Though not really a Christmas episode, “To Cur With Love” reminds us of the very first Simpsons episode (“Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”), in which the family can’t afford any presents but adopts a racetrack reject it calls Santa’s Little Helper. Twenty-three years later, the dumb animal is still around, now reduced to serving as a framing device for another flashback episode that continues the curious character rehabilitation of Abe Simpson, just three episodes after “Gone Abie Gone” revealed Homer’s cantankerous dad to have a romantic past. This story is even less interesting.
The episode starts with a mild scare when the family thinks that Homer has lost Santa’s Little Helper. “I love that dog, but that is one long, stupid name,” Lisa remarks after yelling it a few times as she searches the neighborhood. (The family cat—is it still called Snowball?—emerges from a bush and tells us, via subtitle, “I’ve been gone for three weeks.” The Simpsons don’t know which pet can get them YouTube views.) They eventually find SLH in a kitchen cabinet, but Bart notices that Homer seems unconcerned about the dog. Abe explains by telling us the tale of Homer’s childhood pooch, Bongo.
Six-year-old Homer is inseparable from Bongo, as we see in a montage set to Harry Nilsson’s “Me And My Arrow.” The dog even pulls the school’s fire alarm to get Homer out of taking tests. But one day, he bites Montgomery Burns, not yet a nuclear-power-plant owner but apparently still the wealthiest man in town. To spare Bongo from Mr. Burns’ wrath, Homer’s dad takes the dog to live on a farm (not a euphemism in this case). Abe also tries to appease Mr. Burns by taking care of the millionaire’s own hounds (or “satanic Snoopys”), even though they constantly try to tear him apart. “You’re probably wondering how I got rabies,” he casually says to little Homer, who doesn’t seem to be wondering anything at all.
Abe is selfless and a pretty good parent in the flashback. Between this episode and “Gone Abie Gone,” I’d almost suspect that the Simpsons producers are softening up his image before killing him off this season, but I’m skeptical that they’d pull a Cotton Hill and give any significant character the boot. The blander version of Abe just seems to be an excuse for going back in time. “All of my stories have endings now,” the formerly incoherent senior says. “They’re putting something in my Jell-O at the home.”
Back in the present, Homer reveals that he once made a secret trip to the farm and was crushed to see that Bongo seemed happy there. Assuming that Bongo forgot all about him, he rails against “the most disloyal, unfaithful creature God ever made.” But Abe pulls out a Christmas card from the farm showing Bongo snuggled up with the blanket he once shared with Homer. So Bongo was loyal to his master’s scent, or at least didn’t mind it, and that’s enough to melt the anti-canine part of Homer’s cold heart.
It’s kind of a bush league boy-and-his-dog tale, even if you put Futurama’s “Jurassic Bark” out of your mind. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen Homer get silly over Pinchy the Lobster, Stampy the Elephant, and Spider-Pig over the years, but his relationship with heroic Bongo isn’t as poignant as Bart’s affection for the useless Santa’s Little Helper. This is another trip to the past—without many period trappings to chuckle over—that feels like marking time.
- The flashback does reveal that Police Chief Wiggum started out as a dogcatcher, and not a terribly competent one.
- The slight B-plot has Homer playing an online game called Villageville, in which he creates a medieval community. He casually introduces the Black Plague to his virtual world. “Now I’ve got to buy a corpse wagon,” he grouses. “Well, that’s how they get you.” Zynga, take note: You could rope in a lot more FarmVille players with corpse wagons.
- The episode is padded with another politics-related short featuring Mr. Burns. This time, he explains the fiscal cliff: “Think of the economy as a car, and the rich man as the driver. If you don’t give him all the money, he’ll drive you over a cliff.” I never thought I’d say this, but I’m getting tired of Mr. Burns.