The Simpsons, Season Four, Episode Fourteen, “Brother From The Same Planet”

As we work through what I consider the Golden era of the show – seasons four through eight – we’re gonna see episodes that are controversial, and we’re gonna see episodes that I personally find difficult to watch because the emotional content hits a particular nerve, and we’re gonna see episodes where I don’t personally care for the concept of the story being told (though I thought “Selma’s Choice” would be one of those). But this is the only episode in that entire five season run that I’ll find outright bad beyond the matter of personal taste. Technically, this episode alone knocks season four out of my definition of Golden; all I can say is that it’s a good example of how bad Simpsons is better than every other show, because there are too many brilliant, classic moments to dismiss the episode entirely.

Conceptually, the episode is a really great idea, centering itself around Homer and Bart’s relationship. It even finds a new spin on it, being set off by Bart’s frustration when Homer is typically thoughtless and forgets to pick him up after soccer (as opposed to, say, Homer kicking things off with the realisation he’s a bad father with Bart not even thinking about it), and from there it’s a case of escalating revenge, turning Homer and Bart’s relationship into a twisted love affair. The more the episode leans in on that joke, the funnier it gets; one of my favourite scenes is Bart getting home to find Homer waiting for him, affecting a faux-British accent as he melodramatically swans about, and another is when Bart reveals he was ‘faking it’ when Homer pushed him on the swings.

The problem for me is that the whole feels too generic, too nonspecific to Bart and Homer as individuals – there are lots of individual great moments, like Bart getting to whip out his Cockney persona for the Bigger Brother people, or the classic Homer impulse mistake when he thinks “Don’t say revenge!” only to say, you know, revenge (“That’s it, I’m outta here!”). But the overall shape of the episode is pretty flat, and it doesn’t help that half of Homer and Bart’s plot belongs to people much less interesting than them. Pepe, Homer’s Little Brother, comes off better, another great gag of a foreign kid much less privileged or selfish than our Americans and putting Homer’s general stupidity into perspective (“I love you too, Pepsi.”). Tom, on the other hand, just feels too generically Cool™ and Nice™ to be interesting; he just feels like a big unfunny nothing at the centre of this episode.

Lisa’s plot provides a few more significant laughs; her addiction to the Corey hotline feels both so strongly of its time – aside from the datedness of a hotline, it sure did feel in the 90s like every Nonthreatening Boy was named Corey – and completely true to what girls can be like when it comes to Nonthreatening Boys (you ever seen the Superwholock fandom? Like everything else, girls going nuts over boys hasn’t gone away, just gotten weirder). It’s always great to see Lisa act like a real little girl, and it’s a strange kind of heartwarming to end with her having rung up a clock.

The episode as a whole ends pretty spectacularly, with a hilarious – and often reality-breaking – fight between Tom and Homer, spawned by the one bit of characterisation of Tom that really works for me; hearing about Homer from Bart has made Tom so mad that when he’s faced with the actual man, he immediately punches him in the face. For some reason, reality-breaking fights are a popular go-to in adult cartoons – Family Guy has the notorious chicken fights, Rick & Morty succumbed and gave us Rick vs the President – and often they don’t work for me because they just feel like empty ownage for the sake of it. This works a lot better than those for me, because the jokes in it are often rooted in Homer as a person – like when he starts smashing up antiques for the hell of it. When the episode ends, Bart decides to bring Pepe and Tom together and return to his own father; structurally, it feels kind of weak, but the way Bart and Homer bond at the end feels like the truest encapsulation of who they are and how their relationship works best: with Homer teaching Bart how to fight dirty.  

Chalkboard Gag: The principal’s toupee is not a frisbee.

Couch Gag: The family sit, only for the wall to turn like in an old Hammer Horror film.

This episode was written by John Vitti and directed by Jeff Lynch. Lynch pulls out all the stops for this episode, often pulling out some great little details like the characters eyes going in different directions at the funniest possible moment. This is also the episode with the image of Homer’s face melting, which was used in an infamous creepypasta. Originally, Tom Cruise was intended to play Tom.

This episode was nominated as one of the five best episodes by the writers of King Of The Hill. There’s another delightful reference to frogurt.

Corey is a reference to Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. Pepe was a reference to Dondi. Ren and Stimpy cameo. There’s a really great parody of Saturday Night Live (“This goes on for twelve more minutes!”). Young Marge had a crush on Bobby Sherman. The ending was a reference to The Quiet Man, and the producers consistently found the most realistic sound effects were always the funniest. Milhouse draws on the walls in a reference to The Shining. The Flying Nun makes a cameo. Homer acting all melodramatic is a reference to Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? One of Homer’s memories is a reference to The Public Enemy. Skinner’s conversation with his mother is a reference to Psycho. The title is a reference to Brother From Another Planet. I’m fairly certain Homer’s blackjack game is a reference to something, but research turns up nothing.

First Appearances: People applauding something stupid. Skinner’s mother issues. Nelson’s dad, who appears to be loving and supportive (in a real assholish way).

Biggest Laugh: