Episode 16 - Duffless
4 July 2011
Synopsis: Homer gets caught driving under the influence and has his licence revoked. Marge encourages him to give up beer for a month and he struggles his way through. Meanwhile Lisa has grown a huge tomato for the school science fair. Bart destroys it and so she decides to come up with a new project to humiliate him.
The Good: Both stories and many of the jokes would have been fine in a slightly different context.
The Bad: The reality though is that both plots were poorly constructed and many of the jokes misfired as a result.
The Homer drinking story finishes with him choosing his family over the depressing bar flies and their broken lives. It's a nice ending but it does bring up the question of what happens next week when Homer is back to drinking? The best Simpsons stories manage to explain how the world goes back to being the same for the next episode. Here you can choose to interpret this in the light if you wish. You can see this story as showing us that Homer does understand moderation on occasion and chooses it often enough to avoid losing his family.
However that would have been a better story if the whole episode had been built around it. Instead the opening of the story began at the Duff Brewery where Homer was the moderate one. He was sober enough to drive and smart enough to recognise that Barney wasn't. By adding this miscarriage of justice into proceedings it rather took away from what could have been a more thorough examination of Homer's alcoholism. In terms of jokes we therefore had very brief gags about Homer jumping out of the window at AA and later being kicked out for admitting to eating dirt (hoping there was alcohol in it). We also got Homer beating Barney's head in to stop him driving which was needlessly violent.
Lisa and Bart's story similarly lacked cohesion. Bart destroys Lisa's science project and we don't see him punished for it. Instead Lisa plans to get revenge through her new project: comparing Bart to a hamster. This seemed promising enough with Bart foolishly failing to grasp the traps she set. However the ending was flat as Bart wowed the science fair by dressing the hamster up as a pilot and putting him in a toy plane. It made no sense that that would win first prize (especially as Skinner ludicrously claims he doesn't need to see any other projects) and so the message about revenge being futile didn't resonate.
Best Joke: Some of the jokes did work though. I liked Homer suddenly realising that without beer he found baseball boring. I liked that Bart is so simple to read that he couldn't exact any revenge on Lisa because she knew where he would hide her book. I also liked the owner of the pet store facetiously claiming that one of his hamsters wrote mystery novels. Perhaps the most amusing line of all was Mrs Krabappel's implausibly honest reaction to Milhouse's pathetic science project: "Pretty lame Milhouse."
The Bottom Line: This was just fine and if you were watching with your mind elsewhere then the jokes probably worked just fine. But the two stories failed to hit their mark and so for me several of the jokes did too.
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