Monthly Archives: August 2011

52. Homer at the Bat

(originally aired February 20, 1992)
Well this certainly was a change of pace. After three shows in a row, and many more in seasons prior, we’d plumbed the emotional depths of the show, with stories focusing on real people and real conflict. And now we have this show: a completely preposterous and bonkers episodes catering to nine, count’ em, nine special guest stars. This is easily the most ridiculous episode to date, and a real stepping stone for the show. It further expanded the universe to contain more potential for celebrities to lampoon themselves (and occasionally get screwed over by the writers), but still fit in with the established world and the story they reside in. Moreover, the series pushed its boundaries into wackier territory. A comically engorged Ken Griffy, Jr. and Ozzie Smith literally falling into another dimension are jokes that feel insanely foreign to the subtler humor we’ve seen so far, but would pave the way for the joyful craziness we’d see in later seasons, particularly five and six.

The episode begins a bit more grounded with Homer’s unusual enthusiasm over the company softball team, and his even more unusual skill for hitting homers, thanks to his crudely homemade “wonder bat.” I suppose even someone as grossly incompetent as Homer is allowed a few choice skills. Our plot kicks into gear in waiting for the final game against the Shelbyville power plant team; in attempts to win a million dollar bet, Mr. Burns decides to bring in a few ringers. Not one or two, but nine: Steve Sax, Jose Cancesco, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, and so on. This is not only incredible overkill in hiring an entire team of major leaguers, but the stakes of the game are entirely nil; when asked what he’ll do with his million, Burns half-heartedly comments, “I dunno. Throw it on the pile, I suppose.” The real matter here is a matter of pride, for Burns, and also for Homer, who becomes greatly discouraged losing his top rank on the team.

Now I don’t know a thing about baseball, so I can’t say anything in regards to how the guest stars were represented. Juggling nine guest stars is an incredibly challenge, yet the show manages to create memorable moments and lines for pretty much all of them. I like how some of their ridiculous introductions mirror their ridiculous fates: Mike Scioscia yearns for a more blue-collar job, so enjoys his phony plant position, under he gets a horrible case of radiation poisoning. Perhaps the greatest runner is the subtle rivalry between Homer and Darryl Strawberry, who is a big kiss-ass the entire show. When he is switched out during the last inning for Homer, he’s understandably shocked (“But I hit nine home runs today!”) Despite the silliness and full plate of characters this show had to manage, there still is a layer of sweetness to it, in Homer’s final “triumph” at the end and the magnificent win for the team. This is really a cornerstone episode for the show, in its ability to just go nuts and reach as far out of the box as they could without wrecking the foundations of the series. Seasons further down the line would break said foundation, but for now we can revel in the sweet, sweet absurdity.

Tidbits and Quotes
– When Homer announces he’s got a secret weapon, the plant workers are all curious as to what it could be, from Charlie who dreams of a giant glove to Lenny (with an amazing grin on his face) who believes Homer has access to laser gun technology and can incinerate the other team. It’s classic Simpsons dream fodder, but perfectly lays the groundwork for the show in blending baseball and crazy, over-the-top jokes.
– The epic retelling of the origins of Wonderbat is filled with great Homer moments: his safety precautions in the thunderstorm, his shelving of his homemade football, and how he, for some reason, needs to hammer nails and use a acetylene torch to construct a wooden bat.
– Their first game is against the Springfield police force. The umpire sets the ground rules: “Okay, let’s go over the ground rules. You can’t leave first until you chug a beer. Any man scoring has to chug a beer. You have to chug a beer at the top of all odd-numbered innings. Oh, and the fourth inning is the beer inning.” Wiggum indignantly interrupts, “Hey, we know how to play softball.”
– I do like Marge’s play-by-play narration as she’s filming the game with a camcorder: “And the man wants to hit the ball, too. And he does. And there he goes, off in that direction. And everyone is happy.”
– The sl0w-motion replay of Homer’s winning hit is wonderful. Slow-motion is always difficult to do in animation, since it requires more drawings, but the grotesque jiggling of Homer’s flabby body is absolutely hysterical, complete with his slowed down grunts and aghast shock over his hit.
– Second, and last I believe appearance of Aristotle Amodopolous, this time briefly voiced by Dan Castellaneta. I wish he’d have appeared more often, or maybe I just think that because I want to hear more Jon Lovitz.
– Burns’ initial line-up is a great moment, populated by players who haven’t played the game, or even been alive, within the past century.
– Some classic Homer advice I think of time to time: “No matter how good you are at something, there’s always about a million people better than you.” Bart completely understands: “Gotcha. Can’t win, don’t try.”
– The different ways the players get indisposed ranges from psychotic to even more psychotic. Eddie and Lou continue to be hard-ass cops in accusing Steve Sax of committing every crime ever taking place in New York, Jose Conseco apparently spent the entire night and following day rescuing items from a woman’s perpetually burning house, Wade Boggs is knocked unconscious by Barney over an argument over the best English prime minister (“LORD PALMERSTON!!”), and of course, Mattingly’s sideburns (“Don’t argue with me, just get rid of them!!”) I like the continual build that it seems like Homer will finally get the play, only to finally reveal that Strawberry is still present. Speaking of, his one tear in response to the taunts is the best moment in the show.
– The show getting wackier also gets us closer to more big laughs. I’ve laughed my fair share at these past seasons, but sometimes the most insane shit gets the biggest laughs. The brief sequence of the fast-talking crazy peanut vendor hawking bags of nuts at the fans and into the parking lot had me in hysterics as soon as the scene started.
– Then, of course, there’s “Talkin’ Softball.” The song itself is fantastic, but showing it over the credits with rough sepia tone footage of the show’s events is icing on the cake. It creates this bizarre instant nostalgia for events you just watched unfold a mere twenty minutes ago, but in a weird way it just makes you like the episode even more. It sure worked for me.

