Monthly Archives: January 2012

163. The Springfield Files

(originally aired January 12, 1997)
Being about aliens, and told as a story-within-a-story (by the great Leonard Nimoy), parts of this feel a bit like a Halloween show. It’s like I’ve seen it before; Homer believes to have made alien contact, but is dismissed by his family thinking he’s drunk. …oh wait, I have seen this, in “Citizen Kang” like eight episodes ago. This one is totally different though, I’m not trying to cry foul, but it’s just unusual that such a similar and unique plot element would appear in two episodes in the season. This show takes place in the “real” world, and this time around Homer actually is drunk, stumbling home late one night, and sees what he thinks to be a glowing green alien in the woods. Understandably, no one believes him. Despite the ludicrous claim, FBI agents Mulder and Scully come to investigate the matter, but conclude that Homer’s just another nutcase. Determined to prove he’s not crazy, Homer, along with Bart, camp out at night and end up getting video footage of the creature, creating a media circus anxiously waiting for its return. But the alleged alien turns out to be an entirely different sort of monster.

What struck me about this episode is how little really happened in it. There’s no story to be had until the very end of the first act when Homer sees the alien, act two is largely Mulder and Scully dealing with Homer, and act three is just a ticking clock to the reveal of who the alien is. I’m not entirely sure how they could have beefed up a small story like this, but I felt like it needed a little more to keep it from meandering. But onto the business of the crossover; it’s sort of similar to “A Star is Burns” in that the episode is about the subject matter of the other show, with the stars appearing within the Simpsons universe. I’ve never watched X-Files so I comment on any inside jokes or authenticity to the characters, but I think they did a fine job for what they had to do. Nimoy was also fantastic in his second appearance on the show, getting plenty of laughs for his minimal amount of screen time.

I feel I haven’t much to say about this one… probably because as I mentioned not a lot happened in it. There were plenty of jokes interspersed and I was never bored, it’s just one of the thinner episodes we’ve seen. I guess I should address the ending; it’s one of those reveals that sort of rides the line between being so ridiculous it’s funny, and so ridiculous it’s horrible. It’s close, but I still give it the former. I laughed at the wonderful animation of Burns being altered and contorted on the conveyour belt, of course under the guise of Dr. Nick (“The most rewarding part was when he gave me my money.”) But why would Smithers allow Mr. Burns to go wandering around by himself in the middle of the night in that condition? And we’ve seen Burns at night before without that green glow. Perhaps the procedures affect some minor internal radiation or something that makes it more prominent. Whatever. All I know is I got a duet of “Good Morning Starshine” with Burns and Leonard Nimoy, and that’s the best I could hope for. A somewhat paltry, but still substantial outing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Nice bit from Homer recalling a movie that inspired his plan to get out of work (“I saw this in a movie about a bus that had to speed around the city, keeping its speed over fifty. And if its speed dropped, the bus would explode! I think it was called… ‘The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down.'”)
– Definitely the most on-the-nose Smithers gay joke so far; kind of too overt, but I do like Burns chiding, “Mothers, lock up your daughters! Smithers is on the town!”
– Nice knock at Waterworld, even if it is incredibly dated at this point. Sort of reminds me of Waterworld on Virtual Boy. As the Angry Video Game Nerd humbly put it, “it’s like puking on a pile of shit.”
– At Moe’s, Homer is in the mood for something more exciting than boring old regular Duff. With quick use of a marker, Moe provides him with Doof, direct from Sweden. Surprisingly, Homer isn’t fooled for long, and Moe gives him Red Tick Beer, with a striking taste he just can’t place. Turns out it’s dog.
– Great gags on Homer’s spooky way home: he hears the famous Psycho theme, but it’s actually just a bus carrying the Springfield Philharmonic, all playing their instruments for some reason. Then a frightening billboard: “DIE.” Homer screams. A tree is blown slightly to reveal the full message: “DIET.” Homer screams again.
– Even someone as thick as Chief Wiggum can think of nothing but mock Homer’s ridiculous story (“Your story is very compelling, Mr. Jackass, I mean, uh, Simpson. So, I’ll just type it up on my invisible typewriter!”) Then again he has the same reaction to a self-confessed arsonist a minute later.
– I’m torn about the alien line-up gag. It’s neat to see Marvin the Martian, Chewy and ALF standing side-by-side, but does that mean they’re all real? Are they just people in costumes? The whole story’s about no one believes Homer saw an alien, then we see a line-up of a five. I’m really over-thinking this, I know, but it just struck me a weird way.
– Great readings by Duchovney and Anderson captivating by Homer’s blubber while he’s on the treadmill (“His jiggling is almost hypnotic.” “Yes. It’s like a lava lamp.”)
– More look into Moe’s shady backroom antics, this time he’s abducted a killer whale from Sea World for some reason. Nice callback after Mulder gives his dramatic “the truth is out there” speech and we see Moe and his cronies attempting to carry the whale in the background (“Cheese it! The feds!”)
– Bart and Homer actually have a great night out camping, which is nice to see. Best is Bart’s chilling ghost story (“…and that’s how much college will cost for Maggie.”)
– Tonight on Eyewitness News, a man who’s been in a coma for 23 years wakes up. But upon hearing Sonny Bono is a Congressman and Cher won an Oscar, figures it’d be better to take his own life.
– Homer is pleased to see T-shirts reading “Homer Was Right” are being sold at the alleged sighting site, but then finds the alternative, “Homer is a Dope,” sold out immediately. Even Marge bought one (“These shirts are a hundred percent cotton. And look at the fine stitching on ‘dope.'”)
– Love Hibbert’s response to the alien’s offering of love (“Is that the love between a man and a woman or the love of a man for a fine Cuban cigar?”) and Willie’s cries to kill the alien, and equally so when it’s revealed to be Mr. Burns.
– The animation of Burns wandering into the woods is hysterical; it does make up for the logical fallacies I brought up earlier. This episode is flawless, I realize this only now.

