The Simpsons, Season Three, Episode Twenty-Two, “The Otto Show”

Well, we couldn’t maintain a high forever. Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide said episodes from the end of a season tended to be a little more tired and strained because they came at the end of a production cycle when the crew are most creatively exhausted; I don’t necessarily agree, especially when the show gets into season four and beyond, but I wonder if that’s what happened here. On the other hand, it could also simply be an experiment that didn’t really pay off, because as the title implies, this is an episode that puts Otto in the centre, and it’s an unfortunate discovery that he can’t really carry an episode by himself.

The episode takes the long way around to get to Otto, though unlike older (and even post-Classic) efforts, there’s at least a thematic link to what happens later – Bart goes to his first rock concert, Spinal Tap (of which Simpsons cast member Harry Shearer is a part). This section brilliantly fuses the humour of both our show and Spinal Tap, capturing the spirit of the movie while expressing it in specifically Simpsons terms – the dialogue and situations are more carefully crafted but absolutely seem like they would be in the movie (“Goodnight, Springden. There will be no encores.”). It sets off an arc for Bart, as well, when he decides after the concert that he wants to be a rock star, and Homer and Marge buy him a guitar.

Now, the obvious payoff is this is that when Otto loses his job as bus driver and moves in with the Simpsons, he teaches Bart how to play guitar and proves his worth by, I dunno, getting in a band and somehow applying that kind of thinking to bus driving (I know that’s kind of Nickelodeon sitcom, but work with me here), and when the show doesn’t go for that in favour of riffing on Otto’s terrible behaviour and having him succeed based on Patty’s hatred of Homer, it doesn’t come off subversive so much as half-assed. The closest it comes to this is Homer’s heartwarming moment of proudly telling Bart that hard things aren’t worth doing, which is the best part of the episode.

The problem, story-wise, is that Otto is just not that interesting, and he doesn’t really spur any interesting development in our four-fingered freaks – he starts the episode a dumb slacker and ends it one. Skinner gets a short appearance, and it’s a more fun emotional journey than the entire Otto plot – after suspending Otto, he decides to take on the job himself, citing his Vietnam experience, only to find himself crumbling in the face of the reality and coming to appreciate Otto’s existence at the end. The closest Otto comes to spurring interesting development is revealing that Bart considers him the coolest adult he knows, quietly making Otto a potential future for Bart.

If this all feels pedantic, it, um, probably is, but my standards for this show when it comes to storytelling have been heightened the further we go in. This episode feels like a weaker season two effort; coming back to my earlier observation, I don’t think this was late int he production cycle, I think it was very early in it. With time, The Simpsons would grow more confident and able.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not spin the turtle.
Couch Gag: The dog, already lying on the couch, growls as the family approaches.

This episode was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Wes Archer. The execs were annoyed at having Spinal Tap appear, feeling they could have gotten ‘a real band’ for the same amount of money.

Homer discovers a can of Billy Beer in an old jacket, and sings along to “Spanish Flea” and “Summer Samba” in the car while at the concert. Homer negatively compares Otto to the Fonz (“Heeeeey, Mr S!”). Otto plays “Freebird”.

There’s a transphobic joke that comes so close to working. For my money, characters trying to be socially aware and failing is funny (especially with Otto); taking it for granted that comparisons to trans people are insulting is not.

First Appearances: Milhouse getting shat on by the narrative when Homer forgets him and leaves him under a pile of chairs, which nearly made my biggest laugh.
Biggest Laugh: