‘The Simpsons’ Season 35 Premiere Recap: ‘Homer’s Crossing’ Crosses Swords With Militarized Policing
At the dawn of The Simpsons’ 35th season, the writing staff of Fox’ longest running comedy series are asking pointed, poignant political questions about the role The Simpsons plays in today’s society. Questions such as, “What would happen if ‘Defund the Police’ Twitter wrote a Simpsons storyline?”
As is typical of The Simpsons in recent seasons, the premiere, titled “Homer’s Crossing,” eschews the intro sequence and couch gag and instead opens Season 35 with a LSD-induced hallucination experienced by burnout bus driver Otto shortly before he speeds off out of town in Springfield Elementary’s only school bus. At an emergency meeting with the town’s perturbed parents, Principal Skinner suggests that the students walk to school until the bussing situation is sorted out and asks for a parent to assume early-morning crossing guard duties, to which Homer enthusiastically (and accidentally) volunteers — he was actually just cheering at an announcement for a rebooted Revenge of the Nerds movie starring John Cena as Booger.
Already upset at his added responsibilities, a near-meltdown at the nuclear power plant reveals that, after one of Homer’s many on-the-job mishaps, Mr. Burns replaced Homer’s safety console with a decoy, giving Lenny the helm of the “Real Safety Console,” as it is hilariously labeled next to Homer’s workstation. Feeling powerless and unimportant, Homer begins his shift as crossing guard, getting bullied by the kids he’s supposed to protect as he hits his lowest point in the episode. With Homer distracted by his tormentors, Ralph Wiggum begins to cross the street unattended as the distracted driver Barney barrels toward the crosswalk — but Homer leaps into action at the last second and saves Ralph from becoming low-IQ roadkill.
Homer’s heroism motivates Mayor Quimby to massively increase the budget for the crossing guards, which consequently inflates Homer’s ego as the newfound fame and funding begins its inevitable corruption of his crossing guard integrity. Homer recruits the town’s other underdogs to join the crossing guard ranks and share in the group’s growing power, but when Homer ignores a prescient warning from Principal Skinner, catastrophe strikes as the school’s simultaneous science fair, bake sale and picture day creates a “Drop-off-alypse” and leads to an obligatory gratuitous explosion.
Homer evades responsibility for the calamity at a highly publicized hearing and calls for even more funding for the crossing guards, which the city approves as Sideshow Mel remarks, “Throwing money at a deeply flawed institution is bound to work!” The crossing guards grow hyperbolically militarized as they eat up the majority of the Springfield city government’s budget, earning enemies of Mayor Quimby and Chief Wiggum while becoming borderline fascistic in the process. Homer’s runaway military and political power leads him to a standoff with the Springfield Police Department, I.C.E., TSA, Parking Enforcement and “Overzealous Neighborhood Watch guys in right-to-carry states” before Otto returns in the school bus to splatter Homer across the pavement.
At Homer’s hospital bed, Lisa ends the episode with an encapsulating statement, telling her father, “Once you militarized the crossing guards, they became an army in search of an enemy. And if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail.”
Canonically, “Homer’s Crossing” establishes that, after 34 years of incompetence, Homer has finally been entirely relinquished of Safety Inspector duties and is now simply collecting a paycheck to sit on his ass while he tries not to touch anything important. We also learned that each Wednesday marks Homer and Marge’s “scheduled sex” night in a first-act scene that further established Homer’s literal and metaphorical impotence, prompting the iconic euphemism from Marge, “Sweetie, it seems like your lightsaber doesn’t want to go shwoom. Did you Han Solo earlier tonight?”
However, “Homer’s Crossing” continues the tendency of contemporary Simpsons episodes to proudly emphasize topicality and political messaging, oftentimes at the expense of effective storytelling. There’s no grounding B-story to provide an important emotional counterbalance to the main plot’s explicit social commentary, and the impact of Homer’s rise to power on his family is, unfortunately, only lightly explored while the microcosmic politics of Springfield take center stage. The Simpsons’ take on the important and oftentimes acrimonious debate regarding unchecked police power in cities across America is a predictable one that adds little to the complicated conversation, and the jokes aimed at audience members who are already tweeting about the issue mostly fall flat — such as how the final confrontation between Homer and Quimby is sparked by the mayor’s suggestion that they reduce the crossing guards’ budget by a measly 1.1 percent.
Despite the generally heavy-handed messaging, there were many laugh-out-loud lines scattered throughout the episode that gave “Homer’s Crossing” a necessary sense of fun. My favorite joke comes when Homer addresses a fresh batch of crossing guard recruits (including Kirk Van Houten, Disco Stu, the Sea Captain, Cletus and Hans Moleman) with a drill sergeant-like intensity. As the soldiers stand at attention, Homer barks at them, “Look to your left. Now look to your right. That’s how you know a car is coming. That concludes your training.”
In addition, the singular storyline felt authentically old-school in its setup — at its heart, “Homer’s Crossing” tells the story of a downtrodden Homer regaining his self-confidence with an act of selflessness, only for his repaired ego to balloon to the point where it eclipses his good deed as his tendency to become comically carried away threatens to end in calamity. That could easily be a Golden Age Simpsons plot if some subtlety was added to the overwrought political overtones.
Overall, “Homer’s Crossing” is an uneven but entertaining opening to Season 35. Though few audience members will walk away from the premiere with a new perspective on the weighty themes addressed in the episode, “Homer’s Crossing” is a worthy watch for anyone interested in seeing how the Simpsons writers managed to write 20 minutes-worth of solid street-crossing jokes without including a single chicken.
Out of 751 total Simpsons episodes, I’m semi-arbitrarily ranking this one as the 325th best.