This isn’t a great episode. Granted, it doesn’t have Lady GaGa in it, but it’s clearly from early in the production schedule, almost a holdover from the first season – in fact, with both the many references to earlier episodes and the very kid-like perspective, it’s almost a conscious throwback. The plot is pretty simple. Santa’s Little Helper is ill-trained, and Homer and Marge lay an ultimatum: If he doesn’t pass obedience school, he’s to be given away. The main runtime is given over to riffing on the various traits of the family, and the upside is also a downside: these characters are well-established enough now that everyone is perfectly in-character, but most of those riffs are basically a dry run for other, better jokes.
When the show started, Matt Groening set the rule that animals must act like real animals. This episode actually does benefit from that, because it shows the exact feeling of being a dim, well-intentioned kid who owns a dim, well-intentioned dog, unable to properly train the animal and clueless of how to do it. Homer, jealous of Flanders, buys a pair of $125 shoes, only to see SLH chew them up, and pretty much all the jokes involved make me think of other, better spins on the same joke that the show would do later – there’s a gag where he imagines Flanders telling him to buy the shoes, bringing to mind both “Nothin’ at all! Nothin’ at all! Nothin’ at all!” and “Homer, I insist that you steal that car.”.
Lisa, meanwhile, catches the mumps, and this is the part of the plot that works the best. We get typical jokes of Bart’s befuddlement at Lisa wanting to get her homework (“Lisa, you wasted the chicken pox. Don’t waste the mumps.”), but much better we get Marge comforting Lisa by showing her the Bouvier family quilt. It’s the sort of thing that I doubt you’d see much of these days, but fits perfectly in for Marge, and it adds some stakes to the story when Lisa learns how to stitch from her, adds her own section to the quilt that fits perfectly in with her personality, suffers loss when SLH tears it up, and creates meaning when Lisa decides to stick up for SLH anyway.
(It also has a really good E.T. gag)
Unfortunately, the weakest section of the story is it’s whole reason for existence. Bart and SLH’s obedience school lands pretty flat, even with a guest appearance from Tracey Ullman as the teacher. The show’s dedication to SLH being a real dog leads to showing POV shots, in black and white and with gibberish in place of the words. When we get down to the wire, SLH randomly hears the gibberish as proper words and obeys; this is, frankly, a pissweak ending. If Bart had learned how to properly train SLH, it’d be one thing, but this is a TV magic solution that the show normally makes fun of, and it feels like a betrayal to have a solution fall out of the sky like this.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not sell school property.
Couch Gag: The family successfully sits down.
This episode was written by John Vitti and directed by Jim Reardon. Dr Hibbert’s home is a reference to The Cosby Show. The shoes Homer buys are a reference to Nike Air Jordans. Lisa and Marge reference E.T. when Marge shows her what a calloused finger looks like. There’s a reference to Predator for the first time when we see from SLH’s POV. The obedience school sorts its dogs into categories based on famous dogs, with poor SLH sorted into “Cujo”. The ending is a reference to Animal House, yet another joke the show would improve on.
There’s also a charming scene where Homer buys Lisa magazines to get her through the mumps. “How many of these boys are named Corey?”
First Appearances: N/A