Category Archives: Season 03

59. Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?

(originally aired August 27, 1992)
Herb Powell pretty much dug his own grave in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,” but it still felt bad seeing such a great character destroyed like that. The writers apparently thought so too, thus we have this sequel where Herb returns, this time entering the Simpson family’s home turf a disheveled bum. Before we get that far, we have a typical sitcom set-up, revealing that years of working at the power plant has made our lovable protagonist sterile, as plainly seen by his flailing, uncoordinated Homer sperm. The solution is to offer Homer a pithy two-thousand dollars in exchange for blindly signing away rights to sue. Homer, for once, isn’t so easy to trick (“I’m not signing anything until I read it, or someone gives me the gist of it.”) Burns explains the form is for his being awarded the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence. This soon snowballs into a giant awards ceremony, an outlandish absurd affair with theme music by the Bonita DeWolf and the Nuclear Plant Soft Shoe Society. It’s a ridiculous set piece, but in the most wonderful way possible, complete with Smokin’ Joe Frazier presenting the award (“Webster’s dictionary defines excellence as ‘the state or condition of being excellent.'”)

News of the cash prize Homer has received brings Herb to Springfield; the Simpson family are thrilled to see him, but Herb still has reservations toward the half-brother that ruined him. The dynamic between the two brothers is an interesting runner through the show which I felt could have been explored a little more. In its place is Herb’s new big idea to reinstate his fortune: a baby translator that will transmit baby garbling into coherent English. Somehow, he manages to create an astoundingly sophisticated prototype with the two thousand, doing all the programming and engineering all by himself. The man’s an automobile magnate, but I don’t know how much of a genius the man is in regards to a machine this sophisticated. Plus this is a landmark invention; you’d think that it would be talked about more later in the series, or at least Marge would have one. There’s lots of questions and concerns connected to this idea, but all of them dissolve thanks to Danny DeVito’s hilarious reading on the baby translations (Lisa covers Maggie’s eyes: “Where did you go?” Lisa exclaims, “Peek-a-boo!” “Oh there you are. Very amusing.”)

Also through the show is Homer’s lament after his beloved couch is destroyed. His fond memories of landmark programs he’s watched lends to a great brief montage, ending with Homer switching off footage of the Berlin Wall collapse to Gomer Pyle. He toys with using the money to buy a lavish vibrating chair, which at its full power setting puts him into a 2001: A Space Odyssey style stupor with flashing lights and colors. Herb gets the money, with Homer further bemoaning the bitter treatment he receives from him. The end of the show is sweet with Herb giving each family member a personal gift, ending with him finally forgiving Homer for the troubles he’s caused, and getting him the vibrating chair. It’s a great moment where Homer is unsure about hugging his brother (“I’ve never really hugged a man before,”) followed by him kissing him manically after finding out about the chair purchase. Though not quite as epic and solid as the first Herb show, this is a fine farewell to the character, with plenty of funny bits and memorable moments.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The plant physical is a great way to start, from Lenny’s blaze attitude to being stark naked to Homer eating chicken in the tank (which does… what exactly?)
– Smithers is so efficient that even his sperm swim in lock-step alignment.
– Burns’ tirade against his lawyers seems a bit out of character for him, but I still enjoy the sequence, with him continuously having to restrain himself.
– Burns’ greeting when Homer walks in prior to the settlement is great: “Ah, Simpson, you big virile son of a gun!”
– Bart and Lisa’s swipe against the Emmys seems very bitter; this was the season the show first lost the Emmy for “Radio Bart” against a Claymation Easter special. Having watched it later, their anger was pretty justified.
– Herb running aside the train to Springfield and the hazardous railcars is a classic Simpsons gag: toxic waste, no, lion cage, no, Krusty Brand sulfuric acid, no, Emil’s Famous Pillows (“That’s the one!”)
– Having Herb stop at the Flanders house and get cleaned up seems to work to soften the blow to the Simpsons that Herb is really in desperate need of help. It’s also a great sequence, with Todd visibly upset that he is not allowed to anoint the sores on this poor soul’s feet.
– Herb’s advice on being homeless to Bart is probably my favorite quote of the show, and one I try to quote whenever I get the chance: “Discarded pizza boxes are an inexpensive source of cheese.”
– I love Homer’s one-track mind in his obsession over Herb’s drinking bird. He’s in such awe of it, like it’s the greatest thing he’s ever seen. The bird would make a comeback in a big, bad way later on in “King-Size Homer.”
– Homer’s initial reaction to the baby translator is… not so cordial: “I can’t believe we spent $2,000 on this when right now rollers could be kneading my buttocks!” Herb retorts, “Homer, would you stop thinking about your ass?!” Homer muses, “I’ll try, but I can’t.”
– First, and only (?), appearance of Professor Frink’s child, and mention of his wife, who I assume divorced him after seemingly killing their baby boy in that plane accident.
– As I said, all the gifts are great, from Lisa’s Greater Books of Western Civilization (“At last, a copy of Ethan Frome to call my own!”), Bart’s NRA membership (when asked if he can get cyanide-tipped bullets, Herb replies, “It’s in the Constitution, son!”), Maggie, who isn’t picky (“I want what the dog’s eating!”) and Marge, a new washer and dryer, with the old ones sold to do races at Moe’s Tavern (“Stupid dryer!”)

Season 3 Final Thoughts
If season 3 suffers in any regard, it’s that I underestimated the greatness of season 2. It’s astounding watching these again just how perfect those early episodes were, and how they hold up so damn well. That being the case, season 3 felt like more of the same greatness. The one thing I can say is that we saw more of the wackier, crazier elements of the series start to emerge here; from “Homer at the Bat” and stuff like Spinal Tap’s bus exploding, the show began to become more exaggerated and silly, drifting a bit from the more serious, realistic tone it had in the first two seasons. It’s a delicate balance the show would end up servicing: going big and brash for its outlandish gags, but still maintaining a true-to-life tone and emotional core with the Simpson family. I have no worries that season 4 will do just that.

The Best
“Lisa’s Pony,” “Saturdays of Thunder,” “Flaming Moe’s,” “I Married Marge,” “Dog of Death”

The Worst
Not one episode fell short. Some were better than others, of course, but none deserve to be mentioned here.

58. Bart’s Friend Falls In Love

(originally aired May 7, 1992)
As much as a rambunctious rapscallion as Bart is, he’s still has as much vulnerability in him as the next kid. The show is able to show him at his lowest point without feeling cloying or sappy, mainly because it mines from a pure realistic source with its stories. Here, we see a girl getting in between Bart and Milhouse’s friendship, a young romance story that we can all connect to. The title is not only a very early burn on Milhouse, but refers to the main meat of the story involving Bart’s desperate attempts to hold onto his best friend before he loses him, and his eventual extreme measures to getting him back. The girl in question is Samantha Stanky, a timid transfer student with a shy voice and braces. She doesn’t have too much of a personality, but it fits the story, and also how ten-year-old romances aren’t really too deep to begin with. The material she is given is great though, and is still infinitely better than the parade of girlfriends voiced by celebrities Bart would get once a season down the road. Here, Stanky is voiced by Kimmy Robertson, whose biggest credit is being the receptionist on Twin Peaks, and she does a great job in her role here.

Before this prepubescent drama begins, we have a fantastic opening parodying Raiders of the Lost Ark as Bart nabs Homer’s penny jar just as Indy stole the idol. The reference works, and is funny here, as Homer proceeds to take a dual role as the ball rolling after Bart down the stairs and the angry natives as he runs out onto the lawn in his undies (a hilarious, grotesque sight) and screams after his son in gibberish. The cultural reference is given context and meaning within the show’s universe, and is elevated, and thus, is very funny. Later in class, we meet Samantha, and Milhouse is taken with her almost immediately. The two’s affection grows further after watching an educational video, perhaps the best ever shown in the entire series, Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide to You-Know-What. Hosted by Troy McClure (of course), it’s a child’s guide to abstinence and true romance and marriage, with an apparently grotesque sex scene (complete with porno music) spliced in. The shot of kids watching this in a darkened classroom, audibly disgusted, with their teacher standing in the back, smoking, commenting, “She’s faking it” is alternately hilarious and disturbing.

As shown in “Homer Defined,” Bart and Milhouse have a co-dependent friendship, since they really only have each other as friends. But this show is kind of a window to a future that shows that eventually, they will part ways, perhaps due to one falling in love, and Bart is visibly hurt by it. He ends up breaking the two up by exposing the torrid romance to Samantha’s prudish father, who enrolls her in an all-girls school run by Canadian nuns. Bart and Milhouse eventually make up, but not before a brief intense scuffle when Bart reveals the truth. The fight ends when Bart whacks Milhouse in the noggin with a magic 8-ball, which breaks, which is kind of cool since it’s what predicted the dooming of their friendship at the beginning of the show. This episode has like classic film reference bookends as we close Casablanca style with Bart claiming this is the start of a beautiful friendship. Well, not quite, but it’s basically like that.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great sequence of Skinner looking over Samantha’s records, only to go in and out of grim Vietnam war recollections, complete with excellent lighting from the blinds and Skinner gripping tightly against his chair arms.
– Samantha’s introduction to the class is really sweet, tinged with nervousness and a general lack of confidence that a kid would have in that situation. Excellent explanation of her move to Springfield: her father owns a home security company, and moved to the town because of its high crime rate and lackluster police force.
– No one but Phil Hartman could have voiced the educational film. The emphasis he gives on certain parts, like “they never ruined their fun by giving into their throbbing biological urges” is just hysterical. Also the line, “Nine months later, Fluffy gave birth to fourteen beautiful bunnies. Eight survived.” Additionally great is the randomness of Fuzzy Bunny being Jewish, crushing the glass at his wedding (with no shoes, I might add. That had to have been painful.)
– Small moment where Bart asks about creating a half-man half-monkey creature, which Mrs. K claims would be playing God, retorted with the well-delivered line, “God shmod! I want my monkey-man!”
– The B-story involves Lisa’s attempts to have her father lose weight with subliminal tapes played at night, but Homer ends up receiving vocabulary building tapes instead. Similar to the swear jar runner in “Bart the Lover,” it’s its own little story divorced from the A-plot that has a lot of great moments, starting with Kent Brockman’s report on obesity (“Did you know that 34 million American adults are obese? Putting together that excess blubber would fill the Grand Canyon two fifths of the way up. That may not sound impressive, but keep in mind it is a very big canyon.”) Lisa imagines her father’s funeral, dead at over 400 pounds and having to be lifted down into his grave in a piano crate. Marge is given the lists of different tapes she can receive, including “hostage negotiating,” followed by perhaps the oddest dream sequence ever featuring Homer being just that. Hearing Homer speak exclusively in college-level terms is pretty funny, ending with him throwing out the tapes “A pox on thee!”
I like Bart’s answer when Mr. Stanky on the phone asks for his identity: “Let’s just say I’m a concerned prude with a lot of time on his hands.”
– Of course, best line of the show from a broken Milhouse: “How could this happen? We started out like Romeo and Juliet, but ended up in tragedy.”

