2.21 Three Men and a Comic Book
Bart, Millhouse, and Martin combine their savings to buy the original Radioactive Man, but then lose it because of their greed.
This might be just outside the top five episodes for season two, but it has some truly classic stuff. The second act with Bart working to save money for his comic book is hilarious; from his begrudgingly opening a lemonade stand and getting laughed at by Nelson; to his selling Homer’s beer to cops for a nickel apiece; to his working for Mrs. Glick, a random old lady and Marge’s hair salon friend. (I like the salon bit, and wish we saw more of Marge’s community the way we get to see Homer’s.)
Mrs. Glick is voiced by the great Cloris Leachman, and every moment with her is just dynamite, my favourite being her insisting that boys love candy in spite of Bart’s protestations. That was my Nana Mary.
Besides being funny, the Mrs. Glick bit is important to the episode’s theme, which looks at how the problems children face are every bit as human as the problems adults face. The paranoia, mistrust, and suspicion the kids have for each other once they purchase the comic book is recognizable in so many adult situations.
Martin’s line, “This is the stuff dreams are made of” is a great Treasure of the Sierra Madre reference. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s basically the third act of this episode.
Evidently, I like this episode a lot more than some critics do.
Critics, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood have commented that some of the jokes will go over your head if you don’t have an understanding of comic book culture. To which I say, “So fucking what?” I want the shows I watch to challenge me to be a bit more worldly by putting a few jokes in there that I might not get. Bart is a ten year old kid; what sort of youth-dominated subculture is he supposed to be interested in? Is your ego so big that you can’t handle having to do a Google search sometimes?
Critic, Doug Pratt says the Wonder Years parody “seems pointless.”
Our culture puts childhood in a perfect, innocent bubble, while teaching us to perceive childhood and adulthood as a binary. In doing so we other children, and fail to take the problems they experience (and, more importantly, their view of those problems) seriously. The kids in The Simpsons are every bit as susceptible to human failings as adults, and their critiques of those failings are often better than adults’ critiques, because the social conditioning they’ve been subjected to hasn’t yet had a chance to ossify. The Wonder Years is a retelling of childhood as remembered by an adult who is framing his early years through an adulthood/childhood binary perspective, so the presence of this parody in “Three Men and a Comic Book” isn’t just appropriate, but important, because it underscores the satire of the way we view childhood.
This episode is so smart in how it weaves adult problems seamlessly through the problems of children, while having the adults (with the exception of Marge, who recognizes her child self in Bart) be oblivious to how real this all is for the kids. The final scene is a good example: Homer drains the water from his car post-storm before the camera pans to the kids looking over the remains of the destroyed comic book. The storm certainly created a real life adult conundrum for Homer; for the kids, it was monumental. The kids and adults’ problems may not have equal ramifications, but they’re every bit as human, and if you asked each group to understand the magnitude of the others’ problem, it wouldn’t be fully appreciated.
That gap in understanding is easy to laugh off, but remember Bart was only paid two quarters by Mrs. Glick for all his hours of hard, painful labour. Baby Boomers routinely talk to Millennials about entry-level jobs as though they grow on trees and pay the mortgage like they did a couple generations ago. The Bart/Mrs. Glick scenes should be viewed in light of that.
I like the choice to have Bart blow off the lesson the kids could have learned about greed. I’m reminded of Homer surviving the poisonous fugu and pledging to live life to the fullest, only to be sitting on the couch eating pork rinds as the credits roll.
In the Book of Genesis, Lot is given every chance to leave Sodom before God destroys it, but doesn’t because he is resigned to the idea that he can’t do any better (that’s where we get the phrase, “lot in life.”) Lot’s lesson is generously laid right out right in front of him, and yet he spends the rest of his days in a cave.
It’s not always enough to simply present an instructive story; pointedly having a character not learn the available lesson can make a parable all the more meaningful.
Best Moment: Mrs. Glick insisting that boys love candy.
Best Quote: “All right now off you go, to spend it on penny whistles and moon pies.” -Mrs. Glick