205. The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace

(originally aired September 20, 1998)
Well, this is officially our season premiere, and boy oh boy is it a bad sign. I had more problems with “Lard of the Dance” then I remembered, but I still kind of enjoyed it on the whole. This one is pretty damn terrible, from its directionless beginning to its ridiculous twist ending. I knew we were trouble from the start: hearing on the radio the new average life expectancy, Homer realizes he’s lived half his life, stops his car on the freeway, wanders through traffic and picks up the phone in the call box thinking he’s talking to his wife. I don’t know, I guess the writers think it’s funny to see how unbelievably stupid they can make Homer, which may be amusing just talking about it in the writer’s room, but actually in the show, it just makes him less like an actual person and more of a caricatured dolt. The leap to the main story couldn’t be more tenuous; the family’s film projector breaks, sparking Lisa to comment that it was originally invented by Thomas Edison. Homer then becomes obsessed with researching the man, then realizes that his life can be fulfilled if he follows in Edison’s footsteps and becomes an inventor. Your guess is as good as mine as to how this make sense.

Not much to comment on in act two, since nothing at all really happens. Really. Homer sequesters himself in the basement to come up with ideas for inventions, so it’s scene after scene of either him trying to jump start his brain (a nigh impossible task) or the other members of the family coming down to help/bother him. Eventually he comes up with four truly awful contraptions, which are faulty products, but still seem too well done. I mean, Homer couldn’t even build a spice rack properly, you think he’d be able to make an electric hammer? Or a make-up gun which he hilariously holds up and shoots in his wife’s face? Marge tells her husband as politely as she can that the inventions are fucking terrible, which he of course takes to heart. “I’m not saying you’re a bad inventor…” she starts… why? This is another thing that would develop over these seasons, when it’s a wacky Homer story (which there are a lot of), the other Simpsons are just tag-alongs, strangely enabling him in his goofy antics. Later when they discover Homer’s chair with two extra legs, they shower him with praise, and give him a group hug with big smiles on their faces. It’s a really eerie shot, like they need to cheer up this mentally insane person or fear the consequences. They’re treating a delusional idiot with kid’s gloves or something.

