"Maximum Homerdrive" is the seventeenth episode of The Simpsons' tenth season. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on March 28, 1999. In the episode, Homer challenges trucker Red Barclay to a meat eating contest, which Barclay is the long-standing champion of. Barclay wins, but quickly dies of "beef poisoning", making it the first time Barclay will miss a shipment. Feeling bad for him, Homer takes on the duty of transporting Barclay's cargo to Atlanta, with his son Bart by his side.
"Maximum Homerdrive" was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Swinton O. Scott III. Although the episode's first draft was written by Swartzwelder, the writing staff was split into two groups in order to focus on both the A-story and the B-story. The episode features references to comedian Tony Randall, model Bettie Page, and science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, among other things.
In its original broadcast, "Maximum Homerdrive" received a 7.8 Nielsen rating among adults between ages 18 and 49, the highest such rating for the series since "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken". Variety credited the boost in ratings to the premiere of Futurama, which aired after "Maximum Homerdrive". Following the tenth season's home video release, the episode received mixed reviews from critics.
Lisa announces that she is going to protest a new steakhouse which allows its customers to kill their own steak, which is called "The Slaughterhouse" (it is also decorated with hanging steer carcasses and a fountain of blood, and everything on the menu is meat - even the menu itself). Homer hears the name of the steakhouse and is astonished that nobody told him about what he thinks is an amazing place, and takes the rest of his family to eat there, where he enters a challenge with a friendly truck driver named Red Barclay. The challenge Homer and Red enter revolves around who will finish off a "Sir Loins-A-Lot" first, a 16 lb (256 ounce or 7.26 kg) steak that only two people in the history of The Slaughter House have finished (Red being one and Tony Randall being the other). The gargantuan steak is more than a match for Homer, as for once in his life he is unable to finish his food and breaks down crying. Red does, but dies seconds later of what Dr. Hibbert called "beef poisoning". This shocks the diners, before he reassures them that it was "probably from some other steakhouse" (Coincidently informing the Simpsons beforehand that he owns a fair percentage of the steakhouse). Homer then decides to finish Red's last delivery and brings Bart along with him, leaving the rest of the family behind.
Lamenting that Homer and Bart always get to go on exciting adventures, Marge says "Maybe it's time we took a walk on the wild side." However, she, Lisa, and Maggie end up going to a doorbell store to buy a doorbell that they install themselves, which plays The Carpenters' song "(They Long to Be) Close to You". Lisa wants to press the doorbell, but Marge insists that they should let visitors do the ringing first. Unfortunately, they barely get any visitors and they never get to ring for various reasons (Milhouse is trying to sell birdseeds, but is attacked by birds, some Jehovah's Witnesses were about to ring the doorbell when they reconsider their careers). Marge desperately tries to order garlic bread from Luigi's to get someone to ring the doorbell, but unfortunately the delivery man, who is Wiseguy, prefers to knock on the door and leaves when he hears that Marge is not interested in the garlic bread. Finally, Lisa gets fed up and rings the doorbell herself. However, the new doorbell starts to malfunction, playing the song over and over without stopping.
Meanwhile, Homer goes to get some pills that will keep him awake overnight. He takes an entire bottle of pep pills, followed by a bottle of sleeping pills to balance it out. In the truck, he alternates between being hyper to being drowsy until he finally falls asleep at the wheel, almost heading off a cliff. The next morning, he awakes to discover a secret: the truck drove by itself with its Navitron Autodrive system. He talks it over with other drivers, who inform him that he should not mention anything about the truck driving by itself. The truck's Autodrive system also helps keep itself safe. To demonstrate the system, Homer and Bart sit on the hood. A passing bus notices this, and Homer outright tells them about the autodrive system and its nature as a secret scam. Another truck driver notices this and informs the other truckers about the situation.
Back in Springfield, Marge tries to cut the wires to the doorbell, but discovers that Homer has once again traded her tools for M&M's. She decides to just pull one wire out, but made it worse by making the doorbell to speed up and amplify itself, disturbing the whole neighborhood.
Homer and Bart are enjoying themselves until an angry mob of truckers get in a showdown with Homer, and he survives without the help of the Autodrive system, which had ejected itself from the truck by managing to get the truck to jump over the others. The truckers briefly consider giving up scamming before deciding just to bootleg Beanie Babies. Homer and Bart finish the shipment of Artichokes and migrant workers by taking it to Atlanta, but they still need transport home. The Lord provides one, as a freight train full of napalm headed back to Springfield needs a driver (as the original driver had quit because he didn't want to deliver a train full of napalm to Springfield).
