Oh dear. I wasn’t looking forward to this episode. Last time I watched this episode was a few years before the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and even then it was weird and uncomfortable not in a way that challenged my beliefs and made me rethink how I view the world, but in a “you’re saying something awful” kind of way. Thankfully, it’s not actively malicious, and actually the episode isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be going in. My problem with it isn’t so much the general message – in fact, I think overall it works as another variation on showing the effects of mob mentality, and indeed if you pretend it’s on almost any other topic it’s a vicious parody of internet outrage and public shaming of an individual before that even became a thing. It’s the specific story of a woman falsely accusing a man of sexual harassment that bothers me, not because that kind of thing never happens, but because we’ve seen how stories of well-meaning men making an innocent mistake have been overwhelmingly stressed over stories about women preyed on by assholes who then did everything they could to get away with it. The episode’s flaws could be best summarised by a line within it, “I don’t know Homer Simpson, I never met Homer Simpson or had any contact with him, but…” because stripped of context, it’s a perfectly innocuous swipe at people over-identifying with public figures, but, like, the reason women identify with victims of sexual assault and harassment is because they’ve been assaulted and harassed. They don’t know Harvey Weinstein, but they know a Harvey Weinstein.
That said, if you don’t dismiss the concept out of hand, it’s about as good as you can do that kind of thing. For a start, for all his flaws, Homer’s not generally harassing women (that drunken incident with Maude and the peanuts aside). There’s a late Family Guy plot where Glenn Quagmire is arrested for unknowingly sleeping with an underage girl that’s played totally seriously, and it comes off as outright insulting in light of how the show makes jokes about Quagmire being a serial rapist who literally targets underage girls all the time; this is genuinely new territory for Homer because we know he’d never even consider it. On the flipside, it makes sense that Ashley would believe he was feeling her up because he’s been a typically Homerish pig all night. The parts of this that work best are the ever-reliable sensationalist news outrage satire (“Homer Simpson sleeps nude in an oxygen tent, which he believes gives him sexual powers!”) and Homer’s reflection on becoming a subject of media mockery. He’s the latest person whose real pain and suffering has been reduced to a punchline, and I know the fact that he doesn’t recognise his own complicity in that sort of behaviour is played for a (hilarious) joke, but I do find something poignant in how he’s brought down by people no different from him. That’s the good kind of uncomfortable I mean, one in which I recognise things I know I’ve done and don’t like. It’s easy to sit back and make dumb jokes about assholes in the news (fun, too!) but there’s always a human being at the centre and there’s always pain you don’t see.
(Also strangely poignant is Homer escaping from his woes in the middle of the night watching standup that never references anything past the Eighties)
The closer this episode gets to TV, the better the satire becomes. Literally, in its satire of sleazy sensationalist news outlets like Rock Bottom – I love how the gag with the shifting clock intentionally makes no sense whatsoever. And I absolutely love the TV movie that pushes an insistent but vague feminist outlook, like so many Lifetime movies; Homer is reduced to a violent, manical brute (as opposed to the sweet brute he normally is), and Ashley is a clear-eyed innocent hero. And there’s the relationship the characters have to TV, as the kids admit it raised them more than Homer did (“Are you hugging the TV?!” slayed me as a child), and as Homer sadly walks away genuinely questioning reality. It’s also frankly amazing how the show managed to be even more right than it must have dreamed with the phrase “As long as everyone is videotaping everyone else, justice will be done.” I know it’s 100% unintentional, but that line made me think of how Vine was the main method of getting information out of Ferguson in the riots of 2016. The people who wein history are the people using cameras.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not whittle hall passes out of soap.
Couch Gag: The family run, only for the couch to shrink in the distance the further they get.
This episode was written by Greg Daniels and directed by Jeffrey Lynch. Dennis Franz cameos as himself playing Homer in the TV movie. I never even talked about that stunning opening act, which goes full Die Hard when Homer escapes; last week, there was a small scene straight out of Road Runner without specifically referencing Road Runner, and I enjoy how the show’s specific parodies are slowly folding themselves into a genuine style. It also has the rgeat moment when the kids are too sick to eat any more candy but also moan at the thought of giving it to needy children.
I’m not the first person to point out that Disembowler IV sounds a lot like Condemned.
I’ll say this about the protesters, they get the second-best chant joke this show ever did. “Two, four, six, eight, Homer’s crime was very great! …Great, meaning large or immense, we use it in the pejorative sense!” There’s just enough of a gap between the two halves of the line that it’s as if they really did think about that for a second.
Rock Bottom was a very pointed attack on the show Hard Copy. Gentle Ben is the most esoteric parody the show ever did, making a joke about how anyone could host a talk show because all you need is a microphone. At the candy convention, the PA drops a reference to the novel Looking For Mr Goodbar. Homer imagines a parody of “Under The Sea”. One of the talk shows references Sally Jessy Raphael’s show. Homer watches The Late Show With David Letterman. Some of the media’s antics are lifted from the OJ Simpson trial.
Iconic Moments: The image of Homer with his face sucked in. | “Not with that attitude.” | “Hey, that’s a half-truth!” | “Before I recognise Missoura!”