(originally aired November 7, 1991)
The relationship between Homer and Lisa is the most complex and emotional in the whole show. Lisa is an eight-year-old wise beyond her years, with the ability to feel great sorrow and melancholy amongst her mostly fluff-headed classmates (and teachers). She is openly loved and encouraged by her mother, though their relationship is a bit off (we’ll save that analysis for later), but not so much with her father. At this point, Lisa holds no real resentment toward her father’s unattentiveness, just a level amount of expected disappointment. Homer, meanwhile, remains oblivious to most of Lisa’s trials, but when his daughter manages to permeate his radar, he works into overdrive to mull things over. In most cases, Homer is actually a pretty good father to Lisa, but he is plagued by his poor thinking and judgement. This is a perfect Homer/Lisa episode, and the favorite episode of my friends (Nick, who did commentary earlier), and may be one of my favorites too.
Before we can begin with all this, we get a great 2001: A Space Odyssey parody, where a Homer ape invents loafing on the job, mirroring present-day Homer. I only wish it were put in front of a more Homer-centric episode where it would make more sense as a lead-in. Anyway, Homer is awakened for an important task: get Lisa a new reed for her saxophone for the school talent show. A lesser show (and maybe even later Simpsons) would make this first act have Homer forget the show completely and go to Moe’s, but that would be too easy and expected. Homer does go to Moe’s, conveniently located next door from King Toot’s Music Store, but only due to his Homer-logic that he can knock off a beer five minutes before the store closes. He gets the shop owner to reopen the store, and even remembers what instrument her daughter plays, which for Homer is a massive achievement. But despite his efforts, he still shows up too little, too late, adding one more disappointment to the pile for Lisa.
Homer attempts to slowly warm up to Lisa, but his rampant impatience leaves him yearning for a quick fix, which leads to him buying Lisa her long-wished-for pony. It’s a large burden, financially and domestically, for Homer and the family, but it’s one that Homer plans to stick through, no matter what it takes. Eventually, he must take another job working the night shift at the Kwik-E-Mart, leaving him a sleep-deprived zombie toward the latter part of the episode. Though partially due to his thick-headedness, Homer has foolishly put his eggs in the pony basket, believing the one way is the only way (“Lisa loves me, the pony stays”) and to sacrifice so much to keep his daughter happy. His methods are insane and his logic beyond faulty, but Homer is proven to be a great father. It isn’t long before Lisa takes note of her father’s struggle, and gives up the pony, acknowledging the lengths Homer went through for her. It’s a really sweet story, peppered with enough funny elements (the priggish riding instructor, Apu training Homer) to keep it consistently funny.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I love Bart’s talent show act “The Boy of a Thousand Voices.” He turns his back to the audience for his Skinner impression to zone himself, but then proceeds to use a flat dumb mug voice, finger firmly planted in nose. Skinner responds in kind: “That young man just became the boy of a thousand days detention.”
– Much appreciation for the “My Ding-a-ling” kid. It’s such a kid thing to do, but it seems like he’s singing with so much sincerity before Skinner yanks him off stage. I laugh every time.
– I like that Lisa’s poor performance is met with such strong boos and scorn from the crowd. The people of Springfield are easy to rile up, even at a children’s talent show. Though Sherri and Terri’s knife-throwing act and the one Asian kid’s chair balancing stunt were pretty impressive. I love Skinner’s incredibly pandering playing off of Lisa: “Let’s hear it for Lisa Simpson and her wacky sax!”
– I want to go to Phineas Q. Butterfat’s ice cream parlor and get the Mount Bellyache. It’s the perfect way to start the second act, as Homer’s go-to would be to smooth things over the easiest way possible, and involve food. The timing is great with Lisa barely eating a bite before flatly stating, “I’m done.” Homer is devastated: “That cost eighty-eight dollars!”
– The home movies are cute, with the brief look at Homer watching Fantasy Island (“De plane! De plane!” “No, my freakish little friend. That’s a seagull.”)
– I love Homer’s dodging of Marge’s urges to not buy the pony with his signature non-committal noises (“Was that a yes or no?” “Buh.” “Those aren’t even words!” “Snuh.”)
– Homer at the pet shop is great, with the Charles Bronson owner trying to pass off a Scottish deer hound to Homer as a pony. Homer very slowly reads the breed name and realizes he’s been had. The owner responds incredulously: “Oh, my friend, you’re smarter than I gave you credit for!”
– Burns approving Homer’s loan is a small great scene in itself, but I also love how it’s a bait-and-switch. Burns’ diabolical laughter on accepting the loan makes you think he’ll appear later on in a plot point, but it’s a ruse; it’s just Burns being Burns.
– Homer is full of insane plans this episode. When asked where the pony will live, he’s got it all planned out: “By day, it’ll roam free around the neighborhood, and at night, it’ll nestle snugly between the cars in our garage.”
– Bart and Grampa playing video games at the start of act three has nothing to do with the episode, but I love it all the same. “Where’s the hyperspace?!” is something my friends and I would randomly quote, usually when playing video games.
– There’s plenty of great Apu lines in here, from his elation that one of them (Homer) would be working for him to telling his new trainee to change the expiration dates on the dairy products. This is the first show that expanded his character a bit more; we even see his swinging bachelordom, and hear the moans of his almost orgasm in an establishing shot of an apartment complex. My favorite line is probably this: “I won’t lie to you. On this job, you will be shot at. Each of these bullet wounds is a badge of honor. Here’s a pointer. Try to take it in the shoulder.”
– Another bullet-proof Homer plan: “I’ll work from midnight to eight, come home, sleep for five minutes, eat breakfast, sleep six more minutes, shower, then I have ten minutes to bask in Lisa’s love, then I’m off to the power plant, fresh as a daisy.”
– Homer driving in Slumberland is perhaps the greatest dream sequence in the entire series. It’s so well-done, artfully, within the context of the story, its nods to Little Nemo… it’s just all-and-all wonderful.
– I do like Lisa being a kid for once and not being openly aware how much keeping a pony costs and the toll it has caused her father. When told that the pony situation is up to her, she muses, “All the years I’ve lobbied to be treated like an adult have blown up in my face.”
– I lied. This is the best Apu line, and along with Homer giving Lisa a piggyback ride out of the store, perfectly encapsulates the snarky/sweet tone of the show: “He slept, he stole, he was rude to the customers. Still, there goes the best damned employee a convenience store ever had.”