Category Archives: Season 08

178. The Secret War of Lisa Simpson

(originally aired May 18, 1997)
Sort of like last season, we had our big-time show that felt like the finale (“Homerpalooza,” “Spin-off Showcase”), but instead we’ve got one more left, and in both cases it’s a Lisa episode. We begin with one of Bart’s wacky pranks going horribly awry, creating massive damage city-wide. As a result, Homer and Marge decide to send him to military school to straighten him out. Upon arrival, the family is shocked to hear that Lisa wants to attend as well; she’s tired of how interminably slow her public education is and seeks a greater challenge. Now, I guess I can buy this premise… maybe. The lynch pin for her is one quick scene where we see the cadets studying poetry, which she very much likes to see. But would Lisa really be for, or want to do any of the war training or obstacle courses? The girl got an F in gym after all. She really sought an intellectual challenge, and then we never see any of that stuff. I dunno, it sort of makes sense that Lisa would want to take this stance, but part of it doesn’t sit right with me.

A military school allowing ten-year-olds to wield rocket launchers and other heavy weaponry seems like it should be rife for brutal parodying, but most of it kind of takes a backseat to Lisa’s story. She is immediately ostracized from the other cadets for obvious reasons. After a round of strict hazing, Bart is accepted into their clique, leaving him torn between being a social outcast and standing by his sister. You do feel bad for poor Lisa; there’s a particularly touching moment when alone in her barracks Lisa listens to a tape of her mother singing “You Are My Sunshine.” The emotional content is still present through the episode, but it ultimately feels a bit thin. This all leads to our finale featuring the final assessment the “Eliminator,” climbing across an airborne rope forty feet over beds of thorn bushes, and seeing if Lisa can do it. Will she? Of course she can. The ending reminded me of “The Canine Mutiny” where it’s all played so dramatically yet we know exactly what’s going to happen and we’re checking our watches until it’s over: Lisa falters and the other cadets cheer, then Bart steps up to cheer his sister on, which gives her the strength to finish. Hoorah.

There are a lot of bright spots in this episode though. The beginning field trip to the police station with Chief Wiggum is fantastic, with many great jokes. It also segues into Bart’s prank utilizing the dozens of megaphones, which is kind of ridiculous and cartoonish, but no more so than his shaken up beer can blowing the roof off the house in “So It’s Come to This.” Also fantastic is Willem DeFoe as the Commandant, who gives a great performance and has a fair share of hilarious lines (“Traditionally, the academy tested these virtues by pitting you against each other in a two-day battle royale. That was prior to 1957, thank you very much, state Supreme Court.”) He gives the character a share of nuance, like his quieted confusion over Lisa wanting to enlist, and the great bit where he stubs his toe at lights out and mutters to himself as he walks out with a limp. There’s a few scattered bits of humor but a fair share of it felt kind of dry; I remember seeing this one a lot in syndication so maybe it’s dulled for me. But great episodes stand the test of dozens if not hundreds of reviewings. This one’s just… alright. I guess. It’s alright.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The beginning at the police station is fantastic, particularly of course the museum (aww..) of crime (yaaay!) The first mannequin is of “Johnny Welfare,” a dirty hippie with a joint duct taped onto his mouth. Not disobedient enough? The guitar he’s playing is stolen. And? He’s playing acid rock. And his old lady’s eating a sandwich. A baby sandwich (“She’s got the munchies for a California Cheeseburger.”) A great reference to those horrible urban legends, like where the babysitter gets so high that she mistakes the baby as a pot roast or something and puts that into the oven. Horrifying. But funny here. I also love later that all the banana stickers are all vague representations of the actual logos to avert copyrights, and that the children are so impressed by “Gorilla’s Choice.”
– The movies in Lisa’s class are fantastic, brought to you by Monotone Films. We catch the tail end of the sand one, unfortunately, but “The Moon of Earth” is hilarious, showing the future colonies of the moon (by 1964) and how you’ll weight considerably less there (“Slow down, tubby! You’re not on the moon yet!”) Miss Hoover took the opportunity during the movie to book it the hell out of there. Upset, Lisa goes to complain about how slow the class is to Skinner, who quickly rebuffs her (“Of course we could make things more challenging, Lisa, but then the stupider students would be in here complaining, furrowing their brows in a vain attempt to understand the situation.”)
– I love Wiggum suggesting behavior-altering drugs to Homer (“How wedded are you to the Bart you know?” “Not very.”) In a few seasons they’d do that plot anyway.
– Homer’s childishness of throwing rocks at young children is kind of bothersome, but not so much as the fact that he throws a clump of rocks that somehow manage to hit four different kids.
– I love how the Commandant talks about the winds of change, that now there are female motorists and female singers. Progressive!
– With Lisa in enrollment, Franklin is no longer the most effeminate cadet (“Well, we’ll see about that!”)
– All the other cadets seem to be older, like maybe thirteen, fourteen? So what’s with enrolling a ten and eight year old? Kind of bugged me a little bit.
– In her loneliness, Lisa is able to wipe even Grampa out of ridiculous stories talking on the phone. He can’t even pass the buck over to his fellow housemates, especially Jasper (“I’ve already talked to her twenty damn minutes.”)
– Like the bit where Bart uses analogies based off his line of vision (“I’ll just stick by you in secret. Like a sock maker secretly working on a top secret sock that…” “Will you stop looking at your feet?”)
Really big animation cheat where Lisa’s testing the Eliminator, slips and falls… but hey, she’s on a pulley system Bart has rigged up tied to her waist. That just magically appeared. Come on, they could have framed that shot so you wouldn’t see that.
– I do like the exchange of the cadets to Bart for cheering for his sister (“We’re going to make your life a living hell for the rest of the semester.” “But, graduation’s in three hours.” “We’d better go change!”)
– The Commandant’s best line is his graduation speech (“The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.”)

Season 8 Final Thoughts
I was quite flabbergasted to find that Dead Homers Society cited season 8 as the tipping point of the show’s quality. Absurd. It’s a classic season! Oakley and Weinstein, the people who gave us season 7, the best season! It’s in the Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family book! Seasons 1-8 being flawless classics had just been burned into my brain ever since I’ve been a fan, so I just though they were exaggerating. Well… not really, it turns out. Now, of course, none of the episodes were bad. There were just things I noticed throughout that either bothered me individually, or felt like smaller versions of things that would get exacerbated in later seasons. Lapses in story, a great number of jokes falling flat, characters acting slightly off, there were scattered problems throughout the season, though none that were that humungous and distracted from each episode. Then of course “Homer’s Enemy,” as I talked about, drew out the template for who we know as “Jerkass Homer.” But for the issues that were present, season 8 is still a fine season; I can complain and nitpick all I want, but the fact is that the episodes are still memorable. Homer’s chili pepper freakout. Rex Banner vs. the Beer Baron. Shary Bobbins. Mr. Sparkle. All classic Simpsons material. It’s kind of like seasons 1-7 were bright blue skies beautiful for sailing, and in season 8 the wind got a little blustery and the waves a bit choppier. But now we enter the Scully era, and a storm’s a brewin’. We’re in for the long haul here, folks, but don’t worry, we’ll make it through. Season 9, here we come…

The Best
“You Only Move Twice,” “A Milhouse Divided,” “Bart After Dark,” “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala-D’oh-cious,” “Homer’s Enemy”

The Worst
For the many sorted problems this season, there are only two I can point out for being specifically bad: “Hurricane Neddy” for tainting Flanders’ character, and “The Canine Mutiny” for being terminally boring.

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177. The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase

(originally aired May 11, 1997)
“Spin-off! Is there any word more thrilling to the human soul?” Spin-offs are kind of like sequels in that they’re easy-to-green-light productions; it’s an established brand that the audience recognizes, so it requires studio heads to do less work in testing their products. They’re kind of less frequent nowadays (unlike sequels), but they’re quite plentiful in the golden age of television. So here, we have three hypothetical “Simpsons” spin-offs, all aping a different genre of show and featuring some of our favorite supporting players in different ridiculous scenarios. Troy McClure hosts the fourth-wall breaking show as he did the 138th; we haven’t heard much from Phil Hartman lately (unfortunately he’s only got a few more appearances left), and it’s such a joy to see him back again. The first show is “Chief Wiggum, P.I.,” a mish-mash parody of buddy cop shows featuring Wiggum and his new partner Skinner (or “Skinny Boy”) working their new beat down in New Orleans. Each one of these segments really do feel like they’re pilots to spin-offs, the first scene is so knowingly expository, with Wiggum talking about why he left Springfield and Skinner why he came with, finding out he’d been a Louisiana-bred street punk all along (not as shocking a revelation as what would come three episodes from now, of course). This one doesn’t really get that great until the end, with the absolutely silly chase scene with criminal king pin Big Daddy, in his hideout of the stolen governor’s mansion in the middle of the bayou. The cheesy music stings, the commercial break fake-out, the freeze frame ending with credits; the attention to detail on these tropes is fantastic.

Next up is “The Love-Matic Grampa,” where Moe finds his love tester inhabited by the spirit of Abe Simpson, who apparently must spend his afterlife assisting him with his romantic life. The set-up is kind of “My Mother the Car,” but it’s more a parody of cheesy bad sitcoms, complete with live studio audience laughter, cheering and “oooo”ing. We start with a really neat simply animated opening, sort of like “I Dream of Jeannie” or “The Nanny,” positing the stupid backstory that Grampa died at the supermarket and his soul was detoured on the way up to heaven. Now he must help the incredibly lecherous Moe get a date; the premise is so absolutely ridiculous, but contrastly it couldn’t be more perfect as the conceit for a dumb sitcom. Comic situations are a-go as Moe must bring the love tester with him at his date at a fancy restaurant, carting him off to the men’s room, dressed in a tuxedo for some reason or another. As star of the original show, Homer makes a cameo appearance, to massive audience applause, which gives us a wonderfully brutal joke when he cuts the power on the love tester (“That’s the second time he’s pulled the plug on me…”) The skewering of conventions is so great; I love Moe’s smiling shrug to the camera leading to a scene change as Grampa rambles on, a non-verbal, “He so crazy!” Of everything, the theme is probably the best part; I love that jingle (“He’ll fill our hearts with looooooooovve.”)

