Monthly Archives: September 2011

71. Marge vs. the Monorail

(originally aired January 14, 1993)
The Simpsons
started as a rather low-key, “realistic” subversive sitcom that just happened to be animated. Over its first few years, the tone and scope of the show slowly began to take shape, and limits were pushed: gags became more outlandish, and plots got a bit crazier. We had “Homer at the Bat” feature nine famous baseballers get side-lined in the most ridiculous of ways. But “Marge vs. the Monorail” is particularly egregious: compared to the seventy episodes before it, this show is downright nuts, and even after twenty years it remains one of the series’ most insane episodes ever. Full of overly crazy gags, a spectacularly bizarre premise, guest star Leonard Nimoy literally teleporting, and much much more, this episode basically opened the flood gates for the show in terms of what they could get away with. However, as off-the-wall as this show is, it has a very tight structure, has a perfect flow, and gives us great insight into mob mentality in the city of Springfield. And it’s hilarious, of course.

Things are insane off the bat as we see Mr. Burns personally disposes of used drums of toxic waste in public areas, stuffing them under sandboxes and in trunks of trees. Discovered by the EPA, he is forced to pay the town of Springfield three million dollars in damages, and a town meeting is held to determine what to do with the money. I may be mistaken, but I believe this is the first town meeting of the series, and it really sets a great precedent. Not only do we see the denizens of Springfield as a better collective, we get a great examination of their quickness of devolving into a mindless mob. Acting as the voice of reason, Marge suggests the money be used to repair Main Street, which has been mindlessly tattered and destroyed by the town. Grampa attempts to issue a sarcastic response, but the town completely misreads it and immediately celebrate Marge’s proposal. Enter Lyle Lanley, a gregarious smooth-talking shyster who claims he’s got the perfect solution: constructing a monorail for the town. Lanley is probably Hartman’s greatest one-off role; he exhibits all of the smarm of his other characters, but has a lot more charisma. He’s well aware of his dangerous product, but sells it with as much sincerity as he can muster. Having a musical number doesn’t hurt either.

The townspeople are completely overtaken by this stranger’s candor, and immediately go forward with his proposal. With time, Homer is even swayed into becoming a conductor. This further emphasizes Lanley’s power: Homer barely has any idea what a monorail is, but after his razzle dazzle performance and a flashy ad, he claims being a conductor to be his life-long dream. Meanwhile, Marge, the only doubter of the bunch, discovers Lanley’s shady ways and travels to the site of his previous fiasco North Haverbrook, a town deserted and virtually destroyed, a vision of Springfield’s potential future. The third act becomes almost like a disaster movie when the monorail malfunctions and Homer must figure out how to shut it down. This episode is full of ineptitude from supposed authority: Judge Snyder gladly sells the statue of justice to Mr. Burns, Kent Brockman shamelessly over-promotes the monorail with a smile, and Chief Wiggum and Mayor Quimby have a proverbial dick-measuring contest whilst lives are at stake. In the end, the common man (Homer) saves the day, thanks to his favorite snack treat (giving us the immortal line, “Donuts, is there anything they can’t do?”) While this episode pushed the bar much higher in terms of outlandish content, it never lost sight on the show’s themes and social satire. And laughs. Lots of laughs.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Even before the plot set-up with Burns, the episode is silly to start with a loving tribute to the Flintstones opening, with Homer leaving work singing a hilarious reworking of the famous theme song. And smashing his car into a tree.
– Mr. Burns’ piss-poor disguise always cracks me up (“Hello, my name is Mr. Snrub, and I come from… some place far away! …yes, that’ll do.”) I also like even considering how nonplussed he seemed about paying the three million in the first place, he still wants it back just for its own sake.
– The scene with Homer driving with chain-link tires and hoisting a grand piano, gleefully ripping up the pavement behind him makes me laugh; a man so giddy at his rampant and mindless destruction.
– Lanley is truly a master manipulator. We get some insight on how he resonates: as Marge bemoans how her proposal was usurped, Homer responds, “Well, you should’ve written a song like that guy.” He doesn’t even remember his name, but knows he had a song, and that’s good enough for him, and the rest of the town. Lanley is so crafty he even manages to mollify Lisa’s justified complaints. Damn, he’s good.
– I love the end of the Lanley Institute of Monorail Conducting commercial, showing a picture of the institute (“Actual institute may not match photo.”) Later when we see the class, we see a hastily written name on a piece of paper taped to a door.
– More great test questions, akin to the driver’s test in “The Otto Show”: “True or false? You can get mono from riding the monorail.” Homer surprisingly picks false, but unsurprisingly backpedals, thinking it may be true.
– The one bit we see of Lanley teaching is very telling of what his class must have been: “Mono means one, and rail means rail. And that concludes our intensive three week course.”
– Another classic line from Homer regarding the family of possums living in the compartment of the monorail that should house a fire extinguisher: “I call the big one ‘Bitey.'”
– This episode is silly enough, but Lanley’s notebook of childish stick figure drawings of himself running off with bags of money and the monorail burning are truly insane, like there is something really wrong with this man. I love when Marge appears to be in hot water upon discovering them, but Lanley just lets her leave (“I don’t know why I leave this lying around.”)
– Nimoy is an amazing guest star right off the bat, with his indignation over Quimby not knowing who the hell he is (“I think I do. Weren’t you one of the Little Rascals?”) Every bit of his is great: talking to an uninterested fellow passenger about Star Trek tidbits, saving Krusty from leaping out of the runaway monorail (“The world needs laughter”), and giving the best line in the whole show, one of the best in the entire series: “A solar eclipse. The cosmic ballet goes on.” The seriousness of the read is so amazing.
– I always liked Bart sticking his head out of the window, pulling it back in mere moments before he would have been struck and killed by a telephone pole.
– Lanley, armed with two suitcases overflowing with money, has a comeuppance when his plane to Tahiti has a layover in North Haverbrook. Not only can the townspeople see him on the landing plane, but they identify his seat number, and all charge on board to beat him senseless.
– More things that spectacularly explode, but shouldn’t, as Homer’s ‘M’ anchor cuts through Springfield’s oldest tree, which lands on the birthplace of Jebediah Springfield, which bursts into flames.
– We end just as silly as we start with the Popsicle stick skyscraper, the giant magnifying glass, and the escalator to nowhere, which I guess is a city-approved suicide venture. It’s almost too crazy for the show. Almost.

70. Homer’s Triple Bypass

(originally aired December 17, 1992)
In this week’s hilarious episode of The Simpsons, our lovable hero, husband and father of three, has a heart attack and must get a triple bypass operation. Rather heavy subject matter for any show, let alone a comedy. Such a serious premise could have created a dour, maudlin tone to the entire show. Treating it too light and goofy would have betrayed the premise. The magic of this series is its ability to have it both ways: we get as many laughs as we can get, more than you think you could squeeze out of an episode about a heart attack, but the episode remains sincere, emotional and so very real. This blend is so effective, the episode can flawlessly go to a heartfelt moment with Homer and the kids to an over-the-top gag with Dr. Nick. It’s a crowning achievement, and one of my favorite episodes of the series.

After a great quick TV parody (“COPS… in Springfield!”), we delve right into our story, in showing how Homer’s poor eating habits and sloth-like lifestyle has finally got the better of him, with him having several major chest pains during the day. Massive thanks goes to David Silverman, who took a task as monumental as making a heart attack funny and succeeded tremendously. We still feel the tension (also helped by great dramatic stings by Alf Clausen) of Homer’s pain, but also are amused by them, particularly due to his complete unacknowledgement. You can tell fairly quickly it’s a Silverman show because of the great acting: one moment sticks out when Marge offers Homer a healthy bowl of oatmeal, to which he patronizingly responds, “Oatmeal! What a delightful treat!” The small dainty movement corresponds perfectly with the great performance, so flowing and meaningful. Homer may be grossly overweight, but there’s still a very flighty air to him that allows him to act with occasional grace, like his fairy dance in “Flaming Moe’s.” This all builds toward our tipping point, one of the greatest scenes in the show’s history, as a fierce scolding from Mr. Burns finally triggers Homer’s heart attack. With a picture-in-picture of Homer’s heart going mental, and the hilariously off-model fluctuations of Homer, it’s an absolute wonder to behold. Again, we’re talking about a man having a heart attack.