57. The Otto Show

(originally aired April 23, 1992)
One of the show’s greatest assets is its cast. There is no other series that has such a large number of regularly recurring characters, who are all somewhat developed, and always hilarious and interesting, in their own way. There’s so many different kinds of stories and angles you can work with with all these crazy personalities. This is one of the big reasons why it’s so disappointing that in later years the show became so derivative, repeating old storylines and keeping a hyper-focus on the family, especially Homer. This season, we had episodes about Mrs. Krabappel, Krusty, Moe and a few other minor characters, where we got to see more of their normal lives apart from their interactions with the Simpsons. This time, we get a better look at the sad story of Otto Mann, the school bus drive. This is really his only episode, but I see no reason why he couldn’t have had at least one more. Instead, they keep him in the background until they need to make a drug use joke (most egregiously in the movie. “LOOK WE SHOWED SOMEONE USE A BONG ISN’T THAT GREAT?!”)

Our show opens with Bart and Milhouse attending their first concert, starring Spinal Tap. It’s kind of an odd choice, but I suppose a fictional band can be real within the confides of a fictional show. When multiple stage malfunctions cause the band to leave early, a riot breaks out, which inspires Bart to want to be a rock star. You may notice none of this has to do with Otto. His story doesn’t really even start until about halfway through. I’ve heard some people cry fowl about this, claiming, “See! Classic episodes had disjointed first acts too!!” Well, this may be correct. This episode doesn’t have the most stream-lined story, but who’s to say they all need to? The show flows perfectly well to me; Bart’s interest in guitar sparks Otto playing on the bus, which causes him to be late, then crash the bus and lose his job, then live with the Simpsons. There’s a natural, realistic flow. Later, we get tire fire fumes melting Springfield ice caps to thaw a frozen mailman, giving the family a letter that starts the plot. I can’t think of anything more contrived or ridiculous.

Anyway, Otto isn’t the most interesting of characters, but it’s kind of fun to see him out of his element, lounging about the Simpson house, yearning for a can of corn and books written from the vampire’s point of view. Bart gives up his guitar, which works as a call-back to how the writers never really resolved that story, a comment about how kids, and some adults, start things on a whim and don’t finish, and gives us some great indispensable Homer advice (“If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.”) The latter half of the show blends Otto’s story with the Simpsons perfectly, allowing ample time to Homer and Marge’s displeasure over the situation, and then to motivating Otto to get his license. The resolution of winning over Patty over their mutual distaste of Homer is also set up earlier on. Even without a “complete” twenty-two minute plot, the show works completely, and gives us a new look at a familiar character. I only wish the show would have kept making episodes like these, instead of homogenizing every side character.

Tidbits and Quotes
– When Homer found the can of Billy Beer in his old jacket, I was waiting for the “We elected the wrong Carter” line, but… nope, not this episode. Guess I’ll wait for it later.
– We get our second look at an oddly off-model Comic Book guy hawking T-shirts outside the concert. I don’t even remember at what point he became a regular character… season 5 maybe?
– The Spinal Tap members were really funny, which I guess makes sense since they’re a mock group to begin with. I love their interview with Bill & Marty, talking about how they’re big in Bulgaria, “and what’s-it’s-name, the other -garia” and about how they can’t think of anyone who’s benefited more from the fall of communism (except those who actually lived in those countries). Also great is how irked they get about the stage complications (“This is a rock concert, not a bleedin’… splish-splash show!”) and their outro (“Good night, Springton! There will be no encores!”)
– Kent Brockman’s two cents over the riot is great: “Of course, it would be wrong to suggest this sort of mayhem began with rock-and-roll. After all, there were riots at the premiere of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. So, what’s the answer? Ban all music? In this reporters opinion, the answer, sadly, is `yes’.”
– Another weird Bart fantasy where he imagines himself a famous rock star, and himself as the drugged-out washed up version. As always, Bart finds these horrifying future visions awesome.
– Otto playing “Free Bird” on the bus is a great moment, complete with the children inexplicably pulling out lighters to hold up.
– An amazing “fuck you” to the gracious guest stars as Otto knocks their tour bus off the road, which flips over and bursts into flames.
– I do like seeing a bit more of Otto, but he’s got to be one of the dumbest characters on the show. It takes real talent to misspell “bus.” I like his complete shock over his landlord claiming he had mustard, and his musings over his new living arrangements: “Dumpster-brand trash bins are top-of-the-line. This is just a Trash-Co waste disposal unit.”
– Otto living with the Simpsons is filled with lots of great little moments, like Bart’s fake Marge voice recorded message (which Homer falls for), Homer’s fake Bible verse (“‘Thou shalt not take… moochers into thy… hut”’) and Homer quieting down racket so he can think (“I want some peanuts.” “That’s better.”)
– I always laugh at Otto’s attempt to do the driver’s test (“‘Alcohol increases your ability to drive.’ …false?! Oh man…”) and his sheer rage over being reminded that Homer called him a sponge that he slams his fists again the walls of the DMV, putting cracks in them. Either that’s some shoddy worksmanship, or Otto has some bizarre super strength.
– It makes no sense, but I love that for no reason, Skinner gets the final moment, seeming pleased that Otto is back to work. Perhaps due to that when Skinner drove the bus, he was unable to merge into oncoming traffic? For many many hours? That’s good enough. It’s a forced happy ending, but it almost seems like it’s making fun of itself, so I think it’s great. At least that’s how I see it.

56. Black Widower

(originally aired April 8, 1992)
I look at Sideshow Bob episodes sort of like Treehouse of Horrors, they usually come around annually, and they’re always a treat (like TOHs, later seasons would screw them up too, but still). He’s the closest thing the show has to a true villain, and this is really the episode that gave him that title, his return from prison to marry and murder Selma. But this is Bob we’re talking about, so he is completely subtle and convincing through the entirety of his scheme. It seems almost too easy for Bob to present himself a reformed model citizen (Lisa comments, “You’re living proof that our revolving door prison system works.”) Again, Grammar’s voice works wonders as he narrates his time in prison, and how he turned his life around upon Selma responding to his pen pal letter. Even Krusty seems willing to forgive Bob, in a tearful reunion reminiscent to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ rekindling. Only Bart remains suspect that Bob’s motives are impure.

This show is full of great moments, a fair share involving Bob’s growing annoyance and impatience awaiting his plan’s end, and having to put up with Selma, a woman on the opposite end of his high-minded spectrum. The best scene is where he cannot contain his sheer contempt of MacGyver, much to Selma’s horror (Grammar’s read of “That was a well-plotted piece of nonclaptrap that never made me want to retch” is wonderfully seeped with polite sarcasm). As much is done to make Selma particularly repulsive (excessive focus on her hairy legs here), there’s also a sweetness in showing her genuinely happy. The episode is also a unique mystery, in that we know who the killer is, we just don’t know how he’s going to do it. All the pieces fall into place, and Bart manages to figure them out before it’s too late. Super-director David Silverman does a phenomenal job here, with lots of dynamic shots, angles, shadow work; the slow-motion sequence of Selma lighting the match is dripping with tension. The show balances these moments of humor and real drama perfectly.

