when performed by the town’s kids, its theme of accepting your home town’s faults (many, many faults, in Springfield’s case) because you’re stuck with it both defeatist and sweetly generous. Hearing Yeardley Smith and Nancy Cartwright (and the rest) singing in their childlike voices about making do with a town whose claim to fame is that it’s only ever had one hurricane and no circus fires for three months is a little heartbreaking, even as their song so moves the town’s adults with civic pride that they give their triumphant children a standing ovation.
And then Homer gets stuck in his seat because he’s so fat and wrecks the joint trying to free himself.
The second story is all about Homer finding a fat person rights group (led by the scooter-bound Albert, and voiced by the always impressive Kevin Michael Richardson), and he and Marge fighting about Homer suddenly being proud of being fat. And then Albert dies of a heart attack when he demonstrates that being fat is beautiful by standing up from his scooter. There’s no reason why this plot couldn’t work, except that, here, it’s all too rushed, leaving nothing to chew on but a lot of very obvious, mean-spirited fat jokes. When Homer goes to Moe’s with a spiral notebook full of all the jokey fat guy names his friends aren’t supposed to use any more, the list is funny, sure, but its bulletin board insult gags rob the whole fat acceptance plot of any reason to exist except as another slap at fat people.
There are hints that the episode (credited to Michael Price) has more to say about the “Over-Feeders Anonymous” group (which includes Comic Book Guy, naturally), but the truncated time allotted to it makes it nothing but a parade of cheap jokes. Richardson, as ever, brings a booming gravitas to Albert, and his statement that his ampleness is a function of his philosophy “What’s the point of a long life if it’s not enjoyed?” has the kernel of a theme that could have been fleshed out at full length. But then he stands up for the first time, dies, his ashes fill up nine urns and a flour sack, and Homer discovers to his horror that Albert was only 23 before berating his fellow fatties that they should go to the gym once in a while. And while Homer and Marge’s reconciliation, walking home from the funeral home, is similarly sweet, with Marge echoing Albert’s sentiment, saying she loves Homer “because everything you love, you love so much.” That leads to another sweet little montage, with Homer, having promised to continue yo-yo dieting for her until he gets it right, walking hand-in-hand with Marge over the decades at various weights (and inexplicable deformities). Again, it’s sweet, but too little, too late in service of a story that never gets on its feet.
- Other Springfield facts revealed in Lisa and Bart’s song: the library was shut down, there’s a huge sinkhole somewhere in town, #Springfieldpride has never trended, and the town’s been smallpox-free for seven whole years.
- Plus, the library was apparently popularly known as the “think hole.”
- Preparing to write their song, Bart calls back to his other big song, questioning why his parents let a mental patient who claimed to be Michael Jackson spend the night in his bedroom. “Simpler times,” explains Homer. Indeed.
- The Pharrell Williams joke was funny enough, as such things go, with Mayor Quimby rejecting his offer to write a new anthem, saying, “I’m sorry everyone, but an eight-year-old girl got there first.”
- Grandpa and Maggie share a meal of “baby’s first peaches” and “senior’s last peaches.”
- Bart comparing his and Lisa’s brother-sister teamwork to “Andy and Lana Wachowski” seems like a supportive, rather than belittling, reference.
- Homer on Marge’s objection to his colonic and juice cleanse diet plan: “It’s not about health, Marge. It’s about going crazy.”
- “You know, I’ve always wanted to blindly follow somebody…”
- Hank Azaria’s fat-shaming clothing store clerk states, “Every girl should look like a sexy praying mantis from Milan whose hips are narrower than an Italian parliamentary majority,” a bit whose elaborateness is sold by the long inhale he takes right after.
- “You’re forgetting about America’s greatest wheelchair-bound wartime leader—Professor X of the X Men!”
- We’ll just call the final scene featuring a RoboCop Bart with Milhouse’s jugged head in his torso an alternate reality, shall we?