How is it this show could keep finding more nuances and new emotional depths to these characters after so long? This episode digs further not just into Bart and Lisa, but into their specific relationship. I’m actually curious how people from bigger (or smaller) families reacted to this episode, because once again I found it so resonant with my experiences. My (only sibling) sister and I have about as much difference in age as Bart and Lisa, and the show really captures how competitive two siblings can be when they’re that close in development – I was the nerd at school, and my sister worked hard to try and outdo me, and clearly I had to be the dominant sibling, and you can see much the same dynamic playing out here. Kids can be very dependent on the one thing they’re good at for a sense of identity and self-esteem; you can see that play out for Bart in how he initially thinks he might start to get good at school to compensate for Lisa getting good at a sport. But I also love Lisa’s bloodlust coming out when she discovers her own sporty talent (“Hack the bone! Hack the bone!”).
Doing well in everything but physical education is a fairly common thing for the Lisas of the world; ‘schoolwork’ as it’s traditionally understood rewards sitting quietly, reading, and contemplating the full meaning of the questions and assignments so as to deliver the right combination of words; these are things Lisa would do on her own anyway (the episode doesn’t go into it, but this is also the source of her problems with the education system; she wants to understand real truth, moral and literal, and the school system just wants her to say the right words and go home). Physical education, for the most part, rewards the exact opposite of that – situational awareness, fast reaction times, having hair that doesn’t inexplicably deflate volleyballs. For once, Lisa is in Bart’s usual position, having to contend with a system where she is constitutionally unable to fit tab A into slot B. Though if any proof were needed that I do overthink this a bit, it’s Lisa just randomly finding a talent for being a hockey goalie, something not tied into her character at all. I always choose to risk overthinking the show to underthinking it, because to me it’s less important what the show is trying to say and more about what it makes me think about, which I believe is very much in the spirit of the show anyway.
Homer, meanwhile, is about the most Jerkass he’s been so far, matching up with if not exceeding his awfulness in “Boy-Scoutz N The Hood” – I suppose the main difference is that he’s less focused here. In discussion of the Jerkass Homer phenomenon on that article, several beloved commentors noted that what separates Homer being an asshole in a funny way and Jerkass Homer is that the former is usually motivated by understandable human emotions like envy and pride, and tends to have moments where he’s funny without really hurting anyone (Mr Black and Pastyjournalist have some good commentary on it). It’s a really good point, but here we have Homer flagrantly pit his children against each other for no reason beyond it being funny, and aside from a child abuse joke that goes a step too far for no punchline, it’s hilarious. I stand by what I said in that previous article: the problem with Jerkass Homer wasn’t him being a Jerkass, it was the jokes not being funny.
Anyway, I love how the escalating war between Bart and Lisa spills out into the town; they never resist the urge to form a mob, even if they have to form two mobs. I like, actually, that it ups the stakes without Bart and Lisa having to actually do anything – in general, the town is gonna react no matter who wins (love the joke of the two subtly different variations on ‘kill Bart’), and in the specific Moe is gonna lose his thumbs. The climax is one of those things that, on paper, isn’t very profound, but manages to move me nonetheless. The memories that Bart and Lisa conjure up are very well-chosen, evoking the exact kind of things I remember doing with my sister growing up. A sibling relationship like that is one where you know each other better than almost anyone else, where through sheer accumulation of time you have as many happy moments to draw on as rivalries, and Bart and Lisa’s rejection of their rivalry captures that so beautifully.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not dissect things unless instructed.
Couch Gag: The family are thrown up into the ceiling.
This episode was written by infamous future showrunner Mike Scully, which might explain some of Homer’s worst moments in this episode, and directed by Bob Anderson. Both are massive hockey fans, which inspired the episode. Scully was also responsible for the snow day joke at the start, inspired by a childhood of hoping for snow days (we didn’t have snow days where I grew up, but we could hope that the road iced over enough that the bus couldn’t get through, which only happened once in the whole time I went to school). The academic alerts were also inspired by a similar idea from Scully’s childhood. My favourite bit of directing in the episode is the “sports sports sports sports” gag, which manages to casually set up Homer’s entrance in the frame in a non-obvious way so that setup and punchline happen without a cut. It’s almost a musical effect.
With the “Butthead Memorial Auditorium”, The Simpsons managed to predict the Boaty McBoatface situation. “I just think they’re neat,” is the more iconic Weird Marge joke, but I always preferred “Look at Milhouse’s teeth!” It’s weird that she’d steal Milhouse’s teeth off the rink, and yet it makes sense that she’d be that dedicated to proving hockey was unsafe. And of course, “Mom, will you stop showing us those?” is another brilliant example of the show implying even greater absurdity offscreen. The capper of the scene, when Milhouse and his dentist come looking for the teeth and Marge shamefully hides them, has to be one of those times where after finishing the scene, a writer wandered back to the table and dropped a brilliant idea. This has been your weekly example of me overexplaining a joke.
Fun fact: on this day, 22 years ago, Poochie died on the way back to his home planet.
The opening scene contains yet another reference to Garry Trudeau’s Rap-Master Ronnie play. “They’re gonna take my thumbs!” is a reference to The Pope Of Greenwich Village. There are multiple references to Rollerball.
Iconic Moments: 4 “Me fail English? That’s unpossible.” | “If the Bible has taught us nothing else, and it hasn’t,” | “What he meant was Monster Island is actually a peninsula!” | “I’m gonna be doin’ this, and if you get hit, it’s your own fault!”
Biggest Laugh: Epilepsy warning: