141. Two Bad Neighbors

(originally aired January 14, 1996)
Last time I minorly criticized “Team Homer” for being too silly, so now I’m gonna be a big hypocrite in saying how much I like this one, one of the craziest episodes of the entire series. In this show, the large mansion across the street from the Simpsons which we’ve never seen before or since is sold… to George H.W. Bush. The real George Bush (voiced by Harry Shearer, that is.) It doesn’t get more absurd than that, but dammit the show makes it work. His explanation of coming to Springfield is believable, wanting to get away from politics by moving to the town with the lowest voter turnout. His presence is much to the awe of most of the town, and George builds a small kinship with Ned Flanders, who shares his penchant for good Christian living and kooky catchphrases (“Fine and dandy like sour candy!”) But nothing could prepare our ex-President for a brush with our favorite little hellion Bart Simpson.

Bart becomes a pestering irritant to Bush with his constant questioning and lack of traditional respect for elders. So the episode pretty much becomes “Dennis the Menace,” also with Barbara Bush as the kindly forgiving Mrs. Wilson. Sure Bart isn’t typically that bratty or spastic, but it’s not incredibly out of the realm of his character, and moreover I just love the idea of this parallel. In the show’s early days, Bush made an infamous comment that America should be more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons. I’m sure this was something a speech writer came up with as a good sound bite, but it gives this episode some context, making Bush actual enemies with Bart and Homer. In no way does this feel like vindictive or petty on behalf of the writers though, since the tone is always goofy and Bush is never portrayed as a bad guy, just out of touch with the current generation, as evidenced with that real-life quote.

