Original airdate: January 23, 2011
The premise: Homer’s new obsession with old 80’s sitcoms leads to him emulating a TV dad parenting style. Frustrated that his father won’t get him a cool dirt bike, Bart ends up almost creating an international incident in his efforts to get one himself.
The reaction: I don’t think I’ve seen an episode yet with this dramatic of a gear shift. We go from absolutely nothing happening to disastrous foreign espionage within the course of a minute. The first half of the show is devoted to Homer’s binge watching of “Thicker Than Water,” an 80’s sitcom, of which we see multiple scenes of, at least a minute and a half of the total run time. Parodying these cheesy old sitcoms is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I wouldn’t say that they’re making fun of them as much as they are just recreating them. The theme song, the jokes, there’s no real edge to them. BoJack Horseman takes much better aim at garbage like this, and in a much shorter amount of time. Homer dons a not-Cosby sweater and tries to instill Bart with TV-fueled advice, and everything drags on so long with nothing happening, all the while making me wish I was watching “Saturdays of Thunder” instead. So with no recourse into getting his much desired dirt bike, Bart formulates a plan, where he writes letters to foreign nations saying he’ll give up his father’s knowledge of nuclear secrets to get what he wants. This… is kind of coo-coo bananas. They try to play the naivety card pretty hard with Bart not really acknowledging the gravity of his situation, but I refuse to believe Bart is that dumb; it casts him in a really negative light. Ultimately, the situation is rectified when Homer sacrifices himself to the Chinese, they take him to China, he supervises the build of a power plant there, it explodes, and then he comes back home. That all happens in less than a minute toward the end of the show. I’m not exactly sure what I was supposed to get out of this episode, it was just a flimsy father-son story that takes an insane right turn halfway through, with a crazy amount of padding, not only from all the sitcom snippets, but at the end, we not only get an Itchy & Scratchy, but a random tag ending of the cast of the 80s sitcom talking with James Lipton. Anything to make it to twenty minutes, I guess.
Three items of note:
– Bart gets his treasonous inspiration when Apu shows up at Homer’s door, returning his SNPP security card he left in his store. Apu then goes into a long monologue about how dangerous that access could be in the wrong hands, and goes into a list of countries. All non-Simpson characters seem to exist in this show for one of two reasons: either to spout the same kind of joke over and over again, or to show up as a walking plot device.
– Bart spends quality time with Homer in order to get close enough to him to get a USB stick of information from the plant, which I guess just automatically downloads all the pertinent info immediately when Bart plugs it in. After making the trade-off for the dirt bike, the next morning Bart is shocked to find that Homer had just gotten it for him, as thanks for spending so much time with him. This conceit feels straight out of a sitcom, which given the subject matter of the episode, could have been acknowledged or subverted in some way, but it isn’t. It’s just the plot, played straight.
– The Chinese informants seemed… I don’t know if I wanna say full on racist. But they seemed very stereotypical. This whole plot makes no sense at all. Bart sends letters out to ‘Chinese White House’ and ‘Iraq White House,’ and I guess they just get delivered, no problem. From this, all these different countries come after Bart. They didn’t think this was just a prank? And going back to Bart’s naivety, I feel like Bart is much more shrewd than that; classic Bart would have played hardball with these guys, not quiver and waver like “Ooohhhh, I don’t knoooowww…”
One good line/moment: To access the high security lock-up at the power plant, it requires an eye scan from Homer. Homer demonstrates there’s a work-around: he draws a circle with a dot in the center on a piece of paper, holds that up to the scan, and it works. I like meta jokes about the show’s art style.