Category Archives: Season 07

153. Summer of 4 Ft. 2

(originally aired May 19, 1996)
So immediately following our star-studded rocktacular finale is a slightly more low-key companion, and as most meditative episodes are, it’s about Lisa. We start with the ending of another school year, where Lisa makes the shocking discovery that being hall monitor and head of the yearbook committee hasn’t done much to make her popular, finding she hasn’t a friend in the world. A brief sidebar, I always wonder about the character of Janey in these situations; she’s occassionally shown as Lisa’s friend, but other times appears disinterested in her. My opinion, she’s a fickle bitch in sheep’s clothing. Same with all the other girls at her slumber party in “Flaming Moe’s,” or any other time we see girls with Lisa. None of them really “get” Lisa, thus her loneliness. This malaise sets in right as the Simpson family are heading off to Flanders’ beach house for the summer. Deciding a different approach is needed to solve her dilemma, Lisa concludes she must create a new identity for herself, leaving town with an empty suitcase.

The family (plus Milhouse) arrives at sunny Little Pwagmattasquarmesettport, another Simpsons name that’s absolutely brilliant for reasons I can’t accurately explain. Lisa’s first step is to get a new outfit: a tie dye number with backwards cap and tinted sunglasses. I love how it’s basically a getup from the eyes of someone approximating what a cool kid would wear; it almost works. She runs across some kids under the pier, laid back beach town folks who aren’t the sharpest, but are overall nice people. A lot of the episode’s charm comes from Lisa’s nervousness in not just keeping up the charade of her alternate persona (“Like, y’know, whatever…”), but also in just being in social situations. Particularly great is her first encounter, where she’s garnered up the will to walk over to the kids, then is greatly spooked by a wayward seagull. She is eventually welcomed into the group, and builds a particular bond with the sole girl, Erin, performed with a genuine relaxed nature by Christina Ricci.

There’s a few other things going on around the Lisa story to generate more laughs. Homer embarks on a mission to procure some illegal fireworks, which of course results in an amusing catastrophe. Even more fantastic is Milhouse, who seems to only be there be obligation that Marge told Bart that he should bring someone. He ends up becoming the ultimate third wheel; his presence is not really desired by anyone, he’s just tolerated for being there. Meanwhile Bart is discouraged that Lisa’s friends aren’t as easily swayed by his antics as those back in Springfield. As petty vengeance, she uses the school yearbook to expose Lisa’s nerdy self, devastating her. The Milhouse stuff works particularly well in the third act when Bart and Lisa are heavily antagonistic toward each other, and Milhouse is none-the-wiser in the middle taking the brunt of their childish attacks. All is well in the end, of course, as the kids accept Lisa for the person she is, in the form of desecrating Homer’s car with sea shells. A bit of a heel face turn, but it still works, and is a satisfying enough end for a swell show.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great acting, vocally and animation-wise, on Milhouse imitating the different types of sprinklers.
– Nice sign outside the Yearbook Office (“Immortalizing Your Awkward Phase,”) and wonderful bit when Lisa uses a box cutter to retrieve the new books, unknowingly holding up one with a humungous tear right on the cover. Noticing it, she tosses it aside and holds up a fresh one. The name “Retrospecticus” is also brilliant; I’m sure Lisa spent a while coming up with an intellectual name that ultimately no one will pay mind to.
– Great comeback to Nelson’s classic “Who died and made you boss?” to which Lisa responds, “Mr. Estes, the publications adviser.” No mind is really paid to this, as Nelson takes charge and just passes out all the books to the crowd. Now those books looked pretty expensive; not only am I surprised the school could afford them, but I’m sure they wouldn’t want them to be handled by eight-year-olds and end up given away.
– Nice freeze frame moment of Lisa’s superlatives, including record holder for most hand raises in a semester (763), and tidiest locker (unopposed).
– Wonderful scene of Flanders talking to Homer over the fence about his “rhubarb of a pickle of a jam.” It’s a double whammy of jokes, as the uninterested pose of Homer with his one arm on the fence is hilarious, as is Flanders recounting he’s been called for jury duty and the basics of the case, all of which flows so realistically like he’s actually recalling the information. Homer gives him the hand motion to get to the point and Ned asks if he wants to use his beach house. Homer agrees, only if he also look at his septic tank.
– Great, great bit when Lisa muses about her loneliness, gesturing to her books (“These are my only friends. Grownup nerds like Gore Vidal, and even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will.”) Marge, none the wiser, responds, “Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls.”
– Love the silliness that Lisa packed a microscope to bring to the beach. And great callback at the end when in the yearbook, one of the kids wrote to bring her microscope next time.
– Love all the post-it notes around the Flanders house. Even Marge is annoyed by the overkill; she finds an empty ice tray in the freezer, each slot with a note, “Fill Me.” She incredulously asks, “With what, Ned?” She flips the note over to reveal another continuing, “With Water.” Also great is Homer taking the “Put Food In Me” off the fridge and onto his gut.
– Great timing of Homer and his “improvised swimsuit,” wearing a welcome mat over his groin. He walks outside, says hello to a person, then we see the reflection of red and blue sirens. I suppose he said hello to a cop right outside the door.
– Hilarious bit of Homer gleefully driving the car in low tide.
– Love the family playing Mystery Date, seems appropriate the Flanders would have a lame board game lying around for fun. Especially great is Homer’s slow giddy realization that the dud looks strikingly similar to Milhouse (“Hey! He looks just like you, Poindexter!”)
– Homer’s casual read to the Apu substitute at the kwik stop is such a great performance (“Let me have some of those porno magazines… large box of condoms… a couple of those panty shields, andsomeillegalfireworks, and one of those disposable enemas. Ehhh… make it two.”) Not suspicious at all. Also great is Marge’s bewilderment unpacking the items (“I don’t know what you have planned tonight, but count me out.”) The convenience clerk also has a gem of a line, presenting Homer with the M-320 (“Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it.”)
– Nice bit when Lisa and the kids are hanging out at the house; Erin mentions that her mother would be intrusive in offering Rice Krispie squares and Tang. Marge, coming in with a tray of just that, hears this and does a quick 180 back in the kitchen.
– Homer’s firework fiasco is a pretty spectacular sequence, culminating in the dishwasher erupting with a bunch of charred gunk. And great followup as we see Marge in the background mopping it all up in the next scene. There’s a lot of pitiful Marge stuff in this episode, from her talking about how she always dreamed her daughter would be her best friend, and the start of the third act as a smiling, but internally devastated Marge looks at the sunrise through the window whilst blindly scrubbing at all the destroyed dishes in the sink.
– I like how Lisa is utilizing all of Bart’s old catchphrases, like she figured they would work for her audience. Bart is indignant of protecting his expressions, but Marge is less receptive (“Oh, you haven’t said that in four years. Let Lisa have it.”)
– Great callback to “Bart on the Road;” apparently there actually is a grammar rodeo.
– Wonderful acting moment as Lisa snaps at Bart at the breakfast table, then snaps back when Marge re-enters the room. And great reveal with the cereal box to see that Milhouse was at the table the whole time. That leads great to the carnival scene where he is caught in the middle of their fight. I especially like the end when Lisa’s bumper car goes out of the ring and taps a tree… and a bird’s nest falls on her head.
Great read by Homer, undercutting the sentimental climax: “Sweet merciful crap! My car!!” Leading right to the fallout, seeing the sea-adorned car is being harangued by seagulls. Bart is redeemed by having the kids sign Lisa’s yearbook, and Milhouse giddily points out his own signature, “See you in the car!” My friend signed that in my yearbook one year, right in the corner and all.

Season 7 Final Thoughts
In terms of favorite season so far, it’s a tie between 3 and 5, with 3 championing in more emotional and grounded stories that examine our characters, and 5 succeeding in cramming as many ridiculous and crazy gags and laughs into each show as possible. Season 7 is the happy marriage between these two elements, each episode managing to find new successful ways of having its cake and eating it too. The show excels in its ability to blend the truly emotional with the hilarious, and this season does it in spades. Like season 3, a lot of the shows feel very grounded and realistic in spending time with our characters combatting with life and each other. When the kids are taken into protective services, or Homer’s mother must leave him again, moments are played very straight, but peppered with jokes that don’t distract, but sweeten the moment. And even at its silliness, like “Two Bad Neighbors,” the show still feels real to me, and that’s the highest compliment you can really give any fiction. We still have one more classic season left, but I’m pretty confident season 7 has a lock for favorite season. It’s stupendous.

The Best
“Bart Sells His Soul,” “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming,” “A Fish Called Selma,” “Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield,” “The Curse of the Flying Hellfish”

The Worst
No worst. Best season is a perfect season.

