“Do your worst, you filthy, pretentious savages!” – Mayor Quimby
For evidence that Zombie Simpsons is utterly bereft of ideas that can even be called creative, much less original, one need look no further than the fact that for the second time in a year they made an episode where the family departs Springfield to go live in the wilderness with survivalist nutbars. But that isn’t the most damning thing about “Homer Goes to Prep School”, because the closest thing to this episode isn’t even another episode, it’s a post-apocalyptic Halloween segment from a decade and a half ago.
The first story in “Treehouse of Horror VIII” is “The Homega Man”, a Halloween fable where a nuclear blast supposedly wipes out Springfield. In the end, of course, Homer discovers that the mutants who chase him around aren’t the only ones who survived, but in fact his entire family is alive, well and unharmed. It’s a goofy twist, but it’s also a Halloween segment, where you can do anything you want and things have to be relatively simple because you’ve only got a few minutes in which to introduce, tell and then conclude a story.
“Homer Goes to Prep School” has none of those excuses, and yet it follows almost the exact same template. First, there’s a nuclear disaster. Second, Homer gets chased by other survivors. And finally, Homer discovers that things are actually just fine, the end.
In “Treehouse of Horror VIII”, France launches a nuclear strike on Springfield out of the Eiffel Tower. This is absurd on the face of it for any number of reasons: France and the US are allies, downtown Paris would be a terrible place for a launch silo, and, as far as Wikipedia knows, France never deployed an ICBM, “Intel Inside” or not.
Wikipedia says that the actual French nuke forces are called the “Force de Frappe”. That is awesome.
But none of that matters because, hey, Halloween episode. Weird shit is supposed to happen, and it’s funny as hell to have the famously thin skinned French start a nuclear war over a mild ethnic slur from a small town American politician.
“Homer Goes to Prep School” has no such excuse. It’s supposed to be taking place in something that at least resembles the real world. And even though Zombie Simpsons likes to just go bizarre with things, the first third of this episode is Homer freaking out over how horrible people are, and the conclusion is about people being decent to one another, so it clearly wants us to take at least some of what’s going on here seriously. So when they employ a dumb and lazy “EMP” that Homer somehow manages to cause while no one else at the plant is looking, it isn’t wacky fun, it’s just a hackneyed plot contrivance. Nuclear war over the word “frogs” is a joke; EMP because it’s time to move the plot along is just bad writing.
Hmm. Must be time to start the first part of the third act.
Having caused Springfield to lose power, Homer bundles his family up and heads for the survivalist compound. The few minutes they spend there is a waste of time, even by Zombie Simpsons standards. For starters, we’ve already seen that Homer now has a bunch of supplies in the basement, so not only is there no reason for him and the clan to flee, but their stated reason for returning – to help the other people of Springfield – could’ve been done without them ever heading out of town in the first place.
More aggravating is the escape/chase scene itself. For starters, the survivalists are chasing the family in a wood stove powered pickup, two horses pulling a Hummer, and Lindsey Naegle firing a machine gun backwards. All of those are dumber and less believable than the apocalypse mobile that the mutants had in “The Homega Man”, and the last one is so stupid that it was recently mocked by XKCD (which is and has been much funnier than Zombie Simpsons for a long time). But just as bad are the jokes, which are such hapless filler that Zombie Simpsons explains them as they happen. Consider this, as the family plows through a corn field:
Homer: Out of our way corn! The starving people of Springfield are desperately in need of our delivery of canned corn, corn flakes, and flash frozen corn niblets!
If this isn’t the longest, least subtle, and most heavy handed way you could make that joke, it’s gotta be close. It also takes more time than, say, Homer quickly running over the Johnny & Edgar Winter Tour in “Treehouse of Horror VIII”, which – again – was a Halloween episode.
Finally we come to the abrupt, just-kidding-it-was-all-okay-after-all ending. In “The Homega Man”, Homer returns home to find his family safe and sound before we get the unexpected spasm of Halloween violence wherein the rest of the family blows away all the mutants. In “Homer Goes to Prep School” we get two whole minutes of drawn out exposition about what did and didn’t happen. It’s not endless, but it does kinda feel that way:
Lisa: What happened with the EMP?
Prof. Frink: Only Springfield lost power, you see, and after a few days it came back.
Waits: Then society didn’t crumble? The zoo animals weren’t eaten?
Chief Wiggum: Well, a couple.
Waits: This non-disaster is a catastrophe.
Marge: Are you really so disappointed the world didn’t end just so you could be proven right?
Waits: No, no, no, it’s just that, in the new world, I would’ve been a big shot.
Lisa: Guys, can’t you see that an imperfect society is better than the savagery of creating a new one? I, for one, am glad we’re stuck with civilization. And I think we will be for a long, long time.
Which, of course, leads to the zombie comet, which itself has to be explained:
Zombie Kid: I’m hungry.
Zombie Dad: Look, you can have potato chips now or, if you wait ten minutes, you can have all the brains you can eat.
Zombie Kid: I want both.
Yup, they are now literally Zombie Simpsons. Add it all up and there’s no getting away from the conclusion that “Homer Goes to Prep School” is a poor mimicry of a much better episode. And while that happens a lot with Zombie Simpsons, usually they don’t take post-apocalyptic Halloween segments as their templates and then go them several worse in terms of weirdness.