(originally aired May 19, 1996)
Serving as the “official” finale for the season, I’m sure it was highly advertised for its clientele of guest stars, including Cypress Hill, Peter Frampton and the Smashing Pumpkins. Gimmicky? A little bit, yes, but back in these days, major guest appearances mostly served as set dressing for a larger story, in this case Homer’s attempts to relive his carefree youth amongst a new generation. Previous episodes have shown some light on Homer’s arrested development, on how knocking up Marge forced him to make the leap from boy to man much quicker than he’d hoped. As such, he still considers himself a fun-loving party animal, even if he doesn’t party anymore, and also his idea of partying consisted of singing Bee Gees with Barney at his father’s house. He’s shocked to discover not only does he have no idea or interest in new alternative rock, but his kids think that he’s lame. To rebut, he gets them tickets to the hip music concert Hullabalooza.
For Homer, Hullabalooza is a strange new world, full of heavily disaffected teens who don’t want some old man cramping their nonconformist style. But fortunately for him, he finds a different avenue to make the scene, thanks to his seemingly iron clad stomach. A malfunctioning cannon shoots a compacted inflatable into his gut, and the crowd is shocked to find it didn’t affect him at all. With that, Homer is welcomed into the freak show, traveling town after town getting a cannonball right in the stomach. It’s an interesting way to get Homer to fit in, not really giving him a specific talent but highlighting his very high tolerance for pain, which we’ve seen plenty before, and we’ll see plenty onward. It isn’t long before all the stunts start taking his toll; tests show that his stomach is near demolished, and one more cannonball could kill him. Of course his next stunt is on home turf in Springfield, and seeing his family in the crowd, he dodges the shot at the last second, knowing that they’re too important to take the risk.
Digs at the then-current music scene act as lovely set dressing, between the highly commercialized music festival to the hilarious animation of the diehard fans slowly swaying to the beat, looking absolutely uninterested, because that’s how the cool kids act. When he has the will, Homer is a man full of energy, and this is just not his crowd. The scene where he dares to address one of them and the crowd turns on him in rapid succession is so well timed, with accusations piling on and the tension building up until they throw him out. The guest stars have their moments, some better than others, but overall all fine; particularly great is Peter Frampton, who always seems to be irate about something, and Cypress Hill, who have a great scene whispering to each other wondering if they ordered a classical orchestra whilst under the influence. There’s also some neat direction in showing Homer’s stunts, coming up with different ways to shoot Homer getting shot at over and over again. In the end, no lesson has really been learned on what it means to be cool, as if you’re an adult, there’s just no pleasing the younger generation. That’s just the way it is.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Fantastic opening sequence where a daydreaming Otto drives the bus into the junkyard, right into a car crusher. He and the kids must quickly get out the back before the bus is completely demolished, and spit out in a greatly condensed version of itself. Smash cut to Marge reading a letter at home (“Dear parents. Due to yesterday’s unscheduled field trip to the auto wrecking yard, the school bus will be out of commission for two weeks. By reading this letter out loud, you have waived any legal responsability on our part in perpetuity throughout the universe.”)
– I love Grand Funk Railroad, so I’m on Homer’s side with this one. I love his rock music history lessons (“Grand Funk Railroad paved the way for Jefferson airplane, which cleared the way for Jefferson starship. The stage was now set for the Alan Parsons project, which I believe was some sort of hovercraft.”)
– The music store is one of the best store names of the show’s history: Suicide Notes (formerly Good Vibrations). Not only are they great puns, but they exemplify the difference in generations of music, clearly and succinctly. So brilliant.
– The music store clerk is befuddled at Homer’s mention of Apple computers, which at the time was not really a widely recognized name… yet.
– Great flashback of Homer looking on at some cool kids in their tricked out van, dubbed the second-base mobile. Why not third, why shoot so low? The following sequence is so fantastic with the strobe effect of Homer getting closer and closer to the van, in the same standing position, and then clearly realizing he’s not wanted, and cut to him back far away again.
– Best line of the show goes to Grampa, responding to teenage Homer’s claims that he’s not “with it”: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now, what I’m with isn’t ‘it’, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me.”
– Nice quick and telling line from Marge when Homer bemoans how weird the record store seemed to him (“Record stores have always seemed crazy to me, but it doesn’t upset me. Music is none of my business.”)
– I don’t know how good it is for business to hold a big music festival on a weekday, but I suppose its clientele appear to be teenagers skipping school, dropouts and the unemployed. And we tie up the driving to school story with a great fake-out, deliciously milked by Homer (“I must be getting forgetful in my old age. Open the glove compartment and fetch me my brain medicine.”)
– Nice homage to R. Crumb as Homer struts his stuff, trying to connect with the young peoples.
– I like how we gloss over the big plot point of Homer leaving his family for an extended period to go on tour in a freak show with one scene: Marge is dissatisfied, of course, telling Homer he doesn’t have to do something just because the opportunity presented itself. Homer responds politely, “You know, Marge, in some ways, you and I are very different people.”
– I love how meek Homer is addressing the crowd at his first performance. Latter day Homer would be bombastic and loud, but here he has a bit more humility. He builds up his courage in ensuing performances, as he grows more and more comfortable with himself, like a real person would.
– Nice bit where Homer signs a cannonball for a kid, gives it back to him, and the weight immediately pulls him down.
– Nice exchange between Homer and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins (“My kids think you’re the greatest. And thanks to your gloomy music, they’ve finally stopped dreaming of a future I can’t possibly provide.” “Well, we try to make a difference.”)
– Cypress Hill takes a cue from Nelson, giving a “Haw-haw!” at Bart when Marge briefly recounts when he ripped his pants at the Christmas play.
– I would like to hear the full version of “Insane in the Membrane” with orchestral accompaniment. Love the serious expression of the one violinist too.
– Like how the manager calls Homer a yellow-bellied freak. …isn’t everyone?