Wednesday, 21 July 2010

HOMER’S BARBERSHOP QUARTET


SEASON 05 EPISODE 1 (EPISODE 82)

THIS IS IT:
This is one of Homer’s many forays into music cover his spell as a member of acapella group the Be Sharps.  The episode opens at the Springfield Swap Meet that includes such stalls as Handcrafts By Moe and free religious trading cards from Ned Flanders.  While rummaging through the various stalls Lisa eventually discovers an LP entitled “Meet The Be Sharps” which features her dad on the cover.  Cue flashback to when Homer recorded the album (“it was only eight years ago”, which it turns out was the magical summer of 1985).  Our first glimpse of the Be Sharps (Skinner, Homer, Chief Wiggum and Apu) is of them singing in Moe’s Tavern.  Their audience is Barney.  Rock and roll and had grown stagnant and “Achy Breaky Heart” was seven years away so something had to fill the void and that something was barbershop.  They go on a whirlwind tour of playing the local old people’s home, the prison and church and their popularity soars.  A theatrical agent called Management By Nigel (“Stars Discovered, Fortunes Made, Hats Block”) approaches Homer to represent the Be Sharps on the proviso that they get rid of Wiggum (“too Village People”).  After driving Wiggum to the middle of nowhere and dumping him the next day they begin auditioning for his replacement including Grandpa Simpson, Groundskeeper Willie, Jasper and an in disguise Chief Wiggum but it just proves “one lousy applicant after another” until they hear Barney singing in Moe’s bathroom while looking for his toothpick.  And with that he is in the band.  Initially there is protest from fans of Wiggum but once Barney begins singing the crowd of Moe’s Cavern is won over.  By this stage the band does not have a name but Apu soon comes up with the suggestion of the Be Sharps.  At this point the episode resumes with the family driving back from the swap meet and Homer boasting of making some money selling their spare tyre.  Immediately they experience a puncture and while Marge heads off to get the spare replaced (12 miles away) Homer continues telling the kids about his time in the Be Sharps.  At this point Homer is struggling to write new material but while agonising over lyrics featuring Al Capone and Geraldo Rivera, Marge shows him the Baby On Board sign that she has bought for the car so that “people will stop intentionally ramming our car.”  With Skinner on banjo they record “Baby On Board” and it proves a hit.  They are next spotted at John F Kennedy Airport 1986 fielding questions at a press conference where they field such questions as (to Apu) “isn’t it true that you are really an Indian?”, (to Barney) “how did you join the group?” and “Principal Skinner you’ve been referred to as “the funny one”, is that reputation justified?”  Their gig at the Statue Of Liberty Centennial has Ronald and Nancy Reagan in attendance.  At the same time Chief Wiggum is becoming the butt of showbiz jokes as demonstrated by Johnny Carson making a joke at his expense and referring to him as a castaway.  In response Wiggum attempts to shoot his TV but misses all four times.  Unfortunately when he changes channel it is to Joan Rivers ripping on him too.  By this stage in real time Marge has returned with a new tyre and it putting it on their car while Homer continues his story at the fame and story stage.  Here we rejoin proceedings at the 29th Grammy Awards where David Crosby presents them with the award for Outstanding Soul Spoken Word or Barbershop Album Of The Year.  At the after show party Homer experiences the greatest thrill of his life as George Harrison points him towards a big pile of brownies.  Later Homer phones home where he asks Lisa if she saw daddy on the Grammy’s to which she responds “you beat Dexy’s Midnight Runners.”  After the call while looking out at the Hollywood sign and an advertising billboard for Happy Family Brand Bourbon it hits Homer how much he is missing his family.  At this point a bottle of champagne is delivered to his room but when he has no change to give the hotel employee he hands him his Grammy (“wow, an awards statue”), which is promptly dismissed as being only “a Grammy” and thrown off the hotel room balcony.  Below it hits a stranger who promptly throws it back (“hey, don’t throw your garbage down here”) which hits Homer square on the head.  Returning to the real time the family are now back home where Homer digs out a box marked “Be Sharps Stuff” which he dusts off and opens to reveal a lunchbox, coffee mug and funny foam dispenser.  At this point Lisa and Bart ask why the band is no longer popular.  Bart asks if they screwed up like the Beatles and said “they were bigger than Jesus” at which point Homer responds “all the time.  It was the title of our second album”.  The truth was that the band was experiencing burn out.  While Apu, Homer and Skinner continue to record they do so devoid of gusto and material (Apu to Homer “this is worse than your song about Mr T”) elsewhere Barney is with his new girlfriend the “Japanese conceptual artist”.  Dressed in all black like Beatniks his girlfriend possesses more than a passing resemblance to Yoko Ono.  With this Barney brings his own suggestions to the table as “barbershop is in danger of going stale, I’m taking it to strange new places”.  His offering however features just his girlfriend repeatedly saying “number eight” while he belches.  Then comes the day they know they are finished: Us Magazine prints it’s “What’s Hot, What’s Not” issue (with Alf on the cover) and the band are not hot.  With that the band go their separate ways returning to their old lives and becoming the people we have grown to know and love ever since.  In his absence Homer was replaced at the nuclear plant by a chicken, which Homer promptly cooked and ate.  In reflection Homer will never forget his five and a half weeks at the top.  Feeling nostalgic off the back of the story Homer calls up and gets the Be Sharps back together for a rooftop reunion gig at Moe’s.  Skinner comments he cannot remember the last time the band was last together but Apu reminds him it was “last year on that stupid Dame Edna special”.  With this the band performs “Baby On Board”.  Their performance coincides with Springfield’s Human Fly attempting a stunt and George Harrison passing by and commenting “its been done”.  As a crowd builds the police arrive to break things up with Wiggum agreeing that it is pretty before telling his department to get the tear gas but not before Homer jokes to the crowd “I hope we passed the audition” (a reference lost on Barney).

