|CURSE YOU, RECYCLING CALENDAR!|
Airdate: April 26, 1998
Synopsis: After OFF celebrates “Love Day” (a second Valentine’s Day meant to make more money for big business), there is a heap of trash. Failing to get the trash out in time, Homer insults the garbage men, causing service to be cut off. Weeks and piles of trash later, Marge finally writes an apology letter. Rejecting this claim, Homer goes straight to the top – Sanitation Commissioner Ray Patterson (Steve Martin), and after getting thrown out, decides to run for Sanitation Commissioner himself. Running on a populist platform of “can’t somebody else do it”, he wins in a landslide… and his policies threaten to bring down the town.
*WARNING: SPOILERS IN REVIEW”Review: Great. Right out of one of the better episodes of the season, we get an episode that showcases probably the most blasted aspect of Scully’s era- mischaracterization of Homer Jay Simpson. And this is the two hundredth episode. That’s a good sign, eh?
Actually, taken as a whole, this episode seems to continue with the satire found in “Girly Edition”- picking apart an aspect of American society. This example is somewhat more over the top than “Girly Edition”- this time, we take a look at the pitfalls of populism.
American society is practically built on pseudo-populism. It was a bunch of “average joes” that drove the British Empire out of the land now part of the United States of America. America was one of the earliest “modern’ (read- post Renaissance) nations to experiment with a representative democracy, and a head of state that was from the people, not a monarch. The anti-federalists, representing the populace, managed to get a Bill of Rights in the constitution, guaranteeing basic freedoms for the people.
Unfortunately, populism has it’s drawbacks. Given that the average joe is often less aware of the risk factors when it comes to certain ideas, their plans can often end in disaster. For one, you can’t expect low tax while maintaining the same level of public services- you either have to cut services or raise taxes. Often, people believe that everything should be done to their exact beck and call, and that they shouldn’t have to pay the piper.
(Full disclosure: I consider myself a liberal/social democrat- you know, tax the rich and nationalize certain necessities of life, such as health and water- although even I don’t think that ideals such as Homer’s are sustainable without changes.)
This episode sends up those populist ideals- Homer runs for sanitation commissioner, wins on his populist ideals, tanks the budget on his wacky plans within a month, doesn’t think to ask for a budget increase, and ultimately trashes the town.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Dude, this episode sounds pretty decent. What’s wrong with it?”
Thing is, this episode seems like it was “plot first, stick characters wherever second”. Homer was the centre character- they stuck him in. It’s pretty awkward. It’s hard to see Homer get this arrogant, this angry, this active. His behavior during the campaign is brazen- cutting Patterson’s brakes? Yet, the town (and freaking U2) spontaneously break out into song about how his administration is going to be awesome… I think (I’m not sure if it was a dream by Homer).
On one hand, this could be seen as a mockery of the overt populist ideals exhibited in American society. Yet, I can’t see Homer putting this much effort in political participation, and being this callous in doing so. It seems like everybody eggs on his behavior a bit too much- even Lisa doesn’t stop Homer from the fateful trip to City Hall. Granted, the town is populated by idiots, but it still stretches believability. Thankfully, there is actually a realistic backlash- the money is blown through rapidly, Homer’s plan to make money back fails, and he is deposed. Oh, and he’s not a mouthpiece for the writers. Yet.
Ray Patterson is actually one of the more confusing one-off characters that the show has had. He spends the episode blasting the extreme populism that Homer exhibits, and the fact that people are cheering him on. Once all is said and done, he high-tails it. On one hand, he’s pretty damn sympathetic, as well as hysterical. On the other hand, it seems to be a recognition by the writers that Homer’s becoming this “centre of the universe” character, and that they don’t really care.
The middle of the third act also shifts the show from a political satire to a “green” episode. It’s not too over the top, but it’s still a bit jarring. It does seem like the writers forgot where to go, and pumped in the last few minutes just to bring everything to a conclusion.
Admittedly, the comedy in the episode is good enough to downplay any potential flaws. Examples?
- The concept of Love Day itself. Board member is fine with a dip in sales during the summer… and is promptly dragged out.
- “Dad, you’re always telling me and Bart to apologize!” “Yeah, but I’m always secretly disappointed when you do.”
- During their stop at the PopMart tour, U2 plays “Pride”… as Homer gets dragged out of the concert and beaten up. This is broadcast on the mega-screen behind U2.
- “I think I’ve got the perfect solution!” “You better, cause those garbagemen won’t work for free!” “D’oh!”
- The Simpson family instantly thinks Homer’s plan to replenish the sanitation budget involves drugs. It does – drugs and weapons are brought in from New York City.
- Once Patterson is reinstated, he goes up to the strains of the “Sanford and Son” theme, and, in a span of ten seconds, makes this speech… purely deadpan:
- “Oh, gosh! You know, I’m not much on speeches, but it’s so gratifying to see you wallowing in the mess you’ve made. You’re screwed, thank you, bye.”
- Cue the “Sanford and Son” theme as he washes his hands of the situation.
- Plan B. Zany, but shocking enough to be hysterical.
- Steve Martin’s delivery as Ray Patterson is fantastic. I think he might be the best guest star in the Scully era. Granted, we have three more seasons, but I got a bad feeling about them.
- U2, on the other hand, just seem to be in this episode to get “down with the kids”. Bono’s faux-pandering to Homer is funny, but the scene just seems superfluous.
- Note to self: whenever somebody says something stupid, play “Fur Elise” in my head.
- (Added as of 30 May): Fun fact: the city of Toronto once wanted to turn an abandoned mine n Northern Ontario into a landfill for Toronto’s stuff. Socialist leaning city councillors Jack Layton and Olivia Chow played this episode to the council, and they eventually reneged on their decision. Jack Layton would go on to become the leader of the socialist-leaning NDP, taking that party to their largest federal victory ever. Layton himself called the show “the single most important influence on progressive social commentary in the world”. Remember, this was back during the more “third-way” 90s.