698. Yokel Hero

Original airdate: March 7, 2021

The premise: After being incredibly moved by a jail cell serenade by Cletus, Homer vows to make him a music superstar, which he succeeds at. However, he must pull Cletus back down to Earth when he hires a new manager after fame goes to his head.

The reaction: I’ve long spoken of my desire for this show to flesh out its secondary cast in the pursuit of new and different stories to tell, but I don’t think every denizen of Springfield deserves to be put under the characterization microscope. Case in point: an episode about everybody’s favorite slack-jawed yokel Cletus. He’s played a part in a couple plot lines over the last decade or so, but this feels like his meatiest role yet. I guess you could make a substantial episode all about Cletus… but man, I am perfectly fine with keeping him a goofy side character, because I did not give a flying fuck about him at all in this show. It also doesn’t help that the premise is obviously lifted from “Colonel Homer” (they even directly reference it), and it’s not even worth comparing the two. Homer gets tossed in the drunk tank, missing yet another family dinner, and Cletus’ heartfelt song about family or something motivates him to be a better family man, which we know because he goes home and tells the family that directly. And like all good family men, he then proceeds to spend all his time managing a hillbilly’s singing career. Cletus sings about how he doesn’t need the finer things and loves his country life, but none of the songs are funny or catchy, or honestly, even intelligible, I had trouble hearing his low singing voice over the music at points. He has no real motivation to want to be famous, nor does Homer to actually give a shit about making him famous. His jail cell song didn’t move him in a profound way like Lurleen Lumpkin back in the day, at least it didn’t feel like it at all. Whatever. When Cletus hits it big and he and Homer are on a private jet for some reason, he fires Homer, gets a new agent and moves to a fancy Shelbyville loft, content to shill low-grade moonshine on TV with teevee actors playing his kids. I’m finding it difficult to really parse through the plot, because I honestly and truly did not give a shit. Cletus abandons his family through one quick line to Homer at the agent’s office that it doesn’t even register, so Homer and Marge end up confronting him with his wife and kids, and Cletus makes good with them, and then that’s the end. But the episode was short, so we end on Albert Brooks’ agent character talking with an unnamed client for two minutes. Boy, maybe you could have used those extra minutes to flesh out the story some more? No matter, it would have been wasted anyway. But like I said, some characters like Cletus, or Miss Hoover earlier this season, you can leave well enough alone in the background, and they’re much better for it. Later this season, we’re going to get an episode spotlighting Sarah Wiggum. I think I’d put her right below Cletus on a list of characters I want to learn more about.

Three items of note:
– Homer’s desire to be a better family man ultimately translates into him being the good guy not wanting Cletus to abandon his family for his career. But he’s basically abandoned his own family to manage Cletus. It’s unclear exactly how much time elapses between the first montage and when they’re on the private jet before Cletus fires Homer. We see a bunch of magazine covers with Cletus’ face on it, it’s implied they’ve been touring and working a lot, presumably with Marge and the kids stuck at home. In the third act, when Homer is finally back, rather than be pissed at all about this, Marge insists they both go get Cletus back with his family? Why? What loyalty does Marge have to this random hillbilly who lives in her town? It’s a big leap for me in certain episodes where she supposedly cares about Moe, but he at least has some connection to the family, but fucking Cletus? Ridiculous.
– The only scene devoted to actually showing Cletus’s success is her appearing on the Ellen Show, or “Elin Degenerous” as she’s called here. They attempt to do material about the recent stories about the toxic work environment on Ellen’s actual show by having her trapdoor the audience for not applauding enough, and her billboard shooting lasers out its eyes, but it all just falls flat. First, why the hell don’t they just make it Ellen? I hate this change one letter bullshit when it comes to referencing real people. But beyond that, I remember a decade or so ago in that fucking terrible American Idol episode, they had Ellen on as a guest, because that was the one season she was an Idol judge for some fucking reason, and they made fun of her by having her dance, because that’s the thing she does in real life. And what does “Elin” do when we first see her? She’s dancing in her office. Eleven fucking years and they can still only do the same fucking “joke” about fucking Ellen. A good show would have fucking ripped her apart, not this softball nonsense.
– The unnamed agent is voiced by Albert Brooks, having last appeared six seasons ago as an anger management counselor (I think?) in the brilliantly named “Bull-E.” I remember not being too taken by his character then, and I feel about the same here. It completely hurts him that he’s showing up thirteen minutes into a story that nobody could possibly care about, but none of his lines are really very funny, which makes it more baffling that they give him two whole minutes at the end to just ad-lib and fill up time. I guess his material is a lot funnier in isolation, and I imagine it was very funny to hear him in the booth just riffing and they laughed so much they decided to keep it all in, but none of any of that humor translated onto the screen.

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Season Eight Revisited (Part Four)

20. The Canine Mutiny

  • How little do Homer and Marge care about where Bart got an entire room full of new expensive items? They also have absolutely no questions about his story about getting Laddie at a truth-telling contest at a church two towns over. Like, yeah, that’s the joke, but it makes Marge (and to a lesser extent, Homer) out to be an incredibly gullible idiot in the process.
  • When Bart returns to find the repo men taking back all his stuff, he asks Lisa if their parents are home. Lisa replies, “They went for a walk with the Flanderses.” Say what now? Can you believe for even a microsecond that Homer would not only agree to go on a walk, but go on a walk with Ned Flanders? I get they needed Homer and Marge out of the scene, but any other excuse they could have written would have been more believable.
  • Last time around, I remember having an issue with this episode being about Bart and Santa’s Little Helper, but Bart never really regarding the dog or having any kind of connection with him to set it up. It’s not even about how he realizes he ignored this dog he loved and needs to work overtime to get him back. Bart actively ignores Santa’s Little Helper for most of the first act; watching this episode for the first time as a dog owner, those scenes of SLH being shut out made my heart hurt, and I found myself rooting against Bart even more through the episode. It also doesn’t even make sense he would pick Laddie; we don’t see much of a personal bond between the new dog and Bart either, but also, Bart loves SLH because they’re both disobedient screw-ups. The “perfect dog” shouldn’t have much appeal to a little hellion like Bart.
  • “Why did I have the bowl, Bart? Why did I have the bowl?!
  • On the Simpsons Archive, the madam in Bart’s dog-furnace fantasy is credited to Tress MacNeille, but it really sounds like Yeardley Smith to me, which is an absolute rarity. She’s voiced, what, a dozen characters over thirty years?
  • Baby Gerald blinks one eye at a time, that’s how you know he’s evil.
  • Moe’s repossessed floor is easily the best joke of the episode. It’s stupid by itself, but made even funnier that we just saw Bart walk into the building, and it was clearly much, much too small for the huge floor to fit inside of.
  • Bart prepares himself to beg for SLH back by wetting his hands to streak tears onto his face. Again, not making it easy on me to want him to succeed.
  • Bart sneaking into Mr. Mitchell’s house to take the dog is basically a joke-free action set piece, something we would see a lot more of going into the Mike Scully years. It sucks.
  • This really is the first giant dud of the series. I’m not a fan of “Secrets of a Successful Marriage,” but it definitely has its share of funny lines. This episode is just such a vacuum leading up to an overly dramatic ending that I couldn’t care less about. Though we did get Chief Wiggum feebly attempting to sing along to “Jammin’.”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Finally, a solid Season 8 episode! As an utterly forgettable season nears its close, it’s good to have at least one episode that qualifies as an instant classic. Groundskeeper Willie was hilarious, as was the Comic Book Guy. And for a change, the ending was a) hysterical, and b) a complete surprise. Let’s just hope that ‘Canine Mutiny’ is not a fluke in a deteriorating series, but a sign that the Simpsons are back on track for good.”