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51. Bart the Lover

(originally aired February 13, 1992)
Y’know… there’s something about these last bunch of episodes that has gotten me a little depressed. In its earlier, more realistic-in-tone years, the show had never shied away from showing the darker, more somber side of everyday people, and life in general. Lisa is a perpetual big fish in a small pond, ever unappreciated and unstimulated, Marge is an unacknowledged house slave to an oafish buffoon, and now we lay focus on Mrs. Krabappel, a lonely, depressed woman with no interest in her job and has almost given up on herself. Seems the point here is that it must suck to be a woman on The Simpsons. I guess even this is a commentary on how men always seem to have a bit of a leg up in society. The stories you can write about Mr. Burns or Krusty are seemingly endless, where a character like Krabappel has a bit more grounded range.

A hilarious film reel about the wonders of zinc leads us into our show, which is not only great by itself, but shows us just how little Krabappel has left for her job. After school we see her pick up dinner for one and a lotto ticket, and make an impromptu stop at the mechanic, who finds sugar in her gas tank (he comments, “Your ex-husband strikes again.”) The content here is very subtle and building, giving us a very real look at a depressed human being. Another set piece that felt kind of sad is the school assembly with the yo-yo team. While I love the gag of the leader shoving the team into the back of a van, it seems so sad an existence for them, that this is their station in life. Anyway, Bart’s yo-yo antics get him a month’s worth of detention, so in retaliation, he ghostwrites letters to Krabappel’s personal ad under the name “Woodrow,” who is done in voice-over by Harry Shearer, seemingly channeling Ricardo Montalban.

