253. Homer vs. Dignity

(originally aired November 26, 2000)
Ah, after a few surprisingly passable shows, we have our first godawful episode of the season. It’s particularly reviled by fans for one scene in particular, but in all honestly I wasn’t that greatly offended by that part. It’s grossly disturbing and disgusting, for sure, but it’s just that there were so many other terrible things that happened prior that I had developed a callous to it, I guess. Virtually nothing about this show works; its fundamental story is flimsy and dumb, and everything it attempts just feels wrong. We start on familiar ground with the Simpson family deep in financial woes. We’ve seen this plot thread before many times, and done so, so, so much better. In place of actual emotional value of Marge worrying or Homer having concern over providing for his family, we have jokes about Homer mishearing “financial planner” as “financial panther.” Then we get a dream sequence about it. This is what passes for comedic content nowadays, I guess.

Meanwhile, Smithers takes a leave of absence, so Burns is left to his own devices. He’s in “Old Man and the Lisa” mode, in that he’s a completely helpless old man, thinking a vending machine is a toffee shop and calling the sneeze guard a “force field.” I think that episode to him is what “Homer’s Enemy” was to Homer; in that context in the specific episode, the characterization worked, but that exaggeration crept further into his personality as seasons went on. So Homer’s money problems are solved when he becomes Burns’ “prank monkey,” in that he will perform humiliating tasks about town for cash, like getting run over by cyclists or writhing on the floor at a stadium men’s room wearing only a diaper. So, is Burns like a creepy weirdo or something? He has dropped his employees through trap doors and subject them to tiresome tasks in the past, but his absolute glee over these petty and childish antics seems so alien. As I said with “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love,” do the writers just not know how to write for this character anymore? Clearly they don’t. For all the shit that Homer goes through in this show, I felt worse for Burns.

So the last straw for Homer involves him prancing around in a panda suit in an exhibit at the zoo. After he’s continuously shocked with electric prods (another vocal workout for Castellaneta), the male panda takes notice to Homer, and then proceeds to do unspeakable actions toward him behind closed curtains. Now, people call this the “panda rape” scene, but as Homer was in costume, it couldn’t be rape, per say. He was sexually assaulted by a panda for sure, but it was not rape. But look at me, I’m talking about alleged animal rape in a goddamn Simpsons episode. It’s so ridiculously out-of-place and terribly unfunny. I really wanted to turn the show off at this point, since there’s not much else here. Homer uses his ill-gotten money to buy toys for children, and is made Santa Claus at the Thanksgiving Day parade. Then Burns boards his float mid-parade and offers him a million bucks to throw fish guts at the crowd. He refuses, and Burns ends up doing it. He’s not arrested or anything, and again, what kind of freaky maniac is he? This show is absolute shit, I have no idea what the fuck the writers are doing to Burns, or why they think any of the truly distasteful content in this episode is funny. Certainly one of the record books here.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Bart gets his first ‘A’ and the family is astonished. He reveals the tale of how this could have happened: he stayed after school and ended up stuck in the janitor’s closet as Skinner and Krabappel came in and made love on Martin’s desk (“It is usually the cleanest.”) To distract himself from the dirtiness, Bart read over a nearby poster of the planets over and over and the information stayed (“So when I took the test, the answers were stuck in my brain. It was like a whole different kind of cheating!”) In the middle of Bart’s reading, we hear Skinner off-screen say in a strained voice, “Come on, Edna, don’t be tardy!” That’s fucking gross, what else could that be but him coming close to an orgasm. What’s with all the awful out-of-place sex jokes this season? It’s not like I’m a prude, and I’d accept them if they were funny, but they feel so wrong in this series.
– I guess the whole family can play instruments. Quite well, apparently.
– I like this back-and-forth between Marge and Homer (“When did we become the bottom rung of society?” “I think it was when that cold snap killed off all the hobos.”)
– Nice bit with Carl’s word-a-day calendar. He says, “I concur,” while the word that day was actually “conquer.”
– Honestly, nothing about the prank monkey stuff is funny. Even Homer eating Spider-Man #1 and Comic Book Guy near on having a heart attack, which is funny in concept, didn’t get a laugh out of me because Burns creepily peering in through the window makes no fucking sense.
– Smithers’ Malibu Stacey musical isn’t funny. Give me Planet of the Apes any day.
– Here’s an exchange between Homer and Lisa. I need someone to explain this to me (“What should I do with all this dirty, ill-gotten money? I’d better throw it in the garbage.” “Well, there’s lots of needy kids out there.” “I see what you’re saying. I need to buy a gun!”) So… is the joke here that Homer intends to shoot underprivileged children? I don’t understand the process of someone thinking of this joke, pitching it in the writer’s room, the other writers thinking it’s funny, Castellaneta recording it, them doing rewrites and test screenings, and through all of that, no one had a problem with this line. Less severe, but next episode we have the cash prize intended for “Mr. X” announced to be given to starving children, to which Homer screams in terror and outs himself as Mr. X. So is the joke that Homer is a deplorable human being? I guess. Whatever.
– Worthless cameo by Leeza Gibbons, Burns appearing on the float makes no sense, and for some reason he’s dressed in the Santa suit which I guess Homer somehow left behind. And it would fit him. Or something. I don’t know. There’s one or two funny lines in the third act, but I can’t be bothered to write them up. I don’t really care. Fuck this episode.

