Monthly Archives: September 2011

78. The Front

(originally aired April 15, 1993)
Not every episode can feature a rich, focused storyline. Here, we have two smaller scale plots running side-by-side, with nothing too extraordinary at stake or anything too grandiose. And you know what? I still loved it. It’s almost like they’re two mini-episodes, just depicting bizarre days-of-the-lives of the characters, all topped off with the fantastic “The Adventures of Ned Flanders” at the end. I always thought the show could retain its freshness with doing smaller scale stories, sometimes involving secondary characters, instead of always feeling the need to go big and brash with wacky set pieces and action sequences. Clearly the writers went the other way; I think the show could have benefited with a few episodes like this a season.

Plot 1: Bart and Lisa moonlight as Itchy & Scratchy writers under Grampa’s alias. We get some great meta humor in seeing depictions of the staff writers, the “How to Write Cartoons” book by John Swartzwelder, and animation jokes about repeating backgrounds. It all comes to a head in a finale at an award show where Grampa has been nominated. We see how scathing and sharp the show can be in the matter of seconds: the “How to Buy Action Figure Man” clip, which is all of four seconds, exquisitely parodies and encapsulates all merchandise-driven 80s cartoons and how crappy they are. Then they take a well-deserved shot at John K who although created the brilliant Ren & Stimpy, couldn’t seem to deliver his shit on time. Plot 2: Homer and Marge attend their high school reunion, where Homer is exposed for not having actually graduated, leading him to take a night class to get his GED. Great stuff at the reunion with the perfect class clown type and Homer’s various trophies. The night class stuff is a bit thin, but what we see of it works, and the joke of Homer never having passed remedial science, yet he’s still a nuclear technician is enough fuel to get us through.

I really want to talk about the Ned Flanders thing at the end. Its origins were that this episode was too short and they needed something to fill thirty seconds, so they whipped this short together, sort of parodying the quick six, seven panel Archie comics that bookend actual stories. I absolutely love it, it’s one of the best things the series has ever done. As I mentioned above, it shows how genius and impacting the show can be in such little time. The chorus singers, the title card, the classic set-up and punch, and the outro; so succinct, quick and perfect. I only wish we’d have seen more stuff like this, little skits from different characters serving as outros. Might have been neat to see. But maybe it’s for the best that “Everyone Loves Ned Flanders” is one-of-a-kind; it makes it that much more special.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I love how angry Krusty gets at his special guest chef bringing up his heritage (“I don’t do the Jewish stuff on the air!”) Guess he’s gone right back to stereotypical self-loathing after his tearful on-air reconciliation with his rabbi father.
– The lackluster Itchy & Scratchy at the start is great; Shearer’s “Ow”s and Castellaneta’s Itchy gigglings really make me laugh, as does their on-point anti-drug message as their closer.
– Bart’s fantasy at hijacking Santa’s sleigh at gunpoint is one of the more disturbing, and hilarious dream sequences of the series. And that includes the later one in the episode of Grampa as a belle in the old west.
– Love Bart & Lisa’s internal logic regarding rock paper scissors; my friend and I mimicked this basically every time we or some other friends of ours had a face-off.
– When Bart asks Grampa what his first name is, Abe’s knee-jerk reaction is perfect: “You’re making my tombstone?!”
– Not quite sure why the I & S scripts are so long. I’d imagine a typical short would fit on one script page, two tops.
– Homer’s mixing up his real life with Happy Days is a subtle comment on how pop culture infuses itself into our memories. It’s also really funny.
– Castellaneta subs for Jon Lovitz as a rich fancypants Artie Ziff. Oddly, he and Homer’s indecent proposal conversation later became an episode. I guess not so odd, since one of the writers probably re-watched this later on and thought, “Hey, that’s good enough for a show.”
– Love Homer’s sense of pride in winning so many unflattering awards, from Most Weight Gained (“I discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch”) and Least Distance Traveled. Stripped of his winnings after being exposed for not graduating, Homer vows to regain his pride… and his Most Improved Odor trophy.
– Grampa looks damn sharp in his new suit, and I love the wording he gives to his new job (“They pay me eight hundred dollars a week to tell a cat and mouse what to do!”) Homer envisions carting him off to the nut house.
– More Homer bartering with his brain in psyching himself for his final exam (“All right brain, you don’t like me, and I don’t like you. But let’s just get me through this, and I can get back to killing you with beer.”) His brain accepts the conditions.
– The plunger at the very end may be the longest possible callback, but I still love it, and it’s the perfect way to resolve the Homer story.

