Scullyfied Simpsons: “Maximum Homerdrive” (Season 10, Episode 17)

“If you wanna be my lover
You gotta get with my friends
Make it last forever
Cos friendship never ends…”

“Don’t you have school?” “Don’t you have work?” “Ah, touche.” – Homer and Bart, recognizing just how silly these plots are getting.

Airdate: March 28th, 1999
Written By: John Swartzwelder.
Plot: The Simpson family (bar Lisa) go to the Slaughterhouse, a steakhouse where the waiters kill the cow in front of the patrons. One menu item is a 16lb steak that only two people finished – Tony Randall and trucker Red Barclay. Homer decides to take on Red… but while Homer loses, the contest doesn’t end too well for the trucker. Feeling remorseful, Homer decides to take on Red’s last route to Atlanta, and Bart hops on for the ride.

Meanwhile, Marge and Lisa decide to install a new doorbell – one that plays “Close to You”. Their patience to have somebody ring the doorbell wears thin, however, and eventually Lisa takes the plunge… one that will ultimately prove detrimental to the neighborhood’s sleep schedules.

Review:

Oh, yeah! Set your amps to max, turn your hairdryers to Max Power, switch your radio over to Max FM, and take your son Max over to Lake Destiny, because we’re in for our second Maximum episode in a row! Time to shift it into “Maximum Homerdrive!”

Through my life, the “road trip” has been a favorite pastime of mine. Thus, episodes of TV shows revolving around road trips seem to lure me in. And I have to admit it – “Maximum Homerdrive” is actually an episode I rather like. Yeah, it’s silly, contains a rather thin plot, and probably the pinnacle of “Homer Gets A Job” plots that dominate Season 10. But, for some reason, I get a nostalgic feeling with this episode.

Under a critical lens, though… how does it hold up?
Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Homer to the Max" (Season 10, Episode 13)

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. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday" (Season 10, Episode 12)

Homer in Super Bowl Jail.
These nutjobs have earned the prestigious honor of Smooth Jimmy Apollo’s Lock-Up of the Week!

Airdate: January 31st, 1999.

Plot: Through a series of barely connected events, Homer meets up with a travel agent who manages to get him and his friends to ride a coach bus to the Super Bowl, all for free. Thing is, their tickets have a problem – they’re fake. Their attempt to go to the game… well, just look at the above image and guess how well that fared.

Review: I am a fan of the New York Football Giants. I’ve never been to a game (because being in the largest media market gives you the right to charge $100 for a low-end ticket and god-knows-what for food and stuff), but I’ve been watching the team on TV practically every fall for the past twelve years. The 42nd and 46th Super Bowls were some of the greatest sports memories of my life. And even with the team’s recent malaise, I won’t give up hope that the Giants will reach the top of the Football Mountain once again.

What does this have to do with “Sunday Cruddy Sunday”?

UHF Wheel of Fish


…nothing! Absolutely nothing!

…I kid, I kid… the episode does feature Football. And, much like the end of the past four Giants seasons, it hurt to watch and barely held any connection to anything.

Mike Scully actually joked that they slapped it together in the commentary. Here’s the thing – it actually does come off as rather slapdash. I think they got word that they would get the slot at the end of XXXIII, failed to come up with a good idea, and threw something together just to appease the FOX executives.

Thing is, they were placed in a timeslot where they needed some of their best work. For those that live in another country, the Super Bowl is the single biggest sports event in America, and gives the World Cup a run for it’s money in “biggest sports event in the world”. So, maybe this episode was intended as a prank on the audience?

Well, sort of. If so, it’s a pretty daring prank. It probably could’ve almost worked if it wasn’t for certain factors which I will mention later.

However, I’m grading this episode on it’s own merits. So… let’s start with the characters. Oh, sorry, I meant “random townspeople that run around with Jerkass Homer”.

On one hand, I get the variety, so to speak, of characters that are on the Super Bowl bus. I’d argue that the game is one of our great national unifiers. No matter what your political alliance, your favorite TV show, watching football is one of the most shared interests, and again, more people watch the Super Bowl than any other TV event on a year-to-year basis. That said, there seems to be little variety in the characters and their interactions. Outside of a line or two, they largely act like “football fans following a moron”. Idiots.