25 thoughts on “253. Homer vs. Dignity

  1. Everybody talks about the panda rape, but there’s so many other problems with this episode: the degrading of Burns and Homer’s characters, the fact that it steals stuff wholesale from previous episodes (“There’s a New Mexico,” anyone?), and the fact that the third act has little to do with the previous two and might as well be tossed at the end of the episode. Apart from the fact that it gave us the word “retirony,” I don’t have anything good to say about this one.

    1. I always wondered about the “There’s a new Mexico?” line being reused. I mean, did EVERYONE forget they already used that line… did they just think no one would notice? Was it supposed to be a reference to better days? Was it just so funny they had to say it twice? Were they hoping the episode wouldn’t be remembered as badly because they have a golden era line? SOMEBODY WHO HAS LISTENED TO THE COMMENTARY, LET US KNOW! (I’m sure they don’t say shit about it, right?)

      1. Well, to be honest, I forgot about the New Mexico line. But there must have been someone in that building who remembered that old bit, but I guess they never spoke up. Or they did and were fired for their insolence.

      2. The writers have a pretty poor memory when it comes to what jokes they have and haven’t used before, and to their credit, you would too if you’d been writing a TV show for over ten years. We can obsess over it ’cause we’re just watching the thing over and over again; they actually have to focus on making new episodes day in and day out, and they don’t have time to look back.

        David Mirkin spoke on one commentary about the Simpsons 10th Anniversary festival that happened in 1999 or 2000 or whenever, and there was an episode trivia contest that pitted the fans against the writers. The fans won by a mile; Mirkin wisely sat out because he knew he’d get walloped.

  2. Oh come on, the Financial Panther bit is great. Easily could have been done in the classic era.

    1. Yeah, the financial panther skit is funny, and almost has that classic era ‘think about it and giggle’ quality. Unfortunately the link to it is really tenuous which makes it feel crowbarred in and rather jarring.

      1. The build-up is so slow, and plus once that thought bubble comes up you know exactly what the joke is. At that point it’s just ten more seconds to kill.

  3. “Financial panther” is not funny, in my opinion. I realize Homer is dimwitted, but who the hell hears “financial planner” as “financial panther?” It’s not organic (like, for example, Homer misspelling “smart” as “s-m-r-t” which is believable), but rather forced in, which makes it not funny, in my opinion.

    I’ve been waiting for this day ever since this blog started. This is the episode that I specifically remember seeing live that I thought, this show is horrible and there’s no turning back. I can remember not laughing a single time, not once. Homer and Burns are completely degraded here, everything about this episode is disgusting and not funny or entertaining in the slightest. One of the worst episodes of television ever, forget just The Simpsons. Everytime I wanna defend Mike Scully and say that he had an impossible job of keeping a show going that’s been on the air this long, I remember things like jockey elves and panda rape and become extremely pissed off.

    1. Well yeah – ‘financial panther’ as a standalone sight gag is amusing. Crowbar loads of horrible contrived crap in around it for the sole purpose of getting to it, and it’s nasty and jarring.

      Bad as this episode was (and it’s very bad), I think it was the ‘Mr X’ one that finally made me give up.

  4. I could’ve sworn that the Malibu Stacy musical bit comes from an earlier episode, but I guess not. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for Homer the Smithers, which starts similarly but is overall funnier.

  5. Hah. I guess I’ll be the one person who thinks this episode isn’t nearly as bad as most people make it out to be. I kinda find it interesting and entertaining to a point. I’m not necessarily saying The Simpsons should go in the direction it went in with this episode — I’m much more into the episodes with actual heart and wit, obviously — but it’s kinda entertaining as a one-off episode. Not nearly as offensively bad or insulting to fans as it’s made out to be, even if it’s pretty dumb in most places…

    As for the joke… “What should I do with all this dirty, ill-gotten money? I’d better throw it in the garbage.”
    “Well, there’s lots of needy kids out there.”
    “I see what you’re saying. I need to buy a gun!”

    Hah, that’s a pretty good exchange! …he’s saying that “needy” kids are going to “need” his money, so he will “need” a gun to defend himself against those who “need” the money. Yeah, I know “Needy” is usually synonymous with “underpriveledged children” (and is definitely what it means in the second line, which gets misunderstood, even though he says “I see what you’re saying”, which is what makes it kinda funny imo), but I don’t think the joke is that he wants to kill underpriveledged kids, just that he needs a gun to protect his money from kids who “need” it. See?