152. Homerpalooza

(originally aired May 19, 1996)
Serving as the “official” finale for the season, I’m sure it was highly advertised for its clientele of guest stars, including Cypress Hill, Peter Frampton and the Smashing Pumpkins. Gimmicky? A little bit, yes, but back in these days, major guest appearances mostly served as set dressing for a larger story, in this case Homer’s attempts to relive his carefree youth amongst a new generation. Previous episodes have shown some light on Homer’s arrested development, on how knocking up Marge forced him to make the leap from boy to man much quicker than he’d hoped. As such, he still considers himself a fun-loving party animal, even if he doesn’t party anymore, and also his idea of partying consisted of singing Bee Gees with Barney at his father’s house. He’s shocked to discover not only does he have no idea or interest in new alternative rock, but his kids think that he’s lame. To rebut, he gets them tickets to the hip music concert Hullabalooza.

For Homer, Hullabalooza is a strange new world, full of heavily disaffected teens who don’t want some old man cramping their nonconformist style. But fortunately for him, he finds a different avenue to make the scene, thanks to his seemingly iron clad stomach. A malfunctioning cannon shoots a compacted inflatable into his gut, and the crowd is shocked to find it didn’t affect him at all. With that, Homer is welcomed into the freak show, traveling town after town getting a cannonball right in the stomach. It’s an interesting way to get Homer to fit in, not really giving him a specific talent but highlighting his very high tolerance for pain, which we’ve seen plenty before, and we’ll see plenty onward. It isn’t long before all the stunts start taking his toll; tests show that his stomach is near demolished, and one more cannonball could kill him. Of course his next stunt is on home turf in Springfield, and seeing his family in the crowd, he dodges the shot at the last second, knowing that they’re too important to take the risk.

Digs at the then-current music scene act as lovely set dressing, between the highly commercialized music festival to the hilarious animation of the diehard fans slowly swaying to the beat, looking absolutely uninterested, because that’s how the cool kids act. When he has the will, Homer is a man full of energy, and this is just not his crowd. The scene where he dares to address one of them and the crowd turns on him in rapid succession is so well timed, with accusations piling on and the tension building up until they throw him out. The guest stars have their moments, some better than others, but overall all fine; particularly great is Peter Frampton, who always seems to be irate about something, and Cypress Hill, who have a great scene whispering to each other wondering if they ordered a classical orchestra whilst under the influence. There’s also some neat direction in showing Homer’s stunts, coming up with different ways to shoot Homer getting shot at over and over again. In the end, no lesson has really been learned on what it means to be cool, as if you’re an adult, there’s just no pleasing the younger generation. That’s just the way it is.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Fantastic opening sequence where a daydreaming Otto drives the bus into the junkyard, right into a car crusher. He and the kids must quickly get out the back before the bus is completely demolished, and spit out in a greatly condensed version of itself. Smash cut to Marge reading a letter at home (“Dear parents. Due to yesterday’s unscheduled field trip to the auto wrecking yard, the school bus will be out of commission for two weeks. By reading this letter out loud, you have waived any legal responsability on our part in perpetuity throughout the universe.”)
– I love Grand Funk Railroad, so I’m on Homer’s side with this one. I love his rock music history lessons (“Grand Funk Railroad paved the way for Jefferson airplane, which cleared the way for Jefferson starship. The stage was now set for the Alan Parsons project, which I believe was some sort of hovercraft.”)
– The music store is one of the best store names of the show’s history: Suicide Notes (formerly Good Vibrations). Not only are they great puns, but they exemplify the difference in generations of music, clearly and succinctly. So brilliant.
– The music store clerk is befuddled at Homer’s mention of Apple computers, which at the time was not really a widely recognized name… yet.
– Great flashback of Homer looking on at some cool kids in their tricked out van, dubbed the second-base mobile. Why not third, why shoot so low? The following sequence is so fantastic with the strobe effect of Homer getting closer and closer to the van, in the same standing position, and then clearly realizing he’s not wanted, and cut to him back far away again.
– Best line of the show goes to Grampa, responding to teenage Homer’s claims that he’s not “with it”: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now, what I’m with isn’t ‘it’, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me.”
– Nice quick and telling line from Marge when Homer bemoans how weird the record store seemed to him (“Record stores have always seemed crazy to me, but it doesn’t upset me. Music is none of my business.”)
– I don’t know how good it is for business to hold a big music festival on a weekday, but I suppose its clientele appear to be teenagers skipping school, dropouts and the unemployed. And we tie up the driving to school story with a great fake-out, deliciously milked by Homer (“I must be getting forgetful in my old age. Open the glove compartment and fetch me my brain medicine.”)
– Nice homage to R. Crumb as Homer struts his stuff, trying to connect with the young peoples.
– I like how we gloss over the big plot point of Homer leaving his family for an extended period to go on tour in a freak show with one scene: Marge is dissatisfied, of course, telling Homer he doesn’t have to do something just because the opportunity presented itself. Homer responds politely, “You know, Marge, in some ways, you and I are very different people.”
– I love how meek Homer is addressing the crowd at his first performance. Latter day Homer would be bombastic and loud, but here he has a bit more humility. He builds up his courage in ensuing performances, as he grows more and more comfortable with himself, like a real person would.
– Nice bit where Homer signs a cannonball for a kid, gives it back to him, and the weight immediately pulls him down.
– Nice exchange between Homer and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins (“My kids think you’re the greatest. And thanks to your gloomy music, they’ve finally stopped dreaming of a future I can’t possibly provide.” “Well, we try to make a difference.”)
– Cypress Hill takes a cue from Nelson, giving a “Haw-haw!” at Bart when Marge briefly recounts when he ripped his pants at the Christmas play.
– I would like to hear the full version of “Insane in the Membrane” with orchestral accompaniment. Love the serious expression of the one violinist too.
– Like how the manager calls Homer a yellow-bellied freak. …isn’t everyone?