Following Dr. Hibbert’s diagnosis (and a high price tag for an operation), the story briefly becomes another money crunching episode where the family tries to scrounge up funds. Things turn upon seeing a commercial for quack Dr. Nick, who will cut anyone open for a mere $129.95. We get some absolutely beautiful scenes from then on: Homer praying for God to look after Marge, Bart and Lisa whispering Homer his possibly last words to them, they’re all very touching. Similar to “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish,” we know Homer will survive his operation, but we’re so invested in these characters and their emotions that we feel connected to the story. This also helps with the humor; because we care about what’s happening, we’re able to laugh at it. We feel pained as Lisa tears up about her father’s situation, and Homer’s reassurance that only bad people die, and just like that, we laugh when Homer feigns a story about Abraham Lincoln giving poison milk to school children. This episode exemplifies the show at its very best; at its peak of emotional resonance and prevailing humor in the face of any subject matter.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I like Bart’s antics at the breakfast table: we all know the “see-food” trick, but Bart goes one step further by scraping the goop into Lisa’s cereal bowl. It’s the perfect trigger for another of Homer’s chest palpitations.
– First time Hans Moleman dies spontaneously, going off road whilst towing the birth home of Edgar Allen Poe, which bursts into flames for no real reason, and long before the vehicle even goes off-road.
– I’ve already said the scene is perfect, but Harry Shearer does an amazing performance during the firing scene, seamlessly alternating from cordial to raving. The capper is great of course (“Your indolence is inefficacious!” Homer is confused. “…THAT MEANS YOU’RE TERRIBLE!!”)
– Another great cheek slap: after Marge runs out announcing Homer’s at the hospital, Patty finds a coupon for five cents off wax paper. Selma is stunned.
– Absolutely great sequence of Dr. Hibbert torturing Homer; slightly out-of-character for him, but it’s so hilarious, with great ad-lib between Castellaneta and Shearer, and the great final line, “Remember your hippopotamus oath!” I love the tests with the radioactive dye and the fat analysis (“Woo hoo! Look at that blubber fly!”), and Hibbert’s numerous attempts to dumb down his medical jargon (“We’re going to cut you open and tinker with your ticker.”)
– Homer once again displays his occasional knowledge base in reassuring Marge (“America’s health care system is second only to Japan, Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, well, all of Europe, but you can thank your lucky stars we don’t live in Paraguay!”)
– The scene at Happy Widow’s Insurance is another amazing one, with great acting, pacing and execution. Homer just can’t wait to get his insurance plan and rub it in the poor clerk’s face that he screwed them, thinking his scheme is completely fool-proof. Every second of the scene is gold (“Now, under ‘heart attacks’, you crossed out three and wrote zero.” “Oh, I thought that said ‘brain hemorrhages'”), and the finale of Homer fighting another chest pain and his back-and-forth with the clerk is so hilarious (after collapsing, Homer weakly asks if he can have a free calender. The clerk says that’s fine.)
Desperate, Homer turns to houses of worship for money, but has no luck with Reverend Lovejoy, Rabbi Krustofski, or Surdrudinma Baradad (host of his own yoga show, as seen in “Kamp Krusty.”) No luck with funding, but Homer does get a nifty souvenir from the rabbi (“Son, it’s called a droodel.”)
– So many great Dr. Nick moments, right off the bat with his call number 1-800-DOCTORB (“The ‘B’ is for bargain!”)
– I can’t quite put into words the great feel of this show: you totally feel the sense of drama the story needs. The scene where Lisa asks her Sunday School teacher what will happen if her father dies is one of those scenes; they’re played straight when they need to, and when we do get the joke at the end where Lisa imagines angel Homer in the clouds (“Cloud goes up, cloud goes down!”) it doesn’t lose that tone, since you’d imagine Lisa to be thinking of that.
– The scene of Krusty visiting Homer has some amazing animation, particularly on Krusty. The animation of him lighting his cigarette and unbuttoning his shirt is so full of life, it helps so much with the great performance. And we close with one of the best Krusty quotes ever: “This ain’t makeup!”
– Unfortunately for Dr. Nick, the videotape tutorial for the operation has been taped over with a talk show featuring the segment “People Who Look Like Things.” Fortunately for us, it’s a hilarious scene. A man with a pumpkin-like head speaks his mind, “All we ask for is a little dignity and a little respect. The host slyly responds, “And a new candle every now and then?Pumpkin guy is suitably grumpy and the audience applauds. Hysterical.
– Dr. Nick is hilarious during the operation, saying the worst possible thing anyone could hear before they go under (“What the hell is that?”) There’s also the great bit at the end of being accosted by one of his botched patients (“If it isn’t my old friend Mr. McGreg, with a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg!”)
– The ending is perfect, showing picture-in-picture of Homer’s heart back in working shape… mostly. I heard on the commentary alternate takes of Homer having a horrible creaky wooden heart, or another joke of him eating a pizza, mirroring an earlier flashback of infant Homer, but I think the end works a lot better played straight, with a minor joke.

69. Lisa’s First Word

(originally aired December 3, 1992)
The family history of the Simpsons is so rich you could make a whole other show out of the different eras of their lives. I’d watch a show featuring high school Homer and Marge, and I’d watch another involving the misadventures of toddler Bart. These flashback shows, as I’ve mentioned, provide great insight on the relationship and meaning behind the characters as we know them now, but are also wholly entertaining in and of themselves. “Lisa’s First Word” nips at the heels of “I Married Marge” in terms of its sweetness, where in place of Homer’s stumbling but earnest attempts of affection we have a young Bart and even younger Lisa. The li’l designs of the two Simpson children are so goddamn adorable that it’s almost unbearable. Like I said, I could watch 2-year-old Bart doing his thing all day, and I’d be captivated.

The title is a half-lie, as the wrap-around is about the family trying to coax Maggie to speak her first word, the flashback is the lengthy story of Lisa’s. Set about two years after our last flashback, we see Homer, Marge and little Bart living on the East side of Springfield, which resembles an almost 1940s type of New York. Their neighborhood, Marge’s home outfit, their crummy apartment, all of it seems so perfect and sets the mood for the episode. A lot of time is given to show what a little hellion young Bart is, so when Marge announces she’s pregnant again, I’m surprised Homer’s reaction isn’t one of pure shock. The two move out of their apartment and into their trademark house, which gives us explanation of how they stuck Grampa in the retirement home, and also Homer’s first encounter with Flanders (followed closely by first item permanently borrowed from his neighbor-eeno). The big day comes, and Lisa Simpson is born, much to the chagrin of Bart that from now on, it won’t all be about him. The nerve.