Back at the Simpson house, the doorbell's tune grows so annoying that an angry crowd has gathered. Chief Wiggum is about to shoot it until the doorbell store's mascot, Señor Ding Dong, uses his whip to silence the noise from the doorbell. Everyone in Springfield is thankful for him, and Señor Ding-Dong attempts to make a dramatic exit, but his Chevrolet van is malfunctioning and he is instead forced to ask for jumper cables and suddenly his van died.
"Maximum Homerdrive", originally called "Homer the Trucker", was written by staff writer John Swartzwelder and directed by Simpsons director Swinton O. Scott III. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on March 28, 1999. The meat-eating contest seen in the beginning of the episode was conceived by Simpsons writer Donick Cary during a story pitch-out, according to writer and executive producer Matt Selman. When rewriting the episode, the writing staff was divided into two groups, so that one group wrote the A-story, while the other wrote the B-story. After the second act, the writers were "stuck", as executive producer and former showrunner Mike Scully recalled in the DVD commentary for the episode. Eventually, staff writer and co-executive producer George Meyer pitched the idea that the truckers would have "a secret device, that actually did all the driving for them", called the Navitron Autodrive System.
In the season 10 deleted scenes where Homer turns on the radio listening to a song about a trucker who crashed his truck out on I-95, and one more where some of the truckers try to flatten Homer's truck. In order to animate Barclay's truck in "Maximum Homerdrive", Scott bought a model truck, which he also based the design of Barclay's truck on. According to storyboard consultant Mike B. Anderson, the trucks in the episode were very difficult to animate, as the Simpsons animators were still working with traditional cel animation at the time and did not have access to computer tools. In a scene in The Slaughterhouse, an employee is shown killing a number of cows with a captive bolt pistol, however the death of the cows are not shown. Originally, the writers wanted to show the cows being killed, however when Scott saw the scene in the storyboards, the Simpsons staff instead decided to make the deaths "indirect". During the meat eating contest, Homer becomes exhausted and sees two wine glass holding cows, who appear as "wavy" figures. In order to achieve the "wavy" effect, the Simpsons animators put a ripple glass on the cels and moved it around while shooting the scene. After the contest, Barclay dies of "beef poisoning". The Fox censors were uneasy with including any mention of "beef poisoning" in the episode, as talk show host Oprah Winfrey had recently been sued by "some Texas ranchers" for defaming the beef industry. In a scene in the episode, Homer buys a jar of "Stimu-Crank" pills in order to stay alert while driving during the night. He swallows all the pills at once, to the clerk's dismay. Homer replies, "No problem, I'll balance it out with a bottle of sleeping pills", and proceeds to swallow an entire jar's worth of sleeping pills. According to Scully, the censors had "a lot of trouble" with the scene, but it was included anyhow.
When Homer turns on the truck radio, the song "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls can be heard. Originally, a "trucker song" about "a horrible wreck out on old 95" would be heard. The song was a reference to the "Wreck of the Old 97", a famous locomotive that crashed in 1903 and inspired the country ballad of the same name. It was sung by main cast member Dan Castellaneta, included mentions of "scraping blood and guts off the road" and was eventually dropped because it was considered too gruesome by the staff. The song was later included as a deleted scene on The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season DVD box set. While eating dinner at Joe's Diner, "12 Bar Blues" by NRBQ (a band that Mike Scully was fond of) can be heard playing from a jukebox. According to producer Ian Maxtone-Graham, the doorbell tune in the episode "has a history with The Simpsons", as it is also Homer and Marge's wedding song. "Maximum Homerdrive" features the first appearance of Señor Ding-Dong, who is a recurring character in the series. He is portrayed by Castellaneta, the voice behind many characters. Red Barclay, the trucker who dies of "beef poisoning" in The Slaughterhouse, was portrayed by regular cast member Hank Azaria, who voices many characters in the series. Barclay's voice is slightly based on that of American actor Gary Busey. The two Jehovah's witnesses were portrayed by Pamela Hayden and Karl Wiedergott.
