Well, we’ve done it. We’ve made it through another week of Lifetime of Simpsons. And it was kind of a rough one. Lots of episodes that have better versions of themselves from previous seasons. But we get to end the week on an episode that’s certainly unique. Because I sure don’t think we’ve seen saunas and helicopter parenting before.
Things start off with Homer and the kids going to some sort of carnival on a boardwalk. But apparently in the world of the Simpsons some truth in advertising law had been passed, so the carnival barkers are having to explain how horrible the food is for you and how unlikely they are to win some prizes. Which is a solid gag. We also get to see Homer heckle a unicycle juggler before tossing the kids into the mix, giving him more of a challenge.
Meanwhile, back at home Marge is having “fun” by replacing their hot water heater. Neat! However, while she’s cleaning up the area around the heater in the basement she makes a shocking discovery. There’s a secret door in their basement. Not that one that had the jerky lab from last season though, no, this time it’s a secret sauna that’s apparently been in their house the whole time. Marge turns it on, and of course plans to tell Homer and the kids about it. Until she realizes that if she invites Homer she’ll eventually have to deal with a pervy Moe. She then decides to keep the sauna her little secret.
Back at the carnival though, disaster is about to strike. Because while Homer’s messing with a guy juggling fire, he ends up sticking a torch into his mouth, burning his tongue horribly. Homer’s then raced to the hospital, and finds that he’s going to have to have a tongue cast for a while so it can heal. But this isn’t just going to be a ripoff of the episode where his jaw is wired shut, and we immediately cut to several weeks later when he’s getting his tongue cast removed. But things aren’t fine.
Because when Homer grabs a lollipop as a reward for his cast he finds something horrible. His taste buds are now hyper-sensitive, and all food is too strong for him to handle. Dr. Hibbert says that this should be only temporary, but until they’re fixed he’s going to have to eat the blandest foods possible. So Homer begins his quest to find that food, and finally comes across it with Lisa’s help. Elementary School cafeteria mac and cheese.
Apparently all the food from the cafeteria is as bland as possible, so Homer makes an executive decision. He’s going to start eating all of his meals at the cafeteria. Which kind of cramps Bart’s style, especially when Homer realizes he didn’t bring any money, and has to work with Lunchlady Doris to afford his terrible food. Bart is obviously mortified by this development, and tries to avoid Homer as much as possible.
And because Bart won’t sit with Homer during lunch, he ends up having to sit with some weird kid named Noah whose mother is also eating at the school. But, as Homer learns, she’s not there for the food. She’s there to make Noah’s life horrible, and ensure that he’s a perfect student who doesn’t get distracted by silly things like friends or fun. Homer thinks that this is pretty ridiculous. Until she points out that Bart is an idiot and Lisa has no friends, which will therefore make it so they will never succeed as adults.
This really gets to Homer, and he decides to do something horrible. He’s going to become a helicopter parent like that horrible lady. Homer of course runs this proposal by Marge, but she’s too blessed out on the saunas to bring logic to the table, so Homer starts spending all of his days at the Elementary School, trying to meddle in Bart and Lisa’s lives. And it turns out he’s not alone, because there’s a shitload of terrible parents stalking their children at the school.
It seems pretty mundane at first, but then Homer makes a discovery. Bart’s class is having a competition of make balsa wood models of famous buildings, and Homer decides that Bart needs to do the Washington Monument. And, since Mrs. Krabappel is impressed by Bart’s choice, Homer decides he’s a successful helicopter parent. Which results in him moving onto his next project, making Lisa popular. This of course takes the form of Homer giving her a book on cliques and how to neg people into wanting your approval. Great job Homer.
But he can’t just get these balls in motion, he has to make sure they pass the finish line. So Homer drags Bart to a hobby shop to get the wood for the model. But while they’re there Principal Skinner mocks their choice of the Washington Monument, since it’s easy. This then spurs Homer onto choosing a new building. He asks the clerk for the hardest one, and he recommends Westminster Abbey. So they buy the kit and all of the balsa wood and head home to build it. And once that’s taken care of he hosts a cellphone decorating party with all the popular girls at school, helping Lisa out.
However, that night Homer runs into an issue. Westminster Abbey is way too hard. Homer of course decides to take over for Bart, and begins building it himself. However, this takes the whole damn night, and he does a terrible job. Especially when Homer falls asleep during the middle and gets a dream where he’s visited by the ghosts of several ghosts buried at the Abbey, like Chaucer and Oscar Wilde. They all tell Homer that being a helicopter parent is a terrible idea, and that he should stop doing it.
Homer ends up waking up from the dream, and finds that he’s destroyed what little he’s done of the Westminster Abbey model. So he begins rapidly trying to put it back together, and does a terrible job. However, the next day at the competition Homer finds something shocking. Because Bart’s model looks so terrible it’s the only one that Chalmers actually believes was made by a student. He disqualifies all of the other models made by helicopter parents and makes Bart the winner.
However, Bart can’t lie, so he tells the crowd of students the truth, and even gives a speech about how terrible helicopter parents should be. Nobody seems to listen though, and Homer moves on to checking out Lisa’s progress. Which actually has gone good. She’s popular now, but she hates it. She tells Homer that she doesn’t want to be popular anymore, and he admits that this was a failed experiment. So Homer returns to being a lackluster father, and goes home to tell Marge all about it. But, luckily, she’s able to cheer him up by finally telling him about the sauna, making everything okay.
This is certainly an interesting episode about a topic that really bugs me. Parents who participate in that kind of parenting, the helicopter parent style, are just a total and complete bummer, and will almost certainly raise children who have mental breakdowns as adults. Part of being a child is enjoying life. Because while school is important, education isn’t the sole focus. It’s also important for kids to learn how to socialize. It’s kind of the same problem I have with parents who insist their kids go to a community college the first two years and live at home to save money. Because the point of your first two years isn’t really to learn anything academic, it’s to learn how to be an adult and live on your own. And having parents who try to control their lives and make their childhoods as sterile and academic as possible completely misses the point of life. Homer forces his children to do things they don’t want to do so that they’ll be “normal.” And it blows up in his face. Because it turns out that they already knew who they were. Even though Homer’s meddling worked, Bart is a good enough person to tell the truth. And even though Homer’s meddling worked, Lisa knows who she is and tells him that despite popularity she can’t handle how shallow they are, and wants friends who challenge her. Homer and Marge are actually really good parents, and when they let their kids kind of find themselves on their own, they succeeded. They’re both becoming good people, and they did that because they were allowed to grow without being stifled by pressure. Which is a great lesson for Homer to learn.
Take Away: Don’t helicopter parent your kid. Let them lives their lives, make mistakes, and learn who they are.
“Father Knows Best” was written by Rob LaZebnik and directed by Matthew Nastuk, 2009.