Just this morning The A.V. Club described The Simpsons as not just “the best animated series of all time,” but also “television’s crowning achievement regardless of format.” But while few would argue with the unimpeachability of the show’s brilliant early years, its subsequent lapse into mediocrity is similarly undisputed. Some episodes, like the notorious “That 90’s Show,” where Homer invents grunge and the established backstory with Marge is thrown out, go far beyond a magic xylophone as an affront to the canon.
One fan, however, has a theory that removes all of the show’s weak episodes from consideration, explaining them away as the rambling lucid dreams of a sick mind. Specifically, Homer’s.
On Reddit, commenter Hardtopickaname argues that the majority of the show has taken place in Homer’s mind while he lingers in a coma—an unending sleep that God Himself hints he’ll never wake from.
The season four episode “Homer The Heretic” ends with Homer returning to church for the first time after a short-lived attempt a religion dedicated to hedonism and the Feast Of Maximum Occupancy. Despite professing a newfound enthusiasm for religious services, he promptly falls asleep, where he has the last in the episode’s series of conversations with God. For once, Homer takes full advantage of the opportunity, asking the Big Cheese what the meaning of life is. God demurs, saying Homer will learn that when he dies. Homer says he can’t wait that long, leading God to ask, “You can’t wait six months?”
That episode aired on Oct. 8, 1992, meaning that according to God’s prophecy (and if you can’t trust Him, who can you trust?), Homer is scheduled to die on April 8, 1993. While no episode aired on that specific day, the last one to air before then, Hardtopickaname notes, was “So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show.” In that one (which aired, appropriately, on April 1), escalating April Fool’s pranks between Homer and Bart culminate in Bart shaking a can of Duff to the point that when Homer opens it, the explosion of carbonation sends Homer into a coma.
While the episode ends with Homer waking from the coma, Hardtopickaname argues that this was the first scene of the show to take place in Homer’s mind, where the rest of the show plays out as his dreams. (Presumably the entirety of what seems like another 22 years for the audience takes place in the seven days before Homer dies on April 8.) As the Reddit says,
“This is why the characters don’t age. Homer remembers Bart, Lisa, and Maggie as 10, 8, and 1 year old, so they will always appear that way in his dreams. He is subconsciously aware of time passing, so his mind will often “update” his memories so that the year they occurred matches up with the age he thinks he is (eg. That 90’s Show contradicting other flashback episodes).”
Hardtopickaname marshals some circumstantial evidence beyond the coincidence of the dates, noting that after the first clip show, episodes’ premises got increasingly outlandish, moving from the more realistic depictions of Middle Class malaise in the first seasons to Homer going to space or working for a James Bond supervillain.
And though Executive Producer Al Jean recently disputed the theory, it is nice to imagine a world where the show’s fall from grace can be written off as a never-happened dream. Although, the theory also means a world without “Whacking Day,” “Rosebud” or “And Maggie Makes Three,” and that’s not a world anyone wants to live in.