The last segment is my favorite, just because it’s the most incredibly bizarre. “The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour” is an entertainment extravaganza starring the Simpson family, and borrows heavily from odd 70s musical variety shows. Followed particularly is “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour,” where the family plays “themselves,” and one member has been auspiciously replaced. “Lisa” here is a dim, vivacious teenager (“Sophomore prom queen five years running!”) but nobody seems to mind. This element just makes me envision Lisa’s falling out with the real family over this stupid show, a sorted past swept under the rug for the sake of their careers. The show is a collection of purposely horrible comedy sketches and music numbers, intercut with quick bits from other characters, dubbed the “Springfield Baggy Pants Players.” The cheese factor is ramped up pretty high: the stitled acting, and sorry lead-ins into sketches (“Have you wondered what we would be like if we were beavers?” “Yes!”) and the 50s diner locale of the “I Want Candy” number, which then blends with Jasper attempting “Lollipop,” and a Smithers in chaps doing “Whip It,” a segment where any sliver of doubt of his homosexuality is swiftly eliminated. My favorite bit is at the end of the big number seeing the family members breathing heavily, exhausted but still keeping their big smiles for the audience. Everything about this episode is so crazily absurd, but all three segments are so well crafted they feel like genuine examples of the genres they’re parodying. It’s a real unique episode; the show has only gone completely meta a few times, but it’s always interesting and entertaining when it does.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Troy McClure is brilliant as the host of course; best bits are at the beginning when he’s walking and talking and hits a dead end unexpectedly, and the intros after commercial breaks: caught staring at the chest of one of the Charlie’s Angels statues, and abandoning his talk with the curator of the museum of television.
– “Not long ago, the FOX Network approached the producers of The Simpsons with a simple request: thirty-five new shows to fill a few holes in their programming line-up.” Basically all they got is The X-Files and Melrose Place. Fair enough for the time; King of the Hill had started, but was still in its infancy.
– In a weird way, I’d like to watch these shows; a gritty crime drama with a slightly more serious Wiggum and Skinner? Great. A cheesy sitcom with Moe? That’s excellent telvision.
– Another handwave of unseen backstory that Wiggum is now divorced (“It’s no cakewalk being a single parent, juggling a career and family like so many juggling balls… two I suppose.” As such, Ralph gets his fair share of gems in so little time (“These rubber pants are hot!” “Look, Big Daddy! It’s Regular Daddy!”)
– Nice cameo of sorts by chef Paul Prodhomme (“I gua-ran-tee!” “Would you stop saying that!”)
– Great at first that Skinner mentions he read about Big Daddy in Parade Magazine, then even better when the man himself lists the reference on his calling card.
– The alligator attack is so wonderfully stupid, an exaggerated version of the creative animal assassins (“Lucky for you this is just a warning gator.  Next one won’t be corked.”)
– The Simpson family has a brief cameo in Wiggum’s new show (“Chief Wiggum, I can’t wait to hear about all the exciting, sexy adventures you’re sure to have against this colorful backdrop.”)
– I love the ending and how dumb it is; Big Daddy hurrying to sit in the main office with the chair turned around so he can dramatically turn around, the stupid dialogue (“New Orleans is my town.  Nobody going to mess with me.  I got interests, and I ain’t talking about stamp collecting, though I do find that extremely interesting.”) and his “blagh!” as he throws Ralph at Wiggum and escapes out the window. I guess I should give recognition to Gailard Sartain for voicing Big Daddy, he makes the small role very memorable.
– Love the end of the “Love-Matic Grampa” opening where Moe horns in on the titles, and flicks away an invading cherub.
– The studio audience is in full swing right away (“I’ll have you know I wrote the book on love!” “Yeah, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’!” [audience ooooooooos!] “Ah, kiss my dish rag.” [audience laughs])
– Love the bit we hear of the start of Grampa’s ramble about how he invented kissing; in WWI, they were looking for a new way to spread germs…
– Moe is not exactly the most romantic guy (“You know what’s great about you, Betty, is you’re letting your looks go gracefully. You’re not all hung up on looking attractive and desirable. It’s just so rare and refreshing.”)
– Brockman’s introduction (“And now, a family that doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘cancelled'”) may have been cute then, but is depressingly more accurate now.
– I really like those “Laugh-In” interstitials, especially at the end where they have a few of them all in a row, like they had to cram them all in. The best being the shot of Captain McAlister with his hat raised (by an obvious wire) and steam shooting from his pipe (by an obvious piping system around the pipe). And of course, a poem by Hans Moleman (“I think that I shall never see, these cataracts are blinding me.”)
– I like the sign-off of the show with the family (and Tim Conway) in bed, and Marge’s seemingly signature line, “We’re like this all the time!”
– Nice nod to the fall ofThe Flintstonesin Ozmodiar, a parody of the Great Gazoo, the weird little great alien that appeared before Fred toward the end of the series.

176. Homer’s Enemy

(originally aired May 4, 1997)
Oh man, is there a lot to say about this one. “Homer’s Enemy” has always been, and still remains one of my favorite episodes the show has ever done, but it’s incredibly unique, and an interesting prelude for a lot of the content and tone of the later episodes. Homer’s stupidity, dimwitted nature and bravado are ramped up to a ridiculous degree in this show, but within a specific context where it makes sense, but much of said behavior would bleed into his regular personality later on. But let’s set the stage first. The power plant has a new hire: self-made man Frank Grimes, a sort of normal, no-nonsense kind of guy. He’s instantly put off by Homer’s laziness, oafish demeanor, and disregard for reading labels on lunch bags. It isn’t long before he openly says to his face that he hates him and that they’re enemies. This deeply affects Homer, who does his best to try to get Grimey in his good graces, but all he does seems to aggravate him further. Grimes attempts to humiliate Homer by tricking him into entering a children’s modeling contest, but it completely backfires when he wins and is applauded for it. Past his breaking point, Grimes snaps and runs about the plant mimicking Homer’s careless behavior, ending with him grasping electrical cords without safety gloves, resulting in his demise.

The alleged idea of the episode is that Frank Grimes represents someone from the “real” world who finds himself in the bizarre town of Springfield. It totally makes sense, Grimes feels and sounds unlike any other character we’ve seen. Hank Azaria gives an absolutely stunning performance, the voice and design have shades of Michael Dougles from the great movie Falling Down, of just this regular guy who is moments from being pushed over the edge. He’s right up there with Hank Scorpio for best one-off character ever. So Homer is a man of unbelievable incompetence and stupidity, yet he’s the safety inspector at a nuclear power plant, a position where he could ultimately doom the entire town. That’s one of the overall running jokes of the series, but here it’s shone upon more, as it would with any one of us seeing this in action in real life. The point is for all his great qualities, at the workplace, we would be put off by a guy like Homer. A man who should have been killed dozens of times by now by his own ignorance should not be in that position.

So along with his slacking off at work, Homer is much more absent-mindedly annoying in this episode, stealing all of Grimes’ pencils, loitering at his workstation, and so forth. He’s almost like a caricature of himself, but in this episode it makes sense because that’s what he’s called on to be. It’s all the negative aspects of Homer all at the forefront from Grimes’ perspective to drive him absolutely bananas. The issue here, of course, is that I guess the writers loved this episode just as much as we did, but figured they could continue some of these traits into later episodes. And so, from here on out, slowly but surely we get more jokes of Homer being unabashedly dumb, thoughtless, careless, being pompous, and just being an overall cartoon of his previous self. Him talking to his photo of Lenny as if he were the genuine article really felt like a latter-day joke, amongst other similar bits. The good folks at Dead Homers also pointed out a particularly striking line: during his freakout, Grimes madly remarks, “I’m better than okay. I’m Homer Simpson!” To which Homer coyly responds, “You wish!” Homer may be a man comfortable with his lot in life, but he’s well aware that he’s just an average schmoe. His great achievements and accolades over the series’ run are contrasted with this, and that’s why they’re funny; Homer never acknowledges how amazing all these things are. But in later seasons, he seems almost aware of how great his life has been, thinking that he deserves things, and worst of all, thinking that he’s somebody. And worse off, when times call for it, he becomes a celebrated town hero (a la winning the model contest), instead of a barely-tolerated working schmuck. Former Homer was more thrilled over a tray of brownies than meeting George Harrison. Two seasons from now, he cozies up to Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in a matter of seconds. I don’t know to what degree this episode was a specific catalyst, but it does feel like it.

