Scullyfied Simpsons: “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner” (Season 11, Episode 3)

Simpsons Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner

“Only your father can take a part-time job at a smalltown paper, and wind up the target of international assassins!” – Marge Simpson. Don’t worry, ma’am – at least he hasn’t become the enemy of the Federation of Jockeys. Yet.

Airdate: October 24th, 1999

Written by: Al “President for Life of The Simpsons” Jean.

Plot: While on a field trip to the Springfield Shopper newspaper, Homer winds up tracing the smell of food back to a food critic’s retirement party. His love of edibles convinces the paper’s manager (played by Ed Asner) to ask him to run a pilot. Unfortunately, he can’t write a good review, so Lisa helps him land the job. While things go well at first with his glowing analysis, he’s pressured to shift to a more critical tone. The lengths he goes in this new style not only alienate Lisa, but lead a mob of restaurant owners to plot his assassination.

Review:

The art of critique is strange. The cliché “everybody’s a critic” comes from the fact that anybody can look at a work of art and deem it either sublime or subpar. And on the age of the internet, even a dork like me can rant about Steven Universe, and somebody can read it before clicking onto Roger Ebert’s review of My Dinner With Andre. Such is the brilliance of our relatively egalitarian society, as well as the beauty of the internet.

But what, exactly, makes a good critic? That’s a question that can only result in subjective responses. If on one hand, you take a critical eye to everything, then you come off as an unpleasable grouch. On the other hand, if you take a positive view of everything, you come off as a sycophant to the show. The latter, personally speaking, is my biggest fear. I’ve criticized Gravity Falls and Steven Universe on occasion, but I sometimes wonder if I was (or am) too loose on occasion because I love(d) the show so much. And many of my early reviews, man… I don’t delete them on the grounds that, hey, we’ve all gotta look back on our early stuff sometimes and wonder how far we’ve come.

The art of critique is put on display in “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner”, episode 3 of Season 11 of The Simpsons. So, let’s critique an episode… about critique…

…this is strangely meta…

Homer becoming a food critic is actually a rather ingenious idea. I mean, this is a man who ate a pizza slice while he was in the neonatal unit. It was considered unusual when he didn’t take a whole box of donuts out of the break room. (To be fair, Mindy had a motorcycle!) His quest to slim down in “Brush With Greatness” was quite a feat, and his quest to get weight-related disability was easier than he thought. Homer’s love of foodstuffs was part of his everyman nature, and has become amongst the most iconic aspects of classic Homer.

Unfortunately, the character’s evolution into a more pompous superman resulted in that being put to the wayside. Notable is a scene in “Maximum Homerdrive”, where he downright discards Marge’s dinner. Granted, it was to go to a steakhouse, but I think that scene is a great indicator of just how far the show’s changed. And I actually thought that episode was alright, all things considered.

In some ways, this episode does serve as a “back to basics” for Homer – getting paid for his sheer gluttony. Yes, it’s another “Homer Gets A Job” episode, but it’s something I could see him doing. Certainly more believable than being Mr. Burns’s PR guru. And while he does walk into the “interview” rather easily, his first review is actually laughed off for its many typographical errors (and its mantra of “Screw Flanders”). A nice change of pace from him getting jobs just because.

So, naturally, he goes to Lisa to help him communicate his views, and with her help, lands the job. And indeed, he is actually rather in character to start, giving everything he reviews glowing praise the likes of which can only be met by a) some of my SU reviews or b) modern Simpsons episodes. Crude and selfish as Homer could occasionally be in the classic episodes, what really made him sympathetic (even beyond his moments of altruism) is his simple love of life, down to food.

And hey, glowing reviews aren’t bad. It’s just that Homer publishes enough of them to make it seem like he’s not putting any thought into his critique. Even his fellow critics call him out as an embarrassment to his craft. Given the prevalence of “instant expert” episodes later on, this is quite a tonal shift, and I like it.

