92. Homer the Vigilante

(originally aired January 6, 1994)
All through this season we’ve seen Homer take a drastic turn from his previous sadsack demeanor into something of a raving lunatic. The bumbling, but earnest and well-meaning father seems to have been replaced by a selfish, obnoxious, self-satisfying jackass. However, one must always look at the context. When you have characters as rich as the Simpsons, one can wax and wane their personalities to fit the story, allowing certain aspects of them to shine and take the helm. With “Homer Goes to College,” we saw his flagrant desire to emulate pop culture in becoming a loudmouth party animal. “Boy Scoutz N the Hood” illuminated Homer’s penchant for childish teasing and torment, a bit less effective. In “Homer the Vigilante,” Homer is a petulant, power-hungry lout who functions purely on impulse. The idea of a neighborhood watch taking things too far is present, but the proper motivations for Homer’s actions don’t seem to sink that deep into his thick noggin, leading some of his behavior to be… kinda dickish.

The crisis starts after a wave of break-ins courtesy of the Springfield Cat Burglar. When local law enforcement seems to be ineffective (as usual,) a neighborhood watch program is instigated, with Homer volunteering to lead it. Before this point, we have a bevy of great jokes involving the town protecting themselves, like Frink’s moving house and a paranoid Apu shooting down customers from the parking lot (“Thank you for coming! I’ll see you in Hell!”) Homer is pretty much elected thanks to an already whooped-up crowd, but you’d think his actions would cause some dissonance in the organization. Some, like Moe, may just go along with harassing everyday Joes, but Apu? Principal Skinner? They may be Homer’s old BeSharps buddies, but they’re much more level-headed and respectful. And what about Flanders? He pretty much disappears after the reigns of the watch group are taken from him. I think an internal clashing of the group would have made more sense, and given Homer more of a reason to fight.

There’s also a soft-spoken theme where Grampa’s help is continuously denied, as the masses seem to agree old people are useless… at least until he discovers the identity of the cat burglar: his retirement home neighbor Molloy, smoothly voiced by Sam Neill. It’s first brought up after the rage of enthusiasm after Homer is elected and people get behind him, and then it all kind of stops to introduce this plot angle that we know will culminate in the end. I dunno, it didn’t work for me. But this whole episode could have been garbage and still would have been saved by the It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World ending. It fits perfectly with the blind mob mentality of the town that they would be fooled like that, creating a frenzy of people looking for a big T, only to ultimately be bamboozled as Molloy used this opportunity to escape for prison. This episode’s got some problems, but it works for the most part, and has enough classic, funny parts to keep it going.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening robbery sequence is full of jokes: Molloy going for his lock pick, then realizing Homer’s left his keys in the door, subduing Santa’s Little Helper and Homer with sausage links, replacing Bart’s portable TV with a book “Coping with Loss,” and removing Marge’s pearls, revealing deep imprints on her neck (she later reveals she has hundreds of them, all family heirlooms.) Bart also had his stamp collection stolen, a fact the family openly mocks him for, as well as Nelson, who calls in for his “Ha-ha!” Flanders has his own woes, his Shroud of the Turin beach towels were stolen.
– Frink’s moving house is one of those great “Why?” jokes. Upon danger, the house sprouts robot legs to run to safety; the model version runs, then falls and bursts into flames. Little wooden people fall out of the door, also ablaze. Frink tries to cover himself, “The real humans won’t… burns so quickly.” Why did he even put people in the model? Then in the next scene we see the house actually does exist as a full-size model runs away, and bursts into flames too. After seeing the prototype, why would anyone buy it?
– Lisa blowing the jug and Homer having a hoedown is a classic scene, as is the second time around when Homer is deep in thought (which is a hilarious drawing.)
– Nice tweak of the spinning newspaper (“Is Nothing Safe?”) to have the cat burglar steal that too.
– Love the timing of this scene: Homer runs through the code names (“we’ve got the secret vigilante handshake. Now we need code names. I’ll be Cue-Ball, Skinner can be Eight-Ball, Barney will be Twelve-Ball, and Moe, you can be Cue-Ball.”) Short beat. Moe replies, “You’re an idiot.”
– Dated MC Hammer reference, but I still really like the Rapmaster 2000 bit with all the kids dancing behind Homer.
– More great timing: on Smartline, Homer takes some heat, “Kent, I’d be lying if I said my men weren’t committing crimes.” Beat. Kent replies, “Touche.” Then there’s a phone call. “Well it looks like we have our first caller… and I mean ever, because this is not a call-in show.”
– Great newspaper the day after the burglary (“Zirconia Ztolen!”) with a drunken Homer as sub-headline.
– Abe’s got a few good moments in the third act gloating about how he solved the mystery (“So you see, old people aren’t so useless after all. Malloy’s old, and he outsmarted the lot of you. And I’m even older and I outsmarted him!”) He laughs, and Moe tells him to shut up. Abe meekly responds, “I’ve had my moment.”
– Molloy proves to be so charming that mob mentality almost urges to let him go. Oddly enough, Wiggum is nonplussed (“Gee, I really hate to spoil this little love-in, but Mr. Malloy broke the law. And when you break the law, you gotta go to jail.”) Enter Quimby: “Uh, that reminds me, er, here’s your monthly kickback.” Wiggum is not amused (“You just… you couldn’t have picked a worse time.”)
– Love all the different “big Ts”: the Big T Building, Big T Burgers and Fries, the Tea Factory, and the Big T Theater (featuring Ice T and Booker T). And we have some cameos from Mad World actors, most highlighted Phil Silvers drowning in his car, with Bart subbing as the kid in the film that told him it was shallow enough.
– Great outro line from Wiggum: “No, dig up, stupid!” And the Mad World end title music is among my favorite variations on the end theme.

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5 responses to “92. Homer the Vigilante

  1. I think Apu and Skinner’s participation makes perfect sense, because it’s all about how they got corrupted with power. I think a lot of sensible people could easily get drunk on authority and start doing stuff like that, especially if they see others around them doing the same thing.

    • Also, Apu is big on self-defence, having been let down by the police force many times (“Crybaby!”), so taking the law into his own hands isn’t too much of a stretch.

      Seeing Ruth Powers in the “Neighborhood Watch-aroonie” scene adds to the disappointment that, as a guest voice, she couldn’t be given any larger roles after her two voiced appearances. It would have been cool to see that lady maverick as part of Homer’s vigilante group.

  2. Valerie Cunningham

    “– Love the timing of this scene: Homer runs through the code names (“we’ve got the secret vigilante handshake. Now we need code names. I’ll be Cue-Ball, Skinner can be Eight-Ball, Barney will be Twelve-Ball, and Moe, you can be Cue-Ball.”) Short beat. Moe replies, “You’re an idiot.””

    That part’s usually cut in syndication (on network TV. It’s uncut on DVD and the upcoming cable syndication and Internet streaming).

  3. And as for your Grandma, she shouldn’t have mouthed off like that.

  4. I love this exchange between Lisa and Homer: “Can’t you see you’re abusing your power like all vigilantes? I mean, if you’re the police, who’s going to police the police?” “I’unno. Coast Guard?”

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