310. Old Yeller Belly

(originally aired May 4, 2003)
Another show I’m at a complete loss about, as it didn’t seem to be about anything. I guess I’ll go through the whole thing and comment as I go. Bart’s treehouse gets destroyed in an absurdist fashion, and Homer promises he’ll rebuild it. After some ridiculous and unfunny wacky Homer antics, Marge surmises that it’ll never get finished, so figures she has to call in some pros. Ringing a bell summons a troupe of Amish folk, who build the treehouse bigger and better than ever, because that totally makes sense. The new treehouse has a grand opening, and now seems to be as large as an upscale spacious loft. This is held by one tree, how the fuck is it so huge? And everyone in town is invited, and everyone knows everyone else, evidenced by Bart greeting Bumblebee Man and Hans Moleman like they’re old friends. I liked it better when it was a normal town where not everyone was best friends. The treehouse catches fire, leaving Homer stuck inside. Santa’s Little Helper flees, but Snowball II gets Homer to wake up and manage to escape.

Now Snowball II is a hero, for some reason, as Homer parades her around on a royal pillow as townspeople cheer for her, and Quimby holds a ceremony in her honor. Conversely, Homer disowns Santa’s Little Helper for his cowardice. So what’s the point of this episode? The dog has to get back in Homer’s good graces? Homer barely acknowledges the pets, they’re Bart and Lisa’s. You can’t do a Homer/SLH episode unless you establish a connection with them, since they really have none. But I guess they couldn’t get to this point without the treehouse first act, so whatever. By random chance, Dave Shutton, once seemingly a competent reporter, snaps a shot of Santa’s Little Helper drinking a beer can balanced on his nose, a photo that intrigued the Duff corporation, and Howard K. Duff in his second (disposable) appearance. Outing the lazy, loutish Duffman, Duff’s new mascot is Suds McDuff, party dog. This is of course an allusion to Spuds MacKenzie, Bull Terrier “spokesman” for Budweiser in the late 80s. Apparently it was quite controversial, some saying the cute dog was targeting children, and also the reveal that the actual dog was female, but marketed as male. Reading Spuds’ Wikipedia page for thirty seconds is much more interesting than anything in this episode; SLH as Spuds MacKenzie isn’t a parody, they just made SLH Spuds MacKenzie.

SLH is back in Homer’s good graces since he’s making him lots of money now, at least until the dog’s original owner returns to rake in his former mutt’s dough. You know, when SLH was No. 8 in “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” It feels so weird to hear them talking about stuff from the very first episode aired, since thinking back it feels like a completely different show… because it is. Even though surely the Simpsons have ownership papers for the dog at this point, the old owner, who isn’t even given a name, takes the dog on the spot. Now an elaborate scheme must be concocted: reveal SLH as a coward, have a disgraced Duffman redeem himself to get his job back, and the old owner will disown the dog, having lost his gravy train. The only interesting part of the whole show is seeing Barry Duffman, Duffman’s mild-mannered alter ego, teaching at the mission. He goes along with the stunt, SLH is shown to be afraid of water and the crowd boos and chastises the poor dog, Homer almost gets attacked by a shark, Duffman ultimately doesn’t get his job back but still has the costume, and the old owner gives SLH back, thinking it should be with a family that loves him, for reasons that escape me. This is another one of those shows I can’t even be mad at, because it doesn’t even feel like they’re trying. I can’t complain about how they fucked up because I don’t even understand what they’re trying to do. The storytelling has gone from ‘bad’ to just ‘inept.’

Tidbits and Quotes
– The clubhouse gang consists of Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, Martin and Database. Remember when Nelson was the bully the schoolyard feared? And Bart would be embarrassed to be hanging out with the nerds? But they’re recognizable faces, so just cram ’em in there. Just as egregious is Sherri and Terri hanging out with Lisa; they hate her, don’t they?
– Homer removes planks of wood from the railroad tracks, under the belief they’ve been out of use of years. Of course just then a train barrels down the track, which then causes every single train to flip over in midair multiple times and land perfectly fine back on the track and ride off. It’s like the ending of “Maximum Homerdrive,” except even worse that because in “Homerdrive,” they wrote themselves into a corner and that was their stupid excuse for a climax, but here, it’s just a ridiculous joke at the beginning that we’re supposed to accept is fine and move on.
– Some of the dialogue here is just insufferable (“Did Frank Lloyd Wright have to deal with people like you?” “Actually, Frank Lloyd Wright endured a lot of harsh criticisms.” “Look, I have no idea who Frank Lloyd Wright is.” “You said his name two second ago.” “I was just stringing words together.”) Stupid and drawn out, those are the best jokes.
– Not only do the Amish appear from nowhere, so do the Mennonites, who just show up in the next door driveway for a quick joke.
– They spend all this time setting up the treehouse, for it to appear for literally thirty seconds before it all burns down.
– Lisa reads over the Duff contract, because she’s the smart one, and an eight-year-old can read and understand an elaborately written legal agreement. Then we get a dream sequence of Homer on a private jet being horrified to find there’s no pilot. Simultaneously, I’m horrified to find there’s no joke.
– Why are there airing a Duff commercial on the ad break for a kid’s show?
– I’m surprised they even went back and bothered to match the voice for SLH’s old owner, but Hank Azaria done good.
– There’s a smidgeon of sentimentality here with Bart missing SLH, but you barely get any of it within all the wackiness. Instead of being the emotional crux of the show, it’s just yet another thing that’s happening in an episode where things happen.
– Nothing says an aimless, humorless episode like an aimless, humorless ending (“It was probably that stupid cat.” “That cat saved your life.” “What has he done for me lately?” “He woke you up when you stopped breathing last night.” “Yeah, but he ate the last can of tuna.” “Dad, you ate the last can of tuna.” “Everyone’s against me.”) Cut to black, cue theme, good work everyone! Also they keep referring to Snowball II as male, when she’s a female. I buy Homer not knowing, but Marge certainly should. Though I don’t know why I keep thinking the writers give a shit about this.

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19 responses to “310. Old Yeller Belly

  1. “Not only do the Amish appear from nowhere, so do the Mennonites, who just show up in the next door driveway for a quick joke.”

    I’m not gonna lie, the Amish / Mennonite joke has stayed with me for YEARS even though I can barely remember this episode.

    Amish folk popping up has precedence at least: in Bart of Darkness when homer manages to construct a barn using the pool material an Amish fellow appears from no where for a quick joke.

    “D’OHeth!”

  2. I just watched this episode two weeks ago and I barely remember a thing about it. It’s not aggressively bad, it’s just…there. Just lying there on the screen, not giving a shit about whether you laugh at it or not.

    And all this Suds McDuff shit pales in comparison to Berke Breathed’s far superior skewering of Spuds McKenzie in a 1988 series of Bloom County strips where the dog runs for President, drives drunk on Heineken and hits Mother Teresa, knocks up Benji, then checks himself into the Betty Ford clinic, and meanwhile Budweiser replaces him with the Care Bears. All I can think of when I watch this episode is how I’d much rather be reading those strips.

  3. In general, I don’t care for John Frink & Don Payne’s scripts. This one’s no exception. The only bits I remember liking is “This stunt cost $50 million.” (or some large number like that) and “Duff. The official beer of NASA; National Association of the Sellers of Alcohol.”

  4. Some of the dialogue here is just insufferable (“Did Frank Lloyd Wright have to deal with people like you?” “Actually, Frank Lloyd Wright endured a lot of harsh criticisms.” “Look, I have no idea who Frank Lloyd Wright is.” “You said his name two second ago.” “I was just stringing words together.”)

    Did they forget that Frank Lloyd Wright was referenced in “Homer and Apu” during ‘Who Needs The Kwik-E-Mart’? Or does that not matter anymore?

    • Mike Reiss says on one of the commentaries that when it comes to inter-episode continuity over little things like that, they really don’t care. (Frankly, I’m more concerned with things like plot and character and humor, but they don’t seem to care about that anymore either.)

      • It seems like they are using that as an excuse for everything that doesn’t make sense though. Like, “oh we are going to forget that they sang about Frank Lloyd Wright in their living room because we aren’t worried about episode inter-continuity. But oh here comes SLH’s owner from the very first episode, because, continuity!”

        FLW is such a minor thing to gripe about, but on a larger scale, it ties into a more important concept of the writers completely disregarding everything that has happened to this iconic family before they got their jobs.

        You know, like when Skinner reminisces about his childhood with Agnes.

    • To be fair, Apu was the one who mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright. That doesn’t mean Homer had a clue who he was talking about.

  5. This episode was entirely crap from beginning to end, and the concept that SLH’s original owner can just take him like that was lame. I’m done talking about this episode because it will get aggravating.

  6. Here’s another episode that I remember absolutely hating when it first aired, avoided like the plague when it reran, but found somewhat redeemable when I watched it on DVD. All of your points about the plotting are spot on, but there’s a few decent jokes. The one that sticks out in my mind is Homer’s fantasizing about living the high life on a plane, only to discover the pilot is missing and screaming in horror. It’s essentially the same joke as Bart fantasizing about losing all of his money on roulette, but it’s still done well. I also actually like the bit with Homer and the train tracks. The cut to Homer pulling up rails after leading the viewer to believe he’d be chopping down trees is a classic Simpsons fake out, and the bit with the train jumping the tracks is well timed even if it is ridiculous. I think you could find plenty of examples in the classic era of similar jokes.

    “Remember when Nelson was the bully the schoolyard feared? And Bart would be embarrassed to be hanging out with the nerds?”

    You mean like in Lemon of Troy or Bart on the Road? These elements have never been consistent, you’ve just primed yourself to hate everything at this point.

    • terrible episode

      the circumstances of those two episodes are different though. and even if lemon of troy and bart on the road have nelson “hanging out with the nerds” they still clearly establish him as an insolent thug (with a weakness for andy williams) and not some boring dope who sings jovial songs in a treehouse

    • Context is key. “Lemon of Troy” featured Bart rallying the kids of Springfield against Shelbyville, and we saw Nelson and Martin at odds with each other. “Bart on the Road” had the kids use Martin in order to get the fake driver’s license, and were then obligated to take him along on the trip. You set up these combatting personalities, you need to take them into account. But at the beginning of this episode, we just see them as friends singing a song; Nelson and Database in perfect harmony.

      Same could be said with the two dream examples. Bart imagines himself losing at roulette, but it’s based on his child-like view on gambling, and the excitement of doing something adult. Homer imagines himself on a plane with no pilot, which will presumably crash and kill him, and for some reason, he thinks that’s awesome.

      I can’t say that I haven’t gotten down on the series at this point, but I try to not be so pessimistic about an episode going into it, and I’m never out to nitpick just for nitpicking’s sake. If something rubs me the wrong way, I mention it.

    • “These elements have never been consistent, you’ve just primed yourself to hate everything at this point.”

      Actually I’m impressed by how positive Mike has managed to stay.

  7. Re: why they are airing a Duff commercial ad break during a kid’s show, isn’t that a joke, since — as you said — Spuds McKenzie was supposedly being aired towards kids in real life?

  8. Haha, true. Maybe that goes with what I said earlier about someone pitching an idea that COULD WORK but someone else doesn’t really know how to implement it properly.

  9. I never even saw the point of this episode. I dunno if they were trying to get the pets as main characters but why the hell would Santa’s Little Helper even care that Homer found him cowardly. It’s not as if SLH ever liked Homer in the past. Same for Snowball II.

  10. Some of this is vaguely familiar but all I could think about was Spuds MacKenzie for some reason.
    Then I remembered why, because Futuarama Did It with Slurms MacKenzie and that was actually funny.

    Also yeah, the Wikipedia page for Spuds MacKenzie is a hell of a lot more entertaining.

  11. It’s really sad when there is a Simpson’s episode I don’t think i’ve ever seen, and really don’t care about.

  12. So Sherri and Terri even know Lisa? She’s two grades below them, and it’s not like they’re friends with Bart. I know they’ve at least met when stranded on that island, but otherwise? I can’t think of any interaction at all.

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