54. Dog of Death

(originally aired March 12, 1992)
Going into season 3, there were two episodes that remained on my mind, two episodes that exemplify the extremes of the show. The first was “I Married Marge,” a wonderfully emotional episode that has a lot of heart and shines a light on how constructs of the show and the Simpson family came to be. It has its fair share of laughs, but I love it for its story, of showing how Homer became the man he is today. Then there’s “Dog of Death.” It has a rather straight-forward plot involving another money troubles issue for the family, and a kinda forced sweet ending, but man alive, if it isn’t the funniest episode I’ve watched yet, and one of the funniest of the entire series. Amidst this somewhat serious story of the operation of a beloved family pet and the financial woes it causes, there are so many incredible, insane jokes, and each one of them hits hard. You know when you watch an episode you love, and a scene begins, and you laugh in anticipation for the joke, and then at the joke itself? I was doing that almost the whole show. This is one freakin’ funny episode.

We start with a sharp satire of a frenzied money-obsessed culture in which lottery fever sweeps Springfield. The humor is spot-on from the start, with every copy of “The Lottery” being checked out of the library and Homer’s cocky assurance that he’s got a lock by buying fifty tickets. When asked what Homer will do with his winnings, we go into the most insane dream sequence ever, possibly my favorite of the entire series. He imagines himself as a gold-plated giant, growing in size until he towers over the city, booming with his laughter, encrusted with jewels and diamonds. It’s absolutely crazy, and the stupidity is so layered: why would Homer want this, why would he think it’s a good idea, how does he think this could be bought, why is he growing bigger throughout his dream, and so on. It’s the quintessential crazy dream sequence, and I absolutely adore it. But of course, he doesn’t win, but an enthusiastic on-air Kent Brockman does.

The Simpsons then find themselves further financial hardship after an operation to fix Santa’s Little Helper’s twisted stomach. Their slightly lower standard of living and bitterness toward the family dog is slightly cruel on the surface, but played with an “of course” air to it: of course all of the family’s budget cuts bite them in the ass, with Marge missing out on her own lotto win, and Lisa, not having her Encyclopedia Generica, having to rely on a third-rate biography of Copernicus she found at the bus station (rather fortunate find if you ask me). The third act of Burns training SLH as an attack dog has plenty of great Burns-isms, and the great pictured Clockwork Orange parody of the montage of images to enrage a dog, from a tank demolishing a doghouse to Lydon Johnson. The Simpson family’s anger toward the dog dissolves when he goes missing; even Homer gets emotional about his barren leash and piddle spot on the rug. I’m sort of running out of stuff to put here… there isn’t much to analyze in terms of the meat of the episode, it’s more or less by-the-books Simpsons. Where it shines is its jokes, quotes and one-liners, so the section below will probably be quite bloated, but I’ll try to restrain myself. So yeah, funniest episode so far for sure.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Right off the bat, we have the great lottery commercial, which is just a complete unashamed unabashed lie (“The state lottery, where everybody wins!”) Then how Barney inadvertently (and surprisingly to himself) creates the insane frenzy that grips the town.
– Homer’s over-excitement and sureness of his future win is great. His restrained and slow read to Marge is great: “I have a feeling… that we may win… the lottery!!”
– This is the first show to have the “throw the book in the fireplace” gag, which almost seems like a running joke, but it couldn’t have appeared that often. He throws “The Lottery” in the fire and later a book on canine surgery. Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood from the soapbox racer show is also shown smoldering away.
– Chief Wiggum anticipating the lottery results: “No, you’ve got the wrong number, this is 91… 2.”
– When Abe quips that he knew that they wouldn’t win, Homer goes into a rage: “Well why didn’t you tell the rest of us? Why did you keep it a secret?!” He tosses over the table he’s been keeping his tickets on, then angrily directs Bart. “If you were seventeen, we’d be rich! But nooooooooooo… You had to be ten!”
– The animal hospital is great, with its tasteful disposal of lost patients, into a little trash bin with a basketball hoop over it.
– Even during a serious situation, I just love Homer and Marge’s differing ways of discussing potentially not doing the operation. Homer spins a magical tale about Doggie Heaven, then has to assert that there is a Doggie Hell (where Hitler and Nixon’s dogs live), but even Homer’s heart melts upon seeing eye-to-eye to the whimpering mutt (“Lousy manipulative dog.”)
Very great brief moment in the waiting room: they saved a man’s game cock, but he’ll never fight again. “That’s what you think. He’ll fight and he’ll win!”
– Always love a bitter Homer commenting on a newly blinged-out Kent Brockman. “He’s got all the money in the world, but there’s one thing he can’t buy. ……..A dinosaur!” Also the minor runner of the school getting proceeds from lottery tickets, which excites Skinner, but turns out to just be one eraser. To put it lightly, he ain’t happy.
I like all the photos of SLH either involving him being abused by Homer or the other way around. The winning photo for the flyers to put about town featured a petrified dog with disembodied hands entering from the left side of the frame.
– There’s some great Burns lines: seeing SLH at the kennel (“Why here’s a fellow. Wiry, fast, firm, proud buttocks. Reminds me of me.”), while training him (“If that were a real girl scout, I’d have been bothered by now!”) and his muffled “Release the hounds” whilst in his hyperbolic chamber.
– I love how Homer breaks down toward the end, redacting his story about Doggie Heaven, and his smooth back pedal (“But… to put it another way…. there is.”)
– I love how much of a selfish indulgent asshole Brockman becomes, with a ridiculous spray-on tan, gold chains and gold house, complaining about all the homeless shelters and charities that want a piece of his money.
– There’s a great swipe at the cat toward the end, who is even more disregarded in the house than the dog. No one gives a shit about cats. And the great final disclaimer: “NO DOGS WERE HARMED IN THE FILMING OF THIS EPISODE. A CAT GOT SICK AND SOMEBODY SHOT A DUCK, BUT THAT’S IT.”

6 thoughts on “54. Dog of Death

  1. One my fav bits is where homer is dancing and singing at Moes for space change since his beer money was used for the dog’s operation. He yells “My Quarter!” as he runs out at the bar chasing it.

  2. The first act is one of the best in the history of the show. So many good moments:
    -“The lottery is the one ray of hope in my otherwise unbearable life! Uh, the lottery and you.”
    -Everyone checking “The Lottery” out from the library.
    -Homer’s bizarre daydream of being a giant gold statue (“Look closer, Lenny!”/”All hail king Homer.” “AAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”)
    -“You’ve got the wrong number. This is 91…2.”
    -“We’ll be with you in a minute, kids!… This could be our ticket out of here, Mel.”
    -“If you were 17, we’d be rich. But noooo, YOU had to be teeeeen!”
    -Kent Brockman’s ecstatic freakout when he wins on the air, then bolts soon after.
    -“Hey, the dog’s dead.”

    The second and third acts are also good but they really couldn’t match up to the hilarity of the first few minutes.

  3. I’ve always known this was a great episode, but I was watching it today and I’d forgotten how many outright hilarious moments there are in it.

    “Aw, I know how you feel. I lost my dog too. He’s in here somewhere!” *pan back to Barney’s pig sty*

  4. I have mixed feelings on this episode. I agree that it has a lot of funny moments Mike, as the Clockwork Orange bit is fantastic, but I can’t agree that it is the funniest episode thus far. I am siding more with Ian that its second and third acts couldn’t keep up with the first. I would say this may be my least favorite of the season, not because it is bad by any means, it just isn’t as good as the other episodes in it.

    I do also love that Flanders is wearing his assassin shoes when Mr Burns sends the hounds after him and of course the stuff with Homer feeling manipulated.

  5. The fact that Swartzwelder wrote this episode doesn’t surprise me at all, because like most of his other work in the classic era, this episode is insanely witty. I love Homer freaking out over Abe “knowing” they’d lose, Homer’s fantasy, “a dinosaur!”, and the ending message. There’s a ton of fantastic bits here. It’s not one of my absolute favorites, but this episode is still great.

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