Category Archives: Season 09

203. Natural Born Kissers

(originally aired May 17, 1998)
Finally, what we all came here to see… hardcore nudity! Talk about your season finale; I bet the promos for this episode were pretty bombastic (“Homer and Marge NUDE! Tonight on FOX!!”) It ultimately is pretty low on the risque factor, and has a few bits that kind of drag (woooo!), but there’s enough good stuff here that kept me satisfied and smiling (wooooooooooo!). The first act features Homer and Marge discouraged that their sexual life is in a bit of a rut, something that ultimately feels like a lite version of “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy.” But I appreciate the effort, and there’s some genuine-feeling moments: I love the ad-libbing by Castellaneta and Kavner in attempting to initiate obligated anniversary sex, and their relief of the dog entering the room to break the awkwardness of their inability to do so. Though perhaps with not as much emotional heft as the show used to do, but you still feel for these two, stuck in a natural rut that they can’t seem to get around.

The spark in Homer and Marge’s marriage is reignited thanks to one thing: dirty sex out in public. Sounds pretty questionable, but it’s mainly played for laughs, especially when you consider the final act. Although I have born witness to some disturbing Simpsons porn pictures on the Internet that have caused my mind to fill in a few blanks of the dirty deeds committed in this show… I can’t say that I’m proud of it, but here we are. The two lovebirds return to their most sacred place: the windmill on the mini golf course where Bart was conceived. But when they’re almost caught inside, they knock it over and escape, leaving them out and about the city completely nude. It’s a conceit that leads to a few good parts, like a pretty funny Gil scene, but it kind of felt too silly; like there were plenty of ways the bit could have logically ended, but instead it just kept going to its over-the-top conclusion.

There’s a B-story here that feels a bit more satisfying; Bart and Lisa uncover Grampa’s old metal detector and decide to go treasure hunting. Ultimately they discover an incredible find: an unseen alternate ending to Casablanca. Now, aside from the fact that the show The Critic did something incredibly similar, it’s a pretty amusing concept, an incredibly lame, tacked-on Hollywood happy ending to appease stupid film executives. One of said film executives turns out to be the Crazy Old Man (“We tried to hack that happy ending on the picture ’cause back then, well, studio execs, we were just dopes in suits, not like today.”) This little Bart/Lisa story serves as a nice break from the main story, and is pretty cute on its own. All in all, there’s a fair share of good stuff in this one, but despite the more mature content, in the end it’s not entirely memorable. But it’s not bad either. It’s like the season 9 malaise… maybe I can analyze it further in the final thoughts. I dunno, perhaps.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Love Bart and Lisa swordfighting with Hot Wheels tracks (“Ow! That had a guide pin in it!”) and Grampa repeatedly asking kids to cut him a switch… whatever that means.
– The Up Up and Buffet is a nice set piece, a perfect family-oriented high concept theme restaurant from hell (“Okay, folks, this is your pilot speaking. If you look to the left side of the aircraft, you will see Homer and Marge Sampson, who are celebrating with us today their eleventh air-niversary. So hang on, while we dip our wings to this happy couple.”)
– Nice that the dumb joke about Homer trying to catch the miniature bride and groom in animated action in the freezer pays off, as he left the door open and that causes the motor to short out. It’s not even emphasized, this is the first time I’ve really made the connection.
– Again, great job by Castellaneta and Kavner in the bedroom scene (“Do you want me to…” “No, don’t do that.” “But we used to do…” “I know, but I don’t like it.”)
– Great brutal exchange between Bart and Grampa at the retirement home (“re they pulling the plug on anybody today?” “Nope, everybody’s paid up.”) And the flashback to Abe’s poor usage of the mine detector in the war is pretty excellent too.
– Inspired observation from Homer (“When you think about it, mud is nothing but wet dirt.”)
– I don’t know why, but I love the disgruntled farmer and his shotgun-pitchfork, vowing to impose some serious ass-forkin’. He then leaves to go check the media room. Amazing.
– Like Bart’s dream about pirates, where the captain shoots one of his crewmen for suggesting they buy things with their treasure instead of bury it. But then it lingers too long with a bit involving the map drawn on a cracker, which isn’t funny.
– Great scene after work where Lenny and Carl find out about Homer’s jump-starting of his marriage. The two try to give pleasantries to Marge when she shows up, who promptly calls them perverts.
– Homer covering his shame, or his nipples, rather, with two teacups is great, s is the maid’s “I’m so sorry! I saw everything!”
– Love every bit with the Flanders family golfing: Ned telling his wife the secret of the windmill hole (“Not to hit the blades?” “Bingo”), him commenting the ball never came out the rear end, and Maude telling Rod to fish it out with his girlish hands. I do like how ridiculous it gets how everyone’s shoving their hands in there, then perhaps pushed too far when Moe shows up with his car on the green somehow aiming to gas the obstruction out. Homer and Marge make their escape, leaving their clothes behind. Ned is mortified (“It was people! People soiled our green!”)
– The Gil scene is pretty great: he’s so desperate he doesn’t even skip a beat in mentioning that Homer and Marge are naked, and he immediately defends himself to the police for living in the hot air balloon, just until things pick up, you know?
– Homer and Marge in the balloon is just extended bits of Homer getting hurt, but I love the slow drag up the church’s glass ceiling, and the pastor’s quick cover to his flock (“Gaze down at God’s fabulous parquet floor. Eyes on the floor… still on the floor… always on God’s floor.”)
– Love the Sideshow Mel line as the balloon enters the crowded stadium (“Dear lord, look at that blimp! He’s hanging from a balloon!”)

