“Well, here I am, right on time. I don’t see Barney “Let’s crash the rocket into the White House and kill the president” Gumble.” – Homer Simpson
“Actually, he’s been here since sunrise.” – NASA Guy
“Hi, Homer. Since they made me stop drinking, I’ve regained my balance and diction. Observe: I am the very model of a modern major general, I’ve information vegetable animal and mineral.” – Barney Gumble
[Programming Note: I’m way behind on Season 11 Compare & Contrasts, and this post is the first of me digging out to finish them off before Season 24 starts on Sunday.]
Easily the most aggravating aspect of “Days of Wine and D’Ohses” is the way it takes the most central trait of Barney and permanently altered it for no reason other than providing part of a story to one very poorly done episode. This being Season 11, that is only the tip of the iceberg though. To add salt to the wound, not only did they make Barney sober because, well, they could, but they also made him anathema to the Barney we knew before.
In “Days of Wine and D’Ohses”, dry Barney is nothing like Barney in general. He’s prickly and whiney, petulant and self pitying, and he falls to pieces at the slightest difficulty. In short, he’s no fun, either to watch or to be around.
On its own that’s pretty bad, but what makes it even worse is the fact that we’ve seen Barney pull himself out of the bottle before, and not only was he nothing like that fragile wuss, he was awesome! Consider Barney in “Mr. Plow”, who, while not going stone sober or anything, does get himself together to be the best Barney he can be by taking Homer’s business and destroying it with superior service and well aimed gunfire. Or Barney in “A Star Is Burns”, who is acutely aware of his own drunkenness, but is still capable enough to put together a sensitive and wildly popular movie that wins the film festival. And, of course, there’s Barney in “Deep Space Homer”, where we get to see what the normally happy-go-lucky drunk would be like with a 0.0 BAC: still happy-go-lucky, only now he’s fit, attentive and has amazing balance and diction. On The Simpsons, Barney was always Barney, even on the rare occasions when he was doing something other that spending his life at Moe’s.
A talented, if besotted, man.
By contrast, the sober Barney in “Days of Wine and D’Ohses” is nothing like any kind of Barney we’ve seen before. He has no self confidence, gets nervous and filled with doubt at even the tiniest of problems and can’t even go to an AA meeting by himself. He spends most of his time in the episode either freaking out about beer, childishly arguing with Homer, and/or despairing of ever being a decent person. Drunk or sober, those aren’t things we’ve ever seen Barney do.
Barney screaming or losing it, this episode has far more of that than I can fit into an image collage.
The Barney who was Harvard bound before Homer introduced him to Duff as a teenager isn’t like this, nor is the Barney who was kicking ass in the NASA competition, the Barney who fails miserably at monorail construction, or even the Barney who went on the mother of all benders and may have given a guest lecture at Villanova.
What makes the sober Barney of “Days of Wine and D’Ohses” so awful isn’t that he’s sober, it’s that the show seems to have forgotten that while Barney was a drunk, he wasn’t the one-dimensional drunk they made him out to be. Barney was a smart and talented guy with a lot of potential to do more than sit on a barstool and belch. He just didn’t care enough to get off the stool so long as he had a drink in his hand. (Writ larger, Barney is a years long demonstration of the show’s cynical double-take on alcohol: that it really is both the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.) On The Simpsons, he didn’t need to be drinking to be entertaining, though he certainly could be. In “Days of Wine and D’Ohses”, he not only doesn’t drink, but he becomes this entirely new person who can’t handle his friends and doesn’t seem like he’d be much fun to hang out with anyway. It’s not just that they messed with a great character for no reason, they messed with a great character they clearly didn’t understand in the least.