162. El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer

(originally aired January 5, 1997)
Apparently the plot for this episode was originally pitched as far back as season 3; it was viewed as way too bizarre for the show at that point, but it wasn’t thrown away entirely. But now that we’ve had runaway monorails, killer theme park robots, and Homer fighting ex-Presidents, a hallucinogenic psychedelic trip doesn’t feel too alien now. Even after twenty years, this remains one of the show’s strangest episodes, and that’s made it one of the most famous ones too. Homer is all revved up for the annual chili cook-off, but Marge isn’t so thrilled, making her husband promise he won’t drink and make a fool out of himself. Of course that latter point proves to be impossible: the pope of Chili Town is bested by Chief Wiggum’s Guatemalan insanity peppers, but finds he’s able to down them by coating his mouth with wax. Unfortunately he finds that they’re called insanity peppers for a reason, as he quickly loses grip on reality and finds himself in a strange mythical desert all alone. It’s there that his spirit guide, a coyote voiced by Johnny Cash, tells him he will achieve inner piece if he finds his soul mate.

There’s a lot to love about this episode. The chili cook-off set-piece is fantastic; just the right event that Homer would go ape shit over much to Marge’s chagrin. Any time we see Homer truly in his element, it’s really enjoyable; he’s really cocky with his harsh critiques of all the dishes, but there’s nothing much else he knows better than food. Chief Wiggum also works so well as his adversary, a man of high stature but garnering little respect, hoping to be at the top of the heap at the festival. These two characters are usually so comical and non-threatening, but to each other they absolutely mean business. When Homer goes into his trip, the episode becomes an animation tour de force. The deformed, bizarrely styled citizens from Homer’s POV is a great start, then at the second act we devolve into madness, with Homer deforming against live-action clouds with snakes and giant CG butterflies peppering the barren landscape. The angular look and stylized backgrounds give Homer’s trip a unique view apart from the normal series. Johnny Cash is also fantastic as the Space Coyote, giving such a solemn, serious air to the character, an animal of true wisdom.

As bombastic as this show is, you break it down and it’s really a gussied up Homer-Marge episode: Marge is upset with Homer, they make up at the end. The only difference is it’s handled really well: Marge witnesses Homer about to down some beers, not realizing he only wishes to soothe his incinerated tongue. There’s also the great, almost haunting scene in the hallucination where Homer encounters a vision of Marge who dissolves before his eyes. When Marge chews Homer out for disappearing over the night, Homer begins to doubt if his wife really is his soul mate and goes off into the world to find some answers. There’s a bit of malaise that sits in with the third act since we know what the ending is going to be, but it’s distracted with enough great jokes that I didn’t mind much. You could also say it’s silly for an episode to examine the deeper meaning of the life of a big dumb oaf like Homer, but really, why not? Everyone has a purpose, and Homer’s is to ultimately be with the woman he loves. It’s an iconic episode worthy of its title, with a solid plot, good jokes and bits of visual wonderment to go around.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Nice bit at the beginning: Homer flips through his newspaper, dismissing “World,” “The Arts” and “Religion,” to the fluffiest section of all, “Kicking Back.”
– Great flashback to the last chili cook-off: a drunken Homer wallowing naked in a cotton candy machine. He jumps out and ends up rolling on the floor surrounded by dogs licking him. In the present, Homer chides Marge’s memory (“Well of course, everything looks bad if you remember it.”)
– Love Marge’s incredulous nature toward a rack with eight spices (“Some must be doubles. Ore-gah-no? What the hell?”) and Homer’s childish impatience (“Marge, we’re missing the chili? Less artsy, more fartsy!”)
– Classic scene of Flanders breaking down before Homer, admitting his chili is falsely advertised as “five-alarm” so he could impress his boys (“Daddy? Are you going to jail?” “We’ll see, son. We’ll see.”)
– Alone at the line dance, Marge encounters Smithers acting unusually masculine in an incredibly gaudy cowboy outfit. If someone would like to make heads or tails of this scene, be my guess. I guess since his get-up is so over-the-top, it’s still another Smithers-is-gay reference, but it’s so extremely bizarre…
– I love Homer taunting Wiggum (“Uh, Wiggy? My chili’s getting cold.”) and then later Wiggum’s inflated ego when Homer returns for seconds (“Want some more, do you? Well, sure! Heck, it’s not my job to talk people out of killing themselves.”)
– An odd moment where Ralph appears and acts somewhat normal, innocently informing Homer he’s about to drink a candle. Remember when he was a real character and not a dim non sequitur machine?
I like how they had Castellaneta talk like his mouth really was full of wax, and the gulping noises Homer makes swallowing the peppers whole. The crowd is absolutely aghast (“By all medical logic, steam should be shooting out of his ears.” “His ears if we’re lucky!”)
– Nice performance with Homer’s absolute impatience of dealing with the tortoise. And of course nice revenge as he is now forced to climb a gigantic flight of stairs due to his inflicted abuse.
– Like the stupid back-and-forth with Bart and Lisa regarding Bart’s “Time for Chili” hat (“You’re just mad ’cause there’s no clock in your hat.” “What hat?” This baby’s wasted on an idiot like you.”)
– Cash really did do a great job. And they got him to make gnawing noises. Fantastic. (“Knock it off!” “Sorry. I am a coyote.”)
– Homer wakes up on the country club golf course, thinking his whole trip was just a dream. The desert was the sand trap he was lying in, the pyramid was a pro shop (sitting atop a giant pyramid for some reason), and the talking coyote was just a regular talking dog (Hi, Homer. Find your soulmate.” “Hey, wait a minute! There’s no such thing as a talking dog!” “BARK!” “Damn straight!”)
– Great scene where the denizens of Moe’s all tell Homer who they consider themselves as, but none of them soul mates, ending with Moe (“I’m a well-wisher, in that I don’t wish you any specific harm.”) Also Kearney is there drinking a beer for some reason. And he considers himself Homer’s “associate.”
Funniest scene hands-down is Homer’s call to “GBM,” unfamiliar with the concept of “looking for” classifieds (“Uh, no, I don’t like that… Or that… No, it’s not that I’m afraid. I’m going to hang up now, bye-bye.”)
– Homer steps in front of the light in the lighthouse, casting his silhouette across the town. Bart and Lisa take notice (“Hey look! Is that Dad?” “Either that, or Batman’s really let himself go.”)
– Another line I find myself using sporadically for some reason: “In your face, space coyote!” Perfect for any accomplishment.
– The short shorts ending is kinda dumb… but I still laughed.

161. Hurricane Neddy

(originally aired December 29, 1996)
Tone is an important thing to establish and maintain throughout your story. This show of course is primarily comedic, but has expertly pulled off episodes with a greater dramatic and serious slant with assorted jokes peppered in. The subject matter of this one is particularly grave, almost too much so at times, where the humor is sometimes a bit too wacky for its surroundings. Take the first act where Springfield is buckling down in preparation for a big hurricane. There’s some jokes about crowd hysteria in preparation (Hurricane Chow is a great gag), but when the storm hits, it’s pretty severe, or at least treated as such with the Simpson family huddled worriedly in the basement. Then Homer walks out in the eye of the storm and the family gets blown and swirled around back into the house. It almost seems too cartoonish given the established gravitas. It’s not too egregious, but it doesn’t really click the right way.

The hurricane decimates the Flanders house, leaving Ned almost like a modern day Job, now homeless and jobless due to the Leftorium fallen victim to rampant looting. Watching the eternally optimistic Ned slowly lose hope is kind of interesting, but almost goes too far; the scene where he prays to God at night is pretty melodramatic for the purposes of the show. A miracle seems to have happened when he finds the townspeople have banded together to rebuild his house, until he sees it’s so completely ramshackle that it collapses after the grand tour. At long last, Ned reaches his breaking point, chewing out all of the Springfield residents, then calmly drives himself to the town mental hospital to commit himself. There he is reunited with child psychiatrist Dr. Foster, who illuminates his repressed childhood memories. L’il Ned was an uncontrollable bastard child to ineffective beatnik parents. An aggressive spanking therapy manager to keep Ned’s violent outbursts suppressed, almost to a fault, where he now is physically incapable of expressing any negativity.

I’m kind of torn when it comes to examining the origins of secondary characters. On one hand, it’s an interesting backstory presented, giving a bit more reasoning to Ned’s character and his kooky catch phrases. But on the other hand it leaves this dark under hanging to him that is going to stick with me. I didn’t remember this episode too well, but I think it’s more damaging character-wise than “Principal and the Pauper.” So Ned has this seething anger that he feels all the time but can’t get it out? And he really does hate Homer? Is his faith a bizarre way of channeling his emotions? It kind of taints his perfect saintly neighbor archetype he’s meant to be. But it is something that really could have built and went somewhere… except they constrain it to the second half of the third act. Ned and Homer have a back-and-forth, Ned admits he hates his parents, he’s cured, end episode. When the revelation and the resolution occur within three minutes of each other, it doesn’t quite feel worth it. But despite my questions on the worthiness of this character exploration, it was somewhat intriguing, and where there were jokes that didn’t go too far, and even those that did, they were funny. It’s a flawed, but still mostly satisfying episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Like to hear Kent Brockman’s latent sexism (“If you think naming a destructive storm after a woman is sexist, you obviously have never seen the gals grabbing for items at a clearance sale”) and Marge’s dimunitive response (“That’s true, but he shouldn’t say it.”)
– Classic Homer thinking; he rips the backdoor of the house off to board up the back window.
– Despite the hurricane, they’re about to execute someone in the prison, but the roof rips off and the convict is sent flying out of the electric chair, much to the disappointment of the others. But the convict ends up lodged in a telephone poll, electrocuting him, and the crowd cheers. Grisly, but funny.
– Great bit with Marge and the Rubick’s cube and the other family members barking ridiculous orders at her, like to use her main finger and turn a side “topwise.” She eventually gets fed up (“Now I remember why I put this down here in the first place!”)
– The treacle is laid on pretty thick as Marge prays for an end to the hurricane, followed by the family surprised to find it over, but Homer finds a way to cut through it (“He fell for it! Way to go, Marge!”)
– Like that Ned considers insurance a form of gambling.
– Very clever that we don’t see the complete wording of Todd’s “Butthole Surfers” T-shirt. I also like Rod’s innocent glee over his shirt (“Look, Daddy, Todd is stupid and I’m with him. And now Mommy’s stupid!”)
– Ned comes to Lovejoy with his Job analogy, but the Reverend informs him that Job was right-handed. Ned then asks if God is punishing him. Lovejoy takes a deep breath (“Short answer: ‘yes with an ‘if,’ long answer: ‘no,’ with a ‘but.'”)
– Entering his new house, Ned snags his sweater on a loose nail. Homer comments, “One out of twenty five ain’t bad!” The load-bearing poster and electricity room are good gags, but I think they went too far with the tiny master bedroom. Too silly.
– Harry Shearer gives a powerhouse performance when Ned snaps. My favorite outburst is probably the one directed at Bart (“Okay, duuuuude! I wouldn’t want you to have a cow, maaaan! Here’s a catch-phrase you better learn for your adult years: ‘Hey, Buddy, got a quarter?'”) Bart is stupefied (“I am shocked and appalled.”) Moe comes in a close second (“You ugly, hate-filled man!” “Hey, hey, I may be ugly and hate-filled, but I… um, what was the third thing you said?”)
– Other familiar faces at the mental hospital include Ms. Botz, John Swartzwelder and Jay Sherman (“It stinks! It stinks! It stinks!” “Yes, Mr. Sherman. Everything stinks.”)
– I don’t quite get why they get Homer in there at the end; he’s never overtly annoyed or agitated Ned, more in how he takes advantage of his good will. I do like his flat reads on the written card (“Past instances in which I professed to like you were fraudulent.” “I engaged in intercourse with your spouse or significant other.”) I also do like their back and forth as Homer tries to find something Ned genuinely finds annoying (“What about fluorescent lights?” “They hum like angels! You’re never lonely if you’ve got a florescent light!”)
– Yeah, I really don’t get the ending. So Ned’s going to be more open with his feelings… except he’s not. That and he’s a maniac. Oh well. Ned, you so cra-zay.

160. Lisa’s Date With Density

(originally aired December 15, 1996)
This is one of those classic episodes that end up lost in the shuffle; in a lineup of maniacal super villain bosses and X-Files cameos, a simple childhood romance story doesn’t seem as spectacular. But as we’ve seen from this series, these episodes can be spectacular, with lots of great character moments and an intriguing story. “Density” isn’t terrible, but feels somewhat innocuous and by-the-numbers, something this show would normally mock. We begin by setting up Nelson as the rebel-without-a-cause bad boy and Lisa filled with perplexment over developing a crush on him. She confides her feelings with Milhouse, who is understandably discouraged that Lisa’s affections lie elsewhere. Nelson remains ambivalent over Lisa’s interests and intentions to make him a better person, while his fellow bullies think that he’s gone soft on them and mock him incessantly for it. Then Nelson of course teams back up with the bullies and of course Lisa finds out and is disappointed and moves on, much to Milhouse’s constrained glee… of course.

This show has run through its fair share of formulaic plot lines, some of them being the most memorable of the series, but always with some new twist or subversion, or at least a fresh look at it. This good-girl-bad-boy story is pretty tread territory, and played completely straight, so we just sort of sit there and watch as the plot points we expect come and go until the episode ends. It’s not a good thing, but not so much a bad thing either. Ultimately the episode ends up kind of bland, but with nothing too grossly offensive (or in this case inoffensive) to make me want to turn it off. The Skinner/Chalmers stuff at the beginning is pretty good, and the petty theft of the Honda ‘H’ off Chalmers’ 1979 Accord is a wonderfully lame act illustrating Nelson’s thoughtless hooliganism. The interactions between Lisa and Nelson at the start of their “relationship” is kinda cute; Yeardley Smith gives a great performance, slightly nervous and pensive, but always adorable, and always feels like Lisa. Though equally as cliche in concept as the dogged best friend with a crush, Milhouse is fantastic in this episode, riding the line of pitiful and amiably pathetic (“When she sees you’ll do anything she says, she’s bound to respect you.”) The best scene in this show involves a tragic miscommunication when he delivers a note from Lisa to Nelson, resulting in him being sent to the emergency room.

There’s a B-story that doesn’t take up much time, and doesn’t amount to much, but certainly worth noting. Homer acquires an auto-dialing machine during a police bust, utilizing it to play a recorded message to every phone number in time asking to send him one dollar. He posits it to be a fool-proof scheme to put him on easy street. As silly as the plot sounds, it certainly was more interesting than the main story, with Homer’s funny message and great bits from Professor Frink and Chief Wiggum. However, a part of me does feel like stuff like this is a looming harbinger for things to come. Homer not going to work in exchange of a crazy scheme? We’d see plenty more of that in the future, with more excruciating results. But for the time being, I didn’t mind, and was amused by Homer’s brief stint as “Happy Dude” (later “Sorry Dude.”) This entire episode feels very ineffective on the whole, but is not without its smaller emotional moments and jokes to keep you engaged just enough.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Always find myself mixing up “Density” with “Destiny” in the title. I feel like George McFly.
– Homer tries to take advantage of the self-serve donut station at the Kwik-E-Mart, but Apu is not so easy to fool (“A Mounds bar is not a sprinkle.  A twizzler is not a sprinkle.  A Jolly Rancher is not a sprinkle, sir.  Perhaps in Shangri-La they are, but not in here.”)
– Never has a name seemed more apt than Jimmy the Scumbag. You look at him, and think, “Man, that guy seems like a real scumbag.”
– Love the ridiculousness of Willie prying each locker open with a crowbar, effectively destroying them all, rather than just having the students open them.
– Lisa giggles at Nelson’s antics outside, much to Mr. Largo’s chagrin (“Miss Simpson?  Do you find something funny about the word tromboner?”) This leads to the class taunting “Lisa likes Nelson!” which alters as Milhouse and Janey get involved. Mr. Largo is fed up (“Uter likes Milhouse!” “Nobody likes Milhouse!”)
– Nice meta reference when Lisa gets detention writing on the chalkboard; rubbing her sore wrist, she wonders how Bart does it every week.
– Great performance by Castellaneta as Willie catching the football… or rather, bee hive.
– Great animation of Milhouse choking on its milk, causing the carton to explode when Lisa confesses her crush to him.
– I like that, for some reason, Frink installed robotic wheels onto the auto dialer. And how Homer just chases after his runaway machine, completely non-plussed by the fact that it’s now mobile.
– Classic bit where Lisa questions Nelson’s “Nuke the Whales” poster (“You don’t really believe that, do you?” “I dunno. Gotta nuke somethin’.”) Also a bumper sticker on the wall reads “Bomb the Arabs and Take Their Oil.” Foreshadowing?
– Great scene of Marge and Lisa in the car as they posit about their respective men (“Most women will tell you that you’re a fool to think you can change a  man, but those women are quitters.”) Lisa proceeds to patronize her mother when she talks about how much Homer has improved thanks to her molding.
– I do like how both parties have their own views on the kiss: Lisa thinks she’s finally touched Nelson’s soul, while Nelson just wanted her to shut her gob.
– Nice assorted name-calling between the kids: Lisa calls the other bullies a bunch of “crumb-bums,” and one of them chides Nelson as a “charlatan” as they walk away.
– The finale of the auto-dialer plot is pretty great, starting by the dumb mislead where we think Wiggum is shooting Nelson… but it’s actually just the machine. He then informs Homer that he should bring it in as evidence, otherwise he gets off scot-free. We also get an acknowledgement of the absurdity that Wiggum, as chief of police, responds to each and every police call in the town. Lou and Eddie don’t seem too grateful for that, for obvious reasons.
– I think this episode initiated the phrase “smell you later.” So at least we have it to thank for that. And with that… smell you later.

