Category Archives: Season 02

35. Blood Feud

(originally aired July 11, 1991)
We end this glorious second season with a real treat, a spectacular finale that dances around issues of morality, human nature and goodwill, but ultimately is a story of our bone-headed hero’s impulsive actions and repercussion. We open to find Mr. Burns in need of a blood transfusion, and Homer is ecstatic to find that Bart shares his boss’ rare blood type. Homer is by no means a heartless monster: in his words, “There’s a human being out there with millions of dollars who needs our help!” He’s more than ready to accept the waves of riches coming his way, but instead receives a piddling thank-you card from the old man. Beyond his wholly selfish expectations, you can’t help but feel for Homer, but in an impassioned rage sends off a scathing letter to his boss, which despite his reconsidered efforts to retrieve it, ends up in the fuming hands of Burns.

If I’ve learned anything over this season, it’s how much I truly love Mr. Burns as a character. He, like many others, has been cheapened and watered down a bit in later episodes, but he’s in true raging form here. A man of true power and vast, somewhat antiquated vocabulary, whose only hindrance is his withered ancient mortal vessel holding his greedy evil soul. My favorite moment in the whole show occurs when Burns feels better than ever after the blood transfusion, telling Smithers, “I tried every tincture and poultice and tonic and patent medicine there is, and all I really needed was the blood of a young boy.” During that last bit, there’s a cut to a close-up on Burns’ face, a slight push-in and he says it with particular emphasis. It’s a wonderfully bizarre moment; you almost expect it to be a tipping point from the show, like the second half is going to consist of Burns harvesting young children for their blood like a vampire. But no, that would have to wait another three seasons.

This show skirts around a few issues, on one’s obligation to help one’s fellow man and acts of compensation for one’s actions depending on their magnitude, but ultimately the characters’ actions fall in a mysterious gray area. Smithers calls off Burns’ ruthless tirade against Homer, mollifying him to the point that Burns decides the Simpsons deserve reciprocation after all. And boy do they get it, in the form of a gargantuan ancient Olmec head of Xtapolapocetl (the god of war). Later the family debate the fact that they would have gotten nothing had Homer not written the angry letter, and Marge’s efforts to dispense a moral to the story are met with disapproval. Homer dismissively puts it, “It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.” And while there’s a bit more going on here, it’s a brilliant summary of why this episode succeeds: it’s all focused on the character’s expectations and reactions, with some wonderful comedic bits and true-to-character moments, and an absolutely splendid way to close out the season.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We get a great bit at the start with the unveiling of the power plant warning sign, instructing motorists of any possible dangers, each increasingly serious one met with less and less applause from the crowd (“Relax. Everything is fine,” “Minor leak. Roll up window,” “Meltdown. Flee city,” “Core explosion. Repent sins.”) From the peanut gallery, Homer is quite amused (“Joke’s on them. If the core explodes, there won’t be any power to light that sign!”)
– A very sweet moment when Marge says that a mother knows everything about her family, and answers every small question they can throw at her. And now I always remember Bart’s allergies: butterscotch, imitation butterscotch, and glow-in-the-dark monster make-up.
– I love Homer’s over-enthusiasm over Bart’s procedure (“You’ve got a date with a needle!”) as well as his damage-control explaining to him the situation (“It’s not like I’m asking you to give blood for free. That would be crazy!”) Then he regales his son with the story of Hercules and the rich lion, which of course, is a classic moment.
– This show contains one of my most quoted lines of all time, when a rejuvenated Burns approaches an employee, quipping, “How about that local sports team?” I say that all the time when I run into someone and don’t have anything particularly interesting to talk to them about.
– The first part of this show is all about build. From the moment Homer hears about Burns’ ailment, he immediately has it in his mind that the donor will be given mounds of diamonds and rubies as reward. By the time he receives an envelope from Burns, he’s absolutely overwhelmed and can barely contain himself. Even with a light envelope, and later no check, he is still optimistic, all of this makes the let-down (and inevitable “D’oh!”) even more fantastic.
– Homer’s letter is so epic, that it bears to be reprinted: “Dear Mr. Burns, I’m so glad you enjoyed my son’s blood. And your card was just great. In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. You stink! You are a senile, buck-toothed old mummy, with bony girl-arms, and you smell like an elephant’s butt.” It’s even more dramatic when Burns angrily repeats it out loud.
– Homer’s attempts to retrieve the letter with Bart standing by as the voice of logic is almost like something out of a Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo cartoon. But we do get the classic bit where Homer attempts to get the letter from the post office, using a disguised voice. He knows exactly what Burns sounds like, but uses the most phony bizarre, and of course hilarious, voice possible, and, the kicker, doesn’t know Burns’ first name.
– I feel I also have a greater appreciation for Smithers during this season; later he would just be the show’s not-so-subtly gay avatar, but here he exists not only as Burns’ long-suffering toady yesman, but as his one and only trustee and voice of reason. The scene where he must begrudgingly hire a hitman to pummel Homer is fantastic, where he’s in a moral qualm about whether he should go through with it. And of course, when he doesn’t, Burns cries “Judas!” complete with lightning striking. Phenomenal.
– Always love Burns’ Seuss-ian dialogue: “We’ll get the Simpsons a present. An extravagant present. A mad, unthinkable, utterly impossible present! A frabulous, grabulous, zip-zoop-zabulous present!”
– Lastly, let’s talk about the head. First, how did they ever get it through the front door. Doesn’t matter. It remains a permanent fixture in the Simpsons house seasons to come, appearing in the basement, and sometimes even the attic. How it got around the house is also a mystery.
– Oh yes! And Burns’ memoirs! The scenes of him writing by stormy night with a quill are perfect, and the immortal title, Will There Ever Be a Rainbow?

