481. Love is a Many-Strangled Thing

2217Original airdate: March 27, 2011

The premise:
After publicly humiliating Bart, Homer is made to go to therapy, where he is held to task for his penchant for strangling his son. He ends up becoming a more docile father, which ultimately leads to Bart taking advantage of him.

The reaction: Homer strangling Bart is one of those show hallmarks that is pretty iffy when you think about it. This is a cartoon with a lot of exaggerated elements, but when you stop to consider what you’re really watching, a father physically assaulting his ten year old son, usually for incredibly innocuous reasons, it’s actually pretty horrifying. As such, it’s probably best to not hold a lens up to something like this, but I guess no stone can afford to be left unturned when you’re trying to come up with more story ideas after 500 episodes. The other dads in therapy react in horror as Homer talks about strangling Bart, and the therapist goes into full-on serious mode. I half expect him to call up Child Protective Services and have his son hauled away. But no, it just leads to non-stop therapy involving Kareem-Abdul Jabbar throttling Homer’s neck for hours on end. So in this case, the strangling is funny? This eventually leaves Homer mentally scarred, envisioning Jabbar’s face threatening him every time he gets an angry impulse. Because of this, Bart proceeds to take full advantage over Homer, using and abusing him because he knows he won’t retaliate. So, I don’t feel any sympathy toward Homer or Bart in this episode at all, they both act incredibly terrible. This all leads to a final last ditch effort therapy to try to get Bart to show he cares about his father. Homer literally hangs from a noose, but Bart is too engrossed in his cell phone. So Bart doesn’t care that his father is dying right in front of him? This is all too much for the therapist, who proceeds to strangle Bart himself, which I guess vindicates Homer? You shine a light on this horrible act of child abuse, but by the end of it, you have to view it as A-OK, because you know Homer’s going to be strangling Bart once again in a future episode with no consequence. Almost all episodes nowadays are ultimately about nothing and saying nothing, so trying to take such a cartoony staple of the show and try to treat it realistically is way out of the show’s wheelhouse at this point.

Three items of note:
– So, let’s talk about the impetus of the story. At a basketball game, everyone goes nuts for the jumbotron except Bart. Attempting to get him to laugh, Homer continuously tickles Bart, who multiple times begs for his father to stop. His pleas are intercut with his laughter, but as it keeps going, it becomes more and more uncomfortable. This scene feels like more abusive behavior than the strangling to me. Anyway, Bart is stimulated so much that he ends up pissing himself, and the entire stadium laughs derisively at him. Homer has just directly caused his ten-year-old son’s horrible humiliation, and all he can do is give a hollow apology inbetween trying to start a wave. We see him throwing his hands up and woo-ing throughout him talking to Bart, and then Marge butts in, “Homer, just because everyone else is doing the wave doesn’t mean you have to.” It’s basically her just setting Homer up for the joke about him trying to start the wave, rather than, you know, attend to her son who’s sitting there devastated with piss in his pants. It’s just awful.
– Bart’s reign of terror is pretty aggravating to watch. He rides a tractor through the school while he’s got Homer writing on the chalkboard (why?!), but there’s nothing explaining why Skinner or Krabappel or anyone else at the school isn’t doing anything to stop him. Hell, where is Marge during all this?
– I guess because they couldn’t pad the A-story out long enough, we get a bizarre interlude where Marge proposes a girl’s night with Lisa: sundaes, painting each other’s nails, and watching old horse movies, which leads to a show favorite: a list! I suppose when you’re a minute short, you have to add something. I’m shocked that humorless feminist prig Lisa didn’t cry foul at her mother’s adherence to established gender roles. You know, like an eight-year-old would do.

One good line/moment: I’m not a sports guy, but Kareem-Abdul Jabaar got in a few good lines (“When he told me what you do to your son, I was so disturbed, I only scored 172 points!”) Also, seeing him dressed as Homer in a bald cap shouting “Why you little!” while throttling Homer, I feel like I have to give the show some points for doing something so bizarre.

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5 responses to “481. Love is a Many-Strangled Thing

  1. Bart is a psychopath in this episode, it’s probably his worst characterization.
    Undoubtedly the worst episode of the season.

    Ironically, this awful episode precedes my favorite of the season…

  2. This is right up there with Boys of Bummer for pure mean-spirited and utterly off characterisation. Bart *would not* do this.

    And the KaJ bit is not bad as a one-off, but then they repeat it over and over, and then presents this as the cause of Homer’s trauma. You can’t make a dumb joke the emotional core of a story.

    So yeah, don’t like this one. Maybe worse than the Scorpion monstrosity.

  3. The Anonymous Nobody

    There were actually some funny bits here, like Homer strangling his father when he was a kid, him saying “No Star Wars parodies!” and questioning why two people from the same house would need therapy. Dan Castellaneta has this way of making a lot of things Homer says funny, even when they’re not supposed to be.

    But the story is just completely shot and Bart is wildly out of character here. I don’t see him torturing his father to the point where he’s literally leaving him hanging from a noose and minutes away from dying. If Bart hadn’t cut the rope, he would have been responsible for his father’s death. And he only cut the rope because the therapist lost it and started strangling him. I don’t know what we were supposed to learn from this. Bart was humiliated, which turned him into a sociopath. Homer embarrassed Bart in front of thousands of people and was confronted about strangling him, but because of Bart becoming a sociopath, he’s now justified in doing so? The writers really shouldn’t call attention to something like this because you can’t make something like child abuse into a joke. I don’t even know who to root for in this situation.

    Also, the whole Marge/Lisa thing was weird. The episode would have been exactly the same without it.

  4. It shouldn’t be funny, but I like Abe’s line (“Aww, my son’s having his first stroke!” *takes out camera* “Now say “cherereerees.”)

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