But despite any and all visions of doom, “Homer’s Enemy” on its own is absolutely brilliant. The idea of a real man’s frustration over Homer’s relatively easy road through life is pretty sharp, and executed splendidly. The best scene is when Homer invites Grimes to the Simpson home to hope to smooth things over, which ultimately makes things worse when it only illuminates more wonderful things about his life. Again, Azaria is frigging amazing as Grimes, absolutely shocked and bewildered at what’s before him, which then transitions into anger. There’s plenty of other great gags about, like Lenny and Carl’s cavalier attitude toward Homer (“That’s the man who’s in charge of our safety? It boggles the mind!” “It’s best not to think about it,”) the new executive vice president… who’s a dog, and the other kids at the model contest. There’s also a side story involving Bart mistakenly getting an abandoned warehouse, and he and Milhouse using it as their extremely dangerous playhouse. It’s amusing if not disposable, but it actually does play into the main story in a good way. Everything about Homer’s life is seemingly perfect, but Bart is a bit of a gray area. So now, irrepressible hellion becomes young entrepreneurial factory owner in Grimes’ eyes. So, in summation, “Homer’s Enemy” is fucking amazing and an inventive, solid episode. It’s just what followed in its footsteps that I got issues with.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Grimes’ life could not have been worse. Abandoned by his parents as a child (who I suppose were shooting footage from the back of their car), he spent his youth delivering toys to more fortunate kids. Then as a young man, he was greatly injured in a silo explosion (as we see, he was just running by said silo, and just when he got into its general vicinity… BOOM). He studied science by mail in his spare minutes of each day, and eventually got his correspondent’s in nuclear physics, “with a minor in determination.”
– Great character bit of Frank wiping his hand on his pants before going to shake hands. A small thing like that tells a lot about a character instantly.
– Love how even Burns is swayed by television fluff pieces: one day he’s swayed by Grimes’ story, the next of a particularly heroic dog (“He pulled a toddler from the path of a speeding car, then pushed a criminal in front of it!”) The dog in fact becomes his “executive vice president,” getting a sash to that effect, is heard chewing out (or barking, rather) Grimes in Burns’ office, and also attends his funeral.
– Homer aggravates Grimes instantly, admiring one of his personally mongrammed pencils, knocking the coffee cup full of them over. I love how freaked out Grimes is over this.
– Always loved Homer claimed he had no idea what a “nuclear panner plant” was, then Grimes gives an unsure forced laugh, unable to determine if it was a joke or not.
– More great Hank Azaria as the fast-talking auctioneer.
– Grimes notices alarms at Homer’s workstation, informing him it’s a 513. Homer checks his watch. Grimes explains it’s a 513 procedural. Homer checks his watch again. When he finally registers there’s an issue, Homer returns to his workstation, pours a bucket of water on the console, frying it, “solving” the problem. Grimes watches from the window mouth agape.
– Grimes is bewildered at how cavalier Homer can act after almost just drinking a beaker of sulfuric acid. The blank, grinning look on his face is so hysterical, and that one shot so summarizing of the episode, that there was no question what the header picture for this review would be.
– Homer goes to Moe for advice on having an enemy and reveals his own enemies list, but Barney points out it’s just the same one as Richard Nixon’s. Moe suggests that Homer invite Grimes to dinner to sway his anger, and then, bam! Fork in the eye. Homer asks if it would work without that last part, to which Moe supposes it could.
– Everything about the almost dinner scene is fantastic: the dishelved Grimes at the door, his slow registration of Homer’s lavish living space, revealing he lives above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley, and the piling on of Homer’s accolades to further infuriate him (“I’ve had to work hard every day of my life, and what do I have to show for it?  This briefcase and this haircut!”) Homer is nervous, but still clueless (“I’m saying you’re what’s wrong with America, Simpson.  You coast through life, you do as little as possible, and you leech off of decent, hardworking people like me. If you lived in any other country in the world, you’d have starved to death long ago.”)
– I love Homer’s attempt to look professional, with his Mr. Good Employee poster and eating donuts with a fork and knife, and insistence that he continue his conversation with Grimes during the designated work period (“Sincerely, Homer Simpson.”) Grimes is not swayed.
– Excellent foreshadowing when Grimes claims he could die a happy man if he could prove to everyone that Homer is a moron. Guess that didn’t work out so well.
– The only great bit of note from the B-story is Milhouse’s interpretation of night watchman when Bart returns to find the warehouse collapsed (“I saw the whole thing. First it started falling over, then it fell over.”) Then all the rats flurry into Moe’s (“Okay, everybody tuck your pants into your sock!”)
– The modelling contest is a great scene. First up is Ralph with a Malibu Stacy dream house, which Smithers is of course impressed by, but Burns not so much (“Hot tub? Media room? It’s supposed to be a power plant, not Aunt Beaulah’s bordello!”) Martin provides an extremely impressive design, which happens to actually generate power, but Burns isn’t so receptive (“Too cold and sterile. Where’s the heart!”) Then we have Homer, with an extremely crude model. Grimes cries out about the ridiculousness of the scenario, but is shushed. Homer points out how he copied the existing plant, added fins to the cooling towers for “wind resistence,” and added a sharp racing stripe. Burns is sold: first prize. “But it was a contest for children!” “Yeah, and Homer beat their brains out!” Mass applause. It’s the perfect absurd catalyst for Grimes to go mad.
– Grimes’ freakout is astounding, and oh so quotable (“I’m peeing on the seat! Give me a raise!”) The animation, Azaria’s performance, everyone else just following Grimes silently, the uncomfortableness of it really plays, that this is a man who’s truly lost it (“Hello, Mr. Burns! I’m the worst worker in the world! Time to go home to my mansion and eat my lobster!”)
– I love not even in death can Grimes catch a break, that in the eulogy Lovejoy remarks that “Grimey” was a preferrable nickname.

