Brother, can you Spare Two Dimes?

By Gabriel, 22 Mar 21, 4

My Recollection.

Can I borrow your underwear? It’s my problem, I’ll deal with it. Rollers could be kneading my buttocks.

The hand of a Mediterranean venue owner is less a human appendage and more a gardening glove filled with non-Newtonian fluid. Years of vinegars, juices, and other assorted bar acids strip the surface back to primordial rock, while decades of shaking cocktails and missing haymakers splatters the interior cellular structure into homogenous organic goo. By middle age, the once dextrous appendage responsible for humanity’s dominance is only good for clenching into a fist that resembles a rat-king made of dicks fighting over an avocado pit.

The typical turnover for a crowd control security guard in Brisbane is 12-18 months. I did it for six years. Venue work is a Dionysian purgatory where events blur into a timeless smear of the surreally banal connected only by dream geography and the pitch-black sky. All that changes here is you, as desensitisation stretches your scales of the grotesque, disgusting, and horrifying to accommodate traumatising new data. Properly managed, it’s the Hyperbolic Time Chamber of the soul; improperly managed, you plummet along with your lowered bar to places darker than a blackout.

The thing about the worst shit is that it’s easy, the desensitisation sees to that. You tell a junkie that if he comes back, you’ll bash his head in with the bottle of port nobody ever touches. You throw a guy out for trying to finger women as they walk by his table and you know to block the sad punch he thinks will restore his subhuman masculinity. Black and white stuff you can forget about before the night’s even over. It’s the people who don’t do this shit that you wind up remembering because they are so goddamn annoying.

It was Melbourne and he’d already been ejected from the venue. A relatively simple process even if he had the physical consistency of a balloon animal filled with ox gelatine. He had a very round head that booze-loosened capillaries had turned quite red and he swung about like an inflatable George Costanza advertising a car yard. A bald spot and improperly worn coat completed the look, and so now my relatively quiet night had a slurring Tomato Monk dancing about, trying to irritate me.

Most people who try to annoy me fail because they approach it the wrong way. They overthink it because their clumsy ego needs them to look cool doing it. Every attempt is so obvious that it reveals the board. The Tomato Monk is a different matter. He’s not trying to zing me with a clever burn, hurt me with a vicious insult, or otherwise come off like the protagonist with the snazzy one-liners, because his pickled brain can’t think that far ahead. It’s hard to anticipate an opponent’s move when even they don’t know what it’s going to be, but it’s completely impossible when they aren’t even aware they’re making one.

Is he angry? Bored? Horny? Even he doesn’t know. All sentient life and some besides operate with understandable logic that can be used to assess potential future events. This gibbering Anti-Buddha frees himself from all attachments and becomes a vessel of pure potential energy. I have to keep an eye on him, as he points at me from about 4 metres away, because he may lurch toward the door, but he also isn’t actually doing anything. He’s saying things, but some of them sound like recipes. He’s gesturing, but it could be the YMCA dance. There’re no threats or any other recognisable human ideas to latch onto that would validate leaving my post to chase him off. And even then, experience has taught me that he’d just saunter back.

Anger demands action. On the door, this means one of two things: take a swing at me or walk off while yelling about how you were going to take a swing at me. Either of these is fine. The Tomato Monk’s bizzarro-zen frees him from this wheel, so he can hover about long after any other sapient being would have gotten bored and thus annoy me in the kind of subtle ways it takes to really get under my skin.

Fortunately, while I may be the Monk’s whole world, I am not actually the whole world, and so his lost Roomba bumping about starts affecting more than just me. He begins a dance that’s part genuinely graceful ballet part genuinely aggressive one-man fight pit and strafes my field of view like he’s worth 150 points. A human could probably pull this off, but he’s a monastic stack of organic produce piled into a coat which makes for a dangerously unbalanced orbit.

Eventually, inevitably, the heirloom cherub crashes into a pinstripe wall at full force, knocking it and its drink to the ground. The wall was the southernmost defensive border of the neighbouring venue owner, a near cuboid Greek rook who had already begun to seethe. The Tomato Monk had landed on his feet, having drunkenly left them behind, and his improbable return to normality after what should have been a bad fall triggered a Memento like reset. He saw the Greek’s half-spilled half miraculously saved drink, assumed it couldn’t belong to the angry armchair someone had dumped in the street, picked it up, sipped from it, and twirled in my direction like a cocktail umbrella in the breeze.

As the coffee table Enlightenment bashes its knee on in the night, the Monk is still set to Maximum Annoying. He smugly grins at me, having won all there was to win, and maintains this expression as he looks around to see what just swore loudly. The Greek only knows that some crimson idiot knocked him over, so when he looks up and sees the assailant grinning at him and drinking his drink, gone is any potential for this to have been an accident. The Tomato Monk looks back at me, and I smile the smile I get when I can foresee a delicious future.

The entire Greek clenches and begins trying to remember the command for Juggernaut Punch. The Tomato Monk’s feet land beside each other and stabilise him long enough to make his Kewpie round noggin a stable target. Time slows as an N64 rendered fist launches from somewhere within a jacket pocket and begins a slow climb toward the stratosphere. The Tomato Monk beams at me and now I’m beaming back. The fist jettisons its rockets, pauses majestically at the apex of its journey, and begins plummeting toward its stupid, smug terminus.


The goons that worked for Dr Claw in Inspector Gadget, the M.A.D agents, had this salute where they put their fists to their heads. Whether by design or for comic effect, they always did it too hard and punched themselves, but then left the fists there to maintain the salute. I think about this a lot.

The ripe tomato skin stays still as the skull within moves. The smug grin warps into a twisted raspberry as it’s slowly replaced by the most fisty fist you’ve ever seen. This is perfection. He’d been annoying me for what felt like forever with every chance of continuing for another few forevers. This happens a bit in bars, and you acclimatise yourself to never seeing justice enough to never expect it. The fist you see when you look up “fist” is still making its glacial way through the Tomato Monk and I see a brief moment of realisation before unconsciousness saves him from the rest of it.

Time returned to normal, but that smile didn’t fade.  


The Episode.

Homer walks a fine line between lovable idiot and loathsome chud with only his stupid inability to see his own behaviour for balance. The Simpsons has done dynamic things with this line, and the softening factors afforded by their animated reality, as episodes like Dead Putting Society and Simpson and Delilah show us the often sad reality behind the comedy. Shows like Full House, Perfect Strangers, and ALF never looked at Uncle Jessie’s numerous sexual assault charges, Balki’s war crimes, or Willie Tanner’s crack addiction because their worlds were as two dimensional as a cartoon.

But the depths that the series has explored with Homer are still limited by sitcom structure. His clashes with his children, his wife, or his career are all bound to tropes that even the show’s contrarian streak can’t truly break. When Homer is playing up to his positive aspects, he is the Sitcom Dad whose good is exactly the same good viewers have been watching in every other sitcom. When he is bad, then, he becomes interesting, making this move away from the familiar become his only depth.

Herb exists outside this dynamic. There is no inevitability of existing structure with him, no sinister motive, Homer is joyous and vulnerable in a way he can’t be with his immediate family. Lisa scares him, Bart annoys him, his low self-esteem makes his wife’s love into torture, and his positive traits are co-opted by his narrative environment. Herb provides something to the plot we can never otherwise get: a look at a good man instead of a sympathetic explanation for a bad one.

Homer and Herb’s feelings toward each other are treated seriously and are excellently supported by their voice actors. Dan Castellaneta can be taken for granted, particularly as the buffoonish Homer, but his capacity to commit to cartoonish screams and grunts translates to an ability to commit equally to his character’s pathos. Homer’s animal stupidity allows him to turn on a dime, and so Castellaneta’s voicework can shine without the taint of insincerity. His initial call to Herb is infused with the whirling blend of excitement and fear that would ring false were Castellaneta not a great voice actor and Homer too stupid to know he’s in a comedy. When he says Herb’s name at the door, with joy muted by genuine surprise, the viewer feels Homer open himself up again as though he’d never known suffering.  

