The Call of The Simpsons

The Call of The Simpsons

My Recollection

They buy an RV, get lost in the forest, and Homer gets mistaken for Bigfoot. This is one of the first ones I had taped, so I watched it a fair bit. It feels like the first dip into the weirder stories and absurder jokes, which will make a nice change.

The Episode

The chalkboard gag is “I will not draw naked ladies in class” which strikes me as a tad adult for the show and very adult for where the show is at here. The sexuality in The Simpsons has always been the snuggle variety, even the episodes devoted entirely to it have never edged into the crassly adult. Bart’s sitting in class, drawing tits. I want to say it’s tits. I need to believe it’s tits. I can’t keep dong this if season one Bart is sitting in class trying to shade a vulva while Milhouse looks over his shoulder and asks for a copy.

This episode is the first to feature Albert Brooks as a guest star, the delightful being responsible for Brad Goodman, Hank Scorpio, and the one redeeming feature in the movie, the EPA Agent. The director’s commentary for Bart’s Inner Child mentioned that he just improvs like mad, usually bouncing off Castellaneta, and they just trim it down to what they want. You can hear some of this at the end of the otherwise poor The Heartbroke Kid and as limp as that episode was, the fade out riffing between Homer and Tab was fucking hilarious. It’s because of this that I generally consider a fair bit of the throwaway material that comes out of any of A. Brooks’ characters to be something he’s just blurted out himself, making his contributions some of the best small moments across the whole series. Here he plays Bob, the RV Salesman, but we’ll meet him in a moment.

The episode starts on a common story idea, middle class jealousy and particularly Homer’s insecurity in the face of Flanders’ better life. Bart is mowing the lawn with a fairly standard push mower while Rod Flanders, making his first appearance, drives by on an expensive looking ride-on. There’s a faint bit of out-of-character snark from Rod here although this is probably less “out-of-character” and more the behaviour of a normal child pre the Flanders’ fundamentalist turn. Flanderisation, the trope named for Ned, is the process where a formerly nuanced character degenerates into a parody as subsequent episodes and seasons focus on the stand-out elements. Like a lot of oversimplifications, this one gets inaccurately thrown around. There’s a difference between a character being whittled down and elements we’d never had a chance to see coming out. There’s little to nothing in the early episodes that contradicts Flanders’ being a weirdo fundamentalist, we just never really see any parts of his life that would show this. Adding further weirdo fundamentalist elements to his character is less a degeneration and more natural expansion of the idea, and the series has always given him his moments of depth to more than compensate. Rod is a better example, he’s a different character in the earlier seasons and gets warped into the creepy fundie kid as time goes on.

I knew a few of these back in primary school. One time we had an Aboriginal elder come in and tell us some stuff about their beliefs and one of them went crimson, screaming and crying about how it’s only Jesus. Literally had to be taken out of the room sobbing about Christ. He had the pale, frightened look of a child that was recovering from cancer even though he wasn’t and the outburst was so batshit insane that nobody, teachers or students, ever brought it up again.

As Bart is complaining about the family lot in life when compared to the Flandereses, Homer reminds him to be happy with what he has and not to try to keep up with other people. Cue Flanders driving up in the Land Behemoth, the RV that is parked in some mystery dimension for most of the series. Unlike a few one-off episode items, this one actually continues to exist, being seen in season 6’s Lemon of Troy and referenced as something Flanders never uses in season 11’s Grift of the Magi. Because a setup needs a punchline, Homer and the family immediately head off to buy an RV.

Here’s where we meet A. Brooks’ Bob, who I think actually shows up in a really late season episode but I’ll cross that shitty bridge when I come to it. It’s funny because his character is supposed to be a kind of predatory salesman who takes obvious boob Homer for a boob but this episode was 2 financial crashes ago so he comes off looking reasonable. Homer wants to buy The Ultimate Behemoth, to spite Flanders, but the evil salesman checks Homer’s credit rating and then refuses the loan based on information that suggests Homer is unable to pay. He even mentions that if he advanced Homer that much credit, he’d go out of business. This is because this episode comes from a time when debt hadn’t been turned into a product. In a modern episode, Homer would be given a loan he could never pay because the company that gave it to him would take that debt, cut it up into pieces, mix it with other debts, have a crooked company rate the debts as safe, then sell it off in portions to people who think these safe interest payments are a good investment. Then your economy collapses because a Bubba with no income, job, or assets can’t pay off the McMansion he bought.

Well, not the Australian one. Dollarydoos are indestructible and Australia’s population is a bit over a dozen on a good day so nothing of note ever happens here.

So, following a display of now extinct capitalist responsibility, Bob doesn’t sell Homer a million dollar RV and gets him to settle for a beat-up junker. It’s enough for Homer to wave in Flanders’ face and take the family out for a camping trip in the woods, so he does both.

It’s funny because the Homer’s purchase being a pile of crap feels like it’s going to be a plot point but it isn’t. The takeaway from this is that Bob’s RV is actually a great place to buy an RV. Nothing in the rest of the episode suggests that this RV was some kind of lemon that was palmed off onto the credulous Homer. It’s used, sure, but it works fine and would be fine for a family camping trip if it were driven by anyone but Homer, who nearly drives the family off a cliff. It’s a bit of cartoon reality that they’ve been driving in a beat-up RV for a few minutes and are now on a cliff so far from civilisation they’ve no idea how to get back, but here they are. “The Simpsons have entered the forest”, says Lisa.

Homer and Bart go to find civilisation while Lisa and Marge stay at their makeshift camp, oh and the writers decide to ignore Marge’s character and everything that happened in the last 5 minutes. During the drive, Marge is correctly assuming Homer doesn’t know what he’s doing and is constantly cautioning him. Somehow, Homer nearly killing them and leaving them stranded in the forest with only the clothes on their backs changes her mind completely and she happily believes that he’s an experienced woodsman. This extends to letting Maggie follow Homer and Bart as they go looking for help. There is no indication that Homer is even aware Maggie is following them, and Marge just shrugs it off like she’s secretly hoping Maggie vanishes so she can have some time to herself. It’s badly written and it’s done for no sane reason. It’s not like anything Marge and Lisa are doing can’t have Maggie there as well and the great payoff for separating Maggie from everyone is her befriending some bears. This is an early look at the power of Maggie’s pacifier, and the way that the world sorta bends around her, but it’s also a fucking stupid reward for throwing Marge into the retard-pit again. It gets about one good joke in but I suppose it was more about needing to fill time and having nothing for Marge and Lisa beside them being the competent pair.

Homer and Bart mistake Maggie’s pacifier sucking for a rattlesnake and run off, before falling into a river and over a waterfall. The pair wind up naked which is something I’ve always thought is a bit weird. I’ve never been over a legit waterfall, but I’ve been down waterslides and even some gentler rapids and never been in danger of losing my swimmers let alone a full set of clothes. I don’t think the writer, John Schwarzwelder, was molested by a waterfall but I believe he was molested close enough to one to make him believe they had the power to strip you and leave you alone and confused in a forest.

Homer and Bart’s journey through the forest is essentially a series of skits. Homer attempts to catch a rabbit for him and Bart to eat, but his trap is more of a rabbitpault and his second attempt, bumrush a shrub, results in him getting mauled by a variety of woodland critters. He then fists an active beehive, eating some bees as he gulps down the honey, and runs screaming into a mud puddle being filmed by a nature photographer. His stumbling out, covered in mud, incoherently shouting through a mouthful of bees and honey, results in the outside world thinking they’ve footage of Bigfoot. It’s about now in my first re-watch of this episode that I get a feeling of how actually incoherent the plot is. It has a touch of that Kill the Alligator and Run thing where story beats are such significant changes that the episode feels like several opening acts stitched together instead of one episode. Homer being mistook for Bigfoot is either a second act or a throwaway gag, here it’s the conclusion to an episode that pays just enough real attention to the idea of a human being mistook for Bigfoot to point out how stupid it is. Up to his getting shot with a tranquilizer dart, it all makes perfect, if cartoony, sense. But then scientists, including Marvin Monroe who has met him, continue to debate his status as a human.

There’s a limit to how far the rubber band can stretch and this teases what The Principal and the Pauper would later rub in everyone’s face. The extremely absurd, like a second Homer walking passed the window works because it exists as a joke within it’s own bubble universe and isn’t acknowledged by reality proper. Homer being mistook for Bigfoot when he’s a mud-covered, bee screaming atrocity is comic absurdity but perfectly within constraints. Being in a tube, in a lab, talking to people he’s met, who then give a press conference about how they can’t tell if he’s human or not does not. Absurd humour is like good surrealism, it needs the reality it’s subverting. Drawing the punchline of this joke out kills the reality and gives nothing in return, a lazy finish to a haphazard episode.

Jokes, lines and stray thoughts.

One of the features the RVs are sold on is having deep fryers and I don’t remember deep fryers ever being this big a deal. You can buy them now for 30 dollars, were they once some baffling piece of high-tech shit available only to the wealthy?

I really can’t get over how the unscrupulous salesman from 1990 is now the pinnacle of lending responsibility. Anytime after about 2006 and they’d have tethered Homer to a loan worth millions and then shunted that debt down the line.

“I’ve murdered us all” echoing around the valley makes me chuckle.

“It’s like a third sense” isn’t a very good idiot line because the number’s too damn low. Homer wasn’t a full-scale retard until much later and I’d expect him to reasonably name his fucking senses here. Making him overshoot to 7 or something, leaving a mystery 6th, or omitting it at all would have been better.

Okay, I’ve been waiting for this, this episode finally has a joke that made me think about it for ages and ages afterwards and it’s still as good as I remember it. While Homer and Bart are out being fellated by a waterfall, Lisa and Marge are being good at surviving in the forest and we’re shown this by seeing them tidying up around the camp as though they were at home. Marge picks up a squirrel. She doesn’t acknowledge that at all, neither does Lisa or the squirrel though it does do one of those little chirps. Then she sits it on a log next to an arrangement of similarly frozen squirrels.

The idea itself is very basic and even quite dull were you to write it down. Marge picks up a squirrel like she’s putting some abandoned toy back in its spot. Good absurd humour is a lot like good horror in that it works best on an almost subconscious level. Even though the action is front and centre, there’s no attention drawn to it. There’s nothing that alerts the viewer that there’s a joke happening and it only lasts 3 seconds so it’s an easy one to miss. There’s always an authorial voice in a text and this is most visible in comedy as the attention drawing shots, lines, pauses etc that indicate a joke is happening. You’ll see these even if the joke goes over your head. So there’s a craftiness at work when a show that typically draws your attention to the jokes avoids doing so at all. This masking of the authorial voice, the joke structure, lets what’s happening exist within the reality of the narrative and this subtly enhances the absurdity of the action. It plays the mind off against itself because it will fight to make sense of it but be thwarted at every turn. Nobody admits that it’s strange. The show doesn’t admit that it’s strange. It lasts for 3 seconds. Are you sure you even saw it? Are they dead? Did Marge just kill a squirrel with her bare hands and lay it beside others to eat later?  Like the Xenomorph scuttling about the Nostromo, most of it is invisible but its effects are profound and lingering.

Homer’s trap has no means of keeping it down or any kind of tripwire but the nice pause between the rabbit being flung and the eventual sound of it hitting the ground gives it a pop.

Castellaneta gets full credit for the amazing voice acting going in to Homer being mauled by the animals. It’s panicked, fearful, and disgusted all at once. The joke would be pretty dull without it.

I like the look into the absolutely dysfunctional relationship as the bears are wandering about with Maggie. Christ, what a dick.

Shooing the bears away with Maggie on top is a solid joke just for the way Maggie appears and nobody does anything. Her entire adventure goes wholly unnoticed by the cast which, character dents aside, is a reasonable Baby’s Day Out joke.

This was before the town had firmed into a solid regular cast so there’s a few things in this episode we don’t see much of again like stray newscasters and other people with Homer’s muzzle.

Look kids! Paper clickbait!

 

Yours in wanting a separate fryer for every part of the chicken, Gabriel.

One Reply to “The Call of The Simpsons”

  1. I’m learning more about writing techniques and character and plot development in these then I did in Year 12 English.

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