Scullyfied Simpsons: "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" (Season 10, Episode 2)

Airdate: September 20th, 1998

Synopsis: Reaching a midlife crisis, Homer becomes despondent on life. After a projector breaks down, Homer rhetorically asks “who invented this thing?” Lisa responds, and Homer has a new goal – be the new Thomas Edison. He becomes obsessed with the man… and, when it turns out that Edison invented something that Homer seemed to invent – a chair with an extra set of legs on hinges – Captain Wacky becomes hellbent on destroying Edison’s chair.

Review: Sounds like a Scullyfied Simpsons. Ain’t been reviewed onto nigh for two months.

Tsk, tsk, tsk – trouble a brewin!

Homer’s sorta pitiful life is the centerpiece of the greatest Simpsons episodes. Even when he is involved in something landmark (such as going into space), there’s this tinge in the writing that he got there by the thinnest of margins (aka, Barney going insane and falling off the top of a mattress factory). Despite this, he almost always maintained a love for the simple things you’d expect a 40-year old to love – TV, Duff, all that jazz.

Indeed, deconstructing his simple life by putting him in a midlife crisis seems like tough ground to tread. It doesn’t seem like Homer would be the one to encounter that, but I’d be willing to excuse that somewhat as a deconstruction of what his life has been.

Then Lisa brings up Thomas Edison, and the episode becomes… a tad bit more haphazard.

Look, Homer trying to invent something doesn’t seem like a bad idea… it’s just that it was done before. Can you say, “The Homer”?

For those unaware, in “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou”, Homer’s half-brother, Herb, is the founder and head of a floundering car company. After meeting Homer, he starts to believe/realize his fellow suits are trying to imitate the Japanese and European car makers, and commissions Homer to invent “the American car.” The end result?

The Car Built For Homer
“Whatever Homer wants… Homer gets….”

It cost $82,000 – far beyond the means of the average American, yet even those that could afford it probably wouldn’t touch the car with a 39.5′ pole. Worse, because it was promoted as the flagship/comeback car of the company, Powell Motors loses whatever credibility it had, is bankrupted, and Herb winds up taking residence under a bridge. It was realistic, had a coherent plot, and more than just two-dimensional, satirizing the auto industry and the perceptions of the “average American”.

Admittedly, though, the inventions that Homer considers could be taken as a satire on just how insane companies would go in attempts to make lives “simpler”, when in reality, their inventions would add more complications to their life.

If you watch The Simpsons for satire, it’s not bad.

However, as I mentioned in my discussion for “Oh, Brother”, this show used to do a damn good job at balancing both. Here, the writer decided to focus more on the satire rather than the character, and the end result is somewhat empty. In my opinion, to make a strong script, you need strong characters… and this episode doesn’t really have that.

Here… Homer exposits about Thomas Edison’s life, which seems unlike him; manages to comprehend complex math problems, and other stuff that seems unlike him. Jokes like “Women will like what I tell them to like” are a good satire on the seemingly sexist viewpoint on the marketing industry, but coming out of Homer, it makes him look more disturbingly misogynistic than ever before. (Didn’t the writers expose Homer as not especially misogynistic in “Homer Badman”?)

As for the rest of the characters, Marge is reduced to something of a doormat. Ignoring Homer’s wacky desire of the week, she seems to go a tiny bit soft with Homer when it comes with his stupid – if not outright dangerous – inventions. Remember, she told Homer to “shut up” over lack of theatre etiquette in “Colonel Homer”, so this seems somewhat regressive.

Bart, meanwhile, seems to act as a mere assistant in Homer’s schemes. While I don’t mind the idea, here, the execution is very dry – there’s little to bounce off each other. If I can recall, I did sorta like the season 17 episode “We’re on the Road to D’oh-where”, and it was probably because it had Homer and Bart bounce off of each other, and not have Bart serve as a mere sidekick to Homer. Granted, I haven’t watched the episode in a few years, but maybe I’ll check it out one of these days.

As for the plot… it’s pretty much just an excuse for “Homer acts like an idiot” jokes. The pacing is off, the twist at the end came out of left field, and the second act seems a bit vapid.

There’s more I could talk about, but in the end, this is an episode that I have mixed feeling over. It has decent satire, but I feel like it could’ve been better with character exploration – or at least, consistent characterization. Here… not so much.

Tidbits:

  • Personally, I found that getting William Daniels – the voice of KITT himself – to be a bad sign as far as character. It makes Homer out to be the centre of the universe, or something to that effect. Homer is supposed to be just this working class guy who occasionally got into strange situations (such as going into space), and who managed to get a realistic response from everybody. Getting KITT reneges on that in a sense.
  • This was also written by John Swartzwelder, well known for his relative reclusiveness amongst the writers. He actually wrote some of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the show – “Rosebud”, “Homer at the Bat”, and all that. He penned “The Cartridge Family”, which was known for it’s relatively neutral stance on Gun Control (Swartzwelder is a conservative, and pro Gun Rights). However, in 1994, he was allowed to submit his drafts from his home, what with the backlash against smoking. Thus, some have speculated that this gave the writers and showrunners free-reign to manipulate the scripts.
  • This was also the first episode to premiere in the 1998-99 season itself – the season that gave us Futurama and Family Guy. Some have speculated that the show’s shift into zanier territory was motivated by Family Guy. The timing, though, leads me to disagree somewhat.
Favorite Scene: Admittedly, I loved the scene with Homer at the school library. I don’t really know how Homer got into the school – although that might be because I live in world with stricter school security – but I liked his explanation on why he wasn’t at the public library. “There was some… unpleasantness. I can never go back.”
Least Favorite Scene: KITT’s appearance, for the reasons above.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 – the half point is for the Homer’s attempt to destroy Edison’s stuff.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3 – was waffling between a 2.5 and a 3, but then I remembered just how boneheaded his inventions were, and the fact that the writers made KITT himself celebrate him, and bumped it up.
Score: 6 – mainly for the satire. Character… not so much.
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