This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 2
The Simpsons, season 31, episode 2, “Go Big or Go Homer,” is a cautionary tale told recklessly. It opens with the worst thing that ever happened at a nuclear power plant (number six is when all those horses went bald) and closes with the most criminal enterprise to hit Springfield on wheels. But at the center is a sad tale of a vulnerable cog in an oil-deprived machine.
Mr. Burns burns Homer’s buns because he signs a birthday card for Lenny. Without coughing up anything to pay for the card or the party, which includes the closeup magic of AbracaDebra, Burns pulls a Houdini to purloin all the glory from the best birthday party Lenny’s ever gotten. Homer’s slow burn is foreshadowing to his future shadow.
Smithers accuses Homer of taking advantage of Mr. Burns’ medicinal mishaps and sentences him to work with the only level of employee beneath his pay-grade: the unpaid interns. This pay differential is actually spoken, but it can be implied by the history of Homer’s work record. He’s only there because Burns has got it in for him and locked him in some kind of below minimum salary.
We all know Homer should have been fired a long time ago and Burns only keeps him around waiting to someday strike a final revenge. Burns may have forgotten it consciously, but all his wealth will never make him feel as rich as the discomfort of others. So it’s at play. Homer is present in Burns’ office in a scene which should have gotten him escorted off the plant at a rapid pace followed by attack dogs, at the very least. Burns is either slipping or biding his time. He has no other settings. That’s why he gets pumped full of chemicals.
The episode is a tapestry of past Simpsons‘ foibles. Burns’ drug dependency has got him dong the most uncharacteristic things, like acts of financial beneficence. He even sits through a Shark Tank-style presentation with more acerbic malevolence than any of the entrepreneurs bring the vig-rigged loan shark game show. Fat Tony can still take things too personal. And Marge’s lazy eye makes an appearance. Once again, showing how animation brings its own accepted reality. With the exception of Brooke Adams’ eye twirling scene in the 1978 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, eye calisthenics is the domain of the cartoon. From Tex Avery’s works to tonight’s improbable but ultimately and squishingly icky conclusion. The startling differentiations in the sound effects pull the rug out of the joke. It encapsulates Homer’s upcoming inner conflict and need for reassurance.
Homer has very rarely inspired any kind of adulation. The closest thing to regard he ever received from his son Bart was when the child was confused by a feeling of respect after Homer was lauded as a local sports team’s mascot. The most heroic part of that story was how Homer was laughed off the field when he was invited to the major metropolis Capital City to do the Dancing Homer for the big city crowds. He received a grudging respect from Mr. Burns son, played by Rodney Dangerfield, someone also well-acquainted with respect-less living. The only person who really believed in Homer, who was willing to invest in his future, was his long lost half-brother, played by Danny DeVito. DeVito also played Louis DePalma on the series Taxi, which it sounds like Michael Rappaport lifted the voice for Mike Wegman.
Wegman is a train-wreck. Not quite as smart as Homer, he considers the lackadaisical worker to be the Michael Jordan of Sector 7G. He is the anti-Frank Grimes, arguably the darkest character from the series. Most of Wegman’s expertise is in sports, he is a flawed expert, given to losing bets regardless of any point spread. He bets on Fordham. Nobody bets on Fordham. This is where the aforementioned slow burns come into play. He adulates Homer so much, to the point of a celebrity stalker, that he becomes progressively aggressive which come out purely abusive. The second segment is the best. Mike’s lets loose with some great zingers. He drives Bart to tears, Marge to ban him from the Simpson household, and Burns to shoot him in the face. We’ve been waiting for Burns to do this to someone since Dick Cheney’s real life duck hunt, and the payoff lands squarely.
It gets better as the BBs weigh Mike’s head down in the next scene. It is rare to see physical consequences from animated violence unless it works as a gag, and this one works. The interesting thing about the scene, however, is how vulnerable Homer is during it. He really feels more undeserving of any kind of adulation than he ever has. He is completely honest with himself, and Mike finds the power for his own success. When the mentorship goes to his head, Homer puts this guy on the top of his greatest-people-in-his-life list, like Pepe, the learned Bigger Brothers child or any number of others. But like that episode, Homer passes this burden on to the next echelon. The Bigger Brother here is Fat Tony.
Fat Tony fills voids no one sees. That is the superpower which kept him in charge of the streets of Springfield all these years. He sees potential. In the end, he fills the emotional void Homer was feeding on, along with donut holes, from Wegman: recognition. Praise from Fat Tony is praise indeed. He only dishes it out in slices. He lets schlugs like Wegman dole it out by the nickel bag.
“Go Big or Go Homer” is a solid offering. It builds perfectly, both in jokes and in the escalation of each segment. It should have been longer, though they shouldn’t cut a single frame from Lisa’s laughing jag. Homer got his last week and it worked, but this one is perfect. There should have been more of her, but a subplot would have been a big mistake. Both the voices and the lines are perfect this week.
“Go Big or Go Homer” was written by John Frink, and directed by Matthew Faughnan.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Krusty the Clown and Groundskeeper Willie, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Comic Book Guy, 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 voice: Michael Rappaport as Mike Wegman, Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony.
The Simpsons episode “Go Big or Go Homer” aired Sunday, Oct. 6 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.