Season 2 Final Thoughts
I feel oh so ashamed that whenever I’d site the classic years, I’d instinctively leave out 2 and just go for 3-8. Season 2 is where the show truly came into its own, fleshing out its characters, the rules, and the entire Simpsons universe. Leaps and bounds were made from the first season; we saw shows of tremendous scale, plot-wise (“Two Cars”) and emotionally (“The Way We Was”). We got a better sense of the world the Simpsons live in; their neighbors, their friends, their extended family all get their moments to shine, and they’re so good we heartily await their return. We start picking our favorite characters, our favorite moments, favorite shows, and each moment is so great that’s it’s so very hard to choose. And as shocking as it may sound, it only gets better from here. I can hardly believe it! Season 3 must be some insane, crazy super awesome collection of episodes! Well, I guess we’ll see, now won’t we?

The Best
I’m going to be dreading these season wrap-ups… I’m going to limit myself to five favorites, but goddamn is this gonna be hard…
“Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish,” “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “Brush With Greatness,” “Three Men and a Comic Book,” “Blood Feud”

The Worst
Again, not the “worst,” just the not-as-good, which in classic years means merely fantastic, but not legendary. This season, three shows fit that bill.
“Dancin’ Homer,” “Bart’s Dog Gets An F,” “The War of the Simpsons”

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34. Three Men and a Comic Book

(originally aired May 9, 1991)
This is one of the first shows that really embraced geek culture. It wasn’t really until the digital age, where crater-faced nerds could find each other and communicate with greater ease, did comic books and the like become more mainstream. This is a show written by a bunch of geeks, so as such, the show reflects it. We start off with Bart and Lisa attending the local comic convention, where we get a flurry of jokes and set-pieces, from the eery similarities between Richie Rich and Casper to watching old 50s superhero shows sponsored by cigarette companies. It is there that Bart sets his eyes upon Radioactive Man issue 1, in the hands of the uber-dork that we would come to know and love as Comic Book Guy. CBG is probably my favorite character of the entire series, a delightfully accurate portrayal of surly, unimpressed nerds who view themselves on higher pillars than other nerds. He would later mirror Internet geeks, and detractors of the series itself with the immortal catchphrase, “Worst episode ever!” Now, he seems a bit more open, offering Bart the comic for $100 “because you remind me of me.”

After unsuccessfully bugging his father for money and desperately scavenging for mere pennies, Bart is running low on money-making options. He is set up to do chores for the neighborhood old biddy Mrs. Glick, voiced by Cloris Leachman, but his tiresome toils and iodine scarrings only reward him fifty cents. In the end, Bart discovers that if he pools his money together with fellow chums Milhouse and Martin, they’ll have enough to get the comic. But joint ownership is a devilish mistress. The third act turns into a bizarre psychodrama, with the three holed up in Bart’s treehouse debating over who gets primary ownership. It’s incredibly interesting to watch: all the action takes place in a small area, with these three characters repeatedly butting heads, with Bart taking the particularly paranoid angle, and ultimately his greed and lack of trust in his friends becomes his downfall. He manages to save his friendships, but their prized possession is lost in its place.

