(originally aired December 4, 1994)
Oooh, look at this, two risque episodes in a row. I like that the series felt brave enough to tackle mature topics, sort of rubbing it in the face of all the ignorant viewers who automatically wire animation with kid’s show. Right away we have a montage over a long period of time of Marge’s dissatisfaction over her inactive husband not fulfilling needs in the bedroom. It’s a neat dynamic, and a very realistic handling of the problem, as the two seek outside help with reigniting the sparks of their marriage with a book on tape by Paul Harvey (brilliantly mimicked by Harry Shearer.) When all suggestions seem to fail, Grampa, of all people, comes to the rescue with his secret home-brewed revitalizing tonic, which Homer takes begrudgingly (in the best line of the show, Grampa yells down to his son, “Think of me when you’re having the best sex of your life!”)
The tonic works wonders for Homer, which leads to he and his father traveling to various cities peddling their sexually rejuvenating wares. Here we get some jokes about shifty traveling salesmen, and an aborted subplot that kind of goes nowhere as the kids of Springfield draw up wild conspiracy theories as to why their parents are going to bed so early. But it isn’t long before things get serious. The two stumble upon the old Simpson farm where Homer spent his childhood, and start to wax nostalgic on the good ol’ days… almost. Homer recalls the rampant criticism his father gave him, and how it continues well into the present. As we’ve seen in flashbacks, there’s a real sour undercurrent in Homer’s youth that Abe was pretty hostile and psychologically damaging to his son, and while most of it is played for laughs, the gravity is still present. In a fit of anger, Abe admits the love tonic was responsible for his wife’s pregnancy, and that Homer was an unintended accident. Mighty harsh words, particularly for an early 90s sitcom. This show had balls, and wasn’t afraid to tread on matters like this.
Not wanting to be like his own father, Homer vows to be a better dad to his own kids, but ends up aggravating and smothering them. They could have kept this going much longer than it needed to, even dragged it into its own episodes (many shows in the later era would do something similar,) but the sense was made to have Bart and Lisa call their father out on his aggressive new parenting style (“No offense, Homer, but your half-assed underparenting was a lot more fun than your half-assed overparenting.”) Father and son inadvertently come together in the end as each has a hand in burning down the family house, where Abe pays his son his very first cordial remark (“I’m not sorry I had you, son. I was always proud… that you weren’t a short man.”) It’s a really sweet ending that actually carries some weight, where they both admit they’re damaged individuals, and the house burning down being like wiping away their troubled past. Maybe I’m attributing too much symbolism, but I think the Homer-Abe dynamic was worked with really well, with a great human element to it.
Tidbits and Quotes
– “Good-Time Slim, Uncle Doobie, and the Great ‘Frisco Freak-Out” is a spectacular 70s Cheech and Chong type flick that of course Troy McClure would have starred in (“There’s more than one way to get high, baby.”) I also love Homer’s defense of it (“How often can I see a movie of this calibre on late-night TV?”)
– Very risque bit where we see Homer and Marge in the buff and an alarmed Bart runs in thinking he’s seen a UFO… which is actually a golf umbrella. Even the saintly parent Marge is so sexually pent up she allows a panicked Bart to sit on the roof with a baseball bat, but Homer is passed out by the time she returns to bed. Homer explains his problems (“Marge, there’s just too much pressure, what with my job, the kids, traffic snarls, political strife at home and abroad. But I promise you, the second all those things go away, we’ll have sex.”)
– Great reference to Mapplethorpe. My art history classes actually came in handy.
– The Al Gore joke is so absolutely hilarious, but I love the set-up, where Lisa says UFO conspiracies are bogus, then we get the X-Files music and the following of wires all the way to the White House, so you think that’s the joke, but then we get Al Gore celebrating good times (“I will.”)
– Dan Castellaneta is phenomenal this episode as Grampa, especially when we first see him and he asks his son what’s wrong, naming off many things, including a phony condition that’s got at least a hundred letters in it. Then the great line, “What, seeeex? What’s so unappealing about hearing your elderly father talk about sex? I had seeex.” The drawn out readings of “sex” are so hilariously overdone.
– The Stock Footage film festival is such a great cop-out joke: why would there be a sign in the theater saying what it is, and why would Bart and Lisa want to watch it? Regardless, still funny.
– I love Homer’s attempts to approach mall-going folk about his product (“Hello You look like a man who needs help satisfying his wife.”) and then his musings over how that didn’t go so well (“I guess people have some sort of moral objection to our sex drug.”)
– Abe lists off their target cities, which of course all have impotent sounding names: Frigid Falls, Mount Seldom, Lake Flaccid.
– I thought li’l Homer imitating John F. Kennedy was really cute. And as I mentioned, Abe’s “advice” to his young son is as hilarious as it is emotionally devastating (“This is the greatest country in the world. We’ve got a whole system set up to prevent people like you from ever becoming president. Quit your daydreaming, melonhead!”)
– I love how pathetic the third act starts, where Abe shows up at the door with flowers apologizing to his son, who then slams the door on him. He crumbles a few of them through the mail slot, then puts his hand through and waves, “Hi.”
– Homer’s insane overparenting seems like a very new Simpsons thing, with him teaching his son how to ride a bike even though he has one, but here, it’s done over-the-top and within the emotional context of the show. Nowadays it’d just be a normal stupid thing. Like much much later on I remember a stupid bit where they had Bart teach Homer how to ride a bike for some reason. Dumb.
– Last thing, I love the blunt title. I’m sure at this point they didn’t give a shit about the episode names, so they were like, “What do we call this one?” And this is what they landed on. It may be my favorite title of any episode.