On top of everything else going on, we have plenty of classic scenes and bits, like Bart’s terrifying clown bed (which considering Homer made it is shockingly well constructed), the various places Homer and Marge house hunt, and Grandma Flanders (“Hello Joe!”) There’s also a small runner of Krusty’s backfiring promotion for his restaurant involving the 1984 Olympics (“Soviet boycott. U.S. unopposed in most events. How does this affect our giveaway?”) But what works best is the build-up toward our big finale, Maggie’s first word. The groundwork is set from the start, where we see little Bart’s complete inability to call his father “Dad,” pretty much just to aggravate Homer, even at such a young age. Later when Lisa finally speaks, she doesn’t call Homer “Dad” either, even though she can comprehend “David Hasselhoff.” So, we get our sweet ending where Maggie, alone in her crib, utters, “Daddy.” And she sounds an awful lot like Elizabeth Taylor. Shame Homer missed it.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Brilliant sequence at the start where Lisa uses one of her many platitudes involving Maggie speaking (“Remember, it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”) Homer’s brain is in a panic (“What does that mean? Better say something or they’ll think you’re stupid.”) He retorts, “Takes one to know one!” His brain is alleviated (“Swish!”)
– The quick flashback of Bart’s first word is pretty dirty; I love the half-lidded expression of baby Bart sucking on a bottle as he nonchalantly opens his parent’s bedroom door.
– Always love that little Brooklyn kid: “Hey, youse guys wanna play stickball?”
– When Marge tells Homer there’s going to be twice as much love in the house from now on, his immediate response just kills me: “We’re going to start doing it in the morning?!”
– Great disturbing element of Homer’s past involving his cousin Frank, who slept in his parents’ bed until he was 21: “He became Francine back in ’76. Then he joined that cult. I think her name is Mother Shabubu now.”
– Third time’s the charm for Captain McAllister, who has a great small scene.
– Little Bart banging pots and pans, aggravating a migraine-pained Marge is a wonderfully real scene.
– Classic Homer line: “It’s not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to fit in eight hours of TV a day.”
– I like the bits we see of the Olympics, like the announcers uncaringly commenting on drowning contestants who come from countries without swimming pools (the Keith Jackson-type announcer’s great line, “Boo hoo, you’re breaking my heart!”)
– Homer is always a man of simple pleasures; “Wow. A baby and a free burger. Could this be the best day of my life?” A full-hour episode of “Mama’s Family” is coming on TV confirms it.
– Great small stuff with Rod and Todd, like the “Good Samaritan” game and “Iron helps us play!”
– Marge in rocking chair with little Lisa, light pouring into the nursery, is a beautiful shot.
– I love the broken down and bitter Krusty, after having lost millions, in his televised message: “You people are pigs! I, personally, am going to spit in every fiftieth burger!” Homer comments, “I like those odds!”
– The montage of Bart continuously trying to get rid of Lisa is great, with so much cuteness from Lisa (Yeardley Smith does some great baby cooing). I particularly love after Bart cuts off her hair, when she crawls over to him in time out with a little teddy bear beanie and pajamas… so… freaking… adorable.
– There’s a small joke at the end I love, when we flash forward from little Bart and Lisa hugging to modern day Bart and Lisa fighting over sitting on a spot on the rug. Lisa uses the classic “I don’t see your name on it!” retort, while Bart asserts it’s there, written in bold black marker. Marge scolds him for writing on the rug. It’s a great gag, but I also love that it’s there at the very end. We have our joke serving the set-up for Homer to carry Maggie upstairs (“The sooner kids talk, the sooner they talk back. I hope you never say a word.”) Bart and Lisa bickering should be enough, but the writers cared to put in one more joke, just because they could. They didn’t have to, but that’s what’s great about these classic shows, it’s about how many gags they can put into 22 minutes, and I appreciate their efforts so so much.

68. Mr. Plow

(originally aired November 19, 1992)
A lot of “Homer-gets-a-job” shows seem to seem to find Homer in his new occupation kind of randomly. Not to accuse this episode to be guilty of that, but the decision to be a plowman wasn’t quite as built up or memorable as beginnings of “Deep Space Homer” or “Homie the Clown.” Groundwork is set though: a blizzard in the opening signals a need for someone to rid the roads of Springfield of snow, and when Homer ends up totaling both cars, he goes to an auto show where he’s suckered into buying a snow plow. The car show is our gag segment of the show; doesn’t run too long and has some great stuff, like the repetitive giggly car model, the Fourth Reich car manufacturers using not-so-fake crash test dummies, and of course, Adam West, in a fantastic guest appearance.

“Mr. Plow” is one of those renowned classic episodes: Mr. Plow, the Plow King and their respective jingles are pretty much show staples, and for a very good reason. Although for me, the episode isn’t as impacting to me as others this season. I felt there could have been some good material in Homer on the job, but we really only get one quick montage of him actually doing any work; the rest is him raking in the accolades, which I guess was the point, since his fantasy in getting the plow to begin with was to be reprimanded on high (in a great dream of him assisting President Bush). Then when Barney becomes his rival, who all of a sudden becomes an asshole. Shooting out Homer’s tires in the act break is funny, but then his vindictive commercial to follow just seemed like too much. It kind of came out of nowhere for me. I guess maybe it’s subtle payback for past events, which we see in perhaps the most tragic of all flashbacks, showing an ultra studious Barney getting his life ruined when Homer offers him his first Duff. Since that sequence was only there for a joke, their rivalry seemed to come only out of story obligation.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m shitting on this episode; it’s just that a bunch of the absolutely perfect classic episodes that are universally praised I don’t hold in that highest of high regards. It’s still a great show; the third act of Homer tricking Barney, then his epic rescue mission is wonderful, as is the bizarre end where God takes hand of the situation and melts the snow out of nothing but random spite. There’s a great Godfather reference in Bart getting pelted by snowballs, which is funny by itself, and also as a recreation of that famous scene (reminds me of later when they did it again many years later, with James Caan actually getting shot, and how not funny that was). I also like the strange element of Marge finding the Mr. Plow jacket a huge turn-on; it’s rather odd, but a really sweet touch and reminder of the strength of Homer and Marge’s relationship. In the end, while I don’t think it’s a perfect episode, it’s still got plenty of great gags and heart to make it more than a worthy watch.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer smashing the car in his own driveway is a great reveal, as is later when the insurance adjuster asks him what kind of establishment Moe’s is, leaving Homer to have to think fast (“It’s a pornography store. I was buying pornography.”)
– I love Crazy Vlaclav’s Place of Automobiles (“She’ll go 300 hectares on a single tank of kerosene.”) “Put it in H!” is a random line my friends and I would quote back in the day, best used whilst getting in a car.
– Classic Homer line when Marge gets upset that he bought the plow without telling her: “If you’re going to get mad at me every time I do something stupid, then I guess I’ll just have to stop doing stupid things!” Also great is his usurping of the church alter to shamelessly promote his business.
– Gotta love the infomercial for Captain McAllister’s CD of sea shantys. He’s only been in two episodes so far and has more than proven himself to be a reliable secondary character.
– Great line from Homer before his commercial: “It may be on a lousy channel, but The Simpsons are on TV!” The commercial itself is classic of course (“My prices are so low, you’ll think I suffered brain damage!”)
– As mentioned, Adam West is fantastic, particularly his second appearance when Homer shows up at his house asking if there was a job for him. With a titled zoom, West muses, “There was, when I called you… forty-five minutes ago…” Such an intense read. Hilarious.
– Homer gives another horribly disguised voice in putting in the fake call to Barney, promising him a $10,000 bill for the job. Barney is unusually sharp, asking back what president is on it. Homer must perform an ass pull: “Uh… all of them. They’re having a party. Jimmy Carter’s passed out on the couch.” Barney is sold.
– Similar to the swearing in in “Lisa the Beauty Queen,” we get another national tragedy reference in Kent Brockman announcing an avalanche trapping Barney mirroring Walter Kronkite finding that JFK has been assassinated.
– Kent Brockman gives a great outro line in giving a more scientific explanation for the melting snow than a mere act of God: “Could this record-breaking heat wave be the result of the dreaded Greenhouse Effect’? Well, if 70-degree days in the middle of winter are the ‘price’ of car pollution, you’ll forgive me if I keep my old Pontiac.”

67. New Kid On The Block

(originally aired November 12, 1992)
Some part of me wishes the writers had done more with Ruth and Laura Powers. Marge could have some modicum of life outside the house, Laura could get into mischief with the bullies or something… I guess in the end it wouldn’t work. Not only are they guest stars (Pamela Reed and Sara Gilbert,) but something about the divorced mother and child seems very sitcom-esque, and unless there was something tweaked about them, it wouldn’t feel very Simpsons-y. The main plot of Bart having a crush on an older girl feels like a sitcom story as well, but it’s given a wonderfully cruel twist, and also balanced by a totally ridiculous B-story involving Homer being the most gluttonous man on the planet. It’s a show with little ambition, but that’s only because it embraces its smallness and does a fine job. It’s also the first show written by Conan O’Brien, so there’s that too.

The Winfields, the Simpsons’ other next door neighbor (remember? The old couple who laughed at Homer’s suicide attempt?) have finally moved out and have been replaced by Ruth Powers, single mother to teenager Laura, a smooth-voiced tomboy with a penchant for childish pranks. Bart is instantly smitten. Meanwhile Homer is desperately awaiting his night out to the Frying Dutchman’s for their All-You-Can-Eat special, and Bart leaps at this opportunity to volunteer Laura as a babysitter. As tenuous as these two plots connect, there’s at least a flowing relation between the two, unlike last episode where the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” story was completely divorced from everything else. Homer proves to be an insatiable pig, resulting in the crew tossing him out of the restaurant. Lionel Hutz in tow, he sues the establishment for false advertising. Every court room scene on the show is bound to have great material, like the shocking revelation that Captain McAllister (his first appearance) is not actually a real captain. Also great is Marge’s increasingly pathetic admissions to Homer’s rampant appetite, such as him eating an entire bag of flour. This actually may be one of the few times, if the only, when Lionel Hutz is actually somewhat competent.

