Compare & Contrast: Homer and 4th of July Fireworks Disasters

Summer of 4 Ft 2(15)

“This baby’s sure to kill something!” – Homer Simpson

There is little doubt that a man who famously likes his beer cold, his teevee loud, and his homosexuals flaming, is a big fan of the thundering light show that is Fourth of July fireworks.  Of course, Homer is also the exact opposite person who should ever actually be involved with them.  He is thoughtless, careless and impulsive, and those are not traits that mix well with gunpowder.  In “The Yellow Badge of Cowardage”, Zombie Simpsons played with that combustible mixture and blew itself up.  In “Summer of 4 Ft. 2”, The Simpsons used the same ingredients to put on a masterful display.

To see the difference between that crowd pleasing spectacle and the kind of disaster that makes people run away screaming, there’s only really two things we need to consider: 1) getting the fireworks and 2) using them.  For the first, Zombie Simpsons makes things easy because they barely bother to show us anything.  Homer and Not Don Vittorio initially go to Cletus’s farm (why? who cares?) where they fail to buy anything.  The very next scene with the two of them is this:

Homer: Okay, let’s make some fireworks.


Uh, I guess they found some?

There’s no explanation of where it came from or how they got it, and certainly not because of time constraints.  After this we get the interminable and mechanically narrated “drive around with gunpowder” scene, which is nothing but the two of them telling us what they’re about to do and then doing it: cobblestone streets, a rickety bridge, gaslights . . . it just keeps going.  So not only did they skip over something important, but they did so with forty-five seconds of filler.

Compare that to Homer’s immortal attempt to act casual like he buys illegal fireworks all the time.  Text is a weak excuse for Castellaneta’s exquisite delivery, and can never hope to reproduce that blithely misplaced confidence that he’s being smooth, but here it is anyway:

Homer: Hi, um, let me have one of those porno magazines, large box of condoms, bottle of Old Harper, couple of those panty shields, and some illegal fireworks . . . and one of those disposable enemas.  Nah, make it two.

This is lunatic insanity of the absolute best kind.  Homer is precisely himself: clueless and utterly incompetent.  The items he thinks are innocuous are the kind of thing that might get a real convenience store owner to tip the police off to this weirdo in his store.  Better yet, the Apu stand-in doesn’t even flinch, calmly explaining that he has no fireworks right up until the coast is clear, whereupon he instantly takes Homer back to his storeroom/arsenal:

Summer of 4 Ft 2(14)

Hey, look, multiple sign gags in just one shot.  I’m particularly fond of “Tang Tse Doodle”.

Once there we get to the M-320 (“Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it.”) and Homer’s quick and happy response: “Alright”. Coincidentally, the entire scene, from the time Homer walks into the store until he purchases the M-320, takes almost exactly the same amount of time as the pointless gunpowder driving scene in “The Yellow Badge of Cowardage”.  This is the entirety of the dialogue from that fiasco:

Not Don Vittorio: Now drive slowly and carefully to my workshop.  It’s in the cobblestone district.
Homer: Oh, thank God, a rickety bridge.
Not Don Vittorio: Don’t worry, we’ll be safe in the gaslamp district.

That’s it.  In the time The Simpsons showed us Homer’s hilariously moronic attempt to be smooth and gave the world the M-320, Zombie Simpsons managed three lines of hapless exposition. The comparison doesn’t get any better for Zombie Simpsons when we move along to the actual using of the fireworks.

Befitting the sudden nonsense that got Homer and Not Don Vittorio the gunpowder in the first place, we see the two of them get into an argument on the fireworks barge over whether July 2nd or July 4th is the right day to celebrate.  The barge then instantly tilts over somehow and points its fireworks at the crowd. This is yet another example of the complete apathy Zombie Simpsons has for even the tiniest bit of story cohesion.  Not Don Vittorio is supposed to be a retired fireworks expert, so it’s not like it would’ve been hard for him to have shown just a little impatience with Homer leading up to this part.  Instead, the two of them just start battling it out over nothing with no warning whatsoever.

