Monthly Archives: October 2011

103. Secrets of a Successful Marriage

(originally aired May 19, 1994)
We haven’t seen a balls-to-the-wall marriage crisis episode since season 2’s “War of the Simpsons,” and they’re always really hard to get invested in. As we would see in the many many future episodes like this to come, most involve Homer being stupid and thoughtless to betray Marge and him having to make it up to her in the end. Homer is just barely in his wife’s good graces as it is, and when he screws it up further, he really needs to up the ante in his efforts to make Marge, and us watching, truly believe that he deserves to be taken back. “Homer’s Night Out” in season 1 is a perfect example, though that’s kind of a horse of a different color as Homer’s escapades weren’t entirely vile. Here, Homer’s dumbassery is truly ramped up, a “Jerkass” if you will, his actions really do go too far, and the payoff of his redemption isn’t nearly as satisfying as the writers may have hoped. In the end, I just don’t buy the two getting back together so quickly, and that’s kind of a fatal flaw.

The show starts with Homer bemoaning at the revelation that he’s a bit slow, so he takes a trip to the adult learning annex. From there, he stumbles into the position as teacher of a class about marriage, which goes nowhere until he inadvertently brings up personal information about Marge. His gossipy class is riveted at these juicy tidbits, and Homer feels proud of himself for being able to captivate an audience. Now, we’ve seen Homer’s personality bounce around a bit this season, but his behavior always seems to make sense for the story. Episodes featuring a more obnoxious Homer like “Homer Goes to College” and “Boy Scoutz N The Hood” at least featured situations that made the way Homer acted make sense. Homer’s initial concern is that he’s none too bright, which then turns into a desire to be looked up to, so he breaks his promise to his wife and continues to reveal intimate details about Marge, then turns a family dinner into a humiliating class session. As an audience, we should never feel negative toward Homer, as his actions are always innocently misguided, but when act two ends with him being thrown out of the house, he absolutely deserved it.

Act three involves Homer’s descent into madness, living in Bart’s treehouse a filth-ridden mess, pining for Marge back. It’s a truly pathetic sight that seeks to set the groundwork for his great revelation at the finale. Lisa gives her father some advice, to remind Marge of the one thing he can give her that no other man can. In the end, Homer’s got it: he can give Marge complete and utter dependence. He needs her to put up with him because he loves her, and has learned that since he can’t even begin to survive on his own, he’ll never betray her again. I get it’s supposed to be half jokey, but something really rubs me the wrong way about this ending. Marge’s marriage/servitude to Homer is already an unspoken sad story throughout the series, but bringing it to the forefront like this, as a joke, doesn’t seem right. Out-right saying Marge will put up with all of Homer’s shit because he loves her. I get the message here, and there could have been a way the scene could have really worked, but instead… it doesn’t. There’s some select scenes and jokes that work, but in the end, it’s a flat trouble-in-paradise episode with Homer being way too bombastic. And this was almost a flawless season too.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening with the card game is a pretty great set-up, perfectly illustrating how slow Homer really is. His dragging contemplation keeps him at Lenny’s well into the night, and when Lenny finds him, he starts his thinking over, and Lenny kicks him out. This show looked pretty strong up until Homer got the teaching job… which really makes no sense. There could’ve been other ways this episode could have went, like Homer acquiring a new skill or taking an interest in education in a bizarre way. I dunno.
– The other classes at the annex are great: Moe’s gangsta rap self-defense class, which is so well-animated, Lenny’s class on tobacco spitting, who stare at him with such revery, and Hans Moleman’s class on eating an orange (“Just eat the damn orange!”)
– The best scene of the show is seeing Smithers’ past marriage, which starts as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (with a great performance by Shearer screaming “You leave Mr. Burns out of this!!”) then turns to A Streetcar Named Desire with Burns calling for Smithers. It’s a visually gorgeous black-and-white fantasy.
– I do like how petty and ravenous the class gets about Homer’s gossip. Homer bemoans the failure of his class (“I told Marge this wouldn’t work the other night in bed!”) which Moe quickly turns to be (“So something wasn’t working in bed, huh?”)
– The scene where Marge first asks Homer to stop gossiping to his class is an example why this episode doesn’t work, when Homer rambles on his various movie quotes in a row. It’s a great performance, but has no business in this scene. You need to maintain that Homer is some kind of a human being reacting to the needs of his wife, but here he’s just completely out of his mind.
– Great line at the start of Homer’s first gossip-less class: “What is a wedding? Well, Webster’s Dictionary describes a wedding as, ‘The process of removing weeds from one’s garden.'” The class leaves in droves. Another great line from Otto: “I can’t believe I paid $10,000 for this course! What the heck was that lab fee for?”
– Speaking of “War of the Simpsons,” we get a similar bit from there of the Lovejoys convincing Marge should get a divorce. When asked if that’s a sin, Lovejoy sighs whilst holding a Bible: “Marge, everything is a sin. You ever sat down and read this thing? Technically, we’re not allowed to go to the bathroom.”)
Another scene I don’t care for is when Marge is driving and seems to be thinking of Homer’s voice saying he loves her, but turns out to be Homer in the back seat. The joke completely back fires, and just reads as manipulative and creepy. I’d be even more pissed if I were Marge. But the episode’s only get three minutes left so we got to patch them up quick.
– Homer pep-talks his brain to think of something quick or they’ll lose Marge forever. Homer’s brain is on other matters (“Eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding.”) Exactly eight times, mind you. A good friend of mine counted.
– I’m not positive, but this may be the first time Moe’s been shown to have a real shining toward Marge. I love the truly sleazy and manipulative way he tries to get himself into the house and openly admits to horning in on his best friend’s territory. Now, seedy behavior like this makes sense for Moe, but not Homer. I love the tension and dramatic angles when Homer walks in, wondering what’s going on, which sends Moe into panic mode, who runs off, smashes through a window and runs away.

Season 5 Final Thoughts
What a season. This show really has changed from humble beginnings. With David Mirkin in the show runner seat, we’ve seen The Simpsons become a little more wacky. Did I say ‘little’? I meant a lot. The series has drifted from its grounded emotional stasis as was in season 3 and 4, and become more focused on over-the-top jokes and ridiculous bits. This would be catastrophic if not for two things: the stories and characters are continuously engaging, and the jokes are fucking funny. Season 5 is the funniest season by far so far, with more laugh out loud moments than I can even remember, and I just watched the damn episodes. In that season 3 was perfect in that it was full of heartfelt episodes that got you invested in the characters and their plights, season 5 is perfect in that it was consistently hilarious each and every episode. I greatly await this streak to continue in Mirkin’s second run in season 6.

The Best
This is the hardest list I’ve had to choose so far. I got my top five, but I have two amended runner-ups. It’s the best I can do.
“Homer Goes to College,” “Rosebud,” “Treehouse of Horror IV,” “The Last Temptation of Homer,” “Deep Space Homer” (Runner-ups: “Homer and Apu,” “Homer Loves Flanders”)

The Worst
“Secrets of a Successful Marriage.” And they were so close.

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102. Lady Bouvier’s Lover

(originally aired May 12, 1994)
Marge’s mother was first seen in “Bart vs. Thanksgiving,” a great joke on its own that she basically seemed to be an older version of Marge, with blue-gray hair and a voice so raspy it hurt to talk. Then she was briefly in “Selma’s Choice.” Now she’s the focus of this show. After this, I can’t remember if we ever saw her again. Maybe in the background at a wedding or church function or something, but she was pretty much abandoned as a character. Why is that? Maybe for the same reason we see Grampa a whole lot more than Patty & Selma, your crazier, joke-driven characters are easier to get mileage out of than ones who exhibit deeper emotion. Those characters also seem to always be women. But this is a whole other can of worms; instead of bitch, I will choose to appreciate this episode for what it is: an interesting look at new relationships of those who have one foot in the grave already, seeking companionship for their final days. It’s got a sweet center to it, peppered with jokes, of course.

Jacqueline and Abe kindle an interest in each other at Maggie’s first birthday party, swapping home remedies and waxing nostalgic about the old days. Abe is instantly smitten, Jackie a bit more reserved. I like the multiple dynamics here with their feelings of the relationship, and Marge’s, who is happy for them but doesn’t want Abe to come on too strong, and Homer, who is a bit weirded out at the concept of his father and his wife’s mother dating. At a night out on the dance floor, Abe is cockblocked by Mr. Burns, who is equally smitten by the matron Bouvier, and hastily gives a proposal. Jackie surmises that Burns can care for her financially, while Marge is incensed due to Burns’ monster-like qualities. Abe makes a dramatic scene at the wedding, and Jackie concludes that she doesn’t want to be with either of them.