Danny DeVito is a character actor, which is what they call people ugly enough to need actual talent.  It’s easy to forget, as he leers through conversations about cream pies in Always Sunny, that he is similarly gifted at drama. DeVito’s natural voice has shades of the Walter Matthau influences of early Homer and can similarly shift tones with absolute conviction. In any other character, this would veer toward homogenous voice, but here it creates a subtle background similarity that supports Homer and Herb’s relationship as half-brothers. Mirroring these elements provides quick and fitting characterisation with a depth that would normally take more time to develop. Herb is a great character, wonderfully acted, who enhances Homer’s narrative depth, but he’s never had a story that supports that.

The earlier seasons made an honestly surprising number of changes to the core world, but Herb represents an impossible element to adapt. Where do all your familial problems and characteristics go when one of the central organising elements, class related financial stress, can be alleviated by an incredibly wealthy and equally generous uncle. Why should Marge get a job at the power plant when Herb absolutely would pay to get the foundation repaired?

He has to go, but he has no earthly reason to. They have to make a reason, but they only have 20 minutes. With nuance impossible, they went to the extreme and created an ending that was little more than a shaggy dog joke, an edgelord refutation of anything good akin to refusing to eat one’s vegetables long into one’s 30s. Brother, can you Spare Two Dimes? exists solely because of that truth, but it serves as an example of how the equal opposite to something bad can end up being no better.

The first problem is the decision to make Herb a bum. Part of this is a way of softening Homer’s damage to his life a little by diving headfirst into cartoon absurdity, complete with classic comedy hobos. The other part is John Swartzwelder wrote this and he loves classic comedy hobos. It’s a poor decision because A: when was the last time a titan of industry ever became homeless, and B: it only extends the distance the narrative has to travel to undo what Homer did. Herb could have been working at a Krusty Burger or as a PA for a more successful man, but large portions of Swartzwelder’s brain are stuck in the late 30s. The episode has to spend time first establishing that Herb even is a bum, all while forcing the second problem, a McGuffin that has to move a man the whole length of the economic ladder.

Trying to come up with something like this is like expecting a working prototype of an FTL drive from your favourite sci-fi writer. These are the obvious impossibilities we are supposed to ignore, with help from a narrative that doesn’t dwell on it. The baby translator is more ridiculous than Homer going to space. The space program firing a dumdum into orbit for ratings? I could see that. A fucking baby translator is a world altering invention hashed out by a former mid-level millionaire with an MBA. Making its development the core of the episode forces the point, and this clashes terribly with what every other part demands be a character driven story.

There’s a degree to which the absurdity of the baby translator feels like a deliberate effort to distract from it. An acknowledgement to the audience that it’s the vector but not the point. This is the kind of risky strategy one should only employ when there are no other choices. Late into the series, when the standards are waning, things like this can be used as the crude dollops of hot glue that visibly hold the structure together long enough to get enough good jokes done. It’s still not good, but it makes for a landing you can at least walk away from. 

Here, it just becomes the third problem. Homer and Herb spend under five minutes of screen time together and in each of those sequences, Homer is being a dick. Herb, meanwhile, isn’t sorting through any of the complex emotions he first describes at the front door but building a device whose function is so absurd that showing us how it’s made wastes everyone’s time. The episode goes to the trouble of having Homer demand forgiveness in exchange for the two grand and get denied, as this shifts the forgiveness to the kind of character development the episode needs and not a crass transaction, only to not do anything character related. Herb builds the machine, Homer hates it, Herb takes it to a baby show and makes millions, Herb forgives Homer. There isn’t even a perfunctory attempt at having the pair discuss what happened. The money is all that mattered because the episode made baffling decision after baffling decision.

The two thousand dollars could have been to get him started on something less defined, a flight to a job interview overseas, for instance, where the implication is that the business talents that got him there once will get him there again. This would also double as a fine excuse to not or seldom see him. Even modifying the approach to the baby translator—having it be an idea Herb already had, was working on, and was now going back to—would add a necessary touch of spurious rigour, and free up a few spare moments to give what is ostensibly the point of the episode more time.

The gold standard of Homer’s character episodes is Mother Simpson, largely for the same reasons as here. That episode is entirely structured around getting the emotional component to land, including the famously touching credits sequence. Herb is Homer’s half-brother, a connection that resonates deeply with both parties, but this episode is written like it resents him for being there. They treat the issue of Homer’s long-lost half-brother as a functional one to solve as opposed to an emotional one to show, wasting one good idea and two fine performances in the process.

When the world you inhabit is one of inevitable good, its only your darkness that stands out as the true self. This is a reality for the whole family, but Homer most of all. Bart and Lisa get the developmental stories of youth, and Marge has Homer to push back against, but all of Homer’s problems are either the vast injustices of existence or his own. His heroism isn’t his, but the echoes of thousands of years of storytelling. His world can’t let him win, so his victories are runner-up prizes at best. Other family members grow in his face while he plays villain, and we call that depth because it’s something behind the cardboard cutout. So few are the outside elements that let him win or feel anything his story world doesn’t make a foregone conclusion, that it hurts to see these opportunities wasted.

There’s a sense of parallel between Homer’s relationship with his couch and the one with his brother. Something he found that meant a lot to him, but then breaks, with the serendipitous two grand being the key to getting it back. The show wants to pretend that Homer doesn’t buy his brother’s forgiveness, because there can’t be a vibrating chair in that bag, but of course he did. The story leaves him less a brother and more an investor.

Yours in executing the barrel roll, Gabriel.


Jokes, Lines, and Stray Thoughts.

I can’t stress how lucky we are that Swartzwelder is a recluse. David X Cohen’s story of him shouting about there being more Amazon rainforest now than there was a hundred years ago means he’d have undoubtedly said a series of incorrect, terrible things were he the type to ever communicate outside of book promo tweets.

Speaking of which, his books are great, particularly the Burly the detective series. Through these, and some of what he did for Army Man: America’s Only Magazine, you’re able to get a sense of the Swartzwelder  joke. They are tiny inversions that feel obvious after the fact, like individual prisms in a kaleidoscopic pattern. It’s no surprise one of his later episodes is Kill the Alligator and Run as that episode lacks any narrative cohesion but exists as an hilarious series of inspired Far Side style moments. He also did You Only Move Twice which is one of my all-time favourites.

This first joke, the fade in on the sign saying “Annual Plant Physical: NO JOKES” only to have Lenny walk up naked, is prototypical of his style. There’s a near artlessness to his form, like if you put him in a pottery class he’d churn out nothing but perfect cubes. The sign itself is funny, as every warning has a story behind it and the mere idea of opening a comedy with a sign loudly declaring NO JOKES is absurd. Lenny’s buttocks become a challenge to the sign and viewer, creating a stifling energy that give the need to laugh a transgressive edge. There are no jokes at the plant physical, so Homer’s glance at Lenny’s penis, Lenny’s request for Homer’s underwear, and Homer thinking about it, are all given extra twist through feigned seriousness. Combining, layering, and nesting jokes creates wholes greater than the sum. Swartzwelder’s real talent is doing this constantly and at such a minute scale that many can occur over a matter of seconds.

The pause between Homer looking at Lenny then noticing he’s naked is a fantastic bit of punctuation that highlights the noticing as an act, giving it an independent prism within the kaleidoscope.

“No eating in the tank” is a good way of doing an absurd Homer fat joke but with solid internal reason.

“Go to hell”’s delivery always makes me chuckle.

Some of the downside of Swartzwelder’s writing is on display here, too. This opening sequence leaps about because it’s led by the jokes. The cut from the plant to Homer at home and back to the plant in a matter of seconds is jarring. His books work better because the prose functions as a persistent joke plane. The gag about Homer’s day being “the usual” but involving bending over and coughing isn’t awful, but it’s not worth the journey.

Burns’ gait here is one of my favourite little things. Hands outstretched, wrists limp, he’s like a withered T-Rex.

There’s a deeper joke in Smithers examining sperm samples when there’s absolutely no reason for an assistant to be doing that.

Weird to think this is the first time animated cum was shown on TV.


The sight-gags with the sperm are good. Just one lazy cum sleeping at the bottom. Nice recurrence of the 3-eye-mutant theme.

The “eugh” when the 3-eyed specimen shows up is funny, but the eventual approving noise as he gazes into Smithers’ cumshot that he presumably prepared only moments earlier is even funnier.

The way Smithers says “normal” here has a distinct note of pride.

Again, this is a scene where Burns gazes approvingly at Smither’s cum, and it’s only because of animation tricks that we don’t think about that.

