7. The Call of the Simpsons

(originally aired February 18, 1990)
Thus far we’ve seen season 1 to maintain a pretty consistent tone of low-key, more emotionally-driven episodes, an animated sitcom that tweaks conventions but remains true to the characters. The show would evolve into much more than that, and this episode is the forebearer to the more crazier, out-there episodes. It feels like such an odd man out, a wacky and jokey episode in the midst of these major character-driven stories we’ve had. However, the episode doesn’t quite hold together, and it’s definitely the weakest we’ve seen so far.

The beginning of the episode is fantastic, however; envious of Flanders’ newly purchased RV, Homer takes his family to get one of their own at Bob’s RV Round-Up, where they are hawked to by the eponymous Bob, voiced by Albert Brooks. Now, Brooks has done many guest voices on the show, classic characters like affable super villain Hank Scorpio and bowling Lothario Jacques (more on him later). All of Brooks’ Simpsons characters seem to have some level of smarm, and Bob definitely has a lot of it, a sweet-talking shyster with a big hat and big ears who can talk anybody into a sale, whether they like it or not. Brooks obviously is doing a lot of ad-libbing here, and you can tell he was just having a lot of fun with the character. Every line of his is great: his claims of the ultimate RV having four deep fryers (“one for each part of the chicken”), buttering Homer up asking if he’s of Roman descent (“You’re like a God, sort of”), and admonishing Homer’s wish to talk his potential purchase with his family (“If you have to talk it over with those humans over there, there’s something wrong with all of us.”) It’s such a fresh, flowing performance that you really feel disappointed when the family leaves the RV park and the episode has to continue onward.

Homer ends up with an RV he can afford: a really shitty one. It isn’t long before they drive their camper off a cliff and the family must fend for themselves in the woods. Homer and Bart go out into the woods to go looking for help, but end up victim to various pratfalls: they lose their clothes in a waterfall, Homer is attacked by various animals, and later bees, and ends up being mistaken for Bigfoot. Video footage of the mud-covered Homer causes a media frenzy. A lot of this material feels very silly, but not in a good way. There’s no sharpness to it, a lot of the gags feel like they’re out of bad Saturday morning cartoons. After the shrewdness of the first act with Bob, this feels very rote and childish. There are a few good jokes here and there (broadcast news of the “Bigfoot” sighting interrupted the live Presidential address), but it all just felt very empty. Even the ending with the great scientific minds debating whether Homer was man or beast felt a bit dumb. Like even by doing full medical tests and examinations on his body isn’t enough to tell he’s clearly a human being?

The show would certainly feature set pieces and plots much much more ridiculous than this one, but the most successful ones featured some kind of meaning to the madness, or at the very least a set-up. Not only is it superior humor-wise, but the first act feels so disjointed from the rest. Homer’s rampant jealousy of Flanders at this point in the series was enough for him to go out camping? It feels so alien of Homer to do, even with this early version of him. So all and all, great first appearance by Albert Brooks, the lone savior of this episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– As I said, every Bob line is great, right off the bat when he spots the Simpson family as clueless looky-loo rubes and remarks, “Thank you, God.” Also great is the scene when a credit check by Bob results in a siren going off.
[Homer] Is that a good siren? Am I approved?
[Bob] You ever known a siren to be good? No, Mr. Simpson, it’s not. It’s a bad siren. That’s the computer in case I went blind telling me sell the vehicle to this fella and you’re out of business! That’s what the siren says.
– There’s also the mini-subplots. Marge and Lisa bide their time by sweeping with make-shift wooden brooms… for some reason. A troupe of bears hold themselves in reverence of baby Maggie, which is cute, but doesn’t make much sense. I dunno, it never sat well with me.
– Bart asking Homer if they were going to hang themselves with the noose-like animal trap he set up seemed unusually dark. Laughed all the same, though.
– I’m also confused by the timeline of this episode: an entire crowd of Bigfoot spotters, vendors and gawkers sprouts up in the forest over… how much time? A day or two? And in that time, Homer and Bart are still lost, and the former hasn’t bothered to find a stream to wash the mud off himself? I know Homer’s a slob, but come on.
– Reporters flocking Marge with questions about her Bigfoot husband, resulting in the tabloid headlines is a good bit. Another strangely subtle racy bit when a reporter asking Marge if marital relations with her husband to be “brutish,” Marge briefly smiles, then asks if the interview will be on TV.

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3 responses to “7. The Call of the Simpsons

  1. I think you little underrated this episode. Sure its not one of the strongest of the season, but many of your complains are too forced and harsh. I think many of the things that didnt convince you would have been accepted in a more overall charming episode.

  2. I love the Albert Brooks bit, and I agree this isn’t the greatest story due to it being so very cartoony and whacky for the sake of ungroundedly wacky on occasions, but there are just some bits I like.
    I love the subtle gender relations thing where homer’s all men in the wild, and then fails repeatedly, while MArge and Lisa actually work out fairly well (home made brooms aside).

    Actually I sort of wish this story had been more about that aspect of things than the hole bigfoot plot and the business with the bears, but hay, it’s stil saved by Albert Brooks, though it is probably one of my two worst of the first series, odd as it was one of the first episodes I ever saw on the video my brother got back in 1992 or so along with Bart the general, Bart the genius and Moaning Lisa.

    I’ll also credit this episode though for giving me one of the best adult “ha! I know that!” moments for picking up on something I didn’t when I first saw it.

    The tune that’s played when Homer drives his cruddy van is “I love to go a wandering” which is all about the joys of nature and wandering through the fields. I didn’t hear the song (until I sang it with a choire), until 2013, and seeing a repeat of this one on sky after not seeing it for a good 10 years or so, I got to feel all smug and clever and things :D.

  3. Aaron Grierson

    One of my dad’s two favourite episodes, alongside Bart the Daredevil. For me, this episode came up short. It’s an excellent episode compared to Lisa Goes Gaga, but when you compare it to the rest of classic Simpsons, it is sorely lacking. Good performance from Albert Brooks, and there were some good bits (like how Marge keeps insisting that Bigfoot is Homer and the headlines says “I MARRIED BIGFOOT” and “THE BIGFOOT DIET: PORK CHOPS APLENTY!”) but yeah, this episode isn’t as good as ‘Daredevil’.

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