OTH: The Simpsons- "Old Money"/"Brush With Greatness"

We get a Grampa-heavy episode, and meet our first Beatle!

Season 2, Episode 17

Aired March 28, 1991

Directed by David Silverman

Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky

For as much as we’ve seen of him, we don’t know too much about Grampa yet. We know that he and Homer have a testy relationship, but thus far it’s a little hard to tell if it’s his or Homer’s fault as to why. The little bit we see of Abe in “The Way We Was” does suggest that he was never great at giving Homer self esteem, but we don’t know much else about their life before Homer and Marge got married and had kids. Even in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”, which starts out with his heart attack and the reveal of his long-lost son, he’s missing for most of the running time.

So here we are in our first episode where Grampa is the lead character, and I feel like we’re running into something of a pattern, between this and “Principal Charming”. It seems that while the writers are becoming more comfortable with giving the supporting cast leading stories, they’re doing better at finding appropriate subject matters for them as opposed to the right comedic material. “Old Money” is missing the punch that makes other classic Simpsons episodes stand out, even if it’s an otherwise solid outing.

I think part of it is that I just don’t buy Abe’s goodwill turn in this episode, knowing how we’ll see him in later episodes. Even with what we’ve seen now, he doesn’t have that much of a good streak in him, beyond the love of his family. But I also say this having never received the wealth Grampa obtains so suddenly. I know from first hand experience how money can change a person’s view of life- entering a job that pays much more than any I’ve had before has helped me to appreciate my life a little more. That extra feeling of security is wonderful. But I can’t fathom having over 100K transferred to me like Abe was, and whether that gives me a feeling of obligation to help or not.

I’m also not very hot on having this turn of personality turned on by a one-off love interest who dies partway through the episode. Although I don’t discredit either Bea or Audrey Meadows’ performance. Frankly, it’s nice to hear Alice Kramden in action, even if she was years removed from her iconic role. And she does a fine job giving the character not only enough warmth to sell her lovability, but the right amount of burden to fit so well with Abe. Still, this is a cheap concept.

I’d be a little more in tune with the focus on Grampa and his relation to the family if their material worked a little better. Although to be fair, this isn’t meant for the rest of the family, although Bart as always has some good lines, and Lisa is surprisingly a little more bratty and full of life than usual. But this is most meant to relate Homer’s relationship with his dad than anything, and I’d argue that it’s not so successful at that.

My main problem is that less that Grampa’s anger towards Homer is wrapped up early, as even though it does feel a little sudden, it should be. Abe and Bea have a nice afterlife moment where she suggests why he should forgive his son, and on top of that, the episode would drag if he didn’t change his tune. What I don’t love is the last minute conflict Homer has about how his dad is going to use his money. Homer was fine with Abe using his money for the needy before, so why does he decide to tell him that he doesn’t care about the money? We know he doesn’t. Homer stopping Abe’s gambling spree is less objectable, but even that comes off more like forced conflict than anything else to me.

So yeah, there are pieces here that work, but also a few that don’t, enough for me to call “Old Money” a mixed, if pleasurable bag. I’m glad we got to our first Grampa-heavy episode, but I’m sure there’s more that could be done with him.

Season 2, Episode 18

Aired April 11, 1991

Directed by Jim Reardon

Written by Brian K. Roberts

Ick, Mr. Burns nude is not a lovely sight. Good thing for a little censorship.

Personally, I like that we’re increasingly seeing more of Marge in the lead, and that the show is pushing to make her to be more than just a docile housewife. Learning more about Marge’s creative side, and her dormant passion is a strong concept, and this episode mostly delivers on her focus.

It’s also never a bad call to see more of Mr. Burns. The show clearly loves him best of the supporting cast thus far. The show’s first CD, The Simpsons Sings the Blues, had already been released, and gave the album’s one non-family oriented track to him and Smithers. I feel like that’s a good sign of the character’s popularity and versatility, back when the series was still trying to figure out how to best implement its steadily growing library of characters.

It helps that Burns is an endlessly rewarding character to mine from, being the disgustingly wealthy character he is. Combined with Smithers’ disturbing, yet questionably homoerotic, loyalty to his boss, you have an antagonist worth returning to when needed.

It also helps that Burns isn’t without his human tendencies. While his lack of morals is what appeals to many, what makes the character stick around is his need for validation. We’ve seen this in earlier episodes, and it’s once again evident here as Burns wishes for artistic merit. This desire is contrasted by his nasty personality, all of which contrasts just as well with Marge’s knack for compassion and honesty. In the campaign episode with an obnoxiously long title, we get the first taste of Marge’s distaste for the richest man in Springfield, and her unwillingness to connect with him.

It makes all too much sense, but seeing Burns show a trace of humility in the ending is surprisingly refreshing. As he should, given the lengths Marge goes to show that he’s as human as anyone, even if it results in showing the world his wrinkly old body. That it takes this stretching to find some kind of decency in him says a lot, but Marge does her best to try anyway.

Although I certainly don’t forgive Burns for his comments towards Homer. It’s astonishing how much shit Homer will take from his own boss without a notion in his head to quit his job. That said, I’m not the biggest fan of his weight loss subplot, if only because it doesn’t really conclude in any way or have much punch to it, and Homer will return to his gluttony the next week. I do appreciate the attempt at humility, but it feels like a way to give Homer more screentime this week, at least when the series still doesn’t add many subplots.

Before I wrap up, I do want to talk about this episode’s special guest star. Getting Ringo Starr was a huge boon for the show, and if anything, was validation that The Simpsons was starting to be considered more than just a fad. Granted, Mr. Starkey isn’t the strongest actor, and his reading is pedestrian, but the important element is having a Beatle offer his persona to the festivities, no matter how brief or average his take was. Personally, I just think it’s cute to see that Ringo was the Beatle Marge fangirled over, and if anything, this shows just why she loves Homer- she has a thing for the underdog.

“Brush with Greatness” is another fine episode, about on par with the previous. Giving more focus to Marge and Mr. Burns is certainly welcome thus far, and I hope that we only continue to find the best uses for both characters.

Stray Observations:

  • Chalkboard gag wars- “I will not grease the monkey bars” vs “I will not hide behind the fifth amendment”. Well, Bart has every right to do the latter.

  • Couch gag wars- Grampa sleeping on the couch vs the couch jumping up. The former is perfect for the episode.

  • Man, Bart and Lisa more or less confirming that they’d send Homer to a retirement home is pretty dark.

  • Grandma’s World seems like a useful store.

  • Frankly, I’d go with Moe’s treasure hunt.

  • And for some reason, the credits name every character each voice actor does on the show, in just this first episode.

  • It should be more surprising that The Honeymooners hasn’t won the Heritage Award, but it’s also kind of not. The TCA tends to give the award to series where a significant portion of the cast and crew is still alive, in hopes of getting some sort of reunion at their awards ceremony. So that explains why I Love Lucy or The Twilight Zone haven’t been nominated, either. I’ll just say, nominate The Andy Griffith Show soon, while Ron Howard is still around.

  • In the commentary, the crew confess that having Bart and Lisa annoy Homer for hours on end can help extend an episode short on running time.

  • Why did Bart call Lisa babe?

  • This is the second time this season that the show covers the same exact scene from Gone with the Wind.

  • “Thanks for not making fun of my genitalia.” “I thought I did?”

  • New character column- Hey, Professor Frink! He’s always a fun character, and he gets a good little bit here. And now that I’ve seen the original Nutty Professor, Hank Azaria’s Jerry Lewis impression lands better for me. We also see Miss Hoover for the first time in the second episode. She doesn’t have much to offer tbh, as a teacher or character. Especially as a teacher. But that’s also part of the appeal of whenever we see her.

  • Speaking of The Simpsons Sing the Blues, here’s a track from it, Marge narrating “Springfield Soul Stew”. I think that’s supposed to be Lisa on sax.