“Knife goes in.
Guts come out.
That’s what Osaka Seafood Concern is all about!”
– Osaka Seafood Concern Squid Mascot, supporting his company and his nation by gutting himself.
Airdate: May 16th, 1999
Written By: Donick Carey and Dan Greaney
Plot: Their savings depleted, the Simpsons have to rebuild their hopes of taking a vacation. After scrounging in dangerous ways, they are able to afford last-minute plane tickets to an unknown destination – this time, Tokyo, Japan. Bart and Homer are interested in the tastes of home… tastes that get them arrested and rapidly deplete the family’s savings. Running out of money, they are forced onto a game show to get plane tickets back home.
You know, I had the strangest dream. I spent two years watching one of the most iconic comedy shows in the history of the western world decline into a shell of its former self, resorting to goofy climaxes and transforming their central character into a pompous dolt. It was a strange dream, one that also had me start watching a show about rebellious aliens and…
…oh, wait… it wasn’t a dream. Damn.
Yup, I’ve finally reached the end of Season 10. And having jumped over truckers and captured the Loch Ness Monster, what else to do but go out with a travel episode?
Contrary to popular belief, I would argue that The Simpsons have had travel-focused episodes from the very beginning. “The Crepes of Wrath” punted Bart over to France, “Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington” turned Lisa into a DC muckraker, “Itchy & Scratchy Land” had the family travel to the titular park and fight off haywire animatronics, and most famously, “Bart vs. Australia” had Bart sent to Australia to face fraud charges. Even in this season, “Maximum Homerdrive” had Bart and Homer take a trip down to Atlanta, and “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love” took a trip to Scotland to recover the Loch Ness Monster and is anybody else impulsively banging their head against a desk?
What made those early travel episodes click was that character was the motivator behind every single action taken in those episodes. Take “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington”, for example – picked because, honestly, it might be my favorite Simpsons episode. While at first glance a satire on DC, the crux of the episode is Lisa using her intellect to get to the capital city, losing her faith in democracy, and telling the truth about Capitol deceit. “Bart vs. Australia” revolved around Bart’s antics causing a serious diplomatic incident, while “Crepes of Wrath” humbled him and put him in the hands of people far worse than he is.
This episode, actually, isn’t too different. I mean, the basis of the episode is that the family’s savings for their vacation gets wiped out (partially due to Homer’s subpar financial management, partially due to data theft), forcing them to scrounge for a last-minute trip to an unknown location – all with the help of a sleazy salesman who advocates personal embarrassment to try and live a life of luxury. After going to the $.33 store and dealing with possible food poisoning, it’s off to Tokyo. Yeah, it’s a bit of a sudden twist in the plot, but I don’t care – for the most part, I laughed through the first act. (“I invested in something called NewsCorp.” “Dad, that’s FOX.” “Undo! UNDO!”)
It’s not like the writers forget about what sent the Simpsons over to Japan in the first place, however – the big tie through the whole episode is the fact that the family are doing this on a bare-bones budget – again, not helped by Homer and Bart chucking themselves into a Tokyo prison for assaulting the Emperor.
On that note, act two complements these concerns with jokes about the overall travel to Japan. And yes, most of these are just various jokes relating to Japanese culture, stereotypes, etc. Still, most of these do work – partially due to the breadth of jokes, and partially due to the character interactions. A large chunk of the comedy revolves around the increasing Americanization of Japan, and how it appeals to Homer and Bart. Unfortunately, the reverse isn’t true – at least, when it relates to complete idiocy on Captain Wacky’s part. Even Homer’s jerkassery is slightly more tolerable here than it is in other episodes – partially because there’s little glossing it over (although I doubt attacking the emperor would merit much less than a lengthy prison term, but whatever.) Unfortunately, it’s his fault that the family winds up stuck in Japan… so make of that what you will.
Character idiocy, jokes about Japan, and lack of money all combine by the third act – where to get back to America, the family winds up on a game show. Most of the jokes revolve around Homer winding up in constant pain – the climax of a season’s worth of deep pain, now playing out on national television! Thanks to the help of (surprise, surprise) guest star George Takei, and his portrayal of sadistic game show host Wink, we get what is, strangely enough, one of the stronger third acts in the history of the show. Again, this is partially because of the comedic timing – good timing and setups can make jokes connect in many scenarios, and the overall theme of “painful Japanese Game Shows” make jokes that would fail in other episodes (Homer getting fried by electricity) more enjoyable here.
This is one of the few instances where trademarks of the Scully Era – the insanity of Homer, the over-the-top plots, the goofiness, the focus on comedy over character – are executed rather well. Again, this ties into the pretty great comedic timing, something that’s been a bit… off the past season.
Of course, comedy is subjective, so an analysis of the plot is also in order. It’s not the most scattershot plot this show has done or will do, but it is a bit silly. Again, the connecting theme of the Simpsons being flat broke ties the first act and the rest of the episode together, and there is a decent flow regarding the desire for cultural enrichment versus the love of Americanization, so “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” does outclass many episodes this season in that regard. Character wise, outside of the bits of Homer being a maniac, it wasn’t too bad – most of the characters fit in, and we even got a bit of development on Flanders’ part and how he manages to make ends meet with such a niche store. It’s not the tightest plot in the world, and not the master of character focus, but it works well enough – better than many other episodes this season have, at least.
Honestly, this episode is a bit of a relief. After an up-and-down tenth season, I’m glad that we actually ended closer to the “up” side of the spectrum with these last two episodes. Maybe we’ll keep the trend going into Season 11.
Hey, anybody else impulsively banging their head against a desk?
- There’s a certain irony of the “Battling Seizure Robots” joke, given that it was a send-up of an episode of Pokemon that got banned because it caused seizures in Japanese schoolkids. Meanwhile, this episode has never been distributed in Japan. I dunno, maybe they have something about a character tossing the Emperor into the crowd. (Five seasons later, as I implied above, Homer drove into Queen Elizabeth, and they managed to get Tony Blair to accept praise from the writers. Thank god I’m stopping at the start of Season 13.)
- I personally loved the joke about Homer dropping a $150 square watermelon – as well as the follow-up concerning Homer eating a $50 pretzel. I dunno why – I just love that recurring thread of Americanization biting the family in the butt.
- Oh, yeah, four kaiju wind up attacking the plane on the way back to Springfield. Honestly, that is far better than holding Nessie and keeping her through the third act – if only because it’s a quick joke. Still, a rather telling end to the season, right
Zaniness Factor: 2. It does work as a parody of Japanese game shows, though, so I’m a bit more forgiving.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2.5. His idiocy does drive the plot and helps to strand the family, but again, it does work as a satire of the consequences of Americanization, I guess, so I’m somewhat more forgiving here.
Favorite Scene: Yeah, I loved the game show, for the most part. But, maybe that’s because I have a soft spot for George Takei. Oh, my…
Least Favorite Scene: They could’ve put Homer in jail without throwing the emperor, right?
Score: 7. A relative high note to close out this up-and-down season.
While it might not be the topic of the next post, a ranking of the top 10 weakest episodes of season 10 is in the offing. And, for those interested, my review of Star Trek: First Contact will be coming out on June 1st. No guarantees, but I’m also going to work for the next two months on my review of Star Trek: Insurrection to get it out on July 1st. Be sure to subscribe and follow – be among the first to get my silly little reviews.