“Homer Badman” (season 6, episode 9, originally aired 11/27/1994)
Great Simpsons episodes are remarkable for the turns they take one-third of the way through: there’s seven minutes of something, usually something whimsical, and then it just becomes something else, completely naturally and logically, even though if you described the plot of “Homer Badman” to someone they would look at you like you had lost your goddamn mind. “Yeah, Homer goes to a candy convention and steals a gummi Venus de Milo, but then it gets stuck to the babysitter’s butt and he grabs it off her, creating a national sexual harassment controversy!”
What madness is this? What I especially love is that I’m completely with Homer in the decision that he makes. I would have grabbed the gummi Venus too. The episode somehow convinces you that it’s the most delicious thing you’ll ever eat. I maybe wouldn’t have gone with the slobbering, which raises Homer’s apparent harassment from an already-inappropriate goosing to something far more specific and disturbing, but I would have done anything I could to get that gummi Venus de Milo off Ashley Grant’s butt.
Apparently Greg Daniels, who wrote this episode, thought the main conflict should be between Bart and Lisa’s conceptions of feminism. There’s traces of that early in the episode, where Bart is suddenly a garden-variety misogynist who raises his eyebrows and says things like “So, you’re one of those ‘don’t call me a chick’ chicks, huh?” It’s especially funny since just a couple scenes later he’s back to being a total 10-year-old kid who says girls’ butts are “where cooties come from.” Showrunner David Mirkin swung the focus to media frenzy and the tabloidization of TV news, satirizing the ridiculous self-sustaining shitstorm that can blow up around one particular incident.
We begin, however, with the candy convention, which is absolutely as silly as it should be. Homer and the kids agree that Marge is a more important plus-one because of her size and grabbing power; the two then wreak havoc stealing as many samples as they can, even the wax lips offered by the gentleman in the clip below (one of my all-time favorite nervous Simpsons sales clerks). The whole thing so gradually turns into a spoof action movie (Homer blows the whole thing up with Coke and Pop Rocks, screaming “see you in hell, candy boys!”) that you don’t even notice. And yes, I know I appropriated a Simpsons line for that last sentence. Yes, I am the happiest man alive, thank you for asking.
Homer’s accidental harassment is especially funny because it comes after a moment of real lawbreaking (he blew up a convention center!) that goes unnoticed, and also because he’s weirdly chill in the car ride over with Ashley. “So, a graduate student, huh? How come you guys can go to the moon but you can't make my shoes smell good?” His attack quickly goes national and Homer has people outside his house shouting things like “2-4-6-8, Homer's crime was very great! Great meaning large or immense! We use it in the pejorative sense!”
One of the advantages the Simpsons has in Springfield is that it’s a setting where pretty much any development is plausible. Would the town immediately turn on Homer? Of course it would. Would Moe, Barney, Lenny, Apu and Dr. Hibbert (!) offer to sell secrets about him? Most definitely. Would Kent Brockman stake out the house with a helicopter for 24 hours a day, assuming a chicken in the oven is Homer “slowly rotating in his own juices?” There’s no mental leap required for such developments, they just seem natural.
The best part of the episode comes when it starts satirizing television itself. Rock Bottom, a Hard Copy spoof that mangles Homer’s (already a little creepy) interview to make him look like a monster, is one of my favorite fake programs in the Simpsons universe. God…Frey Jones is simultaneously a hard-boiled interviewer and someone who fears for his life at the frozen image of a drooling Homer. His stern apology for all of the show’s mistakes is the original version of the gag at the end of all those Fox & Friends spoofs on Saturday Night Live, and should be read and enjoyed on the Simpsons wiki.
In satirizing TV, “Homer Badman” also realizes that making television Homer’s enemy would create a real moral quandary for him and his kids. Just a few episodes back, Homer addressed the glowing box as “teacher, mother, secret lover” and Bart and Lisa wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. How can they (and, by extension, most of America) discount what TV is telling them? How could TV be wrong? It’s so crisply edited and aggressive and confident. It always seems right, even when the movie of the week version of Homer’s encounter with Ashley has Dennis Franz saying he’ll get away with it because of “the man in the White House.” Oh, and it’s called Homer S: Portrait Of An Ass-Grabber.
The best moment sees Homer sadly watching himself satirized by Letterman and the Bumblebee Man, finally taking solace in An Evening At The Improv, still firmly rooted in satirizing the 80s. “Ooh, I wouldn't want to be Mr. T right now,” he cackles with glee. His fantasy of escaping to live “Under The Sea” (where he will eat the cast of The Little Mermaid) is also unforgettable.
The rest of the episode just has to wrap things up. The deus ex machina of Groundskeeper Willie videotaping everyone is a good one (“EVERY SINGLE SCOTTISH PERSON DOES IT!” he cries, inventing a very weird national stereotype); the coda of Rock Bottom back up to its own tricks; and Homer gleefully accepting it is as it should be. “Let’s never fight again,” he sighs, kissing that which makes him happiest.
- Marge objects to the candy-stealing coat she wears. “Are all these pockets necessary?” “They wouldn't be if you were willing sit in a hollowed-out wheelchair.”
- Later, she worries about the crowd building outside. “They seem to be building some sort of a shanty town!” Julie Kavner delivers lines like that like nobody’s business.
- Rock Bottom’s investigative journalism is unparalleled. “We go undercover at a sex farm for sex hookers!” “I keep telling you, I just grow thorgum here.” “Uh huh, and where are the hookers?” “Round back. Oops.”
- I love that Godfrey Jones is standing outside as he “interviews” Homer, just to make the whole thing as implausible as possible.
- “Homer sleeps nude in an oxygen tent which he believes gives him sexual powers.” “Hey, that's a half-truth!”
- “You grabbed me in the car!” “I was just trying to grab a gummi Venus de Milo that was stuck to your pants!” “Yeah right! That's the oldest excuse in the book!”