The Simpsons, Season Nine, Episode Twenty-Three, “King Of The Hill”

This is actually one of my favourite episodes, because it’s one of the purest expressions of what I find so sympathetic about Homer Simpson. In “Trash Of The Titans”, I talked about how Homer is loveable because he’s a creature of pure emotion, and at his best he really considers what will make him happy, even at the expense of his short-term impulses, and not only is this is exactly, precisely what I was talking about, it’s an experience that kicks off the episode, filling it with that joyful sense of chasing what feels right in your heart. Homer deciding to commit to getting into shape because he wants Bart to be proud of him feels like something that would be the climax of an earlier episode – it reminds me of the climax of “Homer VS Lisa And The Eighth Commandment”, with Homer’s guilt being driven by his love for his family – but we actually get to see him follow through, allowing us to see the real work and real reward of trying to better yourself. Indeed, having reread that older essay*, I realise this is both a last gasp and further development of that old Simpsons theme that spiritual and emotional fulfilment are ultimately more satisfying than superficial pleasures. Homer does slip back into Jerkass Homer for a scene when he gets smug about being healthy with his family (although it’s almost worth it for “And Maggie doesn’t seem to be growing at all!”), but for the most part, this is Homer trying to do a good thing for a good reason without anyone forcing him into it, and we can feel pride and joy at seeing him rise to the goal he set himself.

(*Oh god, I’ve come a long way) 

From there, the episode layers in a wonderful satire of advertising. If you like, this episode shows a very Mad Men idea in how large corporations and marketing departments can use our sincere desire for fulfilment to sell cheap crap; like I said, Homer’s desire to get into shape is sincere, so his embrace of Power Sauce bars is him taking the language of marketing at its word without questioning the motivations of the people writing it. He wants to be healthy, these things are described as healthy, therefore he will eat these things (“Wow, he’s really been paying attention to our slogans.”). I’ve also always gotten a kick out of the ‘news’ segments; the first appearance of it is funny as a barely exaggerated parody of advertising that pretends to be anything but what it is, but the second appearance where the marketing guys somberly report that Homer has shifted to their competitor is deliriously funny. It’s another example of The Simpsons showing professionals taking professional logic somewhere ridiculous – they have to keep ‘reporting’ on Homer’s climb, and they have every reason to believe he’s going to die, so they might as well spin this the best way they can. The fact that they not only maintain the pretense of being news reporters but deliver it with sincere sadness and horror is one of those classic Simpsons *chef’s kiss* moments that kicks this into the stratosphere.

Of course, the final act weaves these ideas all together into an emotional climax. Homer defiantly refusing to let Power Sauce cheat him into victory is a flipside to his embrace of the bars at the beginning; he rejects the easy answers marketing gives him in favour of the real work, so I don’t know why the big cheat to get him to the top works so well for me. I mean, it’s partly because it’s very funny, but it also feels appropriate, as if he’d won enough just by getting that far. Perhaps it’s because Homer’s goal was only ever symbolic and emotional in the first place, so a little cheating is okay; perhaps it’s because the cynical jokes at the end sufficiently undercut the sentimentality. Certainly, Homer taking off the Power Sauce flag in favour of the Simpson flag is a sentimental image that really works – another rejection of money in favour of the things that really matter.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The family sit down, only to realise they are in a snowglobe. Someone shakes it and Homer oohs at the sight.

This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Steven Dean Moore. The scene of the sherpas speaking was another moment of the writers going above and beyond when it came to doing the work – they tried tracking down the producers of the movie Into Thin Air, only to discover the dialogue was entirely made up in that. They finally consulted various experts by telephone. This is the kind of work that separates the good from the great! Brendan Fraser and Steve Weber guest star as the Power Sauce guys, and they’re so perfect at both the sleazy grift and sincere horror sides of the characters.

Another sign this is great Simpsons is how the minor characters shine no matter how little time they get (“Oh, just play the damn game, Ned!”). “My last thoughts were of her, blinding and torturing Abe Simpson.” = reminds me of one of my favourite Blackadder lines (“William Greeves, born 1513 in Chelshood with the love of Christ, died 1563 in… agony with a spike up his bottom.”).

The Murderhorn is a reference to the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. The title is a reference to the show King Of The Hill.

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