The weird noise Smithers’ sperm make isn’t written anywhere but really adds to this moment. They seem to be smiling back at Burns.

Beautiful shot here with Burns and the lawyers. The height, angle, and lighting are the sorts of things first year film students write essays about.

I love this scene with his outbursts at his legal team. I frequently shout, “You want it black, don’t you? Black like your heart” and the hasty composure leading into “It’s my problem, I’ll deal with it” always makes me chuckle. The specific form of Burns’ evil shifts like Homer’s dad-based hobbies. Sometimes he is more like a He-Man villain who just wants bad things to happen; sometimes he’s a villain with actual motivation, and this can make moments like this seem out of character. After all, he is frequently happy with his villainous legal team like in Bart gets Hit by a Car. The fact that he’s aware of his own behaviour indicates it is meant to be unusual to Burns, to suggest something out of the episode’s frame that is driving these outbursts. There are a lot of moments like this for him, weird things that are so specific that they demand interpretation as deliberate, and they fit the more mysterious elements of his robber-baron archetype.

Burns is right to be angry about the cash settlement suggestion. EVERYONE would have thought of that.

Comedy bums used to be such a big thing. Australia even had a few. Paul Hogan had a variety show with a character called “Perce the Drunk” who’d have these kind of baby’s day out stumbles about town. They were set to “The Entertainer” and didn’t contain any dialogue, so they are actually still pretty funny.

“Put Mickey’s pants back on.” Given Walt’s political leanings, it’s canonical that Mickey Mouse is uncut.

A big part of class mobility is the ability to move down and the stifling of that is a problem.

I mean, really, when has a CEO of an actual company and not some vitamin/dick pill mill wound up a bum? You can suck at your job and still walk out with bonuses. The obscenely wealthy have created a crypto-union that ensures a false perception of their worth.

Tempura Hatchback is a joke that only works for really whitebread 90s folk. That shit is sold at Coles now.

If I get my long-lost half-brother to do something he can’t do, I don’t get to be mad at him for failing. Everyone around Herb said it was a bad idea. His grudge against his brother is wildly unfair, though understandable through a lens of human fault, and necessary for the plot.

Case in point, Roberto Goizueta, the actual inventor of New Coke, absolutely did not wind up a bum, but stayed on as CEO of The Coca-Cola Company until he died in ‘97. That said, the whole New Coke thing, while probably not a deliberate plan, was more bark than bite, and after a 79-day media kerfuffle, Coke ended the saga outselling Pepsi 2-1.

“I do this for Stainmaster Carpets” was originally, “I do this for the USSR” but was changed late as the USSR had recently collapsed like a family couch.

As a child and manchild who was/is into pro-wrestling, this scene is a familiar one. I broke a leg of my brother’s bed powerbombing him onto it once, but he got me back by Russian leg sweeping me through the arm of an armchair.

The leaping about between scenes really takes a toll on keeping track of when things are happening. Homer was at work, got home, we had a scene with Burns and Smithers following this, a scene with Burns and his lawyers during daylight, night-time below the railway lines, and now a scene with Homer wearing his tie, which is normally a pre-work signifier, in the evening. It’s not major, but the opposite allows for other work to go on when the space-time is able to slip into background logic.

Bart’s look up at Homer to check if the lie is landing is an absolute gem.

Prime time, for younger readers, hails from an era when shows would just happen and you had to be there to catch them. Times when more people were home and done eating were considered prime, as they allowed for the largest number of viewers. Major programming was put here, further cementing that reality.

There are some great temporal details in the couch flashback. Homer’s hair is the obvious one, but I love the lamps and that the painting is the trashy palm beach bit that got about in the late 70s.

What the fuck was Hands Across America?

“The kerb in front of Flanders’ house” I mean, if he was throwing away a perfectly good couch…

This whole scene with Herb in the park is a waste of time, like all the scenes involving the designing of the Baby Translator. It’s so fundamentally separate from anything that they don’t even contribute thematically.

Ah, when you learn you’re just threatening to women.

The long build to the obvious payoff of Homer’s life getting worse seems overdone today, but was somewhat fresh here.

