Simpsons Evolutionary Theroy Part 1: From Homer to Punching Bag

“Let’s ask an actor portraying Charles Darwin what he thinks.” – C. Montgomery Burns

I think it is fair to say that the principles behind natural selection and evolution can be applied to televisions shows. The Simpsons was once a great show, and then it wasn’t so good, and then bad, and now even worse. With each episode representing an intermediate in the evolutionary chain that is The Simpsons, we can compare episode traits from different parts of the lineage to hopefully figure out what the hell went wrong, and maybe try to reason why this series won’t die. Today I will focus on the needless physical comedy that has made its way into Homer’s life.

I think I can do this with only three examples. In these examples we will see a distinct change; the occasional physical harm Homer suffers will go from an afterthought to the main source of Simpsons jokes. My first example comes from season 4, “Brother From The Same Planet “. In the end of this episode Homer gets into a fist fight with Tom, Bart’s ‘Bigger Brother’. The fight ends when Homer is knocked out and falls backwards over a fire hydrant. It lasts all of a few seconds, it is only punctuated with one witty remark, and then it is over. This is an appropriate use of physical comedy.
The second example comes from season 8, “Homer’s Phobia”. At the end of this episode Homer and Bart are trapped in a reindeer farm. As the reindeer get ready to trample them, Homer holds Bart up over his head, as to save his son from certain doom. The Reindeer pummel Homer for a little while before the rest of the crew saves the pair. In this example, you can see that the physical pain lasts a little longer and is accompanied by an extra line or two (“Homer you feel softer than before” “I’ve been tenderized”) as opposed to just a single phrase from Homer. The scene was still relevant, but you wouldn’t have seen it a few seasons before.

Finally we can look at modern day, or as we say, Zombie Simpsons. There are way too many examples from which to choose, so to make this example as accessible as possible I will use a scene from The Simpsons Movie. This particular scene was even in the trailer (a statement unto itself?). I am, of course, speaking of the thirty seconds or so that Homer spent on the wrecking ball. Here we see a physical scene that was completely unnecessary, wayyy too long, and more than physically impossible. On top of that, they should have shelled out the extra few bucks to make the building a Hard Rock Cafe as opposed to just something named A Hard Place, but I digress.
This evolutionary end-product could have been from a number of crappy episodes of late, and that makes me wonder what is keeping this premise in the show? It is clearly detracting from the entertainment value, but it just won’t go away. One theory I have is people feel that since its The Simpsons, and it’s in its 20th season, we just have to accept that the physical comedy is here. But a more likely theory it is that the fan base that has been added during the last ten years or so doesn’t know that there was a before time, a long-long ago, where this wasn’t the case. Homer’s evolution into slapstick wouldn’t have been noticed by those watching religiously now, and therefore is a trait that would not have been de-selected, which leaves us with what we have today.

One last point: I know you are all thinking “What about ‘Bart the Daredevil’! Homer fell down the cliff twice!” And you are right to do so. This episode would appear to be a wrench in my explanation, but consider this: That episode was based on physical comedy in general, not just Homer getting needlessly beaten. A Zombie Simpsons episode with the same basic plot line would not have had Captain Lance Murdock or Bart get hurt, but would have had their actions injure Homer in some way. I guarantee it.

2 Responses to “Simpsons Evolutionary Theroy Part 1: From Homer to Punching Bag”

  1. 1 Charlie Sweatpants
    23 February 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Don’t forget that medical attention of a kind rarely seen these days is a crucial component of the twice down the cliff scene. First there’s the ambulance hitting the tree and then Homer ends the episode in traction with Murdock. I’m not opposed to Homer getting hurt; I am opposed to Homer knowing he’s indestructible and acting accordingly (see: stun gun, self application).

  2. 2 Thrillho
    2 July 2011 at 2:22 pm

    “On top of that, they should have shelled out the extra few bucks to make the building a Hard Rock Cafe as opposed to just something named A Hard Place, but I digress. ”

    Not to defend ZS writers, but I’m pretty sure it was a play on the phrase “Between a rock and a hard place.” The joke wouldn’t have made any sense if it was a Hard Rock Cafe.

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