Advertisements

77. So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clipshow

(originally aired April 1, 1993)
In an era where one can find any movie or TV show on the Internet in about ten seconds, clip shows are wholly unnecessary. A year or so back, The Office did a clip show and I was perplexed as to why, as I looked at my season box sets of the show next to my TV. But in 1993, not only were there no home video releases, the show wasn’t even in syndication as it is now, so a clip show showcasing classic moments of the first three seasons wasn’t so bad of an idea. There’s no real way you can stack this episode up against the rest of the season, but for what it is, it’s pretty damn good. A lot of it is new animation, with a completely clip-free act one, and most of the clips seem to either fit naturally to the characters’ recollections, or comment on the silliness of the clip show itself.

Our set-up is it’s April Fool’s Day and Bart’s attempts to trick his father as he so giddily did to him. With help from an industrial paint shaker, he shakes a beer can up to the max, and when Homer lifts the tab, it causes an alcoholic eruption that blows the roof off the house. Ridiculous, yes, but still very funny, as Wiggum hungrily proceeds to the site on foot (Lou calls in backup: “We need pretzels, repeat, pretzels!”) At the hospital, we’re treated to an assortment of clips: X-rays of Homer’s battered skull leads to a montage of Homer getting hurt, the doctor treating Homer is revealed to be the veterinarian from “Dog of Death” so we flashback to that show, and Marge and the kids reflect on moments of the past. The writers seem to acknowledge their shame with two overt winks: after recalling an Itchy & Scratchy episode, Bart comments, “It was an amusing episode… of our lives.” Later, Grampa describes what a coma is like: “You relive long lost summers, kiss girls from high school, it’s like one of those TV shows where they show a bunch of clips from old episodes.” Pointing out a shortcoming doesn’t excuse it, but at least they were conscious of it. Never did I feel the need to fast-forward through any clips, and darn it all if I didn’t feel for Bart expressing remorse for his prank at his father’s bedside. Only The Simpsons could achieve actual emotion during a studio-mandated clip show.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I love Homer’s childish glee in pranking his son, and his taunting when Bart vows to get him back: “You couldn’t fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine!”
– Lisa’s retelling of the origins of April Fool’s Day is a classic segment, started off with a classic Homer line (“God bless those Pagans”) and a great flashback with old era Simpsons and Flanders (“Now who’s laughing!”) I also like how Homer absently attempts to take credit for the story afterwards. It’s one of those jokes that only works on TV; like Lisa finished telling the story and Homer concludes it out of thin air.
– Bart spying on Homer gives him adequate hints for his ultimate prank. Opening the fridge, Homer picks up a beer and comments to no one (“Ah, my one weakness. My Achilles heel, if you will.”) He then drops the can and picks it up (“It’s a good thing that beer wasn’t shaken up any more, or I’d have looked quite the fool. The April Fool, as it were.”) I still use that line whenever I’ve done something quite foolish.
– Another sign that an added effort was put into this show: additional animation to the climax of “Bart the Daredevil” with new animation of Homer falling down the gorge a second time, getting hit on the head with the gurney rather than the skateboard.
– I will say I don’t like that they used a clip from “Treehouse of Horror” as one of Marge’s memories, since it technically wasn’t canon. Then again a later clip show will actually have Kang and Kodos show up in the regular universe, so I guess I should save my bitching ’till then.
– Great One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest parody as Barney, shocked in hearing Homer’s new aversion to beer, smothers him, throws a water fountain through the window and takes off like the Chief. Moe reacts, “He really needs a girlfriend.”
– Brief comment on a clip to lavish more love on the Land of Chocolate sequence. I just wrote that the music in “Last Exit to Springfield” was my absolute favorite, but the chocolate music comes in a very close second. They’re both very similar instrumentally though so it may be a dead heat.
– Great “D’oh!” montage, but some clips are reused twice. At this point you could do a “D’oh!” montage that could probably take up a 22-minute show.
– I do like the end where Homer attempts one last prank, but the joke’s on him. And the great line, “Me lose brain? Uh-oh!” Followed by laughter.