Unfortunately, being an unbridled id, Homer takes the advice to dole out more negative advice way too far, delivering nothing but critique to everything. Sometimes, it’s understandable. Other times… he blasts Marge’s food. I do think they could’ve gone there with a bit more nuance from Homer, but that still doesn’t detract from the fact that I laughed. Six thumbs up? What a shame. It’s simple – if your reviews are too negative, you’re going to just come off as an unpleasant, unpleasable sourpuss.

Eventually, he goes straight into downright libel – a line Lisa refuses to cross. That scene where she finally resigns is probably Homer at his most Scully-like, proclaiming that he will never get his comeuppance… only to go downhill shortly afterward. In a show where Homer often gets off with merely a small reprimand for his jackassery lately, this is refreshing to show somebody step up to him. Hey, it’s better than nothing.

Still, few are as unforgiving as the owners of the many restaurants Homer blasted… and in a group meeting, they decide to kill him with an eclair that will poison him and clog his already-tight arteries. Strangely enough, this does remind me a bit of “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson”, where small business competition culminates in the mob going against the Yazuka. Honestly, a group of scorned businessman deciding to poison our protagonist seems nuanced. (I do think “Twisted World” is overall a better episode, and that ending does tie into the grand scale of the episode overall, but still, worth mentioning.)

That said, critical as I am of the show’s more over-the-top direction, I do like how the attempted assassination is handled. Yes, it’s cheesy, but not only is the handling at least somewhat original, but I don’t think it hits the silly climax of, say, “Mom and Pop Art” or even “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love”. Besides, at least they find one hell of a way to complete the climax…

“IT’S LOW FAT!” “NO!” (Eclair is tossed into Moleman’s shack, blowing up, because explosions are cool.)

I do, however, think the writers could’ve done more to resolve the Homer/Lisa subplot. I mean, after the bad aftertaste left in my mouth from “Make Room For Lisa”, this would’ve been a fine way to at least show that the writers still attempt to create some sort of character resonance. Unfortunately, it proves to be a bit of a misfire – the two sort of make-up and run from an angry mob.

Overall, though, this episode ain’t too bad. It’s certainly more than a bit silly at the end and does rely on Homer being a jackass in the second half of act two, but what rescues this episode is the plethora of great comedy spread through the three acts.

That, and there is a hint of satire at the whole review industry. Do people take these analysts in our papers or on these blogs too seriously? Do we gravitate too closely to negative critique or overly positive praise? Or do they serve a vital role in helping us get the most bang for our buck? (“Why’d you put that review on the front window?” “Arrr, it covered the “D” from the Health Inspector.”)

I’m actually pleasantly surprised. After that debacle of a start, we get two good, if flawed, episodes in a row. Maybe Season 11 has more diamonds in the rough.

Finally, screw Flanders.

Tidbits:

  • This episode does date itself a little with Homer getting the job at the Springfield Shopper. Given the move to digital media, it makes the episode seem a tad bit quaint. And speaking of which…
  • …the writers would return to food reviewing in Season 23, with “The Food Wife”. I consider Season 23 to be the absolute worst season of the show, and as you could guess, that episode managed to be even more lifeless than this one.
  • Glad to see the dinner theater from “Mayored to the Mob” again. Much as I thought that episode was a little weak, I still managed to get a laugh here, particularly with the botching of King Lear.
  • I will, though, say that this episode continues the degredation of Mr. Burns – both by promoting an obvious decoy of Homer and for being a jolly fat man.
  • Screw Flanders.

Wrap-Up:

Zaniness Factor: 2.5. Without the third act, it would’ve been a solid 1. But, hey, at least I laughed at the attempted assassination.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2.5. Outside of some brashness in the early first and late third acts, Homer’s really only obnoxious in his “critical reviewer” phase. Otherwise, he comes close to being in tune with his classic self.

Favorite Scene: Homer and Lisa penning the first review, leading to her imitating his famous drooling noise, pictured above.

Least Favorite Scene: Yeah, the very ending was a bit of a misfire. They left a lot of character development on the table in favor of a chase ending.

Score: 7.

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