7. The Call of the Simpsons
- Pretty strange that the very first “Shut up, Flanders” actually came from Bart complaining about Rod.
- Albert Brooks really is the perfect Simpsons guest star, all of his characters are wonderful smooth-talking manipulators in some form or fashion. Big Bob isn’t as infamous as Jacques or Hank Scorpio, but he totally dominates the entire first act, buttering Homer up even after all but telling him he’s a broke loser who can only afford his shittiest RV (“Simpson, you’ll never own a better RV, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean, literally, buddy, this is for you, you know. It’s this or a wagon.”)
- “The Simpsons have entered the forest.” Lisa immediately nailing her deadpan lines.
- While Homer and Bart are out starving and/or freezing to death in the wilderness, the Simpson women fare much better for themselves, making a little home-away-from-home. Not only do they use a large branch as a broom, but Marge also arranges live squirrels as little knick-knacks, as they just stand there motionless, making peace in their new lot in life as decorative pieces in this deluded housewife’s makeshift outdoor home. This episode is silly.
- The rabbit getting flung out of Homer’s snare is the best joke of the entire show, and even though the visuals are great, the sound design is what really makes it tremendous.
- I watched Grizzly Man a couple months ago, and I felt kind of bad that I was thinking of this scene by the ending:
- This is the first episode to lampoon the vile phenomenon that is the media circus, and three decades later, it still feels like fresh satire.
- It’s such a small moment, but I love when a reporter asks Marge if her marital relations with “Bigfoot” are “brutish,” she smiles briefly before asking if her answer will be on TV.
- The ending where a team of scientists can’t tell if Homer is man or monster still feels dumb to me, but Marge parroting one of the eggheads, calling Homer “my brilliant beast” is pretty sweet.
- In-between Albert Brooks at the beginning and the media circus at the end, the middle lost in the woods chunk isn’t really that interesting, outside of a few choice great moments like the rabbit in the snare. Homer and Bart’s woodland shenanigans mostly feel like they’re out of a Nickelodeon cartoon (well, except for Bart proposing he and his father hang themselves), and I have no real sentiment toward the Maggie/bears storyline. This is definitely my least favorite of season 1.
8. The Telltale Head
- Our first official Krusty line is him screaming “KILL HIM!!” at a young child as part of a vicious, bloodthirsty mob. Season 1 really is pretty hardcore.
- “We’ll die together, like a father and son should.”
- “All these questions… is a little blind faith too much to ask?!”
- I always loved the sequence of Bart getting undressed in the hall, it’s so well executed. Speaking of, it’s pretty incredible how quickly the animation quality has shot up from the first few episodes to now. By the end of the season, the show was nearly firing on all cylinders visually, leading right into season 2, where things only got even sharper.
- I like the two instances of Homer and Bart echoing each other through the episode. First is outside of church, when the two are confronted by Marge, who asks if they were going to sneak a walkman into church (Bart) or was planning on staying in the car to listen to the game (Homer), both sheepishly reply, “Maybe,” signaling to the likemindeness of the two character. Later, Homer offers Bart a kindly aphorism, “Share the wealth, that’s what I always say!” Bart parrots his father in offering to pay for the bullies’ Squishees, only to find they stole a bunch of other stuff as well. With Bart’s admiration for Homer in place, we see why his “advice” on how being popular and accepted
- The best one-off character of the season is the Candy Most Dandy owner. This is a man who hates children.
- Homer is agog at reading about “The Stealth Bowler,” a bowling ball with a liquid center. Curious if that’s actually a real thing, a quick Google search suggests no. According to a random blog post specifically referencing this episode, “A liquid centre in a bowling ball would tend to retard the rolling motion of the ball, decreasing its power and accuracy simultaneously.”
- I love how when Bart grabs Snowball II to muffle the cat’s scream, we hear only one half of its screech, then when he lets it go outside, we hear the second half, almost like he paused and unpaused it.
- In 1990, the idea of a populous getting whipped into a violent frenzy over the desecration of a statue of a problematic historical figure was probably a very amusing exaggeration at the time. In 2020, however… We also get a small taste of the dismissal of actual history for embellished idol worship with the Jebediah Springfield documentary, where the narrators offhandedly mentions how new evidence suggests that Jebediah was most likely killed by the infamous bear, rather than vice-versa.
- I have no idea why they posed Homer so daintily sitting on the couch, but I love it all the same.
- It’s pretty amazing thinking back on how concerned parents and nagging media groups were coming down on this show for Bart being a bad role model for children, while in the show, he’s really just a believable little kid. He’s a bit of a brat, but despite his snark, he still has great capacity for shame (“Bart the Genius”) and empathy (“Moaning Lisa”). This episode almost plays out like an after-school special of Bart stepping in with the wrong crowd and learning his lesson by the end. Hell, the most dangerous semi-imitable prank he pulls in season 1 is dropping a cherry bomb in the toilet, and his punishment for it is literal deportation and being physically abused and tortured by two dirty Frenchmen.
9. Life on the Fast Lane
- I like how even Bart can’t help but admit that Lisa’s birthday macaroni art is pretty damn impressive.
- “Good morning, consumers. The Springfield Mall is now open for your spending needs.”
- Among the list of Homer’s awful birthday presents Patty & Selma bring up, they mention “the Connie Chung calendar.” At the time, Chung was a CBS news reporter. Was she viewed as an attractive woman from television, or is that a Connie Chung calendar exits at all the gag? I’m not entirely sure.
- We get a perfect duality of Bart at the dinner scene. He bickers with Lisa about which gift Marge loves most, where Lisa touches a nerve that she hasn’t even used Bart’s perfume. Bart then asks his mother with genuine concern why this is. When Marge quickly bullshits the excuse that she’s saving it for a special occasion, Bart is quick to fire back (“What the hell are you talking about? There’s gallons of it!”) Marge then quickly covers her ass again (“But this occasion is already so special, if we make it any more special, we might end up making it less special.”) The naive kid that he is, Bart buys this, and rubs it in Lisa’s face, who simply groans, “Oh, brother.” What a lovely scene.
- The bowling ball absolutely crushing the cake is so well done, and I love how quickly the waiters book it after it happens. There’s not even like an awkward pause, they just dart off.
- “The holes were drilled for your fingers!” “I wanted to surprise you! I couldn’t chop your hands off and bring it to the store, could I?”
- I love how casually Marge admits to the bowling alley attendant that she’s only there out of spite.
- Albert Brooks as Jacques is brilliant, of course. I love the interplay between him and Julie Kavner, as it’s clear that they recorded a lot of their scenes together. There was a bonus feature on the season 1 DVD of outtakes with the two of them, where Brooks kept ad-libbing, cracking up Kavner and the rest of the crew. I can’t find it online anywhere, but if you’ve got the DVD, do yourself a favor and rewatch it.
- Homer tending to the kids feels so real, with him trying to put on a brave face, but family time quickly proves awkward for him (“Does the time always drag like this?”) But he does his damn best; his nighttime checklist and the four handing off the pizza box to chuck in the trash is pretty adorable.
- “I’m a married woman!” “I know, I know. My mind says stop, but my heart, and my hips, cry proceed!”
- Another perfect first appearance: Helen Lovejoy, the self-admitted “gossipy wife of the minister.” She’s the perfect false-faced “friend,” claiming to be well intentioned while clearly being anything but. Jacque’s right, “let’s hope something runs over her.”
- I’m still dumbstruck by the dead serious tone in some of the seasons in the last act. Homer picking up the autographed love, pain clear in his voice as he reads the inscription, “For Marge?” Later, he approaches his wife in the morning in the kitchen, tentatively reaching for her hand, but loses his nerve and grabs the lunchbox instead. He feebly attempts to finally show appreciation for Marge through her PB&J sandwiches, but ends his childish talk with a grave conclusion (“I’ve just never mentioned it. But it’s time you knew how I feel. I don’t believe in keeping feelings bottled up. Goodbye, my wife.”) It’s really chilling. I can’t think of any other scene in the whole series that has this intense of a tone.
- “I’m going to the back seat of my car, with the woman I love, and I won’t be back for ten minutes!”
10. Homer’s Night Out
- In one of the earliest continuity Easter eggs, we see Bart’s piggy bank has been hastily taped back together, after previously smashed by a crazed Homer desperate for beer money in “Homer’s Odyssey.”
- The two bathroom scenes with Homer and Marge six months apart are so great: you get your quick storytelling in Homer’s former assistant, now supervisor meeting and then being engaged to a coworker, as well as some lovely interplay between husband and wife, showing them at their best before the episode tears them apart.
- “Where’s my spy camera? Where’s my spy camera? Where’s my spy camera?!”
- Have we ever seen the Rusty Barnacle after this? Once we were introduced to the Sea Captain and the Frying Dutchman, it seems redundant Springfield would have two nautical themed seafood restaurants.
- I love how absolutely miserable the groom and his father are at their own bachelor party (“How do I tell you this, my boy? We’re in hell.”)
- As Princess Kashmir makes her dramatic entrance, we catch a glimpse of this angry dishwasher. One can only wonder how frosty things were as Kashmir was hiding in there.
- It’s quite jarring hearing Martin eagerly ask, “Who’s the sexy lady, Bart?”
- Homer becoming a town-wide phenomenon still feels really silly. It would be one thing if he were the subject of ridicule, like it’s this big dumb fat guy dancing with a belly dancer, which at times that kind of seems to be the case (outside the schoolyard, the most realistic scene is the women at the aerobics class giggling at the photo on the bulletin board). But in the third act, men the town over seem to be unironically cheering on Homer as this studly party animal.
- Barney’s apartment is quite the sight (“If you get hungry in the middle of the night, there’s a open beer in the fridge.”)
- “A plant employee carrying on like an over-sexed orangatang in heat! This is a family nuclear power plant, Simpson! Our research indicates that over fifty percent of our power is used by women!”
- Teaching Bart his lesson involves his father dragging him to every gentlemen’s club in town, with him eagerly trying to peek over the crowds to check out the shows (“Bart!! I said look at the floor!!”)
- It’s great how Marge’s plan to teach Bart that women aren’t vapid sex objects basically backfires as Shauna Tifton is revealed to pretty much be just that (“My pet peeve is rude people, and my turn-ons include silk sheets and a warm fireplace.”)
- “How does he do it, Smithers?” “He’s a love machine, sir.”
11. The Crepes of Wrath
- Homer incapacitated at the bottom of the stairs for hours on end is so pathetic (and sadly, more relatable as I enter the wonderful world of random aches and pains in your 30s). Dan Castellaneta’s shudder before imploring, “The boy… Bring me the boy…” is so damn good. The performers are just getting better and better as the season goes on.
- I understand why they made Agnes Skinner a kindly, doting mother, a source of embarrassment for Principal Skinner for the kids to exploit. I don’t think we ever even saw Agnes again until what, season 5? I wonder what the impetus was to wildly shift her character after all that time.
- I love how clear the show makes it that as bad as Bart may be with his pranks and mischief, Principal Skinner and the school staff are worse. Skinner is more than willing to expel Bart out of the country through this dubious exchange program just so he won’t have to deal with him anymore, regardless of any danger the child may encounter abroad (“But Bart doesn’t speak French.” “Oh, when he’s fully immersed in a foreign language, the average child can become fluent in weeks!” “Yeah, but what about Bart?” “I’m sure he’ll pick up enough to get by.”)
- The parade of abuse on Bart starts right away when a flight attendant grabs him and literally chucks him through the airplane doors on the tarmac.– Skinner’s speech welcoming Adil to the school is just wonderful, a backhanded call for acceptance while still being incredibly jingoistic and pandering (“You might find his accent peculiar. Certain aspects of his culture may seem absurd, perhaps even offensive. But I urge you all to give little Adil the benefit of the doubt. This way, and only in this way, do we hope to better understand our backward neighbors throughout the world.”)
- “How can you defend a country where five percent of the people control ninety-five percent of the wealth?” That margin’s only gotten thinner since then. We should’ve listened to Adil.
- “Your paperthin commitment to your children sends shivers down my spine!”
- We can add international espionage to the list of hot button topics covered in this silly little cartoon show that I’m sure many parents at the time figured was family friendly, joining the likes of infidelity, depression and sex workers.
- I love that despite knowing there’s antifreeze in the wine, Bart just gulps it down in one go.
- “He brought us gifts! His first unselfish act!” Lisa isn’t featured much in this episode, but she got a fairshare of great lines.
12. Krusty Gets Busted
- The Krusty the Klown Show is children’s entertainment at its most depraved: loud, obnoxious and pandering to children’s most basest impulses. That his daily call-and-response concludes with kids pledging to kill themselves if the show ever went off the air is another line I can’t believe they got away with, and perfectly reflects the idol worship of the young and impressionable.
- Though first appearing in “The Telltale Head,” Apu becomes more fleshed out here, portrayed as a friendly, but mostly uncaring retail worker who cares just enough to make informed small talk with his regular customers (“What’s the matter, sir? Never have I seen you so unhappy when you are purchasing such a large quantity of ice cream.”) He later threatens two small children who enter his store that he’s “armed to the teeth.”
- In describing the assailant, Homer describes a man with “big red hair,” which always struck me as odd. Had they not finalized Krusty’s design before recording the episode? It makes sense to describe a clown’s hair as red, but I wonder if someone caught it too late and it was too late to fix it. They could have just dubbed “green hair,” even if the lip sync would have been wrong, it wouldn’t have mattered. Ah well.
- The feds busting into Krusty’s house culminating in the biggest gun ever being pointed point blank at his head is such a great sequence. This episode has the greatest animation of the season, it’s really beautiful throughout.