Compounding matters, the barge they’re on manages to (again with no warning, no foreshadowing, no nothing) conveniently tip over in way that barges like that are physically incapable of doing.  It’s one thing to have a rubber band reality where things can be stretched a bit from what physics allows here in the real world.  It’s quite another to toss weird, unexpected and just plain stupid events into scenes because you need to cut a very big corner.  This particular one is even worse than usual because this odd break with the audience’s expectations is immediately followed by people screaming in fear, as if we’re meant to take the danger posed by the fireworks seriously.


Somehow it manages to stay like this, and we’re supposed to be worried.

You can have physically impossible craziness, or you can have serious physical danger; you can’t have both.  The Simpsons, of course, understood that, and that understanding is crucial to making Homer’s disastrous attempt to light the M-320 pitch perfect.

Having purchased all of his fake items anyway despite not needing or wanting them (because he really is that dumb), Homer heads back to the Flanderses beach house, excited to play with his new toy.  Bart not having any matches, Homer heads into the kitchen for another scene that cannot be described in text.  What’s important to remember is that from the time he lights the middle of the fuse all the way through his casually walking away from the grotesque, brackish sewage that comes burbling up from the sink, there’s never any attempt to treat the danger seriously. Instead, we’re treated to Homer’s panic:


A .gif, is a poor imitation, I know, but you get the idea. 

There’s no attempt to make this serious, it’s just pure, uncut fun.  And while Homer is scared, he’s still Homer; so he’s willing to risk life and limb to save the beer once he realizes it’s in the fridge with his gargantuan firecracker.  Having destroyed the dishwasher and trashed the kitchen, he calmly walks away.  After all, it was like that when he got there.  (And, of course, the episode later shows them using broken dishes and Marge cleaning up Homer’s mess, because unlike on Zombie Simpsons, events on The Simpsons are actually connected to one another.)

In “The Yellow Badge of Cowardage”, Bart eventually saves the day by driving a bus in front of the fireworks Homer and Not Don Vittorio have managed to fire at the crowd.  It’s a cheap ending for the same reason so many of the stories on Zombie Simpsons are cheap: it comes out of nowhere.  Bart conveniently sees the bus, conveniently finds the keys, conveniently drags Milhouse (who’s supposedly furious with him) along, and conveniently wraps everything up with some more of their oh, so helpful exposition.

Homer’s fireworks disaster wasn’t his own doing, it was just a thing that happened because the story needed to be wrapped up.  It was dumb; it was weird; and it was ultimately hollow since the Homer we know and love, the doofus who adores fireworks but it far too dimwitted to know how to use them, didn’t have anything to do with it.  By contrast, the Homer who destroys his neighbor’s kitchen and leaves his wife an unholy mess to clean is the destructive but malice free idiot who can make us laugh with nothing more than a frantic flailing of his limbs.

11 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Homer and 4th of July Fireworks Disasters”

  1. 1 Stan
    22 May 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Fuck I love these, man. Too bad the season’s over.
    If you ever wised to do a “Summer is upon us” post, I’d appreciate it to bid my farewell to your website, after my 4 years of critique and honest uselessness to you.

  2. 22 May 2014 at 10:03 pm

    No matter how many times I see that episode I still crack up every time Homer tries to nonchalantly buy illegal fireworks.

  3. 6 Brad M
    22 May 2014 at 11:34 pm

    I don’t know if there are convenience stores that sell disposable enemas, but the other decoy products on Homer’s list are just common legal things that convenience stores sell tons of every day (well, the liquor depending on the state). I always thought the joke was just that he was trying to be smooth by buying things that people are often embarrassed to purchase, not things that would get the police alerted.

    • 7 Nicolás
      23 May 2014 at 1:47 am

      There are many jokes in that scene alone. First, like you said, those things are not bought with a straight face generally since it’s embarassing and you obviously would want to keep such matters private but he just asks for them like he’s asking for snacks and soda, and you also have to consider (second joke) that it’s not just one product, it’s a whole list of “embarassing” products and in a normal situation it would catch the attention of anyone hearing him, which is exactly the opposite of what he should do. You could add the fact that just before entering the shop he says to “act casual like you buy’em all the time”, and as soon as he starts speaking you realize that he’s doing everything but act casual.

