(originally aired March 28, 1999)
So Homer gets another job, huh. Even though I said the same thing back in “Lard of the Dance,” it really does feel like the writers are conscious about how ridiculous it is that Homer has taken on all of these professions randomly. That’s another thing that seems to be clear within the episodes, and also through the few commentaries I listened to, that they’re well aware of the elements of the show that go too far, or make no sense, or are just dumb, but keep it in because they laugh at it for some reason. So yeah, this episode’s kind of more of the same with brain dead Homer, illogical plot points and a bombastic gravity-defying ending, but it didn’t irritate me as much as others this season have. The set-up and conceit of Homer taking this job at least makes a little sense. He enters an eating challenge at the new steakhouse with trucker Red Barcley, which Red beats him at seconds before he dies of beef poisoning (shareholder Dr. Hibbert assures “probably from some other restaurant.”) So Homer feels somewhat responsible for Red’s death and options to deliver his rig for him. Okay, I can buy that. Then Bart comes along too with Marge not saying anything. Hmm. Maybe she didn’t notice. That could work.
There’s not really much to Homer being a trucker, so the plot feels very thin, but sort of like him being a hippie I can buy him in a job where all he has to do is sit on his ass. This is supported even more in the third act twist, where it’s revealed that truckers have an auto-driving system secretly installed in their rigs that drives them for them. It’s kind of an interesting idea, and I like the fact that Homer is in awe that there are people even lazier than him. Then of course the next scene he’s showing it off and the convoy has to go after him. Then they escape by defying gravity and flipping their truck over a long line of vehicles and sticking the landing. Yep. Nothing wrong with that. Aside from that ending, and the general malaise feeling from the entire show, I’m not so hot and bothered about this one. The fact that it seemed so conscious of itself being dumb kind of helped it, with the start of Marge’s insistence Homer not go on another wacky adventure, since we’ve had a season full of them already, and Homer predicting the plot convenience of how he’ll get back to Springfield in the end: by driving a train full of napalm.
During the “A” non-plot, we have a “B” non-plot starring Marge and Lisa, two characters who are seemingly not interesting enough to have an engaging story. Like “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday,” I guess that’s the joke, but it sort of under rides these two; they’re very entertaining if utilized properly, but since the series is gradually turning into “The Homer Show,” they’re sort of sidelined. The plot here is at least more entertaining that “Cruddy,” with Marge’s idea of walking on the wild side is buying a new doorbell, and her insistence that the first ring must occur naturally. Unfortunately the mechanism is broken and causes it to ring nonstop. I like that the tone is The Carpenters’ “Close To You,” which has been Homer and Marge’s love song throughout the series. Also great is Senor Ding-Dong, the Zorro-like magnanimous savior of the doorbell problem. Actually, now that I think of it, this story kind of had more working for it than the main plot. Maybe I just miss the more grounded stories. Anyway, there’s a lot here that doesn’t work as usual, but there’s enough here that does and is funny enough to keep this hoisted above a lot of the slop heap this season.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Nice tasteful neon sign for the Slaughterhouse. Though, minor gripe, but if they just opened, how do they have a hall of fame for their renowned eating contest? Maybe it’s a chain or something.
– The bit with Homer not recognizing Red is kind of painful. They drag the joke more and more when from the first moment you know that the joke is him recognizing him as Tony Randall. And again, Homer is dumb, but can he really not tell that’s the guy from the picture on the wall?
– Homer meets his gluttonous match as he finds himself unable to finish the 256-ounce steak, and he’s none too happy with it (“What’s happening to me? There’s still food, but I don’t want to eat it. I’ve become everything I’ve ever hated!”)
– Like the personalized body bag from the Slaughterhouse, and the manager giving one to Marge for her husband, just in case.
– Act two has no real story, it’s just stuff that happens. But most of it’s pretty funny: Homer rocking out to the Spice Girls, wanting to ram a “punk” kid for doing the air horn gesture, then accidentally detaching his rig, and parking his truck at the drive-in blocking all the cars behind him. I don’t care for the bit at the diner where Homer posits how he can just divorce his wife and live at the truck stop though.
– Today of all days no one will come to the Simpson door to ring the bell. Milhouse’s seed-selling venture is thwarted by birds, and two Jehovah’s witnesses have a change of heart (“Maybe we’re bothering people by trying to change their religion. What if we don’t have all the answers?” “You’re right, Noreen. Let’s go get real jobs.”) Marge calls in the big guns by ordering from Luigi’s, but the delivery guy ends up knocks on the door. I also love that she ordered a half-order of garlic bread, I’m sure the cheapest item on the menu, a small sacrifice to have her doorbell satisfaction.
– Some nice Homer logic that he can effectively balance out a bottle of pep pills with a bottle of sleeping pills; he fluctuates from super hyper to sleepy, until he eventually passes out at the wheel.
– The climax is really fucking terrible all around; the shift from the truckers physically ambushing the truck to the row of trucks blocking Homer’s way is so abrupt, just a Homer voiceover over the truck driving. It’s like they struggled to come up with the ending and just threw this together.
– I like the reveal of what Red’s cargo was: artichokes and migrant workers. You never even thought about it through the entire episode, and that makes it even funnier. At least to me, anyway.
– Also, note, this episode aired before the series premiere of Groening’s sister show Futurama. I can’t remember the exact point I started watching Simpsons episodes first run, but I know I watched Futurama from the start, so it must have been some time around here.