- It’s honestly very sweet that Homer attempts to conceal the truth from Bart about his hero, trying to send him off to bed before the news announcing Krusty’s arrest, and later his apprehension of fingering the clown in court in front of his poor son.
- “Earlier this evening, the Springfield SWAT team apprehended the TV clown, who appears on a rival station, opposite our own Emmy award-winning Hobo Hank.” A throwaway line, but such a fantastic joke of this blatant editorializing by a struggling network getting in a potshot at their competitor in a time of crisis.
- I don’t think I ever noticed that magazine text before. Yet another thing I’m surprised they slipped by 1990 censors.
- The report on Krusty’s life and career is fantastic, of course. The heart attack scene is like one of the first true hall-of-fame animation moments as Krusty hangs on for dear life to a crowd of braying children. Even Kent Brockman can’t help but chuckle at it. But just as great to me is the clip showing Krusty post-recovery, showing him as a “changed clown,” socking his trusty sidekick in the face. How slow the pie is smushed into his face followed by how quickly the violent retribution comes makes it all the funnier.
- I can’t imagine how bizarre and hilarious it must have been to see Sideshow Bob finally open his mouth and Frasier Crane’s calm, soothing voice came out. I only feel like this reveal might have hit even harder if Bob had appeared in a couple more episodes throughout season 1, but he and Krusty were only featured incredibly briefly in “The Telltale Head.”
- I like that despite his calls for a more intellectual, stimulating program that will enrich kid’s minds, Bob is just as crass a capitalist as Krusty, just wanting to veer away from the disposale Krusty-era keychains and mugs to more “sophisticated” fare like collectors plates and commemorative coins. He may have slapped a new coat of paint on his former tormentor’s media empire, but he’s still just as greedy and vain as he was.
13. Some Enchanted Evening
- One of the things most interesting about this show is noticing which scenes were survivors from the original production of the pilot (the biggest giveaway being those damn gradient backgrounds). There are some wonky remainders from the first cut, but most of the episode is as good as the show has ever looked up to this point. I assume the reshoots for this episode occurred at the very end of season 1’s production, and it’s clear the crew had figured out what they were doing at that point and pulled off a great looking show.
- “You’re a pig. Barney’s a pig, Larry’s a pig, we’re all pigs, except for one difference. Once in a while, we crawl out of the slop, hose ourselves off and act like human beings.”
- Marge’s lion scream is so bizarre. The only other time this happened was in “Homer Alone,” it definitely doesn’t feel like it fits within the world of the show.
- “Son, there’s not a woman alive who can resist a man who knows how to mambo!”
- At least twice I’ve seen this clip of Ms. Botz threatening Bart float around on social media with people marveling at the fluidity of the animation mostly unseen on this series, especially within the last decade or so. And yes, it is a beautiful piece. There’s certain elements of the early years of the show that I kind of miss, and one is the looser feel to how the characters move and react. There’d be plenty of great expressions and moments of animation acting as the show went on, but there’s a part of me that actually does miss some of the goofier stuff of season 1 and 2.
- Case in point, Lisa and Maggie dashing off-screen at the end of this gif. It’s just so silly, but I kind of love it. I also love Homer and Marge’s saunter out the door, and as it slams shut, you can see the kiss mark left by Marge attempting to kiss her husband goodbye in a scene from the original pilot.
- I love the animation of the guy at the desk here on “America’s Most Armed and Dangerous.” The incredibly choppy movement reminds me of animations from the Konami arcade game for some reason.
- There’s some genuinely unsettling moments after the Ms. Botz reveal, with her stalking her prey down in the basement, and when Lisa is desperately on the phone calling for help and gets pulled by the phone cord out from under the table. It’s a silly cartoon, yes, but the reality of the situation, of three innocent children being victimized by this remorseless thief, still shines through a bit.
- “You’re a smart young man, Bart. I hope you’re smart enough to keep your mouth shut.” “He isn’t!”
- God bless that blue thing with the things. You saved Homer’s marriage.
- “Lord help me, I’m just not that bright.” Once again, it’s much funnier when Homer acknowledges and is shamed by his own shortcoming and lack of intelligence. And it makes it all the sweeter when Marge is able to boost him up (“The way I see it, you raised three children who could knock out and hog-tie a perfect stranger, you must be doing something right.”)
Note: There will be week breaks between seasons, so Season Two Revisited Part One will be up on August 3rd.
To introduce again, this “Revisited” series will chronicle my rewatching of the show’s first 11 seasons nearly 10 years since starting this blog, consisting of off-the-cuff observations, notable quotes and other related remarks. I decided to do these in parts to keep these posts from being super long. Don’t expect any in-depth analysis, as I’m trying my best not to just repeat the same comments a decade later, but I’ll probably do some kind of summation of each season at the end of each one. Feel free to watch along!
1. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
- First laugh of the series: “Pardon my galoshes!” I don’t know why I love that line so much.
- Principal Skinner’s character quirk of mispronouncing words didn’t pop up much, but lasted quite a while (“Lisa’s Pony” is the last time I recall it happening). Probably for the best. I also don’t think I noticed that after correcting “medlies,” he gaffes again, introducing some holiday “flavorites.”
- Homer falling off the roof and the kids applauding him as he gets up is such a wonderful human moment.
- It’s honestly pretty adorable that Bart wants to get the “MOTHER” tattoo. After Marge firmly told him no, he genuinely believed that getting ink in tribute to her would soften her heart.
- Pitch perfect satire in Mr. Burns proudly announcing increased safety protocols at the plant has not affected upper management pay raises, but no Christmas bonuses for the other “semi-skilled” workers.
- Lisa is posed just like a Life in Hell rabbit. Season one is full of little design/posing elements of artists attempting to mimic the Matt Groening style.
- “I get the feeling there’s something you haven’t told me, Homer.” “Huh? Oh, uhh… I love you, Marge.” “Homie, you tell me that all the time.” This first aired episode really solidly affirms Homer’s character: he’s a complete dolt, always dealt a bad hand in life, but he’ll never stop fighting tooth and nail for the love and respect of his wife and children. Homer is at his finest when he’s doing absolutely ridiculous and moronic things, but for completely earnest reasons, like nearly killing himself jumping Springfield Gorge. The biggest trait that “Jerkass” Homer lost was his sense of shame, which drives him through most of this first episode.
- The Santa instructor looks like such a hardass. The gag is that Santa school is serious business, but his formidable presence behind Homer judging him adds to it so well.
- One of the series’ greatest tricks is when it mocks cliche schmaltz while being authentically endearing, which is especially the case in this show, lampooning sickeningly sweet Xmas specials. Upon discovering Bart’s mall Santa secret, he earnestly smiles, “You must really love us to sink so low!”
- It’s interesting that, upon first airing, Lisa’s thoughtful defending of her father from Patty and Selma could be viewed as a single “child talks like an adult” gag, rather than being true to her character. But it’s great either way.
- Sitcom convention is immediately bucked in that Homer loses big time up until the very end. His “win” in bringing home the new family dog is completely unintentional, as he only took pity on the mutt for being as big a failure as he is.
2. Bart the Genius
- Ah, the season 1 opening. Whatever happened to these guys? Did they ever catch that bus?!
Also, as far as chalkboard gags go, “I WILL NOT WASTE CHALK” is a pretty perfect one to be the first.
- A season 1 staple of the Simpson home was having portraits of characters all over the walls, but here, past two corridors, we see a picture frame of two more corridors. Pretty trippy stuff. Another artistic staple is all of the backgrounds having that weird, washed out gradient look. I don’t really know what they were going for, but I’m glad it was changed for season 2. They look awful.
- As I came upon this heavily memed shot of Skinner, I realized this rewatch is taking place after recent years of non-stop Simpsons shitposting, of which there are many, many, many more meme originators to come.
- “What are you looking at, Bart? Are those naughty dogs back again?” One of many lines I’m surprised they got away with in 1990.
- “He’s a good boy now and he’s getting better, but sometimes even the best sheep stray from the flock and need to be hugged extra hard.” “That’s exactly the kind of crapola that’s lousing him up!” It’s funny how “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie” has Homer & Marge switch their good cop/bad cop parenting styles, and both still feel true to character.
- “What do we need a psychiatrist for? We know our kid is nuts.”
- “Pay attention, because if you do, one day, you may achieve what we Simpsons have dreamed about for generations: you may outsmart someone!” Another early example of a main theme of the series, the Simpsons’ hopeless desire to be looked upon favorably in an uncaring society.
- Everything at the gifted school is perfect: the teacher’s snobbery toward “low” art like comic books and cold apathy toward the lives of the class hamsters, and a class of ten-year-olds thoughtfully contemplating fate vs. free will, while next period they gleefully swindle the new kid out of his lunch like normal awful children. “Discover your desks, people!” sums up the enlightened, pompous new age bullshit perfectly. And if them being full of shit wasn’t clear enough, the episode doesn’t end with Bart being exposed as a fraud, but only when he admits it himself. The Enriched Learning Center for Gifted Children was duped just as easily as Springfield Elementary.