The animation and modelling on Burns during this scene where he ad-libs the explanation for the two grand is absolutely wonderful. Animation, and The Simpsons’ art style, lend themselves to the forms of large, cartoony expressions that you can’t get with real actors, so when they delve into the eerily human it really pays off. The scene bounces from cartoonish whenever Burns comes up with another line, to deeply human when he’s struggling to think, adding some fantastic layering to the moment.

The look and the nod leading to the musical intro to the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Excellence is fantastic and the insistence on always saying the full First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Excellence is both funny on its own but also hammers home the fact that nobody questions Burns.

Lucky there’s a Family Guy

The core of this idea is Burns being a rich maniac, and people like that have done weirder shit than this, so it serves as an example of weird within acceptable range that the Baby Translator fails at.

Jab at the Emmys.

I wonder if anything else happened at this show or if everyone showed up for a 3-minute musical number and the announcement of winner of The First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Excellence.

Burns perfectly sells surprise at the winner.

Marge’s smile is just a notch manic.

My favourite frame here is lag between Homer falling and Marge’s expression changing. There’s a full shot of Homer gone, but Marge still grinning away.

There’s something about fat guys falling onto orchestra equipment. I’m surprised indie wrestling hasn’t gotten on that yet since they’re the home of fat guys falling through things.

There’s canned audio for distant dinner party chatter during the pull back from the Burnsy, that suggests a functional afterparty going on at Moe’s.

I’ve never eaten a pickled egg. I will generally eat anything drowned in vinegar, but since the eggs aren’t common in Brisbane, I’d have to make them myself. I feel that is a disaster waiting to happen.

Rather weirdly, this moment really succeeds at getting the focus of the episode back to Homer and the couch. A victory that doesn’t fulfill you is a classic story idea, and the conversation with Frasier fits the moment well.

Barney picking a fight with Frasier is really funny. Firstly, that it seems staggeringly petty, not like Barny and Wade Boggs which at least had a nominal reason. Barny is just telling Joe Fucking Frasier to shut up, seemingly repeatedly, at a bar. It’s an hilarious level of drunk aggression.

The original plan here was to have Barney win as a joke on Frasier, which is stupid as it validates Barney’s behaviour. As it stands, it’s a great moment. The rhythm of the sounds of the door, the punches, and the bin, all taking place in less than one swing, coupled with the splash of blood, add a note of real violence. This is comically inverted as Homer leaves, and Barney is celebrating finding a peanut at the bottom of the bin he’s been jammed in.

There’s a very subtle sound of squelching as the blood runs down the door.

Frasier just walking off.

A man needs two things, an idea, and inherited wealth you can leave out of your personal mythos.

Nuclear waste on its way to Springfield.

Akira being the couch salesman is a real early example of shuffling a side character around for the point of a joke. Here, it’s reasonably appropriate as it fits the Star Trek reference, it later becomes a lazy means of maintaining a familiarity point to hitch a reference to two to.

Classic 2001 reference, another example of where the reference fits the moment and enhances it instead of just being a dangled bauble.

Homer drooling on the couch is actually a series of individual frames with no drawn blur.

C’mon, Herb. You can’t guess whose house is whose?

See, a lot of fundies look like they hate Christ’s charity because they are vehemently against any collective measures to actually alleviate the social causes of poverty, but it’s a matter of social circles. The discrete nature of American baptism made for small but intense ingroups where their charitable nature is strong, just very short range, often necessitating some form of personal contact or vouching. That said, there are plenty of them who are hateful maniacs because we modify our religions to fit our feelings.

The cut to Homer on the broken couch is a good maintenance of continuity that they fuck up at the last minute.  I once broke my own bed doing a leg drop from my chest of drawers. I didn’t want to get yelled at, so I put a pile of newspapers over the bedspring that was jabbing me and pretended like everything was fine.

Herb’s little soliloquy here is a fine example of the depth DeVito gives the character. It’s a joke setup, but he’s playing it dead straight making it work both ways.

There’s a frame’s difference between Homer’s angry at singing neighbours face and his delight at seeing his brother. He is almost an animal, but his feelings are honest.

