Homer Simpson in Kidney Trouble: on the way home from a family road trip, Homer ignores Grandpa’s pleas for a rest stop, causing Abe’s kidneys to explode. Homer promises to donate one of his, but panics and runs away on a tramp steamer with several other rejects from polite society. When even they reject Homer and his cowardice, he returns to the hospital – only to flee again. Fortunately for Grandpa, Homer is hit by a truck, and while recuperating Dr. Hibbert steals one of his kidneys to save the old man’s life.
Mayored to the Mob: After saving Mayor Quimby and guest star Mark Hamill (of Batman fame) from a sci-fi convention riot, Homer becomes a trained bodyguard. His assignment to protect Quimby brings him into direct conflict with the mob and its head, Fat Tony.
I didn’t meet the Monday deadline last week for my review of Kidney Trouble (which I’ll call KT from now on). Part of that was due to distractions – six NFL playoff games, a diabetic and diarrhetic cat, a dog with a chronic cough and the medicine for the cough makes him pee all the time so that he pees the bed and sometimes the sofa and when he doesn’t we have to take him out three or more times every night, the aftermath of an armed invasion of my country’s legislative building, etc. It’s been a tough few weeks in the ol’ Goo household.
But the biggest problem is that KT is an absolutely wretched episode of television that I have nothing intelligent to say about, and honestly would rather not have to revisit. So here’s a quick-hit list of things I hated about it:
- The episode features the near-death of a moderately beloved character, yet barely features him at all in favor of more time with Homer, the writers’ favorite and only character in season 10.
- The family, along with numerous other old west enthusiasts, watches an alcoholic man die alone in a trough. You know, for those who appreciate the lighter side of the Kitty Genovese story.
- Abe’s suffering in the car is played for laughs, as is Homer’s indifference to it.
- Carl (correctly) points out that Homer “won’t be able to drink [him]self stupid no more” with one kidney, yet Homer has now spent 20+ seasons drinking himself stupid with one kidney. I know I shouldn’t expect much continuity or serialization from this show, but this one sticks in my craw.
- And oh yeah, HOMER LEAVES HIS FATHER TO DIE.
Maybe some other show could have made this work. Seinfeld’s famous mantra was “no hugging, no learning”; both it and shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have made protagonists out of misanthropic monsters with cruelly misshapen souls. Maybe an abbreviated version of this story could have worked in a non-canon anthology episode akin to Treehouse of Horror, as long as it didn’t really happen. Or maybe not – maybe attempted patricide by neglect would be a bridge too far for any writers. In any case, it never could have worked for The Simpsons. There’s no way to take this episode seriously and continue to root for Homer going forward, nor is there any way to reconcile the character as built over the nine previous seasons with the wretch seen here.
Some jokes I didn’t hate so much
- The acknowledgement of the importance of the sex worker in 19th century America isn’t terribly funny, but it’s not terrible either.
- I almost always appreciate Homer’s unearned confidence, and the line”Excuse me, Doctor, I think I know a little something about medicine” fits that bill. Later, the line “This is everybody’s fault but mine” might have worked better in a less serious context, but is still a solid jab.
- I love little Homer’s curiosity about the relationship between the Jack who climbed a hill, the Jack who climbed a beanstalk, the Jack who ate no fat, the Jack who was nimble, and the Jack who ate pie in a corner. And then Abe drugs him to sleep, because this is season ten.
So it is with an unburdened heart that I leave this episode behind, having assigned it the following verdict:
Though I might come back to rag on it a bit while I’m discussing MttM. But after that? PENALTY OF TORTURE.
So here’s what MttM does right: first of all, Homer is a hero (of sorts). He may be a mediocre white man emboldened by the Dunning-Krueger effect, but it leads him to repeatedly save the life of that nice blonde guy from those Uber Eats commercials. He was willing to take a bullet for that watermelon, and possibly the Ann Landers it represented. He protects his children from rat milk, and risks his job and his life1 to expose the mob’s malfeasance. Even when he ultimately fails to protect Quimby, he has the decency to feel bad about it. Now THIS is the Homer Simpson I love – a well-intentioned, incompetent oaf who does his best even when his best isn’t good enough. I’d watch a show about that guy.
What’s more, the episode manages to make characters other than Homer interesting. Hamill, hot off his appearance in Hamilton2, doesn’t make much of an impression with his voice work. But it hardly matters – the writers do a terrific job of spoofing Hamill and how his career dried up after a brief run of success playing an alien wizard in some kind of space fantasy nonsense. We learn a little more about the mayor (mostly details about his corruption and lecherousness), and even the boot camp sergeant at Homer’s body guard school gets more nuance than non-Homer characters in certain episodes.3
Finally, the episode’s density4 and structure play strongly in its favor. The bodyguard school and rat milk subplots take only a few minutes apiece, but seem as memorable as if they had been given an entire act to themselves. And not only do all the smaller setpieces tie neatly into the main plot, the first act – which could have been entirely a non-sequitur, as in so many episodes of this era – is resurrected for a finale that sees the return of Hamill (who must have asked for extra time off from Adventures from the Book of Virtues). I normally don’t mind the unrelated first acts, but this time there’s a sense of closure – of a cohesive story being told throughout – that can’t be denied.
But is it funny?
Oh you betcha.
- Roger Corman’s Titanic makes a lot more sense when you know who Roger Corman is.
- Quimby: “Welcome, futurists, cyberphiles and the rest of you dateless wonders.”
- Drill sergeant: “As a bodyguard, your only loyalty is to your protectee. Not to your family. Not to your country. Not to Mohammad.”
Homer: “Even during Ramadan?”
- Quimby: “Rats? I’m outraged. You promised me dog or higher.”
- Homer: “You’re forgetting. You’ve got the best bodyguard in the business. Now promise or I’ll let you fall to your death.”
- Brockman: “And so, as the rats’ milk is returned to the sewers, the circle of life is complete.”
- Bart: “Aren’t you scared, Dad? I mean, if I were Fat Tony and, God willing, some day I will be …”