Meanwhile, Bart’s heart is shattered (or rather ripepd out of his chest in a dream sequence) upon hearing Laura is seeing teenage rebel (and one of his constant tormentors) Jimbo Jones. His resolution to this dilemma is pretty sharp: he prank calls Moe for the umpteenth time, then gives him Jimbo’s name and his address. The sociopath Moe is, he arms himself with a rusty knife and dashes off to hunt down his tormentor. Now, here’s what’s odd about this ending. The idea here was to reveal that Jimbo isn’t a real man, and something Laura admits at the end. Meanwhile, the trigger for this was when a strange crazy man with a knife burst through the door and threatened him with it, Jimbo pleaded for his life. Who wouldn’t do the same? It’s funny all the same because of how over-the-top it is, and how petty Laura is for no reason. Also shocking is how despite Moe’s admission that he intended to stab this young boy, we still bear no ill will toward him. I guess in the same way we love Sideshow Bob even when he tries to murder Bart. But never mind that, happy endings for all as Laura tells Bart, “You know, if you were only old enough to grow a bad teen-aged moustache, I’d go out with you in a second.” Sweet ending to a sweet show.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I love Homer’s uncontrollable joy upon finding the absolute junk in front of the Winfield’s house, and his willingness to shove any medicine down his throat as long as it’s free (“C’mon, Marge! Maybe I’m not getting enough… estrogen.”
– Odd that Marge reveals she’s allergic to seafood when she’s had fish twice before, at the Rusty Barnacle (“Homer’s Night Out”) and the Happy Sumo (“One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.”)
– The Simpsons is all about extremes: a potential buyer of the Winfield’s house is pretty sold (“Now, I don’t know much about haggling or bargaining, so why don’t we just agree to pay whatever the Winfields want”) but is immediately put off by the horrifying view out the window of a drunk nude Homer in a wading pool eating hot dogs (soaking in said water.)
– Now why would you hire a company called Clumsy Student Movers? You basically know what you’re paying for.
– A particularly disturbing moment revealing that one of Bart’s former babysitters is apparently near catatonic after whatever trauma she may have endured. I like that the show has the balls to regularly pull out dark humor like this, even for the sake of a quick joke.
– Homer attempting to converse with Ruth is hilarious, with his delicate tip-toeing around mentioning her divorce (“I’m glad one of us remembered. That could’ve been embarrassing”) and his complete inability to read between the lines (“…we’re talking about sex, right?”)
– The “Death Row” arcade game is classic: the Change of Venue button heads you to a Game Over in Texas, with an 8-bit prototypical Rich Texan celebrating the convict’s execution.
– Hutz is brilliant right out the box (as always) upon hearing Homer’s case: “I don’t use the word hero very often, but you are the greatest hero in American history.”
– Homer’s advice about woman he gives his son is immortal: after failing to compare them to a refrigerator, he instead compares them to a beer (“They smell good, they look good, you’d step over your own mother just to get one!”) Then he proceeds to get drunk, leading to a great slurring nonsense performance by Castellaneta, with a wonderful drawing of a bored, disillusioned Bart waiting patiently for his father to pass out.
– More great stuff at the trial: the Miracle at 34th Street homage with the bags and bags of letters, and the defense’s realization they might lose at the hands of a completely overweight jury.
– Amanda Huggenkiss is probably my favorite fake name. When Moe shouts, “Why can’t I find Amanda Huggenkiss?” Barney responds, “Maybe your standards are too high!” He also gets a great line when Moe leaves, telling him not to steal any beer: “What kind of pathetic drunk do you take me for? Gasp! Somebody spilled beer in this ashtray!”

66. Marge Gets A Job

(originally aired November 5, 1992)
Homer’s only real contribution to the family is being the bread winner: despite him sleeping through most of the work day, he still brings home a paycheck to keep his family afloat, while meanwhile Marge takes care of pretty much everything else in the household. The idea of Marge getting a job and taking over Homer’s seemingly one purpose in life seems full of potential. However, this episode only hints at the relationship, not really making it its focus. More time is spent with Mr. Burns pining for Marge, which is an odd storyline, as well as a tacked B-story of Bart feigning sick to get out of tests. The episode begins, though, with the Simpson house listing, as in the entire left side is slowly sinking into the earth. Unable to pay the money to get it repaired, Marge takes an open position in the nuclear power plant, and ends up becoming the object of Mr. Burns’ affection.

