The Simpsons, Season Three, Episode Twenty-Four, “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?”

Season three finishes off with a bang! None of the past few episodes of have been bad, but this episode feels like it shifted up a gear in energy; I don’t know whether the crew wanted to save their best for last, were excited to finish off the season, or were just happy to have Herb and Danny DeVito back – most probably, it’s all three. On paper, the story is still a bit slight – the essential beats are basically “Homer wins an award and money, Herb sees this in the paper and comes back to borrow money to get his fortune back, Herb gets his fortune back” – but the gags are so fast, fresh, and funny that it’s less slight and more breezy, which if anything is a nice counterpoint to the heaviness of the story beats we do have.

The two protagonists of this episode are Homer and Herb, and within this episode they each carry one half of the show’s viewpoint on the American Dream. As I’ve said many times, the show’s view isn’t so much liberal as it is a bitter conservative, looking at what the nuclear family and hard work and religion have cost us (I’m Australian, so this is, I dunno, the royal us) and wishing it didn’t have to be quite this difficult. Herb represents the show’s idealism, proclaiming just as he did before that this is America, where a smart, savvy, hardworking person should be able to earn their way to the top, and i think it’s a significant part of the show’s viewpoint that they couldn’t bear to leave him on a down note and had to bring him back so he could do that.

On the other hand, we have Homer. He gets a line that I think is one of his most significant in terms of understanding his character and how he fits into the show’s views: “There’s an empty spot I’ve always had inside me. I tried to fill it with family, religion, community service, but those were dead ends. I think this chair is the answer.”. Homer, at his happiest, is not fulfilled by the American Dream. He’s not smart, savvy, or hardworking; aside from his big heart, he has none of the qualities required to be a good parent or provider, and everyone, including him, suffers because he has to try and fit that role. But he’s also a highly sympathetic protagonist and became an iconic American character; while the show never minimises his bad choices in life, it also contextualises him within the broader society he lives in. Just as Bart and Lisa are failed by their school, Homer and Marge are failed by America.

But like I said, this is a breezy episode, so all this shit is an emotional undercurrent to the show that keeps building up and peaking out in episodes like this; part of what set off my chain of thought there was how Homer is preoccupied with a drinking bird toy that Herb initially uses as an example in a presentation – two things consistently crack me up: Homer’s fantasy world, and Homer obsessing over something trite or silly. The first act of the episode that explains how Homer got the money also has a lot of Mr Burns, who responds to the discovery that Homer has a low sperm count due to working in the plant by giving him a phony award; Burns’ sheer outrage by the existence of his lawyers gives us some prime Burns animation, and the last act of the episode is more preoccupied with Herb’s baby translator invention.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not fake seizures.
Couch Gag: The family cartwheel onto the couch before posing.

This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Rich Moore, and Moe buying Marge’s old washer and dryer so he can bet on racing them must be a Swartzwelder joke. Part of the reason the energy kicks up this episode is because it was actually made during season four. The script was originally much longer, due to all the invention ideas the writers had. Originally, there was a joke about predicting the breakup of the Soviet Union that was scrapped when the Soviet Union really did break up. One scene has wildly terrible lip sync, which is because it was lifted from another episode in order to explain the plot.

The title of the episode is a reference to “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime”. One of the bums who hangs out with Herb invented New Coke. When Homer sits in the Spinemelter 2000, he hallucinates images from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Homer remembers watching the famous “Who Shot JR?” scene from Dallas, the Hands Across America charity event, and the fall of the Berlin Wall before (speaking of Homer being preoccupied with trite and silly things) switching it to Gomer Pyle. Herb giving each of the Simpson family a gift references The Wizard Of Oz. Joe Frazier appears as himself.

First Appearances: N/A
Biggest Laugh:

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“That was a well-plotted piece of non-claptrap that never made me want to retch!” – Season Three Overview

There’s no doubt that, once again, this season was a massive improvement on the last on levels comical, emotional, and thematic; everyone involved knows exactly what they’re doing for each character now. And yet, it still feels slightly short of the Golden years of the show. Despite the clear moral outlook, the specifics of this strange world we inhabit haven’t quite settled – while the four-fingered freaks at the centre of the show are already perfect, we’re not at the point where Springfield is a (dys)functional society. We have a few characters who can hold their own – Mr Burns, Ned Flanders, Krusty the Clown, Moe, to an extent Principal Skinner and Mrs Krabappel – but aside from Mr Burns, even these people are still defined by their relationship to the main characters; we can’t do something like “22 Short Films About Springfield”, because few of these people have individual goals or lives.

But this isn’t a criticism of season three, more of an observation about how far the show would go. On its own, this season is an incredible achievement that anyone could only dream of equalling, balancing absurdity, intelligence, and heart in a way that adds up to something totally unique. I still believe that seasons four through eight represent the show’s Golden years, but (and I’m building off a comment made by beloved commentor Ruck Cohlchez back in season one) seasons one through three are when the show developed the language the Golden era would speak in, putting together the world and symbols and moral outlook the show would take. It’s been a pleasure learning and growing alongside The Simpsons, and it’ll be a pleasure moving forward into season four.