One of the remarkable things about Golden Era Simpsons is how it’s simultaneously wildly creative and reliably entertaining; there are shows like the Law & Order franchise that deliver consistent entertainment but are also essentially telling the same few stories over and over, and there are shows like LOST that deliver ridiculous highs but also can go down creative wild goose chases that don’t amount to anything, but The Simpsons stands out as something where you never know where it’s going to go but you’ll know it’ll be a lot of fun. This is a Simpsons sports movie, with all the usual cliches hammered to fit into Springfield; I particularly their solution to making Homer a gifted athlete while still being the out-of-shape oaf we know and love. Rowan Atkinson said all comedy comes down to something being too big, too small, or in the wrong place, and in this case, the feelings that come with the sports movie – triumph, loss, and redemption – are applied to things that don’t really deserve them, which is hilarious; I’m genuinely moved by Moe saving Homer by using the flying fan machine and I’m amused by my own emotional investment. This is the greatness of The Simpsons: not only that it can be many contradictory things – funny and smart and insightful and kind and inventive and reliable – but that it can be all those things at once, and that they don’t contradict but rather enhance each other. However much I try to break down how this show works – and I think I succeed at it – I can’t deny how often this show feels like something that runs on an energy that’s impossible to quantify or pin down.
Anyway, this episode in particular is one of my favourite Moe stories. His general bitterness makes him a good fit for the ‘retired boxer becoming a coach for one last shot at the big time’ story; it makes sense that Moe actually did see some kind of success in his life, and it makes sense that it’s something like boxing, where his general pragmatism is an asset and not a liability. This also serves to make his journey more meaningful; even if we’d not prefer that Homer get nine colours of shit beaten out of him, we can at least understand why Moe is genuinely caught in his choice, both because of his professional failure and his general misery in the show up until now, and it can feel amazingly cathartic when he saves Homer at the end. I have a lot of sympathy for professional athletes because you have to succeed when you’re young, and even if you do you have a limited shelf life; I’ve read about athletes who’ve said that transitioning into a post-sport life is difficult because employers aren’t generally interested in people who spent their entire twenties, like, swimming or playing basketball, and there are very few resources to help athletes move on. So I imagine it must be much worse for the many, many people who didn’t have what it takes to make it to professional status or the big leagues and to know it never could happen. This episode presents Moe with an alternative: use his experience to train a hopeful young up-and-comer and see some success vicariously through him.
(Point of comparison: not only am I at peace with having utterly failed to build a career in writing or directing when I was in my twenties, I’m grateful, because I was an idiot then who didn’t know myself or the world with any sort of clarity and the growth and change I went through the past decade would have happened on a more public scale that I would be embarrassed and frustrated by, if it happened at all. I can try chasing my dreams in my thirties with greater confidence and pleasure)
Pulling back, I also enjoy the story of a cynic who finds some kind of drive for goodness in themselves. It’s a very Simpsons story about the conflict between the drive for material pleasure and the drive for deeper spiritual and emotional pleasure, but with a different spin on it. Moe isn’t nearly as impulsive and thoughtless as Homer and Bart, which makes his conflict more of a betrayal but also more practical; he knows what he’s doing could get Homer seriously injured, but he’s also got more to gain than getting to join a travelling freak show. This is the arc of someone who had the chance to become Mr Burns and chose to reject it, a difficult choice that is always moving to see in action, all the moreso with guys who are generally assholes the way Moe is. The idea of a jerk with a heart of gold is a fantasy that can be dangerous when it becomes an assumption you project on others – that everybody deep down will do the right thing when the situation is appropriate – but it’s a nice fantasy to play out, especially when you’re identifying with the said jerk. It’s nice to think of ourselves as someone who, even through all their flaws, will steal a fan backpack thing to fly down and save our friends from a boxing match they’re losing.
Chalkboard Gag: I am not my long-lost twin.
Couch Gag: The family run onto the couch dressed as cowboys, and it rides away like a horse into the sunset.
This episode was written by Jonathon Collier (a massive boxing fan) and directed by Mark Kirkland. Many of the hobo gags were pitched by John Swartzwelder. This is one of the earliest episodes written in response to the internet, or rather to prevent response from the internet, in that they heavily worked out how Homer could be a successful boxer. Paul Winfield guest stars as Lucius Sweet, a parody of Don King, after having played King in Tyson. This is our first appearance of Drederick Tatum, who got his name from a childhood friend of George Meyer. Moe’s toilet office contains posters referencing various Simpsons crew members as if they were boxers.
The episode opens with a joke about the deadness of the cast of Bonanza. Drederick Tatum is a parody of Mike Tyson, and his entrance is a reference to a photo of Tyson with his entrance music also being “Time 4 Sum Aksion” by Redman. Homer’s entrance music is “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” by War. The montage of Homer fighting hobos is a reference to Raging Bull. The montage also contains a parody of the painting Dempsey and Firpo. The Fan Man is a reference to James Miller. “People” by Barbara Streisand plays over the credits.
Iconic Moments: 1. Moe flying is a common tool in shitposting.
Biggest Laugh: The specific phrase was “Surgical 2×4”, but this also has at least two of my other candidates.