Airdate: February 7th, 1999
Plot: One of the midseason shows, Police Cops, features an Ace-type detective named Homer Simpson. This gives Homer a burst of popularity because of the similar names. However, a retool turns the detective into a lout, turning Homer into the joke of the town. After a plea to the executives falls less than flat, he finally decides to sue them. After that court case is thrown out, he asks for a name change to Max Power. With that name, he gains the attention of the A-List in Springfield.
Review (SPOILERS): Can television characters become deeply ingrained in our national psyche? Of course. Can it get to the point where it affects the lives of people with similar names? Likely. This is the topic that the episode was trying to take on, I think. Unfortunately, it’s execution is quite a bit wonky, leading to a rather silly third act conclusion.
“The characters aren’t perfect, and that’s what makes them so great”, mentioned Rebecca Sugar in a pre-premiere Steven Universe promo. I used that quote in my review of “Beach Party” as a demonstration of how much I love the characters in that show (and will use it again in another episode), but I think it also carries some weight here, with regards to the show-within-a-show Police Cops.
In the Police Cops pilot, Detective Simpson is practically Sonny Crockett without any sense of flaws – or a character, really. He takes down cops with gusto, captures bullets, attracts women, and manages to have a palace in Europe that he never uses because he fights crime. He is Mr. Marty Stu, Ace Detective.
The thing is, you can’t generate a lot of original plots with “Ace” characters. Even then, most of them would have to come from the fact that you’re playing their perfection for laughs. (For example, Red Dwarf’s Ace Rimmer. What a guy.) In fact, the pilot almost comes off as a subtle in-universe parody, not just an out-of-universe one.
No matter what, the show is retooled to make him a bumbling idiot who messes up everything. In that aspect, the show becomes a straight-up slapstick comedy.
Two things. First, I think the shift in tone does strangely mirror what happened to The Simpsons, with the show’s shift from a snarky, subtle comedy, into a more bombastic sitcom. Makes the episode either self-aware or hypocritical. Second, though, is Homer’s own response to the change in the characters. This is where the actual problems to the episode lie in.
Homer works best when he’s an everyman with self-deprecating tendencies. Here, as soon as the character is first introduced, he laps up his 15 minutes of fame, managing to capture the attention of the entire town. Justifiable, as fame does go to one’s head, but still quite a bit off for my tastes. Once he feels like the character has been destroyed enough to wreck his life, he orders his name changed to “Max Power”, who is, according to Homer, “decisive, uncompromising, and rude”. Ergo, the original Detective Simpson.
Or, for us, the mission statement of Jerkass Homer. It seems like the writers are trying to mess with our heads. I do get why he chose such arrogant names, an attempt to regain some dignity, but still, it feels a bit silly.
Unfortunately, that plot can’t carry enough weight, so Max Power winds up entangled in the cultural elite, all with snobbish names.
Before anybody brings it up, they did it only three seasons ago. (And better, mind you.)
Admittedly, the idea of Homer getting wrapped up with self-indulgent, protest-y celebrities who feel like it is their moral obligation to go on dangerous protests for silly reasons isn’t a completely irredeemable plotline. Their views are admirable, but they come off as exceedingly smug in doing so, and their reasons behind their views border on the, well, rather stupid. That, and we do get a few hints of classic Homer during the party.
Then he gets chained to a tree, and while trying to run away from the police, manages to cut his tree down, causing a domino effect that destroys the redwoods. To call that stupid is an understatement.
I think that they were going for the “Homer is more like Detective Simpson and not like Pilot Detective Simpson” angle, or the “beneath that bravado is an idiot” angle, but there could’ve been better, less utterly silly ways to take it on. We did not need tree dominoes. Tree dominoes… I have a bad feeling that will go down alongside “jockey elves”, “sword fighting motorcycles”, and “insane woman’s diamond mine” as far as bad endings go.
This episode does have quite a few choice laughs (the fact that Max Power’s name was actually from a hairdryer, for starters), and didn’t have a bad idea behind it. The execution, though, was ultimately subpar, and drags down the episode.
- I did sorta love the idea of Homer getting ready for the midseason schlock. Ironically, not only did The Simpsons debut in midseason (1989-90, for those unaware), but the 1998-99 midseason would see the debut of Family Guy (which, for a time, outpaced The Simpsons ratings-wise) and Futurama (which became critically acclaimed as The Simpsons entered its period of decline).
- Also, there was a gag about the voice actors being swapped out, with Ned even having his voice changed for a quick gag. Apparently, the voice actors and FOX reached an impasse as far as salaries go, and FOX threatened to punt them all. Most of them managed to negotiate better contracts, but Maggie Roswell (who was based in Colorado and flew out to LA) felt that the deal given to her wasn’t good enough, and left. This would have dire consequences.
- Also, Costington’s is back. Remember that over-extravagant store from “Trash of the Titans”? No real satire in the store this time.
- I did, however, love Homer’s “Max Power” theme.
- Didn’t, however, like Burns’s response. It’s not going to get any better – “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love”, anyone?