151. Much Apu About Nothing

(originally aired May 5, 1996)
Now look at this; a scant two episodes after “22 Short Films” showed us the potential of our supporting cast, we have an episode further examining our favorite jovial price-gouging convenience store clerk. Who doesn’t love Apu? Starting as basically a quick observation gag that Indians run all quick stop joints, he evolved into a very rounded character, a man embodying service with a smile and immense pride of his work. To prove he’s gone way past a stereotype, go to your local 7-11 and see if the man behind the counter doesn’t look like he wants to kill himself. Anyway, not only do we learn a lot about Apu in this episode, it’s coupled with some political satire regarding anti-immigration legislation. I believe this was a hot button issue in California at the time, and wouldn’t you know it, all the jokes and jabs are just as relevant today, if not more so. When this show would tackle issues, it seems like they only went after things that they knew would never go away, so episodes could remain relevant. They were mindful like that back then.

The episode begins with an uproar in Springfield after a curious bear wanders into a residential area, resulting in Mayor Quimby implementing a bear task force. Then the citizens are upset over being taxed for said force, leaving Quimby’s hands tied. He then realizes he can just pass the buck onto another issue: it’s those damn illegal aliens’ fault! He proposes a proposition to deport all illegals, which the town quickly gets on board for. I’m sure there’s probably many viewpoints on this, and there could be stuff I’m forgetting, but I consider this the first first act that’s irrelevant to the main plot. Now this would become common practice in later years, with stories that are much more ridiculous than this, but you could easily divorce it from the rest of the episode and it would still make sense. That being said, at least the first act sets up the idea of a quick-to-act, easy-to-please collective mindset, that they can’t put it together that they can’t have it both ways regarding protection from bears and being taxed for it. That being said, of course they go with Quimby’s dumb proposition. The connection is a bit tenuous, but nowhere near as thin as first acts would become.

The Simpsons learn that Apu is an illegal, and all try to help him pass his citizenship test. In between we have a great segment where he purchases a fake ID and documents from Fat Tony, and heeds the mobster’s advice to “act American.” Adorned with a cowboy hat and ridiculous accent, Apu tells Homer that he’s just like him (“What do you say we take a relaxed attitude towards work and watch the baseball game?”) It’s a great performance by Azaria, which only gets better when Apu finally breaks and expresses his sorrow about betraying his heritage, how he wants to stay in this land he loves, but as himself. It’s a wrenching scene that feels so genuine, so much that it manages to permeate Homer’s thick skull, inspiring him to go against Prop 24. Later when Apu passes his test, Homer gives an impassioned speech about how immigrants are the backbone of the country and to vote no, and the crowd goes out in droves… to vote yes. He’s dumbfounded (“When are people going to learn? Democracy doesn’t work!”) Sure, it’s a repeat joke from Kent Brockman, but it works just as well the second time.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I love how insanely panicked Ned is at seeing the bear on the street, who is really doing nothing. Maude can’t unlock the door because she’s panicked too, leaving Ned to smash through the window.
– The bear part is pretty silly, with Homer climbing a wire we’ve never seen before or since to get to his car, but falls. There’s a great shot of a pathetic terrified Homer looking up at the bear, and I also love that when Wiggum shoots the tranquilizer dart, Barney has walked out of nowhere to be the recipient of it. Of course, he breaks it open and drinks the sweet contents inside… then collapses.
– Homer’s at his thickest here (“I’m sick of these constant bear attacks. It’s like a frickin’ country bear jambaroo around here!”)
– Wasn’t a fan of Moe claiming the bear was “smarter than the average” and “swiped [his] pic-a-nic basket,” but it all turned around when we see Quimby whip out a picnic basket when the mob leaves. Why would he take that? Even when this show cranks a dud joke they can turn it around to be funny.
– Lisa’s claims at her father’s spacious reasoning is such a classic scene, that just because something is present doesn’t mean it’s preventing something else. Lisa proposes a random rock could keep tigers away: it doesn’t seem to be doing anything, but there’s no tigers around. Putting some brief thought in, Homer offers to buy the rock. Lisa gives in and accepts her father’s money.
– Homer is incensed by the five dollar Bear Patrol tax (“Let the bears pay the bear tax. I pay the Homer tax.”) Lisa points out that it’s Home-Owner tax.
– Last episode we saw a more serious Grampa flashback. Now we’re back to silly. It starts out well enough when he talks about living back in the old country… he forgets which one. It ends with them actually living in the Statue of Liberty (“We had to move out once we filled the entire head with garbage.”)
– I love Moe in this show, how irrational and outraged he is, just like an average American. I particularly love his main gripe (“You know what really aggravazes me? It’s them immigants. They wants all the benefits of living in Springfield, but they ain’t even bother to learn themselves the language.”)
– Apu’s life story is as informative as it is entertaining, starting from his graduation from CalTech (Calcutta Technical Institute), the top of his class of seven million (pretty damn good). As he leaves for America, we see his proud parents, and also his child bride Manjula, who we will see again in a few seasons. He goes to Springfield Heights Institute of Technology (this show rewards you for paying attention. They’d use the same joke in the movie Accepted, which continuously bashed the joke over the head), and we see a younger Frink (“I predict that within one hundred years, computers will be twice as powerful, ten thousand times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings in Europe will own them.”) He explains he took his job at the Kwik-E-Mart to pay off his student loans, and continued to work after his student visa expired. Marge is accepting of this (“What you’re saying is so understandable. And really, your only crime was violating U.S. law.”)
Apu is most grateful for Fat Tony’s help, to which the mobster responds, “Can the courtesy. You’re an American now.”)
– I love Apu’s fake American voice, and his gaffs (talking about the NY Mets, but pronouncing it “nye Mets.”) I also love the breaking line for him, as he speaks he gets increasingly more frustrated and goes off (“Who needs the infinate compassion of Ganesha when i have Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman staring back at me from Entertainment Weekly with their dead eyes!!“)
– The first plan is to get Apu married, so Homer immediately turns to Selma. She isn’t receptive (“My name’s already Selma Bouvier Terwilliger Hutz McClure. God knows it’s long enough without Nahassapeema-whatever. From now on, I’m only marrying for love… and possibly once more for money.”)
– Great “Where is Springfield?” moment where Lisa points where they are on the map just for Bart to pop his head into frame, blocking it. Though from the angle, Lisa’s too short for the map so perhaps she’s pointing in the south. Or maybe it’s just a gag and there’s no answer.
– Great payoff for all the hatred Moe dished this episode, only to find out that he is taking the citizenship test too, with a fake mustache.
– Apu seems pretty learned about American history as is; for his final question on the oral exam, he starts to explain in detail the causes of the Civil War, but is just told to just say ‘slavery.’ I love his joke about asking where the welfare office is right after being accepted; the proctor is stunned but Apu assures him it was a joke.

150. Raging Abe Simpson and his Grumbling Grandson in “The Curse of the Flying Hellfish”

(originally aired April 28, 1996)
Grampa is really one of the show’s more interesting characters. His senile outbursts are his main gimmick, which, like with much of the cast, would usurp his entire character in later years, but his life story is very rich, with fascinating tidbits that may or may not be completely true. He’s a man very much the product of his era: an agile young man sent off to war, then coming back home to settle down with a family. We’ve seen a younger Abe before, full of vigor in his constant berating and denigrating of his only son. Here we see him at full physical form, leading a rough-tough battalion in the Ardennes. We gain a newfound respect for Grampa, as does Bart, who at first is embarrassed by his grandfather’s insolent outbursts, but then starts to believe his war stories aren’t completely nonsense. This is a pretty crazy ambitious episode, and some of the stuff is maybe too fantastical for the normally grounded series, but it’s just incredibly entertaining and one of my favorites.

We start by re-establishing that everyone thinks Grampa is a delusional old coot, especially Bart. But he soon learns of his grandfather’s past, of how he entered a pact with his fellow Hellfishes in the war regarding a trove of paintings stolen by the Nazis. The last surviving member will gain access to these priceless items, and the only two left are Grampa and Mr. Burns. The latter, being the greedy old miser that he is, wants to speed up the process, hiring an assassin to try to kill Abe. The attempted murders are pretty damn silly, but they kind of keep the show balanced from getting too dark. The flashbacks during Grampa’s story are fantastic; we get to see Abe at his most active and courageous, and that Burns was just as selfish and with a sense of entitlement as ever. As gags, we see that familiar ancestors like Wiggum and Barney’s fathers were part of Abe’s platoon, but it makes sense given that Springfield is the typical American town that most townsfolk would have enlisted. We’ve seen Abe’s wartime experiences in a few flashbacks, mostly as gags (him posing as a cabaret singer comes to mind), but it’s great to see it here played in a serious light. A particular great moment is his air of respect when he addresses the gravestones of his men, which feels so genuine, even if it is capped with a joke (“I want you to know that when I die, you’re all welcome to visit me in rich men’s heaven.”)

Bart manages to swipe Burns’ key, and together with Grampa’s, trigger the Hellfish gravemarker to shine a light on the location of the treasure… out at sea. They manage to retrieve the sunken crate, but are ambushed by Burns, who buys time escaping by kicking Bart into the empty crate to sink to a watery grave. Now, this is hands down the most evil, unforgivable thing Burns has ever done, and would seem to be going too far, but for some reason it doesn’t feel that way. You’re wrapped up in the story, and we get to see Grampa be heroic in saving his grandson, and then regaining his past physical feisty nature in getting on Burns’ boat and taking him down. It’s a proud moment for him, and we’re glad to see it. The resolution is pitch perfect, with the US government arriving to retrieve the paintings, and to avoid unwanted tension overseas return the items to their closest living relative: contemptuous snooty Eurotrash (hilariously performed by Hank Azaria). It’s a real adventurous episode; later seasons would be known for having silly action sequences and ramping up absurd elements, which are present in this episode, but the difference is this one earned its finale. The plot is very interesting and works with our characters, and we even get a nice bonding moment between Bart and Grampa at the very end, which is then wonderfully undercut by the best line in the show: “Hey, fun boys! Get a room!”

Tidbits and Quotes
– We get a look at some of the other kids’ grandparents: Grandpa VanHouten has an RV, and a new wife, and Grandpa Muntz, a judge, is proud to announce he’s just sentenced his forty-seventh man to death, a factoid Nelson is quite proud of.
– I love everything about Grampa addressing Bart’s class; where the other men just stood in front of the blackboard, Abe makes himself comfortable at the desk, demanding attention and putting his legs up on the desk as he tells his rambling story (“My story begins in 19-dickety-two. We had to say “dickety” ’cause that Kaiser had stolen our word “twenty”. I chased that rascal to get it back, but gave up after dickety-six miles…”) When classmates, and Mrs. Krabappel, have commentary (Martin scoffs, “‘Dickety’? Highly dubious!”), Abe retorts (“What’re you cackling at, fatty? Too much pie, that’s your problem!”)
– Grampa’s mail gives us some good gags (“Consider burial… at Sea World!”) Grampa is less enthused (“This junk was hardly worth getting up for. Maybe if I go back to sleep for a few days some good mail will build up.”)
I love the atmosphere at the funeral in the rain, the music is very forboding as Burns and Abe, the only two in attendance, give each other knowing stares while holding their respective keys. Reverend Lovejoy gives a lifeless eulogy of Asa Phelps’ life in the background, which is pretty funny if you actually listen to it (“Asa Phelps spent his entire life in Springfield, except for four years’ service in WWII and one high school day-trip. He worked at the United Strut and Bracing Works as a molder’s boy, until he was replaced by a Molder-Matic, and died.”)
– The Hellfish symbol, and the gravemarker, are fabulous designs; they really give the episode a historical, mysterious feel to it.
– Nice swipe at Marion Barry; Burns calls the assassin, identifying himself as M.B., to which the assassin asks Barry if it’s time for another shipment. Barry was mayor of the District of Columbia, infamous for falling victim to a sting operation in 1990 where he did coke. And then afterwards was re-elected. Funny world we live in.
– I like how the assassin’s plans just get worse and worse, from the Simpson family disguises (I love Smithers’ Bart disguise, like why would they think this would work? “I’ll be in the car, dudes”) and then later of him just going for broke and shooting up the retirement home. Unfortunately for him, the nurses are packing more heat (“Our residents [shot] are trying [shot] to nap!! [shot]”)
– Small moment that I love when Grampa is on the Simpson couch recalling the assassination attempts. Thinking her grandfather is out of it, Lisa suggests she moisten the washcloth on his forehead. Grampa shoots up, irate, “It’s plenty moist!” I love that line.
– Love the explanation of why Burns was just a private; Grampa explains Burns was busted for obstructing a probe from J. Edgar Hoover, and they got stuck with him in the battalion.
– Exciting moment when Abe saves Burns from a grenade blast, which then turns into a bizarre dirty joke (“They took a photo of my keister for Stars and Stripes! …at least they told me it was for Stars and Stripes.”) So, yeah, some dirty men’s erotic magazine used a photo of Abe’s ass. Or something to that effect.
– Ox, the stereotypical dim tough guy, is great for when we see him, the only man who can explain what a tontine is in unusually eloquent terms. Grampa also explains he was the first to die, getting a hernia carrying the crate of paintings out of the castle.
– I like Bart’s urgings to go with Burns to get the treasure (“I won’t eat much and I don’t know the difference between right and wrong”) and Burns’ response (“Oh, you’re a good boy, but the child labor people have been watching me like a hawk.”) All an elaborate ruse of course so Bart could get the keys.
– Nice repartee to start the final act as Bart and Grampa walk through the cemetery (“Hey, Grampa, do you think that dead bodies get up and walk around at night?” “If they’re anything like me, they have to get up twice.”)
– Bart needs to dive down into the water to retrieve the crate. Grampa sets up a signal system: tug the rope sixty-three times if he’s out of air, and sixty-four if he’s found the treasure. Why so many times? So dumb, but so great. Castellaneta gives a great performance when the rope tugs sixty-three times and he bemoans his grandson’s death, which, without skipping a beat, switches to jubilant when the rope tugs one more time.
– As over-the-top as it is, I do love the climax, it’s a real exciting and satisfying conclusion, with these two old men returning to their past selves: Abe heroic and Burns sneaky. I also love Shearer’s squirming noises.

149. Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield

(originally aired April 14, 1996)
I can’t think of a better way to start than Bart did this episode, wondering whether anything of interest ever happens to the citizens of Springfield. By this point, the series had amassed a large collection of characters and dynamics, all just begging to be explored further. In this episode, we get just that; an array of short subjects focusing on a large number of some of our favorite secondary (and tertiary) characters. It’s a very inventive conceit, and makes this a really special show, feeling unlike any we’ve seen. Where part of me wishes episodes like this had become a reoccurring thing, having this be one-of-a-kind makes it feel very unique. But the idea of the show is something I’d hoped had been delved into more; we get to spend more time with all of these previously established characters and witness their everyday lives… and they’re fantastic. Like “A Fish Called Selma” was really centered on two secondary characters, this had potential for opening the floodgates on stories about the rest of the cast; a few characters would get moments in the limelight in future seasons, but not as many as I would have hoped.

This show is so odd… some characters even have their own theme music and title cards, like this is a snippet of another show. Apu stars in “The Jolly Bengali” where he takes full advantage of a four minute break from work, Cletus attempts to do a kindness to his dearly beloved Brandine, and that wacky Principal Skinner treads slipping in hot water as he attempts to schmooze Superintendent Chalmers. The latter segment is so amazing; the repartee between Azaria and Shearer is so goddamn funny. A lot of these snippets consist of character behavior we have seen before, but it feels fresh to see it extended and on its own, and completely divorced from any Simpson related matters. Others have a totally different feel: Dr. Nick’s potential disbarment until he “saves” Grampa felt really entertaining, I’d watch a Dr. Nick show. Then we have the Pulp Fiction segments involving Chief Wiggum, Snake and the severely twisted Herman; it treads the line between parody and just plain reference, but it takes the material and pushes it just enough to be memorable on its own (“Do they have Krusty partially gelatinated non-dairy gum-based beverages?” “Mm-hm. They call ’em, ‘shakes.’ “Huh, shakes. You don’t know what you’re gettin’.”)

Besides the wraparound with Bart and Milhouse, one plot line runs through the episode involving getting gum out of Lisa’s hair, which eventually results in a whole slew of random characters showing up one after another, even as obscure as Corporal Punishment and the Capitol City Goofball. At the end of the second act, it’s like they had to cram in all the characters they couldn’t write stories for, or ran out of time, and also sort of capsulized the episode’s mission to showcase as many characters as possible. Matt Groening has talked about various spin-offs the show was rumored to have, one being inspired by this show, to have episodes focusing on the citizens of Springfield. But why can’t they do it in the show proper? This episode makes me want to see more of Moe or Wiggum or Cletus or even Bumblebee Man. Why not write episodes around them? A Simpson can pop their head in a few times in the show, but if you’ve created this elaborate world and great cast, why not take full advantage of it? I love this episode, but I feel it left so many doors open that not many people took the time to walk through.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I guess this section will just go by segment: first, Apu’s. We get the classic line, “I’m going to party like it’s on sale for 19.99!” and his rushing to party hearty is really great, well timed, great animation, and excellent hurried performance by Azaria. Also Apu can seemingly make love to a woman in two seconds. Not sure how much of a good thing that is though (“Don’t worry, I’ll tell everybody you were untouchable!”)
– The animation on the swarm of bees flocking to Lisa’s condiment-covered head is pretty great.
– Burns motivating a deathly-ill Smithers is a potpourri of old-timey Burns-isms (“Stick your left hoof on that flange, now! Now, if you can get it through your bug-addled brain, jam that second mephitic clodhopper of yours on the right doodad! Now pump those scrawny chicken legs, you stuporous funker!”) The finale is great too when the hospital attendants takes a collapsed Burns inside.
– That leads us to Dr. Nick, who finds a passed out Smithers and tosses change at him (“Holy smokes! You need booze!”) We learn more of his horrendous medical gaffs, such as operating with a fast food knife and fork and using cadavers to utilize the car pool lane. But Nick redeems himself by acting fast to subdue a crazed Grampa, all to ER-style theming.
– The Moe’s bit was great, with NASA calculating Barney’s bar tab, and Moe saving himself from armed robber Snake behind a trap compartment protected by bullet proof glass… allowing Snake to rob him freely (“Goodbye, student loan payments!”)
– “Skinner & the Superintendent” is my second favorite segment; the entire back-and-forth is hysterical, as Skinner desperately attempts to smooth over his increasingly disastrous lunch date with Chalmers with steamed hams straight from Krusty Burger. The best part is when Chalmers reacts in shock at catching a glimpse of Skinner’s kitchen on fire. He asks what the hell it is, to which Skinner, without skipping a beat, responds, “Aurora Borealis.” So quick on his feet. Chalmers is incensed (“Aurora Borealis? At this time of year? A this time of day? In this part of the country? Localized entirely within your kitchen?”) Skinner says yes. Chalmers asks to see it. Skinner says no. Brilliant.
– Even in an episode all about secondary characters, Homer gets his time to shine in a well-done segment trying to get Maggie out of a newspaper kiosk. Great bits involve Homer’s apparent ability to write really legibly using cheese whiz and the newspaper headline “Deadbeat Dad Beat Dead.” The end with him playing peek-a-boo with Maggie is real cute too.
– The Bumblebee Man bit is great, with the absurd Spanish dialogue, and how this poor guy’s life is just as disastrous as his TV persona’s.
– I like how Flanders suggests to freeze the ice in Lisa’s hair, then whack it with a hammer, which he ultimately points out that that may have just mash more hair into it. Then we get the flurry of random guest appearances.
– The Cletus segment is brilliant. Best part? “Hey, what’s going on on this side?”
– One minor beef: Milhouse is seen within the episode, but is at the very beginning and end. So did Kirk and Luanne pick him up, and then drop him back off with Bart at the overpass? Doesn’t seem right to me. But who cares, if logic had been put into consideration, we wouldn’t have seen Kirk’s awkward predicament standing next to two hogtied men, one being a cop, or Comic Book Guy’s seventy-five cent offer to Milhouse of a Hamburgler comic book (the jumble inside has already been completed: the answer is fries.)
– Nice callback to the barber of the Tracey Ullman days
– Okay, they saved the best for last… Nelson meets his match. He laughs at Lisa, he laughs at Mrs. Glick, and he laughs at an extremely tall man cramped into a small VW Beetle. That last bit… big mistake. The man finds him and confronts Nelson… in the voice of Cecil Turtle from the old Looney Tunes cartoons. Very Tall Man is my favorite tertiary character; I love the voice, the design, and his manner of speaking (“Everyone needs to drive a vehicle, even the very tall. This was the largest auto that I could afford. Am I therefore to be made the subject of fun?”) I don’t know why, I just have a humungous grin every time I watch this last part. I was very surprised watching the season 9 DVD for “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” that he has a second minor appearance, that I never saw as it was a syndication cut. He didn’t speak though. I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed. I love you, Very Tall Man.