The reaction: Homer’s upbringing is really quite tragic, as we know from “Mother Simpson.” His mother stood up for what she believed in, and her reward for her unwavering compassion even towards Mr. Burns, her own adversary, makes her a wanted woman and forces her to leave her son for his own protection. Once loved and encouraged by his mother, Homer is now left with his cold and stubborn father, who spends the rest of his adolescence tearing down his son’s self-esteem piece by piece. In present day, Homer can easily come off badly for neglecting and often ignoring his senile, elderly father, but this family history creates a new shade to this relationship, a deep seeded animosity Homer feels towards Abe for never believing in him, always putting him down, and perhaps also blaming him for his mother leaving (especially given Abe’s flimsy lie to young Homer that his mother died when they were at the movies). This is a lot of rich material to delve into, which makes this episode frustrating since it attempts to scratch the surface of it, and ultimately ends on such a meaningless, who-gives-a-shit note. Believing he’s finally on his way out the door, Abe whispers his biggest regret to Homer, but after he recovers, he has to deal with him being furious with him. Finally, halfway through, we find out what happened: when Mona left him, Abe chucked everything she left behind off a cliff, including a box of recipe cards she wrote over many years of baking with her son, a treasured memory for li’l Homer (Lisa irritating exposits, “If this man had had those notes, his life would have been different! He would have had confidence! He would have had his mother with him!”) Any sort of heated discourse between Homer and Abe about this event, or hearing more about their feelings are paved over in exchange for extended sequences of the Simpson family being angry and relishing over their hate boners. Everything falls apart with the ending, featuring Abe attempting to scale the cliff to retrieve the recipes; rather than featuring a father and son heart-to-heart with Abe apologizing to his son for what he did and everything he put him through as a kid and them making peace with Mona’s passing, Homer finds the recipe card box on a ledge near the bottom of the cliff, but it’s empty. Then at a diner at the base of the cliff, it’s revealed that the owner had the recipe cards showered down on her all those years ago, and she returns them to Homer (literally tied up in a bow, as the show gleefully pounds on the fourth wall.) I almost feel foolish for having hope watching this show, but when they tapped directly into such a rich emotional vein from the show’s past, I thought maybe it would actually go somewhere, but the writing nowadays just isn’t strong enough to say anything new or of any substance. Everything in the flashback is so sappily on-the-nose (young Homer tearfully saying “Love you” to his mom as he eats, followed by Mona directly explaining the emotional meaning behind the cards) and they completely sidestep any grievances Homer may have with Abe by putting all vitriol in his mother’s mouth (we end on Homer looking at one of Mona’s notes, “I love you, because your father’s a mean S.O.B.”) I’m not surprised that they managed to bungle an episode like this, but I am a bit disappointed given the little moments of promise that were actually there in the writing.
Three items of note:
– In case you missed the minor slew of articles from entertainment journalists desperately mustering up the energy to care about this lumbering fossil of a series, this is the landmark episode that bumps The Simpsons in front of Gunsmoke as the longest running scripted primetime show by number of episodes. Thankfully, the self-congratulation is very short, a ten-second opening featuring Maggie gunning down who I presume is the lead sheriff from the Western series. But here we are, the show’s broken its final notable record, and still shows no sign of ending any time soon. A year or so ago, I thought that maybe there was a chance that this latest contract going up to season 30 would be its last. They’d have broken the Gunsmoke record, 30 is a nice round number, maybe this will be the time to finally, at long last, close the curtains. Then there was some article where the head of FOX television saying she’d love for the show going as long as the crew wanted. And now with the Disney deal, the chance of the show ending at season 30 is pretty much nil. I’m sure Disney’s gonna want to keep this cash cow alive, and even if they wanted to cancel it, it wouldn’t be very good press for them to do it immediately after acquiring it. But how much longer could it possibly go? I still hold onto the morbid belief that the only definite show killer would be the death of one of the six core voice actors; whenever that might be, I feel like Al Jean and company wouldn’t feel right about recasting and quietly wrap things up.
– Abe being moments from death is treated fairly seriously. His skin a sickly shade of pale yellow, he regales this horrible secret to Homer, which now in retrospect makes his immediate forgiveness to his dying father hold more weight. We then cut to him staring blankly at the candy machine, desperately awaiting Dr. Hibbert to come in with an update. As all this played out, I started considering what an episode where Abe actually dies would be like. And really, why the fuck not kill him off? I’d be interested in seeing how they’d handle it. It’s just amazing to me that a show pushing thirty years on the air is so uninterested in any kind of change whatsoever (barring the death of a voice actress, i.e.: Marcia Wallace.) The last big “permanent” change I can think of is Selma’s adopted daughter, and in recent major Selma appearances, like her marriage to Fat Tony and her giving up smoking, I don’t even think she appeared.
– Glenn Close returns for the ninth time to play Mona Simpson again, six of those appearances being posthumous. In the flashback, we see Homer’s lively and vibrant mother hoarsely and timidly voiced by a 71-year-old Close. In the same vein, Dan Castellaneta’s young Homer voice certainly sounds a lot deeper than it did in “Mother Simpson,” especially during his song. I don’t mean to shame these great actors for getting older, but it just speaks to how stagnant this show is; they want to keep going over the same twenty-year-old material again and again, not realizing that they just can’t. Because of time.
One good line/moment: There were a few bits in the first half that made me chuckle, like the two dividers in Homer’s car and Marge’s congratulatory balloons (“Speaking Terms” and “You’re Reconciled!”)