21. The Old Man and the Lisa

  • We get two great gags within the first twenty seconds: Marge’s beehive smushed against the pillow before popping back into place, and the snippet of Colonel Dracula Joins the Navy (“Uh, Colonel?” “BLEHH!!”) The episode just started and it’s already better than “The Canine Mutiny.” 
  • “What a load of garbage. I’m ecstatic!”
  • I like that Burns’ internal dictionary for “redskin” is labeled as “usually taken to be offensive,” which seems impressively progressive for him. I also love “running dog: one who does someone else’s bidding: LACKEY (ie: SMITHERS)”
  • Burns’ incredibly sycophantic underlings (and Smithers) being responsible for bankrupting him is a good enough excuse to get this plot started, with good enough material as well (Burns reacting in horror at the 1929 stock market crash is a great moment), but it does seem a bit silly. I feel like either Burns would be smart enough to listen to his advisors (as we’d seen in other episodes like “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?” and “Homer Goes to College”) or his lawyers would know how to best placate their feeble old man of a client while still investing correctly to keep them all stinking rich.
  • I love how violently Skinner smashes into the tree and knocks it down, complete with the screaming and crying children inside, just completely undercutting the wholesomeness of everything that came before it.
  • Something I never noticed before on the bottom of Burns’ bankruptcy chart: “Prepared for You by ChartCo,” complete with little smiley faces.
  • Burns’ shopping trip feels like an extended, more exaggerated reprise of him trying to be self-sufficient in “Homer the Smithers.” While these moments would creak open the door to many, many pathetic, neutered Burns moments in the future, I can still appreciate them in the context of these episodes for what they are. Him getting trapped in the freezer is a bit much, but goddamn do I love me some ketchup-catsup confusion (“I’m in way over my head!”)
  • It’s a little on the nose with the one leaf waiting to fall, but I like Burns standing by the window, lamenting at this being the end of his life, his legacy. It’s actually kind of affecting, and a much-needed “real” moment following his more enfeebled behavior after losing his fortune.
  • I don’t know one damn thing about “That Girl,” but the sequence of Burns pursuing Lisa still works as a silly little montage. But I absolutely love how the song ends with the doorbell ring in time with the music. Such a small attention to detail that’s just fantastic.
  • “People, if we meet this week’s quota, I’ll take you to the most duck-filled pond you ever sat by!” “Hot-diggity! That’s how they got me to vote for Lyndon LaRouche!”
  • The reveal of the new recycling plant’s operations is so incredibly well done. It was set up with Lisa explaining the hazards of soda can rings to the sealife, and of course, Burns’ mind interprets this in a completely different way than her. It’s not like Burns was doing an act in seemingly reforming himself, this is just environmentalism through his own prism, that of a brutal, heartless capitalist.
  • Smithers walking into the Simpson living room at the end, asking Homer, “Why aren’t you at work?” definitely feels like a harbinger of things to come. The seat at sector 7G is about to get colder and colder as we enter the Scully years…
  • If you want, you can watch the episodes out of order and put this one last, so the series finale is Homer suffering a heart attack and dying. I can’t imagine the actual series finale, if we even live to see it, could be a more satisfying end than that.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Pretty much your Ho-hum 8th season Simpsons episode. A few good gags thrown on top of an unrealistic plot followed by an abrupt ending. Anyone notice that the writers’ things to be killing a lot of things on the show this season? Dogs, sea life, soldiers, James Bond… Some of it is funny because it is well done, but a lot of it seems to be done for shock value (like tonight’s episode), which isn’t especially funny (at least that’s what it seems like to me).”

22. In Marge We Trust

  • Snowball II scratching under the floorboards between the first and second floors feels like a grim joke, but I guess if the cat got there in the first place, it can find a way out too.
  • I love how painful Homer smacking his head on the backside of the pew feels, making his incredibly loud “DAMMIT!” even funnier.
  • Homer and the kids giddily scrounging around in the dump has shades of Scully-era antics, but it kind of fits in line with them being a not-so-well-off family trying to score some free stuff the more fortunate have discarded. Similarly, Homer getting attacked by the raccoon feels like a moment that would go on for twice as long and be incredibly annoying just a few years later, but here, it happens quickly, you get your laugh and you get out.
  • Reverend Lovejoy gets just the right amount of backstory: he was once an idealistic man of God ready to lead his new flock (“The sixties were long over and people were once again ready to feel bad about themselves,”) until he found himself getting pestered relentlessly by a neurotic Ned Flanders (“I think I may be coveting my own wife!”) until his spirit finally broke (“Finally, I just stopped caring.  Luckily, by then it was the eighties, and no one noticed.”) I wouldn’t be opposed to other episodes about Lovejoy, but this section is so satisfyingly succinct, I don’t really need anything else. We just got that terrible “Warrin’ Priests” two-parter last season that ostensibly was about Lovejoy, but didn’t tell us a goddamn thing about him, so I’ll pass on any further attempts, thanks.
  • “Mother’s gone too far. She’s put cardboard over her half of the television. We rented Man Without a Face,’ I didn’t even know we had a problem!”
  • “I’ve lost the will to live.” “Aww, that’s ridiculous, Moe. You’ve got lots to live for.” “Really? That’s not what Reverend Lovejoy’s been telling me.”
  • I absolutely love Homer dialing the phone at the library. I feel with these scenes that go on for so long, they can hit or miss with some people, but I think it’s great. The librarian shooting him a look before leaving, Homer not being able to remember more than one number at a time… fantastic.
  • In certain situations of meeting up with people, I feel like I would say “Let’s talk, why not?” a bunch, like the English-speaking Mr. Sparkle employee.
  • I assume the writers looked up a bunch of saints’ names and picked the most obscure one with the longest name they could (“St. Eleutherius of Nicomedia!” “That’s my name, don’t wear it out!”) His Wikipedia page is literally one line. Also included is an “In popular culture” section citing this episode, which is as long as the “article” itself, which is pretty amazing.
  • What more could I say about the Mr. Sparkle commercial? The entirety of that scene, complete with the intro and outro dialogue, was on one of the soundtrack CDs, despite it not being a song. The commercial section is certainly weird to hear only audio. Also, I really hope whoever designed the two logos merging into the Mr. Sparkle head got a raise.
  • The Sea Captain lamenting his lost Game Boy is one of those scenes that’s so dumb, but that’s why I love it. Losing your Tetris high score is no laughing matter.
  • Act three is where the episode starts to derail. The bullies are hassling Ned at the Leftorium, fair enough, but then they proceed to chase him out of town literally all night? It doesn’t really make much sense. The culmination also doesn’t really represent any character change. Marge’s “bad” advice didn’t really create Ned’s situation, and there’s nothing specifically that Lovejoy did to save the day, besides actually give a shit to try and save Ned at all. I’m not expecting a deep, thoughtful re-examination of Lovejoy’s faith, but something a bit more grounded and character-based would have been preferable to him attacking a bunch of wild baboons. At least they utilized his love of trains in some fashion, it at least added a character touch to the action sequence, which is more that can be said for similar scenes in the future.
  • “You’ve got to get him out of there!” “Jeez, I’d like to, but if they don’t kill the intruder, it’s really bad for their society.”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Yuck! What a stretch for a story-line (Both ‘Mr. Sparkle’ AND ‘In Marge We Trust’). This episode was as flat as a five-year-old can of Coors Light. Could the ending be any less believable? Sheesh! At least we know Ned still runs the Leftorium and Rev. Lovejoy’s first name is ‘Tim.’ After ‘Canine Mutiny,’ I guess the writers were bound for a DUD! During Act 3 I was not ROTFL, as hoped. Instead I was RFRC (Reaching For The Remote Control).”

