15
Jan
15

Compare & Contrast: Hypnotic Personality Changess

Clemens

“What about Clemens?” – C.M. Burns
“Sir, he’s in no condition to play.” – Mr. Smithers

A person suddenly changing their whole personality basically only happens in fiction.  It can be the steel screw who becomes a softy, the wallflower gaining rock solid confidence, even the idiot who’s suddenly smart.  The usual way to do this is with a bonk on the head, which generally comes complete with a second one near the end to put everything back the way it was.  (NOTE: Brains don’t actually work that way, please do not attempt at home.)

Sometime in the very early 1990s, a then unknown Judd Apatow sat down and wrote a teleplay that took that tried and true television premise and applied it to Homer Simpson.  The twist, if it can be called that, is that instead of his noggin getting a floggin’, Homer got himself altered through hypnosis.  A few meaningfully pronounced words, and, presto change-o, Homer Simpson thinks he’s a little kid again.  Hilarity is presumed to ensue.  (He and the episode would’ve been better off if he’d cornered the real-estate market instead, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The problem is that this premise is parchment paper thin even before you start noticing all the holes in it.  The go to joke for the personality switch episode is “whoa, s/he’s acting totally out of character”, beyond that there isn’t much there.  What’s worse, your character’s normal personality is the one that makes sense in context.  Having them act completely abnormally is generally an awkward fit, at best.

“Bart’s New Friend”, as Zombie Simpsons so often does, brings out the worst of this old and not terribly good premise.  By making Homer a little kid who’s friends with Bart, they not only have to shoehorn Kid-Homer into all kinds of bizarre places, but also gave him nothing to do while he was there.  When he (twice) shows up to play with actual kids, he doesn’t interact with them or really do anything, the episode just wants us to know he’s there.  The same is true when they’re at home, where all that happens is “Homer is a kid”.  The family barely reacts and nothing outside of that is even happening.

The beginning of the episode is Homer working a ton because he’s now the only safety inspector and actually has to do his job.  That whole rationale is dropped completely for the rest of the episode until a lone mention at the end that the other guy game back.  We don’t see anything with the plant or Homer’s co-workers after their safety inspector reverts to childhood.  Lenny and Carl don’t try to take him to Moe’s to jog his memory, Burns doesn’t disbelieve his story, nothing.

Similarly, Marge, Lisa and Bart don’t have anything but Homer going on.  Basically the only time we see any effect on anything is Homer’s brief appearances with the other kids, but even those are glossed over to the point of barely happening.  Here’s the dialogue from when Bart and Homer are playing in the park:

Bart: If you wedgie me, my friend will beat you up.
Dolph: That’s not your friend, it’s your screwed up Dad.
Jimbo: Pretty sad, really.
Kearney: We’ll leave you alone.
Bart: You did it, Homer!  You saved me from the bullies!  You’re the coolest kid I ever met.
Milhouse: What about me?
Bart: You’re in the top hundred.
Milhouse: Boo-yeah!
Bart: Now you’re not.
Milhouse: Oh.

For one thing, this is hacktacularly expository.  Bart and Dolph explain what’s going on, then Bart recaps it for us (“You saved me from the bullies!”), but nobody actually does anything but stand around.  More importantly, in that entire scene Homer doesn’t say a single word.  He is literally a prop.

Silent Homer

Please do not interact with the story’s main character.

That silent cameo is about the closest this episode comes to actually showing us some of the effects of the tortured premise it went out of its way to employ.   This is the mid-life crisis equivalent of buying that sports car model that was cool when you were fifteen and then leaving it in the garage.  It was a dumb idea even before they didn’t try to have any fun with it.

Compare that to the time The Simpsons employed the exact same premise with, of all people, Roger Clemens.  In just a few quick scenes, Clemens goes through an identical story to Kid-Homer, and we actually get to see some of the effects of it, with Clemens being unavailable for the championship game and clucking away instead of pitching.

