(originally aired February 7, 1991)
NOTE: During the past week I was visiting my hometown in New Jersey. However, that did not hinder my Simpsons obligations. I managed to burn through six episodes with two very good friends of mine, and together we recorded brief, five-minute commentaries for them. They’re quite rambling, misguided, and mostly disposable, but hey, they’re only five minutes, and if you’re reading this, chances are your time isn’t that valuable to begin with.
These audio reviews will also be an excuse for me to write less. A bit of a cop out, but hey, I got four hundred episodes more, so cut me a break.
Homer/Lisa episodes have always been amongst my favorites, wherein the impulsive and hedonistic Homer must combat the moral compass that is his daughter. The plot-on-paper here is pretty cut-and-dry: Homer manages to get an illegal cable hook-up, and Lisa deals with the dilemma of scruples involved. From the opening at Mt. Sienna, we get right away this is a morality tale, with Moses laying down God’s commandments, with “Thou shalt not steal” befuddling the Homer expy of the time. In modern day, Homer is most ecstatic about his widened television options. The rest of the family is mixed: Bart is just as pleased as his father (especially upon discovering late-night nudie films), and Marge is concerned about the legality, but is the quieter, less affirmative voice of reason. It’s up to Lisa to put her father back on the right path, but how?
First, a day at Sunday School strikes fear into Lisa over the possibility of her family being Hell-bound, which leads to a great sequence in which the living room morphs into the fiery pits below. Lisa then seeks help from Reverend Lovejoy, who suggests she perform a bit of a silent protest. The tension continues to build to the climax, a big house party Homer is throwing for an ultimate boxing match. Little items build up: concerns from his wife, a shifty return from the crooked cable guy, and catching Bart disobeying his orders not to watch X-rated TV (Bart bemoans, “I wish I was an adult so I could break the rules.”) Homer becomes even more frantic the night of the fight, hurriedly hiding other stolen items from guests and nearly breaking down before the police. His world is crumbling, but good wins out as he joins Lisa on the lawn during the fight, and cuts the cable.
It’s such a solid, sweet story, but this episode is also ripe with TV parodies given the subject matter. The first thing Homer sees on cable is a home shopping network pitch of a hideous clown figurine that no one has bought, and it brings a tear to his eye. Later he watches a Seinfeld-esque comedian, who he’s much amused by (with the immortal line, and the most succinct summary of that type of comedy, “It’s funny because it’s true!”) There’s also the fight promotion and pre-show that’s great, with our first look at Drederick Tatum, the Simpsons universe’s Mike Tyson. We also see the introduction of Troy McClure, famous B-movie star who will do anything for a paycheck, including hawking a bogus teeth-whitening candy on a cheap infomercial. Phil Hartman is abound in this show, voicing McClure, the cable guy, and Moses in the opening. Like he was on SNL, he’s a valuable asset, and any character he voices is going to get a laugh. So yeah, this is a real good one.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Hartman scores immediately as Moses, who announces in a commanding, completely serious tone: “The Lord has handed down to us ten commandments by which to live! I will now read them in no particular order!” Then again, in the present when Flanders chews out the cable guy (“I should box your ears, you… you sneaky Pete!”), Hartman gives a pandering, “Easy, tiger.”
– The “So You’ve Decided to Steal Cable” pamphlet is genius (“Myth: Cable piracy is wrong. Fact: Cable companies are big faceless corporations, which makes it okay.”) It’s also very fitting to Internet piracy today, which I of course never, ever, ever do. Ever. Maybe.
– I’d love to see entire versions of some of the stuff they watch: the Hear Me Roar network for one. I want to see how to make your own band-aid with five yards of sterilized cotton.
– Odd that the Sunday School teacher claims that if anyone ever saw Hell, they would die, when Bart had been and left there a few episodes back.
– Bart in the car ride back endlessly repeating “Hell” is such a great kid moment, capped by the great Marge line, “Bart, you’re no longer in Sunday School! Don’t swear!”
– I love the grocery clerk; he’s almost like the Charles Bronsan type, but even surlier. “I need a price check on two grapes!” kills me every time.
– Homer’s logical loophole for excusing his theft is bulletproof: “Look, Marge, I can’t afford it. when I can afford to pay for it, I will, but I can’t, so I’m not going to.”
– They’ve played with Burns always forgetting who Homer is up to this point, but here’s where I first felt it to be extremely comical. His dinner at the Simpson house cost him the election, he was involved in a legal battle with them, but upon arriving for the fight, he mistakes Homer for Barney, not realizing a thing. Also, “Smithers, the Cheet-O’s” is such a great line, I always pronounce it like that, with both syllables emphasized.
– Homer’s moment of redemption is as begrudging as it gets, though we know he’s acknowledged what he’s doing is right… like it or not: “I hate to interrupt your judging me, but I wanted you to know that I’ve made a couple of really important decisions. Number 1: I’m cutting the cable as soon as the fight’s over, and Number 2: I’m not very fond of any of you.”