(originally aired February 4, 1993)
Homer may be completely out of his element with Lisa, but he’s got a better chance of building a somewhat substantial relationship with Bart, as they seem to operate on similar wavelengths. However, his laziness and ineptitude often creates him more damage than he intended, leaving him at a loss on how to repair things. As in “Saturdays of Thunder,” Bart seems to rarely need any sort of parental figure, but in this episode, when Homer fails to remember to perform a simple task, picking him up from soccer practice, he realizes he’s in dire need of one. The idea of Bart finding comfort in a surrogate father, and Homer, in petty vengeance, getting a surrogate son, is a pretty interesting one, but I don’t know if this episode delved into the material thoroughly enough, and missed a chance to further explore Homer and Bart’s relationship in lieu of a relatively limp B-story.
Thanks to some healthy abuse of the local big brother agency, Bart is introduced to Tom, coolest guy ever, voiced by coolest guy Phil Hartman. He’s proactive, athletic, full of wisdom and knowledge, basically everything Homer is not. In turn, Homer “adopts” a little brother, a pathetic wide-eyed little boy named Pepi. The episode plays up the betrayal angle quite a bit, with Homer bitterly (and drunkenly) accuses Bart of “adultery” a la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and later one of the most bizarre scenes in the show’s history where Bart admits to having feigned enthusiasm on the swings in the past almost akin to faking an orgasm. The dynamic between the two is tested; Homer attempting to one-up his son is in-character enough, but its climax doesn’t seem to amount to much given the emotional stakes. Homer and Tom have an all-out brawl, which ultimately results in the resolution of the story for some reason. Bart is concerned for his father’s safety, and impressed by his cowardly fighting style, but does that really solve the conflict? It felt more like they couldn’t arrive to a sensible ending and just had the show end anyway.
I don’t have much of a problem with the B-story, which is given a lot of screen time despite the potential richness of the main plot, other than it’s not all that engaging. I like the running gag of the ambiguous teen heart throb Corey we’ve heard mentioned in previous shows, and the ridiculous pre-recorded messages on the hotline, but nothing from this plot ever seems to stick. I buy Lisa’s infatuation with the teen idol, as she’s still a young girl, but I think it works better in smaller gags as we’ve seen in the past; seeing her obsessed to such a degree kinda doesn’t work for me. I think a lot of stuff in this episode just came up short; it has its moments, and a fair share of great gags and laughs, but given the concept, I’d expect more emotional plumbing from a show like this, especially following a rich show like “Selma’s Choice.”
Tidbits and Quotes
– Love the kids’ excitement over sneaking into an R-rated movie: Barton Fink. Great movie, but not at all what a kid wants out of an R-rated flick.
– Classic line from Flanders when Homer leaps out of the tub and dashes outside (“Hey Homie! I can see your doodle!”)
– I think the A-story could have been helped with some intervention with Marge, motherly advice to Bart and scolding Homer about getting Pepi. It could have given the story some more solid emotional ground, but Marge seemed to have been wrapped up with Lisa’s B-plot.
– Love Homer’s immediate response to an alarmingly high bill: “Oh, it’s that record club. The first nine were only a penny. Then they jacked up the price!”
– This show does have its great share of fantasies of Homer and Bart spinning negative stories about each other: Bart with Homer’s seedy gambling and not knowing when to say when, and Homer with Bart smashing grapefruit in his face like James Cagney (“Mmmm… grapefruit.”)
– The Ren & Stimpy segment is kind of strange, considering they hired people from the actual show to help with the segment. It’s not really a parody of the show, it’s just Ren & Stimpy randomly plopped into a Simpsons episode. It could just as easily been Itchy & Scratchy Bart and Tom were watching. I do like Dan Castellaneta’s take on voicing the two characters though.
– More of Homer being at odds with his brain: asked why he wants a little brother, his brain urges him not to say “revenge,” but he does it anyway. His brain is fed up: “That’s it, I’m out of here.” Followed by footsteps and a door slamming. Brilliant.
– Very disturbing parody as Skinner gazes out his office window at the Psycho house talking to his “mother” (“Mother, that sailor suit doesn’t fit any more!”) Marge and Lisa quietly make their exit.
– Homer teasing a dolphin at Marine World and laughing goofily is a great callback to similar antics he pulled at the zoo in the Tracey Ullman shorts, complete with slightly off-model laughing.
– Oblivious Homer is always great: Tom finally meets Homer, and it stops him in his tracks (“His father, the drunken gambler?”) Homer cheerfully responds, “That’s right. And who might you be?” right before getting punched in the face.