The Simpsons, Season Four, Episode Six, “Itchy And Scratchy: The Movie”

Usually, when I think of heartwarming Simpsons relationships, I think of Homer/Lisa, then Homer/Marge, then Bart/Lisa. And usually, my line for Homer and Bart’s relationship is that where Homer and Lisa don’t understand each other, Homer and Bart understand each other a little too well. To my surprise and delight, this episode explores that to a really great degree. What brings Homer and Bart together is that both are very impulsive and hedonistic, and what separates them is that Homer has a big, sensitive heart where Bart is cunning; we see that in the opening act, when Homer takes the easier and nicer route of listening to Miss Hoover say nice things about Lisa, while Bart is at home pulling pranks with Grampa’s teeth (I didn’t say it was particularly sophisticated cunning). And we see how this creates a really unhealthy dynamic between them – it breaks Homer’s heart to make Bart go to bed without supper, and Bart can so easily manipulate Homer out of punishing him. In this episode, Bart really reminds me of Jeff Winger’s observation that when he was a kid, he learned he could make anything true by putting the right words in the right order; Bart shows us a kid only just figuring that out.

It’s only when Homer’s weak will leads to Maggie somehow crashing the family car into a prison wall that he sees what needs to be done. Bart’s punishment – that he can’t watch the Itchy & Scratchy movie – isn’t really something that could be done today, what with DVDs and Blu-Rays and streaming and such; Bart’s enterprising enough that he’d find a way around it. But I’d guess that kids today could still recognise Bart’s suffering, cut off from his peers and knowing that he’s missing out. Frankly, I’m as awed by Homer’s commitment as Marge and Lisa are. Maybe it’s that, while Homer can be impulsive, when he listens to his heart he’s an unstoppable force, and his problem is he doesn’t do that enough. Homer gives a little speech about Bart’s potential (“If I fail, the best he could do is judge at a Mr Tight Buns Competition.”) that strikes me as a precursor to Homer’s “Gamblor” monologue; equal parts hilarious and moving, with both aspects coming from Homer (and Dan Castellanetta)’s sincerity.

This episode doesn’t really climax, but then this wasn’t a story that really escalated in a traditional sense; it was just a matter of waiting out the clock, and the conclusion is about Homer and Bart reconciling. We jump forward forty years (with a futuristic aesthetic that feels, obviously, like a rough draft for Futurama), and see that, impossibly, Homer and Bart both made it, with Bart actually becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Homer deciding to take him to a showing of Itchy And Scratchy: The Movie. When I was a kid, Bart actually becoming Chief Justice seemed too cute, and to an extent it is, but the overall mood of that flashforward feels too true to me to quibble. I see my own current relationship with my father in this scene; Bart feels like he’s genuinely reconciled himself to his childhood and to Homer, and it’s nice. Plus, “Itchy’s a jerk,” seems like the exact kind of thing my dad would say when watching a movie I liked.

In less emotional content, delving into Itchy & Scratchy gives the crew room to round out some “I&S is a parody of all animation everywhere” jokes. Somehow, the violence is even funnier when applied to the early animation style of Disney, but I absolutely love the “That Happy Cat” cartoon, weaving together the pop culture nerdery with the ability to make boring things hilarious. I also love that the animators went to the effort of animating in the style of old cartoons; that extra level of commitment is both hilarious and what draws me into this show.

I want to finish up with something I don’t normally do: analysing a joke beat by beat. I don’t like to directly quote the show in these writeups, because I figure half the fun of commenting is dropping quotes and because there’s nothing less funny than overanalysing comedy, but I absolutely love this exchange:

“What are we gonna have?”
“Well, that depends on what your teachers say. If you’ve been good, pizza. If you’ve been bad, uh… poison.”
“What if one of us has been good and one of us has been bad?”
“Poison pizza.”
“Oh, no, I’m not making two stops!”

It’s one of those comic sequences where half the reason it’s so funny is because you can follow the character’s thought process to an absurd place. We have to eat something, and we’ll obviously get the kids pizza if they’ve been good, and we have to get something bad if they’ve been bad, so, uhh… poison. Lisa asks the logical question, Bart gives the logical answer. All of this is pretty straightforward and conventional; Homer’s final capper there is what makes it brilliant because he takes two concepts to their logical conclusion – both the absurd premise we’re playing with, and the basic Dad Logic of not wasting time, energy, and gas.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not bury the new kid.

Couch Gag: The family sit on the couch, only for it to deflate.

This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Rich Moore. Best visual of this episode is a hungry Bart looking at Santa’s Little Helper, imagining his face as a pizza box and his tongue as a slice. The Korean animators at Rough Draft Korea were genuinely insulted by the Korean animators joke in this episode.

I’ve said before that this show is one of the strongest influences on this generation’s language, and here we get one really great example of it. There’s a shot of a guy lining up for the movie, only to fall in a river; as he falls, he shouts “I regret nothing!” which has fallen into cliche now. There’s an offhand injoke about Dustin Hoffman and Michael Jackson’s ‘secret’ cameos in that they apparently appear in the <i>Itchy & Scratchy</i> film under psuedonyms.

In light of the recent controversy of the Washington Redskins and their extremely racist name and logo (as well as the more general exploration of problematic media), the Native American Ice Cream van has only become funnier.

Two random things in this episode: a throwaway shot of Willie, decked out in a kilt, sighing. And Lisa cheerfully yelling “We got beets!” when she gets home with Marge from the store.

The episode opens with a parody of the later Star Trek films. Steamboat Itchy is, obviously a parody of Steamboat Willie. Homer listens to “Yummy Yummy Yummy” by The Ohio Express instead of watching the moon landing. In the flashforward, a man orders some Soylent Green. There’s also a ship that looks like a landspeeder from Star Wars.

First Appearances: Bubblebee Man! Even to this day, I have never seen the Mexican sitcoms he parodies.
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