Themes and cultural references
In Voyages of Discovery: A Manly Adventure in the Lands Down Under, a book about adventuring and masculinity, Ken Ewell described "Maximum Homerdrive" as a "fine example" of "the poor man's lack of travel acumen". He wrote "Homer's usual ineptitude at first spells disaster for the duo, at least until they find out about the truck's auto-drive system. And though he promises to keep the device a secret, Homer can't keep his mouth shut, and so shamefully exposes to the world his un-manful behavior concerning the mates. So given that Homer once again learns absolutely nothing from his traveling experience, he can only take to heart the thoughts of the British writer Stephen Fry. 'At my age travel broadens the behind.'"
The decal on Homer's truck reads "Rex Rascal", a reference to American animator Tex Avery. In the steak restaurant, a photo of actor and comedian Tony Randall can be seen next to Barclay's photo. Homer's postcard, which reads "Wish you were her", shows a picture of American model Bettie Page. In the scene where Homer drives Barclay's truck into the convoy, Navitron Autodrive System says "I'm afraid I can't let you do this, Red. The risk is unacceptable." The line, as well as the Navitron Autodrive System's, is a reference to HAL 9000, the antagonist in the 1968 science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The episode also references media mogul Ted Turner, with a sign that reads "Atlanta: the home of Ted Turner's mood swings". The title of the episode references the infamous 1986 Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive, which was one of Simpsons cast member Yeardley Smith's first credited screen roles.
Release and reception
In its original American broadcast on March 28, 1999, "Maximum Homerdrive" received a 9.4 rating/15 percent share, according to Nielsen Media Research, meaning it was seen by 9.4 percent of the population and 15 percent of the people watching television at the time of its broadcast. Among adults between ages 18 and 49, the episode received a 7.8 rating/20 percent share, the strongest rating The Simpsons had in the demographic since "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken", which aired on January 17 the same year. Tom Bierbaum of Variety credited the boost in ratings to the premiere of Futurama, which aired after "Maximum Homerdrive", writing that "Sunday's Futurama preview energized Fox's entire lineup" that night. On August 7, 2007, "Maximum Homerdrive" was released as part of The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season DVD box set. Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Ron Hauge, Matt Selman, Swinton O. Scott III and Mike B. Anderson participated in the DVD's audio commentary of the episode.
Following its home video release, "Maximum Homerdrive" received mixed reviews from critics. James Plath of DVD Town described it as "funny," and Brian Tallerico of UGO Networks considered it to be one of the season's best episodes, describing it as having "some awesome road comedy." Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood of I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide gave the episode a positive review as well, writing "The life of the trucker, as made popular in C. W. McCall's 1976 hit single "Convoy", is brought to life here in all its glory. For once, Homer is in the right and you cannot help but cheer as the truckers spectacularly fail to stop him getting to Atlanta." They concluded by writing "A nice, bonding story for Homer and Bart which is diametrically opposed to the one featuring Marge and Lisa." On the other hand, giving the episode a more mixed review, Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide wrote "If nothing else, 'Homerdrive' takes unanticipated paths. The eating contest leads to a long truck drives leads to that 'shocking secret'. All of this means the show manages to become pretty unpredictable." However, he maintained that the episode is only "sporadically" funny, and that it "doesn’t ever excel in that department – at least not in terms of the trucker story." He enjoyed the episode's B-story more, because of its "absurdity", however he criticized the inclusion of Gil in the episode, calling the character "increasingly overused". Jake McNeill of Digital Entertainment News gave the episode a mixed review as well, writing that it "may have been a fairly decent episode but for the fact that something similar was done (and done better) on King of the Hill."
- Meyer, George. (2007). Commentary for "Maximum Homerdrive", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Selman, Matt. (2007). Commentary for "Maximum Homerdrive", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Scully, Mike. (2007). Commentary for "Maximum Homerdrive", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Scott III, Swinton O.. (2007). Commentary for "Maximum Homerdrive", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Anderson, Mike B. (2007). Commentary for "Maximum Homerdrive", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood. "Maximum Homerdrive". BBC. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
- Maxtone-Graham, Ian. (2007). Commentary for "Maximum Homerdrive", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Ewell 2004, p. 421
- Bierbaum, Tom (March 29, 1999). "Fox sees 'Futurama' and it works". Variety. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- "The Simpsons - The Complete 10th Season". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Plath, James (August 17, 2007). "Simpsons, The: The Complete 10th Season (DVD)". DVD Town. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
- Tallerico, Brian. "The Simpsons Season Ten DVD Review". UGO Networks. Archived from the original on 2009-02-07. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
- Jacobson, Colin (August 20, 2007). "The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season (1998)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
- MacNeill, Jake (September 25, 2007). "The Simpsons: Season 10". Digital Entertainment News. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
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