302. Barting Over

(originally aired February 16, 2003)
Homer strangling Bart has always been one of the show’s comic staples. When you think about it, it really is a horrible abusive action, but as Matt Groening puts it, it’s always done very quickly, and only when Homer is so incensed and feels he has no other recourse. This episode, for some reason or another, feels the need to illuminate this kind of behavior and make a semi-serious story out of it. Not specifically about the strangling, but of Homer’s uncharacteristic assholey behavior to his son in this show. Seeing the two at odds is kind of uncomfortable, which is really weird considering this is the glorious “official” 300th episode. During spring cleaning, Bart and Lisa uncover a box of old video tapes, one containing an old baby product ad starring an infant Bart. When he demands an explanation from his parents, Marge explains that the money he made went straight into a college fund, but of course Homer buts in and says that it’s all gone. He had to buy back some incriminating photos of him dropping baby Bart off a hotel balcony, a la Michael Jackson. Who’s taking these photos? Just the cavalier manner he discusses dropping his infant son potentially to his death is pretty horrible, so yeah, this is another ‘Homer-is-an-insufferable-asshole’ show.

Since Homer is apparently a raging madman and hates his son, Bart decides the best course of action is to get himself emancipated. Judge Harm surmises that he is clearly unsafe being around his father, and rules in his favor. Okay, well if that’s your flimsy excuse to get a ten-year-old out on his own, then what about Lisa and Maggie? They must be just as unsafe, put them in foster care or something. I feel so uncomfortable positing all of this, like Homer is this abusive monster who berates and tortures his kids, but in this episode he doesn’t seem too far off. Bart should want to get the hell out of there, but that’s not what I want to see. We’ve seen a lot of examples of Homer being an excessively unlikable “protagonist,” but this might be the worst, where his asshole behavior has cost him his own son, and for good reasons. It just puts this really dark cloud over the entire show when Bart and Homer are at such serious odds with each other, which they of course put a flimsy, pathetic knot in at the end to mend the fences. But of course, it couldn’t feel more forced.

With half of Homer’s wages, Bart rents a loft in a seedy part of downtown. He’s understandably uneasy being on his own at first, until he discovers the floor above him is a happenin’ skate pad with Tony Hawk and blink-182. Okay. So our big finale is Homer getting Hawk to lose to him in a skateboarding contest using a magic skateboard, where they then duke it out in midair, floating there on what must be invisible wires. Okay. Really, this entire episode has been dour and somewhat depressing, and now in our third act we just go full out ridiculous and crazy, but in the worst way possible. Why does Homer think that Bart left because he thought he wasn’t cool enough? It’s clear what his reasons for leaving were, he said it a thousand times, this confusion doesn’t make sense at all. If Homer can’t be expected to remember or care about the problems in the episode, then I shouldn’t either. This show is just a hot mess, made even more egregious in how much it was touted as the 300th episode. Not because it wasn’t actually the 300th, I don’t care about that. Within the show, Marge wonders how many crazy schemes Homer’s gotten into. With clicker in hand, Lisa counts 300. I guess that’s what the show thinks of itself now: Homer doing some zaaaanny each week on The Simpsons! I’m kinda bummed out right now.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Why would Bart or Lisa want to watch a tape labeled “Homer and Marge Get Dirty”? Which of course is a humungous cop-out.
– Lisa taunting Bart in English, then French is a little odd, but Maggie imitating her on the couch is pretty adorable.
– Why would the show make that Michael Jackson joke with Homer? Doing it for a deplorable side character, sure, but not our hero. That’s a fucking awful thing, and all Homer can do is joke about it doing the flipbook in reverse. “See? I saved you!” Terrible.
– Tired jokes come in spades at the end of act one. They lampoon on the age-old silly law firm names with “Hackey, Joke & Dunnit,” then have a character do the “Ee-wha?!” noise in surprise, but it’s actually Blue-Haired Lawyer calling for his Hawaiian secretary. Now that’s a fucking stretch.
– I keep pulling examples like this, but it shows how the show now focuses more on writing “jokes” than actual believable dialogue. The family gets the subpoena that Bart wants to leave the house, to be divorced from his parents. What is Marge’s reaction? “I wanted a sewing room, but not like this! Not like this!” Her son, whom she loves more than life itself, has announced he plans to leave and never come back, and that is her knee-jerk response?
– Homer honestly is a maniac in the courtroom, threatening everybody, yelling at his son, tackling one of the guards… Really, all of his kids should be taken away from him at this point.
– The heart-shaped Indian burn Bart gives Lisa is kind of sweet (“If I did it right, it’s permanent.”) I also like Bart thinking a loft has hay.
– The whole thing with Tony Hawk and the whole crew is another example of the writers wanting to write Bart older, but not quite as egregious in that Bart already skateboards so it would be logical that Hawk would be an idol of his. Except we see Bart on his skateboard for about three seconds, so it doesn’t matter. blink-182 get fifteen words of dialogue between the three of them, they collect their checks and go on their merry way.
– Half of Homer’s wages go to Bart, and somehow with that he can afford to furnish his apartment with a bunch of awesome stuff, plus still pay rent and food. How could he afford all that? Plus the Simpson family is hard up as it is, the homestead must be falling apart having to pay for four people with half Homer’s salary. Perhaps they could have made that a plot point? …nope!
– The self-skating skateboard, Homer and Hawk floating in mid-air… why should I even bother commenting about the ending? I’ll say that Hawk seemed like a pretty good sport. He gave a good effort, it’s just he barely had any good material to work with (“You’re going down, Homer! Then back up. Then down, then back up again. That’s how the game is played.”)
– Lindsay Naegle appears on top of the skating ramp out of nowhere for the ending of the plot: have Homer star in a commercial and give the money to Bart as retribution. It’s for Viagragay, a product for hair growth and erectile dysfunction. The only great line in the whole show comes from the very end with the fast disclaimer, and it’s one I quote with friends to this day (“Possible side effects include loss of scalp or penis.” “What’d he say about my scalp?”)

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12 responses to “302. Barting Over

  1. These latter-season episodes about Homer and Bart’s relationship as father and son are always horrifically depressing, because the writers seem to be under the mistaken impression that they genuinely hate each other. Season 17’s darkly unfunny “We’re On the Road to D’oh-where” is still one of the worst half-hours of television I’ve ever had the displeasure to watch. (I distinctly recall Homer threatening to murder Bart, then dig him up and kill him again.) And if you think this episode is bad, consider yourself lucky that you quit watching before Season 22’s “Love is a Many Strangled Thing”. Honest to God, Bart hangs Homer from a fucking noose in that one, then shows no concern whatsoever. The strangling really is something that the show should never, ever draw attention to, because dwelling on it for longer than just a few seconds is horribly disturbing.

    I’m pretty sure that Michael Jackson thing is just the writers taking advantage of the shorter turnaround time for digital animation and cramming a topical joke in at the rewrite just because they could. Which would explain why it’s so terrible – they probably just thought it up off the top of their head and shoved it in as quick as possible.

    • phillyfoodie85

      [QUOTE]I’m pretty sure that Michael Jackson thing is just the writers taking advantage of the shorter turnaround time for digital animation and cramming a topical joke in at the rewrite just because they could. Which would explain why it’s so terrible – they probably just thought it up off the top of their head and shoved it in as quick as possible.[/QUOTE]

      It gets worse. Originally, Homer was supposed to lose the money in buying a star in the sky that goes supernova. So not only do you have a dated pop culture reference, but you also have writers tossing out potentially good ideas in favor of being current.

  2. “They lampoon on the age-old silly law firm names with “Hackey, Joke & Dunnit”

    Bold of them to make fun of anybody for using hacky jokes. “I wanted a sewing room, but not like this! Not like this!” Bold indeed.

    “I’m pretty sure that Michael Jackson thing is just the writers taking advantage of the shorter turnaround time for digital animation and cramming a topical joke in at the rewrite just because they could.”