This is a fascinating episode: all three acts feel so different, from the comic convention parodies in the first, Bart’s quest for cash and servitude to the elderly in the second, and the over-the-top thriller drama action in the third. Yet it all flows with ease, and of course, is thoroughly entertaining throughout. The jokes at the expense of hardcore nerds is biting, but not without acknowledging its appreciation for the material itself. We’ve all known a Mrs. Glick-type in our time, old ladies with even older candy dishes and unaware of how little two quarters can go nowadays. And we’ve all squabbled with our friends over trivial collector’s items, preferably in a dank treehouse during a thunderstorm. This is an episode that comes out of life experience and pure honesty, and it’s truly one of the greats.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Richie Rich/Casper comparison really is striking. I think Lisa’s theory on Rich’s death holds a lot of weight: “Perhaps he realized how hollow the pursuit of money really is and took his own life.”
– Bart’s becoming of Bartman feels like a real kid thing, but I always connect it to the Bartman comics they put out, along with the rest of the Bongo Comics line-up. I also remember the Radioactive Man comics, which are a lot more brilliant looking back on. They printed them as if they were in period, like #4 would reflect the 50s, and #476 would be the 70s, and the comic style would change based upon the era. There were a lot of parodies that I never got then, like of Watchmen, Batman Year One, and just general comic book stuff.
– The old Radioactive Man clip is absolutely brilliant. Reminds me a lot of the old Flintstones commercial. That and the very effeminate Buddy “Fallout Boy” Hodges, attempting to use his childhood success to springboard his current stage career. We also get a subtle reference to George Reeves’ death (Superman from the original TV series) in Dirk Richter, the actor who played Radioactive Man, having met a similar fate (Bart asks about it in an inquizzitive, child-like manner, to which Hodges breaks down, “Dirk Richter was a beautiful man… Can’t you little vultures leave him alone?!”)
– First, I’m surprised they let Homer say “T.S.” I never heard anyone say that before, but I can figure out what it means. Next, I love the reversal of “Please, Dad?” “No.” thrown back at Bart by Homer, and him actually winning and rubbing it in (complete with a jovial punch to the arm to his son, which visablly hurts). And of course a great Wonder Years homage in Bart’s internal dialogue, voiced by Daniel Stern of course.
– The first “Haw haw!” was in the last show, but this is the first time it really works as a joke, as Nelson rides by on his bike, mocking Bart’s pitiful lemonade stand.
– I do love the flashback to Mrs. Glick’s brother from the war, who had a bit too many people to dedicate after pulling the pin on his grenade.
– Another look at the steamy soap opera. Mrs. Glick’s critique is great: “Filthy. But genuinely arousing.” [shudder]
– I like the ever logical Martin’s scheduling and tie-breaking decision-making involving ownership of the comic, and Bart parroting every complaint Milhouse makes. To this day, anytime someone asks, “What about [blank]?” I always pile on, “Yeah, what about [blank]?”
– There’s some great acting on Bart as his motions get more quick and wirey the madder he gets. I also love the wrap-around pan of the three of them glaring at each other while eating, as the music swells and the thunder roars outside. The climax is really dramatic and tense, as it should be.
– I also love how the very ending teases a lesson being learned, then drops it completely.
[Bart] We worked so hard, and now it’s all gone. We ended up with nothing because the three of us can’t share.
[Milhouse] What’s your point?
[Bart] Nothing. Just kind of ticks me off.
Lastly, I love Harry Shearer’s performance as the narrated Radioactive Man. Don’t know why, just felt like saying it. He delivers a wonderful outro as the last panel: “The world is safe again… but for how long?”

33. The War of the Simpsons

(originally aired May 2, 1991)
Character traits and compulsions that seem commonplace now seemed to have more gravity back in these early days. In a later episode Homer getting drunk at a party would work as an amusing flashback, but here it’s treated a bit more seriously; our intro to this Marge-Homer marriage troubles episode is Marge’s mortification over Homer getting wasted during their house party. His drunken antics are also varied, going from loud rantings to chewing out strangers to lustfully staring down Madame Flanders’ neckline. Particularly jarring is his brief interaction with Bart; it’s a weird bit where he tries to get his son to “perform” for his buddies, and it’s a bit unsettling, but that’s what we need to get at. This is just far too much for Marge, as she puts it, “you didn’t just cross that line, you threw up on it!”

As a result, Homer is stuck having to go to a weekend marriage retreat hosted by Reverend Lovejoy. His attitude turns however when he finds out it’s held lake-side so he can get in some fishing, and he’s enticed further upon hearing rumors of the famed giant elusive catfish General Sherman that dwells there. Meanwhile, Grampa is left in charge of the kids, who then proceed to take complete advantage of him, letting them buy gallons and gallons of ice cream, drink coffee and smoke cigars. It’s a B-story I don’t much care for. Lisa does protest a bit and feel remorse, but it doesn’t make much sense that she would go along with any of Bart’s schemes to this capacity. The ending bit with Grampa tricking the kids into straightening up their act is a nice capper, but besides that, it’s mostly filler. Though we do get the first appearance of Snake, and our first “Haw haw!” out of Nelson.

The rest of the episode almost suffers from the fantastic first act; Marge and Homer at the retreat isn’t quite as interesting. By completely inadvertent means, Homer winds up in a boat desperately trying to reel in the General, and when Marge catches him, he angrily tosses it back, showing his true devotion to his wife. It works, I guess, but his gallant gesture doesn’t seem to equal his general assholery at the party. This is another one of those shows that gets buried amidst more stronger, classic shows, and while sometimes they may be hidden gems, this one’s just alright to me.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Odd that Flanders of all people gets the ball rolling of Homer’s inebriation by serving him up drinks. A far cry from two years later when he’s still devastated by a raspberry schnapps he had ten years prior.
– Dr. Hibbert’s very dry manner of speaking is a source of great comedy: first in his commentary about how with all its chemicals a gag ice cube is much more dangerous than a cube with an actual fly in it, then later upon leaving he suggests that Marge turn a passed out Homer on his stomach, if she wanted him to live through the night.
– Homer’s recollection of the night before is spectacular, a wonderfully designed sequence with a great New Yorker cartoon style featuring a dapper Homer as head of an Algonquin group type gathering. The rapid pan across the group morphing into their normal selves is spell-binding, it’s a really great piece of animation.
– One thing this show has going for it is there’s a lot of great acting in it, from the design and subtle movements of drunk Homer to the not-so-happy couple during their fight and visit to the retreat. There’s also a smaller bit when Homer is forced to explain his bawdy behavior to his son. Bart sits there, legs crossed Indian style with a flat smile on his face. It’s like he’s humoring his dad, he’s well aware what being drunk means. When his father says he’s hoped he hasn’t lost any respect, Bart responds, “Dad, I have as much respect for you as I ever did or ever will.” Slick.
– I don’t know why, but I love the first couple at the retreat. “Queen of the harpies!” has stuck in my mind for years.
– I do like how Homer talks aloud about his foolproof plan to catch and eat General Sherman before bed, and he barely gets one foot out the door before Marge wakes up and catches him.
– We get a great line from the Reverend, who knows a lost cause when he sees one: “Marge, as a trained marriage counselor, this is the first instance where I’ve ever told one partner that they were 100% right. It’s all his fault. I’m willing to put that on a certificate you can frame.”

32. Lisa’s Substitute

(originally aired April 25, 1991)
I guess it’s only appropriate we go from last episode that explored Marge’s lost potential amidst a boorish society to this one featuring Lisa in the same boat. Equally, if not more tragic a story than her mother’s, Lisa is an incredibly gifted and thoughtful young girl who is stuck in a school that undermines her and a family that is hard-pressed to acknowledge her. Plenty of episodes will give her recognition or a kindred spirit, only for the cruel rug of life to be pulled out from under her. Here is the first of many said spirits, perhaps the more famous, the soft-spoken intellectual Mr. Bergstrom. Miss Hoover’s absence brings him into Lisa’s life, and she is immediately smitten with this thoughtful, somewhat geeky substitute teacher.

Lisa’s infatuation is more than just a schoolgirl crush; Bergstrom represents the kind of father she wishes she had, a man who would enrich her, make her think and feel new things, and foster a love of learning. However, fate is a cruel mistress, and Lisa is stuck with a shaven ape who for the greater part pays no mind to her daughter’s life. It almost seems Lisa realizes this herself, which makes her tearful goodbye to Bergstrom all the more heartbreaking (as Mr. B succinctly puts it, “That’s the problem with being middle-class. Anybody who really cares will abandon you for those who need it more.”) And of course there’s the classic scene where Bergstrom gives Lisa all she needs whenever she feels alone in the world and needs reassurance of herself and the universe: a simple note, “You Are Lisa Simpson.” Fantastic.

It’s unfortunate that due to the deep, poignant A-story, the goofy runner of Bart running a mock platform for class president is all but buried from most people’s recognition from this episode. I guess there’s not all that much to examine about it, it’s just got a lot of fun stuff in it, and also lays groundwork for the very ending. Lisa explodes at Homer’s uncaring attitude, leaving Homer to pick up the pieces. He does the best he can with who he is, and in the end, his reconciliation scene works perfectly. Homer may not be the father Lisa truly deserves, but he still loves her and supports her. Plus I don’t think Mr. Bergstrom would hoot like a monkey and make Lisa laugh like Homer does. He’s the goofy dad, leaving Lisa to acknowledge she’s got to appreciate people for who they are, not who she wishes they could be. Following this, Homer quells Bart’s anger over losing the election, but rightly speaking to Bart’s mentality, that being class president would mean more work. Between these two and quelling a fussy sleeping Maggie with her pacifier, it’s probably Homer’s finest hour, and a sweet way to end the show.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We don’t see a lot of Miss Hoover on the show, but she’s still a very strong character: a passionless teacher working out the clock every day. She also is quite disturbed, as we see with her psychosomatic belief of having Lyme disease. We get a great line as Principal Skinner explains the unsettling details of the disease to the children: “The brain!? Oh, dear God!”
– Now I can tell you, if the newly arrived substitute burst into a classroom now firing fake guns in the air, he would be arrested on the spot, no questions asked. Things were different twenty years ago…
– The challenge of naming the discrepancies on Bergstrom’s cowboy get-up is a cute and effective way of introducing his character, and Lisa’s instant connection with him. However, I always think about what Mr. B was thinking, that second graders would be able to figure out stuff about Texas’ annexation and when revolvers were invented. It’s a stretch enough that Lisa is an insanely smart wunderkind. But now I’m just nitpicking. Without it we wouldn’t get the great line about Bergstrom defending Jewish cowboys, “big guys who were great shots and spent money freely.”
– Oh man… my favorite line of the show isn’t even from the A-story: during Martin’s first speech about creating a science-fiction library when he’s class president, featuring the ABCs of the genre: Asimov, Bester, and Clarke. When Wendell asks, “What about Ray Bradbury?” Martin replies, “I’m aware of his work” in the more dismissive, condescending manner possible, like it’s a pain for him to even acknowledge Bradbury’s name at all.
– I enjoy Mr. Bergstrom’s performance of “Home on the Range” with running commentary about the accuracy of the song. I guess at this point I should praise Dustin Hoffman (aka Sam Etic) for his great, great performance, giving Bergstrom that right mellow, powerful tone he needs, selling him as a lively substitute teacher and someone Lisa could really admire and look up to.
– Lisa is very quick to begrudge her father and brother in front of Bergstrom, almost trying to distance herself from them for him. However, there’s a great moment when the two of them are witnessing one of Bart’s bombastic campaign stunts where Mr. B astutely points out that she’s going to miss Bart’s antics when she hits the big time. It almost sets the stage for the ending, about accepting and loving people for who they are. Reminds me of “Lisa’s Wedding” when she defends her oafish family to her future fiance, attesting she loves them regardless. Oh, and you gotta love Bart’s chant for more asbestos.
– We also get the first time that Homer has an internal argument with his brain, something that would happen much more as time goes on.
– I don’t feel like dissecting the ending much further; it’s one of those really great moments that really speak for themselves. I will say it’s odd that Homer talks about having never lost anybody in his life, when his mother abandoned him as a child. Seems like something that would stick with a guy…

31. Brush With Greatness

(originally aired April 11, 1991)
Amidst its wacky nature and constant irreverence, the show has always had some negative undercurrents below its surface, one of the biggest being the quiet tragedy of Marge Simpson. From what we’ve seen in flashbacks to modern day, she’s sharp, she’s talented, she has a lot of potential, but she’s become perfectly comfortable in her role as housewife to an ape-like buffoon. In episodes where opportunity presents itself to do something more with her life, she remains ever hesitant (in her words, “I’ve dug myself into a happy little rut here and I’m not about to hoist myself out of it.”) This is the first episode dealing with Marge as more than just Homer’s ever-supportive wife, but on her feelings about the world and her own abilities.

We start off somewhat unrelated though, with a not-so-subtle plea from Krusty the Klown to visit the water park Mt. Splashmore. It works for Bart and Lisa, and the family end up going, but the visit has a disastrous end when Homer ends up lodged in a slide tube and ends up having to be hoisted out like a beached whale. This public embarrassment is just large enough to permeate Homer’s sense of shame, and he vows to lose weight. Digging in the attic for old exercise equipment, he comes across Marge’s old paintings of Ringo Starr, which puts our other plot in motion of rekindling Marge’s artistic tendencies. She enrolls in a painting class taught by Professor Lombardo (another wonderful voice by Jon Lovitz), an eccentric who must pepper any potentially negative comment with a compliment (hearing about Marge’s former art teacher’s scorns, he retorts, “The man was a fool! But still one must admire the force of his conviction.”)

After winning first prize at a local art show, Marge is then saddled with a near impossible task: a newly commissioned piece to present Mr. Burns in a positive light. Her self-remarked ability to see the inner beauty in everyone is tested to its limits by the insolent old curmudgeon, until it nearly breaks her spirits. But through urgings from her husband, and a much-belated response from Ringo Starr himself, she manages to pull through, presenting a bold painting of Mr. Burns in the old, wrinkly buff. The final scene at the art show may be one of my favorites in the entire series, as it shows the series’ ability to utilize shock value for a higher purpose: Marge’s explanation of her piece, of how despite Burns’ evil mind, he is of as frail a body as the rest of us, is quite profound and conceptual, and true to her character. Her version of retribution ends up being a smash hit; even Burns is impressed (with the great line, “I’m no art critic, but I know what I hate. And I don’t hate this”), even if she did mock his genitalia. Marge may be forever a housewife, but her life does have its small victories.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening Krusty show is a great mockery of cross-promotion: Krusty films his show at Mt. Splashmore so kids will want to go, nailed even further with his singalong: “I want to go to Mt. Splashmore, Take me, take me, take me, take me now! Now! Now! Now! Now! Now! Mt. Splashmore, take me there right now!”
– Homer is shown much more grotesquely obese than normal, which makes sense to set up the diet plot later, but it’s quite disturbing seeing him walk around topless, especially with the miscolored farmer’s tan.
– Love the homage to M.C. Escher with the never-ending line. I also love how brazen Homer is upon reaching the line: where Bart and Lisa came up with a cunning plan using the “crying child” angle, Homer merely exclaims, “The hell with this!” and pushes his way through.
– Homer getting stuck in the tube is pretty easy humor, but it’s funny all the way through, starting with the hilarious drawing of him sliding down along with Castellaneta’s great acting of Homer whooping it up. We get a look at the Splashmore control room, which apparently can detect if there’s a blockage in any of their tubes somehow. Believing the large block cannot possibly be human, they suggest to send a few kids down to shake it loose. The shot from the kids’ POV of sliding down the tube, and eventually to a screaming Homer is spectacular. Lastly, we see the tube segment being airlifted, with a fantastic drawing of a weary Homer, accompanied by massive booing. A low point for Homer, but a high point for me as a viewer, laughing my ass off.
– The criticism of Marge by her thick-headed art teacher is so wonderfully scarring: “Someone might have used this canvas to create a masterpiece. Instead, you’ve soiled it forever.” He then goes on to praise a painting of a sad clown. Philistine.
– The small montage of Homer exercising while Marge paints to Rocky-esque music is great; the drawing of a grinning Homer managing to life the now-weightless bar is so great.
– I love the other two runner-ups in the art contest: dogs playing pool, and a sad unicorn overlooking polluting smokestacks thinking “Why?” The judge gives Marge the ribbon, with an affirmative, “Yeah,” as if it were no contest.
– There’s a lot of great Burns lines here; my favorite is when he goes into one of his classic monologues: “Once again the wheel has turned, and Dame Fortune has hugged Montgomery Burns to her sweet, perfumed bosom.”
– Despite Burns’ bastard-like behavior to follow, one can’t help to feel some sympathy for the way he implores Marge’s help: “This commission and all of its glory can be yours, but first you must look me in the eye and answer one simple question: can you make me beautiful?”
– This show continues to become more multi-layered in time; showing Ringo meticulously answer every piece of fan mail he’s got is even more funny thanks to his famous announcement a few years back that he will no longer be signing autographs. Peace and love, peace and love!