76. Last Exit To Springfield

(originally aired March 11, 1993)
What is the greatest Simpsons episode ever? Completely subjective of course, but a few select shows have become notorious for being labelled the absolute greatest by a variety of sources. “Last Exit to Springfield” seems to pop up the most: it was named best episode ever by an Entertainment Weekly piece, along with many other journals and Internet bloggers. Years back when I read the EW piece I was a bit surprised at their #1 pick. “Last Exit” was not an episode that really stuck out for me. Re-watching it now, I can certainly see why people love it, it contains the best of all of the show’s greatest elements: a tight, rich plot, lots of great ridiculous gags and parodies, and some interesting character stuff sprinkled in. Some people might feel the need to nitpick at such a highly regarded episode, but why bother? It’s a fantastic episode that shows just how damn great the show can be.

The story’s pretty easy to surmise: Burns hopes to undercut his workers’ dental plan, causing Homer to unwittingly step up as head of the union, later resulting in a power plant strike. One thing I love about this episode is how focused it is, how every element is tied into the plot. The McBain opener is hilarious on its own, but Mendoza’s cartoonish villainy is purposely mirrored to Burns’. The bits with Lisa and the dentist are all connected since that’s what drives the main story. Episodes like these feel like they have more weight; there are still a fair share of wacky gags, but they all serve a purpose as the story moves along. Also great is our hero Homer, after rousing up enough enthusiasm to become union leader to begin with, seems to absent-mindedly ride the rest of the story out. Burns raises him to a superior level as Homer fights with his own mind. Any attempt by Burns to reach Homer is completely futile as the loveable oaf has no idea what he’s doing; Burns underestimates Homer, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s not until the end when he finally realizes that.

There’s parodies galore in this show, sometimes piling up two or three in a row. We have Homer imagining himself in Godfather Part II (“That’s-ah nice-ah donut”), Lisa’s legally distinguishable Yellow Submarine hallucination, immediately followed by the scene from Batman where Joker smashes the mirror, and the ending with Burns standing in for the Grinch, and Smithers as poor Max (in a wonderfully animated sequence). There’s absolutely classic gags as well: a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters, “Dental plan!” “Lisa needs braces,” Grampa’s rambling story about onion belts, Homer thinking Burns is making a pass at him, the list goes on. I don’t know how high up this show would rank in my favorites list, but it certainly is one of the best of this season. It’s an absolute classic in every sense of the word: satirical, sincere, and of course hilarious.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The ‘Springfield, 1909’ flashback is fantastic: in sepia tone we see Grandpa Burns haranguing a poor urchin workers for attempting to pocket six atoms, with young Monty Burns with lolly in tow. The squeaky voiced wage slave protests: “You can’t treat the working man this way. One day, we’ll form a union and get the fair and equitable treatment we deserve! Then we’ll go too far, and get corrupt and shiftless, and the Japanese will eat us alive!” It’s one of those classic Simpsons lines that tells so much in so little.
– I also really like how the story really occurs through happenstance. Burns just wants petty revenge against the unions and picks to cut the dental plan at random. If he’d chosen anything else, Homer wouldn’t have felt the need to protest, and there’d be no episode. But that’s how life works sometimes: the biggest events are triggered by the smallest decisions.
– Painless Dentistry (formerly ‘Painful Dentistry’) is a great set-piece, with the most vindictive dentist you’ve ever seen, armed with his greatest asset “The Big Book of British Smiles.” Great bits include him loudly calling Marge a liar as she tries to cover up Maggie’s pacifier sucking (followed by the baby sucking on a giant tooth as substitute,) his virtual depictions of future Lisas with ghastly teeth, and his terrifying words to Lisa before going under (“The first thing I’ll be doing is chiseling some teeth out of your jaw bone. Hold still while I gas you!”)
– At this point the joke of Burns not knowing who Homer is had run its course, so here we have Smithers trying to remind him by mentioning the numerous memorable encounters he’s had with the man. Burns still runs a blank.
– An easy joke, but still hilarious: Homer mentions how he’ll have to be a good negotiator, then Bart bilks him out of his crummy danish in exchange for a delicious doorstop.
– We not only get one great Burns monologue where Homer confuses as an advance, but two, the second further urging Homer’s need to take a piss. Being in Burns’ leaky basement (which he should really stop ending his tours in) and spilling some of his coffee doesn’t help. The best is the end of the scene where Homer dodges Burns question about finding the bathroom; he obviously just urinated in a random room out of desperation.
– Love the school photographer’s overreaction to Lisa’s antiquated braces: “There is no God!”
– The sequence of Burns and Smithers running the plant is one of my favorites in the entire series, and the music over it is definitely my favorite piece of music ever done on the show. I remember in a much, much later episode it was used again in a much, much poorer Burns and Smithers montage, and I was infuriated that they brought it back in such a shoddy way. I’ll have fun ripping that to shreds when I get to that episode… about a year from now.
– This episode’s phenomenal, but it contains the first of many wasted, superfluous guest stars in Dr. Joyce Brothers, who has one line (“I brought my own mic!”) I don’t know if they had other material for her that they cut, but it was kind of quick and random. Thankfully the Smartline segment is hilarious anyway, with the producers instructing Kent to not talk to Homer and allowing Burns his self-proclaimed opening tirade.
– Love the Get Smart montage of Burns and Smithers getting to the main power grid, only to have a ramshackle screen door already there. Burns cutting power to the town is a pretty dramatic scene (“Goodbye, Springfield! From hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”)

