The thing I’ve really grown to like about this show while doing this project is how good it’s gotten at flowing from one theme to another without feeling totally disconnected. One of my first complaints about the show was all the way back in “Homer’s Odyssey”, when the show used the whole first act on a satire of nuclear power that was completely unrelated to the plot of the main episode; my complaint was about the lack of narrative propulsion. I’ve noticed before that the show has developed that propulsion and become more fun to watch, and this time I noticed that the propulsion means multiple interesting observations can be allowed to emerge, and the narrative can move on when those observations have been made, in this case elegantly switching from marital sex to an adult’s relationship with his father without missing a beat. The formula for sitcoms is usually building up to a specific rhetorical point where a Lesson is Learned – Community is the purest distillation of this formula, where each episode is a miniature, low-scale tragedy that hurdles madly to a climax. Lesser shows that set out to teach lessons and Make Points can feel like they’re drawing out the obvious (think of a mediocre Kevin James sitcom where he takes twenty-two minutes to learn he should buy his wife flowers. Community makes it work with relentless and unpredictable plotting, but I like how The Simpsons does it because it makes each individual episode feel both meatier and more lifelike in a ragged and dirty way.
(Also, wow, looking at one of my first essays, in retrospect I feel more sympathy with the roughness of the early episodes)
So, we open with Homer and Marge struggling to keep an active sex life in light of their upper-lower-middle-class lifestyle. I love this because it’s a new and plausible extension of the show breaking down a romantic image by throwing reality into it, in this case on a more literal level. Even after two decades of HBO upping the game in terms of sexual content on TV, I don’t think there’s a married couple on the silver screen who fuck more often and more enthusiastically than the Simpson parents, and somehow the downtrodden nature of their lives only makes that resonate more. These people genuinely love and are attracted to each other, even through the weight gain and bad cooking and enchiladas. The romance exists, it’s just buried under stress. We’ve all heard of the banality of evil; The Simpsons deals with the banality of love.
This leads into Homer and Grampa’s relationship, when Abe comes in the story with a miracle sex drug. What I love about the rambling old man is how he’s not actually a country hick, but he can end up falling into it from time to time, like in his famous line “I ain’t fer it, I’m agen it!” There are multiple lines where Castellanetta pull that twang out of Abe’s voice here, and it comes into full bloom when Abe goes full snake oil salesman – which also allows the writers to indulge in their love of old-timey Americana. Homer’s line “After years of disappointments with get-rich-quick schemes, I know I’m gonna get rich off this scheme! And quick!” America, at least from The Simpsons’ point of view, was built on hucksters, liars, and people looking for the quick way out, and Homer is simply the latest and stupidest iteration of them.
Outside this plot is Bart, and this is one of my favourite uses of structure in the show in how Bart’s plot is something randomly getting in his head and causing him to react to Homer’s story, giving the episode another kind of unity. There’s just something so kidlike about Bart getting an idea in his head and running away with it for a few days, spreading it to other children, even moreso when it’s something like UFOs. The story doesn’t go anywhere after Milhouse’s Rand Corporation rant, but that’s as far as it needs to go.
Homer and Abe’s story shifts into an exploration of a father and son with a rocky relationship. There’s kind of a chicken-and-the-egg situation, where there’s a question of how much Homer’s stupidity comes from Abe’s neglect and how much of Abe’s neglect comes from Homer’s stupidity, though it’s obvious that a) Abe is the one in a position of power (“We got a whole system set up to prevent people like you from ever becoming President!” is sucha brutal thing to say to a kid) and b) both ended up escalating each other – the dynamic with my family is very different, but the essence of personalities clashing between parent and child in a way that escalates the flaws of both is so familiar. There’s kind of a Sopranos thing going on where a toxic childhood has irreparably destroyed these people and they pass on that same toxicity to their children in a different way (“your halfassed underparenting was way more fun than your halfassed overparenting,” is such a sad, hilarious line). I suppose it comes back to that line I used earlier, the banality of love. For all their clashes in personality and in values and for all the mistakes these men have made, they do love each other, and they’ll come back to each other.
Chalkboard Gag: My homework was not stolen by a one-armed man.
Couch Gag: The family run with the lounge serving as a wrap-around background.
This episode was written by Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley and directed by Wes Archer. There’s lots of great directing in this episode, with the showiest being the detail shown in Abe making the sex drug. My favourite, though, was how we see Ralph just wandering around blankly before he comes up to Bart and Milhouse and asks them to cook dinner for him. I almost wish the punchline hadn’t come up and it was just Ralph being Ralph.
“Stamp The Ticket” Guy comes back as a man who clearly has trouble satisfying his wife. The Al Gore joke is extra hilarious after his work on Futurama. I heard worse than “You were an accident” growing up – my Mum specifically used the phrase “You were a mistake, but the way I see it, very few mistakes can make me coffee,” which is my family’s sense of humour in a nutshell. So I love it when the episode follows it up with Marge observing that Homer tells Bart he was an accident all the time (“But when I do it, it‘s cute!”). This episode kicks off with my all-time favourite Troy McLure movie.
The Aphrodite Inn is a reference to the Madonna Inn. Homer and Marge listen to Paul Harvey, and I lover that Marge calls him “a pleasant version of Grampa”. The design of Homer’s childhood home is a reference to the film Flesh And Bone. The Al Gore joke is set up by the X-Files theme. “Foggy MountainBreakdown” is the name of the getaway music Grampa plays, which is partly inspired by Bonnie & Clyde. Professor Frink’s transformation after drinking the drink is a reference to The Nutty Professor. Grampa correctly says and uses pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis in context.
Iconic Moments: 1. Milhouse’s Rand Corporation rant. “We’re through the looking glass, people,” and “I’m gonna do some serious drinking” aren’t, but not for lack of trying on my part.
Biggest Laugh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bC6lY-5Hi9g