Nowhere does The Simpson’s cynicism look more bleak and unhappy than in the prospect of aging. Grampa Simpson has been presented as a bitter, miserable old man who is treated as a nuisance whenever he’s obligated into family affairs and forgotten the rest of the time; something revisited in the opening sequence of this episode when the family drops him off after a visit and leaves him behind, causing him to rant (as he frequently does throughout the episode) about society’s treatment of old people. This episode lets us see things almost entirely from his point of view, when he falls in love with another resident.
Specifically, he falls in love with Bea, voiced by Audrey Meadows. Some of the humour in this segment doesn’t fully land because it starts feeling cruel – Meadows brings kindhearted dignity to Bea, making jokes like “I’m not staring, that’s my lazy eye” feel kind of painful compared to the literal cartoon character of Grampa, because that’s an actual sextegenarian speaking.
Anyway, Bea’s birthday comes up and Grampa plans on spending the day with her, but this is foiled when the Simpsons, guilty that they never enjoy spending time with Grampa, decide to take him to a drive-thru safari to see lions. Any other day, he’d at least reluctantly go along with things,but today he practically begs not to leave. Predictably, Homer pulls everyone into trouble when, bored by the placid animals, he drives off the trail beeping his horn, attracting lions and trapping the family. By the time Grampa gets home, he discovers Bea passed away, and he’s so upset he missed her last moments that he tears Homer a new one and declares he has no son.
As he nurses his broken heart, he finds out that Bea left him her entire fortune of $106,000, and from there the plot shifts and reveals the morality of the show. At first, Abe is ecstatic, calling Homer to taunt him with the fortune he’ll refuse to share with his son, and he goes out to spend his money on whatever fun he can – except, he can’t find anything that satisfies him. Right from the start, for all its cynicism and for all the characters are lazy, terrible people, The Simpsons has observed that nothing is as fulfilling as being a good person; Bea appears to Abe in a vision and says essentially that.
Abe goes to the Simpson home to reconcile with Homer (though not to give him the money), and announce that he’s going to look around town for someone who really needs and deserves Bea’s money, spawning a Cindarella-style plot. This is one of the earliest examples of the show’s worldbuilding paying off – not only is it hilarious seeing the montage of secondary and tertiary characters meeting Abe, it’s hilarious just seeing them line up and imagining how they’d plead their case to him.
It concludes with Lisa observing that nobody deserves the money, outlaying the systemic problems that can’t be fixed by giving one person money, before immediately undercutting it by asking for a pony. Unfortunately, her good speech resonated with Abe; he goes for a walk to see society’s ills, and is dispirited that a hundred thousand isn’t enough to fix any of these problems that he decides to go gambling to increase his fund. Homer, trying to reconcile properly with Abe, discovers this, and it becomes a race against time as he tries to stop Abe from losing all the money.
Homer only just prevents Abe from losing all the money on one bet, and this is enough to repair their relationship; sitting and looking at his peers getting sadly back on the bus, Abe decides to invest the money in the retirement home, in order to make life better for one small group of people. It’s another example of the show permanently changing some small bit of status quo in the early run, creating the town we know and love today.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not grease the monkey bars.
Couch Gag: The family runs in to find Grampa napping on the couch, and he wakes with a start.
This episode was written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky and directed by David Silverman, who makes any of Homer’s screams 10x funnier – he also renders Abe’s hands in a slightly creepy amount of detail as he contemplates what to do with his money. Bea and Abe taking their pills is a reference to Tom Jones. Darth Vader and the Joker line up for Grampa’s money. Abe sits in a cafe that references the painting Nighthawks. Abe quotes Rupyard Kipling’s poem “If”. The ending is a reference to the end of If I Had A Million.
Famously, Groening didn’t want to name Grampa after his own dad the way he named the Simpsons after his family, so he left it up to the writers, who ended up accidentally giving Abraham Simpson almost the same name as Abram Groening.
The end credits actually list who voices who, responding to requests from fans.
First Appearances: Professor Frink, Old Jewish Guy