156. The Homer They Fall

(originally aired November 10, 1996)
In unusually close proximity to “Homerpalooza,” we have another episode hinged around Homer’s incredible tolerance for pain. After witnessing him stand his ground in a bar fight (literally just stand there dumbly), Moe cooks up a scheme to make the dumb oaf champion of the underground boxing circuit. The strategy? Have Homer take as much abuse as his opponent can dish, then lightly tip him over when he exhausts himself. It’s an absurd, but amusing conceit, with Dr. Hibbert revealing that Homer is literally too thick in the head to register any pain he suffers. As Homer’s popularity builds, Moe has a run-in with Lucius Sweet, his former boxing rep as Kid Gorgeous, and blatant rip-off character (“He’s exactly as rich and as famous as Don King, and he looks just like him, too!”) Sweet now represents heavyweight Drederick Tatum, and needs someone he can fight that can sustain three round (“The fans are weary of fights that are over before they have an opportunity to even get drunk.”) Moe now must choose between being a somebody in the world of boxing again, and seriously endangering the life of one of his best customers, and possible friend.

Now, one of the biggest issues regarding the show’s tumbling lapse in quality is characterization, most particularly Homer. I was surprised to find in this particular show how much he had been warped. Dragging Marge into the gadget store with her saying he’s hurting her arm, and him replying, “No I’m not!” is such a small gag at the beginning of the show, but is incredibly telling about a dark direction the writers would take. Later upon seeing Bart return home beat to hell, what is his advice? To squeal on the bullies to everyone he can find. What? Whatever happened to the Code of the Schoolyard? Homer’s not a manchild, he’s a man who is occasionally childish, there’s a big difference. The show is peppered with odd moments like this of Homer being far too stupid or careless, but for some reason it doesn’t feel too egregious because of the plot. Lucius tempts Moe with a future glory in exchange for writing a death sentence for his talent, leading to the next scene where Moe tells a blissfully ignorant Homer he’s fighting Tatum. Now a blue collar slob like Homer has got to know who he is, but he’s none the wiser. But it sort of works for the episode that this big dumb loyal idiot is playing at Moe’s lack of conscience.

This episode is really focused on Moe, a thorny area of his past and his potential chance to relive it. I love all of that stuff, including Lucius Sweet, a great performance by Paul Winfield (understandable, given he played Don King in a TV movie a year prior.) I would have loved to have seen this episode focus almost exclusively on Moe; as I mentioned previous regarding “Twenty-Two Short Films,” this could have been the perfect opportunity to expand on that concept. If Moe was our star, Homer’s exaggerated stupidity could have totally worked, as he would exist to make Moe feel guilty about himself and his actions. But instead, it’s sort of split between the two of them, and we get boring obvious bits of Marge concerned about her husband and beckoning Moe stop the fight. Then Moe rescues Homer from the ring as the Fan Man. Okay. He must have some super strength then, Homer’s humungous. It really seems I’ve dumped on this whole episode, but I thought it was alright. The plot was mostly sound, it had its fair share of good gags, and I love any chance we get to see more Moe. I want mo’ Moe.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Didn’t entirely care for the opener with the limited “Bonanza” reunion, but I do love the one Indians’ horrible attempt to curry the audience’s favor (“You know, on the series, we were always trying to kill the Cartwrights. But it looks like Father Time took care of that for us, right? Am I right, folks?”)
– Fantastic scene where Comic Book Guy meets his match with the Charles Bronson-voiced clerk (“A fat, sarcastic Star Trek fan. You must be a devil with the ladies.”) CBG is instantly deflated, and ends up selling his intended return to Bart for four bucks (“I must hurry back to my comic book store, where I dispense the insults rather than absorb them.”)
– The Ultimate Belt stuff has nothing really to do with the main story, but I do love its usage in Bart’s escapade with the bullies, fooling them with a dishonest turn signal, the incredibly loud alert button, and the Emergency Use Only button, which launches a parachuted message for a concerned patron to call the police.
– Not knowing who Drederick Tatum was, especially since he made a big fuff over watching his big match in “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment,” could have worked in context, except he earlier recognizes Lucius Sweet, a more obscure figure in boxing. Oops.
– Hibbert gets a good scene, explaining Homer’s unique medical condition in his ability to take a beating (“Why, I could wallop you all day with this surgical two-by-four without ever knocking you down. But I have other appointments.”)
– There’s a lot of good Moe lines here and there, like explaining Boxcar Bob as a hungry young fighter, literally fighting for a sandwich, and his signature boxing gloves with barbed wire wrapped around them, which he calls “the stinger.”
– I like Lenny’s line during the match, “Man, that tramp’s got the energy of a hobo,” and the direction of the hobo periodically looking back to check that his bindle is okay.
– I do like the black and white montage, where Homer’s racking up the big bucks, or rather is able to afford slightly nicer car washes.
– Lucius Sweet is probably the best thing about this show, an unabashed and unashamed parody, using words like “verticality” and “strategizing,” which I use too from time to time. He brings the laughs, but also works just as well in his foreboding farewell to Moe about how he can either take this shot or stay a nobody forever.
– Drederick Tatum returns, with Hank Azaria doing a great Mike Tyson riff, with a fair share of great lines too (“Believe me, my God, if I could turn back the clock on my mother’s stair-pushing, I would certainly… reconsider it.”)
– Great ad for the fight, playing up the “rivalry” between Drederick and Homer. Even the title of the show is “Tatum vs. Simpson: Payback.” Also great are the T-shirts for sale, with Tatum’s fist coming right out at Homer’s dumb clueless face.
– Michael Buffer appears as ring announcer, giving his trademarked (literally) line, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” He also introduces the crowd of Springfield’s elite, including Kent Brockman, who is greatly chastised and booed (“This just in, go to hell!”)
There really is a general malaise that sits in at the final act. It’s not too much fun watching Homer getting beat to shit, and we know something’s going to happen to stop the fight. All we can do is wait. I do like Dr. Nick as the fight doctor though (“Kill him! Kill him!”)
– Sweet bit at the end where a beaten up Homer sadly muses he forgot where they parked, and Marge consoles him (“That’s all right. We’ll just wait till everyone else leaves.”)
– I don’t know what to make of the end with Moe as an aerial worldwide humanitarian. If someone wants to make heads or tails of that, be my guest.