175. In Marge We Trust

(originally aired April 27, 1997)
Here we have another Marge episode coupled with an examination of a pretty unexplored secondary character. But forget about all that, the most important thing this show has to offer is the immortal Mr. Sparkle, one of the greatest and most bizarre creations of the entire series. I’ll get to him later though; despite that wacky and amazing sub-plot, the main story is actually quite strong, which surprised me as I didn’t really remember it all that much. It gives a real humanity to Reverend Lovejoy, a man who wishes to help and invigorate his flock but has just lost his religious mojo. We establish early how his stale and droing sermons lull the entire town to sleep, and his advice to the community rather lacking. A flashback sheds some light on the subject: Lovejoy was a spirited go-getter in the mid-seventies, open to the concerns of his new congregation in Springfield, but met his match with worrywart Ned Flanders. After weeks and months of repeated calls regarding exaggeratedly inconsequential matters (“I think I may be coveting my own wife!”), Lovejoy was beaten down, admitting he just stopped caring (“Luckily, by then it was the eighties, and no one noticed.”)

While we find Lovejoy is a man who’s become completely numbed emotionally, Marge has an open and caring heart toward everyone. She volunteers at the church and ends up falling into the role of the “Listen Lady,” assisting the citizens of Springfield with their problems. This role fits perfectly; people are instantly taken by her motherly advice. Meanwhile, Lovejoy has effectively been replaced; there’s a spectacular sequence when he envisioned the saints on his stained glass windows (never seen before or since of course) chewing him out. Also just as great is him all by his lonesome in the basement with his train set. It really did bring a tear to my eye; the show is so good at making us care about these minor characters in no time at all. Basically the show is fantastic up until the third act, where things get strange. Marge’s words of wisdom backfire involving Flanders dealing with some hooligans, which end up with him being chased out of town all night by them on mini-bikes, for some reason. Then Ned hides out in the baboon sanctuary at the zoo, for some reason. And Lovejoy has to fight them off to save him, for some reason. The resolution was just kind of silly and nonsensical, and the big dramatic brawl ending is just a big harbinger for things to come. I did like his emphatic sermon at the end though (“A pair of the great apes rose up at me but bam, bam! I sent them flying like two hairy footballs!”)

Okay, enough of that. Miiiisstaah Sparkllllee! On a trip to the dump, Homer is extremely bewildered at the discovery of a Japanese box with his face on it. He seeks out answers, with a return appearance of Akira (“Hi, hi, hi, bye,”) and a visit to the library, where he asks for a Japanese phone book, then asks to use the phone (“Is it a local call?” “……yes.”) The Mr. Sparkle company sends him a video tape that should clear things up… kind of. The commercial is astounding, one of the best single segments the series has ever done. After watching a fair share of Japanese media after seeing this, it basically is pretty spot on. It’s just such a spectacular piece, where just when you think it can’t get weirder, it does. And you gotta love the subtitles (“I am disrespectful to dirt! Can you see I am serious?”) Homer is initially as baffled as we are afterwards, but it’s then revealed the corporate logo is the result of the merging of two companies and their logos. A madly grinning fish and a lightbulb then become… Homer’s head. It’s an absolutely brilliant conclusion (“There’s your answer, fish-bulb!”) A solid and interesting A-story, and one of the greatest side stories of all time? Awesome-ah power!

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great read on Homer’s loud “Dammit!” whilst nodding off and hitting his head on the pew. Sacrilicous. Before long, everyone is asleep, and the Reverend must use his noise buttons to awaken his flock (he chooses “Bird.”)
– I like Homer, Bart and Lisa’s joy of coming back from church, touting it the best part of the week (“It’s the longest possible time before more church!”)
– While Marge is doing chores at church, like putting the collection plates in the dishwasher, Lovejoy uses his time wisely (“Did you know, thanks to you, that I discovered a form of shame that’s gone unused for 700 years?”)
– Marge is an instant hit on her advice, first with Moe (“I’ve lost the will to live.” “That’s ridiculous Moe. You’ve got lots to live for.” “Really? That’s not what Reverend Lovejoy’s been telling me. Wow, you’re good, thanks.”)
– Great meta moment when in response to Homer’s paranoia about the Mr. Sparkle box, Marge comments that it’s absurd that he thinks that they’re being watched. Cut to a aerial shot of the dinner table as the family eats a tad nervously for a few seconds. Underplayed and not drawn out, excellent.
– Love Akira’s explanation of Mr. Sparkle (“He identifies himself as a magnet for foodstuffs. He boasts that he will banish dirt to the land of wind and ghosts. You have very lucky dishes, Mr. Simpson. This soap is from the sacred forests of Hokkaido, renowned for its countless soap factories.”)
– I’m sure some people don’t care for the extended bit of Homer dialing the phone, thinking it’s just filler, but I love just how long it goes, and how he has to look back at the book for each number he dials. He can’t remember more than one?
– Lovejoy must confront his visions of the saints, accusing him of being uncaring and not doing enough for his congregation (“I thought saints were supposed to be friendly.” “You’re just lucky God isn’t here!”)
– As I said, I love the bit with Lovejoy and his trains. I also like that Helen calls Marge in genuine concern of her husband, it feels so real, it’s great (“Attention, HO-scale passengers. The dining car is closed. Root beer is still available, but the cost is now six-fifty. If the passengers will look to their right, you will see a sad man. That is all.”)
– Where does one get gas at the cheap price of $1.49 and eight-tenths? Donny’s Discount Gas! And holy shit, you’re damn right that’s a discount from today’s standards.
– The only things I like about the ending is the zookeeper explaining why he can’t help Ned (“If they don’t kill the intruder, it’s really bad for their society.”) and Lovejoy’s thank-you to Marge (“She taught me that there’s more to being a minister than not caring about people.”)
– One minor bit, I kind of wish that when the family went to Japan, they’d have made a Mr. Sparkle reference. Considering those tourists at the zoo immediately identified Homer, it would seem to make sense. But then, of course, if you’re watching that episode and have never seen this one, it makes no sense, so I get why they wouldn’t have done it.

