In the early days of The Simpsons, comedian and filmmaker Albert Brooks (Lost In America, Defending Your Life, Finding Nemo) made numerous guest appearances as a voice actor that would go on to become some of the most memorable one-off characters in the show’s history.
One of those roles– namely Jacques, the French bowling instructor who first put the moves on Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner) in the first-season installment “Life On the Fast Lane”– made his return tonight, and in his tenth total appearance on the series (including playing the main villain in the 2007 big-screen outing The Simpsons Movie) Brooks proved that after 34 years he still has the chops of a top-tier guest performer on the long-running animated sitcom.
This new episode, entitled “Pin Gal” (itself a play on the name of Homer’s bowling team the Pin Pals, established back in the beloved seventh-season episode “Team Homer”) opens with Homer discovering via the local Springfieldian news broadcast that Barney’s Bowlarama has been sold to the hipster character named Terrence (Portlandia’s Fred Armisen, also returning to a preexisting Simpsons character, though this one has only been around for a decade), who plans to turn it into a coffee shop without bowling. Naturally the Pin Pals– currently made up of Homer (Dan Castellaneta), Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria), Lenny (Harry Shearer) and Carl (Alex Désert)– are upset about their favorite pastime and hangout (outside of Moe’s Tavern, that is) going away, (I love Homer’s line here, “Why do all the places that nobody goes to anymore keep shutting down?”) so they beg Terrence to give them a week to turn the business around. After Homer’s various efforts to do so fail, including locking customers into the Bowlarama– which he says the fire department frowns upon– he convinces a reluctant Marge to join him for an all-night bowling marathon. And Homer is shocked and delighted to find that Marge is actually extremely good at the indoor sport, though she is scared he might find out the real reason why. But when Terrence presents them with a challenge: if Marge can beat a professional bowler, the alley will stay open– Homer surprises his wife by bringing in a coach (the aforementioned Jacques) to help solidify her game before the match.
During their first training session the next day, Grampa Simpson (also Castellaneta) notices that Jacques is bad news before Homer does, but Marge isn’t having any of the Frenchman’s touchy-feely nonsense either– though Jacques swears he’s only interested in Marge for professional reasons this time around. This all builds to a confrontation in Jacques’ bachelor apartment, where it’s revealed that he is in fact still obsessed with Marge romantically, but Homer and Marge are of course able to overcome his unwelcome intrusion into their marriage. Then they find out that the professional bowler Marge is intended to play against was intended to be Jacques all along, so she must put her emotional frustration aside and win against the man who has caused her so much irritation. There’s a great montage in here of many of the times Marge has been disappointed in Homer’s behavior to the point where she almost questioned their relationship, which went a long way in softening the blow of that too-often-repeated storyline. I also got a kick out of Homer’s daydreaming that his life– and the Bowlarama– more closely resembled The Flintstones, not to mention the fact that “Pin Gal” pays off a dangling plot thread (if there is such a thing in The Simpsons) from well over three decades ago. Overall I thought this was a pretty fun episode with some solid gags throughout, and it probably goes without saying that the presence of Albert Brooks really elevated the proceedings. Outside of the main cast, I’d say Brooks, Joe Mantegna, and the late, great Phil Hartman absolutely belong in a Simpsons voice actor Hall of Fame, if there ever is one.
New episodes of The Simpsons air Sunday evenings on FOX.