I think Simpsons fans can all agree that Sideshow Bob is one of the greatest characters the show has ever known, and by extension, Kelsey Grammar is one of the best guest stars (really only rivaling Phil Hartman, in my mind). Bob has committed many heinous crimes in his time, including multiple attempted murders toward our ten-year-old protagonist, but he remains one of the most affable characters in the entire series. Grammar’s smooth, intellectual performance, a voice I could listen to all day, plays a huge part in this, but there’s more to it than that. Bob favors high society, and believes in cultural and mental standards. Most of his criminal activity revolves around his attempts to better society: usurping Krusty’s show to make it more educational, running for public office, eradicating the brain rot of television. “Black Widower” is a peculiar exception, where Bob’s motives of marrying Selma aren’t exactly clear. He wants her money? To what end? I thought about this a while before I watched the episode, then I tried to put it into some perspective. This is our second Bob show, and previously we didn’t see him in a criminal light until the end of the episode. This is the show that made Bob an actual threat, a true original kind of villain. The plan may be extreme, but future greats like “Cape Feare” and “Sideshow Bob Roberts” wouldn’t work unless we establish Bob for who he is: the most highbrow attempted murderer the Simpsons universe has ever known.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I love when Bob tells Homer’s he’s forgetting the first two noble truths of the Buddha, Homer indignantly responds, “I am not!” Like he’s genuinely offended at the accusation.
– Great “Cool Hand Luke” reference with the chain gang, and Bob picking up a slew of discarded Krusty shake cups just adds to his seething rage.
– The Daytime Emmy segment is pure genius. First off, the category, outstanding performance by a sidekick in a children’s show, is ridiculous. Then the nominees are even more ridiculous: Droopy Drawers, a sad-sack lanky clown who has a very hot date, Colonel Coward, a jittery panicked mess, Pepito the Biggest Cat in the Whole Wide World, Sideshow Bob (live from prison), and Suck-Up the vacuum, who could not attend, as he (it?) is shooting a movie in Spain. That’s like six jokes done just in six seconds reading off those nominees. Even better is Pepito holding his hands over his eyes in shame when he loses. Topped off with Krusty and Bob’s bantered, and the latter’s sedation by guards, and you got yourself a classic Simpsons scene.
– I always love the bit where Bob muses, “In our overcrowded cell, we became little more than beasts…” Cut to the cell in question: “Who used my chapstick?” “I did. Here you go.” Then, in the most disturbed, shuddered voice possible, “I don’t want it.”
– Bob playing violin for the rocking conjugal visit trailers is mildly disturbing, but a brilliant semi-covert dirty joke.
– A Bob show wouldn’t be complete without having Grammar sing a song, this time karaoke with Selma to “Something Stupid,” which has a wonderful reprise when Bob delivers he’s succeeded in his plot.
– Krusty’s Jerry Lewis-like telethon is a great sequence: the ridiculous cause of motion sickness, his response to Bob’s apology for putting him in prison (“Hey, if they ever open the books on this telethon, I’m right back in there!”), his insulting of Sideshow Mel (a visibly hurt Mel watching at home says, “All I can be is myself”), and the great silly animation of Krusty kicking Bob in the ass repeatedly in clownish fashion.
– Bob’s motives are hinted at in a few scenes, which are still funny enough to excuse. He asks Selma if they can afford the wedding (“I’ve already run through eight of the ten dollars they gave me when I left prison.”) Selma assures them they’re fine (“I got money. I bought stock in a mace company just before society crumbled.”)
– Bob’s hatred of MacGyver’s the best thing in the show. After their “fight,” he can’t bring himself to say one nice word regarding it (“I can’t do it! Even that car chase seemed tacked on!”)
– I love Lisa’s bitterness toward Maggie being made the flower girl over her (“if you want to go for cutesiness instead of competence, fine.”)
– This episode is filled with fantastic animation, by the way, particularly the telethon and Sideshow Bob assaulting the bellhop.
– In the third act, Bob gets progressively more sinister; upon gazing at the fireplace (“Ah, fire. Scourge of Prometheus, toaster of marshmallows… eradicator of deadwood.”) and the scene of covering murderous murmurings as foreign sweet nothings.
– I do like how Bart normally figures out Bob’s plans, showing he’s not just a dumb kid, just one who’s not book smart. The fast-motion sequence of him repeatedly trying to explain the plan to Homer is hilarious (“I explained it to Mom and we were on our way.”)
– I’m going so long here, there’s just so much great stuff… the Psycho reference at the end with the lightbulb, Selma wanting a separation, Wiggum begging Bart to explain Bob’s plot, and the reason behind why the room exploded. I guess I’ll end with the immortal ravings of Bob as he’s being hauled off: “I’ll be back! You can’t keep the Democrats out of the White House forever. And when they get in, I’m back on the street! With all of my criminal buddies!”

55. Colonel Homer

(originally aired March 26, 1992)
The origins in “I Married Marge” have got me thinking a lot… Homer shackles himself to a job at the nuclear plant for the sake of his family, despite the fact that he is grossly unqualified and has no real interest in being a safety inspector. The only job he had much of an interest in was working at the putt-putt golf course, and that’s just because it was easy. He’s a man who never really found his calling, so knowing this, the dozens of episodes to follow involving Homer trying his hand at everything from bodyguard to grease salesman kind of make more sense. Doesn’t mean some of them don’t suck, but I just never thought about it from this angle. Anyway, this is the first show that really feels like a “Homer gets a job” episode; sure, there was “Dancin’ Homer,” but that made a conscious effort in explaining how Homer got time off from the plant. Here, he’s just knee-deep in a new profession, putting all his time into it. It’s a really heartfelt show, and a telling examination of Homer’s faithfulness.

The show starts with Homer being the most obnoxious ass possible at a movie theater, and Marge calling him out on it. Nobody likes being made a fool of in public, not even a fool as large as Homer, who takes a late night drive to cool down. At a seedy bar far from home (serving ass-backwards Fudd Beer), he first lays eyes on a beautiful waitress/songstress Lurleen Lumpkin, voiced by the lovely Beverly D’Angelo. Homer becomes entranced by her music, and the rest of the show involves his assisting her rise to fame and Marge’s increasing displeasure of this new beautiful woman in her husband’s life. Most of the humor in this episode lies in Homer’s complete obliviousness. Every scene plays out along the lines of a husband who is contemplating, or having an affair with this woman, but the thought never even crosses Homer’s radar. For a man with endless faults, you can at least say Homer is an incredibly faithful husband, who only have eyes for Marge. The first time he hears Lurleen, with her song, “Your Wife Don’t Understand You (But I Do),” he is enraptured, but it seems that he’s not even comprehending the meaning of the song (similar to later with the overly blunt “Bunk With Me Tonight.”)

