(originally aired November 9, 1997)
So here’s another episode with a somewhat interesting story and a lot of great gags and laughs throughout… but again tainted by early glimmers of Jerkass Homer. Is this going to be a consistent theme this season? …probably. When a local health fair illuminates the fact that Springfield’s kids are overweight, many of them are hooked into peewee football. Flanders acts as team coach, but when Homer’s incessant and overbearing heckling digs into him a bit too deep, he resigns and makes him the coach. Although the rough and ruthless Nelson is essentially carrying the team, Homer goes for nepotism and puts all his stock into Bart as the new quarterback, despite his objections.
I don’t know what it is about Homer, I guess the writers figured the farther they pushed him, the more ridiculous it would be, ergo more funny. But, as later seasons will show, it just makes him less attached to the “real” Homer we know and love and more into a caricature, dare I say, a “cartoon” of his former self. Sure he holds a disdain toward Flanders and complains about it, but doing it in such an aggressive manner, in public seems way too over the top. Then Flanders confronts him about it and he shirks away from it. Again, like last time, not a good move when you make your protagonist unlikable; Homer has a lot of negative qualities, but any harm he inflicts is unintentional, you should never not be on his side. There’s an inkling of interesting character stuff with Homer; flashing back we see his father, disgruntled as ever, never supported him during his athletic days, and after being overbearing toward Bart, decides to go the other way and encourage him too much. Homer as an overzealous team dad worked a lot better in “Lisa on Ice,” it seemed a lot less exaggerated than it’s played out here.
But again, I have to say I’m still laughing a lot at these episodes regardless. While Roy Firestone was essentially a worthless cameo (ditto with the King of the Hill scene), I loved the stuff with Joe Namath, it’s a very brilliant self-aware celebrity appearance. Bart’s at his lowest, and against all odds or logic, Joe Namath appears to help him, and is about to instill his greatest wisdom… then leaves. There’s a lot of great Nelson stuff, like his end field dance and many great quotes (“I won’t give you a B but I’ll tear you a new A!”) The health fair at the beginning is a great first act set piece, there’s humor within the games themselves, and I even like the ending where Bart swaps with Nelson in the squad car. Like last time, everything works but Homer. I just know this complaint is going to grow larger and larger as we go on here, but I’m kind of startled how suddenly it came upon us. We’re just starting the ninth season here; did someone just turn a dial in his brain? I just watched every episode up to this point, did I forget about more telltale signs in the last few seasons? I don’t think so… But, again, despite Homer, a pretty funny episode.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Always crack up at Dr. Nick standing with a big grin on his face at the “What’s Your Sex?” booth. Also great is the old men at the hearing booth (“Nothing yeeeeeeett!”) When the tone gets unbearably loud, Jasper goes to raise his hand, but Abe shakes his head. A no-nonsense Rainier Wolfcastle is present to dole out “FAT” stickers, and he goes through a lot of them (“I loved your last McBain movie, Mr. Wolfcastle!” “Quit stalling, fatty.”)
– I like Marge’s sheepishness over asking for a cup, and the store clerk’s childish behavior regarding it (“Cup? Could you spell that?” “C-U-P. I wanna C-U… oh my God!”) Once he’s all protected, Bart instructs Milhouse to repeatedly kick him in the groin, which he does with great vigor.
– Another classic Ralph line (“Ralph, you’ll be on special team.” “I’m special!”)
– I do like Lisa wanting to join the team on principle only, just to find there’s nothing she can really get uppity about. It’s handled well here, but her rampant activism would only absorb more and more of her character as year went on. I just remember later she’d whip out a bullhorn labeled “Li’l Agitator.” Once the characters get too self-conscious about themselves, things can go a bit too far.
– I love that both teams are the Wildcasts, it sounds like the most common name for a kids team (“Who are we?” “The Wildcats!” “Who are we gonna beat?” “The Wildcats!”)
– Homer’s disdain toward Flanders usually works best when he’s seething to himself, like his comment when the coach of the winning team is hoisted up by the players (“Big deal. I’ve been carried out of Moe’s like that hundreds of times.”)
– Clever bit where Bart avoids the tires on the stairs by sliding down the banister. I’m sure he does that every morning and didn’t even notice Homer’s “obstacle course.”
– The flashback is great, I love that Homer was into aerobics. Smithers is announcing the event (“Now, that’s the end of the girl’s full exercise. Now, lets bring on the men!”) Homer does pretty well to start, but Abe’s blatant disdain (I always crack up at his sudden, unprompted “You’re gonna blow it!”) screws him up (“That’s what I get for having faith in yah.”) Also points go to Lenny’s “Bull Shirt” shirt.
– Recalling that traumatic memory, Homer vows to be nicer to his son and meaner to his dad, going out to give the former a hug. Bart’s brain informs him it’s a trap and to run like hell. Homer gives chase (“Hug meee!”) Then the scene goes on longer for some reason with them running about the yard. That’s another thing that would get more prominent, scenes running long. Do the joke and move on, don’t linger.
– I do like Homer’s continued cuts (“Steven, I like your hussle. That’s why it was so hard to cut you. Congratulations, the rest of you made the team! …except you, you and you.”)
– Homer is very blatant about his sudden change of heart toward Bart (“Son, you can do anything you want. I have total faith in you.” “Since when?” “Since your mother yelled at me.”)
– I love that Joe Namath scene. Bart tries to recall Namath’s advice… but then remembers he never gave any. Also, he seems to clearly envision Namath’s wife/girlfriend/whoever even though he never saw her.
– Great bit where Homer sarcastically calls up Mr. Burns (“This is Homer J. Simpson, the father of the big quitter! Well, I just wanted to tell you I’m a big quitter, too! And I quit!”) Then he realizes his winks don’t translate over the phone, screams and hangs up. It’s a hilarious performance, and is a total bonehead Homer move.
– This episode gave birth to Skittlebrau, a wonderful concoction Homer appears to have imagined. We see it actually exists in a later episode though.
– Part of the show comes full circle when Abe is at the championship game, Marge comments that he must be proud of his son. Abe replies, “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” and promptly falls asleep.