299. The Dad Who Knew Too Little

(originally aired January 12, 2003)
Most Homer/Lisa episodes are set into motion when Homer realizes that he’s done wrong by her daughter, then goes into overdrive to try to make it up to her. A recent show like “Make Room For Lisa” doesn’t work, because Homer ruining Lisa’s life, then continuing to be a dickhead to her. But in this show, he goes to the most extreme, borderline ridiculous measures to win his daughter back, and that’s what makes this episode work. It’s a pretty solid show, with laughs interspersed and an unusual amount of heart, a true surprise given the seemingly never-ending stream of clunkers this season. Lisa asks for a new TurboDiary for her birthday, which Homer attempts to get but finds the toy store is sold out. As a sorry substitute, he gets her a personalized video, a real shoddy production where a kid’s photo and voice-over are thrown over crappy animation, except Homer can barely give any facts about Lisa, claiming her best friend is Maggie and favorite book is “magazine.” Lisa is crestfallen that her father barely knows her at all, and Homer is depressed that he’s let his daughter down. Wow, actual believable emotions? It’s almost like I’m watching The Simpsons or something.

Homer is a man always after the quick fix, so rather than let this incident blow over and slowly warm back up to Lisa, he goes to a private detective to get as much information about his daughter he can find (coming fully credited by Moe, “He can learn more about a chick by digging through one garbage can than you could through years of intimacy.”) Dexter Colt is your traditional film noir detective type (“It’s always a dame. Usually with gams that don’t quit. Until they get to the shoes, and then they’re only napping.”) There’s no denying this plot is incredibly silly, with Colt breaking into lockers and trying to shake down the likes of Skinner and Ralph, but it’s a silliness I can accept and appreciate. Homer receives a full report on Lisa, which he uses to win her over, by listening to classic jazz and attending an animal right’s protest. You can see how much he wants to his daughter back, he’s willing to do these things that he’d normally moan loudly about in a “comical” fashion. Unfortunately, it turns out Colt is a big mooch, charging a myriad of personal expenses to Homer’s tab. And possibly crazy, having bought silver bullets thinking Lisa might have been a werewolf. The episode wonderfully lampshades this (“I can’t believe a man who agreed to follow my daughter around, for money, would turn out to be a dirtbag!”)

As retaliation, Colt trashes the animal testing facility, leaving clues there to incriminate Lisa. When the police close in on her, Homer and Lisa make a break for it. I like how it’s like Homer placed a fun face on it, making going on the lam be a fun father/daughter activity, putting on disguises and being covert. But he also realizes he can’t lie to Lisa forever, and tells her to the truth about Colt, which Lisa is understandably upset about. The police track them down again, and Homer and Lisa end up at a circus, where they find all the freed tested animals. Another thing I commend this show for is how tight it is, the first act with the tape sets the story in motion, then everything after is all critical. Colt gave the cops probable cause that Lisa may have done the crime not only because of her stuff there, but also because she was interviewed on TV at the protest, and now we see Colt is a sneaky opportunist who’s made some extra money selling the animals to the circus. After a quick showdown, Colt is incapacitated and Homer and Lisa reconcile, a rather quick and rusty one, but it works well enough. With a few rough edges, this episode is actually pretty good, and shockingly heartwarming given the phony emotion we’ve had over the last few seasons.

Tidbits and Quotes
– An incredibly deshelved (possibly hung over) Krusty appears on the Cribz knock-off Padz to show off his spacious estate (“Here’s the recliner where Don Adams and Shelley Winters made beautiful music together. It should be in a museum, but the museums don’t want it.”)
– I like how the TurboDiary is a product of GirlTech, a subsidiary of the much more brazenly logo-ed BoyTech. Not too fond of Lisa telling her parents to “buy [her] the friggin’ toy” though.
– Homer arrives at the toy store to find their last TurboDiary has been sold… to Mr. Burns. What?
– The personalized movies are really pathetic. The stock music that starts and cuts out, the poorly cropped in photo on the kid, how the parent’s voice is just slapped over the narration… it’s perfect.
– I like how annoyed Marge is at Homer for getting the video instead of the diary. She builds it up as this big present to her daughter from her parents, then is pissed that her husband fucked it up.
– Homer gives Colt his email: chunkylover53@aol.com. Writer Matt Selman opened this account and for a while responded to emails as Homer, but soon quit when he became flooded with messages. I can’t remember if I emailed him or not… I think I may have.
– Homer receives his report and is surprised by its contents (“Lisa’s pet peeve is… phonies? I thought she loved them!”) Who does she think she is, Holden Caulfield?
– The animal rights protest chant is pretty great (“What do we want?” “The gradual phase-out of animal testing over the next three years!” “When do we want it?” “Over the next three years!”)
– I like how they actually did make Colt kind of an asshole, rather than have Homer refuse to pay for something stupid and having Colt go after him. Homer’s complaints are completely valid (“A forty dollar steak?” “Yeah, but if I’d eaten the whole thing, it would’ve been free.”)
– The police chase Homer and Lisa to a bridge, where a sign reads “BRIDGE OUT.” But Lou removes the rest of the shrubbery to reveal the whole thing: “Bridge Outstanding!” – Overpass Monthly.
– Homer and Lisa check into the Three Seasons Motel with fake names: Lady Penelope Ariel Ponyweather, and Rock Strongo. The clerk sees through Homer’s fake name, until he provides Lance Uppercut. His two fake names I’ve been using as Internet handles for years.
– Love Homer and Marge’s disguised phone call, as well as Homer’s phony voice (“Hello, this is a phone survey. If the election were held today, would you vote for A) the cops are there, or B) you’re free to talk?” “Uh, A, and I’d like to add proposition Hug Lisa for Me has my full support.”)
– The only thing I really hate about this episode is some of the dialogue in the third act, just really terrible lines seemingly to inform viewers who just tuned in (“Dexter Colt! The man who framed my daughter!” “Perhaps you also remember this laser pointer Bart gave me earlier!”)
– I even like the tag at the end with Bart getting Homer shocked by the TurboDiary, just because it’s a great Bart prank and Homer is completely unsuspecting about it, despite having been shocked by the same book earlier. Wow, this episode even made a gratuitous bit of Homer getting hurt funny.