75. Duffless

(originally aired February 18, 1993)
Homer is our lovable everyman, a creature of habit, and due to this and the inelastic status quo, episodes like these are going to feel slightly disingenuous. Just as we know he’s going to continue stuffing his face with donuts following his triple bypass, we know that despite the sweet ending of this show, Homer will be back to getting blazing drunk by next week. Despite its title, Homer’s month-long alcoholic abstinence is really only in the final act; beforehand we have a lot of fun at the Duff brewery, witness the fallout of Homer’s semi-drunken behavior, and go along a nice B-plot involving Lisa’s revenge on her brother for the school science fair. It might not have the tightest story, but this episode is still memorable in its aim and high proponent of laughs.

Through use of secret catacombs, Homer escapes the power plant and takes a day trip with Barney to the Duff Brewery. From that point, we have a healthy bevy of source material to mine: we see the old limited animation Duff commercials from the fifties, as well as Kennedy and Nixon’s endorsements of the beer, each with varying levels of audience approval (Homer voices his disdain toward Nixon: “The man never drank a Duff in his life.”) Homer chooses to drive a perpetually drunk Barney, but is pulled over by the cops. He passes a drunk test in standing on his one foot and saying the alphabet, but an outburst from Barney gets him to take the breathalyser and fail. As unsettling as it may have been, I think the episode could have had more weight if Homer had been extremely drunk, as it would greater illuminate his problem and Marge’s urgings for him to quit. Homer displayed somewhat of a responsibility in refusing to let Barney drive, and while he was above the legal limit, still seemed to be coherent enough. I felt bad for Homer, when I should have felt bad about him.

