(originally aired April 28, 2002
Within the first ten seconds of this episode, Skinner introduces Kirk Van Houten as “Bart’s friend’s dad,” and I immediately became annoyed. The writers are in a tough situation: thirteen years on the air is a long time, and these characters, settings, themes and situations are growing long in the tooth. It’s a real challenge to try and keep this show innovative and funny, one I’m not even sure is possible to succeed at. What the writers have loved doing lately is lines like I just mentioned, throwaway, self-referential lines of characters being aware of their place in the show, but they come at a cost of realism. Self-parody works when it’s handled correctly, and actually that’s the main reason I think this episode is mostly a success. This may be just the way I’m reading it, but it’s like they realized how absurd the show had gotten over the years, and written an episode focused around highlighting that point. Even when it goes apeshit in the end, it still feels very aware, and ultimately has a ridiculous, yet satisfying conclusion.
Acclaimed animator Jeff Jinkins (reference to Doug creator Jim Jinkins?) does a speech at the school that get the kids psyched for cartoons, basically making animation sound like a complete children’s fantasy (“This is the easiest job in the world! I spend most of my time eating candy and going to R-rated movies!”) I feel this is the perception of people who work in animation, completely unaware how much fucking work goes into making these damn cartoons. The next day, everyone’s drawing cartoons, basically all rip-offs of Jinkins’ Danger Dog, including Bart. Told he needs to come up with his own character, he draws inspiration for a real-life cartoon: his father. Dubbed ‘Angry Dad,’ the comic goes from playground legend to Internet sensation when Bart is approached to bring Angry Dad to the online cartoon world. The office environment at that business, BetterThanTV.com, is more as Jinkins described, but makes sense there since all those companies went belly-up, for good reason (“How is your company going to make money? Do you have a business model?” “How many shares of stock will it take to end this conversation?” “Two million.” “It is done.”)
But onto the meat of the matter. Homer is completely out of control this episode, screaming like a wild man, gnawing on the arm of the couch like an animal, sporadically catching on fire… The difference is here, it’s all purposeful. More than any other character, Homer has transformed into a complete cartoon of himself, and Bart can think of no one better to model a sloppy drawing of. It’s a pretty smart idea, though again, I’m not sure whether this reading was intended or not. Even when we get to the end with Homer’s anger neck lumps, I find myself not minding, especially with the payoff at the very end. Oh, that reminds me, guest star Stan Lee is great in this, a self-promoting man with a bit of a screw loose. The Incredible Hulk ending only work with him to follow it up and try desperately to transform himself (“Oh please. You couldn’t even turn into Bill Bixby.”) By taking a hard look at the show itself, and also at fucking terrible early Flash cartoons of the day, the series manages to turn out a pretty excellent episode, definitely the best of the season.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Not quite sure why Lisa is with Skinner and Krabappel talking about school business. At some point she just became a de facto faculty member of sorts. It’s different than in “Lard of the Dance” when it was done as a gag, but here it’s just Lisa’s there and we should accept it, since she’s a brainy know-it-all.
– Love the Mr. Blackwell vs. Mr. T bit (“Oh please, I’ve seen nicer chains on a set of snow tires!” “I pity the fool who derives self-esteem out of mocking other people’s clothes!” “I hate myself.”)
– I always love how shitty cartoons are made to look in the Simpsons universe. At times they give Itchy & Scratchy a bit more fluid look, which makes sense given they’re emulating early Tom & Jerry, but Danger Dog just looks like shit. But that’s why it’s great.
– The Q & A with Jinkins is great (“Why does Danger Dog mean more to me than school or church?” “Because those things suck.”) Foreseeing a dangerous outcome, Skinner ends it by pulling the fire alarm, but is still forlorn (“I won’t stand by while you’re glamorizing sass. Now those youngsters will throw their lives away, drawing things that never were.”)
– I like how Marge throws out Little Dot, a comic so lame, that of course she would have loved reading it as a kid. The premise was literally a girl who loved dots. That’s it. And it ran for hundreds of issues. Things were simpler back then…
– It bothers me more than it should that when we see Bart’s notepad, his drawings are all in color, when all he has is a pencil. Couldn’t they have left a note on those shots, “Don’t color this”?
– I love the stupidness of “When Dinosaurs Get Drunk.” Like, what kind of show is this? But it’s interrupted for the wonderfully titled “The Boring World of Niels Bohr.”
– Classic scene of Stan Lee ramming the Thing through Database’s Batmobile (“You broke my Batmobile!” “Broke? Or made it better?”)
– “Bin Laden in a Blender” isn’t as much of a parody of Joe Cartoon, but basically an example of what their cartoons were.
– Why the fuck are Burns and Smithers right next to Lenny and Carl watching Angry Dad in the employee break room? They don’t even speak, no one addresses it, they’re just standing there laughing. Something does not compute here.
– My favorite line from the show comes from one of the Angry Dad cartoons, after reading the newspaper headline, “You Suck, Angry Dad” (“That’s opinion! Not news!!“)
– I’m not so big on the third act turn of Homer mellowing out, but I do like that he does so with the help of horse tranquilizers (Churchill Downers is a fantastic product name.)
– The Hulk ending works because of Stan Lee’s appearance, but beyond that, also as representation of who the character has become at this point, an unpredictable, emotionally unstable monster who used to be a dim and dogged everyman. I’m not entirely sure how he caused ten million dollars in damage, considering we only saw Homer punch a parking meter and a lamp post. Ten million from what? It’s not like he actually had fucking superpowers.