“Has anyone mentioned that Homer doesn’t know anything about mountain climbing, and that this is all crazy?” – Marge Simpson
“Well yes, a number of people.” – Neil
Just a few minutes into “A Midsummer’s Nice Dream”, more than a decade of accumulated bad habits catastrophically cratered the episode:
Zombie Marge: Homie, you know all the bits, maybe you could help him.
Zombie Homer: I can’t do reefer comedy, I’m drunk, two different animals.
Zombie Marge: Homer Simpson, that man’s albums have given you decades of entertainment, and seen you through some very square times. Help him!
Zombie Crowd: [Cheers wildly]
Mobsters, teachers, Smithers, Mrs. Glick, it’s almost like they have no personality of their own.
You know where it goes from there. Homer walks on stage and everyone loves him. The man who is ostensibly an ordinary guy from an ordinary town once again becomes an overnight celebrity. Afterwards, the episode staggers around for another fifteen minutes, bumbling from one topic to the next as it tries to tell a story it’s told a hundred times before.
Homer has had plenty of wild adventures going all the way back to the beginning of the show. But prior to about Season 9 or so, whenever Homer went out and did something really far fetched he was usually more along for the ride than in the driver’s seat. He certainly didn’t become an accomplished professional in the span of a few seconds. When he headed out with Hullabalooza, he wasn’t backing up Peter Frampton on guitar or freestyling with Cypress Hill. When he went into space, the NASA guys were planning on sedating him almost immediately, he wasn’t scheduled to land the shuttle. When he played softball with all those ringers, he couldn’t get a hit off Roger Clemens, nor could he field as well as Daryl Strawberry. He was always an amateur, even if he often found himself in places amateurs rarely tread.
Compare that with the way Marge and the crowd shove him onstage during “A Midsummer’s Nice Dream”. He becomes the main act instantly, acquiring the timing and poise of an accomplished stage performer, something that requires years of training and practice, in less than a minute. The crowd knows it too, and they’re a-okay with Homer replacing one of the men they paid to see. He’s no longer a lucky amateur, he’s now the same mega-popular super character within the world of the show that he’s long been outside of it, and everyone, from his family to the crowd to the guest stars, understands that intuitively.
I bet he’s glad his face is on a bunch of crappy merchandise though.
This is far from the first time Zombie Simpsons has done something like this. The degradation of Homer from a recognizable everyman into an unrepentant, unfeeling, unrestrained id of middle age wish fulfillment is one of the true hallmarks of Zombie Simpsons. It started way back when the show began its implosion around Season 9 as Homer embarked on an ever increasing series of jobs for which he was wildly unsuited: submarine captain, mayoral bodyguard, movie producer, etcetera. It’s been going on ever since; in just the last two seasons Homer has become a movie star, an Olympic athlete, an undercover cop, and now a professional comedian.
The reduction of Homer into a cheap, one dimensional gag machine has also damaged the other characters around him, especially Marge. When Homer goes on tour with his humble barbershop quartet, Marge is devastated and tries to compensate. When Homer wants to go on tour with the pageant of the transmundane, Marge is skeptical and afraid for him. These are the kinds of reactions you might expect from an actual woman upon hearing that her husband is planning on skipping town for a little while. In “A Midsummer’s Nice Dream”, Marge just pats him on the head and tells him not to have too much fun, like she’s sending one of her children out to play.
We’ve secretly replaced the real Marge Simpson in one of these images. Try to guess which!
Once he’s actually out on tour the difference becomes even starker as Homer immediately becomes completely untethered from his life in a way that’d be unthinkable for the man in “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” or “Homerpalooza”. In the former, even winning a Grammy can’t distract him from his homesick loneliness, and he goes so far as to record a taped message for his kids. In the latter, his exploits with Smashing Pumpkins and company pass very quickly, and most of those are told in a letter he writes to Bart and Lisa. Yet for the entire middle of “A Midsummer’s Nice Dream”, Homer is completely cut off from his family or anything else that’s going on in the episode. He’s just out pestering Cheech Marin and doesn’t spend a single frame thinking about or missing the family he left behind.
The contrast with Hullabalooza and The Be Sharps couldn’t be clearer. In those episodes Homer is a real character whose actions and reactions reflect that, so even if he frequently finds himself in “wacky adventures” (as Lisa put it in Season 5), he’s still recognizable as the same guy. In Zombie Simpsons, Homer knows that he’s not a regular guy, he knows that his wife will happily tell him to board that tour bus, and once he’s aboard he never needs to give the rest of his life a second thought. Hacktacular crap like this went a long way towards degrading the show in the first place lo those ten or twelve years ago, and it hasn’t changed much.