These quibbles are minor, though, as the show is still hilarious. Homer’s “Seventeen” song is fantastic, as are the Springfield AA meetings, featuring Ned Flanders, four thousand days since his last drink (in which he made a drunken outburst defaming Ann Landers) and Hans Moleman, who reveals he is only thirty-one years old. The B-story is pretty great, where following Bart ruining Lisa’s science project, she enacts a study to determine if her brother is smarter than a hamster (of course, he is not). I like seeing Lisa defend her studies as scientific to disguise her childish sibling rivalry, and one of the most disturbing parodies ever of A Clockwork Orange where Bart reaches for the two cupcakes (topped with cherries, no less.) Homer’s beer-less month is a montage of wonderful sequences, culminating in what almost seems like a personal onslaught from the Duff company unto Homer. He resists, however, in favor of a bike ride for two with Marge. We know it won’t last, but at least it was fun getting there.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We open with Bart’s dream of the science fair and a slightly offensive line from Skinner: “For a school with no Asian kids, I think we put on a pretty darn good science fair.”
– Yet another instance of Homer’s brain betraying him, as he somehow manages to mix up his inner thoughts and his spoken words, openly admitting to skip work to go to the brewery. In a bind, he screams and runs out the door at first sign of question.
– The catacombs of the plant aren’t ridiculous enough, so we have a giant spider. It makes no sense, but hey, it’s funny. I love Barney as the vigilant lookout (“Hey! That looks like Princess Di! Oh, wait, it’s just a pile of rags.”) Some would say not so funny in hindsight. I say, still hilarious.
– Great slow-mo sequence of the tomato ever so slowly exploding on Skinner’s ass. Opportunity presented itself, and Bart had no choice but to answer the call.
– Quality control is very important at Duff, as one man picks out the bum bottles containing rats and syringes, which for God knows why ended up in there in the first place. His momentary distraction lets a few questionable items go, including Hitler’s severed head.
– I love Duff’s many flavors, but especially Tartar Control Duff, which I would only hope can substitute as a toothpaste.
– Homer trying to knock out Barney is an amazing scene, particularly him repeatedly slamming his head in the car door, with an echoed “Ow!” each time. I only wish it had been dragged out a little longer before Barney conceded.
– Another instance of stuff spontaneously exploding, as Wiggum, in a happy beer stein costume, rolls down a hill into a tree, and erupts in a fiery inferno. That’s the act break, by the way. After commercial he’s just fine though, though he mixes up DOA and DWI. Marge is relieved to hear this difference, but Wiggum dodges out the other unfortunate wife called in.
– Twice this show Bart mimics the Three Stooges: he gives a “Sointenly!” to Lisa’s request to hold the giant tomato, and upon being shocked by an electrode-fused cupcake, he slaps his face and comments, “Wise guy, eh?” Respect the classics, man.
– It’s a quick one, but the traffic school video is one of Troy McClure’s best appearances, if only for the great two previous titles he mentions (“Alice’s Adventures Through the Windshield Glass” and “The Decapitation of Larry Leadfoot”) and the completely inappropriate (off-screen) montage of grotesque car crashes and McClure’s cheery commentary (“Here’s an appealing fellow; in fact, they’re a-peeling him off the sidewalk!”)
– The science fair has some great stuff: the psychotic over-helpful father shooing his kid away from his project, Ralph’s alcohol-fueled car (“One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me…”), and Milhouse’s lame duck Slinky. Lisa continues to urge her project is in the interest of science (her brain puts it in more layman’s terms: “That’ll learn him to bust my tomater”), but Bart bests her by stealing her hamster and creating a project of sheer showmanship, with a pinstripe suit, and wins first prize.
– More great bits in Homer’s dry month: the rather offensive Duff commercial, realizing how boring baseball is, his shameless admission at AA, and suffering through Patty & Selma’s tupperware party (he quietly comments, “I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer.”)

74. I Love Lisa

(originally aired February 11, 1993)
Lo, it is written on giant stone tablets, that on this date, the world was first blessed with the indelible presence of Ralph Wiggum. He had existed as just another kid on the school yard in the past, had a choice line or two, but this is when he was cherry picked to be an actual character, and also genetically tied to Chief Wiggum. Ralph would soon become one of the most popular characters on the show, and as the years progressed, as most of the cast, would become further homogenized, becoming merely a wall-eyed non-sequitur machine. What surprised me most re-watching this is that Ralph is an actual person here; he’s still eating crayons and picking his nose like we expect him to, but his emotional plight carries a big portion of the episode, and we buy it. It’s one of the sweetest episodes of the series, and by having one of the most relatable story lines, one of the most memorable.

It’s Valentine’s Day in Springfield, so we get some great customary gags to start with: a heart costumed Flanders serenades his wife with a sanitized version of Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” and Homer, of course, has forgotten the holiday completely. Our story really begins at school where Miss Hoover’s class is about ready to hand out valentines. Now I remember as a kid we had to write out cards to every student so no one felt left out, but alas poor Ralph is left with an empty paper mailbox. A sympathetic Lisa gives him a renamed card, and that’s all Ralph needs to send his heart all atwitter. The scene of him walking Lisa home is perfect, with his inability to come up with conversation unrelated to the only tenuous connection between them: repeating the pun on the card she gave him. Ralph is ever persistent, however, managing to score tickets to Krusty’s 29th Anniversary Show. The Krusty stuff in itself denotes its own analysis, and once again calls into question what exactly his show is and who it caters for, as we see clips from past shows mirroring The Tonight Show and Laugh-In. It’s there that Lisa finally breaks and admits she only gave Ralph the card out of pity, and his heart is broken.

I thought it would be weird at this point to watch Ralph actually conscious of his surroundings or any emotion rather than ignorant bliss, but we absolutely buy his sorrow. There’s a wonderful scene in the third act during the President’s Day pageant, with Ralph as George Washington and Lisa as Martha. A despondent Ralph mournfully gazes into the fireplace, missing his cue to toss the valentine into the fire, then channels his emotions to give an impassioned performance. Shockingly, it works; the story has built to this point, and we not only buy Ralph in his transformation, we cheer for it. Lisa’s “Let’s Bee Friends” card is an absolutely perfect end, Lisa’s way of communicating her intentions in a way that Ralph can understand. The episode dabbles with emotion without ever become sappy, because it comes from a pure source: unrequited childhood romance. It’s a story we can all call back to, and we connect with it because we’ve all been in Ralph’s shoes at one point or another. We know how it feels to have lost love, even if we never really had it to begin with. Ashley, if you’re out there, call me. We can make it work, I swear!