Through the second act, Bart plays a double role, lending an ear to a warmer Mrs. K about what she wants out of a man, then using that material to fire off another mash note. But a point is reached where even Bart realizes he may have pushed things too far, and he falls back on the family to help him out of the mess he created. Writing a ginger farewell note is a nice conclusion, and the sequence of the Simpsons tossing out lines and debating over it is really sweet. I feel as sad as these episodes get, there’s still an element of hope at the end, and even if there isn’t, it still feels like it. “Woodrow” was an elaborate ruse from start to finish, but we’re still left feeling good about Krabappel, because she feels good. I think Marcia Wallace got an Emmy for this episode, and for good reason too. She took a character who could really be a complete caricature and made her so believable and so empathetic that we root for her as much as we do any of the Simpsons. This season and beyond, the supporting cast is really rounding out, creating a richer yellow universe.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Yeah, the zinc film is amazing, starring Dan Castellenta’s squeaky voiced teen character. I can’t believe they got away with the attempted suicide (failed of course, no firing pin), but I’m glad they did. “Come back, zinc! Come back!”
– Another amazing Simpsons product: Chef Lonelyheart’s Soup For One, labelled with a sad chef with a tear in his eye.
– Very great brief joke inside Springfield Magazine, an article “We Talk to J.D. Salinger, perhaps also a covert joke about the credibility of said magazine.
– I do like Bart is quite the yo-yo whiz; in future shows we’d find that he takes a vested interest and can get good at almost anything that doesn’t involve schoolwork, or something that could benefit him in the future. Also his latest technique “Plucking the Pickle” reaaaaallly sounds like a euphemism for masturbation.
– I love Krabappel’s blind date with Jasper; it keeps building on Mrs. K’s desperate state of affairs, but that old photo of him, a tall strapping man in a zoot suit cracks me up every time.
– I do like the wording of Krabappel’s personal ad: “1 + 1 = 2? Recently divorced 4th grade teacher wishes to meet man age: 18-60. Object: SAVE ME.”
– I couldn’t fit in the B-story into the main write-up since it’s so divorced from the main plot, but it provides much needed overt laughs to the more emotional A-story. Young Todd Flanders swears at the dinner table, and Ned discovers he heard it from a raging Homer during his fight building a doghouse. Marge suggests the use of a swear jar, which gets filled up mighty quickly, so much that Marge and Lisa just buy a doghouse on their own. So much great stuff here, from Ned’s punishment (“No Bible stories for you tonight!”) and his plea to Homer not to swear (“All of us pull a few boners now and then, go off half-cocked, make `asses’ of ourselves…”) and the great montage of events that cause Homer to fill the swear jar. I particularly love his intense fury over Flanders getting work in a commercial.
– Homer’s drunken postcard to Marge from the Duff Brewery: instant classic (” Maybe it’s the beer talking, Marge, but you got a butt that won’t quit. They got those big chewy pretzels here merJanthfgrr five dollars??!!!? get outta here…”)
– I do like Bart taking in an Ernest movie before he witnesses how far he’s broken his teacher. Then, of course, the great second act closing line: “I can’t help but feel partly responsible.”
– Two more things on the other plot: I love the sequence of Homer’s attempts to restrain himself. He steps on a nail (with a disturbing sound effect) and through gritted teeth comments, “Fiddle-dee-dee, that will require a tetanus shot.” Then there’s his joy over seeing his wife’s present to him: “Beer! How did you know?”
– Homer is especially a great help during the letter, from his initial draft (Dear Baby, Welcome to Dumpville. Population—You.) and his insistence on including “I am gay.”

50. Homer Alone

(originally aired February 6, 1992)
The sad state of being that is Marge Simpson is something the show has shown telling glimpses of over its first few years, and here it becomes front and center. Marge-centric episodes, like Lisa ones, have been said to be a pain to write, and it’s understandably so. While Homer and Bart are exaggerated and over-the-top, Marge and Lisa are more level-headed; their featured episodes tend to be and feel more realistic. Here, we see Marge’s life of marital servitude unravel, and it’s a very, very powerful first act. When you take a typical dynamic of the show and want to drive it to an emotional climax, you have to ramp things up. So while hearing Homer and the kids whine to Marge is normally just funny, here we see how they can be building irritants, pecking away at Marge’s sanity. Tedious task after tedious, thankless task wears at Marge more and more. When it gets to where everyday annoyances start plugging away at here, Marge does something we’d have figured she’d have done a long time ago: she fucking loses it, parking her car in the middle of a busy cross-town bridge.

Marge is eventually brought down and everything is okay. So says Homer. It almost seems like this would be the start and end of a crappy show, like a last ditch effort of appreciation is enough to sweep this psychological problem under the rug. But here it’s just the beginning. Marge concludes she needs a break: a weekend at a spa and resort Rancho Relaxo. A character of intrinsic restraint, Marge’s wild no-bars vacation consists of having a staff pamper her, and watching R-rated movies while drinking Tequila. The other Simpsons are left to fend for themselves in Marge’s absence. Bart and Lisa stay with their aunts Patty and Selma, a nightmarish domain of disgusting foot rubs and tongue sandwiches. Homer, meanwhile, must tend toward Maggie, who drives himself ragged, even more so when the baby crawls off and about town, desperately in search of her mommy.

Seeing how calm and mellow Marge is toward the end only makes the seemingly happy ending of her return seem sad, since we know she’s going to be unappreciated by next week’s show. It’s a testament to how great this show is that we can have episodes that very seriously explore huge fractures and dire issues with this family, but still love each one of them, and as a whole family unit. Either they remain optimistic, or they’re in the biggest permanent rut, but the Simpsons are overall content with their station in life.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The scene of Bart, Lisa and Homer talking over each other is mixed so well, and really gets across the building annoyance. One line that sticks out amongst the rabble is Homer’s “Double baloney! Double baloney! Don’t forget to make it double baloney!” But alas, they’re all out of baloney. I also like his later whine, “Ohh, alley balls!”
– We get some crazy Marge reactions here, from the lower pitched “GET. OUT.” to when she literally makes animal noises, something we haven’t seen since “Some Enchanted Evening,” and I don’t think again since.
– The almost final nail in the coffin for Marge is an insane crank call bit on the Billy & Marty show, involving them telling a guy his wife has died after walking into a plate glass window. The man is understandably devastated, and the two jocks laugh hysterically. It’s such an over-the-top parody of dumb shit these types of radio shows do, and the perfect example of insensitivity and craziness that would set Marge off.
– Little details are important. I love how the bus behind a standstill Marge is carrying the Shelbyville players, all in Shakespeareian garb.
– I think this is the first appearance of Arnie Pye in the Sky, a character I’ve always loved. Just as equal, we get the intro to his rivalry with Kent Brockman, as he takes offense to Kent claiming that this news story “is no mere morning traffic report.”
– Shows like these tend to not have big laughs, just a lot of great small moments, like the cops’ smirks upon Homer’s arrival, completely understanding his wife’s turmoil, and the female officer’s empathetic encouragement while taking Marge’s mug shot (but not enough to loosen her cuffs).
– We also get the first appearance of the rivalry between Mayor Quimby and Chief Wiggum, back when the latter had a bit more gumption. We saw this a bit more in the next few seasons, but I don’t think it was brought up much past season 7 or so. It’s a understandable and cool dynamic, I wish they’d kept it up.
– I love the ad for Rancho Relaxo, and its perks (“Swim, play tennis, or just sit and stare at the walls”), complete with a Spanish conquistador relaxing in a hot tub, in full uniform. Phil Hartman is back (seems like he’s in every one of these old episodes) as Troy McClure, hosting the in-room guide to the resort, who is absolutely great, as always.
– Homer doing a puppet show for Maggie only to have the dog attack him is such a great sequence of animation, and hilarious, of course, with Maggie clapping at the end.
– Maggie’s quest to find Marge is so sweet. Don’t have much to add on that, but it’s just really adorable.
– I love the random element of Barney being an omelet gourmand. He makes them with three kinds of cheese. Three!
Third and final instance of inappropriate hold music. It’s reused animation from “Saturdays of Thunder,” but it’s definitely my favorite. When Homer calls the department of missing babies, he’s treated to “Baby Come Back.”
– I like Homer, once it seems all hope is lost, his efforts to soften the blow to Marge about Maggie’s absence. He tests the waters asking her how she’d feel if the dog ran away, but after hearing she’d think that awful, he back pedals. Later he tests out some liners, including, “Isn’t life funny? One day they’re babies, the next thing you know they’re off on their own!”

49. Lisa the Greek

(originally aired January 23, 1992)
As I mentioned with “Lisa’s Pony,” Homer/Lisa episodes are always emotional and entertaining, not in an ROFL kind of way, but with subtler character behaviors and actions. Here we once again have Homer disregarding one of his child’s existences, but unlike Bart’s ambivalence in “Saturdays of Thunder,” Lisa is a girl who craves positive reinforcement. Marge recommends Lisa take an interest in something Homer likes, in an incredibly telling, somewhat sad but still funny line: “I pretend I’m interested in looking at power tools, going to those silly car-chase movies, and… some things I’ll tell you about when you’re older.” So Lisa decides to join her father watching football. In episodes like these, you need to push the bonds between characters far at the start so their reconciliation later on can be that much more effective, but seeing Homer force her daughter to the other end of the couch is not so much thoughtless and selfish as much as it is cruel. Homer’s assholery is best when it’s accidental, not overt, especially toward his daughter.

Needless to say, Homer and Lisa form a bond with watching the game, especially when Homer realizes that his daughter has a knack for picking the winning team, resulting in numerous winning bar bets with Moe. The scenes of the two together have a real bittersweet feel to them: we love to see them bonding, and Lisa finding passion toward the sport and her logical analyses towards her bets, but Homer’s actions are still completely self-centered. Lisa has happened to enter her father’s field of vision and Homer has figured how to make her an asset for his own doings. Even lavish dinners and gifts for his family, sweet as those moments may be, are peppered with a self-congratulatory aurora thrown by Homer. These suspicions are validated when Homer confirms he’s planning on blowing off their Daddy-Daughter Day once football season ends, crushing Lisa, leaving him with a bottomless pit he must figure out how to scramble out of.