159. A Milhouse Divided

(originally aired December 1, 1996)
In case you haven’t figured it out from the other 158 reviews, this series is pretty amazing, and it always seems to come up with new ways to emphasize that fact. This episode’s first act culminates with an aggravated back-and-forth conversation involving two characters we really don’t know anything about, but thanks to great solid writing, we completely understand these people, their personalities and their motives. The set-up is Marge’s desire for social, adult conversation through having a dinner party, inviting the Lovejoys, the Flanderses, the Hibberts and the Van Houtens. Groundwork is set throughout the evening with the latter couple getting increasingly at each others throats before they’re cut off by Marge, moving onto another activity to sweep the unpleasantness under the rug. But a game of Pictionary becomes the Van Houtens undoing, as Kirk and Luanne have it out. Hank Azaria and Maggie Roswell give dynamite performances, both hilarious and absolutely dramatically believable. That’s why this scene is so insane, it really feels like a heated argument, and you can feel the incredible awkwardness of the other couples witnessing a marriage fall apart at the seams, especially from Marge, who is running out of ways to divert attention away from this elephant in the room. It’s really one of the best scenes of the entire series, I think, since the show has managed to create something from nothing in the most engaging way possible.

So Kirk and Luanne break up and begin to form their own separate lives. While Luanne is more than pleased with being single, hooking up with an American Gladiator, Kirk’s life isn’t going so hot. He gets fired from the cracker factory thanks to his divorce (“Crackers are a family food. Happy families. Maybe single people eat crackers, we don’t know. Frankly, we don’t want to know. It’s a market we can do without,”) he lives in a seedy apartment complex, and his car gets stolen by a dirty floozy. We do feel bad for Kirk, but he is really a pathetic character by nature; he muses about how he should have seen the signs that this would all happen, which new pal Homer believes will never transpire with him and Marge. Meanwhile, groundwork has also been set through the episode of Marge constantly being disappointed and fed up with Homer, so when the telltale signs finally permeate Homer’s skull, he freaks out, believing divorce may be coming his way any time soon. So he does the most rational thing he can think of: get divorced himself and throw a lavish second wedding.

I think there’s plenty of unmined gold to be had from the Kirk and Luanne story, examining their new lives more and potential awkward run-ins with each other. Also barely even touched upon is its effect on Milhouse, which we only see in like one scene. That could have been a whole story in itself. On paper, it might seem like a rich meaty story quickly diverted to be yet another Homer-Marge marital woes episode, but it really doesn’t feel that way. Firstly, as mentioned, the stage is set through the episode of Marge’s quiet displeasure over her husband, and second, Homer’s troubles set in from his reaction to the main story, or rather overreaction. It also ties in with the Van Houtens plot anyway, as Kirk figures if a big romantic gesture works for Homer and Marge, it could work for him too. With as much gumption as he can muster, he belts his love ballad “Can I Borrow A Feelin’?” to his former wife, asking him to marry him again. She says no. This ain’t TV, Kirk, not every story has a happy ending. Pouring salt on the wound, Luanne’s new boyfriend escorts him outside and shuts the door. Kirk vows he’ll be back… prob-probably. I was surprised just how much I loved this show; it’s surprisingly tense and dramatic at the start, and keeps the laughs and energy up even with the third act plot shift, still keeping with the themes and brings the main story back for a satisfying ending. And we fleshed out two tertiary characters to boot. What more could you want?

Tidbits and Quotes
– Marge wishes for more conversational engagement at home, but the family is stuck eating dinner glued to the TV. Homer moans the plates aren’t see-through as he attempts to lick it clear whilst still staring at the screen, Bart’s down to his skivvies at 5pm, and even Lisa can barely put together sentences, too absorbed with the idiot box.
– Another great store name, “Stoner’s Pot Palace,” of which Otto walks out quite disappointed with the false advertising. Easy joke, but effective.
– I do like whenever Marge gets into something, she puts her all into it… almost too much, like when she puts another glaze on the already blindingly bright ham. And of course seconds before the party starts, Homer is in his underwear in the living room playing with slot car racers (“Just gotta put my shoes on!” “The only thing I asked you to do for this party was put on clothes, and you didn’t do it.”)
– It really is a bit disconcerting that Kirk and Luanne look exactly the same. I wouldn’t want them to address it on the show, since it’d be way too creepy, but there must be some kind of weird intentional or unintentional inbreeding going on there. Like imagine being sexually attracted to yourself, but if you had the body and minor features of the opposite sex.
– I fucking love the uneasiness of the episode, it’s done so well. (“Marge, I know I haven’t eaten that well since the army.” “Or that noisily…”) I love Azaria’s low “Alright, that’s it…” before Marge cuts him off.
– So yeah, the Pictionary scene is absolutely stellar. I love the frequent cuts back to Marge, nervously wringing her napkin, then later when Luanne mentions how Kirk’s incompetence plunged his cracker company to tie with Table Time and Allied Biscuit, to which Marge discreetly tosses a plate of the latter crackers back in the box and tucks it under the couch. Luanne goes on (“I love having to borrow money from my sister. I love having to steal clothes from the church donation box.”) Such devastation in her voice too. Cut to Lovejoy (“Oh sweet Jesus…”) Even better that he had alluded to the ransacked clothes earlier. So many minor bits that are amazing: Gudger College, Luanne’s unseen perfect representation of ‘dignity,’ Lisa coming in singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag,” and Kirk’s horrible drawing skills.
– First appearance of Kearney’s kid (“I sleep in a drawer!”) I guess that would make him at least 20. And now I’ve just pictured Kearney having sex. Brilliant.
– Great reference to the audience when Luanne tells Marge to forget everything she used to know about her, to which Marge honestly responds that she doesn’t really know anything about her.
– Kirk shows off his new digs to Homer (“You get your own bed. I sleep in a racing car, do you?” “I sleep in a big bed with my wife.”) I love the sound effects of the establishing shots too, lots of sirens and gunshots.
– The bit we do see of Milhouse does work perfectly, with Luanne fawning over her perfect son who is currently destroying the house.
– After breaking a chair on Luanne’s gladiator boyfriend, Bart tries to do the same with his father… less effective. This is a Homer-gets-hurt scene that works, as it has a motivation and works in the scene. Plus it’s so unexpected, for us and Homer, who is blissfully taking a bath when he gets socked, and so hard that the chair breaks to pieces. Castellaneta’s scream is hysterical (“What the hell is wrong with you?!” “Jeez, sorry. It’s a pretty standard stunt, Homer.”)
– As Homer bemoans how crummy his marriage began, we get a clip from “I Married Marge,” which is also paired with new footage of Marge less than thrilled at her marriage at Shotgun Pete’s. Most of what we’ve seen of their past, the two are fairly happy, but as has been implied, there’s an underlying sadness to Marge. Homer tries to smooth things with a cake, “To A Whale of a Wife,” I assume a reference to Carvel’s Fudgy the Whale.
– Homer tries to smooth things over, but fails in every way. He also stops in to give her an impromptu hair cut at the Perm Bank (another amazing store name.)
– I love how happy Homer is to tell his wife that they have to get married again since he got them a divorce (“I didn’t want a hokey second wedding like those ones on TV. This one is for real!”)
– Homer’s vows are amazing of course, hilarious read by Lovejoy (“Do you, Marge, take Homer, in richness and in poorness… poorness is underlined… in impotence and in potence, in quiet solitude or blasting across the alkali flats in a jet-powered, monkey- navigated… and it goes on like this.”)
– The smooth jazz end credits theme may be my favorite variant, tied with the “Mad Mad Mad Mad World” version. It’s just so mellow and cool.

158. Bart After Dark

(originally aired November 24, 1996)
This is an episode with a pretty out there plot, but rides and succeeds based on the pitch perfect characterizations. It shows this series can tackle just about any story and work as long as we stay mindful of our beloved characters. Things start off naturally enough as Lisa gets adamant about a new cause: cleaning up a sizable oil spill devastating a distant beach. We see celebrities like Rainier Wolfcastle and his buxom companion cleaning up and mugging for the camera in their staged publicity stunt, but we also see that a righteous Lisa isn’t much different. True, she probably cares a lot more for the cause than those Hollywood phonies, but we also see how flighty she is with her environmental activism (justified in that she’s frigging eight), and devastated when she arrives that she won’t get to clean and save cute little animals. After much cajoling, Marge agrees to take Lisa to the beach, leaving Homer and Bart to their own devices. Suffice to say, the house quickly becomes a wreck. Marge had kept the boys just on the edge of civilized, and it’s great to see how low they can go, be it Bart gargling with soda or Homer answering the door wearing a grocery bag (with groceries in it.)

The main story kicks in when Bart’s horseplay leads to the destruction of a rooftop gargoyle on a house belonging to a witch (at least according to child folklore.) Owner Belle arrives at the Simpson house expecting Bart to be punished, and Homer, not wanting Marge to find out down the line, demands Bart do chores for the woman to pay off his debt. But neither of them know Belle’s actual business: the house is actually a gentleman’s club called the Maison Derriere, where Bart performs a bevy of tasks from being doorman to subbing for the unusually short opening act. It’s a pretty risque show, but this kind of subject matter has never stopped the series before. A particularly great scene involves Homer’s discovery of where he sent his son to work, consisting of Belle apologizing for any miscommunication whilst he is dumbstruck by a nude Princess Kashmir on stage. I like Bart’s childish naughtiness in volunteering to sort through a trunk of bras, and later seeing the slightly perverted side of Springfield’s citizens, including Principal Skinner, who brings Bart’s work to the attention of the Lovejoys and the Flanderses. The second act break may be my favorite of the series, where Homer gets incredibly adamant in defense of his decision, then immediately deflates when he sees Marge standing there (“Now, Marge, you’re gonna hear a lot of crazy talk about Bart working in a burlesque house…”)

Not seen since “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” Marge leads a moral crusade against this previously underground establishment, effectively guilt tripping the town into siding with her upon showing damning photographs of various citizens attending the burlesque house, including Mayor Quimby (“That could be any mayor!”) The town is in true angry mob form as they storm the Maison, smashing and setting fire to the area. How best to mollify this situation? Through song, of course. “We Put the Spring in Springfield” is one of the show’s hallmark songs, incredibly catchy, entertaining, and full of overt euphemisms (those ladies sure put the “boing” in Springfield alright…) It also culminates into a great self aware moment about these kinds of ridiculous songs, where Marge comes in late with a bulldozer and is shocked to find a song has completely changed everybody’s minds, and that they can’t re-sing it since it was so spur of the moment. Marge attempts to come up with her own song, but accidentally rams the dozer into the house. One of my favorite lines from the whole series is from Lovejoy, “Thanks a lot, Marge. That was our only burlesque house.” This man of God who three minutes ago was totally against the place is devastated to see it gone. But that’s the power of the spontaneous song. A hilarious and showstopping episode if I ever saw one.

Tidbits and Quotes
– After a quick V-Chip joke, we get a really crazy, almost dark Itchy & Scratchy, with the set up of a talk show with Scratchy as the abused victim on stage. Itchy breaks a bottle, comes out from backstage to full applause, Scratchy gets down and begs for his life and Itchy lunges the bottle at him before the show is cut off by a news announcement. How horrifying…..ly funny.
– Of all the beaches the tanker could have crashed in, of course it was Baby Seal Beach. Also great seeing a drunken Captain McAlister offering Dave Shutton a hundred buck to take the blame for the accident on camera.
– Great animation and performance by Yeardley Smith of Lisa play-acting for her mother on how much she loves that peach tree.
– The time fade of Bart and Homer doing garbage angels to seeing them passed out on a floor covered in garbage is so funny and disturbing at the same time. A day has passed and they’re literally stewing in their own filth.
– Don’t know if I buy Martin wanting to hang out with Ralph. But we do get the great Burns line when he sees the two running away from the toy plane (“I don’t like being outdoors, Smithers. For one thing, there are too many fat children.”)
– Wonderful performance by Tress MacNeille as Belle in this episode. I feel later seasons would overuse her as every single woman and child voice, but she had a few memorable performances here and there. Belle has a particular affectation and rhythm I haven’t heard from any of her other many many characters.
– Classic bit where Homer drops Bart off at Belle’s saying he needs to take responsibility for his actions, then accidentally pulls up on the curb, knocking over the mailbox, screams and quickly drives off.
There’s a lot of quick risque stuff in this show; at the start of the second act we see a girl coming to Belle in a bustier, which we see from Bart’s perspective with extra care in the animation to emphasize her heaving bosom. Bart is clearly on board with this. As am I.
– My favorite scene is definitely when Grampa walks in the door, turns to put his hat on the rack, turns back to see Bart, turns back to get his hat, and then out the door. All while whistling. He peeks his head in and asks, “Is your name ‘Bart’?” Bart only has to nod. Grampa demands if his father knows he’s working there. Bart says it was Homer’s idea. Grampa is convinced, walking back in asking for a whiskey sour.
– Love Bart on stage telling the slightly lame jokes, but the crowd laughs uproariously at them because I assume they’re all drunk.
– Homer takes a moment to observe the many pictures on the Maison Derriere’s wall (“President Eisenhower celebrates 40th wedding anniversary. Not pictured, Mrs. Eisenhower.”)
– I love how Skinner tries to cover his tracks when he realizes that Bart is the doorman at the burlesque house, and then later when the Lovejoys and Flanderses show up at Homer’s door. Helen tells them Skinner found out about Bart, then he pops up from below, almost like he was hiding in shame, to defend himself (“That’s true, but I was only in there to get directions on how to get away from there.”)
– The scene where Marge demands Belle get out of town is fantastic, where Belle is really just toying with Marge, and she is incredibly adamant toward her cause (“Sleazy entertainment and raunchy jokes will never be as popular as sobriety and self-denial.”)
– The town hall meeting is full of great stuff, like the townspeople angrily defending the structural stability of the house in question, and the various calls of shock at the slideshow of people leaving the Maison Derriere. When no one comments on Barney’s picture, Moe steps up out of obligation, and Burns is surprised to see Smithers up there (“My parents insisted I give it a try, sir.”)
– So yeah, the song is fantastic. I’m sure you know that if you’re reading this. Probably goes in third after the Planet of the Apes musical and “You Can Always Depend on the Kindness of Strangers.” I also like the ending with Marge’s lame ventriloquism act, and Homer’s lewd “Take it off!” leading to Bart kicking him out.

157. Burns, Baby Burns

(originally aired November 17, 1996)
There’s been plenty of guest stars we come in to play different characters. There’s also plenty who come in to play themselves. Then there’s the rare occasion where it’s one and the same. Here we have Rodney Dangerfield voicing Mr. Burns’ long lost bastard child Larry, who essentially is the same character that we know from the many movies he’s been in. It seems so odd and out of place, but it’s mollified by two points: one, I love Rodney Dangerfield, and two, the character actually works for the purposes of the story. Who could be more opposite and act as a greater foil to the joyless, no-nonsense Burns than Dangerfield? Given this opportunity, the writers managed to cram this show with a bevy of Rodney-esque one-liners, which may not entirely fit with the comedic rhythm of the series, but dammit do I still love that guy that I didn’t mind (one in particular I use quite often, “If it gets any livelier, a funeral’s gonna break out.”) I also love his character design, a sore of bizarre hybrid of the actual comedian with Burns-like features. He even exhibits the same preying arms walk at one point.

I really enjoyed basically everything in the first two acts. Having previously picked him up as a hitchhiker, Homer builds a kinship with Larry due to their mutual laziness, which makes sense. Meanwhile, Burns desperately attempts to integrate his son into high society at a fancy gala, which is a scene that basically feels like it was ripped from one of Rodney’s movies. I can actually picture it; he’s at the finger sandwich station, but he scoops the bread out of each piece and makes this elaborate super sandwich, much to the crowd’s shock. If anyone can remember the movie, feel free to post. Again, don’t mind this content shift because I was still amused and it worked with the story. Burns can’t even pawn his son off to Yale without a rather sizable donation (“Yale could use an international airport, Mr. Burns.”) Burns’ annoyance continually builds until he outright disowns his son, leaving Larry with no one to rely on but tag along Homer, who comes up with a brilliant scheme: a phony kidnapping.

