Two Bad Neighbors
"Two Bad Neighbors" is the 13th episode of The Simpsons' seventh season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 14, 1996. In the episode, the Simpson family is having a garage sale. Right when the sale gets moving, George H. W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, voiced in the episode by Harry Shearer, upstages Homer by moving in across the street, and Homer starts holding a grudge against George. After George gives Bart a spanking, Homer starts a prank war, which escalates into a one-on-one confrontation that results in the Bushes leaving Springfield.
The episode was written by Ken Keeler and directed by Wesley Archer. It was inspired by the animosity towards the show by the Bushes from earlier in the series' run. It features cultural references to the 1959 TV Series Dennis the Menace, and Cheap Trick's 1979 song "Dream Police". Since airing, the episode has received positive reviews from fans and television critics, and Vanity Fair named it the fifth best episode of the show. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 9.9, and was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
Evergreen Terrace is holding a street-wide rummage sale in Springfield. As Homer dances on the tables selling the items (upstaging Ned Flanders in the process), there is a diversion: the empty house across the street is being moved into. It is occupied by former President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara, and Homer takes an instant disliking toward George for getting more attention from the neighbors and hanging out with his friends. After Ned Flanders and his family came over to visit the Bushes as George takes a liking to Ned, Bart decides to visit, and Barbara takes a liking to him. However, Bart's habit of calling adults by their first names and his overall annoying attitude irritates George. Eventually, after Bart accidentally shreds George's newly typed memoirs, the former President takes Bart across his knee and spanks him. Upon learning this, an outraged Homer confronts George, demanding that he must apologize for spanking Bart, but Bush refuses and instead demands Homer to apologize. Both men vow to make trouble for each other.
First, Homer sends bottle rockets at George's window, and George puts up a banner on his house saying "Two Bad Neighbors", in reference to Bart and Homer (but is forced to remove it when other neighbors interpret it as an act of self-abnegation). Homer then glues a rainbow-colored wig on his opponent's head just before he is to give an important speech to a local club. George retaliates by destroying the Simpsons' lawn with his car. Despite Barbara and Marge urging their husbands to stop, the confrontation continues. Homer and Bart are just making their way through the sewers to release locusts (from Edmund Scientific) in George's house when George spots them and climbs down. Homer demands, once again, that Bush apologize for spanking Bart, but George refuses, demanding that Bart apologize for destroying his memoirs, something that Homer becomes aware of just now but still refuses to apologize. As Homer and George begin fighting, Bart releases the locusts, which promptly attack George.
At the same time, former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev arrives at the mansion to bring a housewarming present for the Bush family. He later finds Homer and George busting out of the sewers, fighting, until George recognizes Gorbachev. Finally having enough, Barbara forces George to apologize to Homer for spanking Bart, and he does so in front of Gorbachev (much to his humiliation), leaving Homer to finally happily taunt George. Believing that the neighborhood is not worth living in, George decides to sell the house to Gerald Ford, another former President. Ford invites Homer to watch a football game with beer and Nachos at his house. The two quickly get off to a good start, sharing common ground.
The show had a feud with the Bushes that eventually led to the idea for this episode. In the October 1, 1990, edition of People, Barbara Bush called The Simpsons "the dumbest thing [she] had ever seen" which had led to the writers sending a letter to Bush where they posed as Marge Simpson. Bush immediately sent a reply in which she apologized.
On January 27, 1992, then-current President George H. W. Bush made a speech during his re-election campaign that reignited the feud between The Simpsons and the Bushes. At that point, family values were the cornerstone of Bush's campaign platform, to which effect he gave the following speech at the National Religious Broadcasters' convention in Washington, D.C.: "We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons". The next broadcast of The Simpsons was a rerun of "Stark Raving Dad" on January 30, 1992. It included a new opening, which was a response to Bush's speech. The scene begins in the Simpsons' living room. Homer, Patty and Selma sit on the couch. Bart and Lisa are sprawled on the carpet. They all stare at the television and watch Bush's speech. After Bush's statement, Bart replies "Hey, we're just like the Waltons. We're praying for an end to the Depression too."
Bill Oakley, who was a writer on The Simpsons at the time, came up with the idea for "Two Bad Neighbors" two years before the production began. Oakley got the inspiration for the episode after the feud between the Bushes and the Simpson family, and two years later when he and Josh Weinstein became showrunners of The Simpsons, they assigned Ken Keeler to write it. Oakley said that Bill Clinton had been President of the United States for several years at the point when the episode went into production, so the feud had "faded off into oblivion". The staff therefore thought it would be funny if the two parties encountered each other again.