The third act sets up a very bizarre climax, with Lisa racked with guilt over her actions, and seething with a quiet anger toward her father. She gives a very somber, yet serious proclamation toward Homer: her love for him all hinges on who wins the Super Bowl. Homer remains desperate for a more concrete answer, leaving him a twisted emotional wreck through the game. It’s almost like a weird psychological mind game Lisa is playing on her father, like she’s the puppet master behind professional football and she can change the outcomes based on her whims. Whether she’s trying to teach Homer a lesson, or just being melancholy in her musings, Lisa makes Homer realize her value to him, and the two reunite, of course. This is a pretty solid show, but I think it suffers having followed the much superior “Lisa’s Pony,” which put Homer in a bit more caring light.

Tidbits and Quotes
– There’s some absolutely fantastic bits of animation in the beginning: the opening to Inside Football Today does a great job mimicking early 90s-style computer animation, but with traditional means. And the sequence of Homer rapidly eating four different kinds of salty snack treats around him on the couch is spectacular.
– Smooth Jimmy Apollo may be my favorite one-off Phil Hartman character. Despite his indecisive nature (being right only 52% of the time will do that to a guy, I guess), he still exudes all the confidence and vigor you expect from Hartman. I love after his recommendation of Denver, and after Homer’s bet, thirteen seconds into the game, they’re down a touchdown.
– Always found it sweet that Marge is giving Maggie a bath in the sink, and funny that Bart walks in and drops his dishes in it.
– The giant lock and giant shoe are great props for the sports forecasters. My favorite bit in the whole show though is the Coach’s hotline, a fast-talking man on the commercial, but sloooow to enunciation on the phone. A bone-headed Homer complains, “Come on, don’t you realize this is costing me money?”
– There’s a sweet minor plot in the first act with Marge taking Bart out to buy new clothes, from the discount rack. When Bart claims he’ll get beat up wearing outfits such as those, Marge responds, “Well, anyone who beats you up for wearing a shirt isn’t your friend.” Missing the point entirely, but a sweet bit of motherly advice.
– Love the security guards catching a little girl wearing unpaid socks out of the store, rushing out of the control room with high-powered rifles.
– There’s some great bits in a montage of Sundays, with Lisa batting 100% (“I like the 49ers because they’re pure of heart, Seattle because they’ve got something to prove, and the Raiders because they always cheat.” Followed by an announcer calling, “And on an extreeeeeemely suspicious play, the Raiders win!”)
– The scene at the fancy restaurant is so sweet, where the family earnestly laugh at Homer and Bart’s hackneyed jokes.
– I love the talk box Homer gives Bart. I remember seeing commercials for those types of things, and it’s brought back excellently at the end of the second act, giving a minor break in the tension.
– Great dream sequence of an old drunken Lisa hawking jewelry for gambling chips. It’s horrifyingly wonderful.
– I thought we never saw Caesar and Uglion in any other episode, but here they are, passing over the big game for a Jerry Lewis comedy, of course.
– Brief appearance by Troy McClure plugging his new sitcom that will play after the game. When asked why he chose to do the project, he replies, “I fell in love with the script, Brent. And my recent trouble with the IRS sealed the deal!”
– Great bit with the “never tedious Super Bowl half-time show,” a bizarre display of men in giant alien heads dancing to “Rock Around the Clock.” Bart bemoans, “This sucks. Come on, snipers, where are you!” Also love the Duff Bowl. Upon hearing Duff Dry has won, Moe comments, “They wanted it more.”

48. Radio Bart

(originally aired January 9, 1992)
This is a show that’s never content with doing one type of story. Sometimes it’s content to focus on one topic or relationship, like “Lisa’s Pony,” but other times it’s all over the map; always focused, but covering a range of different subjects. “Radio Bart” is one of the latter, ranging from down-to-earth and sentimental to exaggerated ridiculousness, with a bunch of different elements peppered in along the way. We open on Bart’s birthday, where he will be turning 10 for the first of many times. At one point, he was younger, however, as indicated by his spiky hair chart. The first act is a great exploration about the excitement of birthdays as a kid, and how much it sucks to have them be let-downs.

Homer is suckered by a TV commercial into getting Bart a radio-style microphone, but of course has trouble realizing that what happens on TV doesn’t always reflect reality. Over time Bart realizes the microphone does have good pranking potential, leading to a great bevy of scenes of Bart reeking havoc with his new weapon. His final prank creates a frenzy in the town, fooling citizens into believing a young innocent Timmy O’Toole has fallen down a local well. This creates a media frenzy, which ultimately creates a bizarre carnival-type environment around the well, treating the scenario with more sensationalism than an actual desire to rescue. The show also satirizes the sainthood of the victim, that the simple act of one befalling a tragedy, even by accident or on reckless purpose, they become a hero worthy of praise. This is best exemplified by Homer’s defense of calling Timmy a hero (“Well, he fell down a well and… he can’t get out.”) Even celebrities try to sucker their way into the fray, with their “We Are the World” style relief song “We’re Sending Our Love Down the Well,” complete with Krusty hamming it up like Bruce Springsteen.

