The Simpsons, Season Four, Episode Nine, “Mr Plow”

Well, here we are, an all-timer episode that has some of the most quoted lines in the show. “Mr Plow” doesn’t reach for any particular satirical or emotional heights, but everything in it snaps together; the underlying plot functional enough that all different kinds of jokes can be built on top of it. We’re dealing with another “Homer gets a job” plot, and just as before it’s a perfectly logical flow of events – Homer accidentally destroys the family’s two cars, and once again a salesman talks him into something with the cheapest tricks possible, causing him to buy a plow truck (“What, you think I’ll buy a twenty thousand dollar truck just because you keep making that noise?”), and he starts the business in part to pay for the truck – in fact, it’s slightly more logical than most, because it’s mostly plausible that Homer could plow people’s driveways on top of his regular full-time job.

It’s when Barney, intrigued by a pep talk from Homer, decides to flagrantly steal his idea and buy a bigger truck, and the story leisurely saunters into emotional content. Barney’s shift into evil is inexplicable – you could argue it’s repressed rage for Homer being the one to introduce Barney to alcohol, but I don’t get that vibe – but works for me as an example of someone drunk on success and competition; Barney going at a cardboard cutout of Homer with a baseball bat is hilarious. When Homer reaches the end of his rope and sends him on to a snowy mountain to get revenge, it makes sense; when Homer realises he may have doomed his friend and sets out to rescue him, it makes sense; when Homer and Barney reconcile and decide to go into business together, only for God to respond to their “Not even God himself can stop us!” taunt by melting the snow, it, um, makes sense. This is the kind of emotion that’s less heartwarming and more nodded knowingly at.

The really interesting thing to me is that there is a lot of meat to this episode, it’s just spread out and disconnected. It’s the middle ground between the strong emotional plotting of something like “Lisa’s Pony” and the anarchic but thematically connected riffing of “Homer At The Bat” – the riffing is connected to whatever the plot’s about right now. My favourite scene of the episode is Homer’s terrible first commercial, an on-point parody of local commercials that make up some skit to sell themselves; the family badly acting out the defeat of Old Man Winter (as played by Grampa), only for reality to keep popping through (“You are fully licensed and bonded by the city, right, Mr Plow?” “Shut up, boy.”). But there’s also room for some character jokes, like Homer thinking the key to the city was made of chocolate, some genuine absurdity like Barney apparently knowing Linda Ronstadt (“We’ve been looking for a project to do together for a while!” is the perfect punchline to that), all the way up to some sharp satirical observations – I’m sure there was someone writing up on the expectations women are held to, got about two thousand words in, turned on their TV, saw “Do you come with the car?”, and threw their hat to the floor, stamping on it comically.

I find myself wondering if this approach is part of what lead to The Simpsons’ wild success. Coming back to how I started this project, asking how an eight year old Australian boy could enjoy a satire of the American family, I had no idea who Linda Ronstadt was, or what the greenhouse effect was, or anything about women having to laugh at men’s jokes regardless of how funny they were; those jokes could fly over my head, and I could laugh at the mountain goat falling down, or Homer declaring that the waiting game sucks (“Let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos!”), or Krusty getting attacked by tigers (perfect timing on that gag) and underneath all that I could easily follow the story of Homer and Barney in competition over plowing. The Simpsons succeeded because it had something for everybody.

Chalkboard Gag: A burp is not an answer.
Couch Gag: The couch is replaced by a tiny wooden chair.

This episode was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Jim Reardon. Vitti was inspired by how few TV shows show snow outside of holiday specials. Originally, Lenny was going to be Homer’s rival. The joke about Homer using a radio dial to rebalance his truck was a late contribution by Conan O’Brien. The direction for this episode is outstanding; I have so many moment in my notes, from Homer drinking a giant jar of brine to Bart getting assaulted by snowballs to Homer’s mouth being animated extremely strangely when he calls up Barney and lies to him. This kind of deranged animation was less common later in the Golden Era and would disappear entirely as the show’s entertainment value did.

Adam West cameos this episode, and he was one of the most popular guest stars; his work here lays a lot of the groundwork for his later role on Family Guy.

This is only Sea Captain’s second appearance, and already they’ve found something completely different and hilarious to do with him!

As with the Indian Burial Ground cliche, The Simpsons didn’t invent “I’m [x] and I’m here to say” as a cliche rap line, but it is argued as pushing it into the mainstream, and I would argue it did invent it as a line for old white guys trying to sound cool.

Homer’s drive through the mountains to rescue Barney is a reference to Sorcerer. Kent Brockman’s manner of reporting Barney’s disappearance is a reference to Walter Cronkite reporting the Kennedy shooting. Homer’s second Mr Plow commercial is a reference to a perfume commercial that aired at the time of writing, with further references to Koyaanisqati and Norma. Homer’s “Mr Plow” jingle is a parody of the Roto-Rooter jingle. The episode opens with a parody of Circus Of The Stars. Barney’s descent into drunkenness is a parody of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. Bart’s snowball assault is a reference to The Godfather. Two snowmen melting is a reference to Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

First Appearances: N/A
Biggest Laugh: