Tonight’s episode of The Simpsons offered a flashback into a traumatic childhood event that ultimately transitioned the squabbling siblings Bart and Lisa into the resentfully respectful pair they are today. It was also another entry in a recent trend of episodes that more strongly echoed the roots of the series by focusing on matters of the heart – in this case, the struggle of parents Homer and Marge to adjust to the difficulties of raising battling children. It was a straightforward episode without a distracting b-story, making it an overall stronger episode.
While drinking at Moe’s Tavern, Homer attempts to pay for his beer by digging into the pockets of an old suit. The contents (for a full description, see below) contained a roll of film that had not been developed in six years. Since Duff beer is primarily film developing fluid, Moe is able to save the role for the family. It’s a series of pictures (taken by Homer) of mostly Bart and Lisa doing awful things to each other. These photos naturally lead the family down memory lane to discover how the fighting stopped. Turns out Homer and Marge were invited to brunch by Ned and Maude Flanders (nice to see the deceased Maude again) to discuss child raising strategies. Ned’s 100-year-old mother watches all of the kids, including the two Flanders kids, but ends up suffering some kid of stroke, leading Bart and Lisa to think she’s dead.
They flee the Flanders home and embark on a journey across Springfield, mapped by the old Family Circus dotted line, and encounter multiple obstacles along the way. The sweetness of the episode is that the children naturally learn to rely on each other’s strengths to make it through the day. Lisa uses her girlish tears to ward bullies off of Bart, and Bart saves Lisa from a near-death toy car accident (that Bart caused, but who’s counting). There are a few site gags here and there, but the real treasure of the episode is the strength of the Bart and Lisa relationship. The mutual respect and admiration that grows between the two siblings is unique to modern comedy, and the episodes builds off the years of good will built up toward the characters.
It’s almost beside the point to state that the episode doesn’t begin to achieve the greatness of even the most recent episodes, but, as the father of two squabbling children, it’s nice to see sibling bonding illustrated at the level of the children. These days, the best we can hope from The Simpsons is a well crafted, emotional storyline. “The Kids are All Right” delivered that in a satisfactory fashion.
As usual, here are some of the funnier moments of the episode:
- The opening site gag illustrates Homer’s trajectory from college to modern day as a Game of Life from “No College” to a third “Unexpected Pregnancy” to “Decent into Alcoholism.” The game of Homer’s life is a rough road. D’oh, indeed.
- Homer’s suit contains a Playbill for Sea Captain and Chief Wiggum in The Sunshine Boys, a citation for “Indecent Snowman Building” with “coal boobs” and a “carrot wang,” souvenirs from Selma’s marriages to Bob Terwilliger (Sideshow Bob) and Disco Stu, TNT, and the plot device roll of film.
- One of the pictures Moe developed was an Homer-centric variation on the Demi Moore pregnancy photo.
- Bart is terrified of his scary, poorly assembled clown bed. It’s appeared in the series before as a persistent antagonist for young Bart.
- Rod and Todd Flanders play with a “See N’ Psalm” toy.
- Homer and Marge have a quickie in which they role play Seagull (Homer) and the Boardwalk Trash Can (Marge).
- Ralph Wiggum tells Lisa her brother is stupid. He then stows away inside the wheel of a truck and boards a ship bound for open sea.
- A framed newspaper in Chief Wiggum’s office reads “Cop surrenders to scarecrow.”
- One of the Family Circus-esqe maps of Bart and Lisa’s journey contains the following landmarks: Where Daddy Peed, Sleeping Place (church), Where Bart Got Sick (Krusty Burgers), Giant Donut God (Lard Lad), and the House of Milhouse.