OTH: The Simpsons- "There's No Disgrace Like Home"/"Bart the General"

The series is slowly finding its footing, but takes weird stops along the way.

Aired January 28, 1990

Directed by Gregg Vanzo & Kent Butterworth

Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Wait a minute, there’s something bothering me about this place.

I know! Barney shouldn’t be able to take Homer so easily.

Really though, it’s funny to watch this knowing the characters as we do now. Seeing Marge be the drunk fool and Lisa be as much of a troublemaker as Bart just feels wrong, as does Homer being the stern authority figure. These pieces come off like a first draft no one bothered to fix.

That said, I do like this episode. While the elements are off, the concept of Homer wanting to find stability in his family, while it’s just as effective for the rest of the Simpson clan to reject his advances. We’re already seeing that while they’re rambunctious and hostile, this family does love each other in their own, unique way.

It’s a different take for the characters, to be sure, but if anything, Homer’s quest for the Simpsons clan to fit an idealized definition of domestic bliss fits in with the show’s eternal theme of trusting too much in TV, further hammered in by television’s function in the episode. This is first exemplified when Homer turns off a not very subtle nature the family has in hopes of the family eating dinner in the dining room, a nice enough moment that doesn’t go the way he wants it to.

Television’s role in this episode shows up further when Homer discovers Dr. Monroe’s services during an ad break for the boxing game at Moe’s. Despite his objections, Homer himself still believes in the power of TV, and takes a cheap commercial’s promise to heart. Of course he cares about television- he hasn’t lived without it being at least some form of presence, and we have already seen that he’s not against vegging out to it even at this stage in the series. It’s not TV that he’s against, it’s the disconnect and dysfunction in his family.

And of course we see Homer pawn their TV off to afford the appointment. Although I’d personally be more offended by how low the kid’s college fund is, removing the family boob tube is clearly the bigger loss to the family, and I’d argue that not only does this continue to sell the point of the importance of TV in The Simpsons, it’s here where things come around to something closer to the series we know- the rest of the family is able to recognize that they’re functionally dysfunctional, while Homer is too thick to see the forest through the trees.

That’s a big part of why I think “There’s No Disgrace Like Home” is one of the stronger episodes we’ve hit thus far, around par with “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”. The other factor for me is that this is just funnier than most of what we’ve reached since.

Verbally, this has some pretty sharp lines cutting throughout, but it really shines in the family’s antics in Dr. Monroe’s office during the last act. I’d go as far as to call the shock therapy sequence the first classic bit of Simpsons comedy, which isn’t unheard of- the bit had a cameo in Die Hard 2, after all- as it nearly lives up to the slapstick inspiration taken from it. Laurel and Hardy have been name dropped as inspiration by future big deals Jean and Reiss, and it’s evident here, albeit with faster editing.

I can understand why this episode would be confusing removed on its own, but I think it’s pretty enjoyable, and makes me feel excited to see what comes next.

Aired February 4, 1990

Directed by David Silverman

Written by John Swartzwelder

Heh, television shows up here too, although it’s not as prominent. Abe does get a good bit where he describes the words he doesn’t want to hear on TV… while being prominently featured on TV.

This is another pretty good episode, although it’s one that doesn’t quite take flight. I think my main problem is with the pacing. This one drags a little, and it never really seems to find the right pacing throughout. It takes a little too long for Bart’s retaliation to take place, which is unfortunately contrasted with too speedy of a resolution. Frankly, the training montage takes up too much bulk of the episode, and even the notable film references don’t do much to justify their place.

I do enjoy most of what we get, however. This is the first amount of real time we get with Grandpa, having last seen him in “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” and the Tracy Ullman shorts. It’s fun to get into his world and see what makes him tick in comparison to the rest of the Simpsons clan. We don’t see his mean streak yet, but it’s already discernable that Abe is smarter than Homer, even if old age is getting to him. Even then, the show is a little fairer to him than it will be, not making him too senile just yet.

Prolific, private writer John Swartzwelder shared the first of his massive 59 scripts for the show here, and there are shades of the wit and depth to come, but not entirely present yet. This is a funny episode, about as much so as the other episode this post shares, but it’s still not the best either the series or Swartzwelder can offer.

Stray Observations:

  • There’s only one chalkboard and couch gag this week, as the latter episode cuts the episode short due to an extended running time. “I will not burp in class” is basic enough, but it works. Same with Homer getting bumped off the couch.

  • Have I mentioned that I love how experimental the animation could be early on in the series?

  • Seriously, hey brother, pour the wine.

  • “Did you see them at the picnic? Of course you did. You’re everywhere- you’re omnivorous.”

  • Well, last week we met Black Smithers, and this week we meet white (er, yellow?) Lou. I honestly forgot that his race changed on the show. Meanwhile, Smither is whitened now.

  • Another first this week- we get a preview of Itchy and Scratchy in the former episode, although they did appear earlier in The Tracy Ullman Show. Like the couch gags, this isn’t nearly as articulate, but it still offers some classic cartoon violence.

  • “Homer, couldn’t we pawn my engagement ring instead?” “Now I appreciate that, but we need $150 here!”

  • Lisa giving Bart a grounded cupcake is peak sibling bonding time.

  • “The code of the schoolyard, Marge! The rules that teach a boy how to be a man! Let's see; don't tattle, always make fun of those different from you, never say anything unless you're sure everyone feel exactly the same way you do.”

  • “Psst. Grampa, I think this guy's a little nuts.” “ Oh, yeah? Well, General George S. Patton was a little nuts. And this guy is completely out of his mind! We can't fail!”

  • Good for Lisa for slapping the V-J Day kisser.

  • Ah, Herman. Here’s an interesting character that only intermittingly appears since. I don’t think that he turned out the way the crew wanted, but he’s an appealing agent of chaos here.

  • Nelson’s cronies also don’t appear too much after this episode, but of course he’ll show up plenty of times himself.

  • According to Bart, the only good wars are the American Revolution, World War II, and the Star Wars trilogy. Thoughts?

  • I’ll be honest, I may be coping out of my take on “Bart the General” as I’m still reeling from the insurrection on Wednesday. Somehow I don’t feel like having much to say about an episode where a coup is attempted.