Original airdate: March 19, 2017
The premise: The mush-headed parents of Springfield are easily swayed by “experts” advice on how to build their kids’ self-esteem. Bart’s is lifted thanks to Abe handing down a precious family heirloom, one that Homer’s had his eyes on for years.
The reaction: Once again I find myself truly bewildered at the level of writing on display in these shows. For years now, the plots, and conceits for said plots, have been pretty razor thin, but more egregiously, with poor motivation for the characters, to the point where it seems they’ll just start and stop doing and feeling things just ’cause. As such, it’d be up to the viewer to better connect that dots, ie: do the writer’s job for them, but it’s becoming harder and harder to actually do that any make sense of all of this. This episode features Bart having trouble at school in need of an ego boost. Homer and Marge’s solution is to shower him with meaningless trophies to raise his spirits, which the former turns into a business for gullible parents. Past being given the first trophy, we later see Bart in the back room helping Homer make the trophies he’s selling. So why does he feel better now? Because he feels like he’s working hard? Does he see through the empty charade he’s participating in? Why is he helping Homer with this? It seems like it doesn’t matter, it’s like he’s a blank slate character. He overhears Homer explicitly saying how much of a useless dumm-dumm he is, which leaves Bart crestfallen. He visits Abe, who bestows him with a pocket watch, a prized family possession (since 1982). Upon receiving it, Bart gets a sense of pride, which makes him do better at school and be a better person. Meanwhile, Homer is extremely jealous of him, having wanted the watch from his father for his whole life. I feel like I can feebly make out what they’re trying to get at here: the Simpson family is just a chain of fathers abusing their sons (as we saw in a sepia tone memory of Abe’s father), but a simple kindness can change a son’s outlook. But they don’t really set that up with Homer and Bart early on (except for Homer’s expository outburst) to contrast with Abe. Bart randomly loses the watch at the end of a montage, and then Homer comes into possession of it. On his way to gloat, he sees Bart sobbing in his room (“Grampa was the only person who believed in me! But when he finds out I lost the watch, even he’ll give up!”) I guess Bart is as pathetic as Burns now. Who is this wussie? Like Burns, Bart crying used to hold a lot of weight, but this feels completely unearned. And boy oh boy, what a great satirical ending, a sweet photo of Bart on his grandfather’s knee holding the watch for a magazine! Where’s the asshole Eurotrash guy to drive by and call them gay when you need him?
Three items of note:
– The opening features a look at Frog Heaven, where one frog is telling another about his death was meaningful if it meant a budding young scientific mind could learn something from his dissection. Cut to Bart messing around in science class, not taking the assignment seriously at all. If this was a quick punchline and they moved on, it might have actually worked, it’s a funny concept. But instead, we cut back and forth to the frogs like four more times, milking this shit for all it’s worth. We gotta get to that running time! Draaaaaaaaag it out! What are we gonna do, write more material? Actually develop the story and character motivations? Forget it, what show do you think we’re working on here?
– The plot kicks in when Marge brings in a speaker to talk about positive reinforcement, which gives her the idea of pushing participation trophies. As mentioned above, Homer turns this into a business venture, turning his garage into a one-stop trophy shop. Later in the episode, another speaker shows up preaching the exact opposite, how tough love will make your kids stronger. There’s really no point to it other than it puts Homer out of business, which doesn’t really mean anything to the main story. All of this reminded me of “Bart’s Inner Child” and how easily Brad Goodman played the gullible suckers of Springfield. But all the nuance has long departed; at both seminars, parents gasp, cheer, or scream out their feelings in the audience after every line the speaker says (“Trophies! So that’s the easy answer!” “He’s got a word made out of other words!”) But really, this whole participation trophy “satire” feels so poorly executed, especially how it ties into Bart’s story. I could complain more about how terrible it is, or I could talk about a wonderful moment from a classic episode it reminded me of. “Dead Putting Society” features a moment of Bart staring at his shelf of “accomplishments,” filled with participant and runner-up awards, including an “Everybody Gets a Trophy” trophy. He groans in sorrow. That four-second moment right there says more about this subject matter and Bart’s viewpoint on it than twenty minutes of this show twenty-six years later. Bart’s a smart kid, he knows what those trophies really mean. But, I’ll say again, I’m not entirely sure what Bart thinks of them this episode, they don’t even really address it. Again, it’s up to the viewer to make sense of this shit.
– I know the timeline thing doesn’t matter, but it still gets me thinking either way. Abe mentions he’s had the watch since 1982, and Homer claims he’s been yearning for it all his life. Homer’s 38 (sometimes), so in 2017, that would make him born in 1979. So forgot the “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” prom, he wasn’t even alive when that happened. I really don’t care about that kind of continuity, but when it comes to showing Abe as a WWII vet, and Skinner a Vietnam vet, that’s when things start to get hazy. When did Seymour serve, as an infant?
One good line/moment: BLANK.