(originally aired January 11, 1998)
A rather big thing about this season has been the shift in Homer’s characterization. I don’t mean to belabor this point, but he’s prevalent in pretty much every episode so far, and each one features him pushed to a new limit of either stupidity, recklessness or inconsideration. There have been plenty of moments in the past when exaggerated antics have garnered big laughs, but the problem is when it runs through almost every scene in every episode. This show features a lot of childish and braindead Homer, and some of it works, but a fair share of it doesn’t. The family spends an evening at the carnival, where Bart ends up wrecking the star attraction: Hitler’s staff car. The owner demands Bart work for him to repay him, and for some reason or another, Homer does to. He begs and pleads him like a child, to be specific. Totally makes sense. It just seemed like the writers needed to have Homer there for the plot, so it just happened. We get no scene of Marge hearing about this, or why he’s not at the plant, it just happened. That’s a problem that would emerge with later seasons; stuff would just happen.
Homer and Bart end up befriending a fellow father-son carny team: Cooder and his boy Spud. Jim Varney gives a fine performance as the former, but on the whole there’s nothing too memorable about these characters. They previously scammed the two with their ring toss game, now hand the reigns over to them while they attend their AA meeting. Another thing featured here that I don’t really care for: Homer and Bart as a team. The two have always generally been adversarial, and times when they work together have some kind of meaning or specific reason. Here, they’re like an odd comedy duo, where Bart’s the straight man and Homer’s the dummy. It works for a line or two (I like Cooder’s quick decision to give Bart the money box, with Bart responding, “Good call,”) but it’s just a strange dynamic. The attempted bribe scene with Wiggum is also conflicting: I think it’s well timed and kind of amusing, but I kind of felt it was too much, Homer can’t possibly have any functioning brain cells at that point.
With the ring toss booth repossessed by the police, Cooder and Spud are homeless, leaving Homer no choice but to let them stay with him. To repay them for their kindness, the two give the Simpsons ticket to a glass bottom boat ride, but when the family returns, find the carnies have changed the locks, boarded up the windows and taken to squatting in their house. I guess this whole show is about the art of the swindle, going from a cheap carnival game to a much grander scale. And it pays off in the end with Homer’s ring toss challenge for the deed to the house. But around that, there just seems to be a lot of dead air. There’s the yard work opening that has no bearing to the actual plot (we’d see plenty of that later on), and the carnival set piece only really has a few jokes, though it carries on for the first two acts. There were a few laughs along the way, I do like the ending, but I’m not really a big fan of this one, carny code be damned.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Bart and Lisa’s petulant “Ding ding ding!” followed by Homer dashing through the room thinking it’s the ice cream man really made me laugh. In that scene and context, I believe Lisa’s laziness, and am fine with Homer acting like a child. A little goes a long way.
– I like how Marge getting the upper hand when Bart and Lisa need money get shit on by Homer dashing to the rescue with his exploding wallet, and them all dinging as they run out. But then we get to the carnival and Marge is being pushed around again. I kind of felt she should have stayed home; she’d have no interest in a carnival anyway.
– The Tooth Chipper is great, but I kind of felt it went on too long. You get the joke after one shot, then they have it twice and we hear Homer on it.
– I like Homer coming to tears over his novelty comb, and the sight of him later combing his two hairs with it is pretty funny.
– The morning montage with the classic Greig music is pretty great, with the blossoming burger wrapper, shifting the lettering on the signs, and spraying the rats off the hot dog warmer.
– Bart’s first target for the ring toss game is Skinner and his mother (“All right, Simpson. Be honest with me. Is it actually possible to win this game?” “If I like it, it is.” “Hot dog! Let’s go.”) Agnes berates Skinner the entire time he’s trying to win a lamp for her, and with his last few rings, takes aim at a large knife instead. Seems like almost too dark of a joke.
– Like Marge’s hyper-aware shudder after Homer agrees to let Cooder and Spud stay with them; she knows something is amiss…
– The glass bottom boat ride starts out strong, then ends weak. We see the mysteries of Springfield’s briny deep, shopping carts, nuclear waste, a barrel of Li’l Lisa Slurry, and an old glass bottom boat (I love how the tour guide cavalierly mentions how “eight-eight souls” were lost on it). Great stuff. Then we end with Homer and Bart being brats taunting a shark through the glass. Not only is it the two acting as partners in crime again, but it’s such a blatant and obvious gag. And not funny.
– How did none of the family notice the boarded up windows walking up to their door. …whatever.
– Cooder in Homer’s clothes is kind of amusing (“Look at me! I’m a millionaire!”) as is their using a flaming barrel for heat instead of a fire place, with photo albums for kindling (“‘Precious Moments’ or ‘Treasured Memories’?” “Quit your yappin’! I’m freezing!”)
– I love the animation of Homer’s proposal to Cooder through the peephole. It’s visually interesting, and kind of puts you in Cooder’s head, like whether you would accept Homer’s deal. I really do like this ending, where the tension just builds and builds, then they just run into the house. It’s a pretty good ruse, at least Cooder is impressed (“Well, there’s no shame in being beaten by the best.” “But, he didn’t seem…” “We were beaten by the best, boy.”) I buy that Homer was clever enough to think of that, but this is the same show where his brain was shut off during the bribe scene, so questionable, I guess.