There are certain things about the Simpsons that you just kind of have to accept. Like their yellow skin, their four fingers, the fact that a Nuclear Power Plant is so incredibly blue-collar, and the sliding timeline. Oh, and the fact that Homer routinely strangles his son. That’s weird, right? It should have been weird in 1989. But I guess it wasn’t. Well, until today.
The episode begins at the Nuclear Plant with Mr. Smithers and Mr. Burns getting ready to hop in a hot-air balloon to do a survey of the Plant. This obviously seems a little inefficient, but whatever, it’s Mr. Burns. So they head up into the heavens, and after getting rid of some graffiti something goes wrong. A gentle breeze kicks up and the balloon is thrown off course, requiring Burns to call down to Homer, Lenny, and Carl to help him out.
Luckily Lenny has a bunch of rifles in his trunk (wait, what?) so they pull them out and start taking shots at the balloon. And they do very poorly. Homer manages to save the day though when he shoots a gargoyle off of a church, causing it to land in the balloon’s basket and weigh it back down to Earth. And Mr. Burns is very thankful for Homer’s assistance, and offers him a boon. But not a great boon. He just gives him tickets to a football game at Springfield’s new, super fancy stadium.
So Homer and the family head to the newly opened stadium, which is supposed to be a parody of the insane stadiums that Texas keeps building, but actually sounds pretty accurate. It’s essentially a goddamn mall, complete with massages performed by former players and high-class shopping. Lots of stuff to distract people form how intolerably boring football is. But, eventually, they have to go watch the game, so they head down to their very good seats.
The family set up shop in their seats, right in the front row, and start enjoying the game. But disaster strikes when the jumbo-tron starts scanning around the stadium, making people act like idiots. And when it comes across Bart, the operator is surprised to find Bart not being interested. So the jumbo-tron encourages people to get Bart riled up, and Homer decides to start tickling him to cheer him up. Bart keeps trying to get Homer to stop, but he won’t since the crowd loves it. And, after a while, Bart ends up wetting his pants in front of the whole goddamn town.
So that’s one of the most embarrassing things that could ever happen to a person. Bart is absolutely horrified by this, and becomes furious with Homer. And Homer barely understands why. But Marge cannot stand to see Bart so upset, so she decides something needs to be done, and signs Homer up for some sort of parenting class. He’s pretty against it, but eventually agrees to go check it out, and heads to the little building with the support group.
Homer finds that it’s basically just a bunch of dads sitting around with a psychiatrist named Dr. Zander, who listens to their problems and gives them advice. And, to welcome him into the group, they ask Homer to tell the group how he deals with his kids, since he’s been a father for ten years. So Homer starts regaling them with his fathering techniques, and of course just tosses out the fact that he occasionally has to strangle Bart. Which horrifies the rest of the group. They’re all completely shocked that Homer is telling the truth, and awkwardly end the class.
The next week Homer comes back to the group, and is confused to find that no one else is there but Dr. Zander. He tells Homer that he’s decided to make this a one-on-one session to deal with the massive bombshell that Homer dropped on them. Dr. Zander then tries to calmly explain that it’s insane that Homer is strangling his son. And to demonstrate how horrible strangling a child is, he’s decided to bring his friend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to dress up as Homer and strangle him, so that Homer will see what it’s like to be little and helpless.
Thus begins what appears to be a several week-long process of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar strangling Homer over and over again, until he finally get conditioned that this is a terrible experience. And then, when Homer’s insurance runs out, he’s declared “cured” and sent back to his life. Homer then heads home, convinced that things will be better, and proudly tells Bart that he’s found help, and that he’ll never strangle him again.
Bart finds this to be unlikely, but Homer offers to let Bart piss him off, just to demonstrate his restraint. So Bart starts picking on Homer, and when Homer starts to get mad he’s shocked to find that he imagines Bart as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, ready to strangle him, and he has a PTSD breakdown. And, of course, Bart sees this reaction and decides that he can use it to his benefit. Because if Homer is too scared to physically abuse him, he can get away with anything.
Bart then begins an absolute reign of terror, becoming an even worse kid than he’s ever been before. He starts tormenting Homer, knowing full well that Homer is now too scared to fight back. Things even get so bad that Homer begins having weird nightmares where he’s a child being tormented by Bart, like him being a member of the Jackson Five, being in a scene from the Great Santini, and being in a scene from Precious.
Luckily Marge has begun to recognize that Homer has become broken psychologically, and she decides to go find Dr. Zander and have him fix her husband. But when she gets to the center she’s shocking to find that it’s closed. She ends up finding Zander’s forwarding address, and it’s just under a bridge. She heads there and finds that because of the economic downturn all sorts of luxury professionals have lost their jobs, including Dr. Zander. Which does mean that he’s willing to fix Homer and Bart in exchange for beans, which is cool.
Homer, Zander, and Bart then head out into the wood together with the mission of fixing the two’s relationship. And things don’t go well. First off they go to some cactus patch, blindfold Homer, and have Bart guide him through unharmed. Bart of course then just causes Homer to walk into as many cacti as possible. So that’s a failure. We then get a montage of various activities, all designed to make Bart care about his father. And he fails every single one.
It eventually reaches the point that Dr. Zander is out of ideas, and going a little insane, until he decide to essentially hang Homer from a tree in the hopes that Bart will care. Bart doesn’t, and Dr. Zander snaps, finally strangling Bart. Bart manages to free Homer from the tree, and he fights Zander off. The two then realize that they’ll have plenty of time to bond together and work through their issues while suing Zander for years to come.
This episode is incredibly strange. I honestly don’t know the origin of the whole strangulation thing, but it’s been such a mainstay in the show that I don’t even really think about it anymore. Occasionally I’ll come across someone who isn’t that into the Simpsons, and they’ll be horrified at the strangling, which makes me realize that, yeah, that’s insane. It’s like they were referencing something back in the day, but by now it’s just become a feature of the show, and no one thinks about how insane it seems. So having an episode that finally comments on the strangling was probably long overdue. However, I’m not quite sure how I feel about how the episode left things. Having Homer realize that he shouldn’t strangle Bart is obviously a good idea, but then the story ends by having strangulation save the day, which is weird. I could easily see no episode after this featuring strangulation, but if there is more I could also believe that. There’s no definitive condemnation of the strangulation in this episode, which is kind of weird. Hopefully it falls away, but I guess we’ll see.
Take Away: Don’t strangle people! Especially your kids!
“Love is a Many Strangled Thing” was written by Bill Odenkirk and directed by Michael Polcino, 2011.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons