The Simpsons, Season Nine, Episode Twenty-Two, “Trash Of The Titans”

If any episode acts as a convenient and easy shorthand for the problems of season nine as a whole, it’s this one. This, more than any other, is the episode people point to as an expression of the Jerkass Homer phenomenon – it’s one in which Homer is a lazy, meanspirited, bullying asshole for no good reason. I think that the second-most important difference between Homer in the Golden Era and Jerkass Homer is that it’s much less fun to empathise with the latter; one of the big insights that everyone, from creator to fan to me, is that Homer is sympathetic because he’s genuinely enthusiastic about everything he does and that enthusiasm can be infectious even when it’s really dumb. I think the best way to understand it is that Homer does put thought into the things he does, but it’s not a rational or analytical thought process, it’s an emotional one – as if, offscreen, he has built up an intense and overwhelming amount of emotion (be it joy, anger, sadness, whatever) and it spills out onto the screen and catches the viewer in its wake. The Homer of this episode is nothing more than a reactive figure, thoughtlessly responding to the situation around him with base impulses. This ties into the most important problem with Jerkass Homer: his flaw here is the writers’ flaw, in that they lack the discipline to really polish the writing to the level we’ve come to expect. I laughed derisively when Moe said “You’re kinda all over the place there, Homer” because it was a good encapsulation to my response to a lot of the jokes, including the one that set up the line. There’s one where The Edge asks the rest of U2 if they want to go for a beer, and the first half of the joke is great and perfectly timed (“Can I come?” / “… No.”), only for the writers to tack on an extra beat that not only extends the joke way past when it needs to be, but is also poorly timed in itself.

The flipside of this is that it ends up creating a story that has endured to a horrifying level. Beloved commentor Raven Wilder has been beating the drum for “Trash Of The Titans” as the perfect prediction of the 2016 US election in the comments of these essays for what feels like a couple of years now, and I must acknowledge him as completely on the money. The only real hole in it is that one of the big jokes is that the town’s waste disposal is actually efficient and functional, whilst I would argue that much of the events of 2016 were driven by deep rifts and flaws in the American system going back a very long time; I would also argue that the ‘quietly competent professional’ aspect of Ray Stevenson is more of an image Clinton, Biden, and the Democratic Party have been chasing as opposed to an actual reflection of who they are, but that would take a whole other essay to break down, and besides which it works for the sake of seeing this episode as a metaphor for 2016. Homer’s approach to running for office is uncannily similar to Donald Trump’s – it isn’t just the crazy promises he has no possibility of delivering, but the way he works the crowd with cruel jokes and blatant lies. The crucial thing to me is that he isn’t just bullying Ray, it’s that he talks to the crowd as if they’re already on his side. It’s you and me versus this asshole! And what’s especially strange is that Homer’s flaws this episode are absolutely what connect him to Trump’s philosophy in politics; his short-sighted impulsiveness matches that of the President, and the way his absolute commitment to the moment at the expense of the future or past allows him to adapt to the current situation without missing a beat and without losing the people who never cared about the future anyway. It’s almost uncomfortable to watch!

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The family run in to find themselves in the classroom where Bart is writing “I will not mess with the opening credits” on the blackboard. Everyone looks around in confusion.

This episode was written by Ian Maxtone-Graham and directed by Jim Reardon. The episode was inspired by the experience of a friend of Maxtone-Graham, and by the writers wanting to write about trash. We’ve talked about the writers losing their willingness to put long hours into single jokes, so I want to draw attention to the Costington’s gag (“Over a century without a slogan”) because it was a rare joke this late to get that kind of polish and it’s hilarious. Steve Martin guest stars as Ray Patterson and he is a reasonable straight man to Homer’s idiocy, particularly with his brilliant rendition of the “You’re all screwed, bye” speech. U2 guest star as themselves after requesting a cameo; this is definitely a sign of the decline of the show into commercials for celebrities, though U2 acquit themselves well with weirdly sincere line deliveries. They also have both the band’s manager Paul McGuiness, and, for some reason, random employee Susie Smith. 

The whole Love Day sequence that kicks off the plot is hilarious and some great satire; I’m particularly amused by the line “We’re making enough money, right?” Conversely, there’s another instance of the writers really not getting Lisa when she begins to give an idealistic speech that doesn’t even rise to the level of a platitude, let alone the genuine insight she usually provides. 

The title is a reference to the movie Clash Of The Titans. There’s an extended parody of “Candy Man” from the movie Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. The scene where Ray Patterson is reinstated, only to walk off, is a reference to an incident during a Red Foxx standup show, in which he walked on to the theme from Sanford & Son, was outraged by the size of the crowd, walked off; the band, puzzled, simply played him off with the theme again.

Iconic Moments: Homer tripping over garbage is a common reaction image. | “Wait! Stop! I have garbage!” is used in a lot of memes. | “Did I hear a, uh, briefcase opening?”
Biggest Laugh: