(originally aired April 14, 1996)
I can’t think of a better way to start than Bart did this episode, wondering whether anything of interest ever happens to the citizens of Springfield. By this point, the series had amassed a large collection of characters and dynamics, all just begging to be explored further. In this episode, we get just that; an array of short subjects focusing on a large number of some of our favorite secondary (and tertiary) characters. It’s a very inventive conceit, and makes this a really special show, feeling unlike any we’ve seen. Where part of me wishes episodes like this had become a reoccurring thing, having this be one-of-a-kind makes it feel very unique. But the idea of the show is something I’d hoped had been delved into more; we get to spend more time with all of these previously established characters and witness their everyday lives… and they’re fantastic. Like “A Fish Called Selma” was really centered on two secondary characters, this had potential for opening the floodgates on stories about the rest of the cast; a few characters would get moments in the limelight in future seasons, but not as many as I would have hoped.
This show is so odd… some characters even have their own theme music and title cards, like this is a snippet of another show. Apu stars in “The Jolly Bengali” where he takes full advantage of a four minute break from work, Cletus attempts to do a kindness to his dearly beloved Brandine, and that wacky Principal Skinner treads slipping in hot water as he attempts to schmooze Superintendent Chalmers. The latter segment is so amazing; the repartee between Azaria and Shearer is so goddamn funny. A lot of these snippets consist of character behavior we have seen before, but it feels fresh to see it extended and on its own, and completely divorced from any Simpson related matters. Others have a totally different feel: Dr. Nick’s potential disbarment until he “saves” Grampa felt really entertaining, I’d watch a Dr. Nick show. Then we have the Pulp Fiction segments involving Chief Wiggum, Snake and the severely twisted Herman; it treads the line between parody and just plain reference, but it takes the material and pushes it just enough to be memorable on its own (“Do they have Krusty partially gelatinated non-dairy gum-based beverages?” “Mm-hm. They call ’em, ‘shakes.’ “Huh, shakes. You don’t know what you’re gettin’.”)
Besides the wraparound with Bart and Milhouse, one plot line runs through the episode involving getting gum out of Lisa’s hair, which eventually results in a whole slew of random characters showing up one after another, even as obscure as Corporal Punishment and the Capitol City Goofball. At the end of the second act, it’s like they had to cram in all the characters they couldn’t write stories for, or ran out of time, and also sort of capsulized the episode’s mission to showcase as many characters as possible. Matt Groening has talked about various spin-offs the show was rumored to have, one being inspired by this show, to have episodes focusing on the citizens of Springfield. But why can’t they do it in the show proper? This episode makes me want to see more of Moe or Wiggum or Cletus or even Bumblebee Man. Why not write episodes around them? A Simpson can pop their head in a few times in the show, but if you’ve created this elaborate world and great cast, why not take full advantage of it? I love this episode, but I feel it left so many doors open that not many people took the time to walk through.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I guess this section will just go by segment: first, Apu’s. We get the classic line, “I’m going to party like it’s on sale for 19.99!” and his rushing to party hearty is really great, well timed, great animation, and excellent hurried performance by Azaria. Also Apu can seemingly make love to a woman in two seconds. Not sure how much of a good thing that is though (“Don’t worry, I’ll tell everybody you were untouchable!”)
– The animation on the swarm of bees flocking to Lisa’s condiment-covered head is pretty great.
– Burns motivating a deathly-ill Smithers is a potpourri of old-timey Burns-isms (“Stick your left hoof on that flange, now! Now, if you can get it through your bug-addled brain, jam that second mephitic clodhopper of yours on the right doodad! Now pump those scrawny chicken legs, you stuporous funker!”) The finale is great too when the hospital attendants takes a collapsed Burns inside.
– That leads us to Dr. Nick, who finds a passed out Smithers and tosses change at him (“Holy smokes! You need booze!”) We learn more of his horrendous medical gaffs, such as operating with a fast food knife and fork and using cadavers to utilize the car pool lane. But Nick redeems himself by acting fast to subdue a crazed Grampa, all to ER-style theming.
– The Moe’s bit was great, with NASA calculating Barney’s bar tab, and Moe saving himself from armed robber Snake behind a trap compartment protected by bullet proof glass… allowing Snake to rob him freely (“Goodbye, student loan payments!”)
– “Skinner & the Superintendent” is my second favorite segment; the entire back-and-forth is hysterical, as Skinner desperately attempts to smooth over his increasingly disastrous lunch date with Chalmers with steamed hams straight from Krusty Burger. The best part is when Chalmers reacts in shock at catching a glimpse of Skinner’s kitchen on fire. He asks what the hell it is, to which Skinner, without skipping a beat, responds, “Aurora Borealis.” So quick on his feet. Chalmers is incensed (“Aurora Borealis? At this time of year? A this time of day? In this part of the country? Localized entirely within your kitchen?”) Skinner says yes. Chalmers asks to see it. Skinner says no. Brilliant.
– Even in an episode all about secondary characters, Homer gets his time to shine in a well-done segment trying to get Maggie out of a newspaper kiosk. Great bits involve Homer’s apparent ability to write really legibly using cheese whiz and the newspaper headline “Deadbeat Dad Beat Dead.” The end with him playing peek-a-boo with Maggie is real cute too.
– The Bumblebee Man bit is great, with the absurd Spanish dialogue, and how this poor guy’s life is just as disastrous as his TV persona’s.
– I like how Flanders suggests to freeze the ice in Lisa’s hair, then whack it with a hammer, which he ultimately points out that that may have just mash more hair into it. Then we get the flurry of random guest appearances.
– The Cletus segment is brilliant. Best part? “Hey, what’s going on on this side?”
– One minor beef: Milhouse is seen within the episode, but is at the very beginning and end. So did Kirk and Luanne pick him up, and then drop him back off with Bart at the overpass? Doesn’t seem right to me. But who cares, if logic had been put into consideration, we wouldn’t have seen Kirk’s awkward predicament standing next to two hogtied men, one being a cop, or Comic Book Guy’s seventy-five cent offer to Milhouse of a Hamburgler comic book (the jumble inside has already been completed: the answer is fries.)
– Nice callback to the barber of the Tracey Ullman days
– Okay, they saved the best for last… Nelson meets his match. He laughs at Lisa, he laughs at Mrs. Glick, and he laughs at an extremely tall man cramped into a small VW Beetle. That last bit… big mistake. The man finds him and confronts Nelson… in the voice of Cecil Turtle from the old Looney Tunes cartoons. Very Tall Man is my favorite tertiary character; I love the voice, the design, and his manner of speaking (“Everyone needs to drive a vehicle, even the very tall. This was the largest auto that I could afford. Am I therefore to be made the subject of fun?”) I don’t know why, I just have a humungous grin every time I watch this last part. I was very surprised watching the season 9 DVD for “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” that he has a second minor appearance, that I never saw as it was a syndication cut. He didn’t speak though. I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed. I love you, Very Tall Man.