Hey everybody. We’ve had a rough week here. Things are getting bleak on Lifetime of Simpsons. Season Ten ended with a thud and Season Eleven hasn’t really been off to a great start. But hey, this one’s pretty good. It’s not great, but by the scale we’re had lately, this one’s pretty enjoyable. I cracked a smile or two.
The episode starts with some kids from the Elementary School getting ready to go on a field trip to the Springfield Shopper newspaper. And it’s one of those times where it doesn’t seem like any particular grade or class is going, just whichever kids they wanted to include. Which leads to Homer chaperoning Bart, Lisa, Milhouse, and Nelson to the newspaper, since he left a pathetic dummy at work in his place, which is actually getting him a promotion. And after a fun-filled car ride that includes a lot of road rage and swearing, and a brief trip to the zoo, Homer gets them to the newspaper.
The kids wander around, looking at the thrilling world of local news, which primarily consist of people desperately trying to sell subscriptions. And in the middle of the tour Homer loses interest since he smelled some cake, and runs off to find that. So he wanders the newspaper until he comes across a little break-room where the staff is having a lackluster retirement party for their food critic. She’s incredibly sour, and no one seems to want to talk to her, which is helped when Homer shows up and starts eating the cake, giving them something to talk about. Homer explains himself by just explaining he loves food, which gives the editor the idea to offer Homer a chance at becoming the new food critic for the Shopper.
So Homer heads home, and decides to write up a sample review to ace his audition. Which doesn’t go great, since his typewriter doesn’t have an E key, so he has to work around that. So Homer brings in his review, which the editor assumes is a joke, since it’s poorly written, has lots of threats to the UN, and just starts repeating Screw Flanders to get to the word count. Homer freaks out, says that is was a joke, and runs home to wash the stench of failure off himself. At which point Lisa takes pity on her father, and decides to help him translate his love of food into well written opinion.
The two start working together, with Homer dictating and Lisa translating Homer into food critic. Which actually makes for a great pairing, and Homer ends up getting the job. So the family head down to the Frying Dutchman and Homer gets ready for his first professional meal. And after word starts spreading that Homer’s the new critic, he’s treated to the best Captain McCallister has to offer, and he and Lisa get writing.
And it’s a hit! People love Homer’s articles, and are taking full advantage of all of his recommendations, which leads to a brief scene where everyone in town has gotten fat, including Mr. Burns, which was hilarious. But that’s not what the episode’s going to be about, because the next day Homer heads into the newspaper, and gets introduced to some other critics the paper has. He meets the theater critic, the TV critic, and the farm supply critic, who all say that while the writing is good in his reviews, he’s too positive. They explain that to be a critic you actually have to be critical of things, and should be negative towards everything.
So Homer takes these lessons to heart, and the next night when he and Lisa are eating at some dinner theater while Krusty fakes his way through King Lear, he starts to practice cruelness, and beings being critical of everything. Lisa’s a little put off by this new direction, but goes along with it. Which leads to the entire town switching from loving Homer’s reviews, to fearing them, because he starts taking down every restaurant at town.
And this negativity is too much for Lisa, who tries to get Homer to stop being so mean. Homer refuses, they have a fight, and Lisa quits their partnership, which results in Homer asking Maggie and Santa’s Little Helper for help. This does not go well. And to make matters worse, there’s a big Taste of Springfield festival coming up, and a secret cabal of restaurant owners have gotten together and have decided to poison Homer and kill him.
The family then go to the Taste of Springfield, where Lisa and Homer have an awkward interaction since Lisa’s there to review the food for the school newspaper. And Homer gets eating! He starts wandering around, giving everyone terrible reviews, while waddling ever closer to the French pastry guy with the poisoned éclair. However, Bart overhears Captain McCallister and Akira talking about Homer’s impending death, and goes to talk to Marge and Lisa about it. The three split up, trying to find Homer, and Lisa ends up being the lucky one, running into Homer right before he eats the éclair. She stops him from eating it, it blows Hans Moleman up, and the Frenchman is arrested. And the episode ends with Homer and Lisa making up, being friends, and being chased by an army of restaurant owners who still want to kill Homer.
Like I said, this episode isn’t one of the better ones, but compared to everything I’ve dealt with this week, it was pretty fun. I’m on record for being a huge sucker for Homer and Lisa bonding episodes, and while there are certainly stronger submissions into that genre, it isn’t bad. I really liked seeing Homer and Lisa working together, using both of their strengths to create the best critic in town. And I think the idea of Homer bowing to peer pressure and wanting to go more cynical is a really good wedge to split the two apart. So this should be a home-run for me. But I think my issue is that the episode just isn’t that funny. There are some good gags, and the idea of the Taste of Springfield was fun, getting to see all the ridiculous restaurants in town, but overall the episode was just a little flat. It tried a lot of jokes, so it wasn’t as serious as the greatest Homer/Lisa episodes are, but it wasn’t funny enough to be one of the classic wacky ones. It just felt like it could have gone through another draft or two. There’s a great premise here, it just didn’t pan out great for me. Who knows, maybe after watching all these other episodes I was put in a sour mood, and I should really like this one, but on this viewing it didn’t do a whole lot for me.
Take Away: Just because you’re a critic it doesn’t mean you have to hate everything. Just talk about what you love, and who cares what other people think, because criticism is all about what you personally believe, not what others do.
“Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner” was written by Al Jean and directed by Nancy Kruse, 1999.