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12 responses to “156. The Homer They Fall

  1. “Why can’t we be friends” being Homer’s boxing theme song is one of my favorite gags in the entire series.

  2. Another great review, but how are you going to survive seasons 11+?

  3. Bart: Uh, it’s hard for us to leave when you’re standing there, Mom.
    Homer: [cheery] Push her down, son.

    Season 5, Bart Gets an Elephant

    I don’t think the gag with Homer grabbing Marge’s arm is particularly telling about anything

    • Oh, but it is telling; in your example, the violence is IMPLIED and never actually materializes. Here we get to see Homer refusing to acknowledge the physical pain he’s giving Marge.

  4. Wow, I never thought about that, but you’re right: Homer not knowing who Drederick Tatum is, while in the same episode, knowing who a boxing promoter is, that’s a pretty big gaffe.

    Still, I enjoy this one. It’s got good inner conflict for Moe and even though we know Homer will get out of the match somehow, it’s still -well directed- and dramatic. Sometimes that’s a big part of an episode working, is the execution.

    A line I particularly love: “Due to popular demand, we will forego our national anthem.”

  5. Honestly, I thought it was okay when it first aired, but the more I see it, the better it gets. It still isn’t the best (and one of the episodes that keep Season 8 from being better than Season 4), but it is still far better than most of the episodes from Seaosn 11+.

  6. I always felt the Lucius Sweet/Don King gag was a reference to the even more unsubtle King lookalike in Rocky V.

  7. Mike is right, Season 8 got some of this kind of episodes: very solid and funny, but less sharp, like the scene with Marge and Moe in this episode. But as someone said before, sometimes the direction of a story can balance this flaws: in this episode there’s a great direction and great build up to the match that i always enjoyed. That’s what keep Season 8 a true classic, despite some “tired” scenes here and there: the direction at its best.

  8. To this day, I cite “lobsters stuffed with tacos” as the epitome of luxurious eating.

  9. This episode is one of the weakest episodes from the classic years. Not only does it have some continuity issues with Homer not knowing who Tatum is, but it’s not even that great of a story. It’s comedy is the thing that makes the show entertaining, especially Bart’s belt and the scene with CBG.

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