The terrible truth is that we’ll all be dead and the earth will be in ruins when the series finale of The Simpsons airs, watched and graded only by WALL-E, but we’re sure to have plenty of apocalypse-themed episodes to enjoy until our time runs out. In “Homer Goes To Prep School,” the Simpsons get involved with a survivalist group, thanks to a gravelly voiced paranoiac (actor/singer Tom Waits) who befriends Homer. The pedestrian episode follows a common Simpsons template of depicting human beings as horrible savages before swerving at the very end to offer a more optimistic, Marge-approved view of the world.
One question hanging over this plot is how to handle the politics. Without getting into names, let’s just say that most of the people stockpiling assault rifles and bags of grain in their basements are not happy with the direction of the United States in the past few years, and they’re probably not celebrating an upcoming inauguration. “Homer Goes To Prep School” is discreet about why the “preppers” (not preppies) are convinced of an impending collapse, with no mention of same-sex marriage or new-fangled light bulbs. Instead, the YouTube video that convinces Homer the end of civilization is near depicts society as a shaky house of cards with such dangers as Ben Bernanke (the Federal Reserve Bank chairman) and, my favorite, the 17-year cicada cycle.
The episode opens with a family visit to an indoor amusement park (Marge is tricked into approving the outing by a duplicitous sign declaring the place a “learning zone”), which turns into a nightmare when an escaping child causes the management to lock all the doors. Somehow the fathers are all trapped in the same room, and they turn into savages. (Apu puts on war paint. You know, cuz he’s Indian.) They nearly kill Homer (though it’s hard to tell with animation) in their desperation to escape.
Homer, who’s an especially empty vessel in this episode, is thus prepped to believe the worst about people. He joins the survivalist group and starts hiding the family’s food in a secret room in the basement. As he explains to Marge, “The apocalypse is coming! Maybe not tomorrow, maybe never. But it’s coming! And soon!”
He seems to be proved right when an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) strikes Springfield, curiously enough, as Homer is engrossed in survivalist literature and oblivious to the sirens and flashing lights all around him at the nuclear power plant. The EMP shuts off all electricity, forcing, among other things, Groundskeeper Willie to switch from a razor to an old-fashioned lawn mower in the middle of trimming his beard. But as on the hit-ish NBC series Revolution, even non-electrical devices are affected, if only so Mayor Quimby can announce that “even the musical greeting cards” don’t work. Curiously, given that The Simpsons has trafficked so much in sick humor this season, we don’t see any planes plummeting from the sky.
The pilot episode of Revolution was disappointing in that we didn’t get to see much about people coping with the sudden loss of power, and “Homer Goes To Prep School” similarly bugs out of the darkened Springfield to shift the action to the survivalist camp where the Simpsons hide out. Outside of Waits actually giggling with delight at the apparent End of the World, this storyline just isn’t very interesting. Unsurprisingly, the survivalist leaders are insane and quickly turn on each other. Marge works on Homer’s conscience, persuading him to return to Springfield with food for everyone who hadn’t prepared for the worst.
That’s when we find that, despite 23 years of Springfieldians turning into angry mobs at the drop of a coonskin-capped head, they coped admirably with the power outage, which only lasted for a few days. That’s how long you’re likely to remember this rather lifeless episode.
- I don’t know why, but I guffawed at this. Marge: “Homer, I told you! Don’t call me Mom.” Homer: “Sorry, Mrs. Simpson.”
- Certain tykes at the fun zone are whisked to a secret room where they’re dressed in black suits and white shirts and told, “Welcome to the Mormon Church, America’s most respectable cult.” Were we going to get four years of these jokes if Romney had won?
- Speaking of religion, Homer declares, “If Jesus had a gun, he’d be alive today!” We may indeed be in for many years of similar jokes. Also, Homer didn’t say “Jeebus”!
- Waits line that would make the best song title: “This non-disaster is a catastrophe.”
- If you make it to the end of the episode, you also get a Walking Dead allusion, kind of.