720. You Won’t Believe What This Episode Is About – Act Three Will Shock You!

Original airdate: March 13, 2022

The premise: Homer becomes the latest target of the social media outrage machine after a series of mishaps painting him in a bad light. He is approached by The Institute to help rehab his image, being paired with fellow social pariahs to be documented doing a series of good deeds, all unaware of the Institute’s actual sinister motives.

The reaction: The first chunk of this episode feels like a modern-era adaptation of “Homer Badman,” where an innocuous action by Homer leaves him trapped in a reactionary media hells cape that even his own family distances himself from. Here, Homer’s innocent candy ass-grab has been replaced by leaving Santa’s Little Helper in the car to go get the dog some ice cream, with a manufactured set-up that he was actually a good guy by cracking down all the windows and leaving the AC on but then the dog turns and shuts them all because he’s bouncing off the seats, and the car is immediately swarmed by dozens of passerbys filming and shaming Homer. Lisa writes up an apology for Homer to deliver at church, but he just ends up digging his own grave deeper by going on a rant about all the thin-skinned busybodies harassing him, ending with him accidentally nudging Reverend Lovejoy out his stained glass window. The image instantly becomes a worldwide meme, further tarnishing Homer’s image. Now, there’s definitely more to be said about outrage culture from the time of “Homer Badman,” but what’s here doesn’t feel all that more scathing or insightful than what we saw in 1994. Performative outrage, people documenting such events for their own clout, getting off on your own dissatisfaction, obfuscating the truth, all of these topics aren’t really dove into, instead either kind of lightly touched upon or not explored at all. Eventually, rather than getting a call from God… frey Jones, Homer is randomly approached by a man from “The Institute” (I don’t believe he ever said his name, but he’s voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), a sprawling facility devoted to rehabilitating people’s public perception. He’s paired with some fellow social outcasts, with some familiar faces like Helen Lovejoy (now rebranded a modern-day Karen) and some new ones, like a Congressman who I guess accidentally flashed his dick on Zoom, and a short man who constantly flies off the handle on-camera, who I think is based on that guy who fucking lost it at a bagel store three years ago. When acts of public service don’t seem to be doing the job, the Institute guy reveals his ultimate plan: sneak into the headquarters of the biggest ad-farm Internet company to install a flash drive that will scrub all footage of Homer and company from the web. All of this is also clearly a riff on both the 2016 and 2021 versions of Suicide Squad, with the laborious introductions to each team member being like the former, and full scenes seemingly referencing the first trailer of the latter, like the team being briefed in a big lecture hall and two montages set to Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work.” Then Kirk says they’re like a suicide squad, just to make sure you get the reference. So they break into the headquarters and the rest of the team gets suckered into the clickbait articles the company makes… I don’t know, is this really a ripe topic for parody anymore? It’s based on those big blocks of random ads that appear on the bottom of lots of major websites with grabbing headlines like “You won’t believe how much this child actress weighs now!”, which also serves as the inspiration of the episode’s title. I dunno, I feel like more people are reading stuff off of social media versus going to actual websites, like this feels like it would have been a bit more potent if done five or six years ago, but maybe that’s just me. Although sometimes ads like that pop up on this very blog because my cheap ass has never upgraded to premium WordPress, so there’s also that. Anyway, Homer’s plugged in the flash drive, but then discovers the Institute’s real plan: to scrub the negative history of actual monsters the world over (including a groan-inducing “I think that guy was just President! And those are his kids!”) In the end, Homer aborts mission, and pushes the “Worldwide Broadcast” button to read Lisa’s apology note, and all is forgiven, and I guess the evil cabal that secretly runs the world has Kumail’s character executed. Unlike the last two episodes which I could sort of understand the appeal to certain viewers, this one feels like more back-to-basics, sleepwalking through topics that could be better torn apart, with a flimsy emotional center that barely feels like it’s there at all. I was surprised to see this was a Matt Selman show, I would think that button would have been mashed even harder.