Realizing the potential to get caught, Bart attempts to cover his ass, but ends up victim of his own prank in getting stuck down the well himself. The absurdity of the second act makes way for the real ironic punishment and pathos for Bart’s actions, as the town abandons their cause after realizing they’ve been had. A scene where Bart muses over the things he’ll never get to do in life is quite touching, even, of course, it involves getting a fake ID and shaving a swear word into his hair. Sting makes a guest appearance as a participant in the well song, mocking the idea of a celebrity activist (“This isn’t about show business, this is about some kid down a hole… or something, and we’ve all got to do what we can.”) and getting kind of screwed in the end himself as he’s ungraciously pushed out of the way after digging his way to rescue Bart. This is an episode that covers a lot of ground, but has a seamless flow and nails every one of its targets completely.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The scene with the microphone commercial is perfect: it’s the ultimate shameless plug, and Homer gobbles up the whole thing.
– Wall-E-Weasel’s is a wonderful Chuck E. Cheese parody, complete with the horrible animatronic singers. For some reason, Senor Beaverotti always gets me (“I’m-ah ready!”), and of course, his tail breaks off and bursts into flames.
– I really like Bart putting his name on everything in the house; it just feels like a real kid thing to do out of boredom. Homer bemoans that a Duff in the fridge is branded, “Aww, there’s only one can of beer left, and it’s Bart’s.”
– Always great that Homer actually buys Bart’s prank that there’s an alien invasion, and runs through the house with a loaded gun. I also love Bart’s guttural “Uh-huh” when Homer realizes Bart actually liked his gift mid-choke.
– All of Bart’s early pranks are good, but my favorite is probably the first with making Maggie talk (I love Bart’s baby voice, “Sorry lady, show’s over!”) Runner-up, of course, is “God” speaking to Rod and Todd (“Walk through the wall. I will remove it for you… [thud] …later.”)
– This kind of feels like Groundskeeper Willie’s first “big” appearance, being first on the scene to get help for Timmy, taking a “nip of courage” from a flask and blocking traffic with his big tractor (“Look out, yah horse’s arse!” I also love Bart trying to build on Timmy’s character by screwing other characters, claiming that Timmy wasn’t allowed into Springfield Elementary by Skinner because of his shabby clothes.
– The charity song is great of course, featuring all the celebrities, and quasi-celebrities, we’ve seen on the show. We also get the first speaking part of Sideshow Mel. I love Krusty’s explaining of where the proceeds of the song go (“We gotta pay for promotion, shipping, distribution… y’know, those limos out back, they aren’t free. Whatever’s left we throw down the well.”)
– Love the tastefully done Itchy & Scratchy tribute to Timmy O’Toole, and the “We’ll Be Right Back” title card with Scratchy with an axe in the back.
– Great sequence of Bart repelling himself down the well, great use of shadows and lighting, and imitation Axel Foley music.
– Eddie and Lou are none too pleased to learn the truth that they’ve been punked. For some reason, “I’ve got an idea, let’s go home and go to sleep” has stuck with me, and was a big quotable line amongst my friends.
– The quick scenes depicting public reaction to Bart is great: Mayor Quimby openly admitting to flip-flopping, news of the Abraham Lincoln squirrel, and the hit single replacing the well song on the charts, “I Do Believe We’re Naked,” by Funky-See Funky-Do.
– The ending is perfect, of course, with the situation being resolved by a tiny sign “Caution: Well.” Nothing has been learned, but Willie is satisfied (“That should dew it!”)

47. I Married Marge

(originally aired December 26, 1991)
Flashback shows offer the series a valuable opportunity. Not only is it entertaining to see our characters in their younger days, but it gives us a look at what happened along the road of life that got them to where we know them now, not just in their jobs or their families, but how they psychologically came to be. “The Way We Was” ended with Homer and Marge finally getting together, but this show focuses on how their love grew into a somewhat stable family. We see what sacrifices had to be made, monetary and personally, in order to make the Simpson family what it is. And we see just why a smart, capable woman like Marge would love and stay with a big dumb oaf like Homer. It’s my favorite flashback show, and one of my favorite episodes, as it’s one of the best, if not the best, shows that perfectly balances its sweet moments with snarky humor.

