Lifetime of Simpsons

S03 E09 – Saturdays of Thunder

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Weird, two episodes in a row that are about Homer’s relationship with his kids being bad. That seems odd. Also, this one wasn’t as good in my opinion. Oh well, it does have a pretty great chalkboard gag with “I will not fake rabies.” The episode starts up with Homer watching an infomercial called “I Can’t Believe They Invented It,” where Troy McClure gets Dr. Nick to shill some crap. In this case it’s a magical stain cleanser that Dr. Nick demonstrates its power by cleaning the grime off the tombstone of Edgar Allen Poe, which would certainly sell me on a cleanser. Homer is of course fixated by Dr. Nick’s miracle cleanser, and is ready to buy it, while we start to see Bart busying himself by building something in the garage. Patty and Selma show up to get Marge’s advice on hairstyling while Homer orders some cleanser and ignores Bart, and when the three head off to the beauty salon, she tells Homer to spend time with the kids. So Homer takes Lisa and Maggie to the video store, which in incredibly antiquated thing already, but leaves Bart since he’s busy welding something in the garage.

I love the scene in the video store. We get some more great McBain, featuring some wonderful “One day until retirement,” action before Homer starts looking through a whole category that appears to be sports injuries. I worked in a video rental place inside of a grocery store in high school, and it’s crazy to think that that’s just something that doesn’t exist anymore. I also worked in the photo development counter there, which makes me feel shockingly old. Anyway, Homer finds “Football’s Greatest Injuries,” and heads out to watch his wonderful find. Meanwhile we pan over to Marge, Patty, and Selma in the beauty salon, and Marge finds some sort of magazine quiz that will apparently prove how good of a father someone is. So of course Marge gives the test to Homer, and he fails miserably. Doesn’t get a single question right. He becomes worried that he doesn’t even know his son, so goes to find out if Bart has any hobbies. And it turns out that he does, because the whole episode he’s been building a soap box derby racer, and is planning on competing in a big upcoming race, which Homer knew nothing about. I love that when a despondent Homer calls the hotline for the National Fatherhood Institute, the hold music is “Cat’s Cradle.” Now, I know that the Simpsons are famous for the great sign gags, and newspaper gags, but between this joke and having the hold music for the mental hospital be “Crazy” by Patsy Cline in “Stark Raving Dad,” I’m beginning to think that the “Hold Music Gag,” is an underappreciated staple of early Simpsons.

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While the other neighborhood kids are over admiring Bart’s racer, representatives of the Father Institute show up, because they’ve never had someone score a zero on their test, so they need to take Homer away for re-education. He gets taken to the Institute, and starts to get advice on how to be a better father, including getting a fatherhood book written by Bill Cosby, which…yeah not going to talk about that. With the advice of the Institute scientists (?) Homer heads home to help Bart work on the racer. Bart is a little hesitant at first, citing advice from a reigning Derby champ that Bart admires named Ronnie Beck, but Homer convinces him and we get a sweet montage of the two bonding while dangerously making the racer. And finally they’ve created the Lil’ Lightinin’, a terrible looking racer that should fall apart at any minute, but was made with father/son love. So they head off to the race, where Bart sees his competition is Martin, who has created an aerodynamic little car that’s shaped like a NASA rocket called the Honor Roller, and Nelson, who has a sketchy racer with blades on the wheels and a person locked in the trunk. Nelson also puts a cigarette out with his tongue. Metal. Anyway, the race begins and it quickly becomes Ben Hur, complete with whips, and while Nelson is busy pestering Bart, Martin handily wins, but his racer reaches unsafe speeds, and Martin ends up crashing into a hay bale, and catches on fire. We then get a great scene of Martin running around screaming while on fire, because this is still a cartoon after all.

After the race Bart goes to the hospital to visit Martin, who knows that he’ll never race again. But he also knows that if he doesn’t, Nelson will win, so he offers Bart the opportunity to use the Honor Roller. Bart is initially hesitant, since he worked hard on Lil’ Lightnin’ with Homer, but ends up taking the offer. So he has to go home and break Homer’s heart by telling him that he’s abandoning the racer they made together. And Homer is devastated, but just acts super passive aggressive. There’s then a silly scene where Homer takes Lisa to Dr. Hibbert’s office, because she scheduled her own tetanus shot (what?), and he calls Martin a homewrecker when he sees him. We then reach the next race, and the episode switches from Ben Hur to Days of Thunder. Homer doesn’t wish Bart luck, and doesn’t even come to the Derby, but it’s apparently being televised, so he still watches it. When the rest of the family leaves Homer gets depressed, and looks at the test he failed in the beginning of the episode, and realizes he can know answer all the questions, after pretending to talk to Flanders about parenting that is, and races off to the Derby with the knowledge that he’s a perfect father now. Back at the race Bart is distracted and not wanting to participate in the race, sad about Homer, but when he sees him show up he gets his confidence back, and starts the race. And after a close race, he wins! He even gets a trophy from Ronnie Beck, who is like four. The episode then ends with Homer and Bart bonding by being a sore winner and mocking Nelson for his loss.

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This was an okay episode, but it didn’t really work for me. I couldn’t quite tell why though. It’s certainly funny, but the emotional core didn’t strike quite right. I thought about it, and I think the answer might be that I generally don’t think the episodes about Bart and Homer’s relationship being in trouble works as well. Homer and Lisa episodes are great, because Homer and Lisa are very different people, and have a lot of personality clashes. Homer has to work to share interests with Lisa, and he generally doesn’t know how to support her, because he doesn’t understand her. But Bart and Homer are two peas in a pod. They’re so similar, and I think they work best when they’re little buddies, up for helping each other’s schemes. It kind of reminded me of “Principal Charming,” where up until that episode Patty and Selma had been terrible people, but then we had to feel bad for them. Homer and Bart’s relationship has been great generally in the show, but now we were supposed to believe that they were distant and had problems. It just seemed out of left field. But oh well, it was still a funny episode, just not exactly a heartfelt one.

Take Away: Take interest in your kid’s passions. And don’t give up using the derby racer you made with your dad for the one that will let you win.

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