There’s something different about Homer ever since he got back from the Nuclear power convention. He’s nicer. He’s calmer. He stops drinking beer. He moves his body during sex. He puts a napkin on his lap when he eats. He didn’t choke Bart after a fat joke (“That kind of small-scale violence solves nothing”). Homer J. Simpson turns down pork chops crusted with Cheeto dust. For green beans and slivered almonds. Green stuff! He’s turning into Lisa’s dream dad and it’s creepy. Someone this nice must be … a terrorist. Of course. That would be the kind of conclusion you would reach on a show like Homeland.
Not every Simpsons episode is a classic. The ones that are classics have redefined television already so they can coast. Season openers on The Simpsons aren’t usually anything particularly special except when they get delayed by football so long that they have to open with one of their “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. That’s how it is with “Homerland.” It’s good, not great. Not a classic Simpsons, but still better than the best episodes of most network comedies. On the funniest Simpsons, which aren’t always the best episodes but I’ll get into that later, you can miss a third of the jokes by getting caught off guard and laughing out loud over other jokes. On episodes like “Homerland,” you grin and say in your head “that was funny.” Over and over usually. Still, it’s better than most shows where you groan and ask who wrote this shit?
The difference is in the details. The Simpsons is so overloaded with witty references and visual jokes that only take up a few frames of film that they sometimes leave the main course undercooked. Bart acknowledges this in the “Homerland” opening, writing “25 Years and they can’t come up with a new punishment.” (Lisa also plays a harp instead of her usual saxamophone. Homer also gets hit on the head by bouncer for climbing over a red-velvet-rope. Homer getting hit on the head always makes me laugh. It’s not a football in the groin, but it never fails.) In “Homerland,” Lisa and Bart’s breakfast cereal, Belfast Charms, are “tragically delicious,” but Marge hides Bart’s “smart-drugs” in it, drugs like Focusyn, Blissium, Brozak and Crystal Math. Homer’s entry to the nuclear workers’ convention is “Provisional, Temporary, Lowest Access.” When the nuclear conventioneers get to the convention hotel, the Boise Astoria, the sign says “Welcome Nuclear Plant Workers. Good Riddance Shriners.” When they leave it says “Runaways: Ask About Our Teen Discounts.” Among the exhibitors are Three Eyed Sushi and The Big and Tall Hazmat Suit Store. Lenny’s camera has an “auto cheer” function. Lisa, who Bart says is incapable of experiencing joy, is reading Sylvia Plath on a rollercoaster. A sign on below Apu’s Quik E Mart counter says “No Checks, Credit Cards, Food Stamps” and Quik E Fresh chickens are “humanely run over.” Homer’s affirmation rug says “Every time you want to drink, think of your liver, think of your lover, think of the years you’ve yet to cover.” Not that funny, that one, maybe that’s why it went by too quick to read.
“Homerland” is a riff on the Showtime series Homeland, which I don’t watch, have never seen an episode, so there are probably a lot of in-jokes that are lost on me. The episode starts with a takeoff of the Homeland opening sequence, only with Springfieldians and Grinches taking the place of whoever’s on the show in their credits. And one of those right-wing subliminal messages that The Simpsons writers throw in: After serious statements about terrorism by Presidents Reagan and HW Bush, President Clinton says “I grew up in a little town in Arkansas, who’s name, ironically, was Terrorism.” The episode plays in what I have to assume is the look of Homeland. The cuts and pull-backs and incidental music. The backwards letters in the credits. Flashbacks that don’t pan out until the end of an episode.
Lisa figures out that Homer has been “turned,” which I have to assume is a Homeland word for someone who converted to terrorism, and calls Annie Crawford, voiced by Kristen Wiig, from the FBI to investigate. Lisa isn’t crazy or jumping to conclusions. Not to the FBI. Annie has been prescribed Lunatrix for bipolar disorder. Chief Wiggum is already on the case, not that he’s profiling, but he only has three names on his list of subjects “Black Doctor, Mexican Bee and Indian Clerk.”
In a Middle Eastern dirge Homer sings, “It is the climax, what everything’s building to. Hope it pays off for you” and the climax reveals Homer to be Lisa’s perfect dad. While it lasts. The other guest star is Kevin Michael Richardson.
Den of Geek Rating: 3 Out of 5 Stars