There’s really a lot of neat things going on with this story, with Abe’s impulsive nature, the love giving him a bit more vigor and purpose in his old age, and Jackie’s seemingly old-time passiveness about marrying whoever, or not marrying whoever. I feel like a lot more could have been made of this story, but there seemed to be a need to give it padding with a mini B-story, where Bart gets gypped in buying an animation cel (which at least comes to a sort of conclusion thanks to the main story). The main ideas and emotions come through pretty clearly, I was just hoping for a little bit more time with them. There’s also bits of humorous satire, like Lisa commenting about how their family’s rituals have all come from commercial jingles, like how media has kind of homogenized our individual culture. I found this episode really interesting, with a lot of heart and its share of good jokes.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Classic joke where Homer asks Maggie to point out the monkey, and she points at him. Homer dismisses this until that baby properly points to a credenza when asked.
– Second appearance of Gerald, the one eyebrowed baby. I tell yah, that baby is up to no good.
– I love Castellaneta’s incensed read responding to Jackie’s medical suggestion: “Balsam specific?!” I like the follow-up of Bart mimicking their old-timey banter, to which Abe and Jackie retort, “Don’t make fun!”
– The whole first act feels very genuine, with the family sitting around talking about past memories after putting Maggie to bed. Then we get into the great Armor Hot Dogs song, which is half joke, half commercial, complete with Homer walking by at the end holding a “BUY ARMOR HOT DOGS” sign.
– Great quick line from the Crazy Old Man on the senior bus: “Hurry up, hurry! Each Matlock could be our last!”
– Marge first suggests the idea to Homer of their parents getting together. Homer responds, “Old people don’t need companionship. They need to be isolated and studied so it can be determined what nutrients they have that might be extracted for our personal use.” Marge tells him to stop reading those Ross Perot pamphlets.
– Great bit with Abe getting the wrong woman out of the retirement home, and the perfect timing with Homer rolling up the window, and the woman’s disappointed moan.
The mini-plot with Bart buying the animation cel is good in its own right. It starts with a great Home Shopping parody, with Troy hosting a segment on the Impulse Buying Network with Roger Meyers, who touts his wares: “I’m proud to offer your viewers these hand-drawn Itchy and Scratchy animation cels. Each one is absolutely, positively, 100% guaranteed to increase in value.” Then a quick announcer comments, “Not a guarantee.” We also get the return of Comic Book Guy when Bart tries to sell it, who starts to flesh out into the sarcastic grump we know and love him as (“No groaning in my store.”) I also love Homer’s impulsive reactions to Bart’s confession: blind anger when he hears Bart used his credit card, then excitement over getting the money (“Three hundred and fifty bucks! Now I can buy seventy transcripts of Nightline!”)
– Wonderful sequence of Homer expressing his fear over he and his wife’s parents getting together (“We’ll be brother and sister! And our kids… they’ll be horrible freaks with pink skin, no overbites, and five fingers on each hand!”) The depiction of Bart, Lisa and Maggie as blonde, blue-eyed Caucasians is intriguing and frightening. I’d love to see a segment of a show, or maybe a fan-animation of an existing sequence with the characters in that style. Would be mighty freaky.
– Great scene of Homer teaching his father how to play it cool, with smooth jazz music and a visual change of shades of blue. It’s a neat sequence, coming from nowhere but still greatly appreciated.
– I like how Smithers’ is Marge’s parallel as the confidant upset about Burns’ and Jackie’s relationship; their simultaneous murmurs walking side by side at the wedding is great. Also great is Smithers’ seemingly off-the-cuff love note for Burns to write his new lady (“Darling one, read my words and hear my heart speak of a love soft and undying: a love that will be with you always.”) Burns asks how he came up with that, Smithers revealed he wrote it in a card for Burns’ birthday. Also great is his attempt to make Burns look foolish in telling them the Simpsons are Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
– We get our second appearance from Luigi, which is pretty much the same as the first (“Hey, Salvatore! Break out the cheap hooch for Mr. No-Tip and the dried-up-ah zombie he’s-ah captured!”)
– Great line from a despondent Abe (“Who needs her? Now I’ll have more time to read things I find on the ground. ‘La… tex… con… do’ …boy, I’d like to live in one of those!”
– I love at the wedding, only one man is on the groom’s side, a grizzled man with a German WWI helmet on. I want to know more about that guy’s relationship with Burns, his only friend in the world, apparently.
– Of course the ending song is amazing, a great parody of The Sound of Silence. And how Abe sheepishly quiets his ranting after the Gracie Films lady shooshes him.

101. The Boy Who Knew Too Much

(originally aired May 5, 1994)
What a fine episode. At its core it felt like one of the great morality tales we’d seen in seasons 2 and 3, but surrounding it all of the wacky and offbeat jokes we’ve come to know, love and laugh at from this season. Bart remains at the show’s center, starting with his escapades leading to the main event, then his guilty conscious eating away at him. The through-line is never forgotten, even amongst the Quimby/Kennedy jokes, Skinner’s relentless quest against Bart, and a mini-plot line of Homer living it up at a fancy hotel as part of a sequestered jury. This is another one of those episodes where I didn’t remember too much about (except for the more famous bit), and really surprised me of how great it was.

On a particularly lovely day, Bart decides to skip school, but when Skinner catches wind of it, he goes into hot pursuit. It becomes this great cross between Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and a gritty crime drama, which then turns into Westworld as Skinner basically becomes a blank automaton, an impossible force that Bart cannot escape from. However, he does, in the back of Mayor Quimby’s nephew Freddy’s convertible, whose destination is the Quimby compound for his lavish birthday party. Freddy is just as you’d expect from a young Quimby: loud, arrogant, and extremely entitled, all of which he can get away with… ’cause he’s a Kennedy… er, Quimby. A disagreement over the pronunciation of the word “chowder” (the best scene in the show, of course), Freddy and the waiter have an altercation in the kitchen, which only Bart is witness to, which leaves the waiter brutally beaten.

As Freddy Quimby stands trial, Bart is in crisis: he knows the truth, but admitting it will be exposing his own guilt for skipping school. I like the various turns of the court case that give Bart more or less wiggle room: at first it seems like the case is in the bag, as Mayor Quimby is basically buying his nephew’s freedom, until Freddy makes another violent outburst over the “chowder” incident, which immediately turns off the jury. But dumb luck goes in Bart’s favor as his father prolongs the judging, if only so he can live in luxury at a fancy hotel. The scenes where Bart talks about with Lisa, then his mother, are very genuine, and all reach an increasing level of urgency, until Bart finally takes the stand and reveals what happened: the waiter did himself in due to his incredible clumsiness, in one of the most ridiculous, and ridiculously well animated, scenes of the series. Skinner applauds Bart for his honesty, but in a great bait-and-switch, gives him detention anyway. All’s well that ends well, I guess.

Tidbits and Quotes
– It’s almost as if Bart is forced to play hooky by the beyond wonderful day outside, and coming to school on a prison bus. The kicker is when he looks out the window and see Freddy Quimby in his cool car and hot girlfriend (“And to think I got all this after dropping out of the fourth grade!”) This is also a really tight show, where the Freddy story is set up this early, and is the catalyst of Bart leaving in the first place.
– The almost destitute Springfield Elementary apparently has an extensive crime lab, which Skinner uses to examine Bart’s bogus note (“Please excuse my handwriting, I busted whichever hand it is I write with. Signed, Mrs. Simpson.”) Skinner takes action, as he and Willie grill Lisa as of Bart’s whereabouts, in a cute scene where Lisa giggles about the two switching good cop-bad cop roles.
– I like the grim reality of Bart’s Huck Finn fantasy coming true… in the form of two creepy hobos on a raft (“Hey kid, wanna see a dead body?”)
– Skinner’s search for Bart is a great character moment, with no sign of him at the natural history museum or the youth center (“Am I so out of touch? …no, it’s the children who are wrong.”)
– The Westworld bit of Skinner walking through the stream is fantastic, especially when the music stops and then starts up when he submerges and resurfaces. Another movie I watched after seeing a Simpsons reference, then loved all the more.
– As if Rainier Wolfcastle wasn’t enough of a Schwarzenegger parody, we see him with his wife Maria and that he owns a Humvee. Talk about on the nose.
– The “chowder” scene is hysterical, of course, with Dan Castellaneta being so loud and annoying as Freddy, and Hank Azaria as the waiter being as deadpan as possible. The outro line is great (“Come back here! I’m not through demeaning you.”)
– Another great Wiggum line (“Oh my God… someone’s taken a bite out of the Rice Krispies square! …oh, and the waiter’s been brutally beaten.”)
– Great bit with Skinner glaring at Bart from the jury box (“I know you can read my thoughts, Bart. Just a little reminder: if I found out you cut class, your ass is mine. Yes, you head me. I think words I would never say”) and Homer’s thoughts, which consist of the Meow Mix jingle.
– It’s interesting here that in this case we have our lawyers reversed. Quimby’s lawyer doesn’t look like him, but has the same voice of the Blue Haired Lawyer, who always defends the guilty, but most affluent party, while Lionel Hutz is the cheap affordable schmuck the Simpsons can afford. It makes sense given the representatives, though.
– Odd that Hutz got Dr. Hibbert, normally a respectable doctor, to give testimony on something as dumb as the “evil gene” (“Hitler had it, Walt Disney had it, and Freddy Quimby has it.”) That’s enough for Hutz (“I rest my case. …what? Oh no, I thought that was just a figure of speech. Case closed.”)
– Bart’s fantasy of the future, of being a grizzled (female?) school cafeteria worker is hilarious (“This creamed corn tastes like creamed crap!” “Watch the potty mouth, honey.”)
– Homer exhibits more thickness as he gets Skinner to describe exactly what happens when a jury is deadlocked, and gets increasingly excited about his potential accommodations (“We’ll get a free room, free food, free swimming pool, free HBO… ooh, Free Willy!”) Also, really fantastic minor bit from Skinner, offhandedly calling it a film about a disobedient whale.
– Amazing return from McGonigle, which does nothing to comfort Bart, involving the detective convincing a little boy to testify, only to have his throat slit. McGonigle is not so moved (“Hey, I’m trying to eat lunch here!”)
– The ending with Skinner is absolutely amazing. He commends Bart for his bravery, then Bart gives him his open about having it excuse his previous transgression. Skinner admits, “I’m a small man in some ways, Bart. A small, petty man. Three months’ detention.” Bart begins to walk away, but Skinner stops him. Pause. “Make that…” Pause. “Four months’ detention.” Hilarious.

100. Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song

(originally aired April 27, 1994)
Status quo is God for a reason; just as in life, radical change can shake things up something fierce. Many characters in this show are defined by where they work and what they do, and are in deep trouble if they’re not. Mr. Burns needs the power plant. Apu needs the Kwik-E-Mart. And Principal Skinner needs to be Principal Skinner. Here we get a better examination of Seymour, of the overbearing nature of his work, and his piddling attempts to live a life after he is let go. A lot of the middle of the show of seeing Skinner’s day-to-day routine, living at his mother’s house, faux-conducting an orchestra in his bedroom, is extremely fascinating, and gives up real human insight into his character. As I mentioned last time about Burns, I’d love to see an entire episode just about Skinner and a regular week for him. These secondary characters are so rich, they’re just as engaging as the Simpson family.

The first time we see Skinner in the show he’s already a nervous wreck, struggling to defend himself on the phone with the superintendent. He’s a man who loves his job and the authority, but we can see he’s in hot water already. That leads us to further shenanigans when Santa’s Little Helper, who Bart brought in for show-and-tell, ends up roaming around the air ducts, and only a greased up Willie can apprehend him. When this turns into a disastrous fiasco, Superintendent Chalmers pays the school a visit (uttering the very first “SKINNER!!”) and promptly fires Skinner. Now Seymour is just any other civilian, shopping at the Kwik-E-Mart and paying a visit to the laundromat. The scene of Skinner running through all the detergent names seeing which to use is spectacular; it’s so true to him that he would run through all his options and really consider his choice, even for something so trivial. Bart feels guilty for the situation he caused and spends time with his ex-principal; at times it borders on out-of-character for him, but the fact that the friendship is slightly awkward on both of their ends feels very genuine.

