Classic Simpsons Reviews: “Saturdays of Thunder” shows how the writers are better with father/son storylines.

3.9 Saturdays of Thunder

Homer realizes he knows nothing about Bart after taking a fatherhood quiz, so he helps Bart build a soap box racer.

I’m trying to work out why I like “Saturdays of Thunder” better than “Lisa’s Pony,” which tackles similar themes around parenthood and, for me anyway, has far fewer laughs.

I like this episode’s twist of Bart choosing to drive Martin’s far superior soap box racer, as it accomplishes three things.

One, it makes it so there is more than one or two things going on in the episode, as opposed to the more straightforward plot of “Lisa’s Pony.” I actually cared about the dinky soap box racer more than I did about the pony, particularly given that it couldn’t possibly compete with Martin’s far superior racer. The difference between Bart and Martin’s racer is basically the difference between Homer and Ned Flanders as fathers.

Masculinity and competition get explored with depth and symbolism here, whereas in “Lisa’s Pony” Homer has a throwaway line where he worries about turning gay from hanging out with his daughter. That’s just not as fun, besides undercutting the show’s right to look good making a pro-gay statement with “Homer’s Phobia” in season eight.

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General rule about Characters On Fire: If it’s a long shot, it’s funny.

Two, the better soap box racer allows Bart to drive the episode more than Lisa was given an opportunity to with the horse. I’ve complained before that Lisa and Homer episodes tend to become just Homer episodes (see “Homer vs. Lisa and the Eighth Commandment”), whereas in Bart and Homer episodes they get more or less equal time (see “Dead Putting Society”). This pains me to say a little, as Lisa is in my top five favourite characters, but it makes the Bart and Homer episodes better.

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The writers have a lot more fun playing with father/son storyline tropes, as we see here. They seem lost in trying to find similar sight gags when it’s time for a Homer/Lisa episode.

And Three, Homer cheering Bart on even though he chooses a racer someone else built makes Homer much more altruistic and likeable as a parent. I also like how Homer more or less takes the initiative in terms of the fatherhood quiz.

That being said, the ease with which Homer decides to spend time with Bart as opposed to the struggle to pay attention to Lisa a week ago (which amounted to him buying her off) does not go unnoticed.

I do like Homer a lot better in this episode though, so I’d rank “Saturdays of Thunder” a couple spots higher than “Lisa’s Pony” for season three. The bits with the National Fatherhood Institute (particularly their NASA-style mission control celebration at the end when Homer and a victorious Bart embrace) are hilarious, and make it so we don’t take Homer’s foibles as seriously.

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This sort of thing is what was lacking in “Lisa’s Pony.”

I also love when The Simpsons throws in cultural references that are thematically tied to the episode (something I trash Family Guy for not giving two shits about). In a clip playing at the local video store, McBain’s partner dies within a couple days of retirement. Besides being a hilarious Lethal Weapon reference, it ties into the episode’s theme of fatherhood, as McBain’s partner talks about his kid going off to college.

Best Moment: The Lethal Weapon spoof.

Best Quote: “Oh, I don’t know if I should do that. My dad and I build our car together, and if I drove somebody else’s it’d kill him! On the other hand, I’ll do it!” -Bart