- Episode two and we’re already seeing how thoughtful these scripts are. Act three opens with Bart reading the Radioactive Man comic he swiped from class (“What’re you reading there? Comic books? Guess you don’t want to overheat the old noggin, eh?”) Later, we see Bart’s crude graffiti, once subject of outrage by Skinner, is now behind velvet rope as a landmark to Bart’s supposed brilliance. Both of these small callbacks not only make the story feel more complete, but play into the themes and character motivations as well. Especially the latter point, of course Skinner would try to blatantly advertise that a genius student attended his school for his benefit.
- The acting is so subtle, but upon reading Bart’s confession, you can just see the soul leaving Dr. Pryor’s body as he realizes he’s been had. “You know, you misspelled ‘confession.’”
- Homer and Bart tenderly bond through the entire show, but at the very end when Bart comes clean while admitting how much he cherishes his newly strengthened bond with his dad, Homer is still blinded with rage and chases his naked son through the house. How bizarre this must have seemed at the time playing next to “Full House” and “The Cosby Show.”
3. Homer’s Odyssey
- In his very first appearance, Otto arrives late to pick up the kids for their field trip, openly admitting he was hung over. He proudly shows off his fruits of his blackened out state to Bart: a new tattoo, and closes out by offering him some sage advice (“Cool! I want one!” “Not until you’re 14, my little friend.”) As I recall, so many of these classic characters showed up almost fully formed in these early seasons.
- I love that Mrs. Krabappel threatens Bart with the humiliating punishment of singing in front of the whole class, but as big a ham as he is, it backfires when Bart actually enjoys it.
- The show’s very first fake filmstrip, Nuclear Energy: Our Misunderstood Friend is perfect, with its chipper presenter Smilin’ Joe Fission literally sweeping all criticism under the rug in this propaganda film. I also love the serious opening with the nuclear blast eliciting uproarious cheering from the children.
- Now why didn’t the “MUST BE 21!” sign sick around? Man, season 1 backgrounds were weird.”
- The Homer-Moe relationship is also firmly established in this episode. Moe bluntly tells Homer he won’t spot him for a beer because he doesn’t think he’ll ever get another job to pay him back, but as Homer solemnly leaves, he calls out with a smile, “Don’t worry, we’re still friends!”
- I love the continuous action of Homer signing the report card and his arm starting to fall, continuing in the next shot as the kids quickly make their exit. Just the way the arm just flops down as Homer just lies there motionless, like writing his signature took his last ounce of strength. That drawing of him on the couch is just so pathetic it’s hysterical. Also, yet another bizarre double-painting of Marge and her hair.
- “LoafTime, the cable network for the unemployed, will be back with more tips on how to win the lottery, right after this!” Hey wait, the family didn’t get cable until Homer stole it next season! What a plot hole! This also leads right into the first appearance of Duff, and it’s a doozy (“Unemployed? Out of work? Sober? You’ve sat around the couch all day! Now, it’s Duff time! Duff: the beer that makes the days fly by!”) Just brilliant.
- Not just any series would be brave enough to have its main character try to commit suicide in their third episode, but dammit, this show not only has the balls to, but is even able to make writing a suicide note funny. Not only does Homer scribe it on “Dumb Things I Gotta Do Today” stationary, but the message itself is dripping with irony (“I can only leave you with the words my father gave me: stand tall, have courage and never give up.”) Homer’s inner turmoil is played completely straight, even while dragging a giant boulder through town to toss off a bridge like out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s incredible how the two tones don’t clash.
- I never noticed the drunk passed out in front of city hall before. What a cynical touch.
- The third act still doesn’t quite work for me. Homer’s righteous crusade for safety and his adoring fan base that follows feels too rushed to feel completely earned, but I like that there’s an episodic origin to our favorite lovable oaf being hired as safety inspector.
- Lastly, I present the greatest crowd shot of season 1. Just look at this. I can’t decide who I like best, the weirdo in the red mask, the dummy above him with the gigantic smile, or those strange fellows on the right who appear to be conjoined at the head.
4. There’s No Disgrace Like Home
- Even with this being the strangest season 1 episode in terms of characterization, the theme of the Simpsons being mystified by “normal” people still holds true. Also, coming directly after Homer being driven for safety, it kinda makes sense for him to try and apply that kind of passion to having a model family. In any case, it’s worth it to see Homer chasing after his children like a wild man screaming, “Be normal! Be normal!!”
- The mom circle at the company picnic is so perfect, with the one mom humble bragging on which of her super talented children she should love more (“Usually, I use their grades as a tie-breaker, but they both got straight A’s this term, so what’s a mother to do?”) An already tipsy Marge doesn’t have that strong a rejoinder regarding her own family (“If it’s not true greatness we have, we’re at least average.”)