Trying to move on, Skinner re-enlists as a sergeant in the army, when meanwhile, head of the PTA Ned Flanders is made the new principal. We get some nice moments displaying his namby pamby disciplinary skills, and also a really telling look into his past, revealing his parents were a bunch of beatniks (I also want a young Ned Flanders spin-off too.) Eventually Bart and Skinner hatch a plan to get him back, which comes up short, but Flanders ends up thwarting himself by daring to speak the name of the Almighty over the intercom (Chalmers delivers a classic line: “A prayer in a public school! God has no place within these walls, just like facts have no place within organized religion!”) As odd as it may have been at times, Bart and Skinner’s friendship was very sweet; it was interesting to see the two mortal enemies, on a level playing field, actually enjoying each other’s company. They both acknowledge that once Skinner is back in power, their friendship must end, and they accept that (unless Bart becomes a good student, which he scoffs at the idea). It’s a real nice episode, lots of laughs, interesting character stuff. Jolly good show.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Nice home movies at the start, with Homer lighting his beard on fire, and the adorable baby Bart on the toilet. Marge makes a clever comment regarding Bart bringing the movies into class (“I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with the idea of your classmates laughing at our family’s private moments. How would you like it if, twenty years from now, people were laughing at things you did?”) Twenty years now, and I’m still laughin’.
– Nice quick moment with an ecstatic Willie, enamored by Santa’s Little Helper, pressing his face against the glass of Mrs. K’s class.
– Brief appearance by Lunchlady Doris sifting through a barrel of assorted horse parts (“More testicles means more iron.”) And her deadpan reaction to Willie ripping off his shirt, revealing his muscular physique (“Grease me up, woman!!” “…okie-dokie.”)
– The chase in the vents is wonderfully directed, and references not one, not two, but all three Alien movies. The first Alien with Skinner observing their locations on a computerized diagram of the vents (for a school with no budget, surprised they had such sophisticated technology for such a useless purpose). Aliens when Skinner sticks his head in the vents and is licked by the dog. Then Alien 3 with the blurred shapes of the dog as he dashes through the vents. On catching the mutt, Willie gives a classic line: “There’s nary an animal alive that can outrun a greased Scotsman!”
– Great timing as Skinner tells Chalmers everything’s under control, then a fireman falls off a ladder, knocks down the giant scoreboard machine and smashes the gymnasium window.
– First appearance of Leopold, who’s only been in two shows, and serves one purpose: frighten children in the greatest of all misleads. I love his character, and Dan Castelleneta does such a great job doing the grittiest, most angry possible voice, all deflating for the final line of dialogue. I also love Chalmers’ anger toward the kids not responding to his jokes (“It’s just a damn popularity contest with you kids!”)
– Speaking of anger, Apu has a wonderful tirade toward Skinner’s obliviousness that he has ripped off Jurassic Park with his novel idea, with terrific time fades as Apu gets more and more irate (“…most popular movies of all time, sir! What were you thinking?! …I mean, thank you, come again.”)
– Great moment that makes Bart truly guilty about Skinner when the bullies steal his underwear at the laundromat (“I can buy a new pair! …no I can’t. I needed those, I really did.”)
– Also first appearance of Luigi, the greatest Italian stereotype, voiced by Hank Azaria. Don’t have much to say about him, other than he’s hilarious (“Hey Salvatore, give-ah the ugly kid a plate of the red-ah crap-ah!”)
– Nice sweet moment of a depressed Skinner mournfully gazing at the school after dark, remembering the good times, varying from serious (“I learned to read because of you, Principal Skinner!”) to not so (“I got car sick in your office.”)
– More great true-to-Skinner moments when he reprimands his troops for their lewd army chants, who then switch over to one about how old the Parthenon is.
Another first appearance, this time of Gerald, the one-eyebrowed baby, Maggie’s arch nemesis. The baby has got to be up to something.
– I always thought the kids wrecking total havoc throughout the school was a bit much, like that wouldn’t happen with the other teachers and faculty still there, no matter how much they didn’t give a shit. I guess it’s worth it for Chalmers’ blaze attitude (“The way America’s public schools are sliding, they’ll all be this way in a few months. I say, lay back and enjoy it! It’s a hell of a toboggan ride.”)
– Nice sweet ending with the “Kick Me” and “Teach Me” signs, and one final “Oh, mercy” from Skinner.

99. Burns’ Heir

(originally aired April 14, 1994)
Re-watching these old shows has really ignited my love of Mr. Burns. He’s one of the series’ greatest characters, so engaging and entertaining in pretty much every scene he’s in. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but regardless, some of the best Burns material comes from when we see a more human side to him, where the man with more money than God must face his own mortality. It was the subject of Marge’s famous painting, he sought happiness from his childhood with his bear Bobo, and now a near-death experience shocks Burns into planning on maintaining his legacy when he’s gone. We see him as a withered old man who has ostracized nearly everybody, left to toil in his vast, empty mansion, but the question is, is he happy with this? Both theories are posited in this very show, and perhaps it’s a little of both. It’s nice that the show can allow you to theorize and not spoon-feed characters’ emotions to you, or if they did, have the common decency to mock them.

The hefty weight of a sponge causes Burns to sink in the bathtub, causing his life to flash before his eyes, which is an incredible montage. I think the life of C. Montgomery Burns would make a fascinating mini-series, they should have done more stuff like this. Anyway, Burns sets up a casting call for the children of Springfield, but no one wins him over, until a scorned Bart reeks havoc upon his estate, exhibiting just the kind of feisty attitude he’s looking for. Burns has the Simpson family sign the contracts, and then muses about spending his remaining years in solitude. This guilt trip leads Bart to make extended visits to Burns Manor, where he revels in the freedom to do as he pleases. We later find that Burns planned this out, for the boy to live with him so he could mold him to take his place after death. Aside from this though, I do like to think his cock-and-bull confession earlier had some nugget of truth in it. Burns seems to enjoy Bart’s company, basically admitting he’s the son he wishes he’d had. His motives self-serving and goal dastardly, you still feel for the guy.

