Original airdate: December 16, 2012
The premise: Abe spins a tale from Homer’s youth to explain his ambivalence toward Santa’s Little Helper; li’l Homer had a boyhood dog he loved more than anything, until he was forced to give it away after he bit a young and ruthless Mr. Burns.
The reaction: I’ve mentioned before about the show’s inability to marry sentimental moments with biting humor, but this episode seemed to forget it was supposed to be funny. The entire episode is Abe telling this sob story about Homer and his dog, and it all builds into one big treacly, attempting-to-be-emotional scene after another. So as we see, since he was a baby, Homer was thick-as-thieves with his beloved dog Bongo. But at a lobbying event for the new power plant, the dog ends up biting Mr. Burns, who swears revenge on the mutt. I choose to disregard the floating continuity here; the plant was just opening in Homer’s senior year in “The Way We Was,” but it really doesn’t matter. This also happened right after Mona left Abe, so is Rita in the picture yet? Why is Abe working at a smokestack delivery company and not busing tables? Speaking of “Gone Abie Gone,” where that episode cracked the door open of sympathetic young Abe interpretations, this show burst through it. Abe sends the dog to a farm out of town to save him, and ends up working for Mr. Burns for a year training his hell hounds, all while his son is bitterly resentful for seemingly abandoning his best friend. Homer, of course, has a skewed memory of this, thinking of his dad as a cruel monster. Are all the flashbacks we’ve seen of Abe being a dick to Homer just from his skewed perspective of his youth? No, because that’s dumb. We got from Homer tearfully saying goodbye to his dog, to Abe sad that his son hates him, to Homer revisiting the farm later to find the dog has bonded with a new owner, to the resolution of the story: a Christmas card of the dog sleeping with his old sweatshirt, showing he did still care. My God… it’s trying so, so hard to pull at your heartstrings, it ends up being just a big pile of bland, sterile mush.
Three items of note:
– We get a full scene of Homer playing a town-building game on his myPad, because I guess “A Tree Grows in Springfield” wasn’t enough. It almost feels like subtle cross-promotion for the Tapped Out game, which had released the year this aired.
– The flashback story also gives the show license to revisit other characters; we see Herman getting his arm ripped off, Wiggum and Eddie on patrol as dog catchers, then learn in one scene their plans to join the police force, and where Ralph’s name came from. In the present, Bart has a handy checklist of origin stories covered in a lame meta moment (“Boy, we’re filling in a lot of gaps here!”) Also, after Abe finishes his one year, Burns demands that he forever has to wear slippers and a bolo tie, so I guess the mystery of why Abe dresses like that has been solved? Weren’t these two in the war together, with Burns as a spineless coward?
– The show was short again, so we get a minute-long vignette of Burns lamenting the Mitt Romney 2012 loss and the fiscal cliff for billionaires. Are these end tag bits going to be a common thing now? It feels weird framing Burns as a modern-day Republican, and I’m not entirely sure why. I guess since he always feels like a miserly boss from the 1920s, it’s odd to hear him talk about modern immigration reform and namedrop Marco Rubio.
One good line/moment: Nothing for this one. As I said, there weren’t really a lot of jokes in here to begin with, and what was there were attempts at being meta about the flashback, or Homer and his tablet again. Yawn.