(originally aired October 21, 1993)
First off, I’ll say this is my favorite episode of the entire series. What am I to write about an episode that’s so absolutely perfect? Over the years, I’ve come up with a few reasons why it’s my favorite. Despite Burns’ potential for being a cruel, hateful monster in other episodes, here he garners the utmost sympathy, perhaps more than any other episode, showing the range and genius of the writing to make you feel bad about such a despicable character. The episode blends its solid emotional story with crazy gags and other character stuff. And it’s got Homer mooning an entire crowd of people. What’s not to love? I think it’s hard for any of us to explain exactly why our favorites are our favorites, it’s just something instinctual. I know it wasn’t until I got the season 5 DVD I took a great shining to this one; I watched it once, then when I was done with the whole set, came back to this one and watched it over and over. The jokes never grew stale, I was always engaged, and even teared up a bit at the end. To me, it is the absolute perfect Simpsons episode.
It’s Mr. Burns’ birthday, where he receives every possible gift known to man, except what he really wants, his long-lost childhood teddy bear Bobo. Set up brilliantly from the first scene, Burns’ dream of his happy childhood, which turns into an expert Citizen Kane parody where young Burnsie swiftly dumps his parents to go off with a “twisted, heartless billionaire.” Nothing at his birthday bash cheers him up, especially not Homer’s uncouth brand of comedy. Everything in the episode feels seamless, like the story is building. Smithers grows suspect of Burns’ nightmare moanings of “Bobo,” then puts it together when he responds to a picture of himself and the bear during a retrospective slide show at his party. Later, Bart is sent to get a bag of ice to soothe Homer’s swollen head, and happens to grab the bag with the infamous bear inside.
The middle portion of the show where Homer is beyond blissfully ignorant of the bear within his sights is absolutely incredible. The scene where Kent is describing how the bear could be in your house, while Maggie is wagging it in front of the TV, with continuous cuts at Homer’s blank stare is hysterical. But the best scene comes later, and it is my favorite scene of the entire series. Everything has been building to when Homer will finally realize that the valuable bear is within his grasp. Maggie places it in front of the fishtank, making it appear larger from inside the house. Lisa is meditating to some prophetic new age music. Bart knocks over a lamp, illuminating the bear. The stage is set. Just to be sure Homer pays attention, fate puts a skateboard at the top of the stairs for Homer to fall and land facing the aquarium (also great animation bit where he sort of floats and flails above the ground before he falls.) He recovers, sees the tank and gasps, and says… “How long have we had these fish?!” I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this episode, but I laugh hard every single time. It’s perfect, thick-headed Homer.
Homer immediately schemes how the bear can make him rich, but, finding Maggie has an attachment to it, can’t bring himself to give it away. That’s when things get pretty ridiculous, with Burns’ continued attempts to break into his house, and then take over all the TV channels. As silly as things get, every scene is still focused on the story. We have the town enraged about a town bereft of TV and beer because of a stupid teddy bear, but are eventually swayed by the precocious little Maggie too. Burns eventually must confront the baby, but even he can’t bring himself to steal from an infant (at least until later in the series.) He laments, “You win, but I want you to do something for me. Hang onto that bear. Don’t make the same mistake I made.” Followed by a wide shot of a hunched-over Burns slowly walking from the sand box. It’s perfect, you feel so much sympathy for this irredeemable man, that you’re just as happy as he is when Maggie hands over the bear. I don’t know what I can write to do this episode justice. Every joke works, it’s beautifully directed, pitch-perfect characterizations, and so many classic moments; it’s my favorite episode. What more can I say?
Tidbits and Quotes
– Rewatching this, I can’t believe I forgot that Smithers’ Marilyn Monroe Burns fantasy was in this one. So disturbing, but so great. Great enough to be the unofficial symbol of this blog, that is.
– I’m going to try really hard to make this not an entire transcript, since almost every quote and joke is hilarious. Also a lot comes from the performances, especially Dan Castellaneta, which don’t read as humorously as they sound. I love Homer’s giddiness at his juvenile joke-writing, and how cracked up he is at the idea of flashing the crowd with his Sharpie-scribbled ass. Later, he dons a Bob Hope-style outfit for the big party and can’t stop insulting people (I love his emphatic “Okay, stupid!” to his own wife.) Also great small Flanders bit after Homer tells him he smells like manure (“Better cancel that dinner party. Thanks for the nose news, neighbor!”)
– Even the syndication cuts are great: Bush Sr. being turned away (“No one termers”) and having to be stuck with Jimmy Carter, Frink’s malfunctioning robot bear (“BEAR WANT TO LIVE,”) and Burns and Smithers’ sitcom. That may be one of my favorite scenes in the whole series; there was no need for them to create programming to replace what they took off, they did it voluntarily. The canned laughter over no jokes is hilarious. Also, it takes a talented man to make a reading of “Yes” to be hysterical, but Harry Shearer made it happen.
– The Ramones have got to be in the top five guest stars. They’re brief, but all so impacting with their birthday song, “Go to hell, you old bastard!” and of course, Burns’ reaction (“Have the Rolling Stones killed.” “But sir, those aren’t…” “Do as I say!!”)
– Poor Homer. He got himself so revved up to the idea of a comedy roast, but can’t even get past his set-ups before Burns gets offended. Even more so with his impression (“you might find it a little cheeky.” Also love Burns’ animated reactions, and his orders. It’s not “get him off the stage” or “throw him out,” he grimly tells his guards, “Destroy him.”
– Love Smithers’ recounting of Burns’ valuable possessions: King Arthur’s Excalibur, the only existing nude photo of Mark Twain, and the rare first draft of the Constitution with the word “Suckers” in it.
– More disturbing Smithers material with him impersonating Bobo. Also disturbing of Burns telling him to save the costume.
– The family discussion involving the bear is just one perfect joke after another: Homer’s dream of his own recording studio, Homer and Bart laughing at Lisa’s suggestion to just be generous and give back the bear, Bart’s suggestion to send the bear’s eye in the mail (and Homer’s blank read, “Yes, we’ll send the eye”) and Marge’s heel-turn of asking for double the money (“Why can’t I be greedy one in a while?”)
– I really am just going to list every line: the ceiling collapsing on Burns, covering him with riches (“As you can see, this old place is falling apart,”) Homer rejecting the first offer (“May I offer you a drink?”) and slowly but surely regretting it, “I’m rich! Rich I tells yah!” Even Smithers’ annoyed murmur upon leaving is hilarious.
– I’m just going to burn right through these: Burns gasing Flanders, Burns’ angrily accepting more cocoa from Marge, 64 slices of American cheese, “Good day to you,” “After lunch, can I whip you?” “I wonder what makes it turn?” “Who cares.”
– There’s even a bunch of small jokes: Burns makes his announcement of no more beer and TV; Otto is shocked, watching a tiny TV while driving the bus. No need for an extra joke there, but it’s there anyway.
– Let’s wrap this up: “Well, well, look who’s come to apologize!,” “We’ve given the word ‘mob’ a bad name,” “So, good sand today, hm?” “Damn you, paparazzo!” “What a scoop!” and of course, the psychotic future ending. Perfect episode is perfect.
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