Bart’s role in the story is engaging too, as he finds he must choose between a life of no restrictions and anything his heart desires, and his loving, biological family. Burns pulls psychological tricks to make the boy stay, culminating in hiring stage actors to portray the family bad-mouthing him. Despite the comically poor performances, Bart is convinced, and his slow declaration to Burns is a little wrenching. The end, though, feels a little too much, with Bart being forced to fire Homer to curry Burns’ favor. I can’t pinpoint why exactly, perhaps a bit too predictable way to get Bart back on his family’s side. But with all the great stuff leading up to it, and the hilarious denouement featuring Hans Moleman, it could have been the most contrived ending in the world and still the episode would be worth it.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Classic smash cut with Homer positing the rich must be suffering as much as he, then cut to Burns with top hat having a bath in his lush estate, and if that weren’t enough, eating a bad of “extra fancy” potato chips.
– Again, I’d love to see flashback episodes featuring Burns. I always thought that later day Simpsons could be made interesting again by focusing a fair amount of episodes on side characters, exploring more of their lives and own foibles. Instead, most just became disposable, who’d show up for the sake of a joke and disappear. Ah well.
– Burns muses over never fathering an heir thanks to his hectic schedule and lethargic sperm. And I like that even the complete Burns-sexual Smithers is disturbed at Burns’ plan that he will be buried alive with him.
– Wonderful THX movie parody, culminating in a man’s head exploding, and Grampa still not hearing it. The clip was later used by THX in theaters. Then comes Mr. Burns’ ad (“I’m looking for a suitable young male heir to leave my fortune to when I pass away. My vast, vast, vast fortune. Vast”) ending with him begrudgingly leading “Let’s All Go to the Lobby.”
– We get great moment with the kids of Springfield at the audition: Milhouse has nothing to offer Burns but his love (“I specifically said no geeks!”) Nelson threatens violence (which Burns likes), and later pummels a showtune-singing Martin (Burns also likes), and Lisa posits the idea Burns’ heir need not be a boy (“I don’t know what phallocentric means, but no girls!”)
– Great, GREAT dream sequence by Marge of Bart graduating from Harvard (the most expensive, and therefore the best school.) Then Lee Majors takes Marge away with her, leaping into the air with bionic sound effects. Snapping back, Marge promises to stop dreaming about Lee Majors… after this next one. We hear the bionic sound again as Marge goes out of it.
– Astute Simpsons fans will have noted that this blog’s title comes from this show, as Bart fumbles through the poorly written cue cards his father gave him (“Hello, Mr. Kurns. I bad want… money now. Me sick”), Homer comments, “Oooh, he card read good.” Also great finale of Burns slowly activating the boot to kick Bart, his subtle satisfaction, and Homer’s uproarious response (“The boot kicked Bart! It kicked him right in the butt!”) And finally, some important advice from Homer (“You tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.”)
– Great bit from Krusty: being paid to deliver pizza to Bart, he admits he’s playing a rerun in place of a live show. Of course of all the years of tape, he picks the one where he abruptly stops the show after hearing the Falkland Islands have been invaded.
– I do enjoy Bart being a brat at the dinner table, and Homer’s ineffective means of stopping it (“Lisa, stop getting in the way of your wealthy brother’s peas.”) But he draws the line of feeding meatloaf to Santa’s Little Helper (“That was the end piece! That’s it, being abusive to your family is one thing, but I will not stand idly by and watch you feed a hungry dog!”)
– Homer drives to Burns Manor, running over Bart’s bike, to get back his son. Homer is incensed at Burns telling him to leave (“Or what? You’ll release the dogs, or the bees, or the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you? Well, go ahead, do your worst!”) At this point my brain automatically goes to robotic Richard Simmons, but here, Burns just locks the door. Homer is dumbfounded.
– The animation of Bart’s wild ride is fantastic; you can feel the motion and energy even from Bart’s POV of all the objects hitting his front windshield. Spectacular direction.
– Bart watches the phony Simpsons weakly reading their lines, but their cover is almost blown when fake Homer utters “B’oh!” I love the pacing that Burns slowly walks out of the room, into the covert set to yell at his actors. Also, it seems he’s hired Michael Caine to play Homer, who is very frustrating over the direction (“Sorry, M.B., but I’m having trouble with this character. Is he supposed to have some kind of neurological impairment, like Rain Man, or Awakenings? I mean, what the hell am I doing here?!”)
– I love Homer’s enthusiasm about kissing Moleman (“It’s like kissing a peanut!”) and the outro line from Marge (“Homer, I want that thing out of my house.”)

98. Bart Gets An Elephant

(originally aired March 31, 1994)
There have been a handful of episodes this season that have showcased rather flimsy, meandering plot lines. However, laughter can excuse almost anything, and if the episode is funny enough, it usually gets a pass, and can become pretty memorable based on a particularly great bit or two alone. “Bart Gets An Elephant” has probably the loosest premise of any episode so far, and isn’t really the funniest of this season, but damn I still loved it anyway. It’s also pretty memorable despite being so ridiculous; what Simpsons fan could forget about Stampy? Stupidity aside, this show does have its share of genius moments, and some nice character stuff with Bart, caring for his pet elephant and calling for it like Lassie. As dumb as this episode can get, there’s still an emotional core buried in there somewhere.

