229. Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?

(originally aired October 24, 1999)
Kind of like last episode, Homer as a food critic also seems like an idea that should have been done already. Seems obvious, really. So we have another Homer-gets-a-job episode, but like I felt with him as a hippie or a trucker, at least here it sort of makes sense as a position that Homer would be somewhat qualified for or would want to do. As a result, the first half of the episode works well, but a random second act turn and silly finale taints a bit of the goodwill the show built up. But like “Helper” before it, the humor throughout alleviates some of the shittiness. So even though the way in which he gets the job doesn’t make much sense, I do like the idea of Homer being a food critic, and his enthusasim towards it. Again, it’s a job tailor-made for him. Lisa moonlighting writing his reviews and his indiscriminate stomach loving everything he eats also all work. Homer’s not a jackass, most of the jokes land, the first half of this show is pretty solid.

Things start to turn odd when a group of other critics from the Shopper confront Homer about his consistently positive reviews. After this criticism, he turns the other way, and bashes each and every dish he eats, including in his own home. Now I don’t quite get why the critics would feel the need to talk to Homer about this; I kind of get their frustration about his fluff reviews, but they seem almost too vehement about it. And why would Homer then all of a sudden take it to such heart? The plot turn just seemed too sudden; one scene he loves everything, then the next he’s turning his nose up at everything solely to curry the favor of some schmucks he barely knows. I feel there could have been a way to make this plot turn make sense, but it feels very curtly done here.

Our big bad finale takes place at the Springfield Food Festival, where the restaurantaurs of the town shell out their wares, and have also conspired to terminate the man who’s been trashing their reputations. A sinister-looking Frenchman has cooked up an ultra-fatty eclair injected with enough poison to bring Homer down, and Lisa must save her father before he takes the first bite. Again, this final act seems pretty silly and too over-the-top, but it’s got enough jokes within it that make it worthwhile. It shares this element with “Helper,” in that all of the dumb plot twists and elements of the second half are pretty much alleviated with the good jokes along the way. This isn’t a spectacular episode, nor is it a disaster; it’s a fairly solid story with enough laughs to make it worth your twenty-odd minutes.

Tidbits and Quotes
– One of the last times they actually bother explaining why or how Homer got out of work, but here it’s ridiculously wonderful. It’s mutiple layers of dumbness: Homer’s pathetic excuse for a decoy, Burns mistaking it for a real person, then on top of that giving it its own office. How it got up there I have no clue, but it’s a pretty funny sequence.
– Most of the stuff at the Shopper is great: Johnny Newspaperseed, the paper a result of merging the Springfield Times, Post, Globe, Herald, Jewish News and Hot Sex Weekly, the “reporters” just being telemarketers selling subscriptions (and a good Gil appearance), cryogenically preserved Ann Landers and Dear Abby (“Our advice is to free us or let us die!”) and the paper’s proported claim of using a percentage of recycled newsprint (“What percent is that?” “Zero! …zero’s a percent!”) The shot of the giant trees being fed into the printing plant, with a poor boy inside a treehouse in one of them, feels like classic brutal material.
– Ed Asner does a fine job as the Shopper editor, a role seemingly tailor made from him being on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” But nowadays, I hold him on the highest pedastal for being Carl Frederickson from Up.
– Homer’s employment at the paper is kind of hit-and-miss: I don’t care for his food song, or his pathetic takes at writing reviews himself (“You keep using words like ‘pasghetti’ and ‘momatoes’ You make numerous threatening references to the UN and at the end you repeat the words ‘Screw Flanders’ over and over again.”) I like that the ‘e’ is missing from the typewriter (“Food Box: Go or No Go” by Bill Simpson) but his final result seems almost too stupid. Though I still do like later when Lisa leaves him, he looks elsewhere for help. Like the dog. (“Rough? You’ve been pitching that all night.”)
– Cute seeing Lisa mimick her father’s drooling noise and trying to articulate that in a word: transcent! (“How about groin-grabbingly transcendent?” “Uhh… I don’t think so.” “We make a good team.  A groin-grabbingly good team!”)
– Like the title headline of Homer’s first review (“Cod is Great, Scrod is Good”) and the horrible photo of Homer, who looks absolutely drunk out of his mind. Even better is they use it again later.
– Always liked that one of the knick knacks at Planet Springfield is the cane from Citizen Kane. I think there actually was a cane in the film somewhere, so it could be authentic.
– For some reason, the Shopper has a farm supply critic on staff. Love his catty review (“We see John Deere has come out with this years line of roto-tillers.  Surprise, surprise, they’re green! I say it’s time to time to send John Deere a Dear John.”)
– Great scene with Krusty doing some local dinner theater (“How do you make a King Lear? Put the Queen in a bikini!”) He’s ultimately surprised when he finds out that the play actually isn’t a comedy.
– Though I still don’t like his random hatred, I do like some of Homer’s passive agressive air in the late second act (“So come to the Legless Frog if you want to get sick and die and leave a big garlicky corpse. P.S. Parking was ample.”)
– Luigi is incensed with Homer’s criticism (“He gave me a bad review!  So my friend put a horse head on the bed. He ate the head and gave it a bad review! True story.”)
– Like Homer talking about how bad things happen to him everywhere, then proceeds to step in a puddle, get hit by a Frisbee and bit by a bat (“That’s a new one.”) Reminds me a bit of “Mother Simpson” when he “ruins” the moment when a pelican appears and spits a fish in his pants.
– Captain McAllister and Akira make some good small talk about Homer’s unbuttoned pants (“I’m surprised he doesn’t just give it up and go for sweatpants.” “He says the crotch wears out too fast.” “Yarr! That’s going to replace the whale in my nightmares.”)
– Classic line when the evil Frenchman shoos Flanders away from his killer eclair (“A rude Frenchman! Well, I never!”)
– Excellent how Lisa gets Homer to chuck the eclair away by screaming it’s low-fat, which lands and explodes on Hans Moleman’s booth. The police arrive (“That was close! Thank God it landed in that smoking crater!”)
– Don’t care for the ending where Homer talks about having apparently badmouthed Lisa and everyone at the festival wanting their blood. Didn’t make much sense. But whatevah.