23. Homer’s Enemy

  • Frank Grimes’ sad backstory is still great of course (clashing wonderfully with Kent Brockman’s enthusiastic narration.) I still love the implication of seeing the footage from inside the car as little kid is being abandoned, implying not only did his parents film this devastating moment, but later made the video public in some form, or provided Channel 6 with the tape after the fact.
  • I feel like Burns hiring the dog as his executive vice president is a little too silly, but I really like when he’s chewing out Grimes later and you hear him growling.
  • Just like Julie Andrews almost voicing Shary Bobbins, I can’t imagine anyone else bringing Frank Grimes to life than Hank Azaria. I knew he had based the voice on William H. Macy, who I had thought was actually considered for the role, but apparently according to Wikipedia, producers were thinking of Nic freaking Cage for the part. While that would have been its own kind of amazing, it certainly wouldn’t have been the same character, and much less appropriate than Azaria’s take.
  • Frank Grimes perfectly rides the line of being just a regular guy we have some sympathy for, but also being kind of a pompous ass. Wiping his hand before he shakes anyone else’s, his special dietetic lunch, his manner of speaking with others, like his humorless response to Homer first calling him “Grimey” (“I took the trouble to learn your name, so the least you could do is learn mine.”) It brilliantly sets up the grand finale; if he was too likable, his tragic death would hit a little too hard, but giving him these foibles, as well as his continued obsession with Homer through the episode being his own undoing, almost softens the blow a bit.
  • I like that the “Bart Simpson” on the abandoned office door almost looks like it’s written in blood.
  • “That’s the man who’s in charge of our safety! It boggles the mind.” “It’s best not to think about it.” The first of many great meta lines.
  • Grimes’ angry tirade at the Simpson house is an all-time great, and now feels especially more venomous following a recent article about how unattainable the Simpsons’ standard of living is by modern standards. The Simpsons were originally supposed to be an average, but struggling American family, but nowadays? Grimes is right, their place is a palace. A huge house and kids on a single income? It’s like a fantasy for a lot of people I know.
  • This episode, of course, is like patient zero for Jerkass Homer… kind of. His irritating behavior driving Grimes to the edge teeters on the edge of being way too annoying, but it’s the whole point of the episode, and it never feels like it goes too far. The problem would come when these characteristics would bleed into the series and normalize, similar to Lisa’s militant liberal pestering from “Lisa the Vegetarian” or pathetic, feeble old Burns from “The Old Man and the Lisa.” Homer is saved in this episode because he still has a sense of shame and self-awareness, genuinely wanting to win Grimes over, as seen in him fretting before the big dinner. The scene where Marge finds him in the driveway is also strangely affecting, almost like he’s a kid afraid to go to school and face his bully. It’s endearing and sweet, two traits that Homer would soon shed in favor of selfish and irritating.
  • Syndication cuts the scene of Bart enlisting Milhouse as night watchman (losing the terrific line, “So this is my life. At least I’ve done better than Dad,”) leaving me to always find it weird that we just get the one quick scene in act three wrapping up the B-plot of the destroyed factory.
  • I love Smithers’ amused chuckle at Ralph’s converted Malibu Stacy Dream Home model. Burns is not as tickled by it (“It’s supposed to be a power plant, not Aunt Beaulah’s bordello!”)
  • Homer getting applauded by everybody, Burns included, definitely gave me chills about how often this dumb oaf would be commended town-wide for his dumbass actions in the future. That’s the thing with this episode, it’s holding a mirror up to the series and how nonsensical it’s become. Homer, once a schlubby everyman, has rubbed elbows with celebrities, nearly caused multiple meltdowns with no risk to his job, and been to outer space. He’s incapable of being the complete lovable loser he once was. So where to go from here? That’s when we get the real chilling harbinger line (“I’m better than okay! I’m Homer Simpson!” “Pfft. You wish!”) With that, we set the doors open for Homer to shed his sweet humbleness and become an egoistic lunatic in the Mike Scully years, engaging in crazy schemes and fucking shit up because why not? Once you open up this Pandora’s Box of exploring who Homer is, he really can’t go back to the way things were. And once again, this is another example, if not the biggest example, of why the show shouldn’t have gone past one more season. Episodes like this, “Poochie,” and big moments and others are fantastic isolated, but are slightly more sour when you remember there’s five hundred fucking more episodes that follow it.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I’ve never said this about any episode, because my opinions usually change on them. But this was by far the worst episode in the history of The Simpsons. I don’t think any other program will be able to top this one. Homer’s irresponsibleness is glaring, and the story focuses too much on Homer’s lack of professionalism, making him very unlikable. Frank, on the other hand, had many a good point, and got a raw deal throughout the entire thing. I actually felt sorry for him, instead of Homer. Our hero is sleeping through Frank’s funeral, and cracking an inappropriate joke during it. And everyone LAUGHS at it. This is perhaps the single most tasteless, cruel, cold-blooded moment in OFF’s history. Let’s hope this one is played few times in syndication, and buried as a ‘Lost Episode.’

24. The Simpsons Spin-off Showcase

  • This episode gets a big laugh right away at the quick zoom as Troy turns to camera, proudly shouting, “Spin-off!” Always the professional, doing his damndest to sell this bullshit. This show and “The 138th Episode Spectacular” are two-of-a-kind in this fourth wall breaking format, but this episode particularly feels like the embarrassed forefather of the future trilogy episodes, most of which are terrible. I certainly wouldn’t want them to have done “Spin-off Showcase 2,” but maybe a different kind of trilogy episode, like showing “What If?” scenarios or different moments in side characters’ lives with a shared theme or something. Instead, we got such riveting trilogy episodes like the one where they’re all about famous historical ships. Remember that classic?
  • Great exposition dump at the start of “Chief Wiggum, P.I.” explaining the impetus for the premise (“I still don’t understand, Clancy. Why give up your job as a small town police chief to open up a detective shop in New Orleans?” “Oh, lots of reasons, I suppose. Got kicked off the force, for one thing.”)
  • “Look, Big Daddy! It’s regular Daddy!”
  • Gailard Sartain earned his paycheck for Big Daddy just for the “BLEEAGH” noise he makes throwing Ralph at Wiggum before he tosses himself out the window.
  • The canned laughter is used so perfectly in “Love-Matic Grampa.” I can’t believe there are still sitcoms being made with laugh tracks, even ones that aren’t shot in front of a live audience. It feels like such a woefully antiquated format of storytelling. 
  • “I’ve suffered so long. Why can’t I die?” The only way this line could be improved is if the laugh track were put right after it.
  • “You know what’s great about you, Betty, is you’re letting your looks go gracefully. You’re not all hung up on looking attractive and desirable. It’s just so rare and refreshing.”
  • I still love Moe’s quick “He’s haunted!” aside in the laughing outro of “Grampa.”
  • Nice touch that the clock behind Kent Brockamn during the “Variety Hour” intro is in “real-time” for its primetime original airing, at around 8:20 pm.
  • “And now, a family that doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘cancelled,’ the Simpsons!” A cheeky line when it was written, a dire threat over twenty years later.
  • Cutting back to the Sea Captain with his manufactured loud pipe whistle and floating hat for seconds before the finale always makes me laugh.
  • Gotta love Tim Conway booking it the hell out of there the second the show is over. I don’t blame him.
  • For the series finale, they might as well go for broke and give Homer magic powers and have Bart’s triplet siblings make an appearance. Fuck it, why not?
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “In answer to the question, ‘How do you keep the Simpsons fresh after 8 long seasons?’, you don’t. Let’s not drag it through the mud here guys. Like many episodes this season, it’s funny for about 2 minutes, then it degrades into absurd, outlandish jokes that are hard to follow and not particularly funny. If they had ended the show with ‘Summer of 4′ 2’’ I would have been pretty upset, but after seeing most of season 8, I’d say it’s time to put OFF to rest.”