Now the last act is a bit strange. The fake kidnapping didn’t seem too inspired, but I did find myself going along with for the most part, as it wasn’t that out of left field and there were plenty of great gags thrown in. It’s the very ending that doesn’t entirely sit with me. Larry admits that they faked the kidnapping, leading Homer to come to his defense toward Burns, giving some rigamarole schmaltzy speech about how much he values his kids’ love. Nothing really built to this epiphany on Homer’s end, so it didn’t really make much sense coming from him with no set-up. This leads to Burns and Larry’s not-so-reconciliation, which is at least better than them making up when we know we’ll never see Larry again (and I do like the dumb revelation that he has a wife and kids, “Oh, that reminds me. They’re probably wondering where I went! I told ’em I’m going for coffee, that was a week ago!”) And then we have the dancing party ending, aping an 80s movie convention, many from movies Rodney’s been in like Caddyshack. While I at least appreciate that they pointed out how dumb it was, it just didn’t sit right. After all the Rodney-isms and silly third act twist, I feel like it needed something of a grounded ending that sort of made sense, but instead they just went for broke in all out craziness. But on the whole, I enjoyed it. I feel if you don’t like Rodney Dangerfield, you’d hate this one, but luckily for me, that’s not the case. If that is the case for you, then I don’t want to know you.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Love Flanders’ spiel at the cider mill, proudly flashing his annual pass (of which he’s the first member). He instills Homer with great wisdom regarding the difference between juice and cider (“If it’s clear and yella’, you’ve got juice there, fella! If it’s tangy and brown, you’re in cider town!”) Homer’s brain can’t take much more, literally abandoning the rest of his body, leaving his mortal coil to nod a few times, then collapse in a heap. The animation of him falling is hysterical, he just sort of crumples to the floor. Compare this with that shitty pulled frames cycle of people falling down that “Family Guy” does all the time. What garbage. But I don’t want to open this Pandora’s Box…
– I like Marge’s apple souvenir hat atop her hair, and the little runner of her mispronouncing words and Lisa correcting her, much to her chagrin (“It doesn’t take a nucular scientist to pronounce foilage.”)
– Great animation of when the train screeches to a halt, thrusting Burns and Smithers forward and all the pool balls spill into the one pocket.
– I like all of Larry’s horrible tchotchkes, like the googly eyed walnut and rocks, and stretched out Pepsi bottle (“If this stuff is too nice for ya, I’ve got some crap!”)
– Homer’s initial reaction to Larry on the side of the road with a “Springfield” sign is hilarious (“Can’t they get a pole for that sign?”) Also great is his bickering with Marge whether they should pick him up, culminating in Homer declaring they’re picking him up. At that point they’d already pulled into the drive, so he pulls out and drives on back.
– I like the rhythm of the bit of Grampa sitting on the pie; it’s a wholly contained joke with Marge almost narrating it, “Don’t sit on the pie,” “Are you sitting on the pie?” And Grampa’s read is really funny, “I suuuuure hope so.”
– Nice riff on Rodney’s constant riffing, as he pitches one-liners to nobody walking through Burns’ estate (“Hey, who am I talking to?”)
– The history of Larry’s conception is truly a great one: at his 25th Yale reunion, Burns ran across his unrequited love, and managed to see past her slight wrinkles and gray hair… to her 21-year-old daughter. Their arousal was heightened by seeing Gone With the Wind and Clark Gable’s reckless use of the word “damn,” then sneaked into the Peabody museum, and expressed their love physically, “as was the style at the time.” Larry is impressed (“Well, how do ya like that? I have been in a museum!”)
– Cheap joke with Burns’ “play room” actually hosting a play, but I love the one actor’s intensity in an unknown production (“You can’t just eat the orange and throw the peel away! A man’s not a piece of fruit!”)
– I like all of the Rodney-isms, but my favorite is probably his reaction to the rather homely, recently outed debutante (“Woah! Put her back in! She’s not done yet!”)
– We get a joke where Moe talks about what happened to the last guy foolish enough to charge a beer to Mr. Burns… who of course is Barney. Pan over to show him covered in garbage, saying it was worth it. I’d comment how silly it was that he still would be covered in filth from what we assume is a past event… but it’s Barney, so it still works.
– Wiggum’s got a plan for retrieving Larry: the kidnappers call for demands, which they’ll say they’ve left under the big net in the park. Lou comments that they’ll then drop the net. Wiggum is won over (“Hey! I like it! I like it a lot!”) That’s a line I say quite often.
– I think it’s sweet when the Simpson kids make Rodney-esque jabs at their mom, but it’s all in good fun. Marge’s slight annoyance is overtaken by a shyness as she thanks their applause.
– I like Burns on the phone with Homer with a disguised voice, who is trying to get Burns to admit he misses Larry, but to no avail (“Do you miss your son?” “Yes, I am missing one son! Return it immediately!”)
– Homer and Larry are on the run from the cops. They first check the old abandoned warehouse, only to find it’s up and running (“D’oh! Stupid economic recovery!”) Then a costume shop. Cut to two men dressed as an organ grinder and monkey leaving the store. The shop keep then goes to the bathroom and tells Homer and Larry they need to beat it. The two then find the perfect empty hiding place: a movie theater playing “Too Many Grandmas,” starring Olympia Dukakis and Bo Dereck. Based on the brief bit we hear, I want to see that movie (“Drive faster, Grandma! Grandma’s gaining on us!”) The two are basically safe until they make the mistake of heckling Hans Moleman. I love the timing of him slowly walking up the aisle with Homer and Larry laughing, cut to the cops surrounding the building.
– God, I love the simulation of Homer getting shot to death. Why would they waste money on doing that? And producing it so quickly? Jokes like these don’t make much sense, but that’s why I love them (“A bloody end for Homer Simpson… is just one of several possible outcomes according to our computer simulation.”)
– I do like the end where Larry asks if his father can accept him for who he is and pops a cocky smirk, followed by Burns’ uneasy noises under building music. It’s not an easy decision, and eventually goes against it (“Oh, I can’t do it, it’s just not me!”)