174. The Old Man and the Lisa

(originally aired April 20, 1997)
It’s always interesting to see instances of Burns out of his element; behind his position of power he’s a vulnerable feeble old man who hasn’t had to deal with the outside world and its peons for decades. This episode cuts the miser down a peg, as he finds out that his fortune has all but depleted thanks to his team of spineless yes men not having the nerve to tell him about his poor and outdated stock choices. Without his mansion or his plant, Burns has nothing, a sad old man left to his own devices in his former subordinate’s pink apartment. Now, it’s a delicate balancing act one must perform; thrusting a penniless Burns into the outside world to marvel at ordinary items like public transportation and cereal boxes, but never lose sight that this is the same man who blocked out the sun and kidnapped Tom Jones. They succeed… mostly. Burns getting trapped in the freezer and seeking for a cereal with his face on it works, but absent-mindedly greeting fellow human beings doesn’t (“I’m shopping!”) Overseeing the delirious old man, two grocery clerks end up having him escorted to the retirement home. I get where they’re going with all this, but seeing Burns this far removed from his former persona is a bit unusual.

Alongside this we have Lisa’s crusade for recycling, as part of her Junior Achievers Club at school. Burns is a guest speaker at one of their meetings, and the two have a heated back-and-forth on the subject of conservation, setting up Lisa’s personal distaste for the man. They cross paths again at the retirement home later on, where Burns beseeches Lisa’s help to regain his fortune. After some persistence, and a parody montage, she reluctantly agrees (“You could only earn money by doing good, socially responsible things. Nothing evil.” “That’s exactly the kind of radical thinking I need!”) The kindly Burns/Lisa dynamic is kind of sweet, I’ll admit, as the two do their part in picking up cans and organizing and separating various recyclables. Which then, of course, leads to him somehow having enough money to open his own recycling plant. Perhaps he took out a loan of some kind, I dunno. But of course Lisa is shocked to see that Burns hasn’t changed much, as he has taken to recycling creatures of the sea into industrial slurry to sell for a profit. Soon after, Burns reveals he has sold the plant and offers Lisa her entitled 10%, but she tears up the check, knowing in good conscious she couldn’t accept it knowing where it came from.

I really do love the reveal of the Li’l Lisa animal slurry. We set up the six-pack rings twice before, once at the very beginning and later with Burns, as Lisa explicitly shows him how fish can get caught in them. But while she of course is demonstrating how to get fish out in a compassionate manner, Burns sees it the other way around, on how the trappings can be used for other means. His gigantic net is such a great idea, one he’s extremely proud of and believes Lisa will be impressed too. Even when Burns is not trying to be evil, he’s just hard wired to be that way unintentionally; he honestly doesn’t understand what Lisa is so upset about. While I don’t care for some of the poor delirious Burns stuff, I love this turn at the end. The story is pretty solid, if only a bit rushed; the recycling plant couldn’t have been operational for more than a few days before Burns up and sold it. The laughs are also kind of sporadic; there’s a lot of great stuff at the beginning with Skinner and the recycling center hippie, and a few other things here and there, but multiple scenes will go by with no real laughs. However, it’s still a pretty good show on the whole, with a different look at Mr. Burns, albeit one that would be exaggerated to a terrible degree in the future.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Real quick bit, but I love “Dracula Joins the Navy” on TV (“Uh, Colonel?” “Blehh!”)
– I like Bart’s attitude on recycling being useless (“Once the sun burns out, this planet is doomed. You’re just making sure we spend our last days using inferior products.”) Not even Marge can feign interest after Lisa chides her for mixing polyapolane with polyurethane (love Homer’s high-pitched indignant “Marge!”)
– Homer stupidly chuckling whilst dropping entire books in the trash feels like a very latter-day Homer thing to do, but it’s saved when after Lisa tells her father it’s a serious matter, he continues doing it with a stern face, stifling his giggles.
– Two great Burns speeches, first in addressing the Junior Achievers (“I’ll keep it short and sweet. Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business. When opportunity knocks, you don’t want to be driving to a maternity hospital or sitting in some phony-baloney church. Or synagogue.”) Second when Lisa urges the need to save the planet (“So Mother Nature needs a favor? Well maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys. Nature started the fight for survival, and now she wants to quit because she’s losing? Well I say, hard cheese.”) Also great callback with “Will There Ever Be a Rainbow?” Surely Homer tossed it aside when Burns gave it to him, leaving Lisa to pick it up and read it.
– Nice read on Burns when he checks the stock ticker tape and discovers the 1929 market crash. He chastises Smithers for not informing him, who rebuffs by saying it occurred twenty five years before his birth (“Oh, that’s your excuse for everything!”)
– Love seeing Skinner unhinged on finding a half ton of newspapers only yields them seventy-five cents. Lisa tries to reassure him, that all that paper combined could save an entire tree. A frustrated Skinner pulls out, smashes into a tree causing it to collapse, while children inside bawl uncontrollably. Brilliant.
– Got nothing to say about Bret Hart. But why would Burns ask his permission to take his portrait with him? It’s his possession, he’s only selling the house. And in the end he leaves it behind anyway.
– Loved seeing Lenny in charge, and the later allusions of his abuse of power, and him being a “real bear” on tardiness.
– Not only am I not sure why Krusty is shopping at the local supermarket, but why is he buying Krusty O’s? Doesn’t he remember writhing in horrible pain after eating one at a press conference? Because I sure do. Because it was hilarious (“This thing is shredding my insides!!”) I like Burns’ concession of picking Count Chocula, commenting that count sort of looks like him.
– “Ketchup… catsup… ketchup… catsup… I’m in way over my head.” “Are you here to solve my ketchup problem?” I laugh every time at this.
– Kind of sweet in a weird way that Homer drank himself to sickness so his daughter could recycle all the beer cans. The animation on him in that scene is really funny.
– Don’t care for the bits of Burns and Grampa conversing. What about their Hellfish past? They hate each others’ guts.
– Cute bit where Maggie gestures her hand like a gun toward Burns, to which Burns cavalierly reacts (“Ah, the baby who shot me…”)
– Like the recycling plant windows made out of old beer bottles… and of course Barney is there to lick them clean.
– The animal slurry is quite disgusting, but I love its many many uses (“It’s a high-protein feed for farm animals, insulation for low-income housing, a powerful explosive and a top-notch engine coolant. And best of all, it’s made from one hundred percent recycled animals!”)
– Nice Invasion of the Body Snatchers parody as Lisa combats a recycling zombified populous.
– The ending is fantastic, where Homer has four simultaneous heart attacks when Lisa rips up the check. At the hospital, he forgives his daughter for blowing twelve thousand dollars. Lisa innocently informs her dad what her cut actually was, then: “Code blue! Code blue!” Rearrange the order and this could be the final episode. Homer had one last heart attack and died. Series over.