25. The Secret War of Lisa Simpson

  • Of course Chief Wiggum would leave the police station door key under the mat.
  • Wiggum’s hippie mannequins are great. The woman getting ready to chow down on her “California cheeseburger” reminds me of reading through Snopes.com when I was younger in their ‘Horrors’ section, looking at all the different urban myths and legends, including the likes of the babysitter who was high on LSD and put the baby in the oven thinking it was a turkey, that kind of shit. Nowadays, the site seems to be focused on debunking fake news in fact checking all of the stupid phony bullshit we see in the news and on social media every minute of our lives. The nostalgic innocence is all gone…
  • “It’s not my nature to complain…” Just give it a few years, Lisa, your character will be ruined soon enough…
  • I really love the bit where everyone has to wait until the townwide ringing echo stops. It helps to further emphasize the enormity of Bart’s prank, and having a follow-up scene gives it even more weight.
  • A rebuttal to anyone who thought “Diary Queen” was believable characterization for Edna: her and Skinner toasting in celebration when Bart gets shipped off to military school (“You dream about this day for so long, then when it comes, you don’t know what to say!” “Edna, your tears say more than words ever could.”
  • The gag about the girliest cadet at Rommelwood certainly hasn’t aged well…
  • “Since you attended public school I’m going to assume that you’re already proficient with small arms, so we’ll start you off with something a little more advanced.”
  • This episode is a bit more of a slog than I remember. There’s not really much critique about military schools, you’d think a prime target for a show like this, it’s completely hyper focused on Lisa’s struggles, which all comes down to the other students giving her and Bart a hard time, the type of bullying and hazing you can get in many other different shows. Also, Lisa specifically wanted an academic challenge, and there never felt like there was any connective tissue of her feeling like she would be up to the actual physical challenges of the school. Why does she care about doing this?
  • “Good job, Simpson, although that’s more cursing than I like to hear from a cadet in peacetime.”
  • Act three is almost a deadzone between the training and the loooooonnnnggg sequence of Lisa doing the Eliminator. There’s so few jokes, and while Bart ultimately rooting for Lisa is sweet, it doesn’t feel worth the time investment. The greatest emotional moments of the series sometimes caught you by surprise, or were motivated through the story that was almost jam-packed with jokes. Here, the entire back half of the episode is devoted to Bart feeling bad for shutting Lisa out and making it up to her, with not much else to, as Bart himself once said earlier this season, “cut through the treacle.”
  • “The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: to build and maintain those robots. Thank you.”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “VERY, VERY disappointing. It’s amazing how far a show can fall in one season. The episode was so bad, I really must wonder why anyone bothered to make it. Seeing Bart spun on a propeller and Lisa firing a machine gun really made me feel like I was watching a show that just happened to contain characters from the Simpsons. Where’s the realism? The relevancy? Gone.”

697. Wad Goals

Original airdate: February 28, 2021

The premise: Bart gets a summer job as a caddy, finding that sucking up to the rich players earns him big tips, building up his “wad” of cash. However, Marge worries the job is changing Bart, leading her to rally to get the whole golf course shut down.

The reaction: Sometimes an episode will just lose me in exactly what the point of the story is and what’s motivating characters through it, like there’s script pages missing and I have to piece it together myself. Act one culminates in Bart thriving as a caddy once he learns that the golfers tip big if you stroke their egos enough. Initially thrilled about her son’s new job, Marge’s tune changes when she sees Bart’s behavior close-up (“I’ve never seen my son suck up before!”) “Sucking up” is a phrase that she repeats throughout the show, and that’s basically the extent of her complaints with Bart’s job. When she fails in enlisting Homer to get him to quit, she teams up with Lisa to try and shut the whole club down. But what exactly is the problem? Bart’s a ten-year-old kid scoring some extra cash off rich people as a summer job. It would be one thing if we saw Bart “sucking up” off the job, at home or at school, like his new mentality was warping his mind in a more negative fashion. But no, Bart’s aware that it’s all a schtick he does to get more money, directly telling Marge this information. So, really, what is the big deal? The fact that Marge never gives any further explanation of her feelings until the very end doesn’t help matter (it’s almost like it’s kept a secret on purpose, as she says to Homer, “I know it’s not logical, but when I saw Bart on that golf course, my mothering spirit just wanted to hurl!” When her anger expands into wanting to get the entire grounds shut down, a clever idea Bart gives to the club owner has playing golf declared a protected religion, saving the greens. Act three has Marge pleading with representatives from other congregates to join her in rallying against the golf course… but the conflict has gotten so macro beyond Bart, I don’t even know what’s driving her anymore. She gives some complaints about rich people and golfers… if she was upset about rich entitled people taking advantage of sweet common folk like her son, that’d be one thing, but it’s never framed that way. At long last, at minute sixteen, Marge admits to Bart why she’s upset, that she thinks the job is robbing him of his natural instinct to speak his mind. Bart assures it won’t (“I’m not gonna suck up forever! Just until I’m rich. Then other people will suck up to me!”) It feels like the point is that Bart wanted to make this into his career and is wholly focused on being a subordinate for hire, but again, this feels like another episode where I’m desperately trying to connect dots that the writers should have done while writing the script. Things all wrap up in the most formulaic ending I’ve seen in a while (more details below.) The meat of this story, Marge worrying a job is changing Bart, is a good one, but as usual, it doesn’t feel like enough work was put in to really develop that emotional through-line, and as a result, I just didn’t care.

Three items of note:
– Last week I wondered why Harry Shearer was still voicing Dr. Hibbert, and it’s almost like the show heard my question, because a news article came out about it a few days later, and now in this episode, we see that Kevin Michael Richardson is the new voice of Dr. Hibbert. It’s only one line, so there’s not much to gauge in comparing, but it definitely sounds much lower register, since that’s Richardson’s signature. But I wonder why it took longer recasting Hibbert than any other character. I know Harry Shearer wasn’t pleased with the recasting in general, but I’d also read rumors he was quitting the show because of it, but that isn’t true. Whatever.  Speaking of voices, I’ve noticed in these last two episodes, Bart started to sound a little funky too, like he was skewing closer to Nancy Cartwright’s actual voice. I guess it’s just been a while since he’s had a ton of dialogue, but I can’t say it wasn’t distracting to hear.
– Marge finds a partner in Lisa in hating the golf course, who immediately says that they’re evil. When Marge asks why, Lisa immediately consults “The Woke-ster’s Encyclopedia of Outrages” to formulate her opinion for her. Okay, so they’re making fun of people who claim to care about causes but have no actual information, they’ve done this with Lisa a lot, but do they not realize how unlikable this kind of stuff makes her? Because this episode is about Marge and the local country club/golf course, I resisted comparing it to “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield,” but as we saw there, Lisa hated the country club too for roughly the reasons she reads off her phone here, but she was an actual character who cared about things, and on top of that, was also an eight-year-old girl who put her grievances aside to go ride a pony (“I found something more fun than complaining!”) Anyway, Lisa tells Marge she should start an online petition to get the club shut down. In writing the title, Marge discovers it’s too long, and abbreviates it to “Stop Coddling the Springfield Juniper’s Wealthy” to “Stop Coddling the S.J.W.s.” Yep. The petition gets a million signatures overnight, as Lisa explains to her mother (and the audience) what an SJW is and why this is bad. Except it’s just a throwaway joke, it doesn’t really go anywhere. If Marge found herself aligned with a bunch of alt-right psychos, that would be an interesting turn-of-events, but it just ended up feeling like a stretch.
– This is a Matt Selman show, and as such, you can expect some incredibly generic and trite teevee, and the ending is exactly that. Club owner Bildorf (voiced by Stephen Root, doing the best he can with a nothing role) makes it clear to Bart he’ll never be more than he is, causing him to run off in shame. Meanwhile, Marge seems defeated as she goes to leave the golf course, when Bart returns on an ATV he was eyeing with Milhouse, Nelson and company in an earlier scene (he was aiming to buy one, and when the others asked if they could ride it, he told them to fuck off.) Bart then gives the killer line (“You forgot about the wad! It can buy a pretty nice ATV, or rent a whole bunch of them!”) Cue the other kids riding in on their ATVs as they proceed to wreak havoc on the greens, as fun, family movie-esque music plays and the club owner and his new rich boy caddy are aghast. Just absolute garbage. I guess this is supposed to be their tribute to Caddyshack, but since it’s a bunch of kids doing it, it’s like a scene straight out of a fucking Nickelodeon movie or something, with a bunch of kids getting even with the snooty rich people. Milhouse yells “Kid power!” for God’s sake. It reminded me of the conclusion of last year’s finale “The Way of the Dog,” where it felt the farthest removed from The Simpsons than anything I’ve seen in its thirty-two seasons. I’ve complained a million times about how this show once bucked the conventional, whereas now it warmly embraces it, but this and “Dog” feel like the greatest offenders of that. And in the end, when the club owner gloats that Bart has affected nothing, the police arrive to arrest him because his new golf religion has become a sex cult? Again, this show used to be very reflective of reality, and if there’s one social group that was completely above punishment, it’s rich capitalists. They could have done some schmaltzy ending where the club owner gloats but Bart and Marge unite in talking back to him and leave triumphantly, that would have probably sucked too, but it would have been more honest.

