59. Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?

(originally aired August 27, 1992)
Herb Powell pretty much dug his own grave in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,” but it still felt bad seeing such a great character destroyed like that. The writers apparently thought so too, thus we have this sequel where Herb returns, this time entering the Simpson family’s home turf a disheveled bum. Before we get that far, we have a typical sitcom set-up, revealing that years of working at the power plant has made our lovable protagonist sterile, as plainly seen by his flailing, uncoordinated Homer sperm. The solution is to offer Homer a pithy two-thousand dollars in exchange for blindly signing away rights to sue. Homer, for once, isn’t so easy to trick (“I’m not signing anything until I read it, or someone gives me the gist of it.”) Burns explains the form is for his being awarded the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence. This soon snowballs into a giant awards ceremony, an outlandish absurd affair with theme music by the Bonita DeWolf and the Nuclear Plant Soft Shoe Society. It’s a ridiculous set piece, but in the most wonderful way possible, complete with Smokin’ Joe Frazier presenting the award (“Webster’s dictionary defines excellence as ‘the state or condition of being excellent.'”)

News of the cash prize Homer has received brings Herb to Springfield; the Simpson family are thrilled to see him, but Herb still has reservations toward the half-brother that ruined him. The dynamic between the two brothers is an interesting runner through the show which I felt could have been explored a little more. In its place is Herb’s new big idea to reinstate his fortune: a baby translator that will transmit baby garbling into coherent English. Somehow, he manages to create an astoundingly sophisticated prototype with the two thousand, doing all the programming and engineering all by himself. The man’s an automobile magnate, but I don’t know how much of a genius the man is in regards to a machine this sophisticated. Plus this is a landmark invention; you’d think that it would be talked about more later in the series, or at least Marge would have one. There’s lots of questions and concerns connected to this idea, but all of them dissolve thanks to Danny DeVito’s hilarious reading on the baby translations (Lisa covers Maggie’s eyes: “Where did you go?” Lisa exclaims, “Peek-a-boo!” “Oh there you are. Very amusing.”)

Also through the show is Homer’s lament after his beloved couch is destroyed. His fond memories of landmark programs he’s watched lends to a great brief montage, ending with Homer switching off footage of the Berlin Wall collapse to Gomer Pyle. He toys with using the money to buy a lavish vibrating chair, which at its full power setting puts him into a 2001: A Space Odyssey style stupor with flashing lights and colors. Herb gets the money, with Homer further bemoaning the bitter treatment he receives from him. The end of the show is sweet with Herb giving each family member a personal gift, ending with him finally forgiving Homer for the troubles he’s caused, and getting him the vibrating chair. It’s a great moment where Homer is unsure about hugging his brother (“I’ve never really hugged a man before,”) followed by him kissing him manically after finding out about the chair purchase. Though not quite as epic and solid as the first Herb show, this is a fine farewell to the character, with plenty of funny bits and memorable moments.

Tidbits and Quotes
- The plant physical is a great way to start, from Lenny’s blaze attitude to being stark naked to Homer eating chicken in the tank (which does… what exactly?)
– Smithers is so efficient that even his sperm swim in lock-step alignment.
– Burns’ tirade against his lawyers seems a bit out of character for him, but I still enjoy the sequence, with him continuously having to restrain himself.
- Burns’ greeting when Homer walks in prior to the settlement is great: “Ah, Simpson, you big virile son of a gun!”
– Bart and Lisa’s swipe against the Emmys seems very bitter; this was the season the show first lost the Emmy for “Radio Bart” against a Claymation Easter special. Having watched it later, their anger was pretty justified.
– Herb running aside the train to Springfield and the hazardous railcars is a classic Simpsons gag: toxic waste, no, lion cage, no, Krusty Brand sulfuric acid, no, Emil’s Famous Pillows (“That’s the one!”)
– Having Herb stop at the Flanders house and get cleaned up seems to work to soften the blow to the Simpsons that Herb is really in desperate need of help. It’s also a great sequence, with Todd visibly upset that he is not allowed to anoint the sores on this poor soul’s feet.
- Herb’s advice on being homeless to Bart is probably my favorite quote of the show, and one I try to quote whenever I get the chance: “Discarded pizza boxes are an inexpensive source of cheese.”
– I love Homer’s one-track mind in his obsession over Herb’s drinking bird. He’s in such awe of it, like it’s the greatest thing he’s ever seen. The bird would make a comeback in a big, bad way later on in “King-Size Homer.”
– Homer’s initial reaction to the baby translator is… not so cordial: “I can’t believe we spent $2,000 on this when right now rollers could be kneading my buttocks!” Herb retorts, “Homer, would you stop thinking about your ass?!” Homer muses, “I’ll try, but I can’t.”
– First, and only (?), appearance of Professor Frink’s child, and mention of his wife, who I assume divorced him after seemingly killing their baby boy in that plane accident.
– As I said, all the gifts are great, from Lisa’s Greater Books of Western Civilization (“At last, a copy of Ethan Frome to call my own!”), Bart’s NRA membership (when asked if he can get cyanide-tipped bullets, Herb replies, “It’s in the Constitution, son!”), Maggie, who isn’t picky (“I want what the dog’s eating!”) and Marge, a new washer and dryer, with the old ones sold to do races at Moe’s Tavern (“Stupid dryer!”)

Season 3 Final Thoughts
If season 3 suffers in any regard, it’s that I underestimated the greatness of season 2. It’s astounding watching these again just how perfect those early episodes were, and how they hold up so damn well. That being the case, season 3 felt like more of the same greatness. The one thing I can say is that we saw more of the wackier, crazier elements of the series start to emerge here; from “Homer at the Bat” and stuff like Spinal Tap’s bus exploding, the show began to become more exaggerated and silly, drifting a bit from the more serious, realistic tone it had in the first two seasons. It’s a delicate balance the show would end up servicing: going big and brash for its outlandish gags, but still maintaining a true-to-life tone and emotional core with the Simpson family. I have no worries that season 4 will do just that.

The Best
“Lisa’s Pony,” “Saturdays of Thunder,” “Flaming Moe’s,” “I Married Marge,” “Dog of Death”

The Worst
Not one episode fell short. Some were better than others, of course, but none deserve to be mentioned here.

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5 responses to “59. Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?

  1. the best: flaming moes, i married marge, burns verkaufen der kraftwerk, bart´s friend falls ins love, homer at the bat

    the worst (in comparison): when flanders failed, seperate vocations

    • My pick for best and worst of season 3:

      Best: Treehouse of Horror II, Lisa’s Pony, Flaming Moe’s, Radio Bart, The Otto Show, Bart the Lover, Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes?

      Worst: Colonel Homer, Separate Vocations, I Married Marge, Homer Defined (all of them I found very boring, though “I Married Marge” was just okay. I like “Lisa’s First Word” and “And Maggie Makes Three” in terms of flashback episodes telling the story of how Marge was pregnant with the kids and what Homer did about it).

  2. The Glory of Being a Clown

    One thing that I’ve always wondered about “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes” is why they never showed Grampa finally meeting his long lost son.

  3. IT’S DRINKING THE WATER

    ^Re: “the worst” above.. hmm.. When Flanders Failed is my favorite episode this season and one of my favs period. Though I agree on all the other “best”/”worst” you have listed…

  4. For some reason, I always crack up at Joe Frazier’s banal and brief intro to announcing Homer as the award winner: “Webster’s Dictionary defines “excellence” as the state or condition of being excellent.”

    Also loved Homer’s whining about Herb’s supposedly long presentation: “TWENTY minutes?! Ohhh….”

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