30. Old Money

(originally aired March 28, 1991)
Many cultures respect and treasure their elderly, looking upon them as a source of wisdom. In America, we’re not quite as reverent. This series is nothing but a brilliant satire on all of society, and their depiction of old people is slightly exaggerated, but brutally honest. The elderly are shown as a burden, locked away in retirement homes, dank, desolate domiciles where old folks can putter away by their lonesome, desperate for a visit from a relative that will never come. We saw this early on in season 1 in “Bart the General” where every inmate at the Retirement Castle reared their heads when Bart asked for “Grampa.” That’s also the first time we saw Abe Simpson, a grizzled old coot who may be a tad senile, but has enough pep and gumption left to complain about how the world’s going to hell-in-a-hand basket. This is an episode about the harsh and unloving treatment of old people, most importantly Grampa Simpson.

We begin with Abe meeting Beatrice, a beguiling fellow resident at the retirement home, and the two fall in love fast. Some time later, Abe is reared up for Bea’s birthday, but is whisked away by the Simpson family for their monthly obligatory trip with Grampa, this time to Discount Lion Safari. The Simpsons getting their car attacked by lions is pretty goofy, but Abe’s plight always remains the focus, from Homer patronizingly playing off Bea to be part of Abe’s imagination to every shot in the car showing a stern-faced Abe in the backseat. Upon his return, Abe learns Bea has died over the past day, and left him her fortune of $106,000. We then get a look at society’s only viable use for old people: bilking them of their inheritance. Finding spending for himself brought him no happiness, Abe opens the floor to all the people of Springfield to pitch them how they’d put the money to good use, which gives us great scenes with a variety of characters from Mr. Burns, Marvin Monroe, Otto, and our first look at Professor Frink.

Also nestled in this show is an examination of Homer’s relationship with his father. Abe is infuriated with Homer over having missed out on Bea’s final moments, and Homer, understanding the blunder of his actions, feels a heavy remorse. By the urgings of Bea’s ghost, Abe forgives his son, and Homer later returns the favor from stopping Abe from gambling away his fortune. Abe had been trying to help too many people with too little cash, but in the end, decides a small step is as good as any, and repairs the down-and-out retirement home to look like new. It’s a bit of a sappy ending, especially with Abe’s final line, “Dignity’s on me, friends,” but it works all the same. The back half of the episode is a wonderful depiction of a man who desperately wants to do some good with a kindness that has been given to him, and eventually finds it in his own backyard.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The show brilliantly lays a lot of focus on how shitty the retirement home is. There’s lots of panning shots showing crusty walls and dilapidated tiles without feeling like it’s lingering on it. We also get it through jokes, like when you think Abe is crying over the photo of Bea when it’s just the leaky ceiling.
– I don’t know why I love Discount Lion Safari so much. The billboard for it is so spectacular. Maybe it’s the way the family yells it in unison… twice.
– I love when Abe remarks that Bea has “the bluest eyes he’s ever seen in [his] life” when, like everyone else’s, they’re just black dots.
– The scene with Abe and Bea when they eat their pills… mercy. It serves a story point of their form of courting, but my goodness is it disturbing.
– Another great Simpsons product: Lucky Lindy’s All Purpose Pomade. “You’ll never fly solo again!”
– I’d like to have seen more of Grandma’s World; so great that a wool shoal is in active ware. Also, the clerk appears to be the same as the grocery cashier in “8th Commandment.” Second job perhaps?
– Second appearance of Lionel Hutz, a wonderful follow-up as executor of Bea’s estate. Phil Hartman also voices “Plato,” the casino greeter. “My philosophy is: enjoy!”
– I love the montage of Abe attempting to enjoy himself, with halfhearted “Yeah”s along the way, ending with the great Diz-Nee-Land (not affiliated with Disneyland, Disney World, or anything else from the Walt Disney Company).
– It’s pretty heart-wrenching seeing Homer so broken up about his father. Marge suggests he seek help and hands him the phone connected to Marvin Monroe’s anxiety line. There’s a sweet bit where Marge pats her husband’s head reassuringly before leaving the room, it’s such a nice, subtle bit of animation that is sorely absent from recent years.
– This episode is pretty noteworthy in the shot of the line for Abe is filled with the collection of minor characters we’ve seen over thirty episodes. What would once be faceless nobodies are now established characters, as the series would grow to have hundreds and hundreds of familiar faces as crowd characters.
– There’s a great bit when Homer arrives at the casino and sees Abe about to gamble away his winnings. He screams with a shot in his open mouth, with a series of shots following pulling out further and further. It really intensifies the moment, and builds up to the fake-out that Abe has actually doubled his earnings.

29. Bart’s Dog Gets An F

(originally aired March 7, 1991)
NOTE: During the past week I was visiting my hometown in New Jersey. However, that did not hinder my Simpsons obligations. I managed to burn through six episodes with two very good friends of mine, and together we recorded brief, five-minute commentaries for them. They’re quite rambling, misguided, and mostly disposable, but hey, they’re only five minutes, and if you’re reading this, chances are your time isn’t that valuable to begin with.

These audio reviews will also be an excuse for me to write less. A bit of a cop out, but hey, I got four hundred episodes more, so cut me a break.

This final audio “commentary” is the scarcest, and for good reason. Season 2 has been full of a lot of episodes full of great and complex characters and interesting meaty plots, but this is a relatively more low-key episode featuring the exploits of the Simpson family dog. We establish Santa’s Little Helper not as a goofy cartoonish dog, but an actual true-to-life untrained mongrel, who doesn’t obey any commands, digs up the yard, harasses the neighbors, and will chew up anything it sets its fancy on. This is pretty much the overarching content for the first two acts, as the Simpsons try to continue with their lives around their nuisance of a pet.

Homer has his eyes on Flanders’ ‘Assassins’ sneakers, obnoxious and expensive footwear with mini vanity nameplates on each foot. I do enjoy Homer’s enthusiasm over a product that encourages exercise, like people who were anxious to buy Air Jordans so they could sit around the house wearing them. Meanwhile Lisa comes down with the mumps, giving Marge time to share with her the Bouvier family quilt, which has lasted six generations through the Great Depression to Marge’s link in the chain of “Keep On Truckin’.” When both of these treasured items (and Homer’s giant cookie) are destroyed by Santa’s Little Helper, there is little recourse left other than to get rid of the dog. Bart is adamant against this, of course, promising he’ll get his dog trained.

Bart enrolls Santa’s Little Helper into obedience school, taught by a no-nonsense Margaret Thatcher type voiced by Tracey Ullman, comedienne responsible for the Simpsons gracing the airwaves in the first place. She gives a fine performance, but coming off of Herb Powell from the last show, she’s not the most memorable one-off character. This show has its share of funny lines, and there’s nothing to fault it for regarding its story or characterization, but there’s not much here that is really too spectacular. In this season full of truly spectacular shows, “Bart’s Dog” will have to settle with “pretty darn neato.”

Tidbits and Quotes
– I do love the bit where a jovial but annoyed Dr. Hibbert inquires how Marge got his home number, listens, then chuckles, commenting, “How ingenious.” This is also the first time we see the Hibbert family and household, all clearly an homage to The Cosby Show, an affectionate parody to the show’s then chief ratings rival.
– Of course there’s the great scene where an increasingly angry Homer tries to chew out his neighbor for accusing SLH is in her pool, believing he’s locked him up outside. His arrogance and fury over a situation we know he’s wrong about just builds up the inevitable laugh when he gets to the window and realizes he’s just made an ass of himself.
– We get a brief line from Troy McClure on the TV, a rare (maybe only) occasion of him being voiced by Dan Castellaneta: “As an actor, my eyeballs need to look their whitest!”
– I do enjoy whenever we see the soap opera, whose name I forget. I’m also surprised they got away with showing the woman unzip her dress, revealing her bare back. Quite sultry. I also like “Father McGrath! I thought you were dead!” followed by a chipper “I was!”
– I do like Homer’s accusatory speech at the free samples girl about roping people into making a purchase, all while spitting out cookie crumbs all over himself. Also his fool-proof plan of sticking the gigantic cookie on top of the cookie jar and putting a note on it. SLH devours it ten seconds later.
– There’s a few more small things I do think are good, like the farm owner examining SLH’s pelt and genitals, and Lisa’s start of a new quilt depicting the destruction of the old one… but I don’t have much else to write about here, to be honest. Let’s move on.