Airdate: February 8th, 1998
|“Special effects by Industrial Lights and Morons” – Mike Nelson, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“Space Mutiny”)
Synopsis: Whilst wasting time at the Airport, Homer and Bart meet two members of the “movementarians”, Glen and Jane. They convince Homer, amongst others, to visit a film, where they promise to use praise to “the Leader” to get “access to a starship to ‘Blisstonia'”. Despite initial difficulties (Homer being too thick, for one), their message manages to get into Homer, and he, alongside most of the rest of Springfield, are sucked into the cult. Said cult forces its members to move to a farm to harvest Lima Beans. The Leader is said to be living in a forbidden barn, building his ship, making brief appearances to wave to the cult members. The cult’s popularity manages to take over Springfield, right down to its media. Only Marge is able to resist the cult, and has to flee the compound to find a way to deprogram the family.
Review: FINALLY! After, what, three weak episodes, we finally get an episode that’s… good.
Overhyped, though? Maybe a little.
This episode’s main strength is in its scathing critique of religious cults. Oh, boy, is it scathing. Take your typical cult tropes and exaggerate them to the nth degree. That’s the Movementarians. Let’s see, all they do is guilt trip people into being brainwashed, take over entire media outlets, poison those into submission, take their member’s money and property, and force them into hard labor… and it’s all just empty. They spend lavishly on themselves, descend the followers into petty fights, enjoy the tax-exempt status of the government to partake in the aforementioned self-serving spending, and pander to the follower’s weaknesses/battle against their strengths.
This episode was also very topical, somewhat rare for a post-classic Simpsons episode. You see, this episode has its basis in the Heaven’s Gate cult, which, a year earlier, committed suicide in an attempt to ride Comet Hale-Bopp. Also gaining media attention around this time (I suppose: I don’t have many memories of the 90s) was Scientology (which even had one of its founders write a book that was adapted into a hysterically awful movie), as well as the Unification Church.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Simpsons episode without its characters. For the most part, this episode does well in this regard. In all honesty, this episode shows Marge at one of her high points. It’s not really as high as, say, “Marge on the Lam”, but it’s pretty awesome. Through her, we see her have to take “deprogramming” maneuvers similar to those of brainwashing. It’s a tough call, but sometimes, you have to stoop low to achieve a goal that you know will be heroic in the end. Lovejoy and Flanders are perfect in their role as the Christian holdouts. That, and Ned actually has beer. Maybe I just have traces of ZS on the mind, but that’s a deep, more “average” side to Ned. Willie’s role as the “Id” of the deprogramming operation is perfect. I’ll go as far as to say that, as much as Homer did have some jerkass scenes in the beginning, most of it is excused, as his character is made more realistic by the end of the episode. The twist to deprogram him is awesome, and totally fits in with his character.
Complaints? Pacing was a bit off: the airport scene seemed to just be there for a bunch of sitcom jokes, yet the placement of the third act seemed to make it so that said third act dragged a bit. However, it’s an otherwise fantastically funny episode, with wicked satire and good characterization.
Enjoy it. These types of episodes will be rare as the years go on.
- This episode was technically produced by David Mirkin, the showrunner for Seasons 5 and 6. Much like Scully, Dave Mirkin’s twist on the show (especially in Season 5) took it into more outlandish and cartoony territory (“Deep Space Homer”, “Homer and Apu”). Mirkin also took on some social commentary. (“Sideshow Bob Roberts”, “Homer Badman”). However, Mirkin also used more character-based plots, rather than plots that caused the characters to conform to the plot. This episode feels like a Mirkin-era episode… except for art, which is somewhat more rigid.
- I personally like the twist with the loaner bikes. Goes to remind us that not only are there still holdouts for the cult, but that Our Favorite Family isn’t exactly doing so well. Hear me, Zombie Simpsons? Characters living the high life is not really funny!
- LOVE the scenes with the “Lawyer Department”, especially when they barge into KBBL-TV to look for Homer. “Idiots? That’s slander, sir, and we have it on tape.” “Alright; I’ll get out my chequebook!”
- “We are watching FOX!” I love the “take that’s” at FOX.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2. Most of Homer’s jerkassery is a little justified, but almost mowing down the Movementarians certainly crossed the line. This is also a literal Jerkass Homer Moment: while driving to the Movementarian Center, Homer screams “Outta my way, jerkass!” And thus, a name for the post-classic era Homer was born.
Zaniness Meter: 2. The zaniest moment: rover from The Prisoner appears in the barrier between the Movementarian Campground and the town… capturing Moleman. Mmm… I swear I remember that a later episode had a more direct parody on The Prisoner.
Favorite Scene: Everything (except the road rage) at the Movementarian Center.
Least Favorite Scene: At the airport, Homer is an idiot as to the “free film this weekend” presented by the Movementarians. This joke was done better in “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington”, with the VIP gag.