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6 responses to “229. Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?

  1. I actually rather like this episode, especially considering its era. Your criticisms about Homer’s turn are very well put, but don’t you think it possible for a man who’s told his children numerous times about how important it is for other people to approve of them to be in need of the approval of others himself?
    Frankly, I rather liked the critics shaking him down (“Nine thumbs up? What the HELL is that??) and his childish response. Perhaps they didn’t really have a reason to approach him, although i imagine that him liking everything made them look like smug assholes (which they clearly were, but surely they didn’t want everyone to know that!), and they weren’t too happy with that.
    In all honesty, while this episode is certainly no gem, I do think it’s the best one in a good while.

  2. Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo

    Homer: Uh not bad. If Lasagna is Italian for pile of puke!
    Italian Chef: Ahhhh…I choppa you good!
    (Swings at Homer with a knife.)
    Homer: Well, I hope you cut me better than you did these string beans!…Hmm, I seem to be missing part of my ear…Touché!

    This still makes me laugh – and I still use it today.

  3. This one is pretty funny and underrated overall imo. Things aren’t COMPLETELY fucked yet (I can’t wait for your “Simpsons Safari” review, which I know will eviscerate it, deservedly) but you can see the show starting to come apart. Still, more better scenes/lines/jokes and a better plot than anything the show has done for half a decade now..

  4. Unrelated to the episode, but I find it funny you always refer to the Sea Captain as Captain McAllister, when his name was used once in the entire run of the show. It’d be like always referring to Comic Book Guy as Jeff Albertson.

    • I used to call him that all the time, too. However, I used to have a copy of “The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Family” and I think his name was mentioned as Captain McAllister in one of the side panels, so I just used that. I even used to call Bumblebee Man “Pedro” because of his bowling shirt in “Team Homer”.

      And not to call him biased, but Jeff Albertson was in a later episode. (I’m pretty sure the one where called the Sea Captain “Captain McAllister” was his debut episode anyway)

  5. I actually like a lot here, albeit that Homer’s pathetic westside story parody is so week, his nose that can smell what’s written on the cake, his “I’ll have you know I wandered off from the tour!” (his delivery is so good), and Akira’s wonderful response to the idea of banning Homer from restaurants:

    “No, that would be impolite, I say we kill him!” and the chef’s “The chocolate is so dark light cannot escape from it!” (that would get me, I love dark chocolate).

    I even don’t mind the idea of Homer going super overboard on the negative, since really even in his none jerkass moments he’s hardly the kind to do positive criticism that well even of food, but I really don’t like how he treats Lisa, particularly since it has absolutely no vindication here, he’s mean just to be mean to her for no reason, and while I do rather like surrealness of the “finally getting comeuppance!” at the end I would’ve spared it for a slightly better resolution with Lisa rather than Lisa going out on a limb to save the life of her if not completely Jerkass, at least less than pleasant father and him just walking away with no realization at all.

    Still, of the wackier end of “homer gets a job” this is probably a better example and I actually much prefer it to the trucker episode.

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