(originally aired September 20, 1998)
Well, this is officially our season premiere, and boy oh boy is it a bad sign. I had more problems with “Lard of the Dance” then I remembered, but I still kind of enjoyed it on the whole. This one is pretty damn terrible, from its directionless beginning to its ridiculous twist ending. I knew we were trouble from the start: hearing on the radio the new average life expectancy, Homer realizes he’s lived half his life, stops his car on the freeway, wanders through traffic and picks up the phone in the call box thinking he’s talking to his wife. I don’t know, I guess the writers think it’s funny to see how unbelievably stupid they can make Homer, which may be amusing just talking about it in the writer’s room, but actually in the show, it just makes him less like an actual person and more of a caricatured dolt. The leap to the main story couldn’t be more tenuous; the family’s film projector breaks, sparking Lisa to comment that it was originally invented by Thomas Edison. Homer then becomes obsessed with researching the man, then realizes that his life can be fulfilled if he follows in Edison’s footsteps and becomes an inventor. Your guess is as good as mine as to how this make sense.
Not much to comment on in act two, since nothing at all really happens. Really. Homer sequesters himself in the basement to come up with ideas for inventions, so it’s scene after scene of either him trying to jump start his brain (a nigh impossible task) or the other members of the family coming down to help/bother him. Eventually he comes up with four truly awful contraptions, which are faulty products, but still seem too well done. I mean, Homer couldn’t even build a spice rack properly, you think he’d be able to make an electric hammer? Or a make-up gun which he hilariously holds up and shoots in his wife’s face? Marge tells her husband as politely as she can that the inventions are fucking terrible, which he of course takes to heart. “I’m not saying you’re a bad inventor…” she starts… why? This is another thing that would develop over these seasons, when it’s a wacky Homer story (which there are a lot of), the other Simpsons are just tag-alongs, strangely enabling him in his goofy antics. Later when they discover Homer’s chair with two extra legs, they shower him with praise, and give him a group hug with big smiles on their faces. It’s a really eerie shot, like they need to cheer up this mentally insane person or fear the consequences. They’re treating a delusional idiot with kid’s gloves or something.
Now we get to the big dumb ending. Homer finds that he subconsciously stole the six-legged chair idea from his Edison poster, which leaves him one option: go to Menlo Park, find said chair and destroy it. Bart questions this, thinking his father loved Edison. Homer replies, “Ah, the hell with him!” He’s spent the entire episode praising the man’s name, now fuck this guy, smashy smashy, I’m an inventor too! But before he can commit the deed, he finds that Edison had the same stupid invention graph as he did, competing with his idol Leonardo Da Vinci for most patents held. Totally makes sense. Then the capper of the show is that Homer leaves his electric hammer behind in the museum, which is then credited to Edison and his newly wealthy heirs. Still totally makes sense. I chuckled a handful of times here, but this one’s an absolute mess beginning to end. Puzzling most to me is that it’s written by John Swartzwelder, who penned some of the greatest episodes of the show’s history, and his detective novellas are just as hilarious. Meanwhile, he also wrote some of the worst episodes ever: this one, “Kill the Alligator and Run,” “Simpson Safari,” and so on. Lots of talented people still work on this show, are these seasons just a higher form of comedy? Or is it all a big damn joke? Well either way, I’m not laughing.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I like Homer’s vision of his funeral, featuring multi-Oscar-winning Barney, President Lenny and Heckle and Jeckle for some reason. The shot of the dump truck dropping Homer’s bloated corpse into the ground is pretty funny.
– I feel like there’s some kind of meat that could be pulled from Homer’s mid-life crisis; I like his line about not being able to remember anything (“You know how many memories I have? Three! Standing in line for a movie, having a key made, and sitting here talking to you. Thirty-eight years and that’s all I have to show for it!”) I have a piss poor memory, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be when I get that old. Springboarding that to the family showing him the home movies of his achievements makes sense, but then the show completely derails. Although I loved the shot of Homer’s space shuttle ramming MIR. Wonder how they got that footage.
– Homer at the school library starts out fine, citing some unexplained “unpleasantness” at the “big people library.” But then he acts more infantile than Bart and is quick with a ‘SCHOOL’ pennant to show the librarian. There was a weird sort of pennant running gag through the Scully years for some reason… don’t know what that was about.
– Homer’s Edison obsession is really boring… like I don’t get why they thought this was a good idea…
– I do like the bit where Homer backs up from his work, then rushes toward the paper, hoping kinetic momentum will jog an idea out of him, but… nothing.
– The scene with Homer and Frink is indicative of how empty this episode feels. Homer wants to be an inventor to give his life meaning, but doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing at all (“I just wanna know how to invent things. Tell me!”) So the whole episode feels very meandering and meaningless. At least we got Frink’s hamburger earmuffs out of it (“These babies will be in the stores while he’s still grappling with the pickle matrix!”)
– Homer holding the gun up to Marge’s face is slightly uncomfortable. But then again he did it in “The Cartridge Family,” but it made more sense story-wise there. And I hate his line, “Women will like what I tell them to like!” It just encapsulates this new Homer attitude, that he thinks he’s better than everyone else and he’s the only one that matters. Remember when he was kind of a humble guy?
– I do like the bit with Edison’s ghost getting “run over” by Homer, his screaming back at him, then Homer backing up as Edison worriedly hides behind some bushes.
– The only really great stuff in the show is at the Edison Museum (with sign “No Gang Colors”): the tour guide’s lame riddle, followed by the crowd’s amusement, Edison’s boyhood gift shop, and this bite (“Now, behind that door is Edison’s actual preserved brain. Ordinarily, folks, tour groups are not allowed to see it. And of course, today will be no exception.”)
– The ending is so goddamn stupid with that Edison/Da Vinci poster. And it doesn’t really close off the Homer-inventor story at all, just his sporadic random intention to destroy Edison that we got a mere three minutes ago. Also apparently Bart knows how Da Vinci is.
– The framing for the final shot of Homer on his toilet chair is pretty poor; we clearly see that he’s right next to Bart on the couch, up until the last shot. I’m all for cheats, but only if you try a little hard to cover them up.