173. The Canine Mutiny

(originally aired April 13, 1997)
I gotta tell you, I’m not quite sure where to start with this one. There were so many elements to it that confused me or just didn’t work… so I guess I’ll take it from the top. Shenanigans begin when Bart gets his hands on a credit card under his dog’s name (I do like how Santa’s Little Helper becomes Santos L. Halper), and goes on a spending spree. Amongst the extravagant items he buys is a pure bred collie named Laddie, who is basically the most perfect of perfect dogs. It isn’t long before all of Bart’s purchases are repossessed, and in a knee-jerk decision Bart has SLH taken in Laddie’s place, and it’s not long before he has great remorse about this decision. Now, the rest of the family is basically in the dark about most of this… for reasons that escape me. Bart gives the others lavish gifts and has a room full of expensive junk and nobody says anything? He also claims he got Laddie at a church carnival two towns over at a “truth-telling contest.” Yeah, it’s supposed to be a joke, but really, I feel like even Homer would see through this. There’s so many points in this episode I feel like Marge or even Homer would say something about what’s happening, but everyone just kind of goes along with it. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

This is an episode that kind of needs to hinge on Bart’s relationship with Santa’s Little Helper… except it doesn’t really show it. In the first act we see the dog clumsily knock into the front door and stare into the window for hours on end, but not much affection for the poor mutt. There’s one scene where Bart hugs the dog after receiving the phony credit card, but it’s not really something that’s genuine, he’s just glad using the dog as a pawn in his scheme worked. He ignores SLH when Laddie comes into the picture, and then later feels bad when he gives him away, which all could of worked if we had more build-up showing the love for his dog. Of course we know that he does, as we’ve seen in “Bart vs. Thanksgiving” and “Dog of Death,” but thinking back to those shows only makes this one feel more ramshackle. Toward the end, we find that a blind man now owns SLH and Bart must get him back. This is a tough pill to swallow even knowing how much those two love each other, but in this episode, it’s even worse given that I don’t even buy Bart loves the dog. I’d rather he stay with the poor blind man.

This episode marks a first, a hundred seventy three shows in, this is the first one I felt like turning off. After getting Lisa’s blessing for robbing the blind man (what?!), his sneaking in is so tedious, we get cloying out-of-character Bart pleading with the man and a hackneyed bit where they let the dog decide ownership (what is this, Air Bud?). Not even the marijuana twist at the end can save it. The show just felt incredibly thin; nothing important really happens in the second act at all, it’s just filling time before Bart decides to get SLH back. Now there are a few good jokes and amusing parts, but a lot of it felt pretty dead to me. It set up a situation where Bart’s antics and behavior went too far, and I found myself rooting against him. Even at his lowest pathetic point, I didn’t think he deserved the dog back. It’s just a really scatterbrained episode that misses most of its marks.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I guess it’s good satire that even Bart’s phony application is good enough for “MoneyBank” to get him a card; I like how he lists his income (“Whatever I finds, I keeps.”)
– Bart finds he can’t get away using his card at local vendors, ie: Comic Book Guy (“Your phony credit card is no good here. Now make like my pants, and split!”)
– I like Bart’s pachinko machine (“You winner! Ha ha ha!”) and Lisa’s ticked reaction to her new pep pills (Trucker’s Choice).
– I love the condescending but cheerful speech the creditor gives Bart on the phone (“Because you sound like a mature, responsible person, who wouldn’t want an unpaid credit card bill to spoil all his hopes and dreams for the future. Dreams such as home ownership, boat ownership and event- attendance!”) Bart decides enough is enough and has Laddie bury the credit card. Fat Tony and his goons bury a body alongside him (“We didn’t see nothin’ if you didn’t see nothin’!”)
– Mr. Burns likes Laddie? What happened to, “Dogs are idiots!” Then again he did take a shine to one of SLH’s puppies. But then again he wanted to skin the rest of them.
– Milhouse indignantly recalls a SLH incident (“Remember the time he ate my goldfish, and you lied to me and said I never had any goldfish? Then why did I have the bowl, Bart? Why did I have the bowl?”) Bart responds, “Yeah, he was a great dog.”
– Bart’s dog furnace fantasy is a bit slow and boring, but saved by Bart looking out the window musing, “Where are yah, boy?” followed by a distant boat horn noise.
– Classic Homer line: “You gave both dogs away?! You know how I feel about giving!” I also kind of like his pep talk speech to Bart, which he hopes will end in his son eating dog food.
– Best gag in the episode is probably Moe’s repossessed floor; we see the Repo Depot is not a large building, then all of a sudden we see it propped against the wall (“Hey, next time, pay your bills.” “But I don’t want to!”)
– Always liked the red bow tie on Polly’s neck. You’d think it would have rotted much quicker than its body. Or maybe Mr. Mitchell’s been fitting the tie on the skeleton for a long while now.
– I was so numbed by the third act, the marijuana bit didn’t even faze me, though I do love Mr. Mitchell’s excuse (“Without it, I could go even… blinder!”) Hank Azaria ad-libbing with himself as Wiggum and Lou over “Jamming” over the credits is pretty amusing too, with one last “Jamming!” over the Gracie Films logo.

172. Grade School Confidential

(originally aired April 6, 1997)
Well, my timing is impeccable. Especially for Valentine’s Day, here’s an episode centered around a torrid romance. …sort of. Having Skinner and Krabappel kindle a relationship isn’t exactly an original idea, but kind of interesting to see in action. Harry Shearer and Marcia Wallace hand in believable, nuanced performances; the scenes building up to their kiss feel very genuine, and we buy that they’re attracted to each other, as two lonely people wishing to share a connection. It’s a sweet story overall, but feels a little thin, with things included to draw it out that don’t really feel right. First, their relationship must, for some reason, remain a secret. This seems like the kind of weirdly paranoid stuff lesser minded characters would be nerve-racking about, but Skinner and Krabappel are two pretty intelligent people. Do they really think Chalmers would go into a rage if they ran it by him? What does it matter? Instead, they must keep it hush-hush, and strike a deal with the only witness of their kiss, Bart: his silence in exchange for his hefty permanent record being swapped for some other poor sap (namely, Milhouse).

