I don’t usually like to get too ahead of myself with this project, but I sneaked a peak at the episode list for this season, and we’re getting into choppy waters folks. There’s some good stuff in the next couple weeks. But there’s also some weird stuff that I don’t expect will click with me in the way that most of the previous nine seasons have. And here’s a prime example of that second type of episode.
The episode starts off with Homer driving and listening to Bill and Marty’s 5 o’clock News Flush where they appear to just be listing random facts. And one of those facts is that new research has found that the average American man dies at 76.2 years. Which freaks Homer out, because he’s 38, so his life is already half over. This causes Homer to fall into a crazy spiral of depression where he just stops his car on the highway and wanders off while it causes an accident.
Homer goes home, starts eating a bag of flour, and thinking about how he’s wasted his entire life, while having a hilarious dream about his funeral with Oscar-winning Barney, cardinal Flanders, President Lenny, and Heckle and Jeckle. And as his depression starts to grow, the family become really concerned, and surprise him one day when he comes home from work with a special party. They sit him down and play a little film reel of highlights of his life. Which seems like a setup for a clip-show, but is actually an excuse to show new footage of Homer in space, being beaten up by Drederick Tatum, and playing football with the kids. And right when something interesting is about to happen, a personalized message from KITT from Knightrider, the film catches fire and is ruined. Homer gets mad about the movie being ruined, and asks rhetorically who invented the movies. Lisa claims that it was Thomas Edison, which blows Homer and Bart’s mind, since they didn’t know people invented multiple things. Which means the episode is about to go down a weird path.
Okay, let’s get something taken care of right now. Thomas Edison was a pretty big sleaze-bag. When you’re a kid you learn that he was some sort of genius inventor who invented all kinds of great inventions that we still use. But as you get older you learn that he really didn’t invent much at all, and was just essentially a patent troll, stealing up poor but brilliant inventor’s creations and passing them off as his own because he had the money and influence to get his way. He’s usually now put among people like JP Morgan as a sort of historical villain and it’s kind of strange that this episode deifies him. But that’s kind of irrelevant to the episode; I just wanted to ramble about it before getting on with the episode.
After learning about Edison from Lisa, we cut right over to the Elementary School library where Bart runs into Homer, studying up on the “inventor.” We’re then treated to one of my favorite lines in Simpson’s history: “They won’t let me in the big people library downtown. There was some…unpleasantness. I can never go back.” I love that line and its vague promise of something truly insane Homer did in the library. But we now know that Homer has a head full of stupid Edison trivia, which he promptly starts inflicting on his friends and family. He drives the barflies of Moe’s insane with Edison facts before heading home to make Marge mad as well. However, when Marge starts yelling at Homer about his annoying new obsession, it gives Homer a great idea. He’s going to be an inventor too!
So the next day Homer quits his job and sets up a little work-station in the basement, complete with a little chart with all of Edison’s inventions, and gets inventing. This quickly proves harder than he had assumed though, because Homer seems incapable of coming up with any good ideas, and just keeps falling over in his chair. And after a disastrous brainstorming session with Bart and Lisa he goes to Professor Frink for advice. Frink gives him some books and the advice that inventions either come from thinking of things people need but don’t exist, or looking at a product that already exists and finding a new use for it. Which gives Homer some ideas. Some terrible, terrible ideas.
Homer gets to work crafting some prototypes, and once they’re ready he brings the family into the living room to show them his handiwork. And what he’s created is an electric hammer that’s impossible to control, a make-up shotgun which is stuck on “whore” setting; an “everything is okay” alarm that continuously shrieks a claxon, and a reclining chair toilet for when you want to poop in front of your family. And the response to these inventions is less than stellar. The family tell Homer how terrible they all are, and he pretty much gives up on his dream. That night at dinner he’s back to being depressed, and start leaning back in his chair. But instead of falling on his ass like before, he suddenly stops, because it turns out Homer actually did make a good invention, a second pair of legs on hinges that ensure he won’t fall over. And the family is truly impressed.
So Homer runs downstairs to his workshop to proudly tell the poster of Thomas Edison he has hung up about his invention, only to realize he stole it. Turns out the poster he’s been staring at has Edison sitting on a chair with the same extra legs he made. Homer’s obviously pissed about this reveal, and Bart comes down to see what’s going on. And while Homer complains about his luck, Bart notices that the legs aren’t on Homer’s chart of Edison inventions, causing them to assume he never actually told anyone. So they do the only sane thing to do. Drive to the Edison museum and destroy the only evidence that Homer didn’t invent the legs.
Homer and Bart hop in the car and head off to New Jersey to destroy Edison’s last invention. And along the way Homer’s conscience starts to get the better of him by having a ghostly Edison appear, begging Homer to come to his senses. But that ends with Homer just running Edison’s ghost over, because Homer has now completely flipped over to the correct way of viewing Edison, and hates him. And after a whole night of driving, they make it to the museum, just as its opening.
Homer and Bart join a tour, and sneak off when they go to visit the gift shop. They walk up to Edison’s workstation, and find the chair that was in that poster, complete with a dummy of Edison. Homer pushes the dummy off, gets his electric hammer ready, and gets ready to destroy the chair. But right as he gets his vengeance, he notices a chart on Edison’s wall that shows Edison was obsessed with inventing more things than Da Vinci, causing Homer to realize that they aren’t that different after all. So he decides to not destroy the chair, let Edison get credit for it, and they head home since the Da Vinci museum is too far away to destroy. Unfortunately the next day when Homer is watching TV with the family they see a news report about people in the museum discovering both the chair, and Homer’s electric hammer, claiming them both as inventions of Edison. He’s stealing ideas from beyond the grave! And the episode ends with the weird joke of Homer crapping in his recliner toilet in rage.
This episode is odd. There are some really solid jokes in it, like that hilarious “unpleasantness” one that make me laugh like a little kid anytime I hear it, but I think my main issue with it is the weird obsession with Edison. Like I rambled about earlier, Edison is more or less a scum-bag who stole all of his inventions and who had a weird obsession with talking to the dead. So it just feels weird that Homer starts to love him so much. The Simpsons writers, especially Swartzwelder, seems like the type of people who would be aware of what a creep Edison was, and it’s just so strange. It’s pretty fun to see Homer actually attempting to do something intellectual, while failing completely, but that weird obsession with Edison just sticks in my craw, and keeps me from really loving this episode. Which is quite possibly my own weird issues, but hey, this is my stupid blog where I rant about the Simpsons, so there you go.
Take Away: Inventing things is hard, and its way easier to just steal someone else’s idea. Like Thomas Edison.
“The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Mark Kirkland, 1998.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons