18. Dancin’ Homer

(originally aired November 8, 1990)
Perhaps “Dancin’ Homer” suffers from following an episode that tackled so much and felt so epic in scale. Here we have a decidedly smaller, more low-key and leisurely saga featuring Homer’s trials and tribulations at a brand new job, the first of many many MANY occupations he would briefly hold over the next twenty years. There’s something about this story that doesn’t quite ring true with me, though. There are elements that are spot-on, a lot of funny bits, but it doesn’t pack the punch that it feels it does.

We start at Moe’s Tavern where a despondent Homer spins this tale of woe, a wrap-around that I never thought was too effective. The story begins at the ballpark during the “Nuclear Plant Employees, Spouses, and No More Than Three Children Night.” In a bit of a reprisal from “There’s No Disgrace Like Home,” we get Mr. Burns’ contractually obligation to warm up to the lower, less financially well-off life forms that are his employees. Homer fears that being seated next to his boss will ruin his good time, but shockingly Burns proves to be good company, buying them beers, heckling players and doing an off two-man wave. Though last episode showed Burns straining to smile and his vow to destroy Homer’s life, we can still believe these characters can get along in some degree. Their banter back and forth is charming, it’s like the oddest of odd couples. Attempting to rouse up the crowd to aid the failing Springfield Isotopes, Homer cavorts and dances about like a fool in the dugout, sparking a rise out of the crowd, and in turn the batter, who hits a homer, winning the game.

Homer is soon after hired by the team to be their official mascot. Dubbed “Dancin’ Homer,” his crowd-pleasing buffoonery carries on the Isotopes’ winning streak, and he gains greater and greater popularity. Perhaps part why I’m not so into this episode is I don’t understand the in-universe Dancin’ Homer phenomenon. I get that that’s part of the joke, and the character is partially based off of overenthusiastic fans’ chants and rituals becoming fan favorites and stadium institutions, but really, Homer’s act is not all that rousing. The big finale where the Capital City folks don’t “get” him is not so much a letdown as it was redemption for me. Sure, I felt bad for Homer, but at least my feelings were vindicated. But I’m skipping ahead here…

It isn’t long until Homer is called into the big leagues: Capitol City. The true savior of the episode is the Capitol City montage. Firstly, it establishes the Simpsons as small-town rubes in the face of the big city, full of mystery and wonder. Accompanying their drive in is an ode to the city in song, sung by the great Tony Bennett, kind of a riff on “New York, New York.” We also get our first instance of a celebrity playing themselves as Marge points him out singing the song, and he gives a quick aside, “Hey, good to see you!” It’s a sweet little moment, and the song is so brilliant. It really sets the mood, of a city that makes a bum feel like a king, and makes a king feel like some sort of nutty coo-coo super king. Also brilliant is the Capitol City Goofball, the mascot Homer is filling in for, an bizarre, mismatched whatchacallit mascot design, a weird Muppet-type creature with deely bobbers, a baseball torso, a giant horn nose, and voiced very mellowy by Tom Poston. Part of the fun is the two sitting and talking about their acts very seriously. It’s where I most buy the premise: as preposterous and stupid as this game is, Homer is taking it to heart, and trying as hard as he can. However, his best efforts don’t cut it for the Capitol City crowd, and he and the family are sent back from whence they came.

I like the basic premise of chronicling the story like it’s of a master athlete’s rise and fall, but it’s just of the goofy mascot. We even get a great play off of Pride of the Yankees, wherein Homer considers himself the luckiest mascot on the face of the Earth, is comforted by a Babe Ruth lookalike, and stumbles into the dugout on his way out. There’s plenty of parts that work in it, but all-in-all it doesn’t resonate with me as a whole story. The wraparound and Homer’s interruptions about the seriousness of the story feel so out of place. Perhaps if they had stuck with the story playing out on its own it wouldn’t have had that odd story bit over its head. But with “Capitol City,” Bleeding Gums Murphy’s 26-minute national anthem, and “little baby batter can’t control his bladder,” this episode is still deserving of classic distinction.

Tidbits and Quotes
– A true classic Homer line: “Marge, this ticket doesn’t just give me a seat, it also gives me the right, no, the duty to make a complete ass of myself.”
– Another call-back to “Disgrace” with Smithers giving Burns cards with his employee’s family’s names. Homer seems to have grown a bit more backbone in correcting his boss’ labeling them as “The Simps.”
– All the bits at the ballpark are really funny: washed out played Flash Baylor’s baseball inscription to Marge (and Homer’s immense pride of it), the Jumbo-tron, and, as mentioned, Bleeding Gums. I also like how sweet it is that Lisa remains standing and attentive to her hero’s whole performance.
– Here we get the first real great “Burns talk,” where he speaks of shaming and taunting Satchel Paige and Connie Mack, players who were in the leagues over (then) eighty-some-odd years ago.
– Marge’s line upon seeing a Dancin’ Homer shirt (“A Simpson on a T-shirt? I never thought I’d see the day.”) is a great subtly remark about the rampant Simpsons merchandising at the time.
– Kind of shocking to see Homer concerned about seeing if he can get time off from work, when in recent years he mostly doesn’t even show up. We get a great quick scene where his supervisor is more than happy to give Homer as much time away from the plant as possible (“Sure, what would you like? Four years? Five years.”)
– [The Goof] What exactly do you have planned for us?
[Homer] Well, I get up, I dance, I spell out the name of the city, all to the tune of “Baby Elephant Walk”.
[The Goof] Ah, Mancini. The mascot’s best friend.
– For some reason, I always love Homer’s assertion that the Dancin’ Homer costume is buried. Like he felt so ashamed he couldn’t even bear disgracing his trash cans with it.

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4 responses to “18. Dancin’ Homer

  1. “I’m not so into this episode is I don’t understand the in-universe Dancin’ Homer phenomenon. I get that that’s part of the joke, and the character is partially based off of overenthusiastic fans’ chants and rituals becoming fan favorites and stadium institutions, but really, Homer’s act is not all that rousing. ”

    The whole point is that Homer’s dancing IS amateurish and lame, and the only reason it catches on is because he’s doing it at some obscure minor league stadium in a dinky little town. That’s often how it is in small towns–people become minor celebrities for something mediocre because, well, there’s no competition. That’s one of the things that made classic-era Simpsons so much better–whenever Homer or anybody else tried something, they were always amateurish, and any success they had was believably limited.

    I agree that the episode overall doesn’t hold together. The flashback approach doesn’t really help this episode much, and even though I appreciate the Dancin’ Homer phenomenon from a character perspective, it isn’t all that funny. The parts at the baseball stadium and Capital City were great, though.

    By the way, I’m loving this blog. I love to see the perspective of people who didn’t watch the show at its peak coming back to watch the show from the beginning..

  2. I LOVE this episode. I see it get mentioned a lot as “Not as good” as other classic era Simpsons episodes, but I think it’s perfect because it’s so different. It’s not as jokey but the jokes work, and the story is great. The setting is completely different than any other episode for 90% of the episode. It’s good stuff.

    ^As mostly mentioned above, Homer is the only person willing to basically embarass himself in front of all his smalltownmates who are all hooping and hollering and — mostly — low-IQ drunks who probably have never seen anyone do anything like that with such charisma before. It wasn’t just a drunk acting stupid, they all probably thought it got the team to actually win a game. As such, he becomes a smalltime fad but when he goes to a big town he’s just some lame amateur. Which he is. Not that a mascot even matters much and it is a weird topic to cover but it is interesting, even if predictable with all the plot points being pretty inevitable. Still a great episode. Just something about the tone of this one. I can’t quite place it.

  3. I love the Tony Bennitt bit (I thought the capital city song was a real song for a long time), and I do like some of the jokes and Homer’s heckels at the other team. I also like the fact that the Simpsons here feel particularly average, albeit the hole business of making the people at Washington super snooty was a bit off, I also really feel for Homer when you see little scenes of him putting thought and care into what he does, like memorizing how to spell “Capital” the night before.

    All that being said, while I like the emotions of this one, there is just something off. Perhaps it’s a sport thing, heck I don’t really care about sport in the Uk, so a lot of stuff about American sports like baseball and such goes past me, whether cultural stuff like mascots and superboll and what not or just stuff about the players and rules, or maybe I was expecting more of a point than just Homer isn’t so impressive to people in Capital city (indeed with him chugging beer I wondered if the point was he was drunk).

    Either way, not my favourite episode of the classic era, albeit one I can at least feel something for.

  4. I like this episode, but it probably is one of the weakest ones of the classic era. I do agree that the flashback aspect doesn’t really work. Nevertheless, the jokes are great from the Capital City song to the near half hour rendition of the National Anthem with Lisa being the only one who still cares by its end.

    Other than that, it is an oddball episode that I often forget even exists until I watch it or am looking through Season 2 episode stuff.

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