The Simpsons took a break last week so we’re going back to the vault for another classic review.
The brilliance of this episode is that it takes a relatively mundane plot (Springfield is beset by a cat burglar), addresses the plot in a typically whacky Simpsonian manner (Homer responds to police ineptitude by taking the law into his own hands as the leader of a roving band of vigilantes), but it takes the time to ground the whacky premise in character (Homer is motivated by his desire to retrieve Lisa’s lost saxophone, her one creative outlet and source of joy, and later, Grampa is intent to prove that old people can be useful).
In the pantheon of quotable episodes, season 5’s Homer the Vigilante stands out as it gives us many memorable lines.
At the beginning of the episode Kent Brockman, always keen to stir up the delirium of easily unsettled viewers, sternly asks audiences, “When cat burglaries start, can mass murder be far behind? This reporter isn’t saying that the burglar is an inhuman monster like the Wolfman—but he very well could be.” He then invites on an expert and explicitly asks him, “So professor, would you say that it’s time for everyone to panic?” to which the expert responds bluntly: “yes I would Kent”.
With everyone in panic Professor Frink chimes in with his model moving house. Upon danger, the house sprouts robot legs to run to safety; the model version runs, then falls and bursts into flames. Little wooden people fall out of the door, also ablaze. Frink tries to cover himself, “The real humans won’t… burn so quickly.” In the next scene we see that the house does exist as we see a house run away and burst into flames.
With everyone taking precautions Lisa sadly remarks as to what the point of it all is since she’s already lost the one thing she loves. Then, in what’s probably one my favourite weird gags, Homer tells Lisa to cheer up since he replaced her Sax with a Jug. She plays it to Homer’s delight and when she stops Homer sternly replies: “Lisa! never, ever, stop in the middle of a hoedown.”
After seeing the police completely fail at solving the mystery Homer volunteers himself to take charge: “I’m someone else!” He then assembles a vigilante mob and goes around trying to maintain order. In another hilarious scene Homer takes Bart’s megaphone, only its not just a megaphone, its the Rap Master 2000. As Homer drives down the street shouting through it, music plays and all the kids follow him dancing.
Homer is never afraid to act without considering the consequences and soon he’s abusing his power in all sorts of ways. When Kent Brockman asks Homer about crimes being committed in the name of justice he cheerfully concedes, “Oh Kent, I’d be lying if I said my men weren’t committing crimes.” What began as a simple quest to retrieve stolen goods morphs into something darker. When Lisa, forever the voice of reason, complains that the mob has lost its way, that it has become what it initially set out to fight, Homer explains, “The mob is working on getting your saxophone back but we’ve also expanded into other important areas. Literacy programs! Preserving our beloved covered bridges. World domination!” before realizing that he has said too much.
Abe gets in some good lines too at the end when he solves the mystery: “I noticed Molloy wore sneakers…for sneaking!” and “unlike many retired people Molloy has the world largest cubic zirconia on his coffee table.” He then gloats “So you see, old people aren’t so useless after all. Malloy’s old, and he outsmarted the lot of you. And I’m even older and I outsmarted him!”
While in custody Molloy reveals that he has stashed a million dollars in a mystery spot somewhere in Springfield. This of course inspires the folks of Springfield to set off on a dramatic chase to find the buried loot which affords the cat burglar time to bust out of jail and once again outsmart everyone as there never was a million dollars stashed, just a note saying good bye. The ever so smart people ignore the letter and continue digging. When they fail to find anything Homer exclaims “we’ll dig our way out!” to which Wiggum replies “no, dig up stupid”
“Homer the Vigilante” has a heart and moral, with Abe, dismissed throughout the episode, only to help catch the cat burglar, who also happens to be a senior citizen. And that bigger message helps to make the joke barrage all the more effective. Because elsewhere, things are much less linear. We see cuts to Chief Wiggum’s incompetence, Kent Brockman’s fear mongering, Professor Frink’s ineptitude, and, most importantly, the town forming a vigilante mob. There’s so much going on in this episode but it never feels rushed. The jokes are big and frequent — Lisa with the jug! The guns going off at the Simpson’s house! Homer busting the kids for drinking and ending up getting wasted with them! — all while allowing the focus to be looser and less plot-driven. This is truly a classic episode.
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