236. Little Big Mom

(originally aired January 9, 2000)
This episode has a weird presence throughout, for one reason or another, nothing really felt right for the whole running time. From the opening set piece to the main thrust of the story to the random ending, it was all so off, like some novice writer took his stab at writing an episode without really understanding the series. At the start things just feel so lazy as the show attempts to jump into the skiing opener by acknowledging how random and abrupt the transition is. It doesn’t work. The first act is pretty much laugh-free, save for the immortal “Stupid sexy Flanders!” bit, which is immediately made irritating as Homer gets hit in the crotch repeatedly at the top of his lungs. Hey guys, volume does not equal funny.

So the crux of the story is Lisa filling in for Marge in keeping the house together, but realizing it’s more hassle than she thought. Now, this whole premise doesn’t work for two big reasons. Firstly, it’s an egregious example of having Homer and Bart being partners in crime rather than father and son. Call back to “Bart After Dark” and their hilarious lazy and awkward escapades at having the house to themselves. Here they’re two big kids, horsing around at the hospital and Homer laughing derisively at his daughter’s request to turn the TV down. Homer is a man child for sure, but not to this degree. Second, I feel this role doesn’t exactly befit Lisa. It’s sort of reminiscent of “My Sister, My Sitter” where she wants to be viewed as more mature, but this is a bigger leap. Shows like “Homer Alone” and “Marge in Chains” have shown how the house goes to shit without Marge, where we see that Lisa is just as much a kid needing her mother as anyone. Lisa the authority figure just feels like her flimsily adult-child characterization she’d be saddled with later on.

To get back at her father and brother, Lisa makes them think they have leprosy, by applying fake oatmeal and poster paint sores on their body. I can buy this a little bit; you could use the joke that Homer and Bart don’t bathe to explain why the sores stay on. But when Flanders takes pity on them and sends them to Hawaii, then all good will evaporates. How could these trained professionals not see it’s just fucking oatmeal? It just felt so silly, and not in a good way. This whole episode is filled with either big dead spots with no laughs, or stuff that makes no sense and feels out of character. Like “Sleaze,” despite its laundry list of problems, I can’t say I hate it, but I certainly rue and lament it.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Even the Itchy and Scratchy feels wrong. It’s way too long with too light of a payoff.
– Lisa is in mini-adult mode in this episode, but still goes along with Homer and Bart as they try and get the box of junk back from Goodwill.
– The skiing opening is pretty much a dead zone. I like the name Mt. Embolism, but all the other material just kind of laid there.
– I hate Homer and Bart at the hospital, but I do like this exchange (“You’re wasting thousands of dollars of interferon!” “And you’re interfere-on with our good time!”) Also what happened to Hibbert being a competent doctor? A bone in Marge’s leg piercing her brain? What?
– Homer is not only a complete child but in full idiot mode here; having him talk into that candy phone like it was real was pretty aggravating in that’s what they felt was a great joke.
– I do like Tress MacNeille’s grizzled Lucille Ball voice, the sequence was kind of silly, but has the only few laughs in this show (“Lucy Macgillacudy Ricardo Carmichael. And I think there’s some more.”)
– I guess it’s kind of neat they got the AOL guy to voice the Virtual Doctor. Kind of. A little. …not really. Though I do like that it’s from the creator of “Sim Sandwich.”
– Apart from “stupid sexy Flanders,” the only other golden bit occurs when Bart and Homer claw through Flanders’ mail slot like zombies (“Braaains… braaaiins… use your brains to help us! Your delicious braaiins…”) There’s a few other amusing bits there too, with Ned being upset Maude saw Ben Hur without him, and urging the boys to get him the alcohol-free alcohol.
– It involves more Homer screaming and yelling, but I really like the performance of Castellaneta singing “Aloha Oe” punctuated with needle lacerations. And the Hawaiian version of the end theme is pretty great. At least I can give the ending that.


16 responses to “236. Little Big Mom

  1. For some reason, I thought from the title that this was the Marge-gets-breast-implants one. Looking through your summary, I REALLY don’t remember this one, despite “stupid sexy Flanders”. There’s even some really really awful episodes I remember better than this one. Maybe being all-around forgettable is worse.

  2. I don’t mind the abrupt decision to go skiing, but I do mind the abrupt abandonment of the skiing set piece. I know that Zombie Simpsons was doing stuff like this all the time, but I was having a great time with this whole beginning scenario.

    Disco Stu hitting on Marge is one of my favorite Zombie Simpson scenes because it feels like an effort was put in to expand him beyond a one-note character gradually, like with the Sea Captain. Using Disco Stu sparingly like this was great since he had a nice little moment with build-up and denouement. Marge’s oblivious dialogue makes it all the better.

    Then we have to return home for the “real plot” which, as you said, had been covered much better in previous episodes.

    It always bothered me that the leprosy sores were so obviously fake. Really, was bright green the best color?

    And the “leprosy treatment” that was so needlessly gory was just stupid. Stupid sexy Flanders.

  3. This one of those weird episodes I watched first run that had lots of funny thing in it and part I love (and intensely quotable lines) but has an end that’s deeply unsatisfying where I think about it years later and go, oh yeah, that’s cuz it’s fucking stupid and lazy.

    It’s funny though how many of THIS season in particular I like, more than a few of the celeb wank episodes from seasons past (dish being one, but the oddest duck for me will always be homerpaloza, because everything seems over orchestrated to make them cross musicians paths for guest shots)

    • I’ve always felt the same way about Homerpalooza. I know it’s from a classic season and all, but the whole episode feels very Zombie to me,

      • Homerpalooza’s celebrity parade reminded me more of Homer at the Bat’s. The celebrities aren’t just there to say their names and leave. Each has a funny moment and they are necessary pieces to build a larger environment for Homer to be a part of. Frampton’s pig! The celebrity/Homer relationship felt a lot more natural than the Dish-scenario.

      • @john Homer at bat is wonderful in a way that homerpoloza just can’t touch for me. Mostly the merciless mocking of the athletes, plus homer actually hates them. Homer in poloza has this weird need to be cool which feels very odd. Homer is basically a shlub.

        I suppose to me the baseball stuff feels more timeless where homerpoloza is very much rooted in that exact time. Also homer becomes FAMOUS and CAN TAKE A CANNONBALL TO THE GUT, and RIDES BEHIND AN RV(?) ON FRYING PANS.

        Homer as a softball hero that gets absolutely trounced when pro-athletes come in feels much more authentic.

      • “Homerpalooza” seems to come up a lot in these comments… I agree that there’s a degree of forbearance to later disposable star-studded episodes, but it still felt strong to me, albeit slightly dated. Also, Homer is still treated like a regular guy, this hometown freak show who the celebrities only really appreciate in a novelty sense. It wouldn’t be long until Mel Gibson desperately seeks Homer’s advice to fix his movie and people constantly proceed to bend over backwards on the whims of this raging moron.

      • I get what you’re saying and it definitely had all the hallmarks of a Zombie episode (like “Homer gets a new job”, “let’s throw in a bunch of guest stars”, “let’s reference something popular way after it’s popular”, etc…) but that episode still feels timeless in a way.. I mean, Frampton and Sonic Youth and so on, these are musicians who’ve been at it for a loooooooooong time, not disposable throwaway guest stars… also I’m probbably alone in this but I love “Rover Hendrix”.

      • To me, Homerpalooza has a different feel from the later celebrity-fellating episodes. For one thing, Homer had no clue who any of them were, and they all interacted like people working together, not the sycophantic SHOUT CELEBRITY’S NAME. And there were some great jokes: Insane in the Brain with the orchestra, Peter Frampton’s pig, “I was in the audio-visual club!” “Me too, but they kicked me out for my views on Vietnam. Well, that, and i was stealing projectors.”

  4. All I have to say is that “Mount Useful” from Mountain of Madness is a lot funnier of a name than “Mount Embolism”.

  5. The Lucy stuff and “Stupid sexy Flanders!” are the sole highlights in this otherwise putrid episode.

  6. This is the earliest episode I can remember viewing on its original broadcast. For years, my mother outright forbid me to ever watch The Simpsons, promising that she’d lift the ban when I turned 13. I remember really enjoying Season 11 (and 12, for that matter) when they first aired, mostly because I was a newbie who had barely seen anything yet. There’s still a weird nostalgia attached to a lot of these shows for me, in spite of how lame they are.

  7. This is the episode where the whole ‘Homer in pain’ gag gets out of hand. First we have the ski-slope-crotch-attack bit which goes on for too long, and then the episode ends with Homer screaming as he endures painful electric needle treatment. Its the first episode I found myself cringing at and sadly these “jokes” about Homer getting unnecessarily gory injuries would continue on for the rest of the series.

  8. Novice writer is correct; this was the first episode written by Carolyn Omine, previously of Full House and The Parent ‘Hood.

  9. Well, bad as this ep was, I kinda like Lisa’s quick impression of Burns as seen in the picture. Aside from the bits you mentioned.

  10. I kind of like the Virtual Doctor bit – particularly the titular doctor saying “Goodbye” and running out of his office after telling Homer and Bart they have leprosy.

    Not a fan, however, of Homer saying “Help us, Virtual Doc! Look at me, I’m on my knees!” Don’t think Classic Homer would have been *that* dumb…

    And I agree with what John said five years ago(!) – was green *really* the best color for the “sores”?

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