“Brother From The Same Planet” (season 4, episode 14; originally aired 02/04/1993)
According to the audio commentary, “Brother From The Same Planet” was originally conceived as a vehicle for Tom Cruise. As some of you may be aware, Tom Cruise is somewhat sensitive about how he is perceived in the media so the writers took care to make a guest spot as appealing as possible to the mega-star. The writers wrote the character they wanted Cruise to voice—named Tom, conveniently enough—as a comically over-the-top variation on the person Cruise wants to project: a kind, dashing, smooth, and handsome super-stud skilled at the manly arts of hang-gliding, motorcycle-riding, laser-gun-shooting, and mentoring (rather than the Tom Cruise that appears crazy-eyed in the tabloids and gossip rags, a narcissistic, unhinged, mother-shaming, possibly gay control freak deeply and publicly committed to a questionable cultligion). The episode certainly gives the Tom character an iconic introduction—pulling up to the schoolyard on a sweet-ass motorcycle in a leather jacket, dramatically peering out from behind cool sunglasses, asking for Bart Simpson, tossing him a helmet, then coolly instructing, “Let’s ride”—worthy of one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
Cruise passed anyway (who knows what’s going on in that man’s crazy brain?) so The Simpsons gave the role to a voice actor they knew would hit it out of the park: the eternally awesome Phil Hartman, who plays the character relatively straight as an affectionate caricature of the ultimate man’s man. Having a Tom Cruise-like renaissance man mentor Bart is just one of the episode’s many clever conceits. In an audacious move, “Brother From The Same Planet” has the conflict between Bart—who pretends to be a neglected urchin straight out of a Dickens novel after Homer forgets to pick him up from soccer as a pretense for getting a super-cool Big Brother-style mentor to be the perfect dad/role model Homer could never be—and Homer play out like a lover’s spat. Homer is in the role of the wronged, jealous, and protective cheated-on spouse, with Bart acting the role of the wanton harlot stepping out on her boring old husband with an exciting new beau. The writers hit this theme hard: Homer actually refers to Tom as a “hussy” and, in a scene of exquisitely questionable taste, a vindictive Bart tells Homer he was merely faking happiness at being pushed on a swing as a young boy, using the same language and even the same inflections a bitter woman might tell a partner that she has been faking orgasms out of spite. Then again, any episode that has a nun explode nonsensically as a runaway gag (while yelling how her predicament isn’t funny, a sentiment seemingly directed towards the show’s jaded writers more than anyone else), isn’t overly concerned with issues of propriety. In the episode’s B-story, Lisa’s compulsion to incessantly call a 1-900 number devoted to a Corey Haim-like teen dreamboat who specializes in filling dead time by reading the newspaper and rattling off things that rhyme with Corey manifests itself as a crippling addiction Lisa must overcome to regain her sanity and self-control.
“Brother From The Same Planet” deals hilariously and poignantly with one of the show’s most resonant themes: Homer trying to prove himself as a father and a man in the face of his family’s perpetual disappointment. Here, Bart’s always-festering resentment is stirred by Homer forgetting to pick him up from soccer practice despite everything in the universe pushing Homer unmistakably in the direction of the soccer field: Marge explicitly asking him to pick up Bart; a television show honoring Packers legend Bart Starr; Bart sending mental signals to Homer, which Milhouse mysteriously receives in a parody of the “Red Rum” sequence from The Shining;and even Homer's own brain admonishing him “Pick up Bart,” an order he misinterprets as “pick a bar.” Homer’s forgetfulness is even more inexcusable considering Bart had to pass up an opportunity to see a genuine R-rated movie—something called Barton Fink, whichMilhouse simply couldn’t be more excited about—so he could wait in vain in the rain for his dad to come.
Bart is pissed, so he decides to exploit a Big Brother-like mentoring program by showing up duded out as a homeless street urchin and telling a horrified employee, “[Homer] left me out on the curb for the Ashman. What a revoltin’ development!” Homer is unconcerned. When Marge tells Homer that Bart called him a bad father, Homer obliviously replies, “Marge! When kids these days say ‘bad’ they mean ‘good.’ And to ‘shake your booty’ means to wiggle one’s butt! Permit me to demonstrate!”
It isn’t until Homer stumbles across evidence of Bart stepping out with a new, vastly improved and much less problematic father figure that he gets angry and decides to enact revenge by mentoring a Little Brother of his own. Even when Homer does the right thing, it’s often for the wrong reasons. Homer ends up mentoring a sad-sack orphan named Pepi, who is naïve enough to see Homer as a benevolent fount of wisdom and not a terrible father out for revenge.
The Homer-Bart conflict comes to a head when Homer and Pepi and Tom and Bart run into each other at Marine World—which a sign helpfully clarifies is “No Longer Educational"—and Tom and Homer get into an epic fistfight over Bart’s honor that ends with Homer in an ambulance and Pepe finding an ideal replacement Big Brother, in the form of Tom.
The episode ends on a note both dark and tender, with Bart lovingly fetching Homer a beer and listening appreciatively while Homer gives him the rundown on how best to fight dirty: “First, you gotta shriek like a woman. Then keep sobbing until he turns away in disgust. That’s when it’s time to kick some back. And then when he’s lying on the ground, kick him in the rib, step on his neck, then run like hell.” For Homer and Bart that’s about as sentimental as male bonding gets, God bless their warped souls.
- So much great stuff in this episode I didn’t get around to, like Homer and running out of the house naked and Lisa imploring, “Hide your shame!”
- The Saturday Night Live sketch was no less hilarious for hitting some pretty obvious targets: the inane happy talk of the opening monologue, G.E Smith’s eternal “O” face while making sweet love to his guitar, one-note sketches that linger on interminably.
- “We could sit here and try to figure who forgot to pick up who until the cows come home but let’s just say we’re both wrong and that will be that.”—Homer trying to save face after forgetting to pick up Bart
- “Bart’s dad really pulled himself together!”—Martin, very generously mistaking Tom for Homer
- “Oh, it’s that record club. The first nine were only a penny. Then they jacked up the price!” may be the funniest Columbia House Record Club joke ever.
- In another highlight, the announcer at the baseball game tells an angry, patriotic crowd armed with tomatoes, “The start of the game will be delayed so we can introduce the recruiter for the Springfield Communist party!”
- The Ren & Stimpy parody in this episode is essentially indistinguishable from an actual excerpt from the show.
- Up next is “I Love Lisa.” If memory serves, that’s a good/heartbreaking one.