“Two Dozen And One Greyhounds” (season 6, episode 20, originally aired 4/9/1995)
When discussing his time writing for The Simpsons, Conan O’Brien once said Mr. Burns was always the funniest character to write for, because he’s infinitely old, infinitely rich and infinitely evil. This episode (scripted by Mike Scully) has a bizarre, horrifying premise—after Santa’s Little Helper fathers 25 greyhound puppies, Mr. Burns seeks to kidnap and skin them to create a dog-fur coat. Later on, he points a gun at Bart and Lisa’s face and briefly (very briefly) contemplates killing them. As much as television standards have loosened in the intervening 18 years, it’s still difficult to imagine a network airing an episode like this, but “Two Dozen And One Greyhounds” manages to keep things consistently light while never undermining Mr. Burns’ delectable evil streak.
This is the first Santa’s Little Helper-centric episode in quite a while—the last I can think of is season three’s “Dog Of Death”, which, much like season two’s “Bart’s Dog Gets An F,” was a sentimental, lovely episode about the dog’s bond with Bart. This time, SLH is used for outright comedy in the first act and then largely forgotten. Hyperactive and in heat, he digs up the garden and wears everyone in the family out before mating with a female racing greyhound and producing a litter of 25 puppies. The montage of their birth is both cute (the squinty little puppies are adorably animated) and a worthy spoof of time-passing montages.
Of course, the puppies immediately cause trouble, since they are 25 greyhound puppies. The idea that Marge suddenly throws a dinner party for the toast of the town (including Homer’s old drill sergeant, of course) is just about as funny as anything else that happens in this episode, in that it comes completely out of nowhere. We don’t really need to be convinced that raising 25 pure-bred racing dogs would be problematic, but it’s best to convince us that in the most jarringly stereotypical way possible. Even more memorable in its simplicity is Homer’s ever-thwarted attempts to eat a potato chip.
“Two Dozen And One Greyhounds” is perfectly funny for its first act but really kicks into high gear once Burns steals the up-for-adoption puppies, which he does right under the Simpson family nose, just placing them right into a sack. “Honestly, sir, you just don’t put the effort into your schemes that you used to,” Smithers sighs. This is an episode that manages to have its cake and eat it too. The kids immediately refuse Burns as a potential adopter because he’s so obviously evil. But once he has the puppies, he treats them kindly, bathing them and picking a favorite who can stand on his high legs, for his similarity to 50s Hollywood star Rory Calhoun, which even for this show is an obscure reference.
(sidenote: every time I get ready to review a Simpsons episode, I tell my friends which one is up next and see which line they immediately recite. By far the most popular quotation from “Two Dozen And One Greyhounds” is “Look at you, standing there on your hind legs like a couple of Rory Calhouns,” which Burns says to the kids when he decides not to kill them. I am sure no one in my generation knows who Rory Calhoun is. I barely know who he is. But the obscurity of the reference is what makes it so memorable, I think).
Even while Burns is nice to the puppies, his plans for them are unspeakable, which is why the writers decided to have him reveal them in song instead, with the “Be My Guest” homage “See My Vest,” where Burns displays an increasingly surreal collection of animal-skin clothing, including a human-sized “turtleneck,” shell included, and single and double-breasted robin jackets.
It’s one of The Simpsons’ best ever musical numbers, in that it’s a toe-tapping number that’s also incredibly surreal and hilarious. There’s something about Mr. Burns’ talk-singing, and his thin frame, that make him a surprisingly fun song-and-dance man. The last five minutes of this episode should be horrifying—Burns is planning to skin puppies alive for no real reason (what use would a greyhound-skin coat be, really?) and considers killing Bart and Lisa to shut them up after they discover his plans. It’s only when they play on his sentimentality, coaxing the puppies to stand on their hind legs, that he relents.
The coda is as simple as it is brilliant—the puppies all become world-champion racers, netting Burns even more money for his infinite fortune, and driving Homer to the basement to sadly bat at a swinging light bulb. “Two Dozen And One Greyhounds,” even with its creepy fur-harvesting twist, is a very straightforward episode that moves at a delightful clip, and it’s fondly remembered for the way it uses Burns’ evilness to drive a breezy little caper.
- SLH digs up the garden: Lisa’s bongos, Bart’s strobe light, Homer’s Best of Ray Stevens featuring The Streak album. “So it was the dog that buried all our stuff!” “Yes…the dog,” Marge replies.
- He later knocks out everyone's cable, leaving Wiggum and his wife alarmed. “Resist the temptation to read or talk to loved ones. Do not attempt sexual relations, as years of TV radiation have left your genitals withered and useless.”
- I love the use of the Texan guy as the trainer for SLH’s mate, who gives her up when she falls in love. “Won’t you miss her loyalty and companionship?” He laughs. “Lady? You’re all right!”
- “Hey jerk face! You have the face of a jerk!”
- Reverend Lovejoy knows how to sell a kiss-off line. “See you in hell! From heaven.”
- Lisa’s pleas fall on deaf ears with Burns. “Here’s a phone! Call somebody who cares!” She immediately dials 911. Wise, that Lisa.