Episode 19 - Dog of Death
16 January 2011
Synopsis: Santa's Little Helper is sick and the family have to sacrifice a lot to afford the surgery to fix him. They do but feeling unloved afterwards he runs away. He ends up being recruited by Mr Burns as an attack dog.
The Good: This is a predictable and familiar story. If you like your Simpsons nice and fluffy then this may be for you.
There were some nice moments. The whole of Springfield was so focussed on the lottery that we see Chief Wiggum answering the police phone and claiming "You've got the wrong number. This is...912." I also liked the tiny bit of continuity on the map showing SLH's route around town which includes a road named after Michael Jackson (as was promised in 301).
The Bad: Otherwise I'm not a fan of episodes about Santa's Little Helper (216). In a show with some really sharp satire, plots about a dog having even a vaguely human mind seem too silly. There is no real emotion either in seeing SLH reunited with the family when he is gone for such a short period of time.
The humour didn't compensate much for the story. Homer seemed too bizarrely selfish and foolish with his babbling about winning the lottery and what he would do with his winnings. Grandpa Simpson got in on the mindless ranting too when he insisted that SLH was dead for no apparent reason.
Mr Burns' A Clockwork Orange style indoctrination of SLH was a fun idea but the implausibility of SLH's adventures had worn thin by then.
What this SLH plot had in common with previous tales is the conceit that actually the family don't care that much about him. Of course Bart does but the rest of the family, particularly Homer don't really notice him most of the time. When SLH returns Homer is desperate to pet him. So is everyone else and Marge suggests he pet the cat instead. "The cat? What's the point?" he asks. That seems to be the satirical thrust here: that the family only care about their pets when they have to. That cynical viewpoint feels too real to sit well with the anthropomorphic tale that dominated the rest of the episode.
Best Joke: When the family realise that SLH is ill they take him to Springfield Animal Hospital. They walk into a room where a doctor is busy trying to restart a hamster's heart. He fails and bemoans that this is the part of the job he hates. He then tosses the hamster toward the wall where it bounces neatly through a little basket ball hoop over the garbage can. The parody continues as the doctor explains: "I love animals. I spend my life saving them and they can't thank me. Well the parrots can..."
The Bottom Line: Santa's Little Helper feels like a character from another cartoon. The show is evolving beyond where this silliness can carry a plot.
Add your comments on this episode below. They may be included in the weekly podcasts.