IS IT ANY GOOD:
Yes, the music episodes tend to be strong and this is such a sweet pastiche of The Beatles with spot on references that would have fitted comfortably in The Rutles.

WHAT IT TAUGHT ME:
How creative differences can tear apart bands and friendships.  Also beyond the Nirvana song, this was where I first witnessed a swap meet.

EXTERNAL REFERENCES:
The Be Sharps existence exhibits many of the highs and lows experienced by The Beatles.  While routing through a cheap 5 cents bin Homer discovers a copy of Action Comics #1 which he dismisses as junk.

BEST LINES:
“Dad, thanks to television I can’t remember what happened eight minutes ago” – Bart.  “That’s my son up!”, “What the balding fat ass?” “What?  No, er the Hindu guy”. – Grandpa to friend.

BEST JOKES:
“This enormous woman will devour us all.”  “You beat Dexy’s Midnight Runners.”  Happy Family Brand Bourbon.  Marge compensating for Homer’s absence with a Homer made of balloons and a bucket head.

PERIPHERAL MOMENT:
We found out original big-breasted Malibu Stacy dolls originate from 1958 and that Seymour Skinner was prisoner number 24601.  We also learn that Krusty released an album called “S’Wonderful, S’Marvellous, S’Krusty”.  Also much like the British Invasion there was also a Rodent Invasion in the early sixties that featured acts such as Melvin And The Squirrels.  Moe’s Tavern used to be called Moe’s Cavern.  Willie once made millions in software but lost it at the track.  Apu charges twelve dollars for a quart of milk.

REALITY CROSSOVER:
Off the back of this episode the term “Baby On Board” is now very much owned by The Simpsons.  There is no doubt that it existed before this episode but now every time I spot a pregnant person on the tube wearing a “Baby On Board” badge it conjures up memories of the Be Sharps and this episode of The Simpsons.

MVP:
Homer Simpson.

GUEST APPEARANCES:
David Crosby and George Harrison.

SONGS:
The aforementioned “Baby On Board” by the Be Sharps

EPISODE LINKS:
Marge actually has one of her paintings of Ringo Starr from episode “Brush With Greatness” up for sale.

PERCULARITIES:
Despite having previously been in a Grammy winning act the Be Sharps never seem to acknowledge each other as being former band mates in other episodes.  Aren’t band members brothers for life?  Also the way in which Marge cries when Homer is ordered professionally to deny her existence (even though it is until the end of their tour of Sweden).  Then finally Bart and Lisa hit Homer with a torrent of questions at the conclusion of his tale.

BART ON THE BLACKBOARD:
I will never win an Emmy.

OTHER:
You’re given to wonder whether Ralph inherited his father’s musical genes.

FINAL WORDS:
The music episodes tend to be particular favourites for me.

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