Classic Simpsons Reviews: “Bart’s Dog Gets an F” Gets a C+.

2.16 Bart’s Dog Gets an F

Bart has to train Santa’s Little Helper at an obedience school for dogs, or risk losing him because of his unruly behaviour.

Having Lisa be sick during the episode is important thematically, as she gets love and care while the family dog is threatened with expulsion from the household. It’s an interesting parallel that asks us to examine why we think of pets as part of the family, but then treat them as expendable when the chips are down.

(Easy answer would be “Because it’s a freaking dog.”)

I find this episode to be unfocused, and for that reason one of the weaker entries in season 2. This may come as a surprise since I’m such a sap, but the sentiment doesn’t land nearly as well as it does in “Bart Gets an F” or “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.”

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You know the quilt is doomed the moment you see it. You knew Herb was doomed the moment you saw him. The journey toward the latter inevitability is far more interesting.

I can see how Bart’s fight to train his dog might be motivated by his own behavioural problems and resulting feelings of inadequacy. The writers don’t do enough to address that link, though. That, and the fact that Santa’s Little Helper hasn’t been a problem once in the previous 28 episodes makes the emotional payoff with Bart ring hollow. The ending has the dog just suddenly start responding to Bart’s commands out of nowhere, seemingly for no other reason than the writers wanted a happy ending.

There is a moment where Bart starts having fun with the dog and being more loving, and I suppose the suggestion is that this is what gets Santa’s Little Helper to start obeying commands, but there isn’t enough of a moment where we see that click for the dog. We also don’t see Bart get any payoff himself from having taught discipline to another living being. The potential is there, but it just doesn’t gel. Either have Bart learn the lesson, or show him not having learned it in a pointed way (“Three Men and a Comic Book” would be an episode that succeeds at this).

In the series premiere, Santa’s Little Helper was a representation of the beauty that comes out of the Simpson family’s imperfections, so I expected a bit more here. It’s not like I want a scene where the dog starts talking and pleads with the family not to let him go, but the writers endow Santa’s Little Helper with almost total indifference, even toward Bart.

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It’s still funny, but I’m not as emotionally invested as I could be.

I found the satirical look at gaudy materialism with the Assassin shoes a lot more interesting than the “A” story. The Assassins are a parody of Air Jordans, and having Homer drool over Flanders’ pair is some funny stuff (even if we know the shoes only exist to be destroyed by the dog).

And Tracey Ullman as the dog instructor stops this from being a total [insert loveable household pet here] episode.

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Again, not without funny moments.

Well, kudos to the writers for trying to write an episode from the dog’s point of view. It’s by no means schlock, but it’s well outside the top half for season two.

Best Moment: Santa’s Little Helper’s graduation. I remember laughing so hard at Ullman’s line, “You son of a bitch” that it gave me an asthma attack. (I was seven. Walking at a brisk pace gave me an asthma attack.)

Best Quote: “Lisa, you wasted chicken pox. Don’t waste the mumps.” -Bart

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