This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 32 Episode 13
The Simpsons Season 32, episode 13, “Wad Goals,” pays homage to the screwball comedy golf classic Caddyshack. More than homage, it takes a full lipped sycophantic approach which some might consider over clubbing. But it’s not a Mulligan. The story line is very different. The similarities lie in the lessons learned, and unlearned, which resonate like “the force in the universe that makes things happen when you be the ball.” Bart and Millhouse get jobs as caddies, and brown their noses on the green.
The episode begins with what is becoming an increasingly alarming trend. Ralph Wiggum, the not-so-bright son of the almost equally dense Police Chief, appears to be off whatever meds he should be on. Ralph’s fantasias have been showcased from the earliest episodes where he remembers dreams were where his other lives were. Back then it was a place where he was a Viking and doctors didn’t tell him he wouldn’t have so many nose bleeds if he didn’t keep his finger in it. Now, he’s leading the Happy Parade on Parade Day.
Ralph is being led by an imaginary friend, and doesn’t realize his visions are not in the same reality as reality. Past imaginary friends, like a particularly memorable Leprechaun, have advised him to do things like burn down houses. His newfound reality, and his imaginative retelling, is far more fantastic and perilous. He doesn’t find a choo-choo, a 10 foot tall dog or a nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards behind the great green wall. He finds a playground with tiny cars, Easter eggs and men in clown pants.
The fact is, the golf course which Ralph uncovers is a true wonder because it is one of Springfield’s biggest secrets, up there with the Maison Derriere and whatever cathouse Grampa Simpson got shushed over. The only place most Springfieldians ever see golf courses are on commercials for pills which can help you get your life back. It’s also a place where Jimbo can learn extortion without bullying. You’ll notice none of Fat Tony’s gang partakes in golf.
Millhouse, being who he is, goes in thinking he’s got suck-up in his blood, but winds up misreading Burns with every syllable that comes out of his mouth. “Muzzle your nonsense, imbecile,” Burns finally says, which may be one of the kindest things ever said to Millhouse. Principal Skinner, we later find, is equally challenged when it comes to clubbing. His own mother decides not to play rather than have him as a caddy. Bart is luckier, hauling bags for Kent Brockman, local newscaster and easy money for a kid who knows how to stroke an overfed ego. This isn’t the first time Bart’s used flattery. He’s been turning on fake charm since Lunch Lady Doris was doling out spicy mac and cheese. This is a better pay grade.
Bart’s first lesson is “the best money is peeled off a wad of dollar bills,” which gives the episode its title. It’s fair that Bart becomes a suck-up. He going to have to talk to parole officers in a few years. And Homer is correct when he says this is probably the most legal job Bart’s ever going to get. But before he gets systematically penalized, Homer establishes the rules in biting commentary. Years ago, everybody got together and decided the American way was that all the money goes to a few dozen families and a few of their friends. What makes it more scathing is how blatantly true it is and how easily it is accepted. It’s a joke and we’re the punchline.
Marge, of course, doesn’t remember that and Julie Kavner cuts her own comic timing. The scene where she is trying to get Lisa’s attention is classic Simpsons. No words are needed, just a few grunts and low-lying hair. Everything she’s ever scolded Bart about is in peril. It’s also telling how Lisa agrees. She wants to go after golf for its history of racism and sexism and its unfair tax advantages.
Marge is more concerned with the lousy sandwiches which are obviously catered, in spite of how much Kent goes on about Ramon’s martinis. One thing we know about Marge is she never backs down. She’s taken on the Krustylu studios, obesity, bootleg designer jeans, and Montgomery Burns himself. It all comes together for Bart, who realizes that’s why she still married to Homer.
It is funny, but fairly expected, to learn Homer pads his wad with non-static dryer sheets. He might not have to if he didn’t keep blowing his money on dryer sheets. “I’m not the father you thought you married,” Homer confesses in a classic Simpsonian breakdown, which is one of the short-gag highlights of the episode. Homer is no fool. He knows Marge only wants him to listen and not actually solve her problems.
The entire episode is loaded with social commentary. Marge titles her anti-golf petition “Stop coddling the SJWs,” which she doesn’t know stands for Social Justice Warriors. Lisa has to explain that social justice warriors are what the right calls anyone who wants positive change. Marge might have guessed if she read the fine print Lisa put into the petition, which included such items as “Let eight-year-old boys join the Peace Corps.” The petition gets a million signatures because the right misinterprets it, which is again something we can expect. One of the best responses to the online petition is a call to change the Second Amendment to the First.
Stephen Root as Bildorf is no Ted Knight, though he radiates just as much entitlement and vindictive privilege. He even steals the best idea since putting little whales on khakis. Declaring golf courses as religious houses of worship is a comic hole in one. Golf have mercy on us all.
The Golf Commandments are something to behold if you can freeze frame them, keeping holy days like Masters Sunday; imparting sacred secrets, like honoring thy wife up to the point of tee time. As a religion, it checks all the boxes on the clipboards of the assembled religious leaders, who go there with the intent of looking down on a new religion but come around to the allure of the snack shop buffalo wings, and loosened membership restrictions. All are welcome and it’s only a $25,000 initiation. We can tell it’s got the okay of the major religions when it all turns out to be a sex cult.
At its heart “Wad Goals” is akin to The Seduction of Mimi. Bart gets the good gig, winning the acclaim and good graces of his peers, wards off the invading socialist forces by invoking God, alienates his friends with Ayn Randian discouragements, and wins them back with dirt bike class warfare. Ralph even gets to play the gopher, unearthing prime putting spots to the tune of “I’m Alright” by Kenny Loggins, the theme to Caddyshack.
“Wad Goals” aims at too many targets and spends some time in the rough. The arc is timed out perfectly and Bart’s corruption and redemption resonates. There are plenty of quick and subliminal visual gags, and the pacing altogether is quick. But it doesn’t land as many solid laughs. The sex cult payoff is a little too pat, in spite of how unexpected it is. It’s almost like a short cut. Maybe the problem is golf. It’s not as exciting as even tennis. The Simpsons does a good job showing how it as one of the ultimate uneven playing fields, the commentary is pointed but the satire is just under par.