I feel like this episode should have been the season closer to make a sort of symmetry with the opener being called “Bart Gets an F.” Plus they’re kind of the same story, but in this case a little more emotional for me, because as a kid I had a dog who was so misbehaved there was talk of getting rid of her, and more recently the dog my wife and I currently have was definitely the worst student in obedience class. But that’s enough of that, let’s get into the episode.
We start off with what’s proving to be a defining formula for the series, while normally Santa’s Little Helper is a relatively naughty dog, he’s a terror in an episode that revolves around him. We see him causing all sorts of chaos, starting with ripping up the paper Homer is wanting to read. Meanwhile in the B plot, Lisa has woken up and she learns that she’s sick with what Marge thinks is the mumps. She calls Dr. Hibbert at home, who it turns out is essentially Cliff Huxtable, without the date rape (topical!), who recommends Lisa doesn’t go to school. Lisa is of course crushed by this news and is forced to stay home and recuperate. Bart isn’t so lucky, and after being stuck in a logic loop he’s forced to go to school. Santa’s Little Helper tries to go to school with him, but ends up wandering around the neighborhood instead. He gets into a couple adventures, and then starts swimming in the Winfield’s pool. I miss the Winfield’s. They die right? I know I could look that up, but I feel like they die in the episode with Ruth Powers moving in, but I can’t quite remember. Eh, I’ll get to it quick.
So the Winfield’s call Homer about Santa’s Little Helper, and comes and gets him, because apparently despite the kids going to school, Homer didn’t go to work. Then Homer runs into Ned, who is also not at work? Whatever. Ned’s out jogging with some super fancy sneakers called Assassins, and Homer instantly starts to covet them. Homer finally goes to work, I guess the same day, and gets a call from Lisa confirming her mumps, and he agrees to go get her some magazines after work like a good dad. While she’s home, Marge shows Lisa the Bouvier family quilt, and informs her that she’s going to learn how to stitch so she can contribute a square herself. Marge is a sewing master, which is she demonstrates by lighting flame under her calloused skin.
Meanwhile, Homer is at the mall, being judged by the guy at the magazine kiosk for getting all the teenaged girl magazine, when he comes across the shoe store, and the assassins. He gets a memory bubble of Flanders talking about the shoes, and after Homer shows some resistance, the memory Flanders demands he buys the shoes. But when Homer gets home, Santa’s Little Helper almost immediately destroys the damned things, leading Homer to demand Santa’s Little Helper goes to an obedience school. So of course, since this is the early 90’s, the use the yellow pages, and end up having Bart bring Santa’s Little Helper to fancy obedience school led by Emily Winthrop, whose voiced by the godmother of the show, Tracy Ullman. Winthrop is super strange and over-committed, but we do get the great, if a little obvious, joke of her calling him “Satan’s Little Helper.” Lisa is still home from school, and is watching soap operas with Marge. Growing up, in the summer when my brother and I were babysat with by my grandma, there would be soap operas on, and man is this parody accurate. They’re just terrible. Homer tries to return the destroyed shoes, with no luck, and on his way out of the mall buys an enormous cookie, that he for some reason doesn’t eat, and instead leaves on top of a cookie jar with a note. Santa’s Little Helper ramps up his shittiness and not only eats the giant cookie, but shreds the Bouvier family quilt, right after Lisa made her own patch.
Santa’s Little Helper has clearly crossed a line here, and Homer announces that unless he passes his obedience school course, they’re going to give him away. Which is so terrible. I don’t care how bad a pet is, you really shouldn’t get rid of them, unless they’re like, hurting other pets or children. He’s a family member goddmanit! And Lisa gives a very emotional speech that basically says exactly that, leading Homer to agree that they’ll wait until after the test. But it’s pretty obvious that Santa’s Little Helper isn’t going to pass the class. He just doesn’t obey any command, and is generally a pretty poorly behaved dog. Bart is trying to teach him up until the night before the test, and Lisa convinces him to give up, and just enjoy his last night with the dog. They two have a great time together, playing and enjoying each others company. Then magic happens, and Santa’s Little Helper suddenly can understand Bart’s commands after Bart breaks down weeping, and it turns out he knows all he commands, he just didn’t speak English? Whatever. The next day he does everything right, and after being called a son of a bitch (puns!) he gets his diploma and passes. Everyone cheers, even Homer, and Santa’s Little Helper is safe. We close out the episode with a weird Animal House-esque ending with freeze frames that show what each of the other dogs does later in life.
This was a really sweet episode, that sure knew how to tug on the heartstrings. Talking about getting rid of a dog is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever had to do, and seeing it portrayed accurately from Bart’s point of view was devastating. Santa’s Little Helper couldn’t help that he was dumb, and just seemed oblivious to the chaos he was causing, both physically and to Bart’s heart. It was a tender episode that really worked for me, even though the ending did seem a little deus ex machina to me. But whatever, it’s a cartoon.
Take Away: Don’t give up on naughty dogs. They’re still family, and deserving of love and patience.
“Bart’s Dog Gets an F” was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Jim Reardon.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons