The Simpsons: Season 20 Premiere

For its 20th season premiere, The Simpsons takes aim at all the big targets: bounty hunting, the IRA, and erotic baking. These topics don’t make much sense together, but that’s not the point. The Simpsons has become a shaggy, genial grab-bag of parodies. The incoherence is part of the fun.

Our main storyline finds Homer and Ned teaming up as bounty hunters, a plot that allows them to explore their opposites-attracting friendship. Homer gets arrested for fighting at Springfield’s St. Patrick’s Day parade — an event that turns into a riot because it is alcohol-free.

The episode uses the occasion to skewer Irish stereotypes. There’s a “Small Irish Family” float with tons of kids and two tired parents on it, a “Straight Catholic Priests” float featuring only two priests, a float of the boy who looks most like a potato, a paddy wagon, and a Catholic versus Protestant smack-down involving warring leprechauns (not to mention the Hulk and the Thing). The best moment comes in Lisa’s explanation to Bart that “It always comes down to transubstantiation versus consubstantiation.”

Amid all the “folk dancing where you don’t move your arms,” Homer joins in the brawling by impetuously kicking both the Hulk and the Thing. He has make a $25,000 bail (this isn’t is first arrest) and so turns to the seedy world of bail bondsmen, specifically Lucky Jim (voiced by Joe Mantegna).

You guessed it: the episode here takes on Dog the Bounty Hunter. Homer learns from the menacing “Wolf,” a dead ringer for the A&E reality star, that there are really no requirements for being a bounty hunter. An ordinary citizen chases people he has no business chasing, claims the right to arrest them, and gets paid, to boot. Wolf reveals that the on-line course that was once required has been dropped. Now you only have to pay a $10 licensing fee to get in on the action. He also explains his jewelry. His necklace looks to be made of teeth, but they’re really just the molds he makes of teeth belonging to captured bail jumpers.

While he can’t match that wardrobe, Homer does decide to become a bounty hunter and places himself in immediate danger when he tries to corner bail jumper Snake and his pregnant girlfriend (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and ends up on the wrong end of Snake’s gun. No surprise, he runs into more trouble when he goes into the bounty hunter business with Ned Flanders, leading to Homer’s experimentation with tasers and Ned’s warbling of Christian covers of ACDC songs during their stakeouts (“Kindly deeds and they’re done for free!”).

As they bicker like an old married couple, Homer playing burly bad cop and Ned the good, Homer declares that together, they make “the perfect bounty hunter.” When at last Homer is forced to jump bail himself, an elaborate action sequence gleefully parodies an array of 2008’s summer blockbusters, most memorably The Dark Knight and Wanted.

While Homer is learning how much he really does care for Flanders (and tasers), he also comes to care more about Marge. Always on the look-out for self-fulfillment opportunities, she meets a handsome Irish baker at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Patrick Farrelly (Robert Forster) wears green, has floppy dark hair and blue eyes, and seduces Marge with his Irish brogue. Having saved her from a band of Irish street urchins after her cupcakes, he convinces her to come bake for him at “Au Naturel.” She is, in a word, the new star artiste for an erotic bakery, inciting Homer’s realization what those “extra long twinkies” really are.

On The Simpsons, anything can inspire wicked wit, and the additive nature of the proceedings makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. As always, parsing the non-stop pop culture references is wonderful fun.

RATING 7 / 10