Tidbits and Quotes
– The “Monster Mash” bookends are hilarious. The intro is great, as Marty feebly attempts to defend playing the wrong record (“It’s kind of a love song. All the monsters enjoying each others company… dancing, holding their evil in check…”) Then at the end when they prepare to play a presidential record, you know it’s going to play again, and in some instances like this, knowing the joke is coming makes it even funnier.
– The Valentine’s stuff at the front is great, where Grampa scoffs at the crass commercialism of the holiday until he sees Jasper got a card from his granddaughter (“Can I have the envelope?”) and Homer getting bilked a hundred bucks from Apu for his last, incredibly dusty, heart box of chocolates. After Homer vows to never shop there again, Apu must act quick to keep his customer: “Nickel off on expired baby food!” “Sold!”
– First Vietnam flashback for Principal Skinner, and a rather grisly one at that. Between his post traumatic stress and issues with his mother, Skinner is a really disturbed man.
– Lisa’s card is, of course, absolutely perfect. We all know what it is, but it bares repeating: “I Choo-Choo-Choose You!”
– I think this is the first appearance of Lunchlady Doris, voiced by the great Doris Grau. She’s a classic character right out of the box, smoking while mixing a broth and urging a truck-load of beef hearts be dumped onto the floor (“Just do your job, heart boy!”) Not quite sure what the school will be doing with them all, but it gives Bart license to pull a great prank with one.
– A particularly great Itchy & Scratchy where Itchy presents Scratchy with a valentine of the cat’s own heart. He admires it, places it on the mantle and sits to read the paper. Upon reading an alarming editorial (“You Need a Heart To Live,”) he scrambles to put the organ back in his chest, but expires before he can reach it.
– Love Homer’s eavesdropping on Lisa’s situation with Ralph (“Ah, sweet pity. Where would my love life have been without it?”) and multitude of suggestions of one-liners (“‘I no speak English,’ ‘I’m married to the sea,’ ‘I don’t want to kill you, but I will’…”) and of course: “Six simple words: I’m not gay, but I’ll learn.”
– Great quick bit where Lisa mentions the only way they could get tickets to Krusty’s show is if their parents were part of Springfield’s cultural elite. Cue Homer walking in: “Can you believe Flanders threw out a perfectly good toothbrush?” He then proceeds to use it.
– Our first, and only appearance ever, of Rex, the expert second-grade actor, who loses the part of George Washington to Ralph. Rex is incensed (“Someone’s gotten to you, you deceitful cow!”) and Hoover subtly gives the signal for Wiggum to remove the boot from her car.
– Wiggum’s story of how he got the tickets, running into Krusty at an adult theater, is pretty amazingly smutty. When Lisa mentions that story is not appropriate to tell children, Wiggum comments, “Really? I keep my pants on in this version.” That just raises further questions.
– The clips from Krusty’s show are all great: Sideshow Mel’s drunken confession, Krusty’s psychedelic 70s period (“What was I on?”), Sideshow Raheem, but the best is his humiliation of Robert Frost (“Hey Frosty, you want some snow… man?!”) Frost’s deadpan reaction under a pile of snow is priceless: “We discussed this and I said no.”
– “Mediocre Presidents” is one of my favorite songs from the series ever. It’s so absolutely perfect (“We are the adequate, forgettable, occasionally regrettable, caretaker presidents of the U-S-A!”)
– The finale of the pageant is unusually well done technically, with Washington’s bed rising to the rafters unfurling an American flag, and a gigantic Mount Rushmore lowering down in front of it. The spectacle of it is immediately dashed by Skinner’s voice through Teddy Roosevelt’s head urging the audience to buy orange drink.

