First off, I’ve skipped over “Homer’s Night Out.” After two weeks I still couldn’t think of anything worth saying about it — the episode bugged me on a couple of different levels, but I couldn’t summon the energy I needed to be really vitriolic about it — so I’m moving on.
Once again we’re confronted with Homer’s total idiocy when it comes to his family, and his desire for a perfect family dynamic. Adil offers him something to latch on to; we’ll see this again when Homer takes on the role of being a Bigger Brother in a couple of years — this idea that his relationship with Bart is so fundamentally flawed, or damaged, that it cannot be saved or repaired. Lisa’s frostiness when she realizes he’s willing to trade her out to get a better daughter is absolutely priceless, and worth the price of admission to this episode alone (though I don’t really buy her impassioned defense on the part of capitalism — freedom, sure, but capitalism? nah).
“The Crepes of Wrath” made me miss the Cold War. Not the whole threat-of-nuclear-annihilation bit, but the background of paranoia and espionage that made the Cold War so damned intriguing. I know the two often went together, but there was something fun about cleaving the world into two camps and glaring pointedly across a no-man’s land. (There was also the joy of rooting against the Soviets at the Olympics, something that other people miss too.) It was a simpler time, at least from a fictional perspective. Now you gotta write about nefarious government agencies, not just individual governments, and the bad guys are more apt to speak your own language than another.
Put another way, could you make this episode today? Who would you pick as the villains in this story, considering you have to find a backwards country that’s vaguely sinister? Most of the former eastern bloc countries are well on their way to being capitalists, if not already there, and there’s a never-ending quest to find the new Prague, the new hip place to get bombed for a weekend away from the United Kingdom. The best you could hope for is to return to the former Soviet bloc states, and hope you can pull off a Borat-style Kazakhstan-ish parody — I think Tajikistan might be my current choice, but the problem now is that every place that’s likely to be sufficiently screwed up to be funny also comes with a big serving of sadness: there are plenty of personality cults in the world, and lots of kleptocracies, and a large number of deeply screwed up countries, but none of them are really funny anymore, because life in those countries is so abysmal. We could at least buy into the propaganda of places like, say, Albania or Bulgaria back in the day, but we know better now. And the only people who might conceivably want to spy on a US nuclear power plant are in the Middle East, and those guys aren’t funny at all. Albania was perfect, back in 1990, by being faintly ridiculous while at the same time being exceptionally paranoid and somewhat spooky to the outside world. You can thank Enver Hoxha for all that — and for Adil’s last name, too, for that matter.
Cesar and Ugolin have real-ish world equivalents, too; they’re basically lifted straight out of Claude Berri’s “Jean de Florette” and its sequel “Manon des Sources.” As an officially certified Francophile, I loved the French parts of this episode — the godawful accents most of all (save for the cop, who speaks a completely perfect French, which is even funnier). Linguistically, the writers and actors got the English parts of the French characters mostly right; you really will hear people speaking like that in France. It’s hard to find fault with the portrayal of France here; for a show like “The Simpsons,” you need to traffic in the gross stereotypes, and that’s OK, because they’re essentially gentle and done with love.
A solid show all around, and maybe one of the only episodes from the first season that has a special place in my heart (“The Tell-Tale Head” is the other one).