February 10, 2015 by NowhereButPop
Hot off the wildly successful marathon of The Simpsons that launched FXX, I decided to watch the first 10 seasons of the series in succession. Paramount among my reasons to sit back and binge watch over 220 episodes of one of the greatest TV shows ever created was to try and analyze when exactly the series started to fly off the rails. Along the way, I noticed that there were some episodes that I hated as a kid that I now love (“El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer”), some episodes that I hated as a kid that I still hate as an adult (“The Principal and the Pauper”), and finally the episodes that after 20 years still make me laugh like the impressionable 4 year old I was when I first saw them (“Homer and Apu”).
What’s more, is that I’ve been able to examine some of my favorite episodes to gain a new understanding of them in ways that were lost on me as a kid. One of these episodes was the season 9 premier “The City of New York Vs. Homer Simpson”. For one, it hearkens back to the more grounded and realistic plotlines of the first three seasons, and as Matt Groening has implied, The Simpsons is a show that works best when it acts like an animated sitcom instead of a cartoon. More importantly, “The City of New York Vs. Homer Simpson” is the thematic sequel and inverse of season eight’s incredibly polarizing “Homer’s Enemy”.
The goal behind “Homer’s Enemy” was to introduce a realistic character, Frank Grimes, into the absurd world of The Simpsons and watch as he was slowly driven mad by the denizens of Springfield. By contrast “The City of New York Vs. Homer Simpson” does the opposite, it takes the absurd characters, the Simpsons themselves, and forces them into the real world. This episode was the first episode of the series that brought the Simpsons to a real American city, complete with its own culture and attitude. Unlike their travels to foreign lands like Australia and France, which consisted of exaggerated stereotypes and little to no research about the national culture, New York City was brought to life perfectly by the writers, directors, and most importantly animators. New York City didn’t feel like an extension of Springfield, New York City was New York City; it was real.
Because of the realistic atmosphere generated in the episode, the members of the Simpson family all have different responses to Manhattan which serves as a metaphor for their ability to actually thrive in the real world. The female members of the family, Marge and Lisa, actually fit in quite well in New York, as they take in a Broadway play and stroll around Central Park in a horse drawn carriage. The implication here is that they are the most functional and realistic members of the family.
Bart’s reaction to New York City is to mirror the city in the most ridiculous and over-the-top ways. However, he does this in a way that fits the culture of the city, the purpose being to show the ridiculousness of New York. While it might seem funny and outlandish, it’s merely the extreme manifestation of what actually goes on in Manhattan. The best example is when he pretends to be a bum on the subway and begs for change claiming that he was born without taste buds. Bums on the subway begging for change is no surprise to New Yorkers, but to see Bart lampoon this behavior, it serves to mirror a real life absurdity. Whereas Marge and Lisa are able to acclimate themselves well to real life, Bart is just on the cusp of absurdity, tiptoeing the fine line between reality and ludicrousness. He too is experiencing the real world, just to its most inane and farcical extent.
The only member unable to adjust to the real world is Homer, who makes his disdain for Manhattan, and by extension the real world, known very early on in the episode. After Barney loses Homer’s car in New York City, Homer accrues five months’ worth of parking tickets for being illegally parked at 1 World Trade Plaza. He can’t handle the typical “we’ll be there between the hours of 9-3” service that we’ve all had to deal with, he chooses to drink crab juice instead of Mountain Dew, and he halts traffic while using a jackhammer to bust loose his parking boot, the latter of which gets him shot at. Nothing that Homer does over the course of the episode is grounded in reality, as such his responses to everyday situations like a parking ticket, and looking for a public restroom are whimsical in nature. After destroying half of his car and cutting a swath of destruction across Central Park, Homer completely forsakes reality as used syringes and other bio hazardous materials are hurled at him as a dump track passes the family’s windowless car.
For a show that became less and less grounded in reality, hurling these characters into a real American city and forcing them to deal with realistic chaos revealed just the true absurdity of the Simpson family. Most of them coped with real life, while Homer, much like Frank Grimes, was too rigid, too grounded in his own sense of reality that when confronted by a new and external reality crumpled and sought refuge in madness. Most of the time a day in Manhattan ends with traffic and pointless clamoring. Sometimes it ends with having bird shit and used bandages rain down on you.
 Around season 10, but the writing on the wall was evident as early as season 7.