Season Nine has been pretty hit or miss so far. But last week was generally really solid. And this week is too. We sure aren’t going to have any deep episodes this week. It’s all goofy, all the time this week, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing I guess. The episodes are all pretty enjoyable…except for this one.
The episode starts off with the hilarious little interaction of Marge trying to get Santa’s Little Helper to pee outside, while Homer suggests Marge peeing outside to teach him how awesome it is. She refuses, and realizes that the reason Santa’s Little Helper doesn’t want to go outside is that the backyard is a goddamn nightmare or weeds, tall grass, sports equipment, and snakes. So she goes to the kids, who are lounging around being bored, and tells them to start doing yard work. They’re obviously not into this plan, and spend most of the time outside planning on how to cut their hands off, before just giving up. Marge tries to yell at them and get them to actually work for their allowance, which is cut short when Homer comes running in yelling about how there’s a carnival in town, and giving the kids money to go have fun with. So, I guess no lessons here.
The family head off to the carnival and we get some fun sight-gags with them wandering around. We see a yard work simulator that Bart wants to play with, Krusty getting squirted in the face while standing next to a clown balloon game, Bart and Lisa go on a terrible haunter house, Homer has a heart attack on a roller coaster, and Homer gets scammed by a father son ring-toss team. But the plot really starts to get going when Bart and Homer check out some sort of demonstration by the Rich Texan where he’s showing off Hitler’s limousine. Bart of course wants to check it out and find the flamethrower, which results in him wrecking the limo. And since it was the main attraction, the Rich Texan holds Bart responsible, and makes him work off the cost of repairing it. And since Homer thinks working in a carnival sounds awesome, he offers to work too.
So the next morning Bart and Homer head to the disgusting carnival to start working. They’re paired up with the ring-toss family, Cooder and Spud, as a sort of master/apprentice type relationship while Cooder teaches them about the “carny code” and the rules of the carnival. They then get to work by having Bart shovel Lil’ Sebastian’s crap, Homer falling in a dangerously shallow dunk tank, and both of them biting the heads off chickens. But they’re saved by Cooder and Spud, who have an AA meeting to get to, and need someone to man their ring-toss both while they’re gone. So Homer and Bart get to run the cart, which is really a poor decision on Cooder’s part.
That night Homer and Bart get to work at the ring-toss, and it’s quickly evident that Bart is the brains of the operation. He’s also the better barker, and is able to easily scam Skinner into wasting money on trying to win a matador lamp for Agnes. It turns out they’re actually pretty good at running a ring-toss, and it even gives Homer the thought to open their own game “where people throw ducks at balloons and nothing’s as it seems.” But while Homer’s mapping out their future, disaster strikes when Chief Wiggum shows up to get a bribe. Unfortunately Homer is too stupid to realize this, and just ends up pissing Wiggum off to the point that he confiscates the ring-toss and tows it away, just in time for Cooder and Spud to show up and see their livelihood being taken away. Luckily Homer is a gullible man, and offers the pair the option of staying at their house until they get back on their feet, which causes Marge to feel a disturbance in the Force.
So Cooder and Spud move in, and instantly make themselves at home and start being gross. Marge and Lisa are obviously not down with having two strangers live in their house, but apparently Marge doesn’t have a say in such matters, so they stay. And her opinion of them isn’t helped any when Spud teaches Bart how to pickpocket, and he steals Marge’s pearls while pretending to hug her, which teaches me that Marge looks super weird without her pearls. But Cooder kind of redeems himself with he announces he bought tickets for some sort of glass-bottom boat tour for the family as a thank you. So they head out and see what kind of lovely things lurk under the water around Springfield, like trash, nuclear waste, and angry sharks. So that was sweet. But what’s not sweet is when the Simpsons come home they find their windows boarded up, and the locks changed. Cooder and Spud scammed them!
The Simpsons aren’t really sure what to do to get the squatters out of their house, so they head to the police. But Chief Wiggum is still irritated with Homer about the whole bribe fiasco, so he won’t help them, which results in the Simpsons having to live in the treehouse. They sit up in the treehouse, trying to come up with a plan to get them out, which leads to this great interaction:
Marge: “We can’t just give up on our house. There’s got to be a way to get these guys out of there.”
Bart: “I say we set fire to the house — kill them that way.”
Marge: “We don’t want to kill them, Bart. We just want our home back.”
Lisa: [thinks it over] “Well…if we did set fire to the house…”
Marge: “No fires!”
Homer: “I’ve got it!”
Marge: “No fires!”
So great. But since the fire plan is shot down, it’s up to Homer to come up with a way to get the house back. Which he does. The family go down to the front door, and get Cooder and Spud to come out with the proposition of a game of ring-toss. Homer has a hula-hoop and says if he can make it onto the chimney they get the house back, but if he misses they’ll give him the deed so he legally owns the house. And Cooder decides this is a good plan, and he agrees. Which is a bad call because as soon as they come out Homer and the family just run in and lock the doors. Take that! So things go back to normal as Homer reshaped his butt-grove on the couch.
This is a weird episode. It’s pretty funny, but this episode kind of represents a huge turning point in the series. When I was a kid Homer was my favorite character of the show. He was hilarious, and his stupid antics were always good for a laugh. But around this point in the show he started to change. Homer used to be a competent character that was pretty dumb. But, just like pretty much every character in a long running show, his stupidity kept ramping up. It makes sense, it’s just like movie franchises, you need to up the last crazy thing you did, so Homer just go dumber and dumber. And it’s around this point in the series that that led Homer to be essentially mentally challenged. He couldn’t even be trusted to handle the cash box, and didn’t understand what a bribe was. It’s just strange. I don’t know, it could just be me, but when Homer gets this stupid, I stop really caring about him as a character. And I feel like it’s part of a larger trend where the show is going to stop having that balance of silly episodes to emotional ones. Season Nine gets considered the beginning of the end for quality Simpsons episodes, and I feel like it’s episodes like this that prove that may be true. It just became a different show around this point. Less emotion, more silliness. Less clever Homer that you can relate to, more dumb Homer doing cartoony antics. I guess that’s okay, it’s just not the show that I came to love.
Take Away: Don’t trust carnival workers, and all good things must come to an end.
“Bart Carny” was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Mark Kirkland, 1998.