- Between “Cease the infernal tootling!” and him threatening to release the hounds on his invited guests within ten minutes, Mr. Burns is truly born.
- The end of act one lays it on so thick with the picture perfect family, but it’s just so over-the-top that I still love it.
- “Sometimes I think we’re the worst family in town.” “Maybe we should move to a larger community.”
- Bart’s right, “these people are obviously freaks.”
- At his lowest point, I love Homer’s “I want to be alone with my thought.” Singular.
- Not only is Homer’s pathetic excuse for attracting the police dog’s attention funny (“I got some wieners in my pocket…”), but even better is how Lou and Eddie buy it immediately.
- A rare snippy line from Lisa when her father turns off the television (“Why can’t we have a family meeting when you’re watching TV?”)
- Such a pivotal touch that we see the happy family from the company picnic, the ultimate ideal that Homer has been trying to hold his own family to, are grumpily sitting in Dr. Monroe’s waiting room. As screwed up as the Simpsons think they may be, they’re not the only ones. There’s some kind of lesson in that. Also, the waffle cone walls always make me hungry.
- “There go my young girl dreams of Vasser…”
- Like the gifted school before him, Dr. Marvin Monroe is a total sham. From his empty affarisms to his patented aggression therapy mallets, his quickie therapy is clearly a means to line his pockets as fast as possible. While most families are probably easy sheep to his bullshit, the Simpsons prove to be so dysfunctional that his previously bulletproof “family bliss or double your money back” guarantee prove to be his undoing, and the Simpsons’ gain to their much earned happy ending.
- The shock therapy scene is another moment that must have been so odd to see in 1990. Where last episode saw a beloved sitcom character attempt suicide, now we have several children, including an infant, get electro shocked repeatedly. What a wonderful show.
5. Bart the General
- “Bart! You’re saying ‘buttkisser’ like it’s a bad thing!”
- The bus scene with Bart and Lisa is truly excellent. The first two scene further cement her character as a good, model student, but also a kid who is more than happy to mess with her brother, “forcing” him to say sweet nothings about her before finally giving him his most coveted cupcake… after it falls to the dirty bus floor.
- God, I love Bart’s dream funeral so much. It’s even funnier remembering the scene is all in Bart’s mind, where Skinner openly admits in retrospective all that schoolwork was a big waste of time, and Homer psyched that his son’s funeral got him a day off of work. And we end on punching a child’s corpse, as all great scenes should end on.
- I love how deformed Bart’s entire head gets in the POV shot of him getting pummeled. Bart is pretty beat up through most of this episode, but it sits at just the right level of his anguish being believable, but not too much that you’re disturbed by it.
- Homer’s Code of the Schoolyard is an undeniably classic bit, and ties in perfectly with his behavior in the previous episode of wanting more than anything else to be viewed as “normal” (“Don’t tattle. Always make fun of those different from you. Never say anything, unless you’re sure everyone feels exactly the same way you do.”) I like how Homer grumbles at Marge’s attempts to suggest a pacifistic approach, and even here, there are still great, character-building jokes thrown in for good measure (“I’ll bet he doesn’t do well in his studies, either.” “No, he’s pretty dumb. He’s in all the same special classes I am.”)
- Grampa Simpson is another fully formed first appearance, as is the Retirement Castle itself (the attendant guiding Bart, “Second floor, third dank room on your left” is just excellent). His ornery letter to the editor in defense of the elderly being “bitter, resentful individuals who remember the good old days” really says it all.
- Despite only having a handful of appearances, Herman is such a great character. The absolute glee in his voice when he’s crafting the declaration of war is so funny and genuinely disturbing (“That way, everything you do will be niiiiiccee and legal.”) Herman made a random reappearance on the show a season or two ago, but in 2020 America, he would most definitely be a Qanon supporter.
- I don’t think many sitcoms in 1990 did extended sequences parodying war films like Patton. Or have children directly quote from the Nuremburg trials. In case you needed to be reminded, The Simpsons truly was one of a kind, even more so back then.
- Abe’s got two hall-of-fame speeches here, with his admonishing Bart for slapping one of his soldiers, and his tearful ode to past horrors (“I thought my time had passed. I thought I’d never hear the screams of pain, or see the look of terror in a man’s eyes. Thank heaven for children!”)
- “Article Four: Nelson is never again to raise his fists in anger. Article Five: Nelson recognizes Bart’s right to exist. Article Six: Although Nelson shall have no official power, he shall remain a figurehead of menace in the neighborhood.”
