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.

6 responses to “78. The Front

  1. sooo many great gags in this one, but i think my favorite might be homer asking about whether or not dondelinger’s dead wife will be on the test, the terse “…no!,” and homer resignedly erasing the sloppily written “DEAD WIFE”

  2. This has one of my favorite Marge / Homer conversations ever.
    Homer *thinking*: It’s time to confess to Marge my deepest secret.
    Homer: Marge, I ate the fancy soap from the bathroom.
    Marge: Oh my God!
    Homer *thinking*: Not that secret, the other one.
    Homer: Marge, I never got my high school diploma.
    Marge: Still doesn’t explain why you ate my bath soaps. Wait, maybe it does.

    ahahahahahaha so great

    also, the rock-paper-scissor game, and shit, this entire episode is gold

  3. You forgot to mention how all the I&S writers are caricatures of the real Simpsons writers at the time. The writer who got fired and mocked for going to Harvard is Jon Vitti and George Meyer, John Swartzwelder, Brad Bird (I think — it could be Jim Reardon. It was this blond guy smoking a cigar), and Al Jean are in the break room. The Al Jean one is the one with the glasses who said that he wrote his college thesis on life experience and near the end, told the Mike Reiss caricature that he was going to quit doing cartoons and write a sitcom about a sassy robot (considering how bad The Simpsons would end up later, I wonder why Al Jean didn’t really do this. Maybe Matt Groening stole his idea of a sassy robot with Bender from Futurama? We’ll never know).

  4. Poor, predictable Bart. Always chooses rock.

    Good ol’ rock. Nothing beats that.

  5. Another solid episode even if it isn’t the best of the season. I love how Meyers rejects their idea instantly but then accepts it when Abe’s name is on it. I also love the moment when he tells Homer about his job and Homer thinks he is crazy.

    I like how upset Grandpa is at the end after winning the award for his not-work.

  6. A wonderful episode. It’s pretty low key, and while it’s not the most memorable, it’s still solid. There’s plenty of great jokes in both plots (Homer’s awards, the reused backgrounds), and they’re solidly told stories.

    Oh, and The Adventures of Ned Flanders is one of the best things to ever come from the show.

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