As its title suggests, “Homer Vs. Lisa And The 8th Commandment” is a morality play and not a particularly subtle one. In a dynamic that would play out countless times over the course of the show’s endless run, Homer does the wrong thing, Lisa calls him on it, and Homer ultimately decides to do the right thing even at his own detriment. He chooses to (or rather is nagged into) martyring himself on behalf of Lisa's beliefs. As always, Lisa is the angel on The Simpsons’ shoulder, Homer is the demon (though Bart cuts an awfully devilish figure himself), and everything works out all right in the end.
The action begins in biblical times, just before Moses moseyed on down from Mount Sinai with some bad news: everything considered fun is now verboten: stealing, bearing false witness, even the harmless, victimless, so-called “crime” of adultery. Needless to say, this is bad news for Zohar the Adulterer and the many wives he beds.
We then cut to the halcyon days of the early '90s, as Ned indignantly ejects an unscrupulous cable guy for trying to sell him bootleg cable. This immediately attracts the attention of Homer, who has never met a shady deal he didn’t like. Like Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy, which is one of the exclusive Case Files in my new book, he enjoys a big nosh on the forbidden fruit that is free cable and lives to regret his decision.
Free cable proves “even more wonderful” than Homer had dared to hope, but it comes with a heavy moral penalty. At Sunday school, Lisa and Bart learn of the unimaginable horrors of Hell. Bart seems pretty jazzed about the whole proposition, especially the part that involves pirates. He seems awfully jazzed about having free reign to say “hell” as well.
Homer’s free cable makes him the toast of the town, especially when it comes out that the humble denizens of Springfield won’t be forced to merely listen to audio clips recounting highlights of the fight, accompanied by still photographs: They can watch the whole magical event as it happens, in real time.
Even Mr. Burns is excited by this prospect. Though he’s able to buy and sell the sum of humanity many times over, he inexplicably prefers to endure the sights, sounds, and smells of his fellow man, but only while watching a spirited round of fisticuffs.
Of course, this is a Lisa Little Miss Killjoy episode, so Lisa plays Captain Bringdown by refusing to watch stolen cable on principle. Indeed, Homer’s seemingly harmless theft of cable leads him down a shadowy path to damnation; I particularly enjoyed Phil Hartman’s cameo as a sleazy cable guy who assumes that because Homer is the sort of debauched criminal who gets off on purloining cable he must be into all other manner of misbehavior as well. I especially enjoyed the nonchalant way he tells Homer, “Your door wasn’t locked in any serious way.”
I found “Homer and Lisa Versus The Eighth Commandment” a little on the preachy side and methodically paced in a way that reminded me of the first season. Then again, it is an episode with one of the 10 Commandments in its title, so perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The show offers plenty of sugar to make the medicine go down, in the form of sharp gags about the surreal emptiness and amorality that characterizes so much of the cable universe (like an announcer excitedly inviting viewers to “The Wonderful World of Cockfighting”), but it was one of the slower, weaker, and more preachy episodes of what is shaping up to be an oft-transcendent second season.