6. Moaning Lisa
- I love how this show goes from a goofy school bully story akin to a school age kid’s cartoon (featuring parodies of graphic war movies) to a quiet and honest look at the existential ennui of a little girl. This series showed off its immense range right from the start.
- It’s great how in this shot is just a freeze frame where they just moved the pupils, but for some reason it makes it even funnier, Bart content to just stand there and watch as he sends his father on a wild goose chase for his missing keys. I also love in the next shot the loud squeaking of his shoes as he walks across the kitchen floor.
- This is the first time I’m registering how woefully inept Springfield Elementary is that rather than help Lisa’s emotional state in any way, they send her home with a reprimanding note to her parents that “she is sad.” Never mind that four episodes ago we met the school’s on-site psychiatrist, but they serve only to commend or punish, not to actually help in any way.
- After failing to help one child, Homer reaffirms his parenting abilities by forcing Bart to do chores (“Hey, man! I didn’t do anything wrong!” “In times of trouble you’ve got to go with what you know. Now hop to it, boy!”)
- I love how much tenderness there is in season 1. The scene where Homer confronts Lisa somberly playing her sax always gets to me. His impulsive anger at the noise dissolves immediately upon hearing the pain in his daughter’s voice. He knows he’s too dim to understand what’s wrong with her, but he’s truly doing what he can.
- Marge’s dream of her childhood is so perfectly succinct, with her mother instructing her to “put our happy face on, because people know how good a mommy you have by the size of your smile.” That subliminal conditioning completely explains Marge’s impulse to put a positive, unquestioning spin on everything, which is a perfect set-up for the ending with her and Lisa.
- The goofy video game boxing subplot feels like it should clash tonally with the Lisa A-story, but it really doesn’t. They even cross paths when Homer and Marge both discuss their problems in bed, where the silly side story is even given an element of emotional weight in Homer feeling threatened by his son outshining him (“Getting old is a terrible thing. I think the saddest day of my life was when I realized I could beat my Dad at most things, and Bart experienced that at the age of four.”) And nothing beats seeing a grown man crumpled on the floor sobbing uncontrollably over an unplugged game system.
- The ending with Marge and Lisa is so incredibly beautiful. The happy ending doesn’t have Lisa just “get over” her emotions like every other sitcom would have, but rather finds comfort in her mother affirming that she has a caring support system that will be with her always. One of the, if not the best, scene of season 1.
- I love Lisa sheepishly waving to Bleeding Gums on stage at the Jazz Hole. This ending is so damn sweet; even at this early stage, the show has mastered executing comedy and genuine emotion without even switching gears.
2020 marks the “official” 30th anniversary of The Simpsons, seeing as how “Bart the Genius” aired in January 1990 and was promoted as the series premiere. Additionally, 2021 will bring the 10th anniversary of Me Blog Write Good. I started this blog partially as a distraction to occupy my mind during a really terrible period in my life, and after stopping and starting it up again multiple times over the course of many years, it’s become almost like a comforting ritual. And along the way, I was always so surprised how many people would comment to create further discourse about the show, or to compliment how much they enjoyed my writing. To anyone who’s read this blog and enjoyed it over the years, I thank you, and as long as there’s new Simpsons episodes being made, I’ll be there to say something about it. Something snarky and pissy, no doubt.
Anyway, during our prolonged period of quarantine here in the United States, I’ve ended up doing a rewatch of a lot of different shows that I love. Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Community. The Powerpuff Girls. But I hadn’t touched The Simpsons yet. I’ve seen an episode here and there within the last couple years, but as for a lot of the classic run of episodes, I haven’t watched them since I was reviewing them for the blog, now almost ten years ago. That’s way too long, isn’t it? And once I thought about how we’re upon not only a notable milestone for the series, but for this blog as well, a series rewatch seems to make perfect sense.
So, over the course of the next year, leading up to the blog’s 10-year-anniversary in June, I’ll be rewatching the series and writing about it. Again. But this won’t just be me repeating the same bullshit (hopefully). I plan on doing one post per season, noting down whatever sporadic thoughts or observations I have during each episode, similar to my miscellaneous tidbits below my main reviews (or what Charlie Sweatpants of Dead Homer Society used to do with his drunken season marathons). Also, I’ll only be covering seasons 1-11. Those are the seasons I keep in my “permanent” collection on my Plex server. Seasons 9-11 have their rough patches, of course, but having “Behind the Laughter” serve as an unofficial series finale feels right to me.
I’ll be posting about season one in a week or so, and then revisit a new season every month. Hopefully this will serve as a jolt of positivity throughout what is sure to be a dismal season 32.