For Homer, all this talk of free books and erotic intellectuals brings out his feelings of inferiority in all things cerebral. Remember, Homer is the one man in Springfield who was saved from hungry brain-eating zombies because there was nothing inside his cranium in “Treehouse of Horrors III.”
“Habeas Tortoise” presents one of the deepest dives into the mind of Homer Simpson since the Max Fleischer tributes used to play out in his head. Almost every line Homer says works as a standalone joke, from the moment he is moved to stand, even in the presence of a chair. His fear is very real, and while it has been addressed consistently throughout the run of The Simpsons, Homer’s stupidity leads to brilliant breakthroughs. It’s the cleanup that’s the problem, and it sometimes washes away sloppy punch lines with more raggedly effective payoffs.
The only solution to being a dum-dum is finding other dum-dums and corralling them into a safe space where there are no such things as bad ideas and calling it a think tank. This works in any kind of bubble, so, The Simpsons are still evenhandedly skewering the fever, not the pitch. While you won’t find any whistles for zebras, there is no shortage of white-boards, index cards, ivermectin, genuine Mrs. McLellan’s brand red evidence yarn (Illuminati strength), and other doodads perfectly formed for a takeoff on DIY true crime solving series. Enthusiasts gather on FaceLook, one of the many social media outlets to be found on the internet, which is surprisingly still online.
Homer is right to fear social media as a stupid white man, the holes it reveals leads to rabbits, not donuts, though they do come in handy in the episode, and not only because it’s the best way to present evidence to Police Chief Wiggum. He also ridicules Homer, as one of the misguided regular people try to solve crimes. The silly notion amuses Wiggum even though he is one of them. A regular guy who wants to get to the bottom of crimes, real crimes. This works on two levels because the top cop in Springfield is renowned as incompetent, and feels perfectly suited to the kinds of people whose indulgences he craves.
Marge is, as ever, the most enabling mother in Springfield, USA, and her very first act is a moment of pre-emptive comic brilliance, stuffing a sax into Lisa’s mouth before a correction can be made. Bart’s concern is truly moving, worrying about Moe in Homer’s absence. But the family gives up the couch to the primary group of secondary characters: Miss Hoover, Gil, Drederick Tatum, Sideshow Mel, Comic Book Guy, and ultimately Superintendent Chalmers. With a no-bad-idea policy, they are free to sink to the worst conclusions, and feed themselves into the same frenzies any unchecked information peddler can muster.
To be fair, the very first solution Homer comes up with is a rabbit hole worth chasing. Prairie dogs are far more “Instagramable,” and look cute in baby clothes, but slow-and-steady is no strategy in a rush to judgment. Homer completely surrenders to the social media influencers, taking cooking tips off TikTok, and swooning over “likes.”