Following on from my previous observations about early Homer being a much more conscientious family man than his later incarnations, there is another way in which his character differed in the olden days, in that he was quite the savage son of a bitch. In the Ullman shorts (and some of the early Simpsons episodes), Homer was prone to losing his temper at the drop of a hat and Bart, despite his natural thirst for rebellion, was ever wary about ending up on the receiving end of that fury. A piece of that angry, primitive Homer does still linger every time the show reuses the classic sight gag of Homer throttling Bart, but his character has mellowed out significantly over the years, and barking at his son like a rabid wolfhound isn't such a defining character trait any more.
This tetchier dynamic between Bart and Homer is probably no more evident anywhere than in "Gone Fishin'", where it's pushed to such an extreme that Bart is effectively treated more as Homer's reluctant, bungling servant than as his son (to the extent that he even addresses his father as "Sir" throughout). After "Bart and Dad Make Dinner", where we got to see how these characters would weather an evening alone without Marge's oversight, we get to see them rough it in the great outdoors, and we suspect that they're not going to come out of this smelling of roses (or of freshly-caught trout, as it were). Bart screws up repeatedly and does what he can to avoid Homer's wrath, while Homer teeter-tooters between angst and oblivious enthusiasm. I notice that Nancy Cartwright's vocal work is a little off-kilter here, as she seems to be dabbling with a slightly deeper Bart than usual - as a result, her performance here plays more like the missing link between her respective Bart and Nelson voices.
Besides that, "Gone Fishin'" is notable for two reasons:
- It contains one of the most stomach-churning gross-out gags in the entire history of The Simpsons, to the extent that you are strongly advised to wait at least an hour after eating before viewing this one. In Act II, Bart is unable to fulfill his father's request for a baloney sandwich because he forgot to bring along the key ingredient. Realising that his father will blow his top if his baloney cravings aren't satisfied, Bart tips a full jar of fish bait in between two slices of bread and hopes that Homer won't tell the difference. Apparently, Homer cannot, and he wolfs down the fish bait sarnie eagerly, oblivious to the live and wriggling worms dangling out from between the bread. That's just vile, man.
- It makes an extremely valiant attempt at a big dramatic set-piece on the shoe-stringiest budget imaginable. In Act III, Bart and Homer run into some rapids and dragged across a hazardous array of jagged rocks which leave them tattered and torn. The sequence...well, it's interesting in how they choose to stage it. In the absence of any actual dynamic animation we get a bunch of still images and jerky zooms as the camera attempts to simulate the motion of a boat at the mercy of the elements (as cheap as this sequence looks it could potentially be harmful to those with motion sickness - again, you are advised not to go to this short too soon after eating). We also get a few close-ups of Bart and Homer's faces in which only their mouths move and, needless to say, hilariously off-model facial expressions abound.
Unlike "World War III", "Gone Fishin'" doesn't have a strong overarching narrative; it is just a series of skits in which Bart and Homer run into calamity after calamity while out on the waters (a given scenario plus Murphy's Law, in other words). The only hint that the outcome of one act might have consequences for the next is at the start of Act III when Homer notices that their fish bait supplies have run inexplicably low all of a sudden; Bart smiles sheepishly and we wait for Homer to make the connection...only that never happens because the rapids come along and give Bart a reprieve. In some respects, "Gone Fishin'" might be viewed as a proto "Call of The Simpsons", the seventh episode of the series proper, in which the family go camping and Bart and Homer end up lost in the wilderness. As with that episode, Bart and Homer's situation escalates when they find themselves plummeting down a waterfall, only it's played with a lot less seriousness here, and we never get any sense that Bart and Homer are genuinely in danger. Life was hardly but a dream for the Ullman Simpsons but it was occasionally quite heavy on the cartoon physics.