Season 9 Final Thoughts
So there it is. One Scully season down, and boy, he’s not wasting any time doing a number on this show. The series is steadily losing its ability to tell concrete stories with an emotional resonance, seeming to rely more on gag humor and the more exaggerated comic side of characters rather than be more subtle. We saw the emergence of the dreaded Jerkass Homer, as we witnessed the descent from mostly honest average family man to bombastic, inconsiderate cartoon character. But through it all, one thing the show still has going for it is its humor, and lots of these episodes get passes because they made me laugh throughout. The season also had a fair share of strong B-stories, from the Freak-E-Mart, CompuGloboHyperMegaNet, and just now the treasure hunting story. They can pull off these smaller plots, but longer ones have a bit more difficulty to them. I can’t exactly saw I’m hopeful for season 10 since I can already think of plenty of episodes I’m dreading to watch, but maybe there’ll be some funny stuff in store. Though four of the five episodes on the best list this season are not even in the ninth production season, so… yeah. Make of that what you will.

The Best
“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” “The Joy of Sect,” “Lisa the Simpson,” “Simpson Tide,” “King of the Hill”

The Worst
“Realty Bites,” “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace,” “Bart Carny,” “The Trouble with Trillions,” “Lost Our Lisa”

202. Lost Our Lisa

(originally aired May 10, 1998)
Lisa takes a bus to see a special exhibit at the museum, and ends up getting lost in the big bad city. A pretty innocuous plot, really, that could have been a sweet little story featuring the more kid-like side of the character. But once Homer gets involved, things start getting disastrous, with a ridiculous action sequence and an absurd proclamation from the Simpson patriarch that basically solidifies his jerkass character. But we’ll get to all that later. Marge originally intended to take Lisa to the museum, but got sidelined when Bart returns home with novelties glued to his face… with superglue. Said glue was obtained from Homer, who Bart and Milhouse managed to bother at work; how they got in, I’m not sure. Also earlier in the day we saw he was at Moe’s. There’s no real reason they needed to get the glue from him, but I guess they figured more Homer means more funny. Although if anything, this “B-story” provides the best scene in the whole show, where Hibbert removes the items by frightening Bart with a violent-looking button applicator, where his sweat absolved the glue. It’s one of those bits that’s so dumb it’s fantastic (“Couldn’t you have just turned the heat up a little?” “Oh, heavens no! It had to be terror sweat!”)

With a no from her mother, Lisa shrewdly plays her father to get permission to take a bus, which is a nice scene. But due to a mix-up with the bus schedules, she ends up way off course far out in the city limits. What kind of an asshole is this bus driver that he’d not only not bother to help this poor eight-year-old girl, but abandon her on the side of the road? So while Lisa’s trying to find her way to the museum, a talk with Lenny and Carl makes Homer realize the mistake he made in letting her daughter out alone and rushes off to find her. The two eventually find each other when Homer usurps a cherry picker to get an aerial view of the city, but he ends up jostling it off of its holder and careens down a steep hill. Then it’s just a big silly action set piece where Homer can scream, whimper and get hurt a lot, but it kind of takes it way too far here. He hits his head on a traffic light? Fine. He scrapes his head along the underside of a bridge? Yeah, his skin would have been ripped off, but whatever. Then the picker goes into the river, where his body cuts through the wood on the dock. Okay… The picker’s still going in the water, where Homer could jump out of at any time. But instead, he’s saved when a drawbridge closes on his head. Maybe it’s just me, but it felt way too crazy, especially for what before this was a relatively timid show.

As if that ridiculousness wasn’t enough, we get a sizable revelation from Homer within the last three minutes of the episode. When Lisa vows she’ll never take a stupid risk ever again, Homer slams the brakes and informs her otherwise, claiming that stupid risks make life worth living, and that’s why he has so many crazy adventures. So yeah, instead of being an average American man who has dramatic and absurd scenarios befall him (which is part of the reason why they’re funny), now he’s Captain Wacky, actively doing stupid things on impulse. It’s astounding how jarring this scene is; even Lisa in-universe seems kind of perturbed by her father’s statements. Homer loves the thrill of adventure? Homer loves lying on the couch eating himself into a food coma. His whole diatribe is almost like his new mission statement, as from this point on he’s pretty much always up to some wacky hijinks, a fractured caricature of his former self. And just to put a cherry on top of the shit sundae, the scene’s even more aggravating because it comes out of nowhere with mere minutes left on the clock. At this point I could care less about the two of them breaking into the museum, which is a pretty dull, laughless ordeal. This episode’s got a few good lines in it, but it’s a mostly dry first half and an absolute catastrophe of a back end.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I like dapper Barney early in the morning before going to Moe’s. He’s always been a real classy guy sober.
– Great line about the exclusivity of the exhibit (“It’s the first time these Egyptian artifacts have been allowed out of England!”)
– I do really like the phone call between Lisa and Homer, as she slyly plays him to get her way, omitting what her mother said and tricking him to downplay her from a limousine to taking the bus. It’