Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Simpsons: “How I Wet Your Mother”

Illustration for article titled The Simpsons: “How I Wet Your Mother”

Although it never reaches outright hilarity, “How I Wet Your Mother” is one of the more interesting episodes of this season, and the major reason for this is focus. It has no B-plot, only a clever A-plot that evolves at the halfway point from a good-but-not-great, typical sitcom premise into a fun Inception parody. It maintains a constant level of reasonably solid gags without stooping to the random-reference Family Guy-type jokes that occasionally drag an episode down. It also keeps the characters well-grounded in their long-established behaviors, too, which is especially important when introducing a layer of dream-logic to the show.

In the opening sequence, Homer mocks karma while enjoying a day off of work that he does not deserve, only to awaken the next day with pissy sheets. The misdirection in this sequence is one of the good aspects of this episode. A typical latter-day Simpsons episode would have only this one level of explanation and would proceed according to the standardized episodic rules: Homer wets the bed because he feels guilty about getting away with something while all of his co-workers were punished, but he refuses to apologize until he has a chance meeting with guest star Sarah Silverman, at which point his bedwetting stops. In the meantime, lots of random crap and a poignant B-plot featuring Disco Stu and Bumblebee Man. Here, however, the episode pulls the rug out immediately.

The second act has Homer quickly put together that his bedwetting is probably tied to his betrayal of his coworkers, but his problem persists even after they forgive him.  When Marge is turned off by his Confidence Man Adult Diapers (ha!), she takes a night walk and meets up with Professor Frink, who has invented an Inception device. This is quite a lot of plot development in a short time, but the episode hums along so well in this act that it doesn’t seem rushed. The gag about Homer napping with a many-armed Apu is the weakest joke in this segment, but most of the others—particularly the nerdy ones about the poles of Mars and the Adobe Acrobat update—are strong enough to carry all of the plot mechanics along. None of the jokes here are extraordinary, but there are few enough stinkers that they have a cumulative strength.

The second act ends with the Inception parody taking over. This sequence, which continues through the next two acts, is written well enough to build on the mystery at its core without revealing the answer until the fourth act. Part of what makes it work so well is the music, which echoes Inception’s two-note score while maintaining the brassy overtones of The Simpsons. It is interesting, too, that the episode actually foreshadows the final reveal back in the first act, which is a level of focus rarely seen in this show.

Another well-handled aspect of this episode is that it parodies Inception rather than going the route of homage. Too often, this show puts the Simpsons into a situation that references a movie or TV show without any sort of parodic angle, but this episode is smart enough to suggest Inception, as in the skiing dream and the Homeropolis, which Homer helpfully explains is the land of his innermost thoughts and fondest desires, while subtly mocking it here and there. The gag about Bart having no rules on the dance floor is indicative of the humor in this segment: appealingly silly without being outright funny. The appearance of the Simpsons as drawn and voiced in the early shorts is also eye-catching.

The final reveal that Death is Homer’s mother Mona and that his bedwetting is tied to his belief that he was responsible for his parents’ divorce is handled fairly well. However, her statement that she left knowing that Abe would take care of Homer is a large break from her view of events in previous episodes. One can wave this away because it all takes place in Homer’s mind, but it seems to exist only to create the sappy conclusion that Homer’s parents will always be together in his memories. The movie trivia that follows—all of which is true, by the way—thankfully cuts the saccharine almost immediately, but the damage os done. The conclusion continues the episode’s track record of silliness without being funny, but silliness is always better than more sap.

Stray observations:

  • Homer lines: “Save me, panic!”; “Why can’t I cork my wang wine?”; “In my dreams, I’m an intermediate skier!”; “Come on, everybody! Feel Daddy’s underpants!”
  • The silo from The Simpsons Movie is briefly visible in the lake where Homer takes Bart fishing.
  • Yellow Pages: The Internet for Old People
  • Professor Frink’s explosion was caused by trying to get past the New York Times firewall.
  • I’ve listened to it 10 times, but I still can’t figure out the punchline to “What’s good for getting Moe gunk out of your gears?”
  • Although she sounds terrible, I like the idea of David Byrne and Glenn Close performing a duet of the Talking Heads’ “Dream Operator” at the end. His high harmonies are fantastic.