73. Brother From The Same Planet

(originally aired February 4, 1993)
Homer may be completely out of his element with Lisa, but he’s got a better chance of building a somewhat substantial relationship with Bart, as they seem to operate on similar wavelengths. However, his laziness and ineptitude often creates him more damage than he intended, leaving him at a loss on how to repair things. As in “Saturdays of Thunder,” Bart seems to rarely need any sort of parental figure, but in this episode, when Homer fails to remember to perform a simple task, picking him up from soccer practice, he realizes he’s in dire need of one. The idea of Bart finding comfort in a surrogate father, and Homer, in petty vengeance, getting a surrogate son, is a pretty interesting one, but I don’t know if this episode delved into the material thoroughly enough, and missed a chance to further explore Homer and Bart’s relationship in lieu of a relatively limp B-story.

Thanks to some healthy abuse of the local big brother agency, Bart is introduced to Tom, coolest guy ever, voiced by coolest guy Phil Hartman. He’s proactive, athletic, full of wisdom and knowledge, basically everything Homer is not. In turn, Homer “adopts” a little brother, a pathetic wide-eyed little boy named Pepi. The episode plays up the betrayal angle quite a bit, with Homer bitterly (and drunkenly) accuses Bart of “adultery” a la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and later one of the most bizarre scenes in the show’s history where Bart admits to having feigned enthusiasm on the swings in the past almost akin to faking an orgasm. The dynamic between the two is tested; Homer attempting to one-up his son is in-character enough, but its climax doesn’t seem to amount to much given the emotional stakes. Homer and Tom have an all-out brawl, which ultimately results in the resolution of the story for some reason. Bart is concerned for his father’s safety, and impressed by his cowardly fighting style, but does that really solve the conflict? It felt more like they couldn’t arrive to a sensible ending and just had the show end anyway.

I don’t have much of a problem with the B-story, which is given a lot of screen time despite the potential richness of the main plot, other than it’s not all that engaging. I like the running gag of the ambiguous teen heart throb Corey we’ve heard mentioned in previous shows, and the ridiculous pre-recorded messages on the hotline, but nothing from this plot ever seems to stick. I buy Lisa’s infatuation with the teen idol, as she’s still a young girl, but I think it works better in smaller gags as we’ve seen in the past; seeing her obsessed to such a degree kinda doesn’t work for me. I think a lot of stuff in this episode just came up short; it has its moments, and a fair share of great gags and laughs, but given the concept, I’d expect more emotional plumbing from a show like this, especially following a rich show like “Selma’s Choice.”

Tidbits and Quotes
– Love the kids’ excitement over sneaking into an R-rated movie: Barton Fink. Great movie, but not at all what a kid wants out of an R-rated flick.
– Classic line from Flanders when Homer leaps out of the tub and dashes outside (“Hey Homie! I can see your doodle!”)
– I think the A-story could have been helped with some intervention with Marge, motherly advice to Bart and scolding Homer about getting Pepi. It could have given the story some more solid emotional ground, but Marge seemed to have been wrapped up with Lisa’s B-plot.
– Love Homer’s immediate response to an alarmingly high bill: “Oh, it’s that record club. The first nine were only a penny. Then they jacked up the price!”
This show does have its great share of fantasies of Homer and Bart spinning negative stories about each other: Bart with Homer’s seedy gambling and not knowing when to say when, and Homer with Bart smashing grapefruit in his face like James Cagney (“Mmmm… grapefruit.”)
– The Ren & Stimpy segment is kind of strange, considering they hired people from the actual show to help with the segment. It’s not really a parody of the show, it’s just Ren & Stimpy randomly plopped into a Simpsons episode. It could just as easily been Itchy & Scratchy Bart and Tom were watching. I do like Dan Castellaneta’s take on voicing the two characters though.
– More of Homer being at odds with his brain: asked why he wants a little brother, his brain urges him not to say “revenge,” but he does it anyway. His brain is fed up: “That’s it, I’m out of here.” Followed by footsteps and a door slamming. Brilliant.
– Very disturbing parody as Skinner gazes out his office window at the Psycho house talking to his “mother” (“Mother, that sailor suit doesn’t fit any more!”) Marge and Lisa quietly make their exit.
– Homer teasing a dolphin at Marine World and laughing goofily is a great callback to similar antics he pulled at the zoo in the Tracey Ullman shorts, complete with slightly off-model laughing.
– Oblivious Homer is always great: Tom finally meets Homer, and it stops him in his tracks (“His father, the drunken gambler?”) Homer cheerfully responds, “That’s right. And who might you be?” right before getting punched in the face.