Now we get to the big dumb ending. Homer finds that he subconsciously stole the six-legged chair idea from his Edison poster, which leaves him one option: go to Menlo Park, find said chair and destroy it. Bart questions this, thinking his father loved Edison. Homer replies, “Ah, the hell with him!” He’s spent the entire episode praising the man’s name, now fuck this guy, smashy smashy, I’m an inventor too! But before he can commit the deed, he finds that Edison had the same stupid invention graph as he did, competing with his idol Leonardo Da Vinci for most patents held. Totally makes sense. Then the capper of the show is that Homer leaves his electric hammer behind in the museum, which is then credited to Edison and his newly wealthy heirs. Still totally makes sense. I chuckled a handful of times here, but this one’s an absolute mess beginning to end. Puzzling most to me is that it’s written by John Swartzwelder, who penned some of the greatest episodes of the show’s history, and his detective novellas are just as hilarious. Meanwhile, he also wrote some of the worst episodes ever: this one, “Kill the Alligator and Run,” “Simpson Safari,” and so on. Lots of talented people still work on this show, are these seasons just a higher form of comedy? Or is it all a big damn joke? Well either way, I’m not laughing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I like Homer’s vision of his funeral, featuring multi-Oscar-winning Barney, President Lenny and Heckle and Jeckle for some reason. The shot of the dump truck dropping Homer’s bloated corpse into the ground is pretty funny.
– I feel like there’s some kind of meat that could be pulled from Homer’s mid-life crisis; I like his line about not being able to remember anything (“You know how many memories I have? Three! Standing in line for a movie, having a key made, and sitting here talking to you. Thirty-eight years and that’s all I have to show for it!”) I have a piss poor memory, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be when I get that old. Springboarding that to the family showing him the home movies of his achievements makes sense, but then the show completely derails. Although I loved the shot of Homer’s space shuttle ramming MIR. Wonder how they got that footage.
– Homer at the school library starts out fine, citing some unexplained “unpleasantness” at the “big people library.” But then he acts more infantile than Bart and is quick with a ‘SCHOOL’ pennant to show the librarian. There was a weird sort of pennant running gag through the Scully years for some reason… don’t know what that was about.
– Homer’s Edison obsession is really boring… like I don’t get why they thought this was a good idea…
– I do like the bit where Homer backs up from his work, then rushes toward the paper, hoping kinetic momentum will jog an idea out of him, but… nothing.
– The scene with Homer and Frink is indicative of how empty this episode feels. Homer wants to be an inventor to give his life meaning, but doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing at all (“I just wanna know how to invent things. Tell me!”) So the whole episode feels very meandering and meaningless. At least we got Frink’s hamburger earmuffs out of it (“These babies will be in the stores while he’s still grappling with the pickle matrix!”)
– Homer holding the gun up to Marge’s face is slightly uncomfortable. But then again he did it in “The Cartridge Family,” but it made more sense story-wise there. And I hate his line, “Women will like what I tell them to like!” It just encapsulates this new Homer attitude, that he thinks he’s better than everyone else and he’s the only one that matters. Remember when he was kind of a humble guy?
– I do like the bit with Edison’s ghost getting “run over” by Homer, his screaming back at him, then Homer backing up as Edison worriedly hides behind some bushes.
– The only really great stuff in the show is at the Edison Museum (with sign “No Gang Colors”): the tour guide’s lame riddle, followed by the crowd’s amusement, Edison’s boyhood gift shop, and this bite (“Now, behind that door is Edison’s actual preserved brain. Ordinarily, folks, tour groups are not allowed to see it. And of course, today will be no exception.”)
– The ending is so goddamn stupid with that Edison/Da Vinci poster. And it doesn’t really close off the Homer-inventor story at all, just his sporadic random intention to destroy Edison that we got a mere three minutes ago. Also apparently Bart knows how Da Vinci is.
– The framing for the final shot of Homer on his toilet chair is pretty poor; we clearly see that he’s right next to Bart on the couch, up until the last shot. I’m all for cheats, but only if you try a little hard to cover them up.

18 thoughts on “205. The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace

  1. If Wikipedia is to be believed on the subject…

    “By 1994, with the show’s sixth season, Swartzwelder was granted a special dispensation and allowed to no longer attend rewrite sessions with the rest of the staff, instead being allowed to send drafts of his scripts in from home so other writers could revise them as they saw fit.”

    …If so, it’s no wonder that “his” scripts began to decline once Mike Scully became a showrunner. Scully could modify Swartzwelder’s gags until they fit his…peculiar concept of humor. Hell, you mention “Kill the Alligator and Run”, and John didn’t even know who Kid Rock was prior to the episode airing!

    1. Fun to know: He was granted that dispensation because they banned smoking. Also fun to know: All those lame inventions, Homer running towards the table, and “Women will like what I tell them to like” was all Swartzwelder.

  2. We’re just a little over a year and some change since season 8 ended and already the LOOK of the show is starting to get stagnant. Look at Bart and Homer in the “Wizard” screen cap, and Lisa in the “Lard” screen cap. So bland, especially Lisa. It just gets worse and worse from here.

    1. Popular rumor is that blandness is FOX’s fault and not so much the show’s. Apparently FOX put out some edict that the artwork for its animated shows always had to be on-model, never mind that one of the great things about animation is allowing designs to go off-model for hilarious effect. I guess FOX was getting pissed about being called a cartoon channel or something.

  3. Sorry, I think this is one of the funniest episodes of the series. Season 10 always gets a lot of flack — and true, it has weaker episodes, but the laughs are still surprisingly fast and the writing mostly clever. Now Season 11? Fuck that shit.