    1. I’m 100% with you on this one. This episode may not have had strong characterization but it had so many iconic laughs, for me at least. Financial panther, the exchange you mentioned, Carl’s word of the day calendar, Lenny’s eye, etc. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

  6. Oh come on, “Don’t be tardy, Edna!” is hilarious. It shows just how lame Skinner is: Working in school lingo into sex, a situation that absolutely doesn’t call for it. I’m sure Edna rolled her eyes in annoyance during that.

  7. Frankly, I don’t see how Burns is all that out of character here. He’s always been amused by the humiliation and suffering of those he thinks are beneath him (which is nearly everybody). Yes, it’s taken to a new extreme here, but that’s because Smithers is gone. Smithers usually acts as a voice of reason or he thinks of some sort of distraction to keep Burns from going too far.

    And to answer Mike’s question, yes, Burns is a creepy weirdo. I would’ve said that years before this episode even aired.

  8. I watched this episode today. I’m not even sure I watched it as a kid. Maybe this is the first time I have seen the entire episode.

    “Here’s an exchange between Homer and Lisa. I need someone to explain this to me (“What should I do with all this dirty, ill-gotten money? I’d better throw it in the garbage.” “Well, there’s lots of needy kids out there.” “I see what you’re saying. I need to buy a gun!”)”

    Considering Jerkass Homer takes a slight, superficial return to Classic Homer here (in this episode Homer allows himself to be humiliated to financially support his family, rather than punching people or screaming all the time, and only hurts people when Burns asks him to do), the way I see the “joke” is that Homer interpreted Lisa’s words as if he should do a good deed with the remaining money he has. So Homer jumped to the conclusion that those kids have a terrible life, and would be better for them to stop suffering. Regardless, it’s a pretty tasteless joke, but it’s nowhere as bad as in “The Computer Wore Menaces Shoes”.

    Unfortunately, the joke is ruined because seconds later Homer buys all the toys in Costington’s. So how much money did Burns give to Homer? Thousands and thousands of dollars? Then why would Homer spend so much money on a single gun? As always, Zombie Simpsons makes no sense.

  9. I gotta say, the panda scene in this episode didn’t offend me nearly as much as Homer *actually* getting raped by Marge in “Strong Arms of the Ma”

  10. Something that no-one has mentioned here – this episode was apparently based on an obscure 60’s movie called ‘The Magic Christian’, which had a similar premise (a billionaire forces people to do degrading things for money). However, the satirical thrust of that story is lost when Mr Burns is only paying Homer to humiliate himself…

    Unfortunately, this was not the first inane and ridiculous episode based on a cult British property from the 1960s. Another would be just around the corner…

  11. I honestly never even thought about the “panda rape” scene. In fact, when I read you mention it some time ago (or maybe it was another poster), I didn’t even know what you were talking about. Today was my third time ever seeing this episode (the first being when it initially aired and the second being in 2012 when I rewatched the whole show in a month, so a lot of the episodes became a blur). It’s a pretty disturbing scene, and an unneccessary one, but it’s not exactly a rape as you said, Mike.

    However, that doesn’t diminish from the fact that this episode is just awful all around. There is so much wrong with it before that scene and even more after it. The fish stuff during the parade is just awful. Although, I never realized they didn’t have Costington do his slow motion lip movements in this one, so there is at least that.

    In the end though, I liked this episode better when it was called, “Homer the Smithers.”

  12. The fake Krusty balloon at the parade is the only funny thing I can think of in this episode.

  13. After the first few season 12 episodes were not great but still harmless, I figured the show would actually pick up a little bit. Then this episode came along and instantly I knew I had gotten my hopes up. Mr. Burns is in probably his worst role up to this point. I don’t want him to become a loser like he was in “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love”, but to turn him into a cartoony villain like this? He acts so weird in this episode and I don’t like it. Nothing he does makes any sense for his character.

    Then we have the whole story being irritating. There’s the thread of the Simpsons having no money, which has been done many times before. We have a lot of dumb jokes, like “financial panther” (the setup is so laborious that you’re just waiting for the joke to pass), the dumb Burns antics, Homer getting shocked by eels, the joke about Homer with his gun, etc. I don’t know why the writers thought these were funny, but they weren’t.

    So, yeah, I think that’s every-… oh, right. That scene. You all know the one. Yeah, it sucks. Not sure why the writers thought supposed sexual panda assault was funny, but it feels so wrong coming from this show. It’s not a good scene, and there’s a good reason it’s infamous. So with its panda scene, the dumb jokes, repeated story ideas, and awful characterization of Burns, we have one of the worst Simpsons episodes of all time.

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