Season Eight Revisited (Part Three)

14. The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show

  • I love that we just see the end result of Krusty’s one-man pie fight. It’s a great example of something that’s funnier seeing the aftermath than the actual action.
  • There’s a great note on Krusty’s door that you can barely read on screen: Cleaning Crew: The Liquor is Not For You.
  • The hierarchy of power between Krusty and Roger Meyers, Jr. has swapped a few times, but it seems to make more sense that Krusty would be the “boss,” since the I & S cartoons run on his show. I love their dynamic in their first scene, where Meyers, Jr. effortlessly gets Krusty distracted from his chewing out session (“What happened here? Lightning hit the transmitter?” “See, that’s what I thought at first, but then… hey, shut up!”)
  • “Please refrain from tasting the knob.”
  • “So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show that’s completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots?” Sounds like they’re describing Futurama a few years early. Although, sadly, you could not win stuff by watching, at least as far as I remember.
  • Lisa’s speech about Itchy & Scratchy not having the staying power they once had is one of many overt meta references in this episode on how long this show has gone on and the inevitability of it growing stagnant. Oakley & Weinstein really felt that season 8 would possibly be the final one, and it shows clearest here than any other episode, and it’s pretty funny (not in a good way) watching this while knowing there’s over two decades more seasons to come.
  • I love Krusty’s boardroom suggestion that the new character be a gangster octopus. Now I want to see a drawing of that…
  • A lot of this episode is reflective of the writers’ views and efforts, but I like that we get a bit devoted to the grievances of the artists, as an animator who looks suspiciously like David Silverman is subject to Krusty, Lindsay Naegle and Roger Meyers, Jr’s incessant design by committee. I’m sure there are plenty of artists on staff who had similar nightmare stories about producers who think they’re creative coming in and fucking their work up.
  • Roy’s introduction reminded me, was there a story about FOX suggesting the show could add a new character at some point? I might be remembering that wrong. I know James L. Brooks’ presence killed a fair share of network meddling, but I wonder what notes and creative direction came through from the network over the years. I’m curious how horrible they must be, and how thankful we all should be that they never got enacted.
  • A scene I still don’t quite get is during the auditions where Roger Meyers, Jr. is absolutely enraptured by Otto and Troy McClure’s auditions (“You’re perfect! In fact, you’re better than perfect! Next to you, perfection is crap!”) I guess it’s supposed to make him seem easily impressed that it makes Homer’s harsh rejection sting all the more, but it doesn’t seem to fit his character to see him so complimentary to Otto of all people.
  • The college nerds are the perfect avatars for the 90s-era Internet obsessive cartoon nerd (gifting us the classic line, “I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.”) As big a cartoon fan as I was, I don’t think I was ever at this level, and I was a 2000s-era adolescent, but it’s kind of fascinating hearing and reading about adult men’s obsession with the likes of Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. I mean, I enjoy a lot of cartoons ostensibly meant for children, but this interest seemed like it was on a whole other level.
  • Great bit of (ad-libbed?) ADR before the Poochie premiere, we hear Barney in the crowd comment, “You know, Poochie’s based on me!”
  • I find myself saying “You’re missing the jokes!” if someone’s talking while we’re watching a comedy, particularly if it’s a shitty comedy.
  • I both love and hate the Bart/CBG scene; it’s a perfect encapsulation of CBG’s character and the sense of fan entitlement, but Bart’s rebuttal is kind of strange. His impassioned defense of professional TV writers really makes him feel like the writers’ mouthpiece (“They’re giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? If anything, you owe them.”) I totally get how frustrating it must be to work incredibly hard on the show, only to have self-righteous Internet dwellers shit all over it seemingly without a second thought, but saying “you owe us for writing this show” is kind of on a whole other level. Plus, as mentioned before, this scene rings more and more hollow the more shit seasons of this show keep piling up.
  • “One, Poochie needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine. Two, whenever Poochie’s not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking ‘Where’s Poochie?’” I love Roger Meyers, Jr’s stone face, he can’t even be bothered to look at Homer when he’s giving his dumbass suggestions.
  • Homer’s impassioned speech in defense of Poochie sets up one of the greatest bait-and-switch endings of the whole series. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to make me feel kind of emotional about the fate of a gangster surfer cartoon dog (“But if everyone could find a place in their hearts for the little dog that nobody wanted, I know we can make them laugh and cry until we grow old together.”) Poochie’s rejection is Homer’s rejection, so that’s why it still feels affecting, but it’s still crazy to me that I always get a slight chill hearing that speech. Then, of course, it all comes smacking Homer in the face with the actual cartoon, where his line is unceremoniously dubbed over by Roger Meyers, Jr. himself, they didn’t even bother paying to animate Poochie’s outro, and Krusty’s announcement of his permanent death is met with rapturous applause by children everywhere, including Homer’s own kids. Just fantastic. One of the biggest casualties of this show’s decline was its ability to switch gears from genuine emotion to completely undercutting it without undermining it, and making it look completely seamless.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Either the writers are trying too hard, or they just don’t give a damn anymore. This episode was utterly predictable and not funny. I wouldn’t call it the worst episode; I would rather see it than Bart Gets an Elephant. Still, the idea of having a ‘cool’ dog with Homer’s voice is just absurd.”

