Simpsons – S1E7 – The Call of the Simpsons

First of all, an apology for the lack of regular updates! I realize I never set a specific schedule, but I had always planned to at least get one of these done every week. As it turns out, life isn’t always that agreeable, and a combination of general holiday busy-ness and unpleasant work shenanigans has kept me from this fantastic hobby. But, the stars have aligned and here we are once more! You can’t keep a good guy with tons of free time down.

I have some fantastically mixed feelings about this episode. It’s another one that I thought came later (I would have bet Season 2), but one that I remembered really enjoying when I was younger. Watching it now though, it had trouble holding my interest. There were parts I absolutely loved, and a side plot that I feel sets the bar for the series’ absurdness so far, but something about it just wasn’t clicking for me. I know, I know, Blasphemy, right? But bear with me as we dive into this one.

The Simpsons, Season 1 Episode 7 – The Call of the Simpsons.

Looks like someone didn't call collect.

It’s an ordinary day at The Simpson household until Ned Flanders pulls up in a fantastic RV. Desperate to compete with his neighbor, Homer takes the family to a local sleazy car dealership and demands to see their finest, best RV. He’s all set to buy, but surprise surprise, something that nice is out of his price range. Conned into a cheaper, crappier, on-it’s-last-legs model, Homer triumphantly takes the family out camping to justify his new purchase. In what I can only describe as the flimsiest scene in the entire episode (though I’ll talk about that later), the family loses their RV and all their possessions over a cliff, leaving them trapped in the wilderness. The boys, trailed by Maggie, go to forage for food while the ladies tend to their makeshift camp.

"Makeshift" may be slightly generous.

The boys get separated from Maggie and end up falling into a ravine and down a cliff. Maggie takes refuge with a group of bears, the girls manage to set up a fire and shelter, and Homer and Bart are left to fend for themselves in the wilderness. Several mishaps later, a mud-covered Homer is mistaken for the legendary Bigfoot, leading to local Bigfoot mania as hunters and scientists try to track down the ‘beast.’ During the hunt, Marge and Lisa are rescued, while Maggie rescues the boys from the wrath of the bears. When the three emerge from the woods, ‘Bigfoot’ Homer is tranq’d and captured, with scientists unable to determine if he’s actually a man or not. Homer grumbles, but Marge affirms her love for him and we end on a happy scene of the two presumably about to get their freak on.

You can just see him thinking "Well, if being Bigfoot gets me laid..."

There’s a lot to like in this episode, and we’ll start with the Maggie subplot, which is honestly my favorite part of the episode by far. For all you haters crying “OMG LATER SIMPSONS EPISODES ARE SO MUCH MORE RANDOM AND ABSURD THAN THE EARLIER ONES”, let me direct your attention to this particular series of events. Maggie befriends bears through sharing a pacifier with one.

I'd be lying if I said this wasn't stupidly adorable.

The bear tribe – or is it pack? Whatever a group of bears is – takes her in and starts stealing things for her from local campers, until she’s amassed a pile of loot.

Realism at its finest, folks!

Then, when it’s time for her to go, her new-found bear-family shares a forlorn goodbye with their young friend.

Those center bears might need therapy.

So, to recap: Maggie befriends bears with a pacifier. There is nothing I have put in the above sentences that is really any more absurd than Homer coordinating the Super Bowl halftime show, which is one of the crazier later plots I can think of off the top of my head. Face the facts, guys – later plots like that one may be way grander in scale, but they’ve been doing over the top shenanigans since season one. The proof is in the pacifier.

Another bit that I absolutely love are the spinning newspaper headlines that result while Marge is talking to the media about being married to ‘Bigfoot’. I know, it’s a gag that’s been done to death a thousand times over, but I think they really nail it with this one. It’s not just spinning papers with throwaway gag lines – they use each one to emphasize how whatever Marge says in her interview gets taken completely out of context by the story-craving media and the local tabloids. They ask her what Bigfoot likes to eat, and a confused Marge answers that pork chops are his favorite. Then this happens:

Done well? This gag is still awesome.