From this point, Bart falls into the weird role of Skinner and Krabappel’s buffer/liason/messenger/babysitter/whatever. When Chalmers stumbles upon the two at a late night movie, Skinner rushes to get Bart out of bed to the theater to keep up the ruse of a school field trip. They use Bart to exchange mash notes to each other. Bart must watch Agnes while Skinner is out. Atop the absurdity of keeping this such a ridiculous secret, why are they throwing Bart around like this, and why is he agreeing to it? Bart has all the leverage, why would Skinner force Bart to say, “I love you, Edna Krabappel,” in front of the class, when he knew it would inflame him? It’s incredibly bizarre to me. The second act is only saved due to the isolated scenes being hysterical, such as Chalmers whispering to a half-asleep Bart in the movies (“Do you think they actually filmed this in Atlanta?”) and Agnes’ photo album of pictures of cakes (“You can’t have that one! That’s a coconut cake!”) Even with the premise and character motivations are shaky, laughs can almost excuse it.

Of course Bart reaches his limit and exposes Skinner and Krabappel’s janitor closet make-out session to the school. The kids’ innocent embellishments of the scene get the parents all flared up, as well as Chalmers, who is out for their jobs. After a pep talk from Bart, Skinner springs into action, barricading Krabappel and himself in the school until their jobs and relationship is secure. Things start feeling more draggy in the third act; the silliness is ever present and you know how it’s going to end, so you’re just drawing out the clock until the credits. Whatissuccessful is how the controversy begins and ends. All the kids give their own outrageous versions of the story, some by here-say, which when it gets to the parents becomes here-say of here-say, until it goes too far (“Sordid public sexual congress!”) To clear his name, Skinner must make a shocking public confession: at forty-four years old, he is still a virgin. The crowd is stunned. I remember seeing this episode quite often as a kid (during my syndication viewings, season 8 seemed to be in heavy rotation), and I can’t remember what I thought about this ending or what it meant. But I love it now, just how everyone is so floored and uncomfortable they can’t get out of there quick enough. So yeah, while the story is flimsy and some parts don’t make sense, we’re still left with a fair share of amusing scenes, and a solid overall premise. It’s passable. But since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll be nice, it’s pretty darn neato.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Love Skinner’s boring morning announcements (“Finally, the bake sale to raise money for the car wash has been cancelled due to confusion.”) Krabappel’s class is so struck with boredom that Edna must light a firecracker in the middle of the room to wake them up.
– I don’t know why, but I love Homer’s little scene play-acting astronauts for a bored Bart and Milhouse. The conceit feels like childish, moronic latter-day Homer thinking, but it feels really sweet, and is just kind of randomly there. The writers needed a scene where Bart decides to go to Martin’s lame party, so they needed to have him doing something even more lame. This is a logical and amusing solution. And we have Homer mimicking Richard Nixon
– Martin’s party is a pretty lavish gala, complete with an ice statue of himself. Bart breaks the fingers off to put in his class. We also get a great scene with the Mathemagician, who has the power to make remainders disappear (with help of a magical 7). The climax of the kids getting sick from oysters is pretty great; Bart notices Lisa on a stretcher (“Hey, why’d you eat them? I thought you were a vegetarian.” “I didn’t. I just wanted to leave.”)
– The scene in the playhouse is pretty sweet, with amusing bits (“What kind of little boy has a tea set?” “I think we both know the answer to that… a lucky boy.”) I also like both parties’ compliments to each other; Edna finds Seymour’s innocence charming, and Skinner likes Krabappel’s “tart honesty and ability to be personally offended by broad social trends.”
– The scene with Agnes and Bart is my favorite bit of the show. I like seeing Mrs. Skinner act like an old lady; later they’d just use her to be angry and bitter at her son all the time. It reminded me of Bart having to deal with Mrs. Glick in “Three Men and a Comic Book.” (“I don’t have much saliva left, so you’ll have to lick my thumb before I can turn the page.” “Can’t I just turn the page for you?” “No!”
– I like how childishly giddy Lisa is recounting Skinner and Krabappel allegedly being naked in the janitor’s closet, and Homer’s knee-jerk reaction to this news (“Bart’s teacher is named Krabappel? I’ve been calling her Crandall! Why didn’t someone tell me? Oh, I’ve been making an idiot out of myself!”) Then of course, there’s Ralph’s retelling (“Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and then the baby looked at me.” “The baby looked at you?”)
– Skinner announces from the roof they’ve shut up the school until their demands are met, to an audience of one (“Willie hears ya. Willie don’t care.”) Bart assists in creating a scene, calling the local news about a giant octopus on the roof of the school, spurring up a media circus. Kent Brockman reports (“So, once again, I’ve been had. But an even more interesting story has developed high atop this two-story school: a love story.”)
– Great bit with Homer and the megaphone, asking Bart where the remote is. It was in his pocket the whole time. I like how he talks back to Marge through the megaphone for a second, then realizes it, and demurely finishes his sentence. Latter-day Homer would just scream into the megaphone in his wife’s face.
– I love how embittered Chalmers is, speaking how as a public servant he isn’t permitted to use his judgement in any way, and his response to Krabappel’s request to take their case to the people (“Oh, yeah, that’ll be real productive. Who do you want to talk to first? The, the guy with a bumblebee suit, or the one with a bone through his hair?” “My opinions are as valid as the next man’s!”)
– I don’t buy that Skinner would go with Bart’s bomb idea, but it’s saved with jokes (Shearer’s read on “I… have a bomb,” the Armour hot dogs jingle, and the animation of one lone hot dog sticking to Skinner’s shirt, then peeling off.)
– The crowd is miffed about the alleged naughty behavior going on in the school (“I don’t think were talking about love here. We’re talking about S-E-X. In front of the C-H-I- L-D-R-E-N.” “Sex Cauldron? I thought they closed that place down!”) Skinner’s admission of being a virgin shuts them up (with a great follow-up question from Homer: “Hey, does this mean that Mrs. Krabappel is a virgin, too?” “Ha!”) Chalmers is mollified (“Well, it’s clear you’ve been falsely accused. Because no one, anywhere, ever, would pretend to be a 44-year-old virgin.”) I love Azaria’s quieted and hurried read for this last scene, so stunned by this news that he needs to get out of there as quickly as possible.