We open with an unrelated tangent in Marge forcing the family to do a little spring cleaning around the house. We get a few funny parts here, with Homer treasuring decade-old newspapers and TV Guides and Bart virtually erasing a Grant Wood original out of boredom. It also has a great capper, where two seconds after the house is spotless, it becomes messy again, basically negating the four minutes we’ve just watched. The “plot” kicks in when Bart is the call-in winner for a KBBL radio contest, but rather than take the cash prize, he is adamant on receiving the gag gift: an African elephant. And in the end, that’s what Bart gets; act one ends with an elephant being left on the Simpson lawn. Never mind how those radio numbskulls got their hands on one. I like to think that they stole it from a zoo or animal sanctuary. From this point, the show becomes a cross between “Lisa’s Pony” in the family must deal with the financial hardship of such an extravagant animal, and the beginning of “Bart’s Inner Child” where Homer starts a home-based racket charging people money to see and ride the elephant.

I hate that I brought up “Lisa’s Pony” just then, because this just isn’t that caliber of episode. Bart cares for Stampy, but nowhere near the girlish dream fulfillment that Princess was to Lisa. But again, this episode is about the laughs. Homer is set on selling Stampy to an ivory dealer (who according to his logic is less likely to harm the elephant compared to someone whose ivory supplies are low.) Bart sets to run away with his pet, but Stampy goes on a rampage and ends up missing. They end up at the Springfield Tar Pits, and after the elephant saves him from sinking, Homer has a change of heart (begrudgingly) and gives the animal to a local wildlife preserve. By act three, everything felt very by-the-numbers, like of course Stampy was going to end up at the reserve, and was going to save Homer to get him to change his mind. Even with the pieced-together plot, there are still enough laughs and memorable moments to retain this one’s ‘classic’ status. Kudos to you, Stampy.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great line reading on Homer’s confused, questioning “D’oh?” when no one fights him on his calling of cleaning the basement. Seeing the horrendous shape the cellar is in, he sees why.
– Nice appearance by President Clinton, playing sax in the Little White Girls Blues Quartet. Moe drives by and yells at him to get back to work. A nonplussed Clinton responds, “Make me!”
I love how sloooow Homer is to process that Bart is taking an elephant over ten thousand dollars; when he finally gets it, he freaks out (“With $10,000, we’d be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things like… love!”) Marge recommends double-ply windows, which no one else cares for. Lisa puts in her two cents regarding cruelty to animals, in which Homer bluntly responds, “Go to your room.”
– I don’t think this is the first time we’ve seen Bill and Marty, but it’s probably the longest we’ve seen them on screen. They’re really exposed as two chuckle head morons who have to make good with their boss or lose their job. Great is their attempt to win Bart over by using the money to bribe Skinner to spend a year with his pants at his ankles, and if that’s no good, surgically alter him into a bizarre lobster creature (“Now, wait just a minute, that wasn’t discussed with me!”) The final straw is when the KBBL head shows their replacement: the DJ 3000, which can play records and dispense inane banter (Bill is impressed. Marty murmurs aside, “Don’t praise the machine.”)
– I like how reckless and destructive Stampy is; they didn’t pull any punches in making him a real animal, unable to comprehend anything that is said to him, at least up until the end. Kinda.
– Cute bit with Homer noticing a bird perched on Stampy grooming him, then getting a bird of his own (“Mmmm… elephant fresh.”)
– Great running gag of Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II desperately trying to impress the family, leading up to SLH speaking. That “Weee… looovee… yooouu” is the stuff of nightmares.
– More great thick-headed Homer: in the midst of discussing money woes, gawking kids come to the door offering to pay money to see the elephant (“For the ninth time, no!”) That gives him an idea… posting a “Go Away” sign on the lawn. Bart offers up his own sign, charging money to see and ride, to which Homer says, “I don’t have time to read it. Just give me the gist of it, son.”
– Classic first appearance by Cletus the slack-jawed yokel (“Hey, maw! Look at that pointy-hairded little girl!”)
– Classic bit with Stampy marching through the Republican Convention (“We want what’s worst for everyone,” “We’re just plain evil”) and the Democratic Convention (“We hate life and ourselves,” “We can’t govern.”) It’s really not much far off now almost twenty years later.
– I like the pacing of Homer’s plan of escaping the tar pit (“I’m pretty sure I can struggle my way out. First I’ll just reach in and pull my legs out, now I’ll pull my arms out with my face.”) Stampy goes to save him, first pulling out Barney, who thanks the elephant by name somehow, then proceeds to light a cigarette and engulf himself in flames. Seeing how stringent this show is about continuity, I expect next episode to start with Barney’s funeral.

97. Homer Loves Flanders

(originally aired March 17, 1994)
As I’ve noted before, Homer’s rampant animosity toward Ned Flanders is really out of jealousy; deep down he wishes he could be as well-off, loving and together as the Flanders’. Because of this petty reasoning, it doesn’t seem too far off that Homer could come to really enjoy Ned’s company and forge a nice friendship… and that’s what happens in this episode. But when that happens, it’s almost like the fabric of the series starts to unravel. Homer befriending Flanders should not be, so it drives Ned, the calmest man in the universe, to hate, becoming increasingly more frustrated as the episode continues. Homer’s friendship is a lot more dangerous than his mild antagonism, it seems. The role-reversal between both characters feels very genuine, and the ending one of the sweetest of the series, leaving us with a fun, wacky episode.