The punch is funny, but the moment following it where Herb just looks at Homer’s unconscious body before stepping over it and into the house is great. It lets the punch have impact but removes the need for an immediate reaction from Homer. By the time he’s back inside, rubbing his jaw, he’s talking to the family and the moment has passed.

“Well while you’re a guest in my home, could you just kick me in the butt” is the kind of thing many would mistake for wit. For Homer, it’s a legitimate negotiation.

Homer’s thing with basic switches is always a chuckle, but the look on his face here is particularly memorable.

I’ve got to get back to 1985

Utility Grade Beef Council is what I call my genitals.

That Bart is certain he’ll be a bum isn’t as funny as Herb’s quick advice suggesting he is also certain.

I mean, if you’re going to be a bum, forget cheese, you need a drug that makes it all tolerable.

I’ve never used a rat for a pillow, but the reaction this gets from comparably sized cats suggests it wouldn’t be a good night’s sleep.

The scene with Herb tucking Maggie in has the wrong music cue and I’ll die on this hill. It starts sweet, but then shifts to sinister, like Herb’s plan is to sell babies on the open market. I don’t know if this is a remnant of an earlier plot idea or what, but it’s bothered me for 30 years.

The piles of money covering the presumably copyrighted Monopoly name is smooth.

Mario Party is what my generation played to get into fights, but Monopoly is still the king of family discord.

Homer deserved that punch.

I’ve seen Sorry in a box but have no idea what it is or how it’s played. Growing up, we had Pop-o-Matic Trouble, which marketed itself on having a thing in the middle that rolled the dice for you. Whoooopeee.

Marge’s near freeze as Bart explains that the family won the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence enhances the gag.

Omoo and Typee are travelogues by Moby Dick writer Herman Melville. They are about Melville’s travels in the Polynesian islands, with Typee being the first and more adventurously written (probably a lot of bullshit) while Omoo attempts to be more serious but is still probably a lot of bullshit. They’re noteworthy for being 1800s quasi-anthropological travel books by a white guy that actually decry the European treatment of the natives.

Like, two grand is nice, but what are you going to do with it in the middle of a family Monopoly game?

“It’s drinking the water!” is a wonderful delivery. “Water” sounds almost sarcastic, dwelt on to make it nearly two words.

Using a useless doodad and the idea of marketing to peddle your idea for a functional device that allows adults to communicate with pre-language infants is fucking stupid.

I’ve never seen one of these drinking birds in the wild.

It’s easy enough to figure that maybe Herb had a hands-on approach with his engineers, even studied it or had some natural proficiency that helped him learn quickly, but it’s also easy to add that to your character and not leave it a gaping question.

I love this moment with Homer’s imagination because it is so of the moment to be unobtrusive in the reality of the show.

Anyone who has heard a baby can measure the pitch, frequency, and urgency of the cry.

Basic communication with babies is possible, but it’s best to approach it with gestures that involve gross movements. Basic sign communication for nouns is more-or-less preloaded, it’s also what’s left when a child misses the critical period, and there’s an added bonus of stimulating their greater language development through the early use of gestures.

You can buy dog translators. They are grifts.

This scene with Homer negotiating with Herb to be forgiven in exchange for the money had to happen, and Herb had to say no, to keep it from being the obvious point around which they come together. Buying his brother’s forgiveness would cheapen it. It’s also what happens because they don’t spend time doing anything else.

You gotta hand it to Herb, he sure can come up with an excuse to put on a gorilla mask and scare a baby.

That said, the gorilla act is an odd choice, because something like that could easily delight an infant.

The thing is, why is he writing “I’m scared”? It turns out the real baby translator was inside us all along.

The broken couch again in the background is another great touch.

Babies vomiting on people is always good for a chuckle, but nothing beats the full-burst diarrhoea.

I always love the designs on fake or impossible machines as it falls along the same spectrum as something like dragon design. Some ignore any semblance of reality, while others will build to expectations such as power sources and physics. The Baby Translator has a few attempts at realism but is otherwise too early 90s to pull off anything convincing. Phones and apps have taught people that translation requires at least some kind of computer, so a pile of wood that looks like Homer built it and some wires falls fairly short.

Again, Americans and buttocks. It’s not butt-ox. Every time it’s said in The Simpsons it sounds like two separate words.

