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The Simpsons: “Politically Inept, With Homer Simpson”

Illustration for article titled iThe Simpsons/i: “Politically Inept, With Homer Simpson”
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This week’s episode starts with an angry Homer rant that loosely recalls airline steward Steven Slater’s 15 minutes of fame in 2010. When a video of Homer’s rant goes viral, the second part of the episode goes on to mock Fox News and MSNBC by having him become a folksy demagogue who is partly based on Andy Griffith’s character Lonesome Rhodes in A Face In The Crowd, but served up with a steaming pile of Glenn Beck. Despite the slightly dated feel of the references, the writing throughout the first two sections is reasonably sharp. In the third act, however, the guest star appearance by Ted Nugent falls flat when the show cannot decide how to mock the Motor City Madman without really offending him.

The satirical thrust of the first section is against the maddening inefficiency and lack of control in modern airline travel. This is a well that comedians often visit for material, but writer John Frink is able to draw out some moderately amusing gags among a few stinkers. It’s funny that their flight is delayed due to an unforeseen jailbreak in New South Wales, but the joke about ethnic people being permitted to open and eat their food was rather ugly. The stewardess’s self-righteousness in forbidding Homer to use the bathroom was great (“You should have thought about that before you drank the fluids you need to live”) but having the TSA specialist be a baby was pretty weak. Homer’s cry of “I regret nothing… except this part” while being clubbed was also nice, although they’ve used that gag or a similar one before.

In the second act, Homer’s ranting on the Chris Matthews-like “Head Butt With Nash Castor” tells the network executives that he is just the kind of ill-informed gasbag that they cannot get enough of. The joke about their liberal strawman show is fantastic, the kind of gag where The Simpsons excels: less than ten seconds of a vaguely Al Gore-ish figure singing about raising taxes and making children gay to the tune of “If I Only Had A Brain” with an image of Obama embracing Karl Marx in the background. The show they give Homer combines the artificial folksiness of Andy Griffith’s show in A Face In The Crowd with the outsized trainwreck of histrionics from Glenn Beck’s Fox show, which was cancelled in June of last year. Homer cries a lot and says crazy things, just like Beck did. And yet Jon Stewart’s parodies were a little sharper.

The satire reaches its peak when Homer sparks a political movement with a speech that involves pouring gravy over a steak shaped like the U.S., although he has cut off portions shaped like California and New York, saying, “Take that, centers of art and commerce!” As with the teabags of the teabagger movement, people everywhere are moved to wear gravy boats on their heads. There is a sign held in reference to the Occupy movement, but that is just a token of the show’s desire to be an equal opportunity offender. This is clearly a parody of the Tea Party, despite the absence of the Simpsons version of the Koch brothers funneling money to a network to create the movement (and, on that note, it’s too bad that Burns doesn’t have an equally evil brother for just such an occasion).

The third act, unfortunately, falls apart on the ambiguity of having a guest star who holds beliefs that the show’s creators find abhorrent. When Homer goes to the Republican Party Headquarters to pick their 2012 nominee, he leans towards voting Democratic because, as he explains, the great thing about them is they when they get in office, they act like Republicans. He’s swayed by the sudden appearance of the Nuge, though, and decides to throw his weight behind the crazy bowhunting man who wrote the timeless hit “Wang Dang Doodle.” There’s only one good joke in the segments with the Nuge, which is how Flanders is fine with the man, despite the arrow that Nugent shoots into his forehead, as long as he isn’t a Mormon. Poor, doomed Mitt Romney. At least his millions and millions of ill-gained dollars like him. I am definitely in favor of the slightly crazy tilt in Nugent’s eyes that they’ve drawn him with, too.

The episode comes to a close with some not-so-funny nonsense in which James Madison and the Founding Fathers appear to Homer in a dream that is soon revealed to be not a dream. While Homer initially decides that politics is serious, he recants and tries to endorse Nugent. When he finds that he cannot cry while doing so, though, he realizes his mistake and tells his viewers that he’s full of crap. Lisa, amusingly, has a sweet moment in which she tells him that she always knew.

The Simpsons has done plenty of political satire over the years and still may never improve over season six’s “Sideshow Bob Roberts.” The middle section of this episode had moments that were in the same league, though, especially the liberal strawman joke. However, the first act wavered in quality and the last act, sadly, never figured out how to use the guest star and then wrapped up quickly with the unfunny and sitcommy dream-lesson sequence. To its credit, that sequence tried to rise above cliché but failed to do so. Overall, this was a solid episode, but when split into its three acts, it peaked hard in the middle and then never recovered.

Stray observations:

  • Board gag: Tintin did not sucksuck.
  • “The only thing I wait in lines this long for are slightly better cellphones.”
  • Homer: “Do you really need all these Kurt Vonnegut novels?” Lisa: “They self-reference each other!” Shown: Timequake, then Hocus Pocus and Cat’s Cradle, in the trash along with Marge’s toothpaste and Homer’s 1974 yearbook. Vonnegut was a big influence on me when I was a kid, but I certainly wouldn’t champion the first two of those novels.
  • “True patriots breast-feed.”
  • “The quiet Homer Simpson that kept it all bottled up inside is dead. This is the birth of Homer Simpson: blowhard!”
  • In the days before the 24-hour news cycle, Calvin Trillon coined the term “Sabbath Gasbags” to refer to the talking head pundits who would crop up on Sunday news shows, but this episode’s use of gasbag emphasizes that they are no longer kept to Sundays.
  • “They know I’m doing a character. Like Stephen Colbert or Newt Gingrich.”
  • “The gravy boat movement is spreading across the nation like a rumor about some kid and someone’s mom hooking up in a high school.”
  • “You can’t entertain and inform at the same time. And if you’re Access Hollywood, you do neither. Ha!”
  • “You are an embarrassment to the aristocratic slaveholders who forged this mighty nation.”
  • “If there’s one thing I don’t like being taught, it’s a lesson!”

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