The Homer Simpson Episode of ‘L.A. Law’ Is Still Completely Surreal
Twenty-one years ago on Sunday, Homer Simpson appeared in the Season Seven premiere of L.A. Law to request legal representation from Arnie Becker on an issue of wrongful termination — Lionel Hutz must have been indisposed.
Throughout the 1990s and even into the early 2000s, the most ambitious creative cop-out a network could contrive was the classic crossover episode. Blending two fictional universes allows a channel to double-dip on their demographics as fans of both properties tune in to see what exactly the Flintstones have to say about The Jetsons’ futuristic family, and the hijinks that ensued were, more often than not, must-see TV, even if it was in the rubber-necking way we watched Bones and Family Guy fail to find common ground.
The animation-meets-live-action crossover is a special strata of very special episodes that is even harder to pull off than the usual mashup — however, on one October evening at the end of the H.W. Bush administration, 20th Century Fox figured out a way to bring Springfield into L.A. Law in one of the weirdest meta moments of Dan Castellaneta’s career.
The premise of the Simpsons plotline in the L.A. Law premiere episode, titled, “L.A. Lawless,” is a simple one, if not for the headache-inducing meta-context — Castellaneta plays an amusement park employee who plays Castellaneta’s real-life character Homer Simpson at the fictional Family Land. After being forced to work a double shift in grueling heat, Castellaneta’s character passes out and vomits inside the Homer head, forcing him to remove that part of his costume and breaking the most important rule of theme park mascots — always stay in character. Of course, Castellaneta and his lawyer win the case after Becker makes the masterful move to have the entire jury put on their own giant felt Homer heads to experience the unpleasant working conditions and create a hellish sight straight out of Castellaneta’s own nightmares.
What isn’t featured in the above video, however, is what’s happening in the rest of the episode around the Homer Simpson trial — “L.A. Lawless” marked the first episode of L.A. Law since the infamous Rodney King riots tore apart the city of Los Angeles, and Steven Bochco and his writing staff felt it appropriate for their light-hearted legal procedural to tackle the pressing topic. While Castellaneta grapples with his identity as Homer Simpson, many members of the McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak law firm get caught up in the middle of the chaos after the televised announcement of acquittal of all the police officers involved in the King case changes the course of L.A. Law (and L.A.) history.
So, basically, this bizarre episode marked the crossover between L.A. Law, The Simpsons and the ugly and ongoing history of police brutality. You know, two for three of 1990s television that are still relevant today.