You know what this show hasn’t had in too long a time? A cameo from Albert Brooks. Well, how about we fix that today? What’s the episode that that cameo is in about? Mainly just a lackluster story full of crappy behavior and token comeuppance. But, Albert Brooks!
The episode starts off in a strange place, with Groundskeeper Willie marching into Principal Skinner’s office with some bad news. He claims that he’s about to fly back to Scotland, never to return. But, he’s already found a replacement. And it’s bland standard singer Johnny Mathis! And, if you’re wondering, why is Johnny Mathis the new groundskeeper at Springfield Elementary? Well, because this is just a very strange dream that Skinner is having.
Skinner wakes up and realizes that he’s overslept. So, after racing to the school and shooing Willie away from the morning announcements, Skinner starts telling the kids what the plot of the episode will be about at first. He tells them all that there’s going to be an awkward school dance that Friday, and that all grades will be forced into close proximity so that they can have horribly uncomfortable experiences that will haunt them for years.
Bart obviously plans on skipping this whole thing, but when Marge learns about this dance she decides that Bart has to go. He keeps trying to fight back, but even Homer jumps on the bandwagon and insists that Bart needs to go learn how to meet girls, even if that’s not something that particularly interests him right now. Which is weird, since we’ve had so many episodes about Bart being into girls. But we’ve also had a bunch of episodes about Bart thinking girls are still gross. So who the hell knows?
Oh, but before we get to the dancing, we need to set up what the majority of today’s episode will actually be about. Because after talking to Bart about dancing Homer heads outside to take the trash out, only to find Ned and the boys finishing painting their fence. And, in true Homer fashion, Homer just spins the fence around, somehow, and makes it so his side is the painted one. He then struts off, and Rod and Todd are a little disappointed that Ned has just rolled over yet again to Homer.
But that will pay off later, for now it’s time for dancing! Bart is dropped off at the school dance, and it does seem like mostly everyone is having a good time, despite Skinner’s DJ skills. Well, except for Bart. He’s just busy walking around, mocking the whole idea. He has no interest in dancing, until a fifth grade girl walks up to him and says that she wants to dance with him. Which means Bart has some quick thinking to do.
He considers just blowing off the girl, but Bart is then visited by the demon of puberty. The demon explains to Bart that he has two choices, ignoring the girl and continuing to be bitter, or accepting the dance request and being thrust down the path of several years of awkwardness and zits. Bart thinks it over, and decides to accept his destiny, and starts dancing with the girl. And, shockingly, he does a great job. In fact, he does so well that he’s awarded some sort of “Best Dancer” award at the end of the party, and the girl asks to spend more time with him after.
However, that’s when disaster strikes. Because as Bart is heading outside to hang out with the girl he’s caught by the bullies, who quickly decide to start harassing Bart. They break his trophy and start making fun of him, causing the girl to lose all respect and interest for him. So, Bart is depressed and heads home, ashamed that he was unable to stand up for himself. And, when he gets home and tells Homer and Marge what happened, Marge is not pleased.
In fact, Marge makes it her duty to start harping on and on about bullying. And she’s not messing around. Marge immediately goes to some sort of city council meeting, and starts introducing some legislation. She hopes that the city will decide that bullying is illegal now, and punishable with fines and arrests. It seems more than a little extreme, but Marge makes a convincing argument, and Springfield is made a bully-free city.
And the police actually start enforcing this new law immediately. They head out the very next day and arrest Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney after they start picking on Bart and Milhouse. The system works! Well, actually it quickly becomes a weird authoritarian nightmare. Because now people, primarily Homer, begin calling the cops on absolutely every for even the most minor slight. And, because there seem to be no oversight, a large majority of Springfield is now being arrested.
But, its now time to check back in on Ned and the boys. Because one day Rod and Todd decide that they want some cocoa, and are mad to find that they don’t have any, because Home has apparently come to their house and stolen it all. They then try to tell Ned that Homer is a bully, and that he should call the police and have him arrested. Ned demurs from this idea, and tells the boys that they should just accept Homer.
They have different ideas though. They end up disobeying Ned, and call the police, telling them about all the things that Homer does to their father. The police then come storming into Homer’s house and arrest him. Homer’s then immediately sentenced to 90 days in some sort of bully rehabilitation program. Homer is introduced to the therapy group, full of other adult bullies, and meets the very intense and weird German therapist, who is voiced by Albert Brooks.
The therapist is a very strange person, but he seems to know what he’s talking about I suppose. He starts teaching them about empathy, and he’s very good at finding peoples buttons and pushing them, causing them to collapse in on themselves. He’s obsessed with finding out who originally humiliated these bullies, hoping that that will get to the root cause of why they lash out at other people, to some pretty major results.
He goes around the room, breaking people, and finally gets to Homer. The therapist wants to know why it is Homer can’t stand Ned, and Homer is kind of at a loss. He tries explaining that everyone hates Ned, but the rest of the support group pretty quickly say that that’s not true. So the therapist starts pushing Homer, and he finally has a breakthrough. Homer can’t stand Ned because he’s so perfect, and he makes Homer look like a worse person, in every way.
This was the answer that they needed, so Homer is thus deemed rehabilitated. He leaves the program, and something odd starts happening. The people of Springfield act like he’s some sort of hero, because he’s no longer such an asshole. And it drives Ned insane. He eventually gets so mad that he demands Homer apologize for all of the abuse he’s given him over the years. Homer decides to empathize, and asks for Ned’s forgiveness. Which is not granted. This really bothers Homer, and he ends up getting on his hands and knees, and waiting outside of Ned’s house for days, until Ned decides Homer’s had enough penance, and forgives him.
I don’t know if this episode is actually just kind of bland and forgettable, or I’m just kind of wearing out of the Simpsons. Because it just feels like there’s nothing new about this episode. I’ve seen Bart deal with being interested in girls for the first time. I’ve seen Bart dealing with bullies. I’ve seen episode where Homer realizes that he should be less of an asshole to Ned. And I’ve seen several episodes where Home decides that he should be a better person to Ned, only for that decision to fade away. There’s just nothing new here. Even the idea of Ned being frustrated that Homer learning to be a decent person is earning him more respect than Ned gets for always being decent isn’t a new idea. This episode just feels like they’re remixing some previous ideas, and they didn’t really find a way to make this one stand on its own. It’s not a terrible episode or anything, it’s just one of the seemingly vast army of forgettable episodes from this era of the show.
Take Away: Don’t be a bully.
“Bull-E” was written by Tim Long and directed by Lance Kramer, 2015.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons