Category Archives: Season 04

81. Krusty Gets Kancelled

(originally aired May 13, 1993)
So we reach the star-studded conclusion of our fourth season. Even with all of the guest stars this show has, each one is highlighted and given a standout moment, contrasted with what wastes of time celebrity appearances would turn into. But before that, we’re introduced to the phenomenon that is Gabbo, the precocious ventriloquist dummy act that usurps Krusty’s kiddie show fame. The massive media hype is not let down at all: Gabbo is pretty damn impressive. He appears to be a traditional puppet, but has his own song-and-dance routine. No way this could be a live show, but still, that must be one sophisticated animatronic. Also, there are scenes where Gabbo and his handler Arthur Crandall exchange bits of dialogue while they’re not performing, implying that Arthur may have some kind of personality disorder. I’d like to watch a show that exclusively dealt with his personal mania.

Anyway, Krusty is unable to deal with the dummy’s wave of fame and his show ends up cancelled, and eventually goes destitute. Bart and Lisa assist their hero in his time of need, and noticing framed photos of Krusty’s showbiz friends, suggest he do a spectacular comeback show to reignite his star power. The glut of celebrity guest stars works as a mimicry of similar gala TV events, but also because each one is given their time to shine. Who could forget Bette Midler’s accosting of cars of littering drivers on the freeway? Or Johnny Carson lifting a Buick over his head? Or Flea’s overenthusiastic “HEY MOE!!” As I mentioned, the episode dances around celebrity overload, but provides enough classic moments to keep it at bay. Also, once again, what kind of show is Krusty putting on? He’s a children’s performer who opens with a dour rendition of “Send in the Clowns” (wonderful, by the way) and has Hugh Hefner and Playboy bunnies on his show. But whatever, it’s a big hit, and Krusty is restored to glory.

The episode’s rather trim storyline (Krusty’s rise and fall) is helped with plenty of laughs. Itchy & Scratchy’s Eastern European replacement Worker & Parasite is absolutely amazing, a spot-on parody of bizarre off-kilter foreign experimental animation. Krusty’s dumb-founded expression at its conclusion is hilarious. As is the appearance of Crazy Old Man (who now is Old Jewish Man, because I guess the joke was too subtle for modern Simpsons.) His “Old Grey Mare” routine is a hilarious rebutt to Krusty’s “Will Drop Pants For Food” sign, then comes back in a fantastic act break where he apparently got his own TV special in a matter of minutes. This is another one of those episodes where the story is nothing to write home about, but the fantastic use of gags and other funny bits makes it a memorable and classic outing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The epic build-up for Gabbo is great manipulative marketing. Bart smells blood in the water once the mystery is uncovered: “That cute little character could take America by storm. All he needs is a hook.” Gabbo proceeds to spout his catchphrase (“I’m a bad wittle boy”) and Bart responds with his own (“Aye carumba!”)
– Gabbo’s dancing during his musical number is wonderfully animated, again illustrating that this is one insanely sophisticated puppet. Who also does a tremendous imitation of Vin Scully. And travel back in time. I suppose that’s the doing of clever video editing… or is it?
– Love Krusty’s perverse joy in “slaughtering” the Special Olympics in the ratings.
– Krusty’s attempts to win back his audience are great: he tries his own ventriloquist act (with a giant prop mustache to disguise his poor lip sync), but the dummy is so shoddy, it falls apart and scars children for life. His next attempt also fails (“Every time you watch my show, I will send you forty dollars!” Followed by a voice-over, “Checks will not be honored.”)
– Quimby goes beyond sleazy to criminal in admitting to having his political enemies murdered, but gets away with it by parroting Gabbo’s precocious catchphrase. Next day’s paper has a sub-headline that more bodies surfaced in Springfield Harbor, but that’s not as important as Gabbo news.
– Gabbo’s crank call to Krusty is a great segment right off the bat (“Is this the callback for that porno film? Look, I was a little nervous that day, but I’m all man. I can assure you.”) Why anyone would want to see an old grotesque clown in porn is beyond me, but hey, people got all kinds of fetishes. Also love Krusty’s overenthusiastic “WOAH! ME RIKEY VERY MUCH!” Sort of foreshadows his giant teeth and dickey bit from many seasons later.
– Gabbo is unstoppable, even after on-air calling children S.O.B.s. He’s saved by Kent Brockman doing the same, but he’s fired for his blunder, almost immediately on his own show.
– I never quite understood the Elizabeth Taylor segments. I suppose that’s some kind of inside joke about her… but what? I guess the writers felt they couldn’t just blow their opportunity with Taylor for one word in “Lisa’s First Word,” just like they reused Barry White in the opening.
– I love Sideshow Mel’s quite dignity adorned with fast food regalia at his cushy job at the Gulp-N-Blow. Mel is such an underrated character; similar to Sideshow Bob in that they’re clearly intelligent thespians stuck in undermining jobs, but Mel seems more pleased with his position, and handles himself with a modicum of respect. His reunion with Krusty at the start of his comeback special is unusually touching.

Season 4 Final Thoughts
I can’t say for certain, I’ll have to wait until I’m done with next season, but season 4 feels like the bridge between 3 and 5. Dumb statement, of course it is, but I’ll explain. The Simpsons began as a traditional sitcom, very grounded and realistic to a point, but also very progressive in its content and barb. The first three seasons never really pushed this too far in terms of wacky cartoonish content. My memories of season 5, and also kinda 6, are really off-the-wall. Latter classic Simpsons is a bit more unhinged and ridiculous, with lots of silly gags and conceits, but is still made palatable by the foundations of the characters, and its fair share of emotional moments. Season 4 is the lead-up to this: we’ve seen in numerous instances with crazy stories (“Marge vs. the Monorail”) and other bizarre gags (the giant spider, Lisa’s acid trip) that the show is going to this weird place. But the balance isn’t there yet. Season 4 has a lot of fantastic episodes and great moments, but as a whole, doesn’t feel as cohesive as season 2 or 3. The show will continue to evolve, but into something just as astounding. I still salute you, season 4. Thanks for the funny. I’ll be back this weekend, roaring and ready for season 5.

The Best
“A Streetcar Named Marge,” “Lisa’s First Word,” “Homer’s Triple Bypass,” “I Love Lisa,” “Last Exit to Springfield”

The Worst
“Marge Gets A Job” and “Brother From the Same Planet” stand out, only in that they don’t really stand out.

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80. Marge in Chains

(originally aired May 6, 1993)
By the end of a long production season, the writers must be running on fumes and going a bit mental. I’ve noticed with other shows, and with my own work as well, when you’re at the tail end, you get a bit wackier and more impulsive, producing some unusual, but great stuff. “Marge in Chains” is 20 out of 22, and it’s a real silly episode. Not silly in the ways of “Marge vs. the Monorail,” but in a more grounded sense. Marge going to prison for petty shoplifting is a pretty easy surmising for this episode, but it doesn’t account for the ridiculousness that exists throughout, from the visible and vindictive flu clouds at the beginning to the really stupid, but hysterical ending.

We open with another great infomercial tag team with Troy McClure and Dr. Nick, but an ill factory worker from Osaka, Japan causes a nasty flu to invade Springfield. Marge is seemingly immune, but has her hands full with the demands of her sick husband and kids. Run ragged, she leaves the Kwik-E-Mart, accidentally not paying for a bottle of bourbon, and an unusually vindictive Apu presses charges. I guess my only gripe with the episode is how petty Apu appears to be in persecuting Marge. At this point in the series he wasn’t quite family friends with the Simpsons, but he at least acknowledged Homer as one of his best customers. However, hearing Apu say to Homer’s face that he’s going to “put this bitch on ice” is a pretty extraordinary moment. After a spectacular legal battle (one of Lionel Hutz’s best, if not the best), Marge is sentenced to thirty days in prison. The payoff of a Springfield-less Marge is absolutely ridiculous: without her lemon squares, a local bake-off is fifteen dollars short. Unable to buy a statue of Lincoln, they settle on Jimmy Carter (with the amazing “Malaise Forever” placard,) leaving the town to violently riot.

As retarded as the ending is, there’s a running theme of mob rule and the evils of gossip. An frantic, inattentive mob desperately beckons Dr. Hibbert for a cure for the flu, only to go mad and knock over a truck carrying boxes of bees (one even eats one: “I’m cured! I mean, ouch!”) In the main story, hearsay spreads through the town regarding Marge’s crime, from the highest rung of society in Mayor Quimby’s soapbox proclamation to town busybody Helen Lovejoy. Spectacle always seems to overshadow fact, and it’s sort of a subtle message to the episode, and gives some explanation for Marge’s conviction. The final mob scene responding to the Carter statue is one of the most insane in the series; they get so infuriated so quickly by the unveiling (best line of the show is from one particularly irate crowd member: “He’s history’s greatest monster!”) The scene moves so quickly; in ten seconds they’re using the statue to smash into stores and look, fires are started, and chaos ensues. It’s absolutely nuts, but hey, that’s Springfield for you. Truly an underrated episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I’ll be honest, not one of the best infomercials. I think they pushed it too far by only having the machine produce one droplet of juice from a bag of oranges; I don’t think even Homer could overlook something like that. But the additive product is great: Sun-and-Run, the suntan lotion that doubles as a laxative. McClure, having just applied it to his face, dashes off-camera upon hearing this.
– The visible flu germs are pretty silly, almost like out of a Halloween show. I do like the POV shot of the germ pursuing Wiggum, who attempts to open fire at the illness, and then later the POV of vomit falling from the sky on an unfortunate suntanning Otto.
– “Germs of Endearment” is one of my favorite Itchy & Scratchys. Jumping out the window, Scratchy manages to cram his internal organs back in his body, in a reverse manner with the brick still tied to them. Of course, that makes things okay… until he lands on a cactus. The spikes piercing both his eyes is pretty gruesome.
– Great line from Grampa demanding Marge get him bourbon: “Stir it into my mush! Either way, just gimme gimme gimme!”
I like that Apu felt the need to get Marge’s height (with hair 8 1/2 feet). What other woman is going to have a three-foot beehive of blue hair?
– Great Psycho parody of Maude peering in on Marge using her bathroom.
– Hutz’s genius is all over this one: the smoking monkey, his dread over Judge Snyder, his vision of a world without lawyers, his attempt to intercede the jury’s verdict with his own (“This verdict is written on a cocktail napkin! And it still says ‘guilty’! And ‘guilty’ is spelled wrong!”) The best scene is his attempting to discredit Apu’s memory by asking him what tie he’s wearing, and his lengthened stall as he attempts to remove it. His tie-less reveal shocks the jury, even though they must have seen Hutz removing it.
– Before being escorted to jail, we get a ridiculous fantasy of a crossdressing Bart seducing the warden to get his keys, and a sweet goodbye from Homer (“I’m going to miss you so much. And it’s not just the sex. It’s also the food preparation, your skill with stains of all kinds, but mostly I’ll miss how lucky I feel each and every morning.”)
– Great winking line from Lisa, commenting she’s felt like she’s been wearing the same red dress forever. Homer recommends she check the attic, as he walks down with full wedding regalia, clearly Marge’s from the rips and tears to fit his frame. He even put on the garter, and daintily lifts his skirt as he walks down the stairs. It’s obvious that he just wanted to wear the dress.
– I kind of wish the Carter statue with Marge hair had become a staple item like the Olmec head, where it would pop up every now and again in the background. Alas, it’s never been seen again.

79. Whacking Day

(originally aired April 29, 1993)
Whacking Day is one of those classic, long-staying Simpsons hallmarks. Mention it to even a casual fan and they’ll be able to tell you all about the questionable Springfield holiday. This is because it’s a brilliant concept, this satire of out-dated, almost barbaric local events continued to present day for the sake of remembering one’s history (the similarly themed Weird Al Yankovic song “Weasel Stomping Day” nails it with the perfect lyric: It’s tradition, that makes it okay.) However, as great an idea as this is, it doesn’t quite fill an episode. The holiday isn’t even brought up until after act one, where we have our main story of Bart being expelled and later home-schooled. I find the best episodes are the ones that are extremely focused, where everything in the entire twenty-two minutes, even if it’s an outlandish gag, is still related to the one story. Episodes like these may not reach those ranks, but are still solid stories and hilarious enough to justify themselves.

Our first act features the introduction of Superintendent Chalmers, a man even more no-nonsense than Skinner, who here is a scrambling wreck attempting to suck as much ass as he can to his superior and sweep all the troubled elements of his school under the rug, namely Bart and the other bullies. The interplay between Shearer and Azaria in Skinner and Chalmers’ scenes is fantastic; we may not have “SKINNER!!” yet, but there’s no doubt that this is a fantastic relationship off the bat, with Bart’s tormentor having one of his own. Bart of course wrecks everything and a livid Skinner expels him, leading him to become home schooled by Marge. This really takes up most of the second act, and around it are preparations for Whacking Day. We get a little bit of the history of the glorious event, and Lisa’s ever growing concerns about the ethical nature of pummeling innocent creatures to death en mass. There’s plenty of great material to be had, from Homer’s use of a long whacking stick to really excite his wife to Reverend Lovejoy bullshitting a Bible verse supposedly justifying the holiday.

Despite my earlier criticisms, the two stories do come to a head in a manner that makes sense. Homeschooling makes Bart more studious, and through most of the second half he’s seen with his head in a book. Visiting Ye Olde Springfield, he questions the factual accuracy of Jebediah Springfield participating in the very first Whacking Day. At the climax, he manages to come up with a clever plan to lure the snakes to safety and reveals to an angry mob the sham the holiday truly is. Skinner is impressed by the applied knowledge and invites Bart back to school. It all works pretty well, and is a satisfying weaving of the two plots. Also a pretty great use of a guest star with Barry White’s bass tones saving the day. It turns into a bit of a music video, but hey, who can complain. Ohhhhhh baby.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The density of the deceived bullies is great; they just can’t comprehend that they’re not getting mountain bikes. Also a small point, the shot of Skinner jumping down from high in the utility room and locking the boys in is pretty dynamic, sort of from down below but with a little skewed perspective. Classic Simpsons really had some interesting direction and visual interest, something that has all but evaporated nowadays.
– The Skinner/Chalmers scenes are just hilarious, with all of Skinner’s plans immediately backfiring. Highlighting the fawning banners, Chalmers dryly responds, “Nothing but transparent toadying.” Skinner backpedals without skipping a beat, “It was the children’s idea. I tried to stop them.” Also great is his much-too-prolonged laugh over Chalmers’ not made of stone quip and his cover of Ralph’s “What’s a battle?” “So you hear ‘r’s as ‘b’s?”
– I love positing about the lives of less-than-one-shot characters: what happened to the comely Scottish lass Willie assists? I’m sure he banged her. Then dumped her. Big Willie style.
– The tractor’s tempting of Bart, with the red tonal shift, is pretty neat, with the great chicken joke (“He’s insulting both of us!”) and a decent act break joke.
– Two great “Coming up”s for Eye on Springfield: The Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, where are they now? (a cemetery) and a nudist colony… for animals!
– Love the delayed reaction by Homer to Bart being expelled, and his indigence over his son becoming a cockney boot black.
– Gotta show some love for the Evil Homer scene, but the flashback crown has got to go to Grampa’s WWII story, in one of the greatest, most disturbing flashbacks in the series’ history. I crack up at Hitler’s outrage every time (“Das is nicht eine booby!”)
– Great Itchy & Scratchy, guest directed by Oliver Stone, recreating the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. Love the dramatic music and “Oh God!” immediately juxtaposed by the bouncy I & S outro music.
– Fantastic animation of Homer’s Whacking Day training, as well as some more dynamic direction, particularly the close-up shot of his mouth screaming a war cry.
– Olde Springfield Towne has a lot of great bits, like the auditions for village idiot and the story behind Fort Sensible. Marge and Bart being escorted out by security is good, but was done better in “Homer Alone.”
– Again, Barry White is fantastic. With that voice, I could listen to him for days. I love his shocked reaction about hearing exactly what the hell he’s actually there for: “Oh God, no. You people make me sick!”
– Miss Springfield’s “Gentlemen, start your whacking!” has got to be the second dirtiest joke of the entire series, following the sperm bank sign in “Selma’s Choice.” Prove me wrong, seasons 5 +.
– Love the stereotypical Irishman, who’s popped up a few times since, who appears to be in good spirits about Whacking Day’s origins: “‘Tis true. I took many a lump, but ’twas all in good fun!”
– Quimby has a great runner of having his aide prepare pre-whacked snakes, only to hold them in triumph immediately after the masses has turned their opinions. Quimby is outraged (“I’m sick of you people! You’re nothing but a pack of fickle mush heads!”) Surprisingly, the crowd agrees (“Give us hell, Quimby!”)

78. The Front

(originally aired April 15, 1993)
Not every episode can feature a rich, focused storyline. Here, we have two smaller scale plots running side-by-side, with nothing too extraordinary at stake or anything too grandiose. And you know what? I still loved it. It’s almost like they’re two mini-episodes, just depicting bizarre days-of-the-lives of the characters, all topped off with the fantastic “The Adventures of Ned Flanders” at the end. I always thought the show could retain its freshness with doing smaller scale stories, sometimes involving secondary characters, instead of always feeling the need to go big and brash with wacky set pieces and action sequences. Clearly the writers went the other way; I think the show could have benefited with a few episodes like this a season.

Plot 1: Bart and Lisa moonlight as Itchy & Scratchy writers under Grampa’s alias. We get some great meta humor in seeing depictions of the staff writers, the “How to Write Cartoons” book by John Swartzwelder, and animation jokes about repeating backgrounds. It all comes to a head in a finale at an award show where Grampa has been nominated. We see how scathing and sharp the show can be in the matter of seconds: the “How to Buy Action Figure Man” clip, which is all of four seconds, exquisitely parodies and encapsulates all merchandise-driven 80s cartoons and how crappy they are. Then they take a well-deserved shot at John K who although created the brilliant Ren & Stimpy, couldn’t seem to deliver his shit on time. Plot 2: Homer and Marge attend their high school reunion, where Homer is exposed for not having actually graduated, leading him to take a night class to get his GED. Great stuff at the reunion with the perfect class clown type and Homer’s various trophies. The night class stuff is a bit thin, but what we see of it works, and the joke of Homer never having passed remedial science, yet he’s still a nuclear technician is enough fuel to get us through.

I really want to talk about the Ned Flanders thing at the end. Its origins were that this episode was too short and they needed something to fill thirty seconds, so they whipped this short together, sort of parodying the quick six, seven panel Archie comics that bookend actual stories. I absolutely love it, it’s one of the best things the series has ever done. As I mentioned above, it shows how genius and impacting the show can be in such little time. The chorus singers, the title card, the classic set-up and punch, and the outro; so succinct, quick and perfect. I only wish we’d have seen more stuff like this, little skits from different characters serving as outros. Might have been neat to see. But maybe it’s for the best that “Everyone Loves Ned Flanders” is one-of-a-kind; it makes it that much more special.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I love how angry Krusty gets at his special guest chef bringing up his heritage (“I don’t do the Jewish stuff on the air!”) Guess he’s gone right back to stereotypical self-loathing after his tearful on-air reconciliation with his rabbi father.
– The lackluster Itchy & Scratchy at the start is great; Shearer’s “Ow”s and Castellaneta’s Itchy gigglings really make me laugh, as does their on-point anti-drug message as their closer.
– Bart’s fantasy at hijacking Santa’s sleigh at gunpoint is one of the more disturbing, and hilarious dream sequences of the series. And that includes the later one in the episode of Grampa as a belle in the old west.
– Love Bart & Lisa’s internal logic regarding rock paper scissors; my friend and I mimicked this basically every time we or some other friends of ours had a face-off.
– When Bart asks Grampa what his first name is, Abe’s knee-jerk reaction is perfect: “You’re making my tombstone?!”
– Not quite sure why the I & S scripts are so long. I’d imagine a typical short would fit on one script page, two tops.
– Homer’s mixing up his real life with Happy Days is a subtle comment on how pop culture infuses itself into our memories. It’s also really funny.
– Castellaneta subs for Jon Lovitz as a rich fancypants Artie Ziff. Oddly, he and Homer’s indecent proposal conversation later became an episode. I guess not so odd, since one of the writers probably re-watched this later on and thought, “Hey, that’s good enough for a show.”
– Love Homer’s sense of pride in winning so many unflattering awards, from Most Weight Gained (“I discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch”) and Least Distance Traveled. Stripped of his winnings after being exposed for not graduating, Homer vows to regain his pride… and his Most Improved Odor trophy.
– Grampa looks damn sharp in his new suit, and I love the wording he gives to his new job (“They pay me eight hundred dollars a week to tell a cat and mouse what to do!”) Homer envisions carting him off to the nut house.
– More Homer bartering with his brain in psyching himself for his final exam (“All right brain, you don’t like me, and I don’t like you. But let’s just get me through this, and I can get back to killing you with beer.”) His brain accepts the conditions.
– The plunger at the very end may be the longest possible callback, but I still love it, and it’s the perfect way to resolve the Homer story.

77. So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clipshow

(originally aired April 1, 1993)
In an era where one can find any movie or TV show on the Internet in about ten seconds, clip shows are wholly unnecessary. A year or so back, The Office did a clip show and I was perplexed as to why, as I looked at my season box sets of the show next to my TV. But in 1993, not only were there no home video releases, the show wasn’t even in syndication as it is now, so a clip show showcasing classic moments of the first three seasons wasn’t so bad of an idea. There’s no real way you can stack this episode up against the rest of the season, but for what it is, it’s pretty damn good. A lot of it is new animation, with a completely clip-free act one, and most of the clips seem to either fit naturally to the characters’ recollections, or comment on the silliness of the clip show itself.

Our set-up is it’s April Fool’s Day and Bart’s attempts to trick his father as he so giddily did to him. With help from an industrial paint shaker, he shakes a beer can up to the max, and when Homer lifts the tab, it causes an alcoholic eruption that blows the roof off the house. Ridiculous, yes, but still very funny, as Wiggum hungrily proceeds to the site on foot (Lou calls in backup: “We need pretzels, repeat, pretzels!”) At the hospital, we’re treated to an assortment of clips: X-rays of Homer’s battered skull leads to a montage of Homer getting hurt, the doctor treating Homer is revealed to be the veterinarian from “Dog of Death” so we flashback to that show, and Marge and the kids reflect on moments of the past. The writers seem to acknowledge their shame with two overt winks: after recalling an Itchy & Scratchy episode, Bart comments, “It was an amusing episode… of our lives.” Later, Grampa describes what a coma is like: “You relive long lost summers, kiss girls from high school, it’s like one of those TV shows where they show a bunch of clips from old episodes.” Pointing out a shortcoming doesn’t excuse it, but at least they were conscious of it. Never did I feel the need to fast-forward through any clips, and darn it all if I didn’t feel for Bart expressing remorse for his prank at his father’s bedside. Only The Simpsons could achieve actual emotion during a studio-mandated clip show.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I love Homer’s childish glee in pranking his son, and his taunting when Bart vows to get him back: “You couldn’t fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine!”
– Lisa’s retelling of the origins of April Fool’s Day is a classic segment, started off with a classic Homer line (“God bless those Pagans”) and a great flashback with old era Simpsons and Flanders (“Now who’s laughing!”) I also like how Homer absently attempts to take credit for the story afterwards. It’s one of those jokes that only works on TV; like Lisa finished telling the story and Homer concludes it out of thin air.
– Bart spying on Homer gives him adequate hints for his ultimate prank. Opening the fridge, Homer picks up a beer and comments to no one (“Ah, my one weakness. My Achilles heel, if you will.”) He then drops the can and picks it up (“It’s a good thing that beer wasn’t shaken up any more, or I’d have looked quite the fool. The April Fool, as it were.”) I still use that line whenever I’ve done something quite foolish.
– Another sign that an added effort was put into this show: additional animation to the climax of “Bart the Daredevil” with new animation of Homer falling down the gorge a second time, getting hit on the head with the gurney rather than the skateboard.
– I will say I don’t like that they used a clip from “Treehouse of Horror” as one of Marge’s memories, since it technically wasn’t canon. Then again a later clip show will actually have Kang and Kodos show up in the regular universe, so I guess I should save my bitching ’till then.
– Great One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest parody as Barney, shocked in hearing Homer’s new aversion to beer, smothers him, throws a water fountain through the window and takes off like the Chief. Moe reacts, “He really needs a girlfriend.”
– Brief comment on a clip to lavish more love on the Land of Chocolate sequence. I just wrote that the music in “Last Exit to Springfield” was my absolute favorite, but the chocolate music comes in a very close second. They’re both very similar instrumentally though so it may be a dead heat.
– Great “D’oh!” montage, but some clips are reused twice. At this point you could do a “D’oh!” montage that could probably take up a 22-minute show.
– I do like the end where Homer attempts one last prank, but the joke’s on him. And the great line, “Me lose brain? Uh-oh!” Followed by laughter.

76. Last Exit To Springfield

(originally aired March 11, 1993)
What is the greatest Simpsons episode ever? Completely subjective of course, but a few select shows have become notorious for being labelled the absolute greatest by a variety of sources. “Last Exit to Springfield” seems to pop up the most: it was named best episode ever by an Entertainment Weekly piece, along with many other journals and Internet bloggers. Years back when I read the EW piece I was a bit surprised at their #1 pick. “Last Exit” was not an episode that really stuck out for me. Re-watching it now, I can certainly see why people love it, it contains the best of all of the show’s greatest elements: a tight, rich plot, lots of great ridiculous gags and parodies, and some interesting character stuff sprinkled in. Some people might feel the need to nitpick at such a highly regarded episode, but why bother? It’s a fantastic episode that shows just how damn great the show can be.

The story’s pretty easy to surmise: Burns hopes to undercut his workers’ dental plan, causing Homer to unwittingly step up as head of the union, later resulting in a power plant strike. One thing I love about this episode is how focused it is, how every element is tied into the plot. The McBain opener is hilarious on its own, but Mendoza’s cartoonish villainy is purposely mirrored to Burns’. The bits with Lisa and the dentist are all connected since that’s what drives the main story. Episodes like these feel like they have more weight; there are still a fair share of wacky gags, but they all serve a purpose as the story moves along. Also great is our hero Homer, after rousing up enough enthusiasm to become union leader to begin with, seems to absent-mindedly ride the rest of the story out. Burns raises him to a superior level as Homer fights with his own mind. Any attempt by Burns to reach Homer is completely futile as the loveable oaf has no idea what he’s doing; Burns underestimates Homer, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s not until the end when he finally realizes that.

There’s parodies galore in this show, sometimes piling up two or three in a row. We have Homer imagining himself in Godfather Part II (“That’s-ah nice-ah donut”), Lisa’s legally distinguishable Yellow Submarine hallucination, immediately followed by the scene from Batman where Joker smashes the mirror, and the ending with Burns standing in for the Grinch, and Smithers as poor Max (in a wonderfully animated sequence). There’s absolutely classic gags as well: a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters, “Dental plan!” “Lisa needs braces,” Grampa’s rambling story about onion belts, Homer thinking Burns is making a pass at him, the list goes on. I don’t know how high up this show would rank in my favorites list, but it certainly is one of the best of this season. It’s an absolute classic in every sense of the word: satirical, sincere, and of course hilarious.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The ‘Springfield, 1909’ flashback is fantastic: in sepia tone we see Grandpa Burns haranguing a poor urchin workers for attempting to pocket six atoms, with young Monty Burns with lolly in tow. The squeaky voiced wage slave protests: “You can’t treat the working man this way. One day, we’ll form a union and get the fair and equitable treatment we deserve! Then we’ll go too far, and get corrupt and shiftless, and the Japanese will eat us alive!” It’s one of those classic Simpsons lines that tells so much in so little.
– I also really like how the story really occurs through happenstance. Burns just wants petty revenge against the unions and picks to cut the dental plan at random. If he’d chosen anything else, Homer wouldn’t have felt the need to protest, and there’d be no episode. But that’s how life works sometimes: the biggest events are triggered by the smallest decisions.
– Painless Dentistry (formerly ‘Painful Dentistry’) is a great set-piece, with the most vindictive dentist you’ve ever seen, armed with his greatest asset “The Big Book of British Smiles.” Great bits include him loudly calling Marge a liar as she tries to cover up Maggie’s pacifier sucking (followed by the baby sucking on a giant tooth as substitute,) his virtual depictions of future Lisas with ghastly teeth, and his terrifying words to Lisa before going under (“The first thing I’ll be doing is chiseling some teeth out of your jaw bone. Hold still while I gas you!”)
– At this point the joke of Burns not knowing who Homer is had run its course, so here we have Smithers trying to remind him by mentioning the numerous memorable encounters he’s had with the man. Burns still runs a blank.
– An easy joke, but still hilarious: Homer mentions how he’ll have to be a good negotiator, then Bart bilks him out of his crummy danish in exchange for a delicious doorstop.
– We not only get one great Burns monologue where Homer confuses as an advance, but two, the second further urging Homer’s need to take a piss. Being in Burns’ leaky basement (which he should really stop ending his tours in) and spilling some of his coffee doesn’t help. The best is the end of the scene where Homer dodges Burns question about finding the bathroom; he obviously just urinated in a random room out of desperation.
– Love the school photographer’s overreaction to Lisa’s antiquated braces: “There is no God!”
– The sequence of Burns and Smithers running the plant is one of my favorites in the entire series, and the music over it is definitely my favorite piece of music ever done on the show. I remember in a much, much later episode it was used again in a much, much poorer Burns and Smithers montage, and I was infuriated that they brought it back in such a shoddy way. I’ll have fun ripping that to shreds when I get to that episode… about a year from now.
– This episode’s phenomenal, but it contains the first of many wasted, superfluous guest stars in Dr. Joyce Brothers, who has one line (“I brought my own mic!”) I don’t know if they had other material for her that they cut, but it was kind of quick and random. Thankfully the Smartline segment is hilarious anyway, with the producers instructing Kent to not talk to Homer and allowing Burns his self-proclaimed opening tirade.
– Love the Get Smart montage of Burns and Smithers getting to the main power grid, only to have a ramshackle screen door already there. Burns cutting power to the town is a pretty dramatic scene (“Goodbye, Springfield! From hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”)

75. Duffless

(originally aired February 18, 1993)
Homer is our lovable everyman, a creature of habit, and due to this and the inelastic status quo, episodes like these are going to feel slightly disingenuous. Just as we know he’s going to continue stuffing his face with donuts following his triple bypass, we know that despite the sweet ending of this show, Homer will be back to getting blazing drunk by next week. Despite its title, Homer’s month-long alcoholic abstinence is really only in the final act; beforehand we have a lot of fun at the Duff brewery, witness the fallout of Homer’s semi-drunken behavior, and go along a nice B-plot involving Lisa’s revenge on her brother for the school science fair. It might not have the tightest story, but this episode is still memorable in its aim and high proponent of laughs.

Through use of secret catacombs, Homer escapes the power plant and takes a day trip with Barney to the Duff Brewery. From that point, we have a healthy bevy of source material to mine: we see the old limited animation Duff commercials from the fifties, as well as Kennedy and Nixon’s endorsements of the beer, each with varying levels of audience approval (Homer voices his disdain toward Nixon: “The man never drank a Duff in his life.”) Homer chooses to drive a perpetually drunk Barney, but is pulled over by the cops. He passes a drunk test in standing on his one foot and saying the alphabet, but an outburst from Barney gets him to take the breathalyser and fail. As unsettling as it may have been, I think the episode could have had more weight if Homer had been extremely drunk, as it would greater illuminate his problem and Marge’s urgings for him to quit. Homer displayed somewhat of a responsibility in refusing to let Barney drive, and while he was above the legal limit, still seemed to be coherent enough. I felt bad for Homer, when I should have felt bad about him.

These quibbles are minor, though, as the show is still hilarious. Homer’s “Seventeen” song is fantastic, as are the Springfield AA meetings, featuring Ned Flanders, four thousand days since his last drink (in which he made a drunken outburst defaming Ann Landers) and Hans Moleman, who reveals he is only thirty-one years old. The B-story is pretty great, where following Bart ruining Lisa’s science project, she enacts a study to determine if her brother is smarter than a hamster (of course, he is not). I like seeing Lisa defend her studies as scientific to disguise her childish sibling rivalry, and one of the most disturbing parodies ever of A Clockwork Orange where Bart reaches for the two cupcakes (topped with cherries, no less.) Homer’s beer-less month is a montage of wonderful sequences, culminating in what almost seems like a personal onslaught from the Duff company unto Homer. He resists, however, in favor of a bike ride for two with Marge. We know it won’t last, but at least it was fun getting there.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We open with Bart’s dream of the science fair and a slightly offensive line from Skinner: “For a school with no Asian kids, I think we put on a pretty darn good science fair.”
– Yet another instance of Homer’s brain betraying him, as he somehow manages to mix up his inner thoughts and his spoken words, openly admitting to skip work to go to the brewery. In a bind, he screams and runs out the door at first sign of question.
– The catacombs of the plant aren’t ridiculous enough, so we have a giant spider. It makes no sense, but hey, it’s funny. I love Barney as the vigilant lookout (“Hey! That looks like Princess Di! Oh, wait, it’s just a pile of rags.”) Some would say not so funny in hindsight. I say, still hilarious.
– Great slow-mo sequence of the tomato ever so slowly exploding on Skinner’s ass. Opportunity presented itself, and Bart had no choice but to answer the call.
– Quality control is very important at Duff, as one man picks out the bum bottles containing rats and syringes, which for God knows why ended up in there in the first place. His momentary distraction lets a few questionable items go, including Hitler’s severed head.
– I love Duff’s many flavors, but especially Tartar Control Duff, which I would only hope can substitute as a toothpaste.
– Homer trying to knock out Barney is an amazing scene, particularly him repeatedly slamming his head in the car door, with an echoed “Ow!” each time. I only wish it had been dragged out a little longer before Barney conceded.
– Another instance of stuff spontaneously exploding, as Wiggum, in a happy beer stein costume, rolls down a hill into a tree, and erupts in a fiery inferno. That’s the act break, by the way. After commercial he’s just fine though, though he mixes up DOA and DWI. Marge is relieved to hear this difference, but Wiggum dodges out the other unfortunate wife called in.
– Twice this show Bart mimics the Three Stooges: he gives a “Sointenly!” to Lisa’s request to hold the giant tomato, and upon being shocked by an electrode-fused cupcake, he slaps his face and comments, “Wise guy, eh?” Respect the classics, man.
– It’s a quick one, but the traffic school video is one of Troy McClure’s best appearances, if only for the great two previous titles he mentions (“Alice’s Adventures Through the Windshield Glass” and “The Decapitation of Larry Leadfoot”) and the completely inappropriate (off-screen) montage of grotesque car crashes and McClure’s cheery commentary (“Here’s an appealing fellow; in fact, they’re a-peeling him off the sidewalk!”)
– The science fair has some great stuff: the psychotic over-helpful father shooing his kid away from his project, Ralph’s alcohol-fueled car (“One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me…”), and Milhouse’s lame duck Slinky. Lisa continues to urge her project is in the interest of science (her brain puts it in more layman’s terms: “That’ll learn him to bust my tomater”), but Bart bests her by stealing her hamster and creating a project of sheer showmanship, with a pinstripe suit, and wins first prize.
– More great bits in Homer’s dry month: the rather offensive Duff commercial, realizing how boring baseball is, his shameless admission at AA, and suffering through Patty & Selma’s tupperware party (he quietly comments, “I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer.”)