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15 responses to “299. The Dad Who Knew Too Little

  1. I seem to find more faults in this episode than you do. There’s a lot of jokes that miss their mark (Homer eating a pair of pants, “Would an innocent person flee?…No really, tell me, I don’t know”, etc.), and I think the emotional center of the episode would have worked a lot better if they hadn’t kept dumping on it with silliness. Like in the cabin after Lisa finds out what Homer did, and Homer paints the teardrops on his face. This show used to be able to mix humor and emotion flawlessly, but by this point, the divide is so jarring that it kills whatever mood they’re going for. (I remember “My Mother the Carjacker” had a lot of this sort of thing too, doubly egregious considering it’s the sequel to “Mother Simpson”.) The plot is surprisingly well-structured, I’ll give you that, but it’s the execution that weakens it for me.

    • Same here.
      The detective character and the basic plot are well done, but I hate the phony third act, and how stupid is Homer towards Lisa: I know it’s the point, but this is too brainless and mean; I find everything he says or does, included the video, to be too pathetic and stupid to be funny. I just want to punch his face.
      And as you said, the idiotic extreme silliness kills the emotions every single time. The two “jokes” you mentioned are surely among the worst the series every done (Homer eating pants, and Wiggum’s “..an innocent person flee?”, with Ralph definitively demolishing an already embarrassing joke).

  2. Yeah, this one’s pretty good. A favorite joke of mine that you left out:
    Wiggum: -“Would an -innocent- person flee?!…….No, really, tell me. I don’t know.”
    Lou: “Chief, NO.”
    Ralph: “Even -I- knew that!”
    Wiggum: “Yeah, I’m… I’m not good.”

  3. I didn’t really care about this one because at this point, it has been done before.

  4. forbidden donut

    This is probably one of my favorites of the Jean era. I thought Dexter Colt was a good one-timer; the silliness/anachonism of him in Springfield kind of reminded me of Rex Banner. There are still a fair number of jokes that bomb (like the crotch dot, or the Cletus end), which is the case for literally every episode at this point until now. And Lisa’s “frigging” line is way out of character.

  5. “How ironic, now he’s blind after a life of enjoying being able to see” is a great line.

  6. This is my favorite episode of the season, and one of the few Jean era episodes that really compares well to the classic era. The crummy personalized videos are a real highlight. I always giggle at Ned listing “diabetes” as one of Todd’s hobbies.

    There’s actually a real toy company called Girl Tech. Every time I would see one of their commercials I had to growl the line “a division of Boy Tech!”

    • And the TurboDiary is clearly a parody of the real-life Girl Tech’s Password Journal.

      Using the same brand name, without the space between the ‘l’ and the ‘t’, was kind of lazy – but the Boytech bit made up for that.

  7. The stupid video-for-little-kids made by the dude in the mall is amusing and for whatever reason, Homer’s quote, “how ironic, now he’s blind after a lifetime of enjoying being able to see.” bring a smile to my face. Passable episode (!).

  8. Yeah this episode is definitely a bright spot in Season 14. Possibly the last decent Homer/Lisa episode, as the only ones that immediately spring to mind for me following this one are ‘See Homer Run’ and ‘Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words’, both mediocre. Oh there is the spellympics one later this season, I guess that one’s passable…

  9. When I mentioned the other day how I don’t remember any decent Season 14 episodes, I forgot about this one. It’s problematic, but it may be the last one to handle the Homer/Lisa dynamic well. Plus, I have to give them credit for having the detective voiced by Hank Azaria instead of some celebrity.

  10. Favorite bit for me is the panning shot of the multiple t-shirts: “Homer’s Daughter,” “Lisa’s Father,” and then just “Bart.”

  11. One of my favorite lines of all time is from the third act, though.

    “From the moment I met you, I knew I’d kill you in a house of mirrors.”

  12. One of the last decent episodes.

  13. This one was a hidden gem among this shit of a season. I used the name Lance Uppercut as a fake name for years.

    I loved Homer’s guess about Lisa’s favorite food: McNuggets.

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