“This baby’s sure to kill something!” – Homer Simpson
There is little doubt that a man who famously likes his beer cold, his teevee loud, and his homosexuals flaming, is a big fan of the thundering light show that is Fourth of July fireworks. Of course, Homer is also the exact opposite person who should ever actually be involved with them. He is thoughtless, careless and impulsive, and those are not traits that mix well with gunpowder. In “The Yellow Badge of Cowardage”, Zombie Simpsons played with that combustible mixture and blew itself up. In “Summer of 4 Ft. 2″, The Simpsons used the same ingredients to put on a masterful display.
To see the difference between that crowd pleasing spectacle and the kind of disaster that makes people run away screaming, there’s only really two things we need to consider: 1) getting the fireworks and 2) using them. For the first, Zombie Simpsons makes things easy because they barely bother to show us anything. Homer and Not Don Vittorio initially go to Cletus’s farm (why? who cares?) where they fail to buy anything. The very next scene with the two of them is this:
Homer: Okay, let’s make some fireworks.
Uh, I guess they found some?
There’s no explanation of where it came from or how they got it, and certainly not because of time constraints. After this we get the interminable and mechanically narrated “drive around with gunpowder” scene, which is nothing but the two of them telling us what they’re about to do and then doing it: cobblestone streets, a rickety bridge, gaslights . . . it just keeps going. So not only did they skip over something important, but they did so with forty-five seconds of filler.
Compare that to Homer’s immortal attempt to act casual like he buys illegal fireworks all the time. Text is a weak excuse for Castellaneta’s exquisite delivery, and can never hope to reproduce that blithely misplaced confidence that he’s being smooth, but here it is anyway:
Homer: Hi, um, let me have one of those porno magazines, large box of condoms, bottle of Old Harper, couple of those panty shields, and some illegal fireworks . . . and one of those disposable enemas. Nah, make it two.
This is lunatic insanity of the absolute best kind. Homer is precisely himself: clueless and utterly incompetent. The items he thinks are innocuous are the kind of thing that might get a real convenience store owner to tip the police off to this weirdo in his store. Better yet, the Apu stand-in doesn’t even flinch, calmly explaining that he has no fireworks right up until the coast is clear, whereupon he instantly takes Homer back to his storeroom/arsenal:
Hey, look, multiple sign gags in just one shot. I’m particularly fond of “Tang Tse Doodle”.
Once there we get to the M-320 (“Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it.”) and Homer’s quick and happy response: “Alright”. Coincidentally, the entire scene, from the time Homer walks into the store until he purchases the M-320, takes almost exactly the same amount of time as the pointless gunpowder driving scene in “The Yellow Badge of Cowardage”. This is the entirety of the dialogue from that fiasco:
Not Don Vittorio: Now drive slowly and carefully to my workshop. It’s in the cobblestone district.
Homer: Oh, thank God, a rickety bridge.
Not Don Vittorio: Don’t worry, we’ll be safe in the gaslamp district.
That’s it. In the time The Simpsons showed us Homer’s hilariously moronic attempt to be smooth and gave the world the M-320, Zombie Simpsons managed three lines of hapless exposition. The comparison doesn’t get any better for Zombie Simpsons when we move along to the actual using of the fireworks.
Befitting the sudden nonsense that got Homer and Not Don Vittorio the gunpowder in the first place, we see the two of them get into an argument on the fireworks barge over whether July 2nd or July 4th is the right day to celebrate. The barge then instantly tilts over somehow and points its fireworks at the crowd. This is yet another example of the complete apathy Zombie Simpsons has for even the tiniest bit of story cohesion. Not Don Vittorio is supposed to be a retired fireworks expert, so it’s not like it would’ve been hard for him to have shown just a little impatience with Homer leading up to this part. Instead, the two of them just start battling it out over nothing with no warning whatsoever.
Compounding matters, the barge they’re on manages to (again with no warning, no foreshadowing, no nothing) conveniently tip over in way that barges like that are physically incapable of doing. It’s one thing to have a rubber band reality where things can be stretched a bit from what physics allows here in the real world. It’s quite another to toss weird, unexpected and just plain stupid events into scenes because you need to cut a very big corner. This particular one is even worse than usual because this odd break with the audience’s expectations is immediately followed by people screaming in fear, as if we’re meant to take the danger posed by the fireworks seriously.
Somehow it manages to stay like this, and we’re supposed to be worried.
You can have physically impossible craziness, or you can have serious physical danger; you can’t have both. The Simpsons, of course, understood that, and that understanding is crucial to making Homer’s disastrous attempt to light the M-320 pitch perfect.
Having purchased all of his fake items anyway despite not needing or wanting them (because he really is that dumb), Homer heads back to the Flanderses beach house, excited to play with his new toy. Bart not having any matches, Homer heads into the kitchen for another scene that cannot be described in text. What’s important to remember is that from the time he lights the middle of the fuse all the way through his casually walking away from the grotesque, brackish sewage that comes burbling up from the sink, there’s never any attempt to treat the danger seriously. Instead, we’re treated to Homer’s panic:
A .gif, is a poor imitation, I know, but you get the idea.
There’s no attempt to make this serious, it’s just pure, uncut fun. And while Homer is scared, he’s still Homer; so he’s willing to risk life and limb to save the beer once he realizes it’s in the fridge with his gargantuan firecracker. Having destroyed the dishwasher and trashed the kitchen, he calmly walks away. After all, it was like that when he got there. (And, of course, the episode later shows them using broken dishes and Marge cleaning up Homer’s mess, because unlike on Zombie Simpsons, events on The Simpsons are actually connected to one another.)
In “The Yellow Badge of Cowardage”, Bart eventually saves the day by driving a bus in front of the fireworks Homer and Not Don Vittorio have managed to fire at the crowd. It’s a cheap ending for the same reason so many of the stories on Zombie Simpsons are cheap: it comes out of nowhere. Bart conveniently sees the bus, conveniently finds the keys, conveniently drags Milhouse (who’s supposedly furious with him) along, and conveniently wraps everything up with some more of their oh, so helpful exposition.
Homer’s fireworks disaster wasn’t his own doing, it was just a thing that happened because the story needed to be wrapped up. It was dumb; it was weird; and it was ultimately hollow since the Homer we know and love, the doofus who adores fireworks but it far too dimwitted to know how to use them, didn’t have anything to do with it. By contrast, the Homer who destroys his neighbor’s kitchen and leaves his wife an unholy mess to clean is the destructive but malice free idiot who can make us laugh with nothing more than a frantic flailing of his limbs.