Three items of note:
– Every time I think I’m not going to talk about voices… I end up talking about the voices. Homer runs into Lenny at the dog park, who typically doesn’t have that many lines of dialogue in a given scene, but Harry Shearer sounded particularly tired to me, but I don’t know if I blame him. We also have a one-off line from Drederick Tatum, here voiced by comedian and former SNL cast member Jay Pharoah. Unlike the other recastings, this one’s kind of unique in that it’s just Pharoah doing his impression of Mike Tyson, as Hank Azaria was doing his own. I feel like my brain automatically thinks of Azaria’s Tatum anytime I think of Mike Tyson speaking, so it’s tough to disassociate. Also, the lip sync was weirdly off… like you could tell by the phonemes that he was saying the same sentence, but it didn’t match the speed of Pharoah’s delivery, so it would drift once or twice off his dialogue. Anyway, it’s still weird to me that Drederick Tatum is still a recurring character. I was really surprised when he popped up in a major role two seasons ago as the owner of a dispensary, since Mike Tyson just seems like a really played out celebrity to poke fun at in the 2020s, in the wake of the Hangover movies and Mike Tyson Mysteries seemingly having salted the earth. This weirdly almost felt like the staff has a list of all their semi-recurring POC characters and is trying to give them all reappearances so they can try out new voices. Excluding Apu, I feel like they’ve hit them all at this point. The only other one I can think is Cookie Kwan, and they’d be doing the world a favor if they just dropped her in a ditch and left her there.
– There’s lots of lines with Kumail’s character at the Institute that feel incredibly clunky, which I guess are supposed to be intentionally bad quips that you’d find from a blockbuster movie as they’re going through describing the big plan, but they’re pretty indistinguishable from a ton of dialogue from the last twenty years that was definitely meant to be funny (“You’d have to invent something to do that!” “Funny you say that, I did invent something to do that,” “So we’re kind of like a suicide squad?” “You’re exactly kind of like a suicide squad,” “The upload is nearly complete! I can think of almost nothing at the last minute that can stop us now!”)
– Speaking of Bagel Store guy, doing a search for that video did bring up a couple of podcast interviews he did, and it reminded me that after the video went viral, he tried to somewhat embrace his image and use his newfound fame to platform himself. He beefed up his social media presence with a YouTube channel where he ranted a bunch, he got paid a lot of money for a boxing match in Atlantic City, and probably profited a lot more from other endorsements and other deals he made. All that seems to have abruptly stopped after he suffered a stroke about five months after the incident though. But that’s the opposite end of the social pariah spectrum that this episode could have touched on a bit more, but the closest we get is we see the only place that will welcome Homer is the bluntly titled “Right Wing Podcast House.” A+ writing, guys.

16 thoughts on “720. You Won’t Believe What This Episode Is About – Act Three Will Shock You!

  1. DAY 14

    Feeling viewbaited

    This is what I get for being optimistic for a ZS episode. I feel like such a dumbass. I mean, the episode isn’t the worst thing ever but it just ended up being balls-to-the-wall nonsense with failed attempts at trying to parody the viral videos of people losing it and stuff. I’m really sad because the concept genuinely sounds interesting mostly because, as mentioned, it sounds very similar to “Homer Badman”, which is one of the best episodes ever. The thing is, “Homer Badman” always felt like one of those episodes that the show would never be able to do in the 21st century due to how randy and controversial the topic is but this episode reminded me that there’s all sorts of different topics that could be used for such an intriguing set-up. I only wish the execution was even a quarter good as Badman’s was. And why would an episode with such a concept like this need a Suicide Squad parody?! I know the show’s given up the will to be realistic more than two decades ago but come the heck on! I’m noticing a pattern here. I remember back in Season 30 Mike saying there was a slight rise in quality with “Werking Mom” and “Krusty the Clown” then “Daddicus Finch” literally sucker-punched him. I suppose the same could be said this season. Two tiny baby steps forward with “Pixelated and Afraid” and “Boyz N the Highlands” one big step back with this. Oh, and next episode is going to be about influencer culture. Fuck me this is one crazy-ass journey.

    1. Pixelated and Afraid wasn’t even good but I can at least see what they were trying to accomplish despite failing. This on the other hand felt like it’s only purpose was just to be Homer Badman 2.0 excluding anything that made that episode good.

  2. “Although sometimes ads like that pop up on this very blog because my cheap ass has never upgraded to premium WordPress, so there’s also that.”