This show is also a journey through a slew of slightly discourteous Southern stereotypes, culminating in the amazing Heehaw send-up “Yahoo,” featuring such hit players as Big Shirtless Ron, Butterball Jackson, and the Yahoo Recovering Alcoholic Jug Band. Lurleen herself is an interesting, if not also sad; a woman with real musical talent, but in an undermining job and station in life. She generates real sympathy, even when she throws herself at a married man toward the end, you feel bad for her predicament. The interactions between Homer and Marge are the strongest part of the show, as the two start drifting farther apart as Homer’s new career starts to take off. The ending featuring the two getting to bed as Lurleen’s surrender song plays is one of the greatest endings of the series, certainly of any Homer-Marge episode. Wherein “Life in the Fast Lane” showed an in-character Marge’s reactions to a would-be suitor, this episode is a perfect polar opposite.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer’s commentaries during the movie occasionally ring through my head when I’m in a theater (“Who’s that guy? What’d that guy just say when I said ‘Who’s that guy?'”) I also love him blowing the ending, that the secret code was the nursery rhyme he told his daughter; it’s just such a great play on a twist in that kind of a lame espionage movie.
– We know right away the Beer ‘n’ Brawl is bad news. One guy shouts, “Hey you! Let’s fight!” The other guy responds, “Them’s fightin’ words!”
– There’s a small moment in this episode that may be my favorite part; Homer’s got Lurleen’s song in his head and he sings it aloud during bowling night. Lenny chastises him for him, when Carl tells him he’s bowling a 280. Lenny then holds his ball up close and sings to it. Something about the drawing and how he speaks very softly and carefully to the ball, I laughed really hard when he did that.
– We also get the first instance of an emotionally insecure Moe, who is devastated to hear that Homer visited another bar.
– The best lines involve Homer’s blissful ignorance. He defends himself to Marge completely unabashed, “Marge, you make it sound so seamy. All I did was spend the afternoon in her trailer watching her try on some outfits.”
– I love the Corpulent Cowboy, and the salesman who talks Homer into buying his iconic suit: “Now this is made from a space-age fabric specially designed for Elvis. Sweat actually cleans this suit!”
– This is also the first instance, I believe, of Homer citing his lifelong dream, usually followed by Marge reminding him of his other lifelong dream he actually accomplished already, this time of eating the world’s largest hoagie, with a hilarious accompanying picture.
– I couldn’t wedge this into the main review, but there’s something about the story that doesn’t quite compute. I don’t really know why Homer’s so gung ho about being this woman’s manager, to the point that he hands over his life savings to the recording studio guy. I think of it more like playing to the allegory of Homer having an affair, but the farthest thing from it, that pulls him away from his family, but something about Homer’s lifelong dream to be a manager to a music star alone doesn’t work with me.
– With the “Bagged Me a Homer” sequence, I can just imagine the writers desperately trying to come up with a whole bunch of mini jokes to fill the time of the song. I dunno, I’d rather they just focused on the song, they’re kind of distracting.
– Best line of the show is after Lurleen plays Homer “Bunk with Me Tonight.” The signals could not be more clear, but Homer is completely unfazed: “Woah, that’s hot. There isn’t a man alive who wouldn’t be turned on by that. ……..well, goodbye!”
– To close, I love the quick bit we see of Yahoo with the two hicks. “Mah wife ran off with my best friend.” “You bitter?” “Yup. Bit him too. A-hyuck!” Then a board from the fence lifts up and knocks him in the crotch. Laugh track. End segment. Brilliant. I also love the alternate scene that Matt Groening quotes on the commentary: “Zeke, why did you urinate in that turnip truck?” “‘Cause it’s headin’ for New York City!” Man, I’d love to see a whole 22-minute Yahoo episode.

54. Dog of Death

(originally aired March 12, 1992)
Going into season 3, there were two episodes that remained on my mind, two episodes that exemplify the extremes of the show. The first was “I Married Marge,” a wonderfully emotional episode that has a lot of heart and shines a light on how constructs of the show and the Simpson family came to be. It has its fair share of laughs, but I love it for its story, of showing how Homer became the man he is today. Then there’s “Dog of Death.” It has a rather straight-forward plot involving another money troubles issue for the family, and a kinda forced sweet ending, but man alive, if it isn’t the funniest episode I’ve watched yet, and one of the funniest of the entire series. Amidst this somewhat serious story of the operation of a beloved family pet and the financial woes it causes, there are so many incredible, insane jokes, and each one of them hits hard. You know when you watch an episode you love, and a scene begins, and you laugh in anticipation for the joke, and then at the joke itself? I was doing that almost the whole show. This is one freakin’ funny episode.

