In the meantime, the underlying premise is mostly plainly foreshadowed when Marge declares “dogs love dressing in people clothes.” There is a failure to communicate. Marge also gets to exhibit one of her master-of-the-obvious jokes when she complains about wasting digital photographs, which are actually, virtually, endless. Homer gets to do his improv version of “Jingle Bell Rock,” which is far more entertaining than the original lyrics. He tries to impress a Pay-Per-View operator by ordering a fight in HDTV like a big shot. He also snorts Candy Crush debris, but only because he’s already brushed his teeth.
Mr. Burns doesn’t have much screen time but his oppressive influence over Homer is in extreme view during the episode. In an early scene, we see his card on the back of the Christmas tree advising his employees to think of work during the holiday. Towards the end of the episode, Bart hires Homer’s boss to be Homer’s boss so he can do what Bart wants him to do. If only Bart would use this power for evil instead of good. Burns actually advises, well, commands Homer to do the right thing and let Bart sleep outside with the dog. It’s sweet, in a suitably twisted way.
It looks like we may have heard the last of Bart’s evergreen catchphrase “Eat my shorts.” Now that he’s gotten a taste of his own medicine he realizes the bite has gotten a little stale. The episode reexamines its past throughout the episode, so this is a compound fracture in the fairy tale. The Simpsons have veered toward a more middle of the road kind of subterfuge in recent seasons. While they know they can’t change whatever sins they may think they committed, they can make revisionist history going forward. It’s not that the Simpson family doesn’t apologize. They have and often. But upon closer inspection, they’ve always been the family which gets things right.
So when the family dog goes wrong, they call in a dog psychologist, the aptly named Elaine Wolff, played by the talented Cate Blanchett. Elaine loves dogs and despises all pet owners as privileged and entitled, something you can’t say about the Simpson family. Elaine is going through problems of her own, mainly because The Simpsons missed hearing the dulcet tones of Michael York pronouncing “exhume.” Ultimately Elaine cannot resist a wagging tail. However, Lisa’s attempt to bully the canine therapist is unexpected and largely effective. “Hold my pearls,” she tells Bart as she puts up her dukes. “There’s only so much poop I can scoop,” says Elaine. Lisa loses the round by forfeit but the dog has his day.
The episode itself is quite wholesome. Even the darkest character, the abusive race dog trainer, has a kind of redemption in the mere fact that Santa’s Little Helper mother is still alive. The threat of being put to sleep comes up on several occasions, however. We don’t quite believe it when the cheapest veterinarian in town brings up having to put down any dog who bites someone. Homer can’t bear to look at the man who wants to put Santa’s Little Helper to sleep, and wears a dog cone on his head on the way out of the office to ensure it. While we may be expecting him to wreak havoc with the equipment, Homer instead turns the gag into a mild tweak of the Pixar logo.