75. Duffless

(originally aired February 18, 1993)
Homer is our lovable everyman, a creature of habit, and due to this and the inelastic status quo, episodes like these are going to feel slightly disingenuous. Just as we know he’s going to continue stuffing his face with donuts following his triple bypass, we know that despite the sweet ending of this show, Homer will be back to getting blazing drunk by next week. Despite its title, Homer’s month-long alcoholic abstinence is really only in the final act; beforehand we have a lot of fun at the Duff brewery, witness the fallout of Homer’s semi-drunken behavior, and go along a nice B-plot involving Lisa’s revenge on her brother for the school science fair. It might not have the tightest story, but this episode is still memorable in its aim and high proponent of laughs.

Through use of secret catacombs, Homer escapes the power plant and takes a day trip with Barney to the Duff Brewery. From that point, we have a healthy bevy of source material to mine: we see the old limited animation Duff commercials from the fifties, as well as Kennedy and Nixon’s endorsements of the beer, each with varying levels of audience approval (Homer voices his disdain toward Nixon: “The man never drank a Duff in his life.”) Homer chooses to drive a perpetually drunk Barney, but is pulled over by the cops. He passes a drunk test in standing on his one foot and saying the alphabet, but an outburst from Barney gets him to take the breathalyser and fail. As unsettling as it may have been, I think the episode could have had more weight if Homer had been extremely drunk, as it would greater illuminate his problem and Marge’s urgings for him to quit. Homer displayed somewhat of a responsibility in refusing to let Barney drive, and while he was above the legal limit, still seemed to be coherent enough. I felt bad for Homer, when I should have felt bad about him.

These quibbles are minor, though, as the show is still hilarious. Homer’s “Seventeen” song is fantastic, as are the Springfield AA meetings, featuring Ned Flanders, four thousand days since his last drink (in which he made a drunken outburst defaming Ann Landers) and Hans Moleman, who reveals he is only thirty-one years old. The B-story is pretty great, where following Bart ruining Lisa’s science project, she enacts a study to determine if her brother is smarter than a hamster (of course, he is not). I like seeing Lisa defend her studies as scientific to disguise her childish sibling rivalry, and one of the most disturbing parodies ever of A Clockwork Orange where Bart reaches for the two cupcakes (topped with cherries, no less.) Homer’s beer-less month is a montage of wonderful sequences, culminating in what almost seems like a personal onslaught from the Duff company unto Homer. He resists, however, in favor of a bike ride for two with Marge. We know it won’t last, but at least it was fun getting there.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We open with Bart’s dream of the science fair and a slightly offensive line from Skinner: “For a school with no Asian kids, I think we put on a pretty darn good science fair.”
– Yet another instance of Homer’s brain betraying him, as he somehow manages to mix up his inner thoughts and his spoken words, openly admitting to skip work to go to the brewery. In a bind, he screams and runs out the door at first sign of question.
– The catacombs of the plant aren’t ridiculous enough, so we have a giant spider. It makes no sense, but hey, it’s funny. I love Barney as the vigilant lookout (“Hey! That looks like Princess Di! Oh, wait, it’s just a pile of rags.”) Some would say not so funny in hindsight. I say, still hilarious.
– Great slow-mo sequence of the tomato ever so slowly exploding on Skinner’s ass. Opportunity presented itself, and Bart had no choice but to answer the call.
– Quality control is very important at Duff, as one man picks out the bum bottles containing rats and syringes, which for God knows why ended up in there in the first place. His momentary distraction lets a few questionable items go, including Hitler’s severed head.
– I love Duff’s many flavors, but especially Tartar Control Duff, which I would only hope can substitute as a toothpaste.
– Homer trying to knock out Barney is an amazing scene, particularly him repeatedly slamming his head in the car door, with an echoed “Ow!” each time. I only wish it had been dragged out a little longer before Barney conceded.
– Another instance of stuff spontaneously exploding, as Wiggum, in a happy beer stein costume, rolls down a hill into a tree, and erupts in a fiery inferno. That’s the act break, by the way. After commercial he’s just fine though, though he mixes up DOA and DWI. Marge is relieved to hear this difference, but Wiggum dodges out the other unfortunate wife called in.
– Twice this show Bart mimics the Three Stooges: he gives a “Sointenly!” to Lisa’s request to hold the giant tomato, and upon being shocked by an electrode-fused cupcake, he slaps his face and comments, “Wise guy, eh?” Respect the classics, man.
– It’s a quick one, but the traffic school video is one of Troy McClure’s best appearances, if only for the great two previous titles he mentions (“Alice’s Adventures Through the Windshield Glass” and “The Decapitation of Larry Leadfoot”) and the completely inappropriate (off-screen) montage of grotesque car crashes and McClure’s cheery commentary (“Here’s an appealing fellow; in fact, they’re a-peeling him off the sidewalk!”)
– The science fair has some great stuff: the psychotic over-helpful father shooing his kid away from his project, Ralph’s alcohol-fueled car (“One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me…”), and Milhouse’s lame duck Slinky. Lisa continues to urge her project is in the interest of science (her brain puts it in more layman’s terms: “That’ll learn him to bust my tomater”), but Bart bests her by stealing her hamster and creating a project of sheer showmanship, with a pinstripe suit, and wins first prize.
– More great bits in Homer’s dry month: the rather offensive Duff commercial, realizing how boring baseball is, his shameless admission at AA, and suffering through Patty & Selma’s tupperware party (he quietly comments, “I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer.”)

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5 responses to “75. Duffless

  1. > Yet another instance of Homer’s brain betraying him, as he somehow manages to mix up his inner thoughts and his spoken words

    It’s impossible to specify just one Simpsons joke as your all-time favourite – but for me, that scene is a very good contender.

  2. The Troy McClure quote “Alice’s adventures through the windshield glass” is another of my all time favourites, but you forgot to mention Lionel Hutz’s classic “Don’t worry, Homer. I have a foolproof strategy to get you out of here. Surprise witnesses– each more surprising than the last” is also hysterical and even more so when it’s revealed he too is in jail!

  3. “I felt bad for Homer, when I should have felt bad about him.”

    I strongly disagree, they choose the best way here. Giving your main character a problem like alcoholism can make it “too heavy” to handle, both the episode and the character. Think about it: if Homer really was made a dangerous alcoholic(even for just one scene) the episode should have talked about the problem in a way more serious way; but in this case they couldn’t have restored the status quo at the end without a making a still-drinking Homer unlikable for his recklessness in front of such a dangerous problem.

  4. I’ve gotta disagree with you on your assessment of Homer being caught drunk. The whole joke is that he passes every test with flying colors but then Barney sabotages him by telling the cops to give him the breathelizer test. It’s another nice call back to Mr Plow, showing that Barney does hold some slight resentment for his “best” friend.

    Oh yeah, and the Lionel Hutz bit in prison is hilarious as is Troy McClure’s video on traffic accidents. “Alice’s Adventures Through the Windshield Glass” is such an awesome title and the pun about being appealing is hysterical. Man, I forgot how much of a regular cast member Phil Hartman was.

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