Last week's episode of The Simpsons could easily be used as a list of all the reasons why the show isn't as funny as it used to be. The jokes were second-rate, the characters were uninspiring - take your pick, I wrote about it. For the show to do a 180 and give us a gem like "Homer Scissorhands" is a welcome relief, reminding us why we loved the show in the first place.
Trying to undo paint damage caused by a bickering Bart and Lisa, Homer discovers a new talent: hairdressing. After doing Patty and Selma's hair (or as he put it, "[putting] a new lid on a couple of trash cans"), Homer becomes the must-have hairdresser in Springfield. Business at "Are We Hair Yet?" is great, but the stress of endless gossip and chit-chat drives him insane, evaluating all the men of Springfield in terms of the gossip he hears from their wives (Kirk van Houten is "Gets his ass kicked by the dog") and being able to hear hair grow even when he takes refuge at home.
Milhouse, meanwhile, has had his heart broken by Lisa yet again ("It's never wise to use the word 'spew' in a love song"), but finds comfort and inspiration in Taffy, a popular fifth grader who appreciates his use of a rhyming dictionary. Lisa is suspicious ("Why would a popular fifth-grader like Taffy be interested in a Milhouse like Milhouse?"), and resolves to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Let's be clear: "Homer Scissorhands" is a great episode, but it's not going to rewrite The Simpsons. Homer is a raging success at hairdressing, but he's done with it by the end of the episode. Milhouse finds love (or something like it), but is single again when the credits roll. The idea of giving Homer a job and the loveable loser a honey is not new by a long shot. The trick is to make it interesting, and The Simpsons finds itself with the unique problem of digging in the same mine for 22 years, when lots of other shows dream of being on the air for a fraction of that time.
So do they do it well? Sometimes. The otherwise-unflappable Lisa struggling with unwanted romantic attention is an example. We've seen her tackle every other challenge conceivable, so to have her deal with something as normal as a highschool crush hints that The Simpsons has not forgotten its soul. Again, it's not new, but it's been a while since we've seen it.
Not every element works: Taffy (Kristen Schaal) dumps Milhouse because he's still in love with Lisa, even though he shows no such signs once he and Taffy start dating. Also, despite much being made about exactly why she's dating him in the first place, nothing nefarious is revealed. She simply likes him, goes out with him for a bit, and then dumps him for a reason we never seen on-screen.
But it's hard to complain when the rest of the episode is just so damnably good. From Homer cleaning his ear through the hole in Selma's hair, to Milhouse rocking the theremin, or Lisa determining that it's time to put boots on the ground (and then sweetly asking Bart "Do you like my boots?") and a camouflaged Moe nonchalantly walking by, "Homer Scissorhands" says and does all the right things. Whether it's the elaborate couch gag or the genuinely touching finale with Homer and Marge, everything is truly coming up Milhouse.
5.0/5.0: This is why The Simpsons has been on the air for 22 years.