Lifetime of Simpsons

S11 E01 – Beyond Blunderdome

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Hey everybody, welcome to Season Eleven! Woo! It’s usually a good idea to stick a really solid episode at the beginning of the season to get people hooked, so let’s see what we got! Oh…hmmm…well, I guess this a different approach.

The episode starts off with Homer watching a commercial where a bunch of children are dying because of smog. But it’s not really an environmental commercial, it’s for some electric car called the Electaurus. Homer doesn’t really care about having an environmentally sound car, but when they promise every test-drive comes with a free gift, he’s all on board.

So the family head down to the dealership and go for a test drive with the new car. At first Lisa is pretty impressed with her father, until she realizes it’s all for the gift, and they just settle in while Homer drives them straight off a dock into the water. The car does shockingly well in the water, although it does kill some mermaids, but as soon as they get back out onto a beach, the damn thing falls apart and practically explodes. So they push the wreck back to the dealership, Homer grabs his prize, and they flee the scene.

For some reason Homer and Marge then wait to open the prize until that night when they’re in bed. And it turns out that it’s tickets to a sneak-peak of a new Mel Gibson movie. Which makes Marge lose her mind. She’s apparently a huge Mel Gibson fan, and starts raving about what a wonderful guy he is, which was the first sign that this is an incredibly dated episode. Yeah, we had that episode talking about how great Michael Jackson was, and he is certainly a worse person than Gibson, but probably the funniest part of the whole episode is seeing how much people faun over this man that we now know as a terrible racist and misogynist.

Anyway, Homer and Marge head down to the Aztec theater to see this special screening of Gibson’s new remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which is opened up by some Hollywood producers. They’re apparently test screening the movie, and the yokels of Springfield are getting a say in how the movie is shaped. So the movie begins, and we find that Mel himself is actually in the theater, and is super concerned with people thinking it’s boring. Which comes true when Homer decides it was one of the most boring movies he’d ever seen. Everyone else seems to love it, but Homer was not a fan.

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So people start filling out their comment cards as Mel start sneaking out of the theater, hoping no one notices him. However he opens the fire exit, so alarms start going off, and all the Springfieldians in the store freak out and start swarming him. Mel tries to act humble and charm the audience, but when he kind of flirts with Marge, Homer loses his mind and fills out an incredibly negative and angry comment card before storming out of the theater.

And because Homer vocalized all of Mel’s misgivings about the movie, he can’t get his review out of his mind, and insists that they pick Homer up before going back to Hollywood, and have him act as some sort of consultant. So Mel shows up at the Simpsons house, and convinces them to come with him to Hollywood so Homer can fix his movie. Which he surely won’t come to regret.

And when they land in Hollywood Homer and Mel get to work while the rest of the family head out to sight-see. And it’s immediately clear that Homer’s an idiot. Because his first plan is to just put all of the boring scenes in fast motion, which he thinks is funny. He also thinks that Mel should have a montage where he wears funny hats, and that they should make the villain a dog with shifty eyes. And it’s at this point that Mel starts to realize Homer may be a moron, and starts to rethink this whole plan. That is until Homer starts giving advice on the filibuster scene, which he claims is the worst part of the movie. And, against his wishes, Mel concedes that the scene is pretty flat, so they decide to reshoot it themselves.

The episode then cuts straight to Homer and Mel showing the studio producers their new ending. Which is less than ideal. It starts off like the original version does, with Mr. Smith fainting at the end of his filibuster. However, the ending takes a wild turn when Mr. Smith wakes back up, and goes on a crazy murderous rampage in the Senate. He kills all the other senators and then the President of the United States, before he’s carried out on the backs of happy children.

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Yeah, the suits are pretty horrified at this. They were hoping that his movie would be their prestige picture of the year, not a big violent mess that ends with Mel Gibson murdering the President. So they freak out and decide to burn the film so no one else will ever be forced to see it. But Homer and Mel make a stand for their terrible art, and steal the film back, running away. So the producers give chase and we’re treated to a wild race through the streets of Hollywood.

They run through some other movies being filmed, like one with Ranier Wolfcastle getting kicked in the crotch by Irene Ryan, but they just keep getting into accidents. And when their golf-cart crashes, Mel is ready to give up, and just get the movie destroyed. But Homer doesn’t let him give up their dream, and they run to a Hollywood Automobile Museum, where they run into Marge and the kids. So they hop in the Road Warrior car, which works for some reason, and they drive off.

So there’s another high-speed chase, with our heroes now in a movie prop, when it becomes clear that the producers aren’t going to give up. So Mel tries to stop them by switching his clothes with a dummy of himself that was driving the Road Warrior car, and throwing the dummy at the producers car. They stop briefly, assuming they’d killed Mel Gibson, but when they realize they’ve been trapped they start chasing them again. And now it’s Homer’s turn! Which is to just have him and Mel moon the producers. Which ends with the car smashing into Homer’s huge ass and having the car get stuck. That joke was apparently so dumb that the producers gave up, because we then cut to Mel and Homer presenting their new version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which everyone hates. People walk out, furious, and Mel realizes what a horrible mistake he’s made, as he ditches Homer and leaves Springfield forever. And the episode ends with a dog making shifty eyes at us, since he was the villain all along.

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Okay, let’s get right down to it. This isn’t that great of an episode. I don’t even think it was that great of an episode back before we knew how shitty Mel Gibson is, although that certainly doesn’t help. The central premise of the episode revolves around how great Mel Gibson is, and when we know what a shitty dude he is, it really feels strange. But the biggest problem is that this episode is the biggest example so far of an episode clearly being made as a vanity project for the guest star. That one with Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassigner was pretty bad, but holy crap, this episode is just “Let’s make Mel Gibson seem like the coolest dude in the world.” Celebrity guest stars work best when they’re just a part of the episode, not the central driving force of it. If they’re playing themselves, it usually never makes for a good episode when it makes them the star. And honestly, from what I remember, this is the way things start to go. It becomes less about cleverly sticking the guest stars into the world of the Simpsons, and more sticking the Simpsons around the guest star. Which typically doesn’t make for compelling narratives. Obviously this is my opinion, but episodes like this are really signs of the downfall of the show, and it’s probably a pretty dark omen that it was this episode that starts off the season.

Take Away: Don’t let the guest star dominate your episode. Oh, and don’t listen to the idiots who want everything to be full of action and death, they don’t speak for the masses.

 

“Beyond Blunderdome” was written by Mike Scully and directed by Steven Dean Moore, 1999.

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