The reaction: This episode got some minor buzz, as it was based on an old spec script Judd Apatow had written twenty years ago that I guess the crew found at the bottom of a dresser drawer or something and decided to actually use it. Apatow wrote it back in the show’s heyday, and I can’t even imagine them doing a premise like this back then. But it’s almost impossible to judge; like all other episodes “written” by guest writers, this one went through the rewrite machine to where it’s indecipherable from the rest of the slop. Homer is forced to actually do his job for once when the other sector 7G safety inspector retires, leaving him a work-obsessed mess. The family goes to a circus to calm his nerves, where a hypnotist turns him into a kid. From that point on, the work plot is over. You’d think it would be potentially funny, and a no-brainer story-wise, if you had Burns or Smithers interacting with Kid Homer, or Lenny and Carl try to bring him to Moe’s, and them being shocked that Homer doesn’t like beer, and so on. But nope, nothing. All we get is an off-hand remark from Lenny and Carl that the retired safety inspector came back, said as they are observing Bart and Homer from their backyard for absolutely no reason, because I guess they forgot about the first act’s plot and crammed that line in last minute. Kid Homer really doesn’t do much of anything in this episode, and after he comes home from the hospital, interacts with almost no one except Bart. The thin premise is Bart feels closer to his dad as a kid and doesn’t want him to go back. They attempt a sweet, serious moment of Homer saying goodbye to him before he’s turned back to normal, but it holds absolutely no weight whatsoever. We saw them playing in a montage, but that was sandwiched between two exposition-heavy sequences of them of Kid Homer talking about how he would never want to grow up like adult Homer, and Bart talking about how he doesn’t want him to change back, and then they repeat them two or three more times just so you remember it, per usual. It’s just another episode where they want you to care about something, but there’s so little we actually see of that thing, rather, we’re just told we should care. As usual, it’s tell, not show. Hmm. Well, given how interminably long Apatow’s last couple movies were, maybe this episode has more in common with his original script than I thought. Zing!
Three items of note:
– The couch gag felt pretty lazy and not well thought out. It’s Homer, Marge and Bart as the Three Bears coming home to find Lisa/Goldilocks has defiled their couches, done in a nondescript classic (sorta) animation style. The Bears are irate, Lisa screams, they get into a huge tussle… then we end on Marge, Bart and Lisa feasting on Homer’s ripped apart body. Huh? What happened here? Why would Marge and Bart be eating their husband/father? Homer getting hurt or maimed is just par for the course for couch gags at this point, it’s like a get-out-of-scene free card. All it did was make me think of the bit from “Treehouse of Horror XI” where Goldilocks is viciously mauled and killed from behind the door, complete with ear-curdling screams and blood pooling. Now that was wonderfully grim.
– There’s a scene here that’s pretty indicative of the tell, not show problem. The bullies go to beat up Bart, who retorts that Kid Homer will beat them right back if they do. Then we get this (“That’s not your friend, it’s your screwed up Dad.” “Pretty sad, really.” “We’ll leave you alone.”) And then they leave of their own accord. It’s just these characters standing and explaining what we already know, and surely they must have seen Homer before they walked up to Bart and almost wedgie-ed him. Then we get this gem from Bart (“You did it, Homer! You saved me from the bullies! You’re the coolest kid I ever met!”) Homer didn’t do anything. He literally just stood there, motionless and silent. The scene is all about how great Kid Homer is to Bart, and he didn’t have to do a thing. Why have characters do any actions relevant to the story when characters can just say that they did them? It’s so much easier to just tell the audience what’s happening and what characters think about stuff than to, you know, actually show that stuff is happening.
– Bart takes Homer to Itchy & Scratchy Land to enjoy a little more time as a kid. It’s jarring how the theme park humor was so on point last episode, but now, everything’s back to normal. We get a Soarin’ “parody,” which goes on very long, and is just a bunch of limp gags going over areas of Springfield, in very awkward flat 2D zooms. Unlike last episode, nothing about this is riffing on Soarin’, it’s just, “Hey, look, this is Soarin’!” It’s also a very unique ride to recreate, something that I think if you hadn’t been on it, you’d be a bit confused as to what it was.
One good line/moment: As a sucker for theme park gags, this one made me chuckle (“We’ve only been on two rides!” “You should’ve used Fastpass.” “Fastpass can’t solve everything!” “Spoken like a kid who’s never lived in a non-Fastpass world.”)