“One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish” paradoxically explores some of the heaviest issues known to man in an incongruously light-hearted way. It’s tragicomedy with the emphasis on comedy, a spin through mortality executed with a deft light touch.
Does imminent death inherently give life more meaning? Is life wasted on the living? Those are questions asked by Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, John Patrick Shanley’s Joe Versus The Volcano, Breaking Bad, and, to a much lesser extent, The Bucket List. Those are also important existential questions asked by “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.”
The episode begins with Homer in a carnivorous fury, anxiously anticipated an imminent orgy of meat consumption, and Lisa sporting her trademark look of weary resignation. Lisa always looks like she’s bracing for the next inevitable disappointment in a life of constant, persistent, low-level martyrdom.
Lisa wins out in this case, however, so instead of going to a buffet or a fried chicken establishment or one of those places where you can pick out which cow you want to eat, the family switches things up by visiting a sushi restaurant. I imagine the concept of sushi was far more exotic and foreign in the early nineties then it is today; nowadays it’s commonplace, but visiting a sushi restaurant once brought with it an exciting little jolt of danger the episode exploits to the fullest. I remember how shocked and disturbed I became when I first learned that people actually ate raw fish of their own accord.
Today we learned that if you try something different, you’re probably going to die horribly, when Homer decides to try out the super-dangerous Blowfish entrée, a meal that is deadly if prepared incorrectly. Alas, the restaurant’s executive chef is busy making sweet, passionate love in the back seat of his car, so the task of preparing Homer’s blowfish in a non-lethal fashion falls upon a hapless newcomer who screws it up.
When Homer visits Dr. Hibbard the next day, the diagnosis is grim: He has one day to live and, consequently, about 24 hours to burn through everything on his bucket list. Most of the items on Homer’s list are surprisingly generous and family-minded in nature. He has a heart-to-heart conversation with Bart where he reveals the three phrases that will get him through life: “It was like that when I got here," “Cover for me,” and something to the effect of “Great idea, boss!” He also teaches Bart to shave in an almost disgustingly All-American tableau.
Homer truly listens to Lisa moan the blues on the saxophone for the first time and makes a video for Maggie to watch when she grows up fatherless. Ah, but Homer is Homer so he isn’t about to let anything as minor as his imminent death keep him from being an asshole to Flanders. Homer is intent on dying the way he lived: being a shitty neighbor, a well-intentioned but half-assed father to his children, and a loving if perpetually disappointing and self-absorbed husband.
Then the episode takes a bit of a pointless detour when Homer gets arrested and faces the prospect of spending his last night alive in jail. The only real benefit to this subplot was that it afforded us a sadly funny glimpse into the sordid sad sack existence of Barney.
But it all turned out to be a false alarm; the Grim Reaper won’t be paying Homer a visit after all, at least not in the immediate future. “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish” is about as sentimental as The Simpsons gets, but it ends on a gloriously cynical note that goes a long way toward undercutting the sentimentality; over the end credits Homer watches television on the couch with a big, uncomplicated grin that suggests he’s learned absolutely nothing from his brush with death. Others who might have gone through Homer's travails might approach life with a new urgency and sense of purpose, but Homer is intent on sleepwalking through the rest of his life as lazily as possible. We wouldn’t have it any other way.