Better yet, it’s one of those perfect note jokes that builds on everything around it.  A man acting like a chicken is one thing; maybe it’s funny, maybe it’s not.  But a big league star pitcher acting like a chicken because he was hypnotized by a quack on orders from an evil rich man who paid him to be a ringer in a smalltown softball game?  That’s so good that your final (non-song) call back to it can be a minor part of a still photo and it’s still hilarious:

Homer at the Bat12

Look at Roger Clemens, he just did an entire episode of Zombie Simpsons in two scenes and you can tell it just by looking at him.

A young Judd Apatow who didn’t know how to write yet may have once pronounced himself satisfied with this, but The Simpsons did it better in less than a page.  Bloated out to full script length, it’s typical Zombie Simpsons.

 


14 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Hypnotic Personality Changess”


  1. 1 Stan
    15 January 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Fucking Homer dressed up as Bart. The only face expression I have for that pic is Heath Ledger’s Joker in the fourth frame of a well-known exploitable. Seriously.
    Besides, why does Bart refer to Homer as “the coolest kid”? Why is he even okay with all this? This episode should’ve been Homer (read “Peter”) doing 10-year-old shit for 20 minutes. I mean, that’s what they wanted writing this script, right? He should’ve bonded with the bullies instead, and end up bullying his own son until some event would’ve made him snap back. This is the ONLY logical way not to fuck up such episodes, and yes, FG has come up it first, drooling all over, so if you’re going for it, should’ve keep it in mind.
    And then they end with a 2002-at-best Milhouse joke. He’s so pathetic he thinks Bart saying X is cool! How funny! I’m totally not tickling my armpits with a feather right now!

  2. 5 Jack
    16 January 2015 at 7:30 am

    Interesting. It would be far easier to compare this episode to “The Blunder Years” – where the plot is kick-started by Homer being hypnotized (regressed back to a child, even) – or “Regarding Margie” – where Marge’s personality completely changes after she gets amnesia (in a way that is fixed instantaneously).

    But, of course, those weren’t classic episodes, so that would miss the point of a Compare & Contrast. It goes to show: basing your entire plot around a hypnosis-induced personality change is a lazy conceit that classic Simpsons would never take beyond a one-off joke, but Zombie Simpsons have done it multiple times.

    • 16 January 2015 at 9:48 am

      What about the episode where Homer has a crayon taken from his brain? That prompts pretty much a wholesale personality change. I’ve just googled it and it’s season 12, so not quite Golden Years, but a pretty good episode as I recall.

      • 7 Jack
        16 January 2015 at 10:15 am

        Oh man, they’ve done it so many times that I didn’t even remember them all! Good memory!

        Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed HOMR and even Blunder Years well enough (though the latter did introduce the incredibly creepy idea that Mr. Burns raised Smithers from a baby), but they’re hardly classic era episodes, are they? A hypnosis-induced personality change plot can indeed be made good, but it’s very low hanging fruit. That’s kind of how the Mike Scully and early Al Jean Simpsons seasons are for me – “I’m enjoying this, but it could be SO much better.”

  3. 8 Disenchanted Viewer
    16 January 2015 at 11:22 am

    For me Dolph’s line in the dialogue between Bart and the bullies pretty much sums it up.
    I think the problem the writers had with this plot is that kids don’t wanna hang out with a 40-year-old (even if he thinks he’s still 10).
    They shoehorned Bart in this story, making him soft and childish, but it just doesn’t feel right.
    As usual, they had a story that doesn’t make much sense and they forced the characters to fit in it, but it doesn’t flow naturally and comedy is not there. Pretty sad, really.

  4. 9 Dan
    16 January 2015 at 2:00 pm

    And I say England’s greatest Prime Minister was Lord Palmerston!

  5. 12 Frank
    16 January 2015 at 9:34 pm

    mattingly never did trim those sideburns…

  6. 13 Jonny2x4
    17 January 2015 at 12:02 am

    It’s quite telling how deprive of ideas Zombie Simpsons are when the producers have to resort to digging out an old script that was already rejected back when the show was just starting 25 years ago.


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