    This is exactly right. They’re trying to be “topical.” Because, as we all know, Citizen Kane was incredibly topical when Rosebud came out. And who can forget Rear Window rocketing up the box office when Bart of Darkness came out? Oh right, topicality has nothing to do with effectiveness. Try telling that to these hack writers.

  3. When “Barting Over” first aired, I recall being incredibly disappointed in it, and actually found the episode that followed it, “I’m Spelling As Fast As I Can”, to be much funnier and more deserving of the “300th episode” title.

    As much of a jerkass as Homer is in this episode, I did like him shaking his fist and saying “WHY YOU LITTLE!” to everybody in the court room, regardless of whether they did anything or not. It’s so absurd it’s funny.

  4. I don’t think this is too bad of an episode. Entertaining for the most part.

    BABY STINK BREATH is pretty amusing.

  5. While I don’t have this episode to the degree you do, I agree on all of your points. It could be worse though, it could have had Homer and Bart being handcuffed together, but the writers would never do something as stupid as that. Oh… wait…

    Anyway, I did like the Crouching Tiger Hiddern Dragon fight with the skateboard, but yeah, it was completely out of place. But that is what you have to expect from The Simpsons. Just wait until Skinner and Bart start having an allergy sword battle with Duel of the Fates playing in the background. On the other hand, what was the point of Blink 182 being in this episode? They said one or two lines and they were never seen again.

    To this day I still do not understand why it was advertised as the 300th episode. They obviously knew it was not.

    • Probably because it felt more like a milestone episode than Strong Arms of the Ma, what with its multiple trendy guest stars and…yeah, that’s pretty much it.

  6. You know, when this show aired I had been living in Japan for over a year, since the end of the 12th season. My Mom used to send me videos filled with episodes of The Simpsons along with snacks, etc. from home. Sometimes around the start of the 14th season I realized that even with almost no other English shows available to watch, I still wasn’t interested in seeing new episodes of The Simpsons anymore, and asked her to stop. The fact that DVDs of every season were starting to come out helped cement my emotional separation from the show as it was now–I could watch the great episodes any time I wanted, so had no need to bother with these newer, inferior ones.

    But she did send me this one, thinking that I might want to watch the landmark 300th episode. I really didn’t, but it was on the tape anyway so I did. I was actually surprised at how underwhelming it was. Watching it gave me almost no emotional reaction whatsoever–not goo, not bad, not anything. I did wonder why they put in such a banal, nothing episode in such a heavily-touted place. Even stranger now that I find out it wasn’t even the real 300th episode.

    Anyway, I specifically remember this one as the second-to-last episode I have seen. The last one is actually in next season.

  7. – “This episode, for some reason or another, feels the need to illuminate this kind of behavior and make a semi-serious story out of it. Not specifically about the strangling, but of Homer’s uncharacteristic assholey behavior to his son in this show.”
    And the idea would be revisited AGAIN (this time focusing on the strangling) in season 22’s “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing.” Any it sucks there, too.

    – Seriously, if the writers are just going to insert the characters into whatever pop-culture event and consider it a joke, I may as well just watch Family Guy. At least they’re better at adding random humor to flimsy plots and characters. Yeah, I said it.

    – Tony Hawk says in the commentary that he still uses the “down, up” line to describe skateboarding.

  8. [QUOTE]Seriously, if the writers are just going to insert the characters into whatever pop-culture event and consider it a joke, I may as well just watch Family Guy. At least they’re better at adding random humor to flimsy plots and characters. Yeah, I said it.[/QUOTE]

    Well, that’s because Seth MacFarlane actually set “Family Guy” up to be like that (and a parody of every family sitcom ever, including the ‘satirical’ ones like “The Simpsons”).

  9. “Okay. So our big finale is Homer getting Hawk to lose to him in a skateboarding contest using a magic skateboard, where they then duke it out in midair, floating there on what must be invisible wires.”

    I feel like as times goes on this kind of thing will come up more and more and eventually I won’t know if Mike is describing the episode or he’s just gone insane from watching all this crap.

  10. 100 episodes since Trash of Titans, (well, 102, really) and probably 90-95 were awful.

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