I’ve been patiently waiting for this one, because it’s uncontestedly one of the most popular Simpsons episodes ever, one that’s in many people’s top three and definitely belongs in the top five most important episodes of the show ever… and yet it’s never one I’ve been personally attached to all that much. It’s funny, obviously, but it’s not one I’ve ever thought about that much. So it’s a pleasure to come to it and find a lot of meat on the bone. I recall a few years back when some guy cut clips of sitcom episodes down to just their plots, and people remarked that the Seinfeld episode was still funny because the plots themselves were inherently funny, and that kind of logic applies here; the basic gag is that Homer gets a job working for an eternally kind, passionate, empathic man who is also a ruthless supervillain, and it’s hilarious to come back to discover how long it takes to get to that reveal; it manages to get so many jokes just out of Hank being a genuinely nice guy that it could have run with that as the whole thing, and the reveal of supervillainy is a moment of *chef’s kiss* inspiration on the part of the show. I think this is an expression of The Simpsons’ influence on me that I didn’t appreciate before now – this is a show that makes the effort to put as much thought into an idea as possible and really ironing it out to make it work, and Hank Scorpio is a character who just gets funnier the more we learn about him. I could almost picture the writers saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if Homer got a job for a really nice guy?”, breaking down the way that could work, and then someone saying, “Hey, what if he turned out to be a supervillain?”
I wonder how much of Hank’s character is a direct parody of Silicon Valley and related charismatic businessmen, because aside from a few lines, it definitely feels like he hits something more universal than that. It’s definitely a lot of fun to watch him go – it normally takes a whole plot to push Homer into the background, but he manages it with a relentless sense of energy and both the willingness and ability to switch from one direction to another at the drop of a hat (“Don’t like ‘em? Then neither do I! Get the hell out of here!”). I think Hank is a very weird case of someone having such a clearly organised inner life that they can adapt to just about any situation; when he’s talking to Homer, there’s always a sense that he knows this conversation won’t interrupt anything important, and if it did, he could drop it for a second and come right back. This is a guy who worked out the right things to say and do for just about any situation a long time ago – that you show enthusiasm for people’s individual passions, that you reward people for trying their best, that you let people follow their values even when it personally inconveniences you – and it’s just really, really funny that he’s also a Bont villain.
Of course, this isn’t all about Hank; this episode is also a perfect example of the show mining comedy and pathos out of the same ideas. It’s another example of Homer making a tremendous sacrifice for the sake of his family; that repetition is probably why I never reacted to it very strongly, but it does find nuance in the idea. Part of Homer’s unhappiness comes from the fact that he’s trapped in a job he’s bad at and finds no meaning in, and while there are subtle gags about Homer’s job being unnecessary (my favourite being the gag that Homer’s hammock idea isn’t original at all), there is something to how his job is about motivating a team, which is something we’ve seen him be good at before. I also enjoy how the episode takes the time to make Cypress Creek somewhere unpleasant for each character in a new and interesting way.
We’ve always had sympathy for Marge, trapped in a house cleaning all day, but there’s something funny and sad in how having that she’s completely lost when all that is taken away from her; not only does she lack the imagination to come up with something else, she lacks the imagination to just turn the appliances off. I also especially like how Bart’s ideal of a hellish school experience is to be put in the remedial class; his problem isn’t that he’s dumb, it’s that he’s more tacticle and physical and lacks interest in the monotony of ordinary schoolwork, so putting him in a class where he can’t possibly fail is actually worse than putting him in a system he can disrupt (Lisa’s problem is based less in character and more in just doing something funny). Homer’s main value of course, has always been to put his family first; I think perhaps the main reason I’ve never been as up on this episode is because it doesn’t push Homer to somewhere new and dangerous, but rather takes a new and interesting route to the same old place – back to his family and Springfield.
Chalkboard Gag: I did not learn everything I need to know in kindergarten.
Couch Gag: The family parachute in, with Homer falling flat on his face.
This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Mike B Anderson. Greg Daniels came up with the initial idea, and, just as I guessed, the writers came up with the three concepts of the episode for it. The writers argued over whether or not to make a plot involving Marge developing a drinking problem, and I find the end result of making her too square to even be an alcoholic very funny. Al Brooks returns to voice Hank Scorpio, and at this point the writers knew not to commit too much to any dialogue for him, knowing he’d just make up his own anyway; the entire hammock sequence was his own.
As someone who has spent his entire adult life in the shadow of the global financial crisis of 2008, “Can’t a man walk down the street without being offered a job?” is a very dark laugh. One of my favourite visual gags is the circular paper in the remedial class.
Iconic Moments: 2! Which genuinely surprises me. It’s littered with one liners but I guess it’s hard to find context to recycle them. | “Ever see a man say goodbye to a shoe?” / “Yes, once.” This is a moment iconic specifically because of the arguments it created a la “car hole”, because nobody can seem to agree if Homer meant he’d actually seen someone do it, or if he’s referring to Hank doing it just then. | The reticulated chipmunk blowing a dandelion in Lisa’s face is another shitposting visual.