88. Bart’s Inner Child

(originally aired November 11, 1993)
Self-help gurus are a pretty open target, and The Simpsons brilliantly nails them in a fantastic scene: PhD in Pain Brad Goodman invigorates his crowd of suckers with easy-to-swallow slogans and platitudes, leading them to grab all his books and tapes off the merch table and leave piles of money behind. Viewing the madness, Lisa points out, “He’s just peddling a bunch of easy answers.” Passing by, Carl enthusiastically responds, “And how!” Perfect. All the stuff in the second act is fantastic. Too bad we have a first and a third that have a lot of funny bits, but feel very disjointed. We open with Homer, who can hardly contain himself (or even speak properly) upon seeing an ad for a free trampoline. He sets up a backyard business charging kids to bounce, but when injuries pile up, he is forced to get rid of it. This is our first signs of truly insane Homer: ramming cars off the road thinking they’ll beat him to the trampoline, his dream of Homerland, his descent into madness when he repeatedly fails to get rid of the thing… first act Homer is crazy, but his incredible passion and giddiness over his bizarre venture keeps it funny.

The through-line that brings us to act two is that Marge fears she is too much of a nagger, having been against the trampoline from the beginning. The segue is fair enough, especially considering the insanely disconnected act ones we’d see later on. Marge, Homer, and later the whole town are hooked onto self-help expert Brad Goodman, Albert Brooks’ most forgettable role, but still a strong outing. He delivers ridiculous lines with such a level of professionalism and calmness. At Goodman’s seminar, he latches onto the cheeky outburts of Bart, exemplifying him as a well-adjusted free spirit, turning the boy’s half-hearted excuse of “I do what I feel like” into a mantra to live by. This sort of becomes a plot line, where Bart feels a lack of identity in a town desperately trying to be as rebellious and irreverent as him. It never seems to amount to much though, as there’s no real concrete resolution to the story. The climax sort of ends on a joke and we have a scene of the family on the couch trying to recap the show, a la “Blood Feud” or “Rosebud.”

So in terms of character-driven stories, we have two: Marge’s attempts to loosen up, and Bart’s losing his sense of self. The first is basically dropped half way, and the second doesn’t amount to much. Brad Goodman disappears in act three, and the story has no real ending. The story isn’t exactly the most cohesive, sure, but there’s nothing egregiously off or offending about it. The episode itself is saved by, of course, the laughs. The only reason I can shrug off the ending is because it’s hilarious, and I quote it all the time (“They’re heading for the old mill!” “No we’re not!” “…well, let’s go to the old mill anyway and get some cider!”) The trampoline plot has nothing to do with the rest of the show, but I love the black comedy that comes with seeing young children really getting hurt jumping on the thing. And of course Albert Brooks, who’s fantastic as always, with Phil Hartman as well. Great jokes and hilarious bits can save even the most fractured of episodes; this show may not be perfect structurally, but it’s damn funny.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer’s enticement of free items is great; we all know people who are more than willing to take in junk solely because they don’t have to pay for them. Taken further here where Homer raves over soiled mattresses and surplus drums of mayonnaise from Operation Desert Storm.
– Not quite sure what Krusty is doing living in a residential neighborhood. Nor why he appears to have sinister motives in giving away the trampoline. Regardless, him sitting on the porch aiming a shotgun at Homer when he tries to return it is hysterical (“You just keep right on drivin’.”)
– The reveal of the trampoline, with Homer jumping up and down from Bart’s window, is pretty neat, as are some of the camera angles, like Homer and the kids jumping up and down and the POV shot from their view of a worried Marge.
– Fantastic Gone with the Wind parody with the endless lawn of injured kids. Again, children in pain are always funny. Also a perfect example of how you can break the rules and do stuff that makes no sense, like show the lawn is thousands of feet long, only if it’s funny. Laughter excuses anything.
– Not a big fan of Homer’s attempts to get rid of the trampoline. It got a bit too wacky for me. I do like when his buzzsaw wraps around it and the entire electrical outlet rips out of the kitchen wall though.
– Goodman’s hilarious from the start with his “Feel Bad Rainbow,” listing off the personality disorders he treats. The icing on the cake is the disgruntled leprechaun in the graphic. So pissed off.
– Real brilliant bit of animation at the start of act two where Homer walks in the TV room doing a weird little strut until saying, “What up, Marge?” It’s given no context, but it’s a wonderful little bit. Maybe Homer was just having a particularly nice day outside and was having some fun.
– Troy McClure, brilliant as always. Two particularly great referred titles this time too (“Smoke Yourself Thin” and “Get Confident, Stupid!”) Brooks and Hartman together is like a match made in heaven, I only wish they had shown more of the special (“Troy, this circle is you.” “My God, it’s like you’ve known me all my life!”)
– There’s a bit with Goodman after having brought Homer and Marge on stage that’s really great. Goofing around, Bart identifies himself as Rudiger. Goodman continues spewing his gospel, and when Marge tries to correct him by telling her son’s actual name, Goodman snaps, “His name’s not important!” and continues. Marge immediately gives a half-lidded annoyed look, dually ending the first story of Marge’s elation toward Goodman, and illuminating Goodman’s slightly unsatisfactory side.
– Great look into Springfield history as Kent Brockman reports the “Do What You Feel” festival will replace the annual “Do As We Say” Festival started by German settlers in 1946.
– Wonderful Burns and Smithers moment, with Burns quite excited to eat his “iced cream” and Smithers confessing that he loves him… in those colors (“Who am I kidding, the boathouse was the time!”)
– Nice, brief appearance by James Brown. Nothing that amazing, but I do love his only line (“Hold on here! This bandstand wasn’t double bolted!”) How would he know that just from examining the rubble?
– The very end is great, with the infamous McGonigle; another thing I quote a lot, “You’re off the case, McGonigle!!”

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5 responses to “88. Bart’s Inner Child

  1. I love Brad Goodman’s therapeutic gobbledygook. I quote the “that sends me into a shame spiral” thing all the time. Oh, and one more invariably hilarious addition: “We like Roy! We like Roy!”

    Also, I just want you to know that I love this blog. You have fantastic, insightful write-ups. I hope you keep on going — at least, until you get to season 9 or so.

  2. Can’t forget the inner children: “Hey Moe, what’s’a matter, you no talk-a wit’yo accent no more!” “Mamma mia!” It fits in with the immigration test he took earlier in the season as well, which is a nice bit of unintended continuity.

  3. “Not a big fan of Homer’s attempts to get rid of the trampoline. It got a bit too wacky for me.”
    Too wacky? a Wile e. Coyote reference? Oh cmon! it was perfect, because anybody in the world would get it, to the point that the viewer knows its not randomly wacky. And it then makes even more sense since Homer kinda got insane trying to get rid of the trampoline.

  4. I actually rather liked the cursed trampoline, especially the bit where it bounces back and hits homer on the head ala Wile E Coyote.

    It’s odd there is no way showing kids being hurt and indeed lots of kids being hurt should be funny, but here it works.

    I remember when I was watching this one last, and my mum walked past and just heard that “Be confident stupid!” remark and simply burst out laughing. She’s not a simpsons fan at all, but she loved it as a one liner.

  5. Marge’s story does get a wrap-up (of sorts) in the third act, when she realises she could have prevented some of the insanity by nagging more.

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