Homer’s after tickets for the biggest football game of the year, and his only option is to take up Ned’s offer to go with him. He’s hostile at first, of course, but numerous kind gestures later, including getting the game ball, Homer is completely bowled over by his neighbor-eeno. This is your classic heel face turn from Homer: he’s a man of impulse, and whatever feeling he has, he goes with it full force. Now he’s Flanders’ best friend in the whole world, and he wants everyone to know it: his family, co-worker, the barflies, strangers, everybody. At first, Ned is pleased by Homer’s change-of-heart. But then again he’s pleased by his irrational hatred as well. It’s never quite clear if he even registers Homer’s assholery, I’m still not sure whether he’s just oblivious or very forgiving. But either way, Ned grows uncomfortable that Homer wedges his way into his life, bothering him while volunteering at the homeless shelter (then usurping the credit), and later, a Simpson-Flanders family picnic goes horribly, horribly wrong. Flanders wakes in a cold sweat with a shocking revelation: he’s developed a strange new emotion. Hatred… for Homer Simpson.

The third act is all about Ned’s downward spiral, trying to avoid Homer at all costs. However, there are some costs, like using little white lies in front of his kids, which they don’t care for (“Lies make baby Jesus cry.”) Following an amazing chase sequence out of Terminator 2 with Homer as a wall-eyed T-1000, Ned is pulled over for speeding and given a sobriety test, and then of course the gossipy church bus group passes by. This series is great at these emotional turns where they just pile stuff on the characters to speed up whatever they’re supposed to be feeling. Now Ned is ostracized from the entire church (save Homer, of course) as Lovejoy is about to give his opening sermon, “What Ned Did.” One final irritant from Homer sets Ned off (“Can’t you see this man isn’t a hero, he’s annoying! He’s very very annoying!!”) But Homer comes to Ned’s defense with a heartfelt, passionate, true-to-character speech, one of the best monologues of the series, which mollifies the mob and wins back Flanders’ friendship. And then of course one week later things are back to normal. That’s the way things are with the status quo.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer’s quest for tickets to the game is littered with great bits: the TV warning about tickets not being taken internally (“See? Because of me, now they have a warning,”) Bart selling his father bogus tickets for fifty bucks (I love Castellaneta’s slooow turn to anger as he reads off the entire coupon, then snap back to the very disturbing dream of Homer imagining himself imitating his wife with a Marge wig), the scalper buying every single ticket with only a $10 deposit, and Homer’s lamentation about Ned winning the radio contest’s tickets courtesy of Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise.”
– I love Lisa’s surmization of the never-ending rivalry between Springfield and Shelbyville (“They built a mini-mall, so we built a bigger mini-mall. They made the world’s largest pizza, so we burnt down their city hall.”)
– For the change-of-heart to truly work, Homer is ramped up high here with his hatred of Flanders, first apparently going to smack Ned unconscious with a lead pipe, then later making him duck down whilst driving so he wouldn’t be seen with Homer by Lenny and Carl (“Look, Homer’s got one of those robot cars!”) The car proceeds to crash off-screen, and Carl adds on, “One of those American robot cars.”
– I love that Burns, who of course owns the Springfield Atoms, was vindictive enough to cripple Milhouse to pump up his team to win (“I hope they win, or Mr. Burns said he’s coming back.”)
– Classic bit with Homer’s nacho hat, with him singing an altered version of “Macho Man.”
– Great bit with footballer Stan Taylor talking about how Ned saved him (“I used to party all night and sleep with lingerie models until Ned and his bible group showed me that I could have more.”) Homer muses, “Professional athletes, always wantin’ more.” I also like his cooing over the game ball (“Now I have four children. You will be called ‘Stitchface.'”) And of course, classic line when Homer drives by again, proudly announcing his friendship with Flanders (“What did he say?” “I dunno, something about being gay.”)
– The religious sheep cartoon teaching about envy is hilarious. Todd is not as won over (“It’s all well and good for sheep, but what are we to do?”)
– Ned gives a great pre-meal prayer (“Bless the grocer for this wonderful meat, the middlemen who jacked up the price, and let’s not forget the humane but determined boys over at the slaughterhouse.”) I also love Homer’s dainty bites as he picks apart Ned’s turkey.
– Classic bit with the Rappin’ Ronnie Reagan tape (“You know something? He did say ‘well’ a lot!”)
– The family picnic has a lot of great bits too, but my favorite is probably Bart being a drug pusher on Rod and Todd via pixie sticks, which they go mad over. One part that irks me a bit is Marge and Lisa contributing to the food fight. I get the parallel they were making, but it didn’t seem to fit. Love Ned’s excuse for leaving, “Todd’s got Zesty Italian in his eye.”
– Ned’s dream is wonderfully animated, and pretty damn chilling. I almost wish they didn’t tamper with the tone with the comical crazy postman.
– Homer appearing and disappearing through the hedge is another great bit of animation, as well as the chase, as I’ve mentioned.
– I love Wiggum’s enthusiasm about his arrest: “High as a kite, everybody! Goofballs!”
– The final straw that sets Ned off is genius: so minor, but just a microcosm of Homer’s annoyance. During a silent prayer, Homer breathes through his nose, which makes an increasingly noisy whistling noise, but I think the volume of it raising is all in Ned’s head, chipping away at him until he finally cracks.
– Homer’s speech defending Ned is beautiful, so I will just reprint it in full: “How dare you talk about Ned Flanders like that. He’s a wonderful, kind, caring man… maybe even more so than me. There have been times when I lost patience with him, even lashed out at him, but this man has turned every cheek on his body. If everyone here were like Ned Flanders, there’d be no need for heaven: we’d already be there.” I also love after Lovejoy admits they were wrong, Lenny shouts out, “Hey, that guy’s right!” Referring to the Reverend as “that guy” seems very Lenny. Don’t know how much sense that makes.