- First broadcast: Thursday 4 February 1993, Fox Television
- First shown on UK terrestrial television: Friday 31 July 1998, BBC2
- Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss
- First draft: Jon Vitti
- Writing staff: George Meyer, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, Jeff Martin, David Stern, Conan O’Brien, Frank Mula, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Dan McGrath
- Animation director: Jeff Lynch
This story was written specifically for a guest who then pulled out, leaving the writers with a superstar-shaped hole in the production. Even if the guest had agreed, however, it’s doubtful they could have done enough to compensate for the even bigger hole in the script.
After an uninhibited glide through five top-notch episodes, things tumble to earth with this scrappy and tedious tale. All the imagination and sharp humour of late gets swapped for the sort of shallow “what if…” contrivance that would so dog The Simpson from season nine onwards. In this instance it’s “what if Bart got a new dad?”, on to which is bolted “what if Homer got a new son?” Further unwelcome protrusions include a drab subplot involving Lisa and a telephone line, and a lengthy fight sequence that uses violence not tell the story but simply to show characters in pain. It’s a welcome relief when, after 22 minutes, the episode just stops, with no attempt at a decent ending. 3
By deciding to create for Bart a substitute father who is the polar opposite of Homer, the writers create for us a story fashioned around someone who is by necessity plain and insubstantial. On paper this new father, Tom, might have the trappings of the “dream” dad – gleaming motorcycle, ultra-modern apartment, a fondness for good deeds – but in a sitcom these are attributes that are all thoroughly dull. Worse, Homer then decides to pair up with a substitute son, Pepi, who is even more boring. Very quickly your boredom turns to disenchantment. You end up angry at having to sit through so many scenes of the Simpson family hanging out with such antithetical twerps. Sure, the family have fallen in with oddballs before, but by and large they have always been interesting oddballs. It’s just not the case here, and when Homer starts brawling with Tom, boredom is compounded by repulsion. Respite only comes whenever a supporting character pops up, like Principal Skinner, Grampa, or (appearing solely so he can be pelted by tomatoes) a recruiter for the Springfield Communist Party. 2
Locations and design
It’s not one of the most expansive of stories. Most of the action trundles, rather than zips, between familiar locations. The plot does not have enough momentum to stop you reflecting on how the episode can’t help but feel diminished in stature after the likes of Marge vs the Monorail and Selma’s Choice. Towards the end of the story we see all the male characters in Marine World. This is a brand new location, albeit one that seems to have been designed solely to provide a backdrop for the fight between Homer and Tom, and which therefore could have been substituted with any other tourist attraction – though admittedly you do get to see Homer being manhandled by two attendants dressed as dolphins. 3
Pardon My Zinger
Homer has one decent joke, when he is mid-scuffle with Tom and tries to distract his opponent by shouting: “Look! There’s another disadvantaged boy!” Most of the other gags are visual, such as the sight of a nun being blown into the air by a gust of wind, flying up into the sky then crashing to the ground and exploding.
There’s also the Homer lookalike who Bart briefly mistakes for his father, but who is actually a woman and who just happens (of course) to be driving along and singing I Am Woman by Helen Reddy.
And it’s far funnier to hear people reacting to a naked Homer dashing out of his house, rather than see the evidence for ourselves (“Dad! Hide your shame!” “Hey Homie, I can see your doodle!”). 5
The part of Tom was written for Tom Cruise, but he refused to do it so Phil Hartman stepped in. It’s Hartman’s third guest appearance in a row, and his sixth of this season. Was there really nobody else available? Hartman doesn’t bring anything distinctive to the part, save for a tendency to make Tom sound just like Troy McClure. He’s always had a limited range of voices, but it only becomes a problem on The Simpsons when he is given a character who is boring, as here, rather than creepy and intriguing, as in the Monorail episode. Perhaps anyone would have struggled to make Tom sound interesting. The writers ought to have ditched the character completely, replacing him with – well, why not? – your actual Troy McClure. 3
Alf Clausen is at his most blustery. It’s a relief when the music stops and you get to hear silence, or better still some of the sound effects created for the episode, such as the expertly-crafted crescendo of noise when Lisa, trying to curb her addiction to a dial-a-hearthrob telephone line, is surrounded by ticking clocks, the clacking of Marge’s knitting needles and the ring-ring of Maggie’s toy phone. Another highlight is the plaintive squelch of a chocolate pudding as it runs slowly down the side of Bart’s face. 7
Lisa’s telephone obsession is the Corey Hotline, whose recorded voice is given an appropriately soulless drawl (“Here are some words that rhyme with Corey: glory, story, allegory…”). When he’s not having to make Homer sound incompetent or violent, Dan Castellaneta gets to give his character a nice twist of Richard Burton when confronting Bart about Tom: “You’ve been out gallivanting around with that bigger brother of yours, haven’t you? Haven’t you? LOOK AT ME!” 7
The sequences early in the story, where Bart is caught in the rain after a football match, are the most visually interesting. The sight of pouring rain, done well, is always impressive and that’s the case here:
Jeff Lynch has fun with crossfades as Homer, lying in the bath, imagines Bart turning into skeleton.
Bart later returns the favour by imagining he has the power to make his father melt.
This would have scored 8 but a couple of points have to be deducted for these:
Homages, spoofs, fantasies
Another welcome layer of eccentricity is heaped on to Principal Skinner in a scene where he raises the blind of his office window and, in a direct nod to Psycho, notices his mother watching him from a house on the nearby hill. “I owe everything I have to my mother’s watchful eye – and swift hand. Oh, there’s mother now… What’s that mother? I have a right to be here! Mother, that sailor suit doesn’t fit anymore…”
British viewers know enough about Saturday Night Live to get the idea behind ‘Tuesday Night Live’, complete with lame guest host (Krusty the Clown) and unfunny material that never knows when to stop (“Ugh. This goes on for 12 more minutes”). “I miss Joe Piscopo,” sighs Bart. There’s also a real clip of Ren and Stimpy, chucked in to the story for no reason other than to be talked about and written up as if it were significant (job done, then). 7
Emotion and tone
There’s an ugly mood to this episode that flows directly from having Bart and Homer dislike each other to such an exaggerated extent. We’ve seen them fall out before and wind each other up, but never display such calculated spite. No amount of silly set pieces or unrelated subplots can dilute this tone. Little wonder the pair’s reconciliation at the very end of the story comes over not as touching but merely flippant. 1
An unwelcome preview of what The Simpsons would one day permanently become.