(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?”)