When Bart’s antics accidentally lead to the destruction of George’s newly completed memoirs, he is given a pithy spanking, something that infuriates an already agitated Homer, who had been jealous of Mr. Bush the moment he stole his thunder at the swap meet. The third act becomes a ridiculous prank war between the Simpsons and George Bush, ending in an all-out brawl in the sewers. It’s so, so very absurd, childish and stupid… but damn it all if it isn’t so much fun to watch. By the time Mikhail Gorbachev shows up with a house warming gift at the end, I’m beyond the point of questioning what’s happening. There’s no sort of political angle here, or any harsh criticism about Bush at all; it’s still a story about our characters: Homer’s rampant jealousy, and the generational rift between Bart and his elders. I’m sure when this aired, it must have completely polarized the fans, some thinking it was just fucking retarded. But I absolutely love it; it was one of my favorites as a kid, and it’s even better now since I actually know stuff about Bush. As dumb as it is, it appeals to multiple sensibilities, like the show does at its best.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I always love the beginning bit (“the Grand Nationals of Sand Castle Building… Preview!”) which has a bait and switch with promises of bikini girls and daredevil surfing… which the beach would normally have, which is currently cleared for painstaking sand preparation.
– I don’t remember ever establishing where Apu lived… he lives in an apartment later on with Manjula, and we saw him with Princess Kashmir at the Fiesta Terrace, but that might have been her place. So I guess he moved after this. Lots of people show up to the rummage sale, but I assume they don’t all live on the same block.
– Great masking of the “Ayatollah Assahola” T-shirt to get past censors, and Homer displaying more specific knowledge of how it could still be useful (“It works on any Ayatollah: Ayatollah Nakhbadeh, Ayatollah Zahedi… even as we speak, Ayatollah Razmada and his cadre of fanatics are consolidating their power!”) Also great explanation of the ‘Disco Stu’ jacket, that he ran out of space to write ‘Stud.’ And that of course leads to the introduction of one of the greatest tertiary characters… Disco Stu (“Disco Stu… doesn’t advertise.”)
– Love Mrs. Glick’s firm enforcement of her prices, and their specific uses (“Just candy, Ned! Ninety dollars!”)
– God, I love Skinner’s dissertation of the tie rack, first complaining about the loud motor, then of the inability to reach ties in the back if it’s taken out. He then surmises since he only owns one tie, he’ll pass. …then he comes back and buys it. And then later when Homer puts the motor up for sale, he takes that too. So dumb.
– Homer’s bombastic karaoke is lovably bad, with Wiggum accompanying on keyboard.
– I love Rod and Todd’s harrowing warnings about Bart, with Ned following, “Now Todd, don’t scare the president.” Then Bart comes by on his skateboard and dramatic music plays.
– Really like Bush’s glee at the U.S. New cover article, featuring Clinton as Public Enemy #1 (“Roasting the new guy…”) Again, not painting him as vindictive, he’s just glad to see his replacement is catching some flack just as he did for four years.
– I love all the scenes with George and Bart; so many great quotes, like when Bart screws with his card shuffler (“Those cards are from Air Force One, and they only give you so many packs!”) and then when he accuses the boy’s hands are filled with mud and cookies, and Bart reveals clean hands, he mutters under his breath, “Probably stole a napkin.”
– George at the drive-thru line is hysterical, his confused reading of “Krusty Burger” is fantastic, and his assertion that cheeseburgers are more of a Wednesday thing. Homer, behind him in line, incessantly honks until a secret service member disables his horn (“Hey! My taxes pay for that horn!”) Even better that Homer willingly popped the hood when the agent asked so he could do it.
– Great bit where Homer has to consult a book that says Bush was President, then announces, “Well, his story checks out.” He then muses if his wife would love him more if he was President, to which Marge responds that as long as he keeps the car full of gas, she’s happy. Homer is relieved, then nervously looks back at the car in the drive.
– I love the finale of Bush’s memoirs (“And since I’d achieved all my goals as President in one term, there was no need for a second. The end,”) and the fact that he considers them good, not great. The animation of the outboard going nuts and wrecking everything in the garage is fantastic, especially the exterior shot where you see it all in silhouette, then the final part where a light bulb drops and causes it to reactivate and shred up all the memoirs. And great minor joke where we see one bit of paper fly by reading (“V.P. Quayle Disappointment.”)
– Great brief moment with Grampa, not knowing what all the fuss is about that Bart got spanked (“When I was a pup, we got spanked by Presidents till the cows came home. Grover Cleveland spanked me on two nonconsecutive occasions!”) Marge replies that she just doesn’t believe in that punishment, to which Grampa retorts, “And that’s why your no-good kids are running wild!” He points to Lisa, who is quietly reading.
– So very childish, but excellently executed prank with cardboard cut-outs of Bush’s sons at the door, but only serving as a ruse to slap a rainbow wig on George’s head. The writers claimed they didn’t even know who “George Bush, Jr.” was at the time, but we’d learn alllll about him soon enough. Love the reveal of Bush at the Elk’s club with his sheared technicolor hair (“Now, are there any questions? …keeping in mind I already explained about my hair.”)
– This show contains my favorite line reading of the entire series. George is pushed to the limit and is driving donuts on the Simpsons lawn. Marge naively questions that maybe he’s lost. We’ve panned across the front window, and we land on Homer, who has an amazing stern expression on his face. “He’s not lost.” I can’t even describe it. It’s so severe and knowing, I laugh every goddamn time. That and, “It’s time to hit him where he lives!” “His house?” “Bingo.”
– The great Bush lines keep coming after he gets out of his car (“Can’t decide if this’ll be considered feisty, or crazy”) and then when he spies Homer and Bart through the sewer grate (“If he thinks George Bush’ll stay out of the sewer, he doesn’t know George Bush.”)
– Love Bush threatening while choking Homer, “I’ll ruin you like a Japanese banquet!” referring to the famous incident when a sick Bush vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister at a state banquet.
– Hank Azaria as Gorbachev always makes me laugh (“I just dropped by with present for warming of house. Instead, find you grappling with local oaf.”)
– The ending is great too, with Gerald Ford moving in and Homer finding his true equal; both trip on the walk to the house and go “D’oh!” in unison. Can’t think of a better capper than that.

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4 responses to “141. Two Bad Neighbors

  1. “If he thinks George Bush’ll stay out of the sewer, he doesn’t know George Bush.” Another allusion to the 1988 election campaign, Bush’s campaign was considered one of the dirtiest ever at the time, Lee Atwater in particular credited with that.

  2. The mansion did appear again in the Shary Bobbins episode… probably because they realised the Gerald Ford scene (on “Krusty Komedy Klassics”) would make people think “Oh, yeah, he used to live in that mansion across the street…”

  3. Just like Mike, this episode is one of my favorites of the entire series, but I can’t pinpoint the reasons. It’s just.. I dunno, unique.. and the whole concept of Homer versus Bush as neighbors is totally bonkers. Oh God, I love it.

  4. Love love love this one. So ridiculous. Great how, despite moving Bush the whole episode, it remains largely apolitical and non-partisan. No way you’d see something like that these days.

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