15. Homer’s Phobia

  • Like “Date with Density,” this is another title I didn’t get as a kid. It’s so damn good, it’s as if Homer got his name for the sole reason of making this genius pun title.
  • “These campaign buttons are all partisan. Don’t you have any neutral ones? ‘May the better man win’? ‘Let’s have a good, clean election?’ That sort of thing?” “No… but we do have some old shirt buttons. They’re kinda kooky and fun!” “Missy, you just talked yourself right out of a sale!”
  • John of course is just John Waters. Hell, it might actually be him moonlighting as owner of a kitsch store in a small town during his off-time. Contextually within the story, the casting and characterization is perfect.
  • Lisa’s quick interjection when Marge gives John the Confederate statue (“Please don’t construe our ownership of this as an endorsement of slavery”) is another great example of showing her believably wise and enlightened beyond her years. A moment like this in a modern day show would have Lisa give a mini-monologue about how aghast she is that Marge treasures such a problematic heirloom and that slavery is wrrroooooonnnng you hear me wrrrroooonnng, but here, she gets to make her point, but her quickly getting the comment in right before John might pass judgement on them is a nice little joke along with it.
  • I love that John’s embracing of the Simpsons is based on their world basically being camp in and of itself (”Pearls on a little girl? It’s a fairy tale!”) In yet another meta examination this season, it’s the first big magnifying glass held to the show in how it’s starting to feel dated a year since the characters’ creations. That age starts to feel even greater in 2021, while new characters look and dress like “normal” people, Lisa’s still got those pearls and plain red dress.
  • It’s such a delicate line keeping Homer from being unlikable with his ignorant views on gay people, but it still manages to work just because of how blindindly stupid he is on the subject (“Think of the property values! Now we can never say only straight people have been in this house!”) It never gets way too silly, but it never goes too aggressively homophobic either. Homer’s panic comes from ingrained societal expectations that he himself can’t even understand, so they’re really less his views than him just parroting what middle-aged men in the 90s would latently believe on average.
  • Smithers being pissed that John blew off their date for lunch with the Simpsons tells so much with so little. It makes sense that a live wire like John would find straight-laced Smithers kind of boring. I guess Malibu Stacys just aren’t his thing.
  • Anytime I hear about white people being pissy they can’t say the n-word when black people can, or any other kind of slur, I always think about Homer being equally whiny over the word ‘queer’ (“I resent you people using that word! That’s our word for making fun of you!”)
  • “Well, it’s been two hours. How do you feel?” “I dunno. I kinda want a cigarette.” “That’s a good start! Let’s get you a pack. What’s your brand?” “Anything slim!”
  • What more could I possibly say about The Anvil? One of the greatest scenes in show history. I also love how act three immediately opens with Homer at Moe’s sadly commenting, ”And the entire steel mill was gay…” If you had just tuned in at the commercial, what could you possibly be thinking was going on?
  • Moe and Barney are more lowkey bigoted in this episode as Homer is to serve the third act, but they’re even dumber than Homer is, so their ridiculous beliefs feel just as delightfully ignorant (“You still got that other kid, Lisa. Let’s take her out hunting tomorrow, make her into a man.” “She’d never go. She’s a vegetarian.” “Oh, geez! You and Marge ain’t cousins, are you?”
  • I never noticed before, but in the time lapse of Homer and company in the woods, we see Homer has shot a smiley face into a nearby tree out of boredom, with his gun still smoking.
  • Homer getting tenderized by the pack of reindeer feels like an early sign of the “hilarious” scenes to come in the Mike Scully era and beyond of Homer + pain = funny, but it works here almost as an amends to how he’s treated Bart and John, taking the brunt of the harm he’s caused.
  • “Well, Homer, I won your respect, and all I had to do was save your life. Now, if every gay man could just do the same, you’d be set.”
  • Dedicated to The Steelworkers of America. Keep Reaching For That Rainbow!
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This was indescribably horrible. Just when I was beginning to get optimistic from last week’s inside joke-themed ‘Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie,’ along comes an episode full of lame, ‘In Living Color’-style routines about homosexuals. Did Ron Hauge win a ‘Write a Simpsons Episode’ contest or something? This was the first episode where I’ve ever hated any character, and here I had three to choose from: Homer, in super-doltish Al Bundy mode; Moe, who had nothing but lame bile and not one good line; and John Waters, who is the last person I would choose to do a voiceover. His ‘hoo!’s had me muting the TV halfway through. Simpsons episodes are about memorable lines, and this one had absolutely none. Please, get Ron Hauge a writing partner.”

16. Brother From Another Series

  • Krusty’s song at the prison was another track on the soundtrack albums, one I never really understood as a kid (“I slugged some jerk in Tahoe/They gave me one to three/My high-priced lawyer sprung me on a technicality” aren’t exactly lyrics a ten-year-old can really grasp.) But I love how quickly Krusty recovers and wins the convicts back.
  • I know I harped on this the first time around, but this really should have been (and at times feels like) the last Sideshow Bob episode. Bart running to his room in fear at seeing Bob on TV was so refreshing to see. The next Bob episode “Day of the Jackanapes” would do a big joke that Bart was no longer afraid of Bob since they’d done their song-and-dance so many times before, and each ensuing appearance almost drew comical exasperation from the Simpsons, wanting him to explain his new plan and just get on with it. Here, Bart is believably acting like a ten-year-old boy seeing the man who tried to kill him twice. The realism is still there… but not for long.
  • “He explained his reasons for trying to kill us all, and I assure you, they were perfectly sane.”
  • The Bob/Cecil dynamic is wonderful right off the bat. I’ve never seen any of Frasier, but I assume Grammar and Hyde Pierce naturally kind of fell back into the same dynamic, and they’re very convincing as bickering brothers (“Hydrological and hydrodynamical? Talk about running the gamut.” “Snigger all you like, Bob.” “Thank you. I believe I shall.”
  • “Free comedy tip, slick: the pie gag’s only funny when the sap’s got dignity!” Interesting how this comedy philosophy didn’t carry over when Bob actually joined the show, replacing his sophisticated suit with a bare chest and hula skirt.
  • “Shake it, madam! Capital knockers!” So fucking funny. Kelsey Grammar kills it in this episode, this might be his best Bob performance.
  • “Hey, you said we were going to Dairy Queen!” “I lied. Now help me rummage through Bob’s trash for clues. Then I promise we’ll go to the waterslide.” Yet another example of Bart and (especially) Lisa just talking and behaving like kids. Also, could the waterslide comment be an intentional foreshadow of the ending where they make their escape down the water pipe?
  • Wonderful attention to detail: the dumpster Bart and Lisa search through isn’t a dumpster at all, it’s a Trash-Co waste disposal unit, as seen in “The Otto Show.” 
  • I’ve always liked these two shots toward the end of Bart, Lisa and Bob’s chase. Just some nice visual direction to break up the scene a bit.
  • Bart sicing Lisa on Bob (“Get ‘em, Lis!”) and her barreling at Bob with an intense growl is absolutely adorable, as is Bob’s lack of response in just holding her head at bay as he continues to process what’s going on with the shoddily built dam.
  • The misdirect with Bob through the entire show is really well done, and I love how it culminates in his awkward team-up with Bart and Lisa to escape and save the day. As much as I wish this were the final Bob episode, there are definitely still ways they could have brought him back somehow. I thought the premise of “The Great Louse Detective,” having Bob act as a Hannibal Lector type in assisting the capture of a wanted man was a promising one, it’s the episode itself that blew.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This Frasier crossover turned action adventure, was not the worst episode ever, but it was pretty close. The good, kind bob didn’t work, and his brother playing a sinister mastermind out to destroy the town didn’t work either. The writers need to save these action episodes for a spinoff series. I don’t want to see Bart and Lisa look through dumpsters, sneak through offices, run around a hydroelectric dam and then save a city. The show can sink much lower after the ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ Bob saves Bart ending.”