We start with a sharp satire of a frenzied money-obsessed culture in which lottery fever sweeps Springfield. The humor is spot-on from the start, with every copy of “The Lottery” being checked out of the library and Homer’s cocky assurance that he’s got a lock by buying fifty tickets. When asked what Homer will do with his winnings, we go into the most insane dream sequence ever, possibly my favorite of the entire series. He imagines himself as a gold-plated giant, growing in size until he towers over the city, booming with his laughter, encrusted with jewels and diamonds. It’s absolutely crazy, and the stupidity is so layered: why would Homer want this, why would he think it’s a good idea, how does he think this could be bought, why is he growing bigger throughout his dream, and so on. It’s the quintessential crazy dream sequence, and I absolutely adore it. But of course, he doesn’t win, but an enthusiastic on-air Kent Brockman does.

The Simpsons then find themselves further financial hardship after an operation to fix Santa’s Little Helper’s twisted stomach. Their slightly lower standard of living and bitterness toward the family dog is slightly cruel on the surface, but played with an “of course” air to it: of course all of the family’s budget cuts bite them in the ass, with Marge missing out on her own lotto win, and Lisa, not having her Encyclopedia Generica, having to rely on a third-rate biography of Copernicus she found at the bus station (rather fortunate find if you ask me). The third act of Burns training SLH as an attack dog has plenty of great Burns-isms, and the great pictured Clockwork Orange parody of the montage of images to enrage a dog, from a tank demolishing a doghouse to Lydon Johnson. The Simpson family’s anger toward the dog dissolves when he goes missing; even Homer gets emotional about his barren leash and piddle spot on the rug. I’m sort of running out of stuff to put here… there isn’t much to analyze in terms of the meat of the episode, it’s more or less by-the-books Simpsons. Where it shines is its jokes, quotes and one-liners, so the section below will probably be quite bloated, but I’ll try to restrain myself. So yeah, funniest episode so far for sure.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Right off the bat, we have the great lottery commercial, which is just a complete unashamed unabashed lie (“The state lottery, where everybody wins!”) Then how Barney inadvertently (and surprisingly to himself) creates the insane frenzy that grips the town.
– Homer’s over-excitement and sureness of his future win is great. His restrained and slow read to Marge is great: “I have a feeling… that we may win… the lottery!!”
– This is the first show to have the “throw the book in the fireplace” gag, which almost seems like a running joke, but it couldn’t have appeared that often. He throws “The Lottery” in the fire and later a book on canine surgery. Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood from the soapbox racer show is also shown smoldering away.
– Chief Wiggum anticipating the lottery results: “No, you’ve got the wrong number, this is 91… 2.”
– When Abe quips that he knew that they wouldn’t win, Homer goes into a rage: “Well why didn’t you tell the rest of us? Why did you keep it a secret?!” He tosses over the table he’s been keeping his tickets on, then angrily directs Bart. “If you were seventeen, we’d be rich! But nooooooooooo… You had to be ten!”
– The animal hospital is great, with its tasteful disposal of lost patients, into a little trash bin with a basketball hoop over it.
– Even during a serious situation, I just love Homer and Marge’s differing ways of discussing potentially not doing the operation. Homer spins a magical tale about Doggie Heaven, then has to assert that there is a Doggie Hell (where Hitler and Nixon’s dogs live), but even Homer’s heart melts upon seeing eye-to-eye to the whimpering mutt (“Lousy manipulative dog.”)
Very great brief moment in the waiting room: they saved a man’s game cock, but he’ll never fight again. “That’s what you think. He’ll fight and he’ll win!”
– Always love a bitter Homer commenting on a newly blinged-out Kent Brockman. “He’s got all the money in the world, but there’s one thing he can’t buy. ……..A dinosaur!” Also the minor runner of the school getting proceeds from lottery tickets, which excites Skinner, but turns out to just be one eraser. To put it lightly, he ain’t happy.
I like all the photos of SLH either involving him being abused by Homer or the other way around. The winning photo for the flyers to put about town featured a petrified dog with disembodied hands entering from the left side of the frame.
– There’s some great Burns lines: seeing SLH at the kennel (“Why here’s a fellow. Wiry, fast, firm, proud buttocks. Reminds me of me.”), while training him (“If that were a real girl scout, I’d have been bothered by now!”) and his muffled “Release the hounds” whilst in his hyperbolic chamber.
– I love how Homer breaks down toward the end, redacting his story about Doggie Heaven, and his smooth back pedal (“But… to put it another way…. there is.”)
– I love how much of a selfish indulgent asshole Brockman becomes, with a ridiculous spray-on tan, gold chains and gold house, complaining about all the homeless shelters and charities that want a piece of his money.
– There’s a great swipe at the cat toward the end, who is even more disregarded in the house than the dog. No one gives a shit about cats. And the great final disclaimer: “NO DOGS WERE HARMED IN THE FILMING OF THIS EPISODE. A CAT GOT SICK AND SOMEBODY SHOT A DUCK, BUT THAT’S IT.”