I can’t tell if it’s me or the show, but there seemed to be a weird flow for most of the episode. We start with Homer and Marge talking about the retirement party for one of the employees, then we have a huge chunk of time spent with the house sinking, from gags involving it to Surly Joe giving Homer the figure to repair it. By the time we get to the party, I’d forgotten they had discussed it. Then in the second act when we get Marge working at the plant, we intercut with the B-story with Bart. We never see Marge’s struggles in working at a foreign environment (aside from one joke), or much of her and Homer’s interactions in the workplace, it seems like there’s a bunch of material they could have mined. Instead we have the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” plot, which has some amusing bits, but is pretty forgettable. The Mr. Burns story at the end works, I suppose, but its wrap-up felt very rushed, with Burns going soft-hearted and forgiving upon realizing that Homer has love for Marge too, then holding a romantic concert for the two. A sympathetic Burns, while very uncommon, almost makes sense here… but I dunno, I just wasn’t feeling it.

I feel like I’m shitting all over this episode… I think after five absolute gems, this one fell a bit short. There’s still a lot of great moments in this one though; I do love the idea of the house listing, which lends to some great animated bits of people and things sliding, like Homer angrily sitting on the couch, sliding to the end, spilling a bit of his drink and knocking the lamp off the end table. There’s foundation repairman Surly Joe, who is really anything but surly, but still agitates Homer to no end with his helpful advice and friendly candor. The retirement party is a great scene, with an excellent Citizen Kane parody, showing that it’s all about Monty Burns. Then of course there’s Tom Jones, who is such a great sport considering what they do to him over the course of the episode. It’s an enjoyable episode overall, but one I feel had more potential if the main plot had been streamlined a bit more.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Another great Troy McClure appearance hosting the video “The Half-Assed Approach to Foundation Repair” (which has a great cover of the title covering half of a donkey), in perhaps the only depiction of Troy actually being competent in one of his gigs. I could hear Phil Hartman narrate step-by-step on how to apply poly-vinyl foam insulation all day.
– Great little moment when Surly Joe puts a level on the almost 45-degree shelf, which falls and breaks immediately. Homer meekly asks, “Did you see the bubble?”
– I do like the scene of Lisa padding and embellishing Marge’s resume, to include ‘curator of large animals’ (on cue, a bulging hairy Homer walks in) and ‘worked for the Carter administration’ since Marge voted for him twice (Marge tells Lisa to keep hush about that).
– One of the most insane dream sequences is ever is Bart’s vision of Pierre and Marie Curie as giant monsters with laser eyes destroying a city. Quotable line is the poorly dubbed fleeing husband: “It’s the Curies! We must flee!”
– Homer’s advice to Marge on her first day is very helpful: “If something goes wrong at the plant, blame the guy who can’t speak English. Ah, Tibor, how many times have you saved my butt?” He later laments about those who have been promoted before him, including Tibor.
– The Bart B-story does have its fair share of jokes, like Grampa’s rattling off of old-timey diseases (and using a rectal thermometer on Bart), Krusty’s insanely loud and noisy secret word trigger that spooks the wolf (almost a la Pee-Wee’s Playhouse), and Willie’s consoling of the wolf after their big scrap (“Don’t feel bad for losing. I was wrestling wolves back when you were at your mother’s teat!”)
– The series of tubes sequence is beautifully animated, and has a great pay-off joke, with all the tubes being used by beavers to dam up the river.
– Marge’s suggestions for funny hat day and other themed days to boost moral is very true to her character, and gives us a great double-sequence of depressed employees before and after (the Angel of Death, now in propeller cap, wanders off to do his calling.)
– Classic sequence of Smithers’ dream of Burns flying through his bedroom window. As overt as this is about Smithers’ sexuality, it’s still not as glaring as gay jokes would later be toward him. He only has eyes for Burns; he’s the ultimate toady that has placed his boss on an idol-like pedestal.
– Poor Tom Jones, gassed, shackled and held at gun point: for some reason, even after all this, we still don’t see Smithers, or Burns, as complete monsters. And we laugh when Jones is hit over the head by a vertically closing trap door.
– Unbelievably disturbing line by Burns (“You don’t have to sue me to get my pants off,”) which is so out-of-character for him, but still funny because of it.
– Great brief appearance by Lionel Hutz, who swigs down some Scotch at 11:30am and runs off screaming from Burns’ crew of ten high-priced lawyers, leaving behind his suitcase full of shredded newspapers.
– I love Homer’s idea of giving Marge the time of her life: “Marge, we’re getting some drive-thru, then we’re doin’ it twice!”

65. Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie

(originally aired November 3, 1992)
Bart is a truly incorrigible hellion, seemingly from birth as we’ve seen in some flashbacks. The reasons for his behavior are occasionally toyed with, but ultimately he’s just an out-of-control kid, doing whatever his sick little mind desires. This episode shines a light on Homer and Marge’s parenting, on why exactly Bart manages to get away with so much shit. A warning flag is put up during parent teacher night over Bart’s shenanigans, on that he doesn’t get enough discipline for his actions. It’s here we see a different shade to Homer; one that seems to be overly forgiving to his son. Perhaps due to his laziness or ineptitude, but Homer seems to find it difficult to punish Bart, no matter what horrible thing he’s done. Following the reckless destruction of Grampa’s dentures, Bart is sent to bed without supper, with Bart calling the bluff. In a clinching scene, late that night, Bart realizes they aren’t budging, but just before he reconsiders his life of sin, Homer sneaks him some pizza, his over sympathy starting the chain of vagrancy all over again.

