This is one I’ve been waiting on a long time, because it factors heavily into a major Simpsons theory of mine: Jerkass Homer is neither a reason for nor symptom of the show’s eventual decline. Not only does the entire last act have Homer make one awful, stupid, unsympathetic decision after another, Homer’s awfulness is baked into the very assumptions of the episode, with Bart not having any faith in Homer in the first place – and yet this is a killer twenty minutes of television comedy. Some of the jokes are about Homer being a Jerkass and immediately getting punished for it (“Stupid poetic justice!” has become a go-to line for me), some of them have Homer appear to be doing something good before going another direction, and some of them retroactively reveal his actions to be terrible (“Hey! I got that for my birthday!”), but they all base themselves on Homer being selfish, cruel, or stupid, and they’re all hilarious. Lots of reasons have been cast around for why The Simpsons stopped being entertaining, with Jerkass Homer being a major target, followed by guest stars and general wackiness. But all these things have been present in the show for a long time now. To my eye, it’s a lot simpler: the writers lowered their standards, and so the jokes were less funny.
But Jerkass Homer only takes up a third of the episode; this is a story about Bart, and this episode has a lot of things I personally get a real kick out of. The first act so perfectly captures a kid’s point of view of the world; kids doing kid-friendly versions of adult things is always great, and framing a sugar rush as if it were a drunken bender is a gag that increases in complexity as you get older and can see it from one angle, then another. Rewatching it now hits me with a nostalgia for both the time when it felt like twenty dollars was all the money in the world, and that time I went on a drunken bender.
When Bart actually gets to the Junior Campers, it switches to another great idea: wouldn’t he actually like the Junior Campers? Bart’s struggles with school have always been about two things: not fitting into the paperwork-heavy test-taking mode, and not being particularly motivated to try. The Junior Campers give Bart sufficient motivation to learn (follow the rules and you get to play with knives and play pranks to a scale you never could conceive) and leans into his particular skillset; as one joke observes, there’s not much difference between Bart’s pranks and camping, and he seems to take to the whole thing like a duck to water.
Floating around all of this is our very particular, very strange town of Springfield. It’s completely logical that Ned Flanders would be the Scoutmaster (Campmaster?) of the group, being both a giant dork and a competent, productive member of society; Homer and Flanders having to team up is another great buddy-comedy pairing. I also love how the episode manages to justify the group being lost for so long via the incompetence of the Springfield police force – it’s the kind of thing that’s, you know, entertaining, but also shows the level the show is playing on. By far the best plot turn, though, is the existence of a Krusty Burger on an offshore oil rig that allows Homer to save the day. At heart, it’s a fairly basic storytelling trick – Homer has to redeem himself by saving the day, being able to smell a hamburger is a pretty Homer skill to have, and it even pays off the earlier gag of him having the Krusty store map. What’s especially great is that it leans in on the absurdity of the oil rig store – somehow, it feels right that Krusty would actually buy a store on an oil rig against all advice (“We tried to tell you, these are unmanned oil rigs!”). It somehow manages to strike the perfect balance between feeling like the story wrapped up in a satisfying manner while also being an absurd, hilarious cheat.
Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The family appear to run in the dark, only for the lights to come on and reveal only their eyes came in. The family then run in and pop their eyes in.
This episode was written by Dan McGrath and directed by Jeffrey Lynch. Ernest Borgnine cameos as himself, and apparently he was bags of fun despite not really getting what the show was.
We get the first of several “There’s a New Mexico?” jokes.
Two Homer lines I particularly love: the fact that he believes ‘floor pie’ is a real thing, and the alliteration in “This ain’t one of your church picnic flare gun firin’s, Flanders!”
Martin is seen playing a video game tie-in to My Dinner With Andre. “Springfield, Springfield” is a reference to On The Town. We get the first and lesser ‘You call that a knife?” joke referencing Crocodile Dundee, when Moleman pulls out a knife so large it makes him tip over. Ernest Borgnine assumes the children recognise him from his role in From Here To Eternity, which is one of those jokes that gets funnier when you’re older. Homer botches a line from The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. One scene parodies Deliverance. The end references the Friday The 13th film series, and it’s another case of the show actually being funnier by going the extra mile – that little beat when the kids look up at the camera is genuinely creepy.
Describe Your Sex Life With A Simpsons Quote: “Godspeed, little doodle.”
Iconic Moments: 4. “Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts!” / “Explain how!” / “Money can be exchanged for goods and services!” | “Weaselling out of things is important to learn! It’s what separates us from the animals! Except the weasel.” | “Don’t do what Donny Don’t does.” | “Sugar! Oh, honey honey!”