Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 20: "The Trouble With Trillions"

Bloggers note: FX Now showing every episode of The Simpsons isn’t too bad. The crop job, on the other hand…

Airdate: April 5th, 1998

Synopsis: The IRS notes some minor discrepancies in Homer’s taxes. (Read: Homer waited until the last possible second, made egregious claims, stuffed them into a manilla folder, and tried to sweeten the deal with mint candies.) Threatened with five years jail, Homer instead accepts a plea- work for the IRS to capture tax cheats. One such tax cheat is Mr Burns, who the IRS alleges took a trillion-dollar bill meant for European reconstruction post WWII. However, Burns’s critique of the government resonates with Homer, and the two (plus Smithers) flee. Forced to escape the country, they decide to hang out on an island… one called Cuba.

Review (SPOILERS): The IRS here in the States is a government entity that is ripe for comedy. Americans have always had a skepticism of taxes, and that lends credence to the IRS being the least-liked bureaucracy of the US government. Mocking them by being a bunch of crooked spies who manipulate the system for their own gain would’ve made for an awesome episode.

Unfortunately, this episode let’s that potential go to waste.

Instead, we get a standard “Homer gets a job” episode (don’t expect the frequency of these to lighten up anytime soon), one where this idiot is tasked with supposedly the highest cases in the IRS’s coffers, and one which borders on stupidity.

I think making Homer the wire for people with ties to him (Charlie, Mr Burns) was supposed to be a send-up of the IRS for being incompetent- why the hell would any agency send anybody with remotely close ties to these people under investigation? Still, to send Homer after the most wanted man in the IRS’s files sorta stretches belief.

What’s worse is that this angle is largely dropped by the third act. By this time in the episode, it’s just Homer, Burns, and Smithers (because Burns and Homer are allies, you see) going to a foreign country- this time, Cuba. While the Cuba set pieces are a bit quirky, it’s largely just there to serve as a rushed resolution to the episode.

To do so, pretty much every character in the show is mischaracterized, relying on “rule of stupid” to make the episode connect. Why didn’t Marge file taxes? Why does Marge not care about the fact that her husband aided and abetted a massive tax cheat? Why does the IRS hire an abject idiot to take on a high-profile case? Why does Burns let Homer inside of his mansion? Why would Burns be so stupid to inform a magazine representative that he committed “grand, grand, grand larceny”?

Each question just leads to further questions, collapsing in a vortex of stupid.

Again, it’s a shame- this episode could’ve really taken a sizable bit out of the IRS and it’s patterns of behavior. Instead, we get a stock “escape” plot that relies on characters making decisions that don’t necessarily correspond to their personalities.

Tidbits:

  • This was the second episode written by Ian Maxtone-Graham, the first being “The City of New York Vs Homer Simpson”. In a 1998 interview, he admitted that he didn’t watch a single episode of The Simpsons before joining the staff, then proceeded to insult the fans. That’s a good sign of things to come. I’ll just add on this- Stuart Baird didn’t watch a single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation before he went on to direct Nemesis. That movie proceeded to give a massive blow to the Trek franchise.
  • Amazingly, I can understand why Lisa didn’t necessarily care that her father made off with a trillion dollars- it’s just a reminder that, as brilliant as she is, she’s still just a kid. Marge’s reaction is a bit more concerning- wouldn’t she be concerned that her father is now amongst the most wanted men in the world.
  • Amazingly, the first act wasn’t too bad. Sure, there’s some cartoonish stuff (did Homer’s sedan literally flatten two cars?), but there was enough comedy to offset it. Then Homer is sent to Burns’s mansion, and the comedy enters a steep decline.
  • Ironically, as this review goes out, President Obama has announced a warming of relationships between the US and Cuba.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2. Homer gets a nice, cushy government job for egregious tax fraud. Nice.
Zaniness Factor: 2. Homer, Burns, and Smithers. Three Americans, with a trillion dollars, effectively declaring asylum in Cuba. That is all.
Favorite Scene: The movie in the photobooth is pretty awesome. “The film you are about to see is top secret, and contains adult situations.” “I say we just be snooty to Americans forever!”
Least Favorite Scene: Why did Burns allow HOMER, of all people, to enter the mansion? And why did he confess to him that he committed “grand, grand, grand larceny?”
Score: 4.5. Not egregiously terrible, just bad enough to fail.
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