“That’s pretty clever, Dad. I mean, for a product that’s evil and deadly!” – Lisa, trying her hand at marketing criticism. Hey, she was a food critic, sort of.
Airdate: November 7th, 1999
Written By: Ian Maxtone-Graham
Plot: Homer’s newfound penchant for declaring duels to get what he wants ends badly, when a Southern Gentleman takes up on his offer. Facing a duel by pistol, he and the family skip town and become farmers. Initially unsuccessful, they wind up tapping into an untapped market, thanks to some tobacco seeds, some tomato seeds, and radiation.
Over the past few seasons, The Simpsons has slowly embraced weirder, more outlandish elements in their plots. While there was always a cartoonish aura to the show, most of these elements in the first eight seasons were there for a quick joke, particularly in the David Mirkin era. Suddenly, with the Mike Scully Era taking hold, entire plots began shifting in the third act to a more cartoonish climax – ironically, as the animation became more stolid, and as the rest of the writing skills (characterization, plot development) began flatlining.
Season 11, in particular, is infamous for these more zany twists. Examples given include a swordfight between Homer and a motorcycle gang, Maggie gaining superhuman strength in a time of crisis, self-dancing tap shoes, and everybody’s favorite, the society of evil jockeys.
“E-I-E-I-D’oh!”, in particular, has a rather interesting “third-act twist” – one where Homer, during his new job (again) farming, becomes a tobacco baron. Thanks to tomatoes. And plutonium.
No, this wasn’t written on cannabis, as far as I am aware.
First, we must take a look at how Homer (and, by proxy, the rest of The Simpsons) enter the farming business… COWARDICE AND MEDIA! By which I mean, Homer becomes enamored with a film, The Poke of Zorro. Does he pay attention to the themes within? Nope – he goes straight for the GLOVE SLAP! Which, honestly, I could see Homer do. Yeah, it’s over the top and arrogant, but Homer is such a media junkie that being inspired by a flamboyant macho hero does make a lick of sense. Particularly since the hero of the movie does well beyond his wildest dreams, causing so many people to stand down.
Again, though, it seems like Homer (initially) does too well at convincing many of his opponents to stand down. I mean, we’re not dealing with Zorro here, we’re dealing with what is supposed to be the average joe. The good news is that most of these requests are put in during a montage… the bad news is that most of these requests are put in via a montage. (Kinda weak writing, eh?)
Anyway, reality (heh) comes crashing down on Homer when he actually meets a man who has a serious view of “honor” – a Southern Gentleman who agrees to the declared duel. With pistols. Ironically, it is Homer who winds up having to flee for his life, hiding in an old Christmas Tree that the family happened to have. There’s a beauty in this, that a man can’t take what he dishes out, and there are some gags that reflect this (Jimmy Carter even turns the tables). Still, thus begins an almost entirely disconnected second act… on the farm!
From the arrival to the old Simpson farm through the second act, most of the scenes just turn into farming gags. To the writers credit, they do manage to make the initial growth arduous by pointing to the old farm being a wasteland. The issue comes in pacing – what results are a ton of gags about the farm being a debacle, up to and including a tractor falling on top of our protagonist. Several times. Thus, we don’t even get to our dilemma of Tomacco until the third act.
The common plot structure is to set up the plot in the first third, present the dilemma within said plot in the second, and resolve it in the third. Unfortunately, there’s both too much and too little in this episode and others like it. Thus, what ensues is an incredibly unfocused and awkward three acts here. Maybe the writers were trying to be unconventional, but more likely, they were just too lazy to send it to an editor’s room. (Either that, or the editor skipped town after having his duel challenge accepted.)
To get to the dilemma, therefore, we wind up having Plutonium causing the tobacco seeds and the tomato seeds to cross-breed. Hence, Tomacco. You know what? I’m going to suspend disbelief this once. I mean, this show has used nuclear radiation to showcase other adverse effects, so Tomacco I might give a pass here. What I find more intriguing is just how stuffed the third act is. The plants begin to grow, Tomacco is discovered, and a cigarette company proposes an investment in Tomacco to get kids hooked, as there is no law on the books yet. Also, the animals get insanely addicted. Here, the entire thing is so breakneck and fast-paced that it honestly beggars belief what the room was thinking. What, did they want to cram as many jokes in as possible?
Oh, right, obvious answer there.
If anything “great” can be said, it’s that the climax of the third act is a cowards scenario. Homer sells the plant to the Tomacco company? He profits off of the addiction to children. Keeps the plant? He dies a coward. If anything, his decision to sacrifice the plant does showcase him throwing off his own cowardice, if only for a minute and if only because an ostrich tried to eat his head.
What the hell am I typing here? This episode is disjointed. I guess you could argue that the third act represents that, no matter how big or small your business is, unethical practices will come back to bite you. But I don’t think the writers here were going for that, either.
I’m sorry this review is so short, I just have so little to add. I guess the ending brings things full-circle in a decent manner, but it’s amazing. For an episode that seems to have so much, it ultimately contains little of substance. There are a few funny gags, but that’s it, really. This episode is one of the emptier I’ve seen so far. Characters (with the possible exemption of Lisa and maybe Marge) are vacuums, the plot is scattershot, and even the animation is a bit funny in some places. Some might call this one of the few good episodes of Season 11, but looking back on it, I can’t give it that benefit of the doubt that others might.
- I will cede that Homer ordering his Milk Duds drowned in butter is hilarious.
- And some credit to the B-52s here, I did like the “Glove Slap” song. Yeah, it’s short, but I did find it funny.
- Also, credit to the Zorro movie in general for being a brutal pastiche of movies such as Romeo/Juliet, complete with a hip-hop theme song! (Go ahead and make your own Hamilton jokes, people.)
- Don’t ask why the farm isn’t a pile of burnt rubble. I shouldn’t care about continuity this much, but given that Season 11 will be a season of changes to the show’s status quo, it kinda raises the specter of continuity.
Zaniness Factor: 4. Pretty self-explanatory here.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3.75. I almost put it at 4, but given that he went up against actual tobacco executives, I’m giving a minor wave.
Favorite Scene: Homer’s phone call to Flanders. He starts to go on a mournful chat about what Flanders meant to him, only for the phone to request more money. End call.
Least Favorite Scene: A plethora of tobacco-addicted animals crashing through the barn does not an enjoyable climax make.