Season 2: Episode 11. Original airdate: January 24, 1991.
One of the reasons I’m doing this blog is to examine The Simpsons’ place in our cultural history, and how it can serve as a time capsule of sorts for how life has changed over the past twenty years. Even when it seems like I’m just doing a glorified summary of these things, I’m truly trying to get to the bottom of what makes this show such an important part of our history. Of course, I’m also doing it to understand my own history, and it’s a far more personal project than I let on in these individual posts. Now, with that said:
I really hate sushi. I’m from Idaho, and any food that isn’t bland is a tough sell for me. My best friend happens to absolutely adores sushi, so I find myself being dragged to one of countless sushi joints across Utah more often than I’d like (trust me, I’m going somewhere with this). My point is that sushi has become a commonplace thing, a cuisine that we’re able to find wherever and whenever we want. In a world that’s getting smaller, exotic foods are losing their allure. In 1991, sushi was still a rare delicacy in America, and to visit a restaurant that served it was a very special occasion. In 2012, it’s difficult to comprehend such a common food being seen as potentially shady and strange, as Homer does before they go out to eat, but this was likely a normal reaction for middle Americans twenty years ago.
Homer’s apprehension to eat sushi shows just how banal his existence is. He religiously adheres to the Meatloaf Thursday, Porkchop Friday schedule, and any deviation is a major issue. His life is perfectly average, but he’s complacent. Once he is willed to go to the sushi restaurant, Homer’s delight marks the first moment in this episode that indicates his need for change and growth in life. However, he takes this burst of spontaneity too far when he orders the fugu, a dangerous blowfish dish that is poisonous if cut improperly. The apprentice chef serves it incorrectly while his master is outside making out with Ms. Krabappel (uhmmm), and Homer wolfs it down, unaware that he has been poisoned.
He finds out that he has 24 hours to live, or rather 22 after Dr. Hibbert’s slow diagnosis. Homer determines to make the most of his last day on earth, and makes a bucket list of unexpectedly thoughtful and poignant things to do, including a man-to-man talk with Bart and telling his father that he loves him. Obviously, his list ends with “being intimate with Marge,” but only once she reminds him of the word for “that thing they do.” This is all surprisingly existential stuff, even for this show, which has already taken some huge dramatic risks. This episode worried me from the beginning of the second act though, as I have a hard time with stories in which a dying man uses the little time he has to take advantage of life. It’s a little “been there, done that.”
I really shouldn’t ever doubt The Simpsons in these early seasons, as I was once again reassured that this creative team knows what it’s doing. Homer’s bucket list adventure is really wonderful, and it’s refreshing to have him handle the news of his death with such aplomb. His goal of finishing the bucket list isn’t without its hiccups, which start as soon as he wakes up. He awakens at 11:30, about five hours too late, but Marge didn’t disturb him because he just looked too peaceful. From there, his interactions with the kids are sweet, even if I groaned at his shaving lesson for Bart.
My favorite moments come from his interactions with Grampa, though. His confession of never taking the time to spend time with his father is heartfelt and touching, and I love Grampa’s immediate eagerness to do father-son activities. It genuinely like this was a moment 30 years in the making. They fish, play catch, and…mud wrestle with each other, but the paternal fun forces some other items off the bucket list, like planting a tree (which Homer really wanted to do, for the record). I wish I were as enthusiastic about what comes after the Grampa scenes, when Homer is caught speeding and gets sent to jail for being a wiseass to the cops.
Even though I don’t like where the jail bit goes, I enjoy the scene with the cops for its continuation of Homer’s other path in this episode—being a dick. If I were about to die, I’d certainly want to be a tool to those I dislike, but I’m not sure I’d actually go through with it. Homer isn’t much like me under these circumstances. He’s a jerk to Flanders one last time, he stands up to the police, and he finally tells Mr. Burns what he thinks of him. In a cruel bit of irony, Homer’s *SPOILERS* survival at the end of the episode means he’s forced to make amends for all these transgressions. While he is actually in jail though, the episode grinds to a halt. Barney bails Homer out, drives him home but detours for a final round at Moe’s, and eventually rushes him back to his family, and back to the story.
Homer’s potential last moments could have come off as way too schmaltzy, like last night’s denouement felt to me, but it ends up being a magical sequence. Once he and Marge do “that thing they do,” Homer goes down into his armchair and spends his last moments with the Good Book, read on tape by Larry King. Unfortunately, he falls into what could be an eternal slumber midway through the Old Testament’s endless listing of lineages. I adore the decision to have Homer’s last act be a spiritual one, as it distills what truly matters for the character. The episode tries to breeze past the stuff at the bar to focus on what Homer wants to do with his last moments, be with his family and prepare for the beyond.
I have 476 episodes to go here, so I never expected Homer to actually die, but the moment when Marge discovers he’s still alive made me get a little choked up anyway. I guess that’s just proof of how much I already care about these characters, and how strongly Homer and Marge’s love is portrayed. Homer declares that after his near brush with death, he’ll change the way he lives his life. In what may be the first truly necessary credits sequence so far in the show’s run (and as always, correct me if I’m wrong), Homer is back to his old ways, eating junk food and watching bowling on TV. It’s a disheartening twist for Homer to have learned nothing from his experience, but I’m glad he remains in stasis. I’d get way too bored watching and writing about a better man.