Sunday night’s Simpsons season premiere sees Homer come back from a business convention acting strangely. He’s polite, environmentally conscious, and eating healthy. Marge, of course, loves the new Homer. Lisa gets worried and investigates, only to discover that Homer might have been brainwashed by terrorists into blowing up Springfield’s nuclear power plant. The FBI are also trying to put an end to the threat.
At first, I was intrigued by the idea of this episode. Call me stupid, but I kind of took the plot at face value and spent a few minutes thinking to myself, Gee, this is really ballsy. Only it’s not. At all. To be honest, I don’t know how the series would have really dealt with doing this idea for real, but the bait-and-switch reveal was so humdrum it made me mad anyway. Oh, no, see Homer wasn’t brainwashed by terrorists, he went with a bunch of hippies and got weaned off alcohol and learned to care about the environment. So now Homer’s just trying to shut down the plant by releasing spoiled food into the AC unit. Yeah, because that’s funny and clever. Yawn.
“Homerland” is of course a parody of popular cable drama Homeland, and this alone really drags the episode down. Episodes wherein the entire plot is a parody of another show is a pretty risky business to begin with, and “Homerland” does nothing terribly inventive with the idea. The domestic comedy element is bog standard and the thriller bits are bland. The Simpsons‘ previous 24 parody episode wasn’t anything to write home about either, but at least that one transplanted the concept into an elementary school setting and featured the voices of 24 cast members. “Homerland” spends most of its time playing out as a straight telling of the kind of tale Homeland would do, and then takes it all back near the end because it’s The Simpsons.
The one concession to parody is making Kirsten Wiig’s FBI agent a paranoid pill popper, plus Kevin Michael Richardson as her possibly imaginary cohort, but this is largely unfunny. There’s a couple of good gags, one in particular with Wiig and Richardson sneaking into Marge and Homer’s bed late at night, Wiggum’s racial profiling, and another with Ralph at the very end, but on the whole, it just doesn’t work. Oh, and the chalkboard joke was good and we got some neat Happy Season 25 end credits featuring characters from FOX’s other animated shows. So there’s that.
The saving grace of the episode is Lisa. When I was a kid, she was possibly my least favorite Simpson, but the older I get, the more she grows on me. Yeardley Smith does some pretty good work here. I always welcome episodes with a lot of Lisa that don’t feature her delivering moral sermons to the rest of the family and just let her be the smart kid she is.
In short, “Homerland” is a pretty piss-poor way to begin the 25th season of what is by now a cultural institution. This episode probably shouldn’t have been made. I don’t really know how you’d make it work much better than it does. I think the series would have been better served if this one had just been scrapped in favor of writing a more impressive opener. It doesn’t sink to the lows that “Gorgeous Grandpa” did last year, it’s just terribly dull and, ultimately, a disappointment.