“Can you stop thinking about your ass”

“I try by I can’t”

That little moment mirrors the earlier one about punching Homer nicely.

There’s some cartooniness still in the animation, but it’s sped up now and this helps it slip into the rubbery background logic of the show.

I’d be more interested in a device that made speech-aged children sound like Danny DeVito.

No, Marge, Maggie didn’t talk. That was the machine. The wood with lights in front of you.

Putting clocks in everything was the 90s putting crypto in everything.

The thing is, for an infant to have this level of communicative ability, it wouldn’t need a translator as the problem is just lacking fine motor control for speech. Those tablets chimps use would do fine, or a series of cards considering this is the 90s.

Homer’s lamentation here is an odd one as Herb’s treatment of him, from the two moments we’ve seen, relate more to Homer’s treatment of Herb. He makes fun of Herb going bankrupt, and then mocks his functional baby translator to his face. He never even tries to apologise or have the necessary conversation.

I would like to see dog in a ball.

This Frink sequence is a classic. Nothing revolutionary save the use of light glass breaking for the damage sound to skew the joke safely away from dead kids.

I’ve seen children run headfirst toward mortal danger, so if you’re kid is one of those, leash ‘em up.

“I’m rich again! USA! USA! USA!”

That line about sums up the emotional arc of this story.

Homer gets his two grand back, but nothing ever comes of it. A supposed blessing on the family.

Beowulf is a fun read if you get a translation. The original Old English can be fun too, but tough to understand without learning the language. The name translates to “bee wolf” which was a term for bear. I vaguely remember reading Less than Zero and have never read Ethan Frome though I recall it being an interesting work for its narrative structure.

“It’s in the constitution, son”

Has there been a modern episode where people think Bart is a school shooter? That’d be fun.

Here’s an idea, Herb, give Maggie a percentage of your invention. All told, the story comes so close to being about Herb ripping his brother off. Two grand return on seed money for a billion dollar idea?

“I want what the dog’s eating”

“Stupid dryer”

This moment between Herb and Homer is supposed to be the emotional fix, but what is it fixing exactly? What did Homer do? What has been addressed? It’s simply stating out loud that the money has worked, not resolving any seen character content.

Hey, look, the fucking couch is back! Considering they went to the trouble of maintaining its condition across the episode, a throwaway line about replacing the couch would have been nice.



“We have another demand from Mr Groening. He says the episode must end with his name over jiggling cum”

The sound of a pencil being snapped punctuates the silence.

Tag of the episode, baby, jigglin’ cum.



4 replies to Brother, can you Spare Two Dimes?

Cliff Excellent on 29 Mar 21 said:

Alternate storyline suggestion: Herb's device only works on Maggie (because it's not an actual translator, he just used his best guess for what each sound meant) and the business fails. This prompts the realisation that the failure of the car business was actually his fault, not Homer's, and then you get the forgiveness.

Also, cut all the stuff about the couch and put it in a different episode because it takes up way too much screentime for something that never has anything to do with the plot of the episode.

Hands Across America is something I've only been aware of through parodies and vague references so to learn that it was a thing that actually happened is a baffling revelation. Also, the ending of Us makes more sense now.

Larger, More Powerful Alex on 31 Mar 21 said:

I think a much later episode that I can't be bother to remember had a brief aside about how Herb was broke again. Had they decided to keep using the character that might not have been to bad of an angle to go with, Herb stuck in a cycle of getting rich then somehow losing it all. It would have been a way of allowing the Simpsons to reasonably participate in activities above their social-economic class while also making sure they are financially struggling when the plot calls for it.

Magnumweight on 04 Apr 21 said:

I feel there are a lot of performers that (much like you said about DeVito) don't get their due respect for other aspects of their craft. Chris Hemsworth seems actually pretty good at comedy but since he looks like a real life GI Joe, he gets more of those roles. Hell, Ron Killings is a very good athlete, but because he can do comedy pretty well, he's always WWE's comedy goof character.

This episode was always very memorable to me as a child, DeVito sticks out pretty well and the absurd invention is kinda goofy, now that I've thought about it.

alldreamsfalldown on 06 Apr 21 said:

I need to make the "Nyah!" Herb makes when taking the drinking bird away as my text alert.

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