Israel has survived a great many things – and last night, the country survived the arrival of the Simpsons, as that long-running show aired “The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed.”
To get the Simpsons to Israel, it took a Flanders – Homer’s religious Christian neighbor who was going to the Holy Land with his Bible study group. Homer was less than enthused: “Hmm, let me think: take my family to a war zone, on a bus with religious lame-o’s, in a country with no pork, in a desert with no casino…” but Marge was so touched by Flanders’ offer that she decided they were going.
The show deployed a barrage of sight gags, including the Israel Airlines plane running over a glass as it landed (“mazal tov!” I shouted while the airport crew shouted “l’chayim!”), a hotel named the “Wailing Waldorf,” a gutter cleaner who’s fiddling on the roof, and an airport strip club called “The Gaza Strip.”
As someone who’s been to Israel over a dozen times and has family there, I found a few of the moments a bit uncomfortable – the sign over baggage claim, “Israel: Your American tax dollars at work” in particular caused a cringe, especially in light of recent relations between Israel and the Obama Administration. The relativity of sanctity – well parodied by many a cartoon in the past – is pointed out when the guide talks about Jesus as “the man in the underpants,” going on to ramble about how beautiful his underwear was (that’s in Hebrew), and how Jesus had both great abs and hair (“conditioner, I think so,” the guide muses).
Purists might point out inconsistencies between the reality of Israel and how the sites are presented in the episode. For instance, there’s no way that the whole trip – men and women together – could have been that close to the Western Wall all together, because the Wall plaza is gender-separated. And the idea of uniting Jews, Christians and Muslims at the Dome of the Rock…well, it’s probably never been tried before for a reason.
I don’t really want to be overly picky in analyzing an episode of the Simpsons. But big props to the Simpsons team for the following highlights:
- NOT using “Hava Nagila” as the music for the plane’s arrival. “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem” is much better, both thematically and because it’s not as overused and cliche.
- Sacha Baron Cohen as the tour guide was key – the man is funny, speaks Hebrew and knows Israeli accents. His “everyman” tour guide was so true-to-life (and really, the accent so spot on) that he had me at shalom. A little much? The “please, shut your face” that punctuates the guide’s presentations to the group.
- Although Flanders makes fun of Homer for taking pictures of funny soda cans (“Diet Brisket Soda”), the reality of visiting Israel is that there are many funny products to photograph.
- It was an interesting choice to focus on Homer and his family, as well as Flanders and his faith, instead of Krusty, the token Jew of Springfield.
This show has been around for a long time – not as long as the Bible, but many comedy scribes and cartoonists find inspiration in the Simpsons the way others find inspiration in sacred texts. Which may prompt a larger discussion of what sacred is, and where inspiration comes from.
I’m curious how Christian and Muslim viewers felt about this episode. Anyone want to weigh in?
Wishing Jewish readers a meaningful Passover.