Homer is delighted with the positive attention he receives after a new television show airs that features a police character also named Homer Simpson. However, when the character is changed from a hero to a bumbling idiot by the show’s producers, Homer is mocked and taunted by those he knows, so he changes his name to “Max Power” to rid himself of the negative attention. The new name earns Homer respect, and he and Marge are invited to a party where they meet a lot of famous people who are going to save a redwood forest from destruction by chaining themselves to the trees. However, Homer accidentally cuts his tree with his chains while running away from police officers Eddie and Lou. The tree knocks down all the other redwoods in a chain reaction, angering Max’s newfound friends. In the end, Max changes his name back to Homer. Guest star: Ed Begley Jr as himself.
In terms of structure, this one is hardly immune to the general hacky malaise that has sunk several season ten episodes already. The first act has the same kind of inside baseball jokes about the TV industry as The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show1; act three has the same “the family finds themselves among snobs instead of slobs for once” vibe as Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield2; and in between we get Homer trying to act dignified and failing miserably – ground we’ve covered many times before. In most cases, a show that feels like several previous shows thrown into a blender is a red flag. An abrupt and tacked-on return-to-status-quo ending doesn’t bode well either.
And yet! Despite all that, this is one of the sharpest-written and most essential episodes of the season, has some gags that hold up as well as the highlights from previous years.
I’m gonna dive into some theories about names and nominative determinism for a second. In 2017, The Ringer published a Bill Simmons essay titled “Does Blake Bortles Struggle Because His Name Is Blake Bortles?” This is in keeping with a theory I’ve seen many times before stating that strong, masculine names like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, and Tony Romo seem to associated with great quarterbacks; on the flip side, guys like Dan Orlovsky, Stephen McGee, and Taylor Heinecke seem destined to be backups at best. There are exceptions, of course – both Y.A. Tittle and Weeb Ewbank are in the Hall of Fame despite their unwieldy monikers, while Colt McCoy (who sounds like the star of 1940s cowboy serials) has been largely ineffective in the pros. But the point remains – why do we associate certain names with strength, and does that association lead to those strongly-named men having more success in life?
Simmons writes about “a Gladwellian thing going on where guys with great names like Joe Montana or Steve Young get to be the QBs on their Pop Warner teams.” He also cites an essay from Psychology Today that reads in part:
The idea is that people with easier-to-pronounce names tend to be evaluated more positively than people with harder-to-pronounce names … The observed effects seem to be attributable to pronunciation—when a name rolls off the tongue, at an implicit level we associate more positive sentiment with it. It’s a finding consistent with previous research showing that the ease, or fluency, with which we perceive something changes our impressions of it. The harder it is for us to come up with examples of a concept the less likely we are to believe it. In fact, simply seeing a fact written in a difficult-to-read font/background color combination makes us less likely to think that it’s true.
And that’s on top of some already-established knowledge about how we react to names from other cultures3 or how people will eat more Patagonian toothfish when it’s marketed as Chilean sea bass4. In short, Juliet was wrong – there is so much in a name, and what we call a rose might not smell so sweet by another name.
So maybe it is that simple – Homer Simpson could never hope to hang out with President Clinton and Ed Begley Jr, but Max Power can.
On a separate topic, there’s a pronounced difference – one that falls along gender lines – between Marge and Homer’s introductions to high society. Marge knows she doesn’t belong there, and the jabs at her one and only fancy dress reinforce her imposter syndrome. Homer, of course, has no such reservations. He not only fails to recognize that he doesn’t fit in at Trent Steel’s party, he acts as if he belongs there – because in his mind, he’s always deserved that level of recognition5 but also because he’s not smart or observant enough to notice that he doesn’t belong. Cluelessly self-absorbed Homer goes down a lot more smoothly than maliciously self-absorbed, and this episode generally stays on the right side of that line.
All right, that’s enough of that – let’s get into the funny parts.
- Homer: “I never thought I’d say this about a TV show… but this is kind of stupid.”
- Marge: “Homer, it’s just a coincidence, like that guy named Anthony Michael Hall who stole your car stereo.”
Bart: “Right. Coincidence.”
- Homer’s lust for Debbie Pinson is delightfully short-sighted – not only because he’s middle-aged and still can’t imagine anything better than dating a homecoming queen, but because I’m sure in his mind she’s still 17 and not yet as ravaged by time as he is.
- Homer: “Hey, what’s going on? That guy’s not Homer Simpson. He’s fat and stupid.”
- Lenny: “Get ready, everybody. He’s about to do something stupid.”
- TV Producer: “The thirteen of us began with a singular vision – Titanic meets Frasier. But then we found out that ABC had a similar project in development [and] it scared the hell out of us, so we slapped together a cop show instead.”
- “He’s not stupid – he’s a street-smart fish out of water in a world he never made” is the nicest and most devastating way I can imagine to call somebody stupid.
- Abe: “The family name is my legacy to you! I got it from my father, and he got it from his father. And he traded a mule for it. And that mule went on to save spring break.”
- Homer: “Kids, there’s three ways to do things – the right way, the wrong way and the Max Power way.”
Bart: “Isn’t that the wrong way?”
Homer: “Yeah, but faster!”
- Trent Steel: “So where to eat? You like Thai?”
Homer: “Tie good. You like shirt?”
- Homer: “Uh-oh. Here comes Lorne Michaels. Pretend you don’t see him.”
- I can’t fully endorse calling President Clinton a pig-fucker on national TV, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t amuse me a little.
- Ed Begley Jr. : “I prefer a vehicle that doesn’t hurt Mother Earth. It’s a go-cart powered by my own sense of self-satisfaction.”
- Nearly 15 years ago, the woman I was dating joined a roller derby league and asked for a good name. I immediately suggested Chesty La Rue, she changed it to Chesty La Bruise, and it stuck. That’s my contribution to roller derby culture.
Next week: Apu shames all of Springfield’s men with his elaborate Valentine’s Day gifts in I’m With Cupid. Guest stars include Elton John and Jan Hooks.