Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 19: "Simpson Tide"

Airdate: 29 March, 1998.

Synopsis: Fired by the Nuclear (“nuc-u-lar”) Power Plant again, Homer sees an ad for the US Navy reserve, and promptly signs up. His friends are convinced enough to sign up, as well. During the “war games” scenario, he is placed on a Nuclear (“nuc-u-lar”) sub. This can only end well… by which, I mean can only end in a Cold War revival, complete with the Soviet Union.

“I thought you guys broke up!”

“Yes, that’s what we wanted you to think!” 

Cue the Berlin Wall and the threat of nuclear (“nuc-u-lar”) disaster!

Oh, and Bart gets an earring to try and be cool. Apparently, The Bartman is “so 1991”. Homer is not pleased.

Review: This episode is an unusual one, indeed. It’s one of those episodes that I should loathe, but can’t bring myself to hate.

Let’s face it: it has several traits that would become cliches of the Mike Scully era of The Simpsons. Homer gets a new job, becomes supremely respected by his boss (more than he should), has to take charge because his boss is an idiot, his friends join into his “scheme of the week” for no reason, the plot goes from “relatively grounded” to “street-rat crazy” at the flick of a switch, the progression barely makes any sense, and Homer gets off with a slap on the wrist for almost plunging the world into chaos. Oh, and the show dabbles in meta humor.

Sounds like a trainwreck, eh?

Actually, it’s pretty entertaining- one of my favorites from this (so far) otherwise mediocre season. As I implied in my “Principal and the Pauper” review, I am willing to reduce the weight of an episode’s flaws in my views if the episode is hilarious enough. Now, there are exceptions, but this episode is not one of them.

I think that most of the reasoning behind this episode’s “funniness” would have to be rooted in the showrunners for this episode- Al Jean and Mike Reiss. While their era was not as zany as, say, the David Mirkin Era, they did distance the show somewhat from it’s domestic origins, allowing for wider swaths of characters to engage in a plot, as well as characters engaging in less “home-based”/more community-based plots. This episode just happens to take it to the extreme end of the spectrum, dwarfing Mirkin’s era in terms of zaniness.

If anything, I’m a bit disappointed that this episode didn’t try harder with the jokes about the USSR- a sign of things to come. They could’ve made jokes about the fall of the union, the failures of central planning, etc. Instead, they chose to color by numbers- the Berlin Wall, Lenin, the tanks in Moscow, etc. Still funny, but a bit of a low-ball.

Also, while Homer does progress quite far up the command for an “average joe”, this episode doesn’t exactly use him as a “pain magnet”- a trend in Modern Simpsons episode where Homer would suffer injuries, and walk away unscathed, going on to act like a Macho Sue idiot all the way. Plus, he does give up some of his hubris- he realizes that Bart getting the earring may have saved him in the long run.

That, and it does make note of the influence of the media on modern conflict, what with the Channel 6 News Report pretty much calling Homer a traitor and a communist, followed by the USSR coming back. Or maybe it was just coincidence. Eh, still interesting.

Oh, and character? A little bit mixed. I mentioned Homer and his dubious promotion to captain already. Captain Tenille? Funny, and pretty well developed, what with the relatively small amount of time given to the character. Bart? His rebellion by getting an ear piercing seems to harken back to his rebellious character, yet here, he seems desperate to “follow the leader” of Milhouse… yet failing epically. Maybe it’s a sign that his “rebel” character would be phased out in favor of a more “desperate” character. Sad. Still, the other characters did seem to be more than pawns in the adventures of “Captain Wacky”, as some have called post-classic Homer.

Let’s see- if there were a few changes to the plot, if maybe some of Homer’s “progression up the ziggurat” was toned down, if maybe the flow was a bit better, if maybe characters didn’t materialise out of thin air (Smithers, anybody), this episode would fit pretty damn well in the Mirkin Era. Instead, I have to take it for what it is- a Scully-era episode (not a Scully episode) that worked pretty damn well, given that I laughed through it. A rare breed, indeed.

Tidbits:

  • OK, there was one clever reference to the USSR. When talking about his experience in the Navy, Abe references JFK, and a comment that made his sailors think that he was disloyal to the Allied Forces. Who else was president when tensions between the USSR and the US reached a fever pitch?
  • “I’d like to get my ear pierced?” “Well, better make it quick, kiddo. In five minutes, this place is becoming a Starbucks!” That is all.
  • Admittedly, I can excuse some of Homer’s promotion by a line that indicates that Captain Tenille has some Navy-related trauma.
  • One last note: due to personal matters, the review for “Blendin’s Game” might not go out until next weekend. I apologize in advance for the long delay.
Favorite Scene: OK, I’ll bite: the scene with Tenille getting shot out of the torpedo tubes was a brilliant piece of dark comedy.
Least Favorite Scene: I still can’t buy the Village People actually singing “In The Navy” while on a submarine, plus Smithers, plus the sub going underwater while they’re all still outside. That was a tad too dark for me.
Score: 7. Again, given mainly for the comedy.
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