17. My Sister, My Sitter

  • Kent Brockman referring to the boardwalk prostitutes as “allied tradespeople” is a great line.
  • Lisa and Janey read “The Babysitter Twins,” an obvious reference to the “The Babysitters Club” in name and cover design. This kind of “Funtendo Zii,” same-name-but-tweaked-slightly stuff I usually rip on, but I give this a pass since it helps set up the premise of Lisa being interested in babysitting, and for convenience’s sake, just making a stand-in “Babysitters Club” makes more sense than creating an all-new thing.
  • Another great church marquee gag: No Synagogue Parking
  • Eight-year-old Lisa the successful babysitter is a bit of a pill to swallow, but the episode puts in the legwork in the first act to build her trust within the neighborhood and her parents. Her first job is for Ned, who is only talked into it since Homer and Marge would be next door in case of an emergency. From there, I was able to just go along with her being trusted by the other parents by Ned’s recommendation. The only thing that’s a problem is that Marge might be okay with Lisa watching Bart, but definitely not one-year-old Maggie. It’s not a huge deal for me though.
  • A very cute exchange where Lisa tries to mollify her father’s worry about his unwashed tuxedo (”Can you see the pie stains?” “…it’ll be dark.”)
  • I love the slight Doppler effect on Mayor Quimby’s “Stop, you idiot!” as Homer drives past him.
  • I like that as big of a brat Bart is to mess with Lisa, she throws it right back at him. It makes it more satisfying to watch than Bart just making Lisa’s life a living hell and her not being able to take it.
  • Homer and Marge walk the Squidport past all the different stores, reminding me of the Squidport expansion of the Tapped Out app game I had an unhealthy obsession with years ago. Having to wait 24 hours per boardwalk tile… man, fuck that game. Good thing I had it cracked for near unlimited donuts.
  • “This isn’t faux-dive. This is a dive!” “You’re a long way from home, yuppie boy. I’ll start a tab.”
  • I love that the sub delivery man just flies off screen as Krusty bursts his way through the door.
  • Great design of the Dr. Nick phone book ad.
  • Yeardley Smith is fantastic in the third act as Lisa gets more and more panicked and exhausted. Two highlights are her “Maaaagggiiiiieee!” right before she puts the wriggly baby in the pet carrier, and her extremely elongated struggle noises as she slides all the way down the cliff with the wheelbarrow after Bart.
  • Patient Diagnosis list: Unusual sex practice, looter’s hernia, Mexican stand-off, prison tunnel syndrome, armed homeowner, allergic reaction to mace, pepper spray or bullets, liquor store robbery, or John Gotti’s disease.
  • Smithers’ “situation” at Dr. Nick’s is a joke that feels a little too far. For the gags about Smithers’ sexuality outside of his unhealthy obsession with Burns, I prefer lighter stuff like him being miffed at being stood up by John Waters rather than him going to a back alley emergency room to have God knows what removed from his rectum.
  • The Squidport reacting aghast to Lisa plays itself a bit too seriously, although it seems intentionally and exaggeratedly so (I always laugh at Quimby’s loud “What the hell is that?!”) I don’t like how the scene just fades out with no real ending; I guess the joke is supposed to be that Lisa’s paranoid nightmare came true with Dr. Hibbert saying exactly what she feared, but it’s not the best.
  • The very ending feels very true to this show, that the parents of Springfield don’t give a shit about what Lisa did, as long as they can pawn their kids off to someone else, it’s all good.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Worst episode ever, first truly to deserve that crown. A sadistic and hate-filled Bart torments Lisa for no apparent reason other than sheer malice (with maybe a touch of envy over her money making thrown in, not that that would excuse anything.) I honestly can’t think of any high points, although there might be some. But I haven’t the heart to watch this episode again.  I’m marking the tape with a big black ‘X’ so I don’t accidentally see a few seconds of this episode while looking for something else.”

18. Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment

  • Lisa goading on the kids to “attack” Bart in the opening is another great, believable kid moment for her (“No one’s pinching his legs!”)
  • Drunk Bart is understandably played a bit seriously, but true to this show, it’s still undercut with the kids in the crowd cheering for him, and his pretty blaze attitude after the fact, announcing he’s heading off to Moe’s for a couple of beers (Homer gets up to follow, “I’ll come with!”)
  • “Ladies, please, all our Founding Fathers, astronauts, and World Series heroes have been either drunk or on cocaine.”
  • The only thing I know about Bernice Hibbert is that she’s a drunk. Is there any other appearance she’s made that illuminates anything else?
  • Anytime some kind of mild to moderate inconvenience happens and then resolves within a small amount of time, I always end up saying, “That was a scary couple of hours,” subbing hours for minutes, or whatever other measure of time is applicable.
  • This animation… wow. Is that top painted on Princess Kashmir’s chest?
  • I don’t know why, but I’ve always thought Li’l Lugger, Springfield’s U-HAUL equivalent, was a really great name.
  • The ball retrieval system from the bowling alley to Moe’s is just rinky dink enough that I can believe that Homer constructed it himself. Though did he have the permission from Barney’s Bowl-O-Rama to do it? It seems like it would be a natural connection to include Barney in the scheme, giving him access to his uncle’s business to run this scheme that ultimately benefits him with as much beer as he can drink. I guess it wasn’t an intentional connection, since we immediately see Barney get charged $45 for his first drink (“This better be the best tasting beer in the world! …you got lucky.”)
  • “This isn’t a very happy birthday for Rex Banner.”
  • At Moe’s “Pet Shop,” all the patrons raise their glasses and cheer, then quickly put them back behind their backs when Rex Banner turns his head back around, but we still clearly see that Eddie and Lou are still facing forward. Most likely just an animation oversight, but also, I can easily believe that Eddie and Lou don’t give a shit about enforcing the prohibition law, and are getting pretty sick of Rex Banner to do anything about it.
  • I spent way too much time thinking if the Simpson basement could possibly fit forty-two bathtubs in it. I guess it could? They also managed to get Xtapolapocetl’s head down there, so none of this logistics shit really matters.
  • I’m on the fence about the unceremonious expulsion, and presumed death, of Rex Banner. It’s unexpected and a funny visual, but it’s the only of the season 8 death quartet that was directly caused by a character, in this case, Eddie, now with blood on his hands. It’s funny how while I’m mixed on Rex Banner and Frank Ormand’s demises, I still love the final outros of Shary Bobbins and Frank Grimes, and even more interesting is I’m sure other fans have different feelings on this topic too.
  • To alcohol! The cause of, and solution, to all of life’s problems.” That’s got to be like top 5 most famous phrases from the show, right? 
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Some funny lines, good routines, the Narrator was pretty funny and Lisa’s darling in a green dress, but the story for the most part sucked. It was just one big love letter to alcohol, and I, for one, am not for overuse of alcohol (for health reasons.) I also was disappointed in Swartzwelder for the various spots of characters out of character, especially Marge, and I really don’t think the Homer I once knew would be stupid enough to break so many laws for alcohol. And what’s with these morbid endings?  First Sherri Bobbins killed in 3G03, and now Rex Banner killed. I can’t laugh at stories that end in such sick, black ways. Adding to the list of 19 worst ever episodes with a C- grade.”

19. Grade School Confidential

  • “The bake sale to raise money for the car wash has been cancelled due to confusion.”
  • Putting Skinner and Krabappel together feels like a natural idea, but I like the effort the episode puts in to make it feel that much more believable. Both are self-acknowledging sad, lonely people whose lives haven’t gone how they’d hoped (Edna’s is, though, “But then I was a very depressed child.”) We know Skinner is kind of an awkward geek play-acting as a disciplinarian, but this show gave him some more shades of innocence that appeal to Edna. It’s both heartening, and a bit sad, when Skinner explains how he’d always dreaded that he would end up with a woman like his mother, and that he’s glad he didn’t.
  • We get a welcome appearance of a new unnamed cafeteria cook (“Good gravy!” “Oh, thank you, it’s just brown and water.”) Doris Grau passed away a year and a half before this episode aired, so this script was definitely written after her passing, and look! They wanted to make a joke with a cafeteria worker, so they just made up a new character! I kind of go back and forth as to whether retiring or recasting is a better option with these characters, but as I’ve mentioned many times already, it’s just curious which characters ended up retired (those voiced by “major” names like Phil Hartman and Marcia Wallace) and those that ended up recast (Russi Taylor, Doris Grau.)
  • Chalmers the annoying moviegoer is one of my favorite syndication cuts. It’s just so stupid. (“You think they actually filmed this in Atlanta?” “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s important.” “Yeah…”)
  • Toward the end of act two, it starts to get a little stupid how far Skinner and Krabappel push Bart. Like, they have to know how unreliable their alliance is, that he could blab at any second and it’s all over for them, so why are they forcing him to courier notes for him during school hours? Skinner forcing Bart to say, “I love you” in the middle of class is really, really dumb, but Martin’s jab at Bart that finally breaks him almost makes it worth it (“Now, Bart, you must promise not to fall in love with me!”)
  • “Baby looked at you?!”
  • “Willie hears yah. Willie don’t care.”
  • I always laugh at Homer forgetting to pull the megaphone away from his mouth after he finds the remote, sheepishly pulling it from Marge’s face before repeating himself (“IT WAS… it was in my pocket.”) Such a nice little moment.
  • Why exactly would the police choose to blast romantic music to try to drive a romantic couple out of the building? Who knows. The third act does get a little dull at points, I won’t lie.
  • I love the contempt Chalmers has for the rest of the townspeople, and Sideshow Mel’s impassioned rebuttal (“Let us take our case directly to the townspeople.” “Oh, yeah, that’ll be real productive. Who do you want to talk to first? The guy with a bumblebee suit, or the one with a bone through his hair?” “My opinion is as valid as the next man’s!”
  • Of all the show moments that made no sense to me as a child, Skinner’s admission to being a virgin is probably the biggest of them all, since it’s basically the resolution to the entire story, and season 8 ran a lot when I was big into syndication. I don’t think I even had a clue as to what Skinner meant when I first saw this. But I love it, how Chalmers can’t get away fast enough to escape the awkwardness, and also this excellent bit (“Hey, does this mean that Mrs. Krabappel is a virgin too?” “Ha!”) This also implies a kind of sweeter element to the story: we’ve seen Krabappel to be a bit… more open sexually in episodes past, but I guess despite their heavy make-out sessions, she still respected either Skinner’s hesitance to have sex or his desire to wait. How wholesome.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “A promising premise made for the worst episode ever (tied with 4F04). The birthday party and the standoff were the suckiest scenes I’ve ever seen (no pun intended), and Bart’s role seemed like nothing more that something the writers put in to keep us from bitching about OFF’s lack of screentime (like we did last year with 3F15).  That and that fact that I don’t know which makes me wanna wretch more- this ep or 4F04.”