      The fourth joke is, what all of those items are good for and especially all of them together, it’s easy to see the picture, he’s just not gonna have sex, he’s planning for one crazy, kinky night, it’s even questionable if he even has a partner considering he’s buying porno mags, which makes it even weirder and funnier that he’s also buying things like condoms, enemas and panty shields. He is leaving an image of a weirdo, even maybe way too weird and suspicious, it’s not impossible to think then that a paranoid shopkeeper could tip the police, but he doesn’t even realize it.

      Finally, you also expect him to fail miserably, it’s obviously the worst plan ever, nobody with two working neurons would even think of doing such thing, it’d catch attention and ruin everything, not only that, but considering how bad his plan is, it even makes you think that he would pick the wrong place to ask for fireworks, now, I’m not from the US so I don’t know if it’s common to find fireworks in shops like that, but from where I am, it’s not, and even if it were common, you’d still expect him to have just chosen the wrong shop and getting kicked out or even arrested after asking for fireworks, but surprisingly, the Apu look-alike responds gently about the illegality of fireworks, and finally, his plan actually works, there were fireworks, the Apu look-alike doesn’t really mind how Homer asked for the fireworks either, like it’s actually the way you do it and just played along and nobody caught him. Homer actually was right and managed to act like someone who buys them all the time, just like he said before, which is ridiculous.

      That’s how brilliant the Simpsons were before, they made a joke to make a bigger joke, they piled them all up like it’s the simplest thing and deliver them simultaneously, nowadays they struggle to get just one joke in a whole episode.

      • 8 tin can
        23 May 2014 at 2:15 am

        Don’t forget the follow up:

        “I don’t know what you have planned tonight, but count me out.”

        Normally this would be a case of Zombie-esque joke explanation, but the way Marge says it is a great gag in and of itself. She’s clearly creeped out and wants no part of it, but not so much that she reacts with anything more than disapproval.

  4. 9 Steve M
    23 May 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Let’s not forget that the fireworks-buying scene in “Summer of 4 Ft 2” is a brilliant spoof of the liquor-buying scene in American Graffiti.

    For those who haven’t seen the movie, one of the under-age characters attempts to casually buy booze, as though he does it all the time. He couches his request for a bottle of Old Harper in a string of extremely mundane purchases:

    “Let me have a Three Musketeers, and a ball point pen, one of those combs there, a pint of Old Harper, a couple of flash light batteries, and some beef jerky.”

    Homer adopts the same “act casual” strategy in attempting to buy fireworks. Of course, the brilliance of The Simpsons‘ spoof is that, in contrast to the kid in American Graffiti, Homer couches his request for illegal fireworks in a string of extremely embarrassing purchases:

    “Let me have some of those porno magazines, large box of condoms, a bottle of old Harper, a couple of those panty shields, and some illegal fireworks, and one of those disposable enemas. Ehhh, make it two.”

    This was back when the Simpsons writers actually knew how to do pop culture references well. The parody fit with the episode’s plot (it wasn’t a Family Guy-esque cut-away), it was true to Homer’s character, and it didn’t hit the viewer over the head. (The reference to American Graffiti essentially hinges on the subtle Old Harper mention.)

    Nowadays, Zombie Simpsons’ pop culture “references” amount to sophomoric copycatism. For example, Homer’s out drinking with a Japanese man, so what the hell, may as well directly copy a ton of shit straight from Hayao Miyazaki’s films. It’s not subtle, it doesn’t advance the plot in any way, and it doesn’t use the source material in a way that says anything novel about Miyazaki or Homer.

  5. 11 Jack
    24 May 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Excellent analysis as always! Though I can’t help but be distracted by something…

    That second image, of the car carrying gunpowder – is that a screen-grab or a promotional image? I ask because it just looks awful, even by compared to the cold, mechanical art style the show has nowadays.

    I’m not even sure I can pinpoint what went wrong exactly. It just doesn’t gel. Am I alone in thinking this picture looks weird?

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