A lot of the time this early, I’ll be watching episodes I’ve never seen before. Once we reach season four, that will definitely pass, but for now I’ll still be seeing a few for the first time, including “Dancin’ Homer”.
The episode opens with Homer moping in a bar, and despite his protest that the only way he could be any sadder is being “that guy in bar talking about his problems”, they talk him into telling his story. It begins at the “Nuclear Plant Employee, Spouses, And No More Than Three Children Night”, where Mr Burns pays for his staff and their families to see the Springfield Isotopes play. A strong sense of failure hangs over the sequence – Burns’ half-assed attempts to make nice, the mediocre quality of too-young and too-old players, a baseball player whose star has fallen that rudely turns away from Bart’s request for an autograph but happily hits on Marge.
We get a great sequence where Homer is disappointed to see Mr Burns sit next to him, meaning he can’t make an absolute ass of himself in public, only to be delighted when Burns instigates his own boorish behaviour. We also get an early example of Burns’ sing-song voice AND the writers giving him archaic references due to his age, with Burns dropping references to Connie Mack and Pie Traynor.
When the Isotopes fall behind, Homer is irritated by the poor spirit of the audience, and starts dancing to get them going, which inspires the batter to kick a game-winning goal (I know nothing about baseball). This gets him banned from any more company outings, but gets him a small amount of fame (great Homer detail in that he modestly attributes some of the success to the batter) and also draws the attention of the Isotopes’ owner, who offers him the chance to be the team’s mascot.
From here, we have a fairly straightforward rise-to-fame montage (which includes the meta joke of Marge marvelling at a Simpson being on a t-shirt), parodying sports montages by putting the mascot front and centre. It builds up to the ‘Topes losing a game, and Homer is brought up to see the owner. At first, he believes he’s being fired, but then he discovers he’s actually been given an offer by the Capital City team. He discusses this with his family, and surprisingly it’s the kids who argue against and Marge who argues for; ultimately, they all come together to support Homer.
The family all say their goodbyes – strangest in retrospect is Flanders seeing their moving out garage sale and not complaining that any of the stuff is his, favourite is Lisa observing “I can’t help but think that if we’d gotten to know each other,my leaving might actually have meant something”. Homer gets a goodbye speech to the Isotopes, and the utterly serious presentation of the absurdity reduces me to tears of laughter – something about the echo of Homer’s voice makes it seem extra Important.
The Simpsons get to Capital City in a big, silly montage, with Tony Bennet cameoing as himself, singing a love letter to the city. It’s a parody of every “small towners see the big city for the first time” montage you’ve seen in movies, happily showing us the grit and filth of big cities. As he goes to sleep in the motel, Homer is racked by nerves that only get worse. The next day, as he leaves his family for work (Bart feels genuine respect for Homer for once), he meets the Capital City Goofball, who acts as mentor for Dancin’ Homer.
Homer finally gets his chance, and that’s when the episode kind of falls down. I said back in “Simpson and Delilah” that Mr Burns offering Homer his old job back came off less as status-quo reinforcement and more as a character beat; obviously, Homer was going to end up going home, but his utter failure to impress anybody in the climax of this episode comes off as forced. Homer doesn’t really make a mistake, and his failure isn’t really set up in any meaningful way (although it does get in the great line “It was so quiet, you could hear each individual smartass remark!”).
Homer finishes his story, and ends up taking comfort in the fact that his fellow barflies are impressed by his story. It’s kind of a halfassed ending – the whole bar framing device was a contribution of James L Brooks when the writers couldn’t figure out how to end the story, and it doesn’t have the pure hilarity of the other times the writers halfassed things.
Chalkboard Gag: “I will not trade pants with others”
Couch Gag: Maggie pops out of Marge’s hair
This episode was written by Kevin Levine and David Issacs, and was directed by Mark Kirkland. Levine had worked as a baseball announcer before writing for The Simpsons, and worked his inside baseball knowledge into the episode. Characters were based on his friends and the look of the episode came from him. Tony Bennet guest stars as himself, and Tom Poston guest stars as the Capital City Goofball.
The episode is based on baseball fan Wild Bill Hagy. Homer’s farewell speech is a reference to the film The Pride Of The Yankees. “Capital City” is a parody of “New York, New York”.
Two days after this episode aired, I was born. I’ll get off your lawn if you get my damn frisbee.
First Appearances: Springfield Isotopes, Capital City, a guest star playing themselves, Capital City Goofball, Duff Brewery