(originally aired March 29, 1998)
Homer gets a new job? Well, better get used to this premise, as we’ll be seeing it a lot more frequently in the coming seasons. There are some elements of this show that you could say are somewhat shoddy, but one thing can absolve any such shortcomings: humor. Rule of funny has a way of mollifying any gripes one might have; there are a few things in the episode that would be glaring if this weren’t the funniest episode of the season. Why does Homer join the naval reserve? Well first he was fired from the plant after an attempt to enlarge a donut using nuclear material ended up in disaster. Then a naval recruitment ad popped up on his beloved television, illustrating the absolute ease of the average recruit (“After basic training, you’ll only have to work one weekend a month. And most of that time, you’re drunk off your ass!”) The former is a traditional bonehead Homer move, and the latter a great comment of service scouting to the lowest common denominator; as silly as the conceit of naval Homer is, I’m laughing already.
Moe, Barney and Apu go along with Homer through basic training, a plot turn that’s kind of dumb and arbitrary, but I can kind of buy it at least for the first two; the latter I can’t see abandoning his store for that long in exchange for a joke (“Although my religion strictly forbids military service, what the hey!”), also we don’t really even see him for the rest of the episode. The gang later gets sent off to war games, headed by seasoned Captain Tennille, named after the pop music act, and voiced by Rod Steiger. He takes an immediate shining to Homer, encapsulated over a great scene on board the sub where the Captain is delighted to hear of Homer’s desire for peace but only attainable through force, but in actuality Homer seeks only peas with a knife. We don’t see him for long, but I really like this character, a man who effectively signs his own death warrant for trusting Homer. But he openly admits he ain’t that right in the head, so we believe it (“Maybe it’s the saltwater in my veins, or the nitrogen bubbles in my brain, but I’ve taken a real shine to you.”)
After inadvertently shooting the captain out of a torpedo tube, Homer is left in command, who ends up leading the sub into Russian waters, creating an international incident. The episode’s been pretty silly already, so why not get even crazier. Some of the suspense of the crew in danger is a bit ham-fisted, but it’s worth it for great bits like Homer’s unfortunate file photo, Grampa’s televised defense of his son, and perhaps the funniest bit in the entire season when the Soviets reveal they never disbanded at all, as tanks roll through Moscow, the Berlin Wall resurfaces, and Lenin rises from his tomb wishing to crush capitalism. It’s all pretty ridiculous, but there are glimmers of reality running throughout. Not wanting to get left out of the latest trend, Bart gets his ear pierced, much to his family’s chagrin. Upset at his father’s staunch disapproval, he bitterly gives him the earring before he casts off, an item which ultimately ends up saving the day. It’s not the most believable or emotionally heavy story, one that I can piece apart and examine, and there certainly are flaws, but I laughed through a good portion of it, and that makes it a winner in my book.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Similar to the 2001 opening of “Lisa’s Pony,” here we open with another movie parody dream of Homer’s at work, where he is being held prisoner on the Planet of the Donuts. It’s a nice sequence, ending in a gigantic donut proceeding to eat the prisoner (“Mmmm… Homer…”)
– I like how easy it appears to create a critical situation at the plant; Homer places the donut into a bin that makes it accessible behind glass for him to drop it into nuclear waste. That in turn causes a massive fire in the cooling towers? I barely know anything about how power plants work, but watching this show isn’t helping.
– I love the “It’s my first day” runner; I totally buy how Burns would be fooled by it, and like how it absolves Homer of all wrong-doing at the very end. It’s just the right level of stupidness that I take it as being funny instead of being pissed that it doesn’t make sense or is a cop-out ending.
– Quality programming on the Simpson TV as usual, it’s Exploitation Theatre: Blacula, followed by Blackenstein, and the Blunchblack of Blotre Blame (“Oooh, funky!”)
– Another great moment where Homer attempts to clap off his non-Clapper bedside lamp. It seems almost too dumb, but timing saves it; cut to outside the Simpson house where we hear Homer clap a few more times, then out goes the lamp through the window.
– Very disturbing look at Barney’s mother, who basically looks like himself in drag. And if that wasn’t enough, I don’t even want to know what’s up with the sexy Homer photo he puts up in his barracks. Or even how he got the photo. Or why Homer apparently posed for it. Huh.
– I think the repartee between Homer and the drill sergeant is pretty sweet (“All right, Simpson. I don’t like you, and you don’t like me.” “I like you.” “Um, all right… You don’t like me, but I don’t like you.” “Maybe you would like me if you got to know me.” “What are you, a comedian?” Well, I’m no Margaret Cho, but I do a pretty fair Columbo impression.”)
– Great first act break where we see the graduation of some World War I historical creationists, who throw their German spiked hats in the air, an action that can’t possibly end well…
– Milhouse’s earring gets him momentarily under fire by Skinner (“The school dress code specifically forbids the wearing of earrings unless you’re of Gypsy extraction.” “Well, uh, I’m a Gypsy. “Oh, really! Prove it.” “Uh… I vant to suck your blood!” “Nuh-uh, that’s a vampire. But they’re also covered. Carry on.”)
– Nice moment with Homer’s naval getup getting him some action in the bedroom. With this and Mr. Plow, Marge seems to love a man in uniform.
– Great Grampa flashback where he retells discovering John F. Kennedy’s dark secret (“Ich bin ein Berliner.” “He’s a Nazi! Get him!”)
– Great great great bit with Bart at the mall where every other store is a Starbucks. He eventually reaches In ‘N’ Out Ear Piercing (If It Dangles, We’ll Punch A Hole Through It), and leaves right before it, and every other store in the mall, has been turned into a Starbucks.
– I loved Captain Tennille pretty much immediately (“I’m a man of few words. …any questions?”)
– The “In The Navy” bit is pretty funny, but sometimes you can push it too far. The mislead up to the song and the crew dancing is great. Then you actually see the Village People, which would have been dumb if it weren’t for the later joke where they apparently all drown. And then… we see Smithers dancing with them. Little too on the nose, don’t you think? Plus then I guess he drowned too. Unnecessary.
– I don’t know if I’m behind Homer accidentally killing the captain, but I do like the enemy ship’s reaction, with the captain vowing they’ll respond in kind, and the crew immediately grabs him to prepare for launch (“Not me, a torpedo!”)
– Grampa defends his alleged traitor of a son on the news (“My Homer is not a communist. He may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, a communist, but he is not a porn star!”)
– Love that in the emergency fallout shelter at the school, Skinner saves the best and brightest, which apparently means Sherri, but not Terri. Terri was brought up to the stage with her sister, I guess thinking she would be saved, only to have her walk away dejected and given a supposed death sentence. Always the compassionate one, Nelson gives a well-timed “Ha-ha!”
– Following the fiasco, Homer must face the music before a committee of five naval officers, but they all are entwined in scandals of their own (“I’m under indictment for accepting bribes from military contractors.” “I torpedoed a Carnival Cruise ship.” “Impersonating the First Lady!”) so he gets a mere dishonorable discharge. Marge is relieved (“It’s the best we could’ve hoped for.” “You can’t spell ‘dishonorable’ without ‘honorable’!”)