Our show opens with Marge heading to Dr. Hibbert’s after failing a pregnancy test. Right off the bat the show treads new ground: in other sitcoms, the notion of a character being pregnant is only met by euphoria by the husband and canned applause, but here Homer and Marge seem very hesitant and tense about the affair. This all leads to Homer waxing nostalgic about the events that led up to Bart’s birth. At 24, Homer was still much the man-child, working at the miniature golf course, taking Marge to see The Empire Strikes Back, and lounging about his shitty apartment with Barney eating a tube of cookie dough. But when the news breaks that Marge is pregnant, everything changes. A man with no responsibilities is now responsible for a new life. This leads to my first of two examples of absolutely perfect scenes, where Homer proposes to Marge. He’s nervous about it, for sure (“Marge, there’s something I want to ask you. But I’m afraid, because if you say no, it’ll destroy me and make me a criminal.”) and he paws around the backseat looking for the card he wrote down what to say on. Marge finds it, and reads it aloud, an actually touching, poignantly written proposal, complete with a swell of music and Kavner’s slightly choked-up read. Homer flatly replies, “That’s the card, give it here,” while Marge basks in the moment, even though Homer’s asscrack is directly in her face. It’s unbelievable how the show manages to be so damn touching, but make me laugh at the same time. We love to hear Marge say yes, and we love even more Homer’s ecstatic reaction (“She’s gonna marry me! In your face, everybody!!”)

Getting married and preparing for a child ain’t easy on a shoe string budget. Homer’s attempts to provide for his future family go into a downward spiral, resulting in him leaving Marge. It takes a lot to still care about a guy who abandons his pregnant wife, but his goodbye note is written so sincerely, notating that he will send every cent he earns to her. The second perfect scene occurs when Marge finds Homer is working at a fast food joint and they have a heartfelt reunion. Homer mourns that he couldn’t give Marge a decent wedding ring. Marge replies that any ring is special as long as it’s from him. Homer gives Marge an onion ring (repeating a line from “The Way We Was,” “Marge, pour vous.”) There’s a beat to appreciate the sweetness of it, for the characters and the audience, before Marge asks if she can take it off, as the oil is burning her finger. Homer does… and then eats it. Perfect.

This episode really illustrates why Homer is the man he is: with enormous responsibilities thrust upon him, Homer has no real time to grow and mature into a responsible adult. He went from man-child right to childish father. Impassioned by Marge’s visit, Homer takes charge and boasts his way into a position at the power plant, but hilariously, claiming he’ll be the most sycophantic kiss-ass Burns has ever seen. Going from a job he loved to one he’ll come to be miserable by, it’s all worth it for Marge and his future child. This show presents such an honest, human depiction of two young fools in love and about to become parents; it has a minor tragic sting to it, but we have such faith and love for the characters that we know they’re going to turn out alright (relatively speaking). And it makes perfect sense that Marge’s announcement at the end that the test was negative would trigger a great joy out of the two. Parenthood’s a bitch.

Tidbits and Quote
– How much do I love Barnacle Bill’s Home Pregnancy Test? The answer is a lot. “If the water turns blue, a baby for you. If purple ye see, no baby thar be. If ye test should fail, to a doctor set sail.”
– I love Homer’s tenseness, in his physical actions and his voice, when Lisa asks if Marge is going to have another baby. It astounds me how much truly talented people can make mere drawings into believable human characters, even more so than flesh-and-blood actors.
– I do like Homer’s attempts to sweet talk Marge: “You’re as beautiful as Princess Leia and as smart as Yoda.”
– Odd that Marge calls “You Light Up My Life” as their song, not “Close To You.” I do like when Marge tells Homer she’s singing about God, and Homer replies, “Oh, well, He’s always happy. No, wait, He’s always mad.”
– Homer and Marge copulating inside the castle at the mini golf course seems so sweet apart from its seediness. I absolutely love Homer’s claim of the castle being “impregnable.” I doubt he’s ever used that word ever, ever again, but the one time he does, he’s wrong. Dead wrong.
– I like the continuity that Dr. Hibbert’s dialogue telling Marge she’s pregnant is identical to the brief flashback we saw in “The Way We Was.”
– Shotgun Pete’s is great, from the raspy clerk (the great Doris Grau) laughing at Homer’s face for believing their marriage will last forever, to the “minister” not even bothering to remember people’s names. “Byoo-tee-ful.”
– Can you think of a more perfect name than Repo Depot? And the employee’s got a great line, mournfully commenting, “Repossessing stuff is the hardest part of my job.”
– Love the donut truck driver. “All the colors of the rainbow!”
– I do like how Homer’s bravado nature continues through the day, from Burns’ office to the delivery room, as he stands up for himself in front of Patty and Selma, and the great bit where he fights with Hibbert over who will deliver the baby.

46. Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk

(originally aired December 5, 1991)
For almost all TV series, status quo is God. However outlandish and mixed up the universe may get over the course of twenty-odd minutes, things always end up right back where they started, or at least they will for sure in time for next week’s episode. But a show like this one uses its tried-and-true format to explore a deeper meaning behind these mechanics and how they’re not too far off from our own feelings, about being comfortable of where you’re at and how fragile one’s existence can be. Both Homer and Mr. Burns in their own different ways realize how valuable their roles are in this ballet of life and how much they both need their lives at the nuclear power plant.

We open with a melancholy Burns musing about the missed opportunities of his bygone years, ultimately deciding to sell the power plant to a group of efficient Germans. As he puts it, the world is his oyster, and he sets off into the world to conquer it. However, Burns quickly realizes that without a position of power, he’s nothing more than a withered old goat, puttering about without a purpose. Seeing him tend to bee hives and attempt to box just seems wrong; Burns is a man who needs others to cower before him, but now, even a young whippersnapper like Bart can take full advantage of him. As he succinctly puts it himself, “What good is money if it can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?” Without the power plant, he has nothing.

Homer, meanwhile, is terrified about the regime change. He’s well aware of his limited intelligence regarding his job (he can barely even remember what position he holds to begin with) and knows those crafty Germans will be able to see right through him, kindly and welcoming as they may be. Every one of us gets that nagging feeling from time to time that we’re getting by a bit too easily in our lives, but Homer’s been living that for his whole life. Naturally, he is the plant’s only lay-off, and the Germans slowly learn that the plant is more unkempt and disastrous than they thought. A woefully unemployed Homer and a woefully purposeless Burns are simply no good, so the episode ends as it should: Burns takes the plant back and rehires Homer, under the adage of keeping one’s enemies close, biding his time before it’s time to strike, which as status quo dictates, will never, ever happen. Ever.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We’ve been seeing more developments in the Smithers-Burns relationship. Smithers is the ultimate sycophant: he loves his boss more than anything, because he’s the hyper-charged caricature of the spineless yesman. An affection exists between the two, but there’s nothing truly overt about Smithers’ sexuality. It’s secondary, if anything.
– Very brief, but wonderful appearance by Homer’s stock broker (voiced by Phil Hartman), a pale, broken husk of a man hunched over in a dank office. Since he hasn’t called up his client in years, they have a brief catching up, and I really mean brief. Homer foolishly cashes in his stock too early, blowing twenty-five bucks on a fancy bottle of Duff, when he could have had a cool six thousand.
– Those Germans have some wonderful penmenship, writing “$100,000,000” in distinctly European font. Even a man as wealthy as Burns has his price, apparently. I also love how a German flag immediately ascends a flagpole upon the announcement, complete with a dramatic sting. This doesn’t bode well…
– Great reference to Alexander Graham Bell in Burns’ call to Smithers, as well as his great Elvis impression/mockery.
– The runner of one of the Germans repeatedly rephrasing asking Homer to have a meeting, thinking his English is poor, and Homer getting increasingly more freaked out is fantastic.
– Of course, of course, the Land of Chocolate! One of the show’s most classic and immortal sequences. It feels out of place from the rest of the show, something I’d normally call out, but for some reason it still works. It makes perfect sense to me that hearing “Land of Chocolate” would send Homer into a feverish daydream, delirious from excitement over the prospect. The giddy music, the glorious animation, and the kicker, Homer’s most excited when he passes a chocolate shop with a half-price sign.
– The announcement of lay-offs is hilarious. I just love the brief pause before “that is all.” Reminds me of a similar bit later in “Cape Feare” when Bob lists off the Simpsons that he will not kill.
– I feel a later Simpsons episode would have loved to shock Homer repeatedly with the malfunctioning toaster, but here the gag is left by itself, since Homer has enough problems on his plate without getting surges of electricity through him.
– Another spin on the crank calls is Bart having to set foot in Moe’s moments after he’s sent him into a rage. Moe, of course, is completely clueless, amused at Bart’s admission to making crank calls. It’s a great bit, which also leads into the final scene with Burns entering the bar and Homer confronting him. With Burns out of power, Homer has the ire to step up for himself, and that’s a world that’s just no fun.
– And what better way to end an episode than with Mr. Burns screaming at young children? “This is a place of business, not a pee-wee flophouse!”