It’s beautiful.

That said, for all the things I like about this episode, I have one major complaint about it – I just don’t feel like the main plot of the episode really knows what it wants to do. It’s unfocused, directionless, and all over the place. At first it seems like it wants to be about Homer dealing with his issues with and jealousy of The Flanders. But nope, we change gears from that and suddenly it’s about The Simpsons having an outdoor adventure, and even that I think is being generous. It’s not like anything resembling equal time is given to the ladies (Maggie notwithstanding) so it’s more of Bart and Homer’s outdoor adventure versus the comparative competence of the ladies. But then we switch gears again and suddenly it’s about Homer being confused for Bigfoot, and then I look back at the episode and I honestly can’t be sure what the hell they were going for here.

I mean, let’s look at the scene where The Simpsons’ RV plunges over the cliff side to it’s doom (see? I said we’d come back to it). I know I’ll get ragged on for picking on what’s ultimately cartoon logic (especially after defending the absurdity of the series), but bear with me for a moment. The scene asks us to believe that 1) no one in the family noticed they were driving towards a cliff and 2) Once the front is empty of passengers, the weight in the back isn’t enough to keep the RV secured. I know it’s easy to just say “Look, in the end the RV is just the plot device to get the Simpsons into the wilderness”, but then what? Is them being in the wilderness just the plot device to get Homer confused for Bigfoot? If that’s what the entire episode is setting up for, it just feels like the punchline, funny as it is, doesn’t deliver for that convoluted a setup. We needed a setup (Homer’s jealousy) for a setup (the RV) for a setup (the wilderness) for the punchline (Bigfoot). It’s too much.

It's funny, just not three setup funny.

But problems aside, it’s not a bad episode and I the parts I liked, I loved. So take my bitching for what you will, and I’ll see you next time!


One thought on “Simpsons – S1E7 – The Call of the Simpsons

  1. Dack says:

    Yaknow, I kinda promised myself I’d avoid bitching about “what’s wrong with Simpsons today!” when responding to these, but I think you brought two of their latter-day vices to the spotlight here (and exonerated a wrongfully convicted element).

    But while people often say they want “realism” (where, as you pointed out, the show always took advantage of the ability to mix prime time sitcom stories and settings with a dash of Looney Tunes logic), but I think what they really want is “quaintness”. Hell, this is a show about a family in a small suburban town that gets fleshed out in ways cities just weren’t fleshed out. (I believe Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl) and Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation) both cite Springfield as an inspiration for Camden County and Pawnee, IN, respectively.) Having their humble city have so many individual characters really brought out the best parts of living in such a setting.

    But I think one element you’ll find as you go through later seasons is The Simpsons often become too big for Springfield’s britches. It’s not that it’s unrealistic for Homer to coordinate the Super Bowl Halftime Show, it’s just that it’s not the first time he’s been thrust into a national spotlight of some kind. The Simpsons have all had so many brushes with fame—(I blame the ever-increasing deluge of guest stars the writers never knew how to incorporate other than having them play themselves and take a Simpson on an adventure)—they seem like too big of rock stars to view them as just another family in what would be just another town. It starts to feel like you’re watching a family (or city) of celebutantes after awhile, since they really can seem to summon stardom as easily as a Kardashian.

    The second issue, one you pointed out in this ep, is just one that seems to be a calling card of any episode or show where plot takes a back seat to gags. (Family Guy has always been a much more frequent violator than the Simpsons ever became.) ‘Tis the plot that meanders and doesn’t settle on what the A-story is going to be until right before the first commercial break. (Or, in even direr straits, later than that.) It kinda feels like they decided to just write jokes until the story broke, but then didn’t backtrack and trim the fat that got them there (or didn’t bother to flesh the actual story out.) And like you said, once entire five-minute segments turn out to just be devices to get to the next plot point, you start to feel like the entire purpose of the episode gets undercut.

    Nice write-up, though. 😀 Keep ’em coming.

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