Alongside Bart’s ensuing antics is extensive coverage and promotion for the upcoming Itchy & Scratchy movie, which of course is slated to be the biggest motion picture event ever (though with only 53% new footage.) With this, we get a great bunch of animation parodies, starting with the somewhat offensive portrayal of Korean studios as brutal demoralizing workhouses. The earliest I & S cartoon “Steamboat Itchy,” obviously a “Steamboat Willie” parody, is amazing: it looks so much like the original cartoon, it’s astounding. Also the riff on wartime cartoons where the cat and mouse, modeled in a cutesier Warner Bros. style, brutally kill Adolf Hitler, and a strong-chinned, grinning, able-bodied FDR comes to kick his corpse in the ass. Not only is it great to see different styles and looks of animation in the show, but it’s amazing how good it all looks; it’s a real treat to watch.

These two stories intertwine in Homer finally getting the gumption to punish Bart: he is forbidden to ever see the Itchy & Scratchy movie ever, ever. This is another example of how Homer, when motivated, can get really firm and focused on something. He’s concerned for his son’s future, and believes that not budging from this punishment will be the first step. The movie is a monster hit, and the talk of the town, with Bart miserably sitting in the sidelines. Even Marge and Lisa think it’s gone too far, but Homer remains true to his guns, having faith it will be all worth it. And, in the end sequence, it is: future Bart is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I like to see this is an accurate future; I think that Bart is one of those kids who will grow out of his rambunctious youth to actually make something of himself, so I think the end, with him and elderly Homer finally watching the I & S movie (a double bill with “Beauty & the Beast”) is a really sweet and satisfying ending to a dynamite show.

Tidbits and Quotes
– “Star Trek XII: So Very Tired” is a great opening parody, with Hank Azaria doing an amazing Kirk and Sulu (“Again with the Klingons…”)
– Homer in Miss Hoover’s class is really great; for some reason being in an elementary school gives Homer free reign to behave like a kid and make armpit noises. The drawing of him, with a vacant stare and innocent smile, his gut bulging from the small desk chair, is absolutely hilarious.
– Where Homer receives all praise for Lisa, Marge is reamed over the coals about Bart. The progressive dark turns regarding his behavior get funnier as they get grimmer, from a hidden switchblade inside a Krusty doll, to a child witness pointing out where Bart stuck a firecracker in him on an anatomically correct doll.
– Homer exhibits an unusual knowledge of past Supreme Court Justices for some reason (“Mmmm… Warren Berger.”)
– The dream sequence of Bart as a disheveled pudgy male stripper may be one of my favorites of the whole show; it’s so disturbing, but in the best way possible.
– I love Homer’s thought process in punishing Bart: since he broke Grampa’s teeth, Grampa gets to break his. Abe’s eager willingness to do so is also wonderfully unsettling. As is later when Jasper holds a gun to Abe when he tries to swipe his dentures late at night.
– I think this is the first appearance of Bumblebee Man, star of Latino daytime TV. He’s proven to be one of the most bizarre secondary characters ever, with no real explanation for who this guy is, but that makes it all the funnier.
– Homer’s blind eye to Bart gets worse and worse, to when Marge comes home to find Bart tearing up the carpet as Homer vacantly stares at the TV (another hilarious drawing.) I like how cavalier both of them are about their roles: prompted to do something, Homer sends Bart to his room. Bart casually leaves (“See you in the funny pages!”)
– Desperate to get Homer to rescind his ban on the I & S movie, Bart pulls on his pants, preparing to be spanked. Homer shouts, “Don’t point that thing at me!”
– Absolutely perfect that during the moon landing, teen Homer is obliviously lounging in a bean bag chair listening to Ohio Express.
– Great heart-to-heart with Bart as Homer explains reasoning for the punishment: “You know, when I was a boy, I really wanted a catcher’s mitt, but my dad wouldn’t get it for me. So I held my breath until I passed out and banged my head on the coffee table. The doctor thought I might have brain damage.” When asked what the point of the story is, he answers, “I like stories.”
– Nice swipe from Lisa talking about how Michael Jackson and Dustin Hoffman did guest spots in the I & S movie (“They didn’t use their real names, but you could tell it was them.”)
– I love the humungous-sized I & S movie novelization; considering what the show is, what could be in there to make it that long?
– The billboard for the movie is amazing of course, as is the replacement following the end of its run for Springfield Barber College.
– Finally, I love that when we finally see the movie, one of universal acclaim and winner of nine Academy awards, it’s basically the same exact stuff we see in the regular cartoon. Still funny, but even funnier due to all the hoopla attached to this particular iteration.