This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 30 Episode 5
Homer has two unexpected partners in The Simpsons season 30 episode 5, “Baby You Can’t Drive My Car”: Marge and Mr. Burns. Neither turn out to be what we’d expect in the thirty years we’ve known them and that’s why this week’s installment is a near classic in the post-classic era of the classic series.
When “Baby You Can’t Drive My Car” opens, Homer is at odds with both his boss and his wife. He loses his job at the nuclear plant after recklessly dipping chicken fingers while driving and crashes through Burns’ window just as the old man is showing off his new Faberge chicken. Even at the height of his popularity, Krusty the Clown could only afford a few Faberge eggs, Burns gave himself the gift that will keep giving. But first he gives his ex-employee one of the best jabs in the flab he can muster. When Homer proclaims that being fired is the very thing he needs to turn his life around, Burns points out he’s lucky it’s only his life because he’d have to turn his body around in shifts.
Jobless Homer is probably not much different than gainfully employed Homer. He discovers Korean soap operas and licks deodorant sticks like popsicles. His life has stopped its free-fall. The bagel has landed. He stops shaving until he grows neck-beard. Marge can’ take his cycle of getting and losing jobs, punctured by long hours at Moe’s bar. But it’s hard to get a job for someone who has such a specialized set of skills like Homer. He excels at doing nothing. He is at his best in his quest to do less.
Homer finds his dream job, doing almost less than nothing. He is a passenger in his own life, riding shotgun in the driver’s seat of a driverless car when CarGo moves to Springfield and brings jobs. Although Homer learns about the job at the same time he learns TV also talks to other people, the job he gets at the new company is as perfect for him as the one he got at Scorpio, the other evil corporation he worked at. That was the first time he was good at his job, but CarGo job seems custom-made for Homer: Road testing self-driving cars. His bad driving record is a plus, this is a guy who’s never used blinkers and once drove over himself. He has that can-do attitude that comes when road rage is home rage he brings to the streets.
You can write a novel while you’re driving, Homer is told, but he prefers shorter art forms. One of the best bits in the episode is Homer’s running commentary in the form of parody lyrics to Jim Croce’s song “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels).” The best line from the song being “where is the seat belt cos I can’t find it?” The job is so special, his hiring concludes with a ritual, complete with the sacrifice of a goat. Or it would have if the goat hadn’t bitten the high priest in the ankle.
Just as it seems the job can’t get any better, Homer learns CarGo offers free food at work. This inspire him to new heights even as he and Marge discover the first holes in the corporate plan: all the special features of the workplace, like the exercise room and the in-office hockey rink, are as underused as the creative part of the brains in the overtired workers. Yes, Homer did this before when he suggested the workers be supplied with hammocks at Hank Scorpio’s Globex Corporation, but this time blasts the paradigm with Marge. Soon he gets a promotion, and Marge is hired. Although she promises to fix the paradigm.
Homer and Marge are finally working together, and for some reason it feels like it could be one of the alternative hells of The Good Place. Like the freedom of a self-driving car and the amusement of the name B-Sharps, the novelty of working with a spouse wears off fast.
The patriarch of the Simpson family also gets in one classic spin on past fatherly knowledge. As Bart and Lisa fight over who is more perplexed by the language of the automatronic workers, each insecure in their own stupidity, Homer assures them, “Kids, you’re both stupid in your own special way.” Marge even praises Lisa for letting Bart win when she proclaims him far more stupid than she.
The company, like Globex, is evil. And it is more insidious in its evil, and doesn’t have the right German beer so when Homer and Marge learn the search engine optimization is driving drivers they have a crisis of conscience. It makes the personal data Equifax mines look tamer than even the relatively trustworthy Datagrab.net. It’s all the same as every Apple user’s best confidant Siri, or Amazon’s Alexa.
Homer has a conscience? But why? All he’s got to do is say he’s hungry enough to eat a horse and there he is at the drive-thru lane at Krusty Burgers. He forces Marge to do the right thing, something she would fight with all the power of a Nerf rocket launcher. She admits it’s evil, but think of the things she can buy, and all the toys in the office. She’s also having fun working with her husband. But, nag as she might, which is usually slept through anyway, nobody tells Homer what to do but advertisers.
Smithers is very impressive tonight. Early in the episode, he at his passively aggressive sycophantic best. He informs Mr. Burns the new CarGo company has a progressive policy about the LGBT community, which the nuclear plant owner translates as Lazy goof-off baboons and transgendered. But the long-suffering, love-addled aide also turns out to be a tech wizard. He figures out how to shut down all the cars by hacking into the car’s computers and cab hacks everywhere rejoice.
Burns is bested and at his best. He sees the genius in his rival corporation’s plans. He knows he can’t beat them. It would come at a cost and Burns hasn’t met a cost he hasn’t passed off to some unwitting victim. But here, even he admits he is the lesser of two evils.
“Baby You Can’t Drive My Car” is a very good episode, maybe the closest to a classic The Simpsons have offered in a long time. It is purely episodic. The subtle tweaks at the ruling class are timely, and the struggles at the center of it are universal. It’s all about jobs. It’s the economy, stupid. “Baby You Can’t Drive My Car” works specifically because the workplace is what we all have in common. Left, right and center, we all line up to earn a paycheck. We all want the perfect job. Many people have to drive to work, so we want the perfect car. Whether we like smoothies or not, we could all agree it would be fun to be able to make them while driving. In a driverless car society, the only thing to worry about is real drivers. This reviewer would like to know what the DWI laws will be, because a lot of cars ride on ethanol and, having drunk ethanol on the advice of Moe the bartender, it can be quite impairing.
“Baby You Can’t Drive My Car” was written by Rob LaZebnik and directed by Timothy Bailey.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum, Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr., and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest star: Tracy Morgan as Tow Truck Driver.
The Simpsons‘ “Baby You Can’t Drive My Car” aired Sunday, November 4 at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.