696. Diary Queen

Original airdate: February 21, 2021

The premise: Bart gets a hold of Edna Krabappel’s diary, and upon finding her writing about his belief in his untapped potential, turns over a new leaf to be a better student. Lisa discovers Edna was actually writing about her cat, and struggles to keep the secret to herself.

The reaction: Almost eight years following Marcia Wallace’s death, Edna Krabappel’s departure from the series has always felt like this weirdly unresolved issue. I absolutely understand the apprehension given Wallace’s untimely death, but considering she was a pivotal character as not only Bart’s teacher but also Ned Flanders’ wife, it felt all the weirder as years and years went by with no in-series acknowledgement apart from a short tribute shortly after her passing. Eventually, Ned ended up the new fourth grade teacher, but I can count on one hand the number of episodes where we’ve actually seen him in that role. But now, finally, we have what feels like our Farewell to Edna episode, and while the intentions were pure, it’s a big schmaltzy mess. Bart ends up with Mrs. K’s diary, and is surprised to find a passage about Edna’s “spiky-haired after school buddy” he assumes is about him (“Sometimes I have to be tough on him so his behavior gets better, but he’s smart as a whip.”) Invigorated by his former teacher’s faith, Bart resolves to do better of himself, eventually leading to an actual A on a test. Lisa, however, finds that Edna was writing about her cat, and drives herself into an anxiety spiral to keep the secret. The back half of the episode is Bart giving long speeches about how he actually likes being good now while Lisa literally drives herself sick with guilt. It’s all so strange. I guess Bart just stopped reading the diary over however many days pass after reading that previous passage. Meanwhile, Lisa’s motivations are muddy: she starts off suspicious and weirdly jealous about Bart’s A, and that’s before the school carries Bart off like a hero for getting the “Most Improved Student” award or whatever. Is this still based off of just one test? Bart’s resolve is shown that he’s more kind and helpful, not that he’s working harder academically. At the start of act three, Bart feels confident enough to enter the spelling contest, and now Lisa is motivated to stop Bart before he fucks up and humiliates himself. Would he be a school wide laughing stock for misspelling a word? Why would anyone at the school care?

When Lisa finally exposes the truth, Bart starts crying and runs away. It’s pretty pathetic. In the end, Ned Flanders comes to the rescue, telling Bart a story about when he was planning to leave Springfield (for what reason, we’re never told), but Edna was the sole “no” vote, believing she needed to stay because students like Bart needed her help. And… I’m not buying it. Sorry. I can kind of understand why some people might find this touching, but it just stinks of manipulative re-characterization. Like most Springfieldians, Edna may have entered her profession with hope and optimism, but for the course of the entire series, she was completely apathetic about her job, desperate for any opportunity to cut corners and get the hell out by the final bell every school day. Again, we’re never told why Ned wanted to leave, but it’s an opportunity that I think Edna would have leaped at if given the chance. The ending also attempts to put a sweet bow on Nedna (you know, that relationship nobody cared about?) by having Ned thumb to a page in Edna’s diary (“Now that I’ve been with Ned a year, he’s made my life a living… dream come true.”) Following this we get a sweet photo montage of Edna moments, ending with the “We’ll Really Miss You, Mrs. K” chalkboard that was used shortly after Wallace’s death. There’s so much irony-free sentimental bullshit here I was surprised this wasn’t a Matt Selman show. Now, I don’t want to come off like a heartless asshole. Wanting to give Mrs. Krabappel a send-off show is a nice idea, and hoping to give it a level of earnestness is a good thing. This show used to be a master at balancing genuine emotional moments within its own crapsack world perfectly. We’ve seen more caring and vulnerable sides of Edna in the past (“Bart the Lover,” “Grade School Confidential”), so it’s possible to create some kind of narrative that gives her a farewell that feels within character. Even having to rely on using archive audio of Wallace, it could have been done. Instead, they went the easy route of retroactively framing Edna as an incredibly caring teacher who really loved her new husband and what a wonderful woman she was and it’s so sad she’s gone. Marcia Wallace was an incredibly talented performer, and most likely a wonderful woman beloved by the whole crew, but translating that great affection onto her character creates too big of a disconnect to me. For as pure the impulse seemed to be, it came off way too forced and disingenuous.

Three items of note:
– More recasting shit: flamboyant gay stereotype Julio is now voiced by singer Mario Jose. Honestly, I don’t think anyone would have been upset if they just quietly retired that character. Also, Dr. Hibbert is still being voiced by Harry Shearer, having already made two other appearances (I think) this season. Did they just forget to recast him at this point?
– The episode opens with a musical number of everybody in Springfield waking up excited to head on down to Ned’s garage sale, since he’s such a pushover, they can get really good deals on all his stuff. Within the song, it’s implied that Ned “always” does this, so I guess he’s held multiple garage sales over a long period of time? The sale barely starts before Ned blows up at the bullies for smashing the Norman Rockwell commemorative plates they just bought. He vows to not sell one more item unless it’s going to actually be respected. So we spend two whole minutes on an opening musical about Ned being too nice, and then immediately undercut it. And it’s not like any of it has any point. Bart sweet-talks Ned into buying a box of books, one of which is Edna’s diary, unbeknownst to either of them, but he could have done that with Ned being his normal too-nice self. Pointless. Also, the song just sucks. The jokes aren’t funny, all our favorite characters do an elaborate choreographed dance number… just boring, transparent padding.
– Ned shows up at the very end to save the day, but it’s funny how we don’t see him at all in the middle chunk of the episode as Bart excels and impresses at school. He gets an A on a test in art, I guess presumably because they wanted to save Ned’s appearance until the end, but why not have it be in Ned’s class? Bart could be indirect when questioned about his new change-of-heart, which would make Ned curious, setting up the ending more. Later, when Bart discovers the truth and runs off crying, Lisa could go to Ned’s classroom and explain everything, leading right into him finding Bart to comfort him. But no, instead, Ned is nowhere to be found in Springfield Elementary. He’s not in the teacher’s lounge where we see the rest of the staff working telemarketer jobs, he’s not at the big assembly to award Bart… why make this change if you’re not going to do anything with it? Ned is literally Bart’s new teacher, the classroom being a huge series set piece for one of the main characters, and in three years since this “big” change, I can only remember one time we’ve seen Ned at school (“Crystal Blue-Haired Persuasion.”) It’s yet another big change in the series that actually doesn’t change anything, unless the writers randomly remember it sometime later. We literally just saw this in the last episode, where years and years after giving Comic Book Guy a wife, they finally decide to make an episode about it. By that standard, I guess in season 37, we’ll finally get an episode featuring Ned actually being a teacher. Can’t wait!