In particular, Wally might be among the biggest character wastes (except for a lot of Bart’s girlfriends.) There is very little about his character that is particularly memorable. I think that his role as a character was that of a loser travel agent who easily fell for scams and is self-depreciating, I guess. Still, there’s so little to work with as far as his character interactions go. Fred Willard does an acceptable job with the subpar role he’s given, but still, rather annoying.

Oh, and Homer is in full blown “bombastic” mode. It’s irritating. Thankfully, he gets a decent dose of punshiment… until he and his crew wind up in the winning locker room.

Now, the plot. Um… there was so little of consequence, I can’t even comment. It was just silly moment after silly moment, and the plot was very, very loose. Honestly, the only thing that really interested me plot-wise was Rupert Murdoch chasing the gang out of the skybox. It’s wacky, but at least it almost had substance.

If there was a good aspect of this episode, I did like some of the Super Bowl related jokes. The halftime shows were cheesy at the time this episode aired, the pre-game entertainment is even cheesier, the commercials have little to do with the product, and the game is pretty flipping brutal. Too bad there were too few of them, and we got more bombast from Homer and Co… which is made worse by the boring plot.

So, yeah. On it’s own merits, it’s a pretty subpar effort from the writers. For a Super Bowl episode, this is pretty bad. However, on a larger level, there is one major strike against this episode.

Seth MacFarlane.

This episode was the second part of Fox’s 2-part lead-out. The first part was the debut of Family Guy – the episode “Death Has A Shadow”. Truth be told, that was not a bad episode. I’m not a huge FG fan, but that episode had pretty effective (if more “blue”) comedy, a plot that had substance, and it didn’t flat out insult the intelligence of it’s audience at the end.

I don’t think “Death Has a Shadow” would draw in too many disillusioned fans of The Simpsons. However, for first time viewers of both shows, watching this after Family Guy probably didn’t impress them. (There’s nothing that says you can’t watch both shows, however.)

A poor episode at the worst possible time, not a whole lot more needs to be said about “Sunday Cruddy Sunday”. In the words of John Madden at the end of this episode, “It was kind of a ripoff! What a way to treat the loyal fans who put up so much nonsense from this franchise!” And the nonsense isn’t going to end anytime soon.

In short, watch “Lisa The Greek” instead. That’s my warp of the week for the best football-related Simpsons episode.

Tidbits:

  • Oh, yeah, there was also a subplot where Marge and Lisa paint eggs with the Vincent Price kit. It was intentionally constructed to be as boring as possible. It succeeded too well.
  • Skinner repeating a boring trip, while not joke-free, was done better in “Bart Gets Famous”. “My boy’s a box!” Oh, and there’s a rather awkward joke about Skinner being safe from shooting rampages as an Elementary School principal. It was awkward before Columbine, really awkward afterwards, and in the wake of Sandy Hook, the joke makes me wonder what the four writers (yes, four people made this) were thinking.
  • The jokes involving covering up the mouths when announcing teams was pretty silly. I know The Simpsons is intended to be a satire on our everyday world, and putting two other teams could’ve backfired badly, but I honestly would’ve jokingly put two subpar teams in that slot just for comedy purposes. It was funny when they did it with the President, if only because they made a joke later on about Al Gore measuring the drapes in the Oval Office.
  • I did find Lisa’s comment about the Catholic Church commercial (and Super Bowl commercials in general) interesting, given that, three seasons later, she went through a crisis of faith because of the commercialization of the First Church of Springfield. (Before you ask, on the FXNow edit, it’s simply referred to as “The Church”. Apparently, specifying the church caused a bit of a tizzy.) 
  • Oh, and the “big” guest stars include Willard, Madden, Pat Summerall, Rupert Murdoch, Dolly Parton, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, and Rosey Grier. 
Zaniness Factor: 3.5. Silly twists and nothing of substance.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3.75. Obnoxious, bombastic, and he barely gets any comeuppance – if any. (I did like the joke about him talking to President Clinton, if only because he did it before, in “Deep Space Homer”.) 
Favorite Scene: I guess I liked the scene at High Pressure Tire Sales. We’ve all been pressured to buy unnecessary stuff before.
Least Favorite Scene: The only scene to really infuriate me was John Madden’s aforementioned quote. Were they trying to get hate mail? Honestly, they should’ve just given up the slot to a second Family Guy episode. 
Score: 3.5.