    Just don’t look
    Just don’t look
    Just don’t look
    Just don’t look

  3. The “So we’re kind of like a suicide squad?!” and “”You’re exactly kind of like a suicide squad” exchange was so stupid that it got a cheap laugh out of me. It was just explaining the reference, but it at least caught me off-guard because it felt so sudden. The rest of the dialogue was absolutely more of that horrible “characters just expositing stuff for the audience” drivel, where nobody feels like a person talking to someone else but just a prop that’s explaining something that’s going on. Was Mel in this episode? That kind of expository stuff was exactly what they loved using him for in the middle- and late-season episodes.

  4. The reason I (and I think many fans) appreciated “Pixelated and Afraid” and “Boyz N the Highlands” is because they were apolitical and not the show attempting social satire or trying to be relevant (neither of which it has succeeded at in over two decades). Nothing but cringe-worthy pop culture references that only continue to show how old and out-of-touch the show is. The only way The Simpsons can be watchable now is if they stick with muted character-centric stories like the last two episodes.

    1. 100%. I’ve often said that the show (as it is) is at its best when telling ‘slice-of-life’ character stories. The show still produces a successful ‘pop culture’ episode occasionally (Werking Mom, Highway to Well, Bart’s in Jail come to mind for me), but the characters are much more front and centre in those as opposed to shallow and amorphous ciphers.

  5. Yeah, this wasn’t great. I’m not sure I’d call it outright bad, but I’d have to watch it one or two more times before I can say for sure. The episode pays a lot of lip service to numerous aspects of outrage and clickbait culture (only some of which works), but it’s wide as an ocean and deep as a puddle. It’s not coherent or incisive enough and ‘The Institute’ stuff was mostly baffling. This actually came across as one of the most Jean-like episodes that Selman has run, but he hasn’t got a great track record with attempts at satire (his strength is and always been with fairly straight character stories). I wish this show would just avoid satirising aspects of our current society – it no longer has the writing or comedic chops to do so effectively. I understand why they still do it (it’s part of the show’s DNA and they want to stay relevant), but it’s quite impotent.

  6. I think Dr. Nick could also count as a POC character, being a light skinned Hispanic. Personally, I think Carlos Alazraqui could be a hilarious in that role.

    1. Dr. Nick is basically Hank Azaria doing a bad Desi Arnez impression, but has there been any explicit mention of him being Hispanic? I don’t recall any.

      1. I suppose you’re right, I was just assuming by the “Riviera” name. That, and Julio being recast.

      2. Wasn’t Dr. Nick (at least originally) a caricature of Gabor Csupo, who animated the early episodes of the show? At least that’s what I once heard.

      3. I think his design was based on Gabor Csupo, but not the voice, since Azaria probably hadn’t met him at that point.

  7. Last week someone in the comments wondered “How would the current show handle an old plot from the classic years?”, and this week we more or less got our answer with what would happen if the showed tried making Homer Badman today… Which can be generously summed up as having nothing which made that episode enjoyable (like jokes).

    Not sure where others would fall on this, but I’d go as far as to say that this is currently the worst episode of the season! At least Lisa’s Belly had a subplot to try and off-balance how much of an animated ABC after school about body positivity it was and I could see what Pixelated and Afraid was trying to accomplish despite failing miserably at it.

    But this episode…. Yeah, I don’t really know what it wanted to accomplish other than proving how most times there isn’t any difference between a Jean or Selman episode regarding how bad it turns out.

  8. Wow, they really are starting to become an animated version of Dhar Mann, aren’t they? Similar titles and all!

    This episode was a huge fucking piece of shit. Proves that even Matt Selman is capable of producing one.

  9. This episode had absolutely no ground to mock two moviess much better than any newer ZS episode (yes, even the 2016 SuSquad- at least that had a FEW chuckles), and the whole affair is exactly why I was doubting the “better” episodes. No matter how hard they try, there’s simply no denying this show is trapped. Trapped in over 3 decades of ideas being used up already. Trapped in using so much humor before it makes it near impossible for them to expand without getting complaints from the lifelong fans. Trapped by a group that seems to think now that merely referencing something is enough of a joke. Assuming the audience would actually get it, that is- so they decide to overexplain just in we didn’t get it the first time.

    No matter how hard they try at this point, it’s to the level that it would frankly be like putting lipstick on a rotting sore at this point.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s