The Simpsons, Season Nine, Episode Nineteen, “Simpson Tide”

We’ve been riding a pretty good high for a while, but sadly this episode falls back into the season’s bad habits. The first act of this episode especially feels really slack in a way I don’t think the show ever has – Homer’s firing feels like a cheap and lazy way to get the plot in the right position, and I was downright offended by Apu being thrown in the way he was. It’s worth comparing to the similar gag in “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” – that bothered me much less because it was a satire of the name changes non-WASP people have had to do to break into the entertainment industry, and because of the hilariously cheery way Apu rolls with it. Apu doesn’t even factor into the plot of this episode at all! There’s also a lot of really lazy gags in the first act; there’s something to me in how short the scenes are and how poorly they build up comedic energy. One particularly bad gag is the final line in the scene where Skinner questions Milhouse about his earring (“But, uh, they’re also covered. Carry on.”). Milhouse pretending to be a vampire is funny, Skinner calling him on the inaccuracy is funny, but taking it back feels like the opposite of ‘yes and’ and the idea that there is, in fact, a concession for vampires in the school handbook just feels kind of stupid. It doesn’t feel in character for the school up until now, if that makes sense – the school bureaucracy is incompetent and stuffy, not weirdly accepting of fictional creatures.

Even worse is a major descent into Jerkass Homer. I’ve got a lot of leeway for Homer being stupid or even an asshole, but this feels dumber and more mean-spirited in a way that pushes the story forward rather than in a way that reflects human nature; Homer nearly correctly bringing the submarine into port before suddenly swerving the wrong way is one of the big examples. Most of the episode feels half-assed and thoughtless in that respect, where the easiest choice to push the plot forward was chosen as opposed to what really feels appropriate for these characters and this world. The thing is, I remember not caring that much as a kid and it only bothers me now that I’ve been following this show so intimately for nearly five years now. I’ve seen and enjoyed far more meanspirited comedies than this, and I think what bothers me about it is that it’s offbrand; if this were some totally new show called The Flimpsons, I would gleefully devour the half-assed meanspirited adventures of the characters without a second thought. It really puts into perspective how much a clear vision factors into the creation of a work of art; this show has had a really flexible attitude towards itself and lots of changes in creative control, but there’s definitely a sense of what it and its characters will and will not do, and this is not part of that sense.

I do want to finish off with the stuff I liked. There were good lines scattered throughout the episode, and I think the plot really picks up around the point Homer actually gets into the navy. Once again, the show’s attitude towards kids remains its strongest part, because the whole plot of Bart getting an earring so perfectly captures the way kids relate to coolness. I’m always a sucker for characters having their self-image undermined (it’s a major theme and source of comedy in the webcomic Shortpacked!), and here we see Bart’s attempt to live up to his edgy cool kid persona revealed to be, as Lisa so wonderfully puts it, rebellious in a conformist sort of way. The image of Bart looking over a sea of earrings is funny and makes him look a little pathetic, but in a #relatable kind of way. And of course, I enjoy how it genuinely pushes the plot forward and makes me actually care about Homer’s plot with the submarine.

Chalkboard Gag: My butt does not deserve a website.
Couch Gag: A parody of Rocky & Bullwinkle bumpers.

This episode was written by Joshua Sternin and Jennifer Ventimilia, and directed by Milton Gray. It’s one of two episodes executive produced by Al Jean and Mike Reiss. Rod Steiger guest stars as Captain Tenille, and mentioned that he did in fact get stuck in a torpedo tube once. Michael Carrington, who co-wrote “Homer’s Triple Bypass”, guest stars as the Navy drill instructor and the announcer for “Exploitation Theater”. Bob Denver guest stars as himself.

Giant Hand Man and Stamp The Ticket Guy both cameo in this episode! I’ll also acknowledge that this is a really great episode for visuals all the way through. Smithers dancing with the Village People is the cheapest, laziest gag in the episode in my opinion. There’s an odd moment where Homer’s feet aren’t animated.

The title, the captain, and many individual parts of the episode are parodies of the film Crimson Tide. Homer’s dream is a parody of The Planet Of The Apes. There’s a reference to the Russian Roulette scene from The Deer Hunter, which I find downright reminiscent of Family Guy in its pointlessness, even if the image of Krusty is pretty funny. The crew sing and dance to “In The Navy” by the Village People. Sulu of Star Trek makes an appearance. Bart sings “Do The Bartman”. 

Iconic Moments: 4. “Ich bin ein Berliner.” / “He’s a Nazi! Get him!” | “My Homer is not a Communist! He may be a liar,  a pig, an idiot, a communist, but he is not a porn star!” | “How rebellious! In a conformist sort of way.” | The whole sequence of the Soviet Union starting up.
Biggest Laugh: I admit this does have a lot of individual big laughs. “Sherri but not Terri” is a perfect needlessly cruel joke. This end up being the big one though.