(originally aired January 6, 1996)
This season has been filled with a lot of emotional episodes, shows that take deeper looks at our characters and their relationships in new, interesting ways. “Team Homer,” on the other hand, feels like a throwback to the sillier, more outlandish episodes of season 5 (surprise surprise, David Mirkin is listed as executive producer here). We have two stories running side by side, premises that feel kind of limp, but have enough laughs and interesting stuff in them to keep going. The main story reintroduces Homer’s love of bowling, as in order to play on league night, wrangles Apu, Moe and Otto together, calling themselves the Pin Pals. They eventually build a camaraderie, and work their way up through the ranks. However, to procure the five-hundred dollar team registration fee, Homer had to get a loan from an ether-high Burns, who after coming down demands an explanation… until he has a change of heart and decides he’d rather join the team.
I don’t know how much I buy Burns’ chummy turn here, especially given how incredibly sudden it is. He exhibits the social awkwardness of a closeted self-serving bureaucrat, but without much contempt for his fellow man. I think back to “Burns Verkaufen Der Kraftwerk,” where Burns gleefully went “slumming” at Moe’s, but still clearly talked down to these penniless layabouts known as the middle class. Here he’s just an old softie, bowling consistent gutter balls much to the rest of the team’s chagrin. The pathetic sight of him rolling and his excitement regarding it (“Look at that! All the way to the end with only one push!”) keeps the show entertaining, but something just didn’t sit right about Burns’ behavior here. His snap back to his selfish ways at the end is equally as unusual; it’s all meant for the sake of humor, as Burns explains (“Teamwork will only take you so far. Then, the truly evolved person makes that extra grab for personal glory. Now, I must discard my teammates, much like the boxer must shed roll after roll of sweaty, useless, disgusting flab before he can win the title,”) but on the whole it just didn’t feel like Burns.
Strangely the B-story works a bit better for me. When Bart causes a school riot with his MAD magazine shirt “Down with Homework,” the students are forced to wear uniforms, turning them into emotionless zombies. Everything about the plot rings so true, from the children’s quick descent into anarchy after Bart reveals the shirt, and the faculty’s complete contempt for anything resembling an individualistic thought. The kids become empty shells of who they once were, forgetting their most basic instincts and catchphrases (“Ha… ho?”) In the end, rain turns the non-colorfasted uniforms tye-dye, and the kids go on a rampage once more. Both of these stories are pretty thin, and it’s fine that they don’t really intersect at all. While I have issues with Burns in the main story, I still laughed a fair amount at some of the bowling antics and the different teams, and the school uniform story has a lot of great Skinner and Chalmers stuff. So I can’t complain that halfway through the season I find an episode that’s absolutely spectacular, merely pretty hilarious and fantastic. Fair enough trade.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I love Homer’s absolute glee about his son’s MAD Magazine, and his inability to administer a snappy comeback (“I don’t think so… stupid!”)
– Lunchlady Doris has her final speaking role her, due to the unfortunate passing of Doris Grau. It’s a great one, as always, revealing she’s the mother of one of the seemingly endless squeaky voiced teens working low-paying jobs all over Springfield.
– Moe’s got a great semi-monologue after being denied right to bowl (“You go through life, you try to be nice to people, you struggle to resist the urge to punch in the face, and for what? For some pimply little puke to treat like dirt unless you’re on a team. Well, I’m better than dirt! …well, most kinds of dirt. I mean, not that fancy store-bought dirt. That stuff’s loaded with nutrients. I can’t compete with that stuff.”)
– The plotting of the bowling story is pretty solid as is, beginning and ending with Otto playing the crane game, along with it being integral to the climax. And what is his ultimate prize? A lobster harmonica. Of the many Simpsons products I want to be real, that’s in the top 5.
– The Skinner/Chalmers stuff is so rich. Azaria is hysterical as Chalmers is very slowly about to give the school a perfect 10 (“I’ll just write the zero first… now, a vertical line to indicate the one…”) Then of course he’s trampled by a herd of out-of-control kids. This leads to an equally hilarious bit with another Vietnam story from Skinner: a distraction by MAD Magazine caused his platoon to be captured, and he recalls his days in a POW camp surviving on just a thin stew. His personal torment comes not from that, but his inability to recreate the stew here in the States.
– The early Burns stuff is great, with his hallucinations of Homer as the Pillsbury Dough Boy (“I owe my robust physique to your tubes of triple-bleached goo!”) and supposed murder of Hans Moleman, who he believes to be the Lucky Charms leprechaun and tries to extract his gold with a power drill. Also funny later when he expresses shock over his bowling payment, then finds it was for his boweling (“Remember that month you didn’t do it?” “Yes… that was unpleasant for all concerned.”) Then he expresses shock over the bowling payment.
– All the different teams are great, from the Stereotypes, consisting of Luigi, Willie, Cletus and Captain McAllister (Apu muses, “They begged me to join their team! Begged me!”) and the Homewreckers, consisting of Lurleen Lumpkin, Princess Kashmir, Mindy Simmons and Jacques. Considering Homer’s relationship with those ladies I suppose that game must have been slightly awkward. Also fabulous is the police force team, with Wiggum, Eddie, Lou and Snake. Wiggum uncuffs Snake to go bowl, who then proceeds to run off.
– Bart proclaims to his mother the new uniforms suck. Marge wonders where he could have picked up such language. Pan over to Homer on the phone (“Yeah, Moe, that team sure did suck last night. They just plain sucked! I’ve seen teams suck before, but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.”) Marge scolds him, so Homer hangs up (“I gotta go, my damn wiener kids are listening.”)
– There’s a lot of great Moe lines in this, from his reaction to Bumblebee Man’s taunt “Buenos noches, senoritas!” (“What’d he say? Was that about me?”) to his displeasure at Burns (“Call this an unfair generalization if you must, but old people are no good at everything.”)
– Great exuberant reading of Milhouse’s “I’m freaking out!!” and final joke of the story of Skinner realizing his mother’s dress will react similarly, running off, with Chalmers following, interestedly commenting, “Now this I gotta see.” Wasn’t there a future episode showing Chalmers had an interest in Skinner’s mother? I don’t remember. Plus it was a later episode, so who cares.
– Love Homer’s stolen Oscar from, of all people, Don Ameche, and the timing and staging of the joke where he flushes it multiple times off screen, followed by a pathetic “Maaaaarge, someone broke the toilet!”
– Great bit with Moe attempting to hobble Burns with a crowbar but ends up fixing his gimp knee (“That precision assault popped it back into place. Thank you, masked stranger!”)