53. Separate Vocations

(originally aired February 27, 1992)
Bart on the side of law and Lisa a rebel? As Skinner bluntly points out, “Has the world gone topsy turvy?” Thanks to the results of the Career Aptitude Normalizing Test (or CANT), the two Simpson siblings are handed down future careers that boggle them: police officer for Bart and homemaker for Lisa. What follows is the two taking the news to heart and how it molds them into different personas, but in a way that seems believable and not just product of an arbitrary role-reversal episode. Bart takes in the allure of the power of “the man,” starting with a ride-along with cops Eddie and Lou, where he is allowed to handle a weapon and is nearly killed by a deranged Snake. While this would traumatize a normal kid, Bart is totally psyched, eventually taking his newfound sense of poewr to the schoolyard, and soon teams up with Principal Skinner to be his eyes and ears of the school. It’s an interesting and fun dynamic to see these two rivals on an even playing field for once, and Bart retains his cocky, mischievous attitude as he pushes the envelope of his duties.

Lisa meanwhile can think of no greater fate worse than the one of her mother, it seems. We once again get more sad looks at Marge, be it here dreams of being an astronaut as a child to seeing her keep a Stepford grin on as her husband and son thoughtlessly gobble down her thoughtfully prepared breakfast. A visit to a music teacher further breaks her spirits, as she learns she has given a poor pair of genes from her father in the form of stubby fingers. Lisa has always been a brooding type, sometimes an emotional adult trapped in a child’s body, so it only seems natural that this level of discouragement would lead her to become a bitter nihilist. With her ambitions for the future crushed, she feels no need to be a model student and teacher’s pet, putting her in Marlon Brando Wild One territory (Skinner asks, “What’re you rebelling against?” Lisa, of course, responds, “Whaddaya got?”)

The Simpson siblings’ paths collide as she steals all the teacher’s editions from the school, an act that nearly turns the school into chaos. Amidst this character study show is another great Simpsons look at public education: without answers in front of them, the teachers go into a frenzied panic, now being unable to appear smarter than young children. We also get a fair share of ridiculous cut-away gags, from Bart imagining himself as a drifter, and later as a witness testifying against a mobster in court, with his identity blotted out and voiced over by the great Steve Allen. As minor as a guest spot as this is, it’s still incredibly memorable (hearing Allen get out “Aye carumba!” is hysterical). We also get the first instance of something spontaneously bursting into flames for no reason, which would become almost a Simpson staple. The show continues to get sillier, but never loses track of its emotional core, as in the sweet ending where Bart takes the fall to save Lisa’s future.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The beginning with the three children wondering what Krabappel’s surprise is very much like Homer’s co-workers imagining what his secret weapon is from the last show. And now that I think of it, it’s the same as when the family members try to guess who Selma’s new suitor is in “Black Widower.” Must have been a trendy joke for this season.
– I do love the pathetically veiled questions on the CANT test: “If I could be any animal, I would be (a) a carpenter ant, (b) a nurse shark, or (c) a lawyer bird.” “I prefer the smell of (a) gasoline, (b) French fries, or (c) bank customers.”
– Something about the ridiculousness of the test security and the Iowa testing center feels like a first time too… like first instance of ridiculous over-the-top secret operations on the show. Especially love the old man with the broom trouble shooting the machine.
– I’ve always liked Lisa’s plotting of her future: “I’ll be unappreciated in my own country, but my gutsy blues stylings will electrify the French. I’ll avoid the horrors of drug abuse, but I do plan to have several torrid love affairs, and I may or may not die young. I haven’t decided.”
– Subtext is always text on the show. The music instructor tries to break some news to Lisa: “I’ll be frank with you Lisa, and when I say frank, I mean, you know, devastating.”
– Lou commenting how Mayor Quimby is “polling the electorate” may be the dirtiest joke ever done on the show. And I didn’t even catch it until I thought about it later, and I have an absolutely filthy mind.
The car chase is so well done, with the exploding milk truck as I mentioned before, but my favorite part is the inexplicable part where they drive through a bunch of empty boxes, like in all action movies. Lou comments, “Damn boxes!” I also love the bridge between the two acts, like it’s a cop drama (“Act II: Death Drives a Stick”).
– This also is the first instance Skinner mentions he fought in Vietnam. Initially a joke, this spawned many future jokes and flashbacks, broadening his character further.
– The third act montage sequence is fantastic, with some great music by Alf Clausen, showing how Bart has taken security in the school to an extreme. In the end, he carts off best friend Milhouse, who cries, “Sure, we have order, but at what price?!”
– I love the teachers going nuts when they’re answer key-less. One panicked man cries, “Does anyone know the multiplication tables?!” And of course, Miss Hoover trying to bring herself down from a panic attack (“Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean…”)
– Another great ridiculous joke in enlisting the police to help. Their hounds catch the scent of books in the library, and they inexplicably send a battering ram into the door.
– I like the cockiness of Bart after he “confesses,” and his back and forth with Skinner, as he continually raises his number of detention days. Hitting a wall, Bart concedes, “Maybe I’ll just shut my big mouth.”