    1. Oh yeah, thanks for mentioning “These babies will be in the stores while he’s still grappling with the pickle matrix!” One of my favorite lines on the show.

      Did you know there actually ARE hamburger earmuffs now? Google em!

  4. This guy is a persuasive asshole trying to get attention, he’s basically getting people to not have different opinions and just have the same ones as his. Watch the episodes and you’ll realize it isn’t terrible.

  5. – “And I hate his line, “Women will like what I tell them to like!” It just encapsulates this new Homer attitude, that he thinks he’s better than everyone else and he’s the only one that matters.”
    I always took it as a dig at the way products are advertised.

    – I didn’t really have a huge problem with the focus being less on character/story and more on humor. Granted, the shows that contained both were better, but if the humor’s there I’m not going to complain too much. Also, Springfield is supposed to be pretty much the stupidest place on the planet, so I can accept a pretty high level of stupidity from the characters so long is it’s done to be funny. For me, the problem as the seasons go on is the humor’s lacking and now we don’t even have decent characters and/or story to fall back on.

    As for this episode, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t the greatest thing the show ever put out, but it was a decent enough premiere IMHO.

    1. totally agree. i think he sometimes over anlyzes and underrates episodes so much forgetting how much sublte and complex to study is The Simpsons. much of the things he criticized (like the “Women will like what I tell them to like!” you said), are class lines with a lot of sense(as you explained), and in a pure Simpsons style. i even think in this show Homer was desperate, fragile and human, and not a dickhead at all.
      There are 4 or 5 great episodes in this season and i think this one was pretty good, if not golden, but really solid and enjoyable anyway.

  6. I seem to remember quite liking this one, but I also haven’t watched it in quite some time, so maybe it won’t stand up as well as I thought it did.

    I do find it funny how of all people, Homer ends up singing the praises of the one guy who really doesn’t deserve them – Edison was more of a complete prick than an inventor.

  7. ‘There was a weird sort of pennant running gag through the Scully years for some reason… don’t know what that was about.’

    YES so true! I noticed this too.

    The following exchange was funny though:-

    Lisa: ‘Dad, women won’t like being shot in the face’
    Homer:’ ‘Women will like what I tell them to like’

  8. “Women will like what I tell them to like!”
    It is clearly just a parody of how useless products are sold on the market.

    But about the episode on the whole I think Mike is right. It is just so so pointless ad not interesting from any point of view. During the episode there is an air of whateverness, like the episode itself is bored, and has no idea (or care) of why the stuff it shows is happening or what it should matter to anybody, and it just try to reach 22 minutes.

  9. Awful, awful episode. Like I said previously, season 10 is when the series really took a nosedive in quality, and Homer’s character is the big one. Here, he does almost everything out of impulse with no consideration for his actions. The ending wherein he switches motivations and views completely on a dime with virtually no explanation is the perfect example. Do the writers not realize that characters actually need motivations to their actions in order to make the story make actual sense? Coupled with his sudden ability to capably invent bad inventions (this is the same man who did a shoddy job building a spice rack), and his other jerk moments (that “women will like what a tell them to like” bit could’ve worked as a satire on makeup commercials were it not said by Homer), and you have a pretty awful episode.

    What’s more insane is that John Swartzwelder is responsible for this episode. It’s crazy that the man responsible for such amazing episodes as “Rosebud”, “Homie the Clown”, and “You Only Move Twice” would later go on to write episodes like this and “Kill the Alligator and Run.” It’s shocking how he went from probably the best Simpsons writer to churning out some of the worst of the series. The fact that he stopped attending rewrites after season 5 likely had something to do with it, as by season 9, most of the best writers had stopped working on the series. I think I’ve made it pretty clear I hate this episode, so yeah, it’s terrible.

  10. At least we get the classic Brockman report about the “phony pope” and his foul language in this one.

  11. This was the last decent Swartzwelder episode, IMO. Not great, but not absolute shit either. Kidney Trouble is his first terrible episode, then things only went downhill from there.

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