Scullyfied Simpsons: "When You Dish Upon a Star" (Season 10, Episode 5)

This is as close to a mockery as Alec Baldwin gets. It’s all downhill from here.

Airdate: November 8th, 1998

Synopsis: While parasailing at Lake Springfield, Homer literally crashes into Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin’s house. Rather than call the cops or the paramedics, they befriend the idiot. Apparently, the two hang out at the summer house to try and escape the press. Homer quickly becomes their personal assistant, yet has to check his impulses that could expose them to the media.

Review: While we have seen Homer’s character begin to slip over the past season, in my opinion, Season 10 had three key episodes that cemented the change in character from “lovable everyman” to “obnoxious Creators Pet/Jerkass Homer”. These include “Homer Simpson in Kidney Trouble” (cementing his callous actions as practically normal), “Viva Ned Flanders” (cementing his omnipotence and role as centerpiece in the town of Springfield), and today’s example in how to tarnish the legacy of the most treasured sitcom in American history, “When You Dish Upon a Star”. Here, we focus on Homer not only meeting up with celebrities, but also becoming their assistant… despite damaging their house.

And that’s just the start of the episode’s problems.

For here, this is the episode that seemed to mark the show’s transition from mocking the aura of celebrities in American society to outright celebrating it. Not a whole lot of good comedy can be mined from praising celebrities, and this episode proves it. Here, the largest amount of satire against Baldwin and Basinger is rather milquetoast, and it gets to the point where they seem treated like such lovable people. The big problem they seem to face is media attention, and their desire to hide from it is what drove them to Springfield. While this could be a nice twist to add some humanity to them, there’s little attempt to give them vices, or even personalities. Thus, Basinger and Baldwin feel more like the ET-style icons than they are actual characters.

Need I bring out the obvious comparison? Let’s look at “Homer at the Bat”, which is well known as the first Simpsons episode to really carry it’s back on the guest stars. “Homer at the Bat” actually gave each and every single “celebrity” character a well-written personality, given the relatively limited “solo” time for each character. The baseball players shown to not be infallible (“PITT! THE! ELDER!”), and every single character actually had a recognizable personality. Even Darryl Strawberry gave off a bit of an arrogant attitude, and it wasn’t necessarily played like a good thing, because he wasn’t the star of the episode.

There are other examples – James Taylor and Buzz Aldrin (“Deep Space Homer”) for example – where guest stars voiced themselves, yet did so in a very self-deprecating manner. That, and again, none of the celebrities were really the centerpiece of the episode That attitude is not prevalent here – the entire episode seems to revolve around Basinger and Baldwin. And again, the satire seems like kid gloves at best, and downright praise at worst.

Another big problem that this episode has is how it handles Homer’s own insecurities. Granted, Homer did have his own personal grievances in the golden age – “Deep Space Homer” is a prime example. However, not only was the genesis of his insecurities justifiable there (he lost employee of the month to a carbon rod), but it was treated in a somewhat realistic manner, given the relatively insane circumstances (Homer unsure if he belongs amongst the crew of the Corvair spacecraft.) Here, it just seems like Homer buddies up to these idealistic celebrities without hesitation, acts like an idiot, and rather than try and make up for it, acts like a jackass to them in what I suppose is an attempt to satirize the celebrities that they are painting off as idealistic.

Did Richard Appel proofread this script? What tone were they trying to take?

Even worse is that Homer is out of character. While recognizing Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin isn’t too far out there – dude watches a ton of TV – it’s not only too instantaneous, but Homer himself actually feels like another celebrity that happened to meet a celebrity. Instead of kicking the moron out, he becomes their servant. Whom they actually rather like (annoying as he may be) and even befriend (they play badminton, because celebrities) until he goes and spills the beans. However, he becomes too adjusted to the high life (because Homer totally got adjusted to the high life when he became a barbershop singer), and goes and sells out the duo, leading to a car chase

Oh, there is so much wrong with this episode, so let’s go with something good.

Ron Howard. Not awesome material, but he did get quite a few funny lines. This man being pathetic and willing to do anything is honestly what this episode should’ve been about. It wouldn’t have been nearly as great as the classics, but it wouldn’t have been as dull and stupid as this episode was.

That’s praise, people.

“When You Dish Upon A Star” is probably the first truly dire Simpsons episode I’ve seen thus far in my attempt to analyze the Scully era, and probably the first dire one overall – this includes season 1. Took me only a season and change. That’s a very good sign right there.

Tidbits:

  • Ron Howard actually guest starred again in the episode “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder”. I’ll save judgment when we get there. He almost starred in “Children Of A Lesser Clod”, but dropped out for unknown reasons. I like to imagine that he realized just how far the show was declining, and decided not to humor the producers.
  • There’s this stupid joke where Homer notes that he can’t read. Homer might not be the smartest light bulb out there, but I seriously doubt that he’s illiterate, given that his favorite piece of literature is TV Guide? Did Appel even watch Season 5?
  • Probably the most confusing part of the episode that doesn’t involve Ron Howard has to be Homer’s courtroom rant on how celebrities are basically selfish, egocentric people who are shocked when their attempts to be the centre of attention manage to actually make them the centre of attention. I guess that was the lesson for the episode, and it was a bit snarky, but coming from Homer after his behavior and Basinger/Baldwin’s actions during this episode, it seems more vindictive and petty than anything.

Zaniness Factor: 3. Let’s see… car chase, Homer surviving certainly fatal injuries… yep, zany.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 3.5, for being both unlikeable and becoming a chum to celebrities for no discernible reason other than he became their servant.

Since we’re here, I like to point to a moment that I consider, if not the death of Retro Homer, then at least a major blow. He is disappointed in Marge’s low-level Manwiches after getting fired from the Basinger/Baldwin residence. It could be post-firing blues, but come on. This is a man who would eat anything (he ate a turned sandwich in “Selma’s Choice”), and here, he rejects food because it didn’t fit his heightened standards. Did these writers watch anything from before Season 9?

Favorite Scene: OK, anything with Ron Howard. Especially the ending, where he basically undercuts Jerkass Homer by stealing his script idea and selling it for two big bags of money. The one exception…

Least Favorite Scene: The stupid car chase. Wasn’t there any other way to end the show? Just because “Marge on the Lam” did a cool car chase ending does not guarantee your car chase ending will be good.

Score: 3.5.

Side note: I changed the name again, if you didn’t notice. It might be changed slightly over the next week or so.

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