Weinstein said that the episode is often misunderstood. Many audiences expected a political satire, while the writers made special effort to keep the parody apolitical. Oakley stresses that "it's not a political attack, it's a personal attack!", and instead of criticizing Bush for his policies, the episode instead pokes fun at his "crotchetiness". Oakley considered the episode to lack many "zany" jokes common for the show at that time, and described the episode as a companion piece to the season eight episode "Homer's Enemy", in that a realistic character (Frank Grimes in that case) is placed in the unrealistic Simpsons universe and juxtaposed alongside Homer, creating conflict.
In an interview with the Simpsons fan site NoHomers.net, Weinstein was asked if there had been any stories that he had come up with that did not make it into the show, to which he replied: "The great thing about The Simpsons is that we pretty much were able to get away with everything, so there weren't any episodes we really wanted to do that we couldn't do. Even the crazy high-concept ones like 'Two Bad Neighbors' and 'Homer's Enemy' we managed to put on the air because honestly there were no network execs there to stop us."
At the end of the episode, Gerald Ford moves into the house across the street after Bush leaves. When originally conceived, Richard Nixon was going to move in instead, though this was changed to Bob Dole following Nixon's death. The writers then decided it would be funnier if it were Ford since they believed he was the politician who best represented Homer. Keeler's first draft also included a musical number in the style of Tom Lehrer's satirical recordings, although this ended up being cut.
The episode features the first appearance of Disco Stu, who became a recurring character in the series. Stu was originally designed as a withered, old John Travolta-esque figure and was to be voiced by repeat guest star Phil Hartman. However, when the animators remodeled the character, Hartman was not available to dub the voice and so Hank Azaria took over the role.
"Two Bad Neighbors" originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 14, 1996. The episode was selected for release in a 2000 video collection of selected political episodes of the show, titled: The Simpsons Political Party. The episode appeared on the second volume of the collection, together with the episode "Duffless" from season four. The episode was included in The Simpsons season 7 DVD set, which was released on December 13, 2005. Keeler, Oakley and Weinstein participated in the DVD's audio commentary, alongside Matt Groening and the director of the episode, Wes Archer.
The relationship between Bart and George is a homage to the United States television series Dennis the Menace from 1959, with the Bushes standing in for Dennis' elderly neighbors, the Wilsons. In response to George spanking Bart, Grandpa says: "Big deal! When I was a pup, we got spanked by Presidents till the cows came home. Grover Cleveland spanked me on two non-consecutive occasions," referring to Grover Cleveland, the only president to have served two non-consecutive terms in office. When Homer and Bart hand out fliers for the upcoming garage sale, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is seen washing his car while singing Cheap Trick's 1979 song "Dream Police". Homer's song at the rummage sale is set to the tune of the songs "Big Spender" and "Stayin' Alive". The threat by Bush to Homer, "I'll ruin you like a Japanese banquet!" refers to the George H. W. Bush vomiting incident in which Bush, reportedly sick with the 24 hour flu, threw up on the lap of, then-Prime Minister of Japan, Kiichi Miyazawa, the banquet's host, before fainting. Gerald Ford's public image is referenced at the end of the episode when he and Homer find that they share common ground, and they then both trip while walking toward the former's house. Ford acquired a reputation as a clumsy, likable and simple-minded Everyman (similar to Homer), highlighted by an incident in 1975 when he tripped while exiting the presidential jet in Austria, which was then famously and repetitively parodied on Saturday Night Live.
In its original American broadcast, "Two Bad Neighbors" finished 52nd in the ratings for the week of January 7 to January 14, 1996, with a Nielsen rating of 9.9. The episode was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following the Post Game NFC Championship.
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from fans and television critics. It was named by Vanity Fair's John Ortved as the show's fifth best episode. Ortved said, "While the Simpsons people have always claimed evenhandedness in their satire, the show is, after all, hardly right-leaning, and it is hard to miss how gleefully the former President is mocked here." Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the UK authors of I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, wrote: "Very strange, this episode takes The Simpsons into a whole new dimension of political satire. The lampooning of a single public figure is a startling move. Works much better for Americans, we're told".
Dave Foster of DVD Times said: "Once again showing the mischievous relationship Bart and Homer share their pranks and the inevitable confrontations with George Bush Senior are as hilarious as they are implausible and frequent, but there is much to love about this episode in which the writers think out loud and paint The Simpsons and its characters as Bush once did." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson enjoyed the episode and said that it "offers the kind of episode that only The Simpsons could pull off well. The idea of bringing a president to live in Springfield is high-concept to say the least, and it could – and probably should – have bombed. However, the silliness works well and turns this into a great show." John Thorpe of Central Michigan Life named it the second best episode of the show, and Rich Weir of AskMen.com named it the ninth best episode.
- Richmond & Coffman 1997, p. 194.
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