72. Selma’s Choice

(originally aired January 21, 1993)
Patty and Selma are pretty tragic characters: they have developed a long-lasting co-dependency on each other thanks to a world that can barely tolerate them, let alone accept them. While Patty is pretty comfortable with their situation, Selma yearns for more: a man who loves her and a baby she can lavish her love unto. Even at their rawest, we still feel for these characters because they feel so genuine, their struggles relatable and seem sympathetic. That being said, I’m sure these shows must be a bitch to write, but the episode keeps its theme consistent throughout, even with two big set pieces in the front and back end. We start at a funeral parlor where the Simpsons and Bouviers pay respect to the passing of dear great aunt Gladys. It’s in her video will and her warning to her nieces to raise a family and not die alone that really hits Selma hard. Her gift to them of a grandfather clock pushes it even further: time is ticking for Selma, so if she wants a family, it’s now or never.

The second act is devoted to Selma’s attempts to find a decent catch, which very quickly devolves into nabbing any male with a heartbeat. While seeing her attempt to seduce bag boys and her freakish date with Hans Moleman is amusing, there’s an underlying sadness to her fruitless endeavors. While at times they come close to clashing, the gags mostly work as relief from the dour side of the plot. There’s a scene where Selma has decided she wants to be artificially inseminated, and Marge and Patty discuss it with her that feels like it’s from another show, so raw and emotional. Also great kudos to Julie Kavner, who gives a different nuance to all three roles, each with their own ideas and opinions, all distinct despite their shared gravely nature (the scene ends with them murmuring in three-part harmony.)

Set up early in the episode is Homer and the kids’ excitement over Duff Gardens, an amusement park sponsored by the brewery, similar to how Sea World and Busch Gardens are under the Anheuser-Busch umbrella. When a sandwich-related incident leaves Homer too sick to go, Selma steps in to take Bart and Lisa for the day, and gets her first hands-on experience with tending to children… and everything goes wrong. The third act is full of potent satire toward Disney parks: the Seven Duffs, the drunken Hall of Presidents, and of course the insufferable It’s a Small World knock (“Duff beer for me, Duff beer for you, I’ll have a Duff, you have one too…”) Lisa’s freakout after drinking the water from said ride is a real highlight, as I’ve always wondered how absolutely rancid theme park water must get. In the end, Selma finds an outlet for her matronly desire: Gladys’ iguana Jub-Jub. This was a sweet show, with a lot of satisfying elements. While it’s not quite as tight as other episodes, it’s still got a lot of great character study and humor to keep it going.

Tidbits and Quotes
– A welcome, albeit brief, return of Captain Lance Murdoch, celebrity sponsor of Duff Gardens, who appears relatively infirmed and continuously thrashed around and injured by the park’s rides. Regardless, Homer is sold (“Bart, warm up the car. We’re going to Duff Gardens!”)
– A spectacular moment where Homer appears to have been tricked by his own brain: the voice in his head comes up with a mean-spirited witty retort, and he repeats it out loud and laughs, causing him to get scolded.
– Homer is a man of quiet dignity: he fails to complete a place mat maze for children for the umpteenth time, and when asked by a waitress if he’d like another, he modestly responds, “Please.”
– Lionel Hutz has a brief appearance as executor of Gladys’ estate, and his voicing over the video will in attempts to get inheritance money is lovably sleazy (“You’d be surprised how often that works, you really would!”)
– Selma’s date tape of her doing the cherry stem trick with a cigarette is so disturbing, so that’s exactly why I used it as the post picture. Even someone as grizzled as Willie is disgusted (“Back to the loch with you, Nessie!”) Speaking of, I love his leisure shirt and chains; an odd side of him we’ve never really seen since.
– A great bit where a phony gypsy tries to sell Selma a love potion, but falls victim to her own truth serum. But if the truth serum seems to be legitimate, then why would the love potion be fake?
– I always found it a little unsettling that Lisa, an eight-year-old girl, suggests Selma consider artificial insemination, but it’s immediately mollified by Homer’s giddy response (“You gotta be pretty desperate to make it with a robot.”) Also, the sign at the Springfield Sperm Bank is, without question, the best sign joke in the entire series: “Put Your Sperm In Our Hands.”
– The sandwich saga is pretty amusing, where Homer continuously can’t say no (“Marge, I’d like to be alone with the sandwich for a moment.” “Are you going to eat it?” “………..yes.”)
– Lisa’s freakout is amazing, with the monstrous version of Selma featuring some fantastic animation. Also some great blurring effects in the POV shot when Lisa’s swaying her arms to the music of the electrical parade.