OTH: The Simpsons- "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou"/"Bart's Dog Gets an 'F'"

These episodes both cover family dynamics in a different way.

Season 2, Episode 15

Aired February 21, 1991

Directed by Wes Archer

Written by Jeff Martin

In my review for “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”, I mentioned that I generally don’t like episodes that tease a change for the status quo, only to not deliver on them. That’s still true, although I ended up enjoying that episode anyway. Strong writing and a worthwhile commitment to your environment can make most every idea land.

I did also enjoy this episode, despite it not being a surprise that Herb will continue to stay out of Homer’s life come episode’s end. The reasons for such aren’t that far away from why I liked the previous episode, but I’ll admit that they’re ultimately slightly different.

Herb works well as the anti-Homer. Rich, slim (well, slimmer), clever, dignified. It makes you wonder where Abe went wrong with the son he kept. Their time together couldn’t highlight this more, as neither character can imagine their brother’s world. Homer is enthralled by unlimited access to porkchops, while Herb loves the time he gets with the basic domestic life Marge and the kids have. That balance helps to make for a fun concept, only for things to go even further.

The idea of Herb trusting Homer to make a car for the average citizen sounds good on paper, but it doesn’t factor in that Homer is a complete dumbass, and that it was destined to implode. It’s a depressing concept to see Herb’s attempt at speaking to the masses flop so hard, but that’s what he gets for shooting too high.

Sorry, I’m a little crunched, but this is a good episode that works despite its lack of messing with the status quo.

Season 2, Episode 16

Aired March 7, 1991

Directed by Jim Reardon

Written by Jon Vitti

Is it the dog, or the owner?

I really think that this is a case where it can be a little of column A, and a little of column B. It’s a subject I think about often, anyway, as my mom’s dog has always been a stubborn little bitch. We know that a big part of it came from my grandfather’s doting on her, and his refusal to take the dog training classes we took her to in any fashion. At this point, she’s ended up a little too fragile and neurotic to properly maintain, to the point that she’s basically stuck like this.

So those are the thoughts I had coming into “Bart’s Dog Gets an ‘F’”, which shows Santa’s Little Helper as a loving, but dimwitted dog. He’s not bad, but he doesn’t take to commands well, as we see. And while it has been noted that this is a new problem for the dog, from both fans and the staff themselves, I don’t think it’s that much of a problem. Frankly, not only do I see this as a legitimate problem, but it’s nice to see the pup has his day, and I’m usually a sucker for a boy and his dog story.

We just haven’t seen much of Santa’s Little Helper since “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”- he hardly appeared in the rest of season 1, even- but remembering his turn there helps to make his disobedience believable. After all, he struggled to keep up with his duties as a race dog. If anything, this episode best argues that a dog needs love to function properly, which isn’t a bad notion, and helps to sell the ending.

Although I personally prefer when this becomes more of a mother-daughter story, with Marge and Lisa’s quilt. That subplot mostly evaporates after the second act, but when the two characters are still not taking as much command as the men of the family, I appreciate any time we get with them. It certainly helps that they have nice bonding moments throughout with their time together, including a fun soap opera spoof.

But I also want to talk about Tracey Ullman as Emily Winthrop. Of course The Simpsons was spun off from her Fox series, but despite being known for her vocal talents, Ullman never appeared in the original shorts. According to Matt Groening, he asked a few times but was consistently told that she was too busy to participate, but with her series having ended at this point, this was no longer a roadblock. Winthrop is inspired by Thatcher, from her hair to her voice, and gives Ullman a lot to have fun with, making the character all the more despicable.

And that’s what is especially interesting to me, that her manner of teaching is cruel, and ultimately not effective. Santa’s Little Helper doesn’t learn anything until Bart shows him compassion, which is pretty different from the last episode, but all the more welcoming.

I think that helps this result as a nice episode, but it’s also not one of the series best, either. My main issue is that it’s a little too similar to “Bart Gets an ‘F’”, beyond just the title. That feeling of familiarity would have helped if this aired even just next season, but even then, Santa’s Little Helper just isn’t as compelling of a character as Bart. It earns points for their bond, but it never feels enough like Bart’s episode, or an especially noteworthy one, to receive more. Still, I can never fault a boy and his dog story too much. That’s one of the most important bonds out there.

Stray Observations:

  • Chalkboard gag wars- “I will not sell title in Florida” vs “I will not sell school property”. Selling title in Florida is really profitable, though! Especially if you had any near Orlando in the mid-60’s.

  • Couch gag wars- Maggie coming out of Marge’s hair vs the dog and cat jumping up. Meh, I’m looking forward to when the couch gags become more creative than the chalkboard.

  • Love the Bond spoof at the end of the McBain movie

  • “And thank you most of all for nuclear power, which has yet to cause a single proven fatality… At least in this country. Amen.”

  • I am not going to mention Homer’s mother in the new character column, because this isn’t how I recognize her…

  • We have another Taxi/Brooks alum in Danny Devito. Really hoping the show wins the Heritage Award this year.

  • “Lisa, you wasted chicken pox. Don’t waste the mumps.”

  • I’d be unsure if my 8-year-old wanted Teen Steam Magazine, too.

  • So… what does “Keep on truckin’” mean?

  • We briefly see the babysitter bandit AND Jacques this episode? Ah, season 1 throwbacks.

  • A policy that doesn’t cover fire, theft or animal cruelty is pretty specific, but smart.

  • “Free to loving home, world’s most brilliant dog. Says “I love you” on command.”

  • Happy Easter! Sorry this one was a little late.