(originally aired May 13, 2001)
There’s this odd air of “whatever” that permeates through this entire episode, it’s like they banged out the entire story in an afternoon and never revised it. There’s some kind of idea here, striving for an emotional connection, but it is not executed to that effect at all. The thing about garnering sentimentality in your story is that you need to set it up early so the episode is cohesive and feels like it builds. Instead it feels like they got half-way through and realized there was no point to the episode and crammed one in. Homer gets a terrible knee injury and ends up wheelchair bound for a few weeks, a fact he bemoans, which of course is funny because he does little more than sit on his ass normally. He agrees to watch Flanders’ kids for a night, and enjoys their company so much that he decides to open a daycare center out of his home. This is like half the episode at this point, and everything feels so slow and aimless. It’s like instead of things building to this point, they tripped and fell into the plot.
So the “emotional” element of the story is that Homer is investing so much time and care into the kids of Springfield, but not to his own. Bart and Lisa that is; Maggie is suspiciously absent, presumably because she can’t speak, but it would have been cute to give her some pantomime moments in going along with her two siblings. It’s not exactly clear why Bart and Lisa care so much about this, nor why Homer all of a sudden is the world’s funnest substitute dad. We get like two scenes of showing him playing around with the kids, but it all feels so empty. So when the documentary crew shows up at the third act saying he’s up for a “good guy” award, it feels so bizarre. This plot angle also kind of deflates thanks to one “joke” where Homer claims to have made little felt heart pins for his kids himself, then smash-cut to Bart and Lisa toiling in the garage making them all. Cruel parenting? Yeah, but beyond that it sort of betrays the conceit of the show. The idea is that Homer is blindsighted by his new venture that he’s semi-unconsciously pushed his actual kids to the way-side, not acknowledging their existence. But here we see he’s put them into slavery. Makes no sense.
Bart and Lisa enact their vengeance during the Good Guy Awards by splicing in home movie footage into the documentary, revealing Homer as the boorish, borderline psychotic lout he actually is. The crowd immediately turns on Homer, who snaps and corrals all the children into a van and takes off with them. This is a truly bizarre, almost creepy twist, but vicious commentary between Arnie Pye and Kent Brockman save it. Then rather than have a conclusion showing the consequences, we hand-wave over it with a “Three Mistrials Later” chyron so we can move onto the resolution of the Bart and Lisa story, which is absolutely spectacular. I don’t even need to comment on this, this is the resolution of the emotional arc of the episode (“Why did you rat me out, kids? Was it because I showered love on those other children while ignoring you?” “Yep.” “Pretty much.”) Brilliant. I can’t even hate this episode because it just feels so inept. And this is another episode written by Al Jean; between this and “Jackanapes,” I don’t know what the fuck happened to this guy. And he’s been our show runner for over a decade now! I’m getting pretty scared…
Tidbits and Quotes
– There’s nothing really that funny about the YMCA set piece, only lots of little observations. First, Burns and Grampa together feels so, so wrong ever since “Flying Hellfish,” but now they’re just two neutered, caricatured old men, not their actual characters. I actually really like Coach Lugash, modeled after Olympic coach Bela Karolyi, but I remember him being stronger in a future episode where Lisa takes gymnastics. Comic Book Guy wears a Muttley shirt, of course, and for some reason is playing basketball. Okay. Then we have an uncomfortable scene where Homer is giving a pep talk, then argues with himself as Moe and Skinner look at each other confused. They’re like the audience whenever some shit like this happens, except it feels even weirder in-universe.
– The writers must have thought it was hilarious to give Homer a morphine addiction; there’s like four jokes about it in here, and they’re all unfunny.
– I do like this bit when Homer is being released from the hospital (“You’ll have a full recovery from your spinal cord injury.” “What spinal cord injury?” “Oh, he fell off the gurney.”)
– A terminally bored Homer tries to breed the dog and cat by throwing them in a sack. Then he criticizes them for not having sex properly. These are the jokes, people.
– Nice exchange between Ned and Homer (“Would you mind watching the kids? I’m kinda in a pickle here.” “Well, they would keep me company, and this pickle you’re offering only sweetens the deal.”)
– The only golden bit this show has to offer is the “Kids Say the Darndest Things” clip, with Bill Cosby manically riffing about Pokemon. An Internet meme is born.
– Ralph asks if he can touch Homer’s disgusting festering scar. Which then heals over his fucking hand. It’s the grossest thing I’ve ever seen on this series; it’s disgusting and absolutely not funny.
– It only took a season to age up the octopulets into toddlers. I thought it was next season where Apu has an affair, I forgot it happened this soon. (“Hello, I would like to take advantage of your baby prison.” “We’re calling it day care.” “Yes, whatever, just take them.”)
– Lots of jokes about teamsters in the third act, and it feels like another of their insider jokes. Like, do you know exactly what a teamster is and what they do? Or not do, which seems to be the case? I don’t think most people know.
– Like Skinner being up for and winning ‘Biggest People Pleaser,’ unable to attend the award show (‘Having Minor Surgery.’)
– Homer absconds with the kids and drives off, then we pan over to Kent Brockman standing a few feet away giving his report. It just happened, why didn’t he react or do anything at all? I guess a real reporter gives the news, not makes it. But tell that to Arnie Pye (“I can see them right below me! I’m going to try to nail the driver with one of my shoes!” “Arnie, please, leave this to the police.” “I’m sick of being the reporter, I want to make the news!” “Arnie, this is not the time…” “You’re not the time, Kent! You’re not the time!”) The read on “I can’t see through metal, Kent!!” is hysterical.