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken" (Season 10, Episode 11)

Those kids may need an optometrist.

Airdate: January 17th, 1999

Synopsis: The Springfield Isotopes win the league pennant, causing a gang including Homer and his friends to vandalize the Springfield Elementary School. The next morning, the blame is pinned… on the children of Springfield, who are promptly placed under a curfew. Infuriated at this, the children proceed to set up a pirate radio show, which serves as a tabloid-esque program leaking the secrets of the townspeople.

Review (SPOILERS): When I was younger, “Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken” wasn’t necessarily my favorite episode of the show. I don’t know why it didn’t like it – it really just never endeared itself to me. Strangely, though, it’s cited as one of the better ones from Season 10. Now that I’m older, and have watched some really bad Simpsons episodes, has it gotten any better?

Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Mayored To The Mob" (Season 10, Episode 9)

Airdate: December 20th, 1998

Those aren’t Idaho Potatoes!

Synopsis: A trip to the Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con goes horribly wrong when Mark Hamill doesn’t talk about Star Wars at his panel. With a riot breaking out, and Mark and the Mayor’s lives threatened, Homer barges through the nerds and rescues the duo. Quimby promptly fires his old bodyguards and replaces them with Homer. This, however, leads to trouble when Homer winds up discovering that a deal with the Mafia to send low-quality milk to schoolchildren went too well (read, the Mafia was using rat’s milk.) With the ring busted, Fat Tony threatens Quimby’s life.

Review: OK… Homer gets another job. Over the previous eight episodes, he’s been a grease jockey, an inventor, a personal assistant, a hippie, and a coward on the Ship of Lost Souls (although that last one only lasted mere minutes before he got thrown out.) So, why did the writers give him another job? I think, in reality, Mark Hamill just walked by Ron Hauge at some restaurant in LA, Hauge thought of an episode where Homer and Mark met up, and before you know it, Homer’s a bodyguard.

Anyway, this episode was better than “Kidney Trouble”. Then again, a test pattern would’ve been better than “Kidney Trouble”.

In a bizarre way, I think that this episode could’ve worked better given the right circumstances. In fact, it did work better at one point – Season 6’s “The Springfield Connection”.

In “Springfield Connection”, Marge joins the Springfield Police Department after feeling a rush from bringing down a petty criminal. There, she gets a first hand look at the incompetence and corruption within Springfield’s Finest.

On the surface, these two plots are similar – a Simpson parent enters the public service. However, in “Springfield Connection”, there are many nuances that make it stand out – the episode features an analysis of corruption, incompetence, familial abuse of power, gender roles (to a certain extent), society’s perception of law enforcement – even the idea of reform vs punishment is brushed upon. That, and Marge’s desire to enter the force and actions within stemmed from her character – a personal repression of her more “adventurous” side that exploded when trying to capture a perp, yet also was nuanced with her refusal to participate in the abuses of power the other members of the department engage in.

Here, beyond the retracing of bribery and corruption, there’s no nuances here. It’s just a simple action-esque plot, beat by beat. Nothing new is seen, and it seems like the plot controls the characters, instead of vice-versa. For example, Homer’s reasoning for entering the force? Mayor Quimby pointed to him, and he accepted. Why? There’s nothing in his character that would indicate that this should work. But, he accepts, because that’s what Captain Wacky does. He also becomes way too focused on his job, because, again, Captain Wacky.

That’s our Captain Wacky, taking an unstable job and using a sleeperhold on his kids!

Even the ending shows a stark difference in how to wrap up plots. “Springfield Connection” had Marge examine the hypocrisy (or at least incompetence) of the SPD, and gave her a personal reason to resign – the man that attacked her family was being let off the hook, and she felt like there was too little hope for reform. It’s a brilliant ending, having Marge reinforce the values she lives her life by.

In another “Homer Gets A Job” plot, “Colonel Homer”, Homer leaves his job as country musician manager after a close analysis of his relationship with Marge, which was strained for a good chunk of that episode.

Come the end of “Mayored”, Homer leaves his bodyguard job because… he’s an idiot. It’s a bit funny, but there’s little to get from his character besides “Homer is an idiot.” Real creative and deep.

Now, it seems like I’m harping on this episode a lot. Thankfully, there are a few positives.

For example, I loved Mark Hamill’s performance here – it practically saved the episode. Unlike the Basinger/Baldwin debacle of a couple of episodes ago, not only does it not overtake the plot, but there are actual jokes regarding the man – how he’s now reduced to selling cell phone plans, doing community theatre, etc. Hamill’s character even comes off as a bit egotistical and callous – a fine bit of self deprecation. Read, Mark Hamill has a personality.

Also notable is that, well, there wasn’t any awkward mistreatment of death to sully the comedy. Thus, I laughed quite a bit, such as…

  • Roger Corman’s Titanic.
  • Quimby’s old bodyguards just looking at the blue skies outside as a riot breaks out at Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con.
  • Seargent Leavelle singing “I Will Always Love You”. He ain’t Whitney, that’s for sure.
  • “Rats? I’m outraged! You promised me dog or higher!”
  • Cruel as it was, Homer’s dismissal of Milhouse’s safety (or at least sense of taste) was a decent bit of dark comedy. Poor kid.
  • “Luke, Be a Jedi Tonight!”
So, is this episode worth a watch? Maybe once, if only for Mark Hamill’s performance. Otherwise, not much to recommend here, other than if you have to choose between this and “Kidney Trouble”.
Tidbits:
  • The Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con is a pretty interesting gag – mainly, it seems to indicate that this small town is some sort of midpoint for science fiction.
  • Some fans were critical of the fact that various secondary characters (Willie, Lenny) were at the Mark Hamill panel. I am willing to play devils advocate, and think that the writers were going to symbolize the wide appeal that Star Wars Episode I had at the time of release, that is broke into the mainstream. But, yeah, it does dilute the secondary characters into more of a mass than as individuals. Springfield is the quintessential American town, but in the past, the characters were identifiable by their likes and dislikes. Not so much here.
  • I figure I should bring up the mafia aspect of the episode. It’s rather stupid, and even playing around with a few cliches didn’t help this episode much. Word to the wise – watch “Homie the Clown”. In fact, “Mayored” is that, but less clever.
Zaniness Factor: 3. Stupid Mafia plot is stupid, Captain Wacky is Captain Wacky. 
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3. No less than four times does Homer use the sleeperhold on his own family. That, and his rather casual dismissal of Maggie during the Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con riot was pretty cruel. Try watching this episode after “Lisa’s First Word”. You’ll weep… at how far the writing has shifted.
Favorite Scene: Strange as it seems, I did like the Bodyguard Boot Camp. That, and c’mon, “Luke, Be A Jedi Tonight” is brilliant.
Least Favorite Scene: I’m going with the sleeperhold scenes. All of them tie for scenes that amused me the least.
Score: 5. Thank you, Mark Hamill.

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. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" (Season 10, Episode 2)

Airdate: September 20th, 1998

Synopsis: Reaching a midlife crisis, Homer becomes despondent on life. After a projector breaks down, Homer rhetorically asks “who invented this thing?” Lisa responds, and Homer has a new goal – be the new Thomas Edison. He becomes obsessed with the man… and, when it turns out that Edison invented something that Homer seemed to invent – a chair with an extra set of legs on hinges – Captain Wacky becomes hellbent on destroying Edison’s chair.

Review: Sounds like a Scullyfied Simpsons. Ain’t been reviewed onto nigh for two months.

Tsk, tsk, tsk – trouble a brewin!

Homer’s sorta pitiful life is the centerpiece of the greatest Simpsons episodes. Even when he is involved in something landmark (such as going into space), there’s this tinge in the writing that he got there by the thinnest of margins (aka, Barney going insane and falling off the top of a mattress factory). Despite this, he almost always maintained a love for the simple things you’d expect a 40-year old to love – TV, Duff, all that jazz.

Indeed, deconstructing his simple life by putting him in a midlife crisis seems like tough ground to tread. It doesn’t seem like Homer would be the one to encounter that, but I’d be willing to excuse that somewhat as a deconstruction of what his life has been.

Then Lisa brings up Thomas Edison, and the episode becomes… a tad bit more haphazard.

Look, Homer trying to invent something doesn’t seem like a bad idea… it’s just that it was done before. Can you say, “The Homer”?

For those unaware, in “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou”, Homer’s half-brother, Herb, is the founder and head of a floundering car company. After meeting Homer, he starts to believe/realize his fellow suits are trying to imitate the Japanese and European car makers, and commissions Homer to invent “the American car.” The end result?

The Car Built For Homer
“Whatever Homer wants… Homer gets….”

It cost $82,000 – far beyond the means of the average American, yet even those that could afford it probably wouldn’t touch the car with a 39.5′ pole. Worse, because it was promoted as the flagship/comeback car of the company, Powell Motors loses whatever credibility it had, is bankrupted, and Herb winds up taking residence under a bridge. It was realistic, had a coherent plot, and more than just two-dimensional, satirizing the auto industry and the perceptions of the “average American”.

Admittedly, though, the inventions that Homer considers could be taken as a satire on just how insane companies would go in attempts to make lives “simpler”, when in reality, their inventions would add more complications to their life.

If you watch The Simpsons for satire, it’s not bad.

However, as I mentioned in my discussion for “Oh, Brother”, this show used to do a damn good job at balancing both. Here, the writer decided to focus more on the satire rather than the character, and the end result is somewhat empty. In my opinion, to make a strong script, you need strong characters… and this episode doesn’t really have that.

Here… Homer exposits about Thomas Edison’s life, which seems unlike him; manages to comprehend complex math problems, and other stuff that seems unlike him. Jokes like “Women will like what I tell them to like” are a good satire on the seemingly sexist viewpoint on the marketing industry, but coming out of Homer, it makes him look more disturbingly misogynistic than ever before. (Didn’t the writers expose Homer as not especially misogynistic in “Homer Badman”?)

As for the rest of the characters, Marge is reduced to something of a doormat. Ignoring Homer’s wacky desire of the week, she seems to go a tiny bit soft with Homer when it comes with his stupid – if not outright dangerous – inventions. Remember, she told Homer to “shut up” over lack of theatre etiquette in “Colonel Homer”, so this seems somewhat regressive.

Bart, meanwhile, seems to act as a mere assistant in Homer’s schemes. While I don’t mind the idea, here, the execution is very dry – there’s little to bounce off each other. If I can recall, I did sorta like the season 17 episode “We’re on the Road to D’oh-where”, and it was probably because it had Homer and Bart bounce off of each other, and not have Bart serve as a mere sidekick to Homer. Granted, I haven’t watched the episode in a few years, but maybe I’ll check it out one of these days.

As for the plot… it’s pretty much just an excuse for “Homer acts like an idiot” jokes. The pacing is off, the twist at the end came out of left field, and the second act seems a bit vapid.

There’s more I could talk about, but in the end, this is an episode that I have mixed feeling over. It has decent satire, but I feel like it could’ve been better with character exploration – or at least, consistent characterization. Here… not so much.

Tidbits:

  • Personally, I found that getting William Daniels – the voice of KITT himself – to be a bad sign as far as character. It makes Homer out to be the centre of the universe, or something to that effect. Homer is supposed to be just this working class guy who occasionally got into strange situations (such as going into space), and who managed to get a realistic response from everybody. Getting KITT reneges on that in a sense.
  • This was also written by John Swartzwelder, well known for his relative reclusiveness amongst the writers. He actually wrote some of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the show – “Rosebud”, “Homer at the Bat”, and all that. He penned “The Cartridge Family”, which was known for it’s relatively neutral stance on Gun Control (Swartzwelder is a conservative, and pro Gun Rights). However, in 1994, he was allowed to submit his drafts from his home, what with the backlash against smoking. Thus, some have speculated that this gave the writers and showrunners free-reign to manipulate the scripts.
  • This was also the first episode to premiere in the 1998-99 season itself – the season that gave us Futurama and Family Guy. Some have speculated that the show’s shift into zanier territory was motivated by Family Guy. The timing, though, leads me to disagree somewhat.
Favorite Scene: Admittedly, I loved the scene with Homer at the school library. I don’t really know how Homer got into the school – although that might be because I live in world with stricter school security – but I liked his explanation on why he wasn’t at the public library. “There was some… unpleasantness. I can never go back.”
Least Favorite Scene: KITT’s appearance, for the reasons above.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 – the half point is for the Homer’s attempt to destroy Edison’s stuff.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3 – was waffling between a 2.5 and a 3, but then I remembered just how boneheaded his inventions were, and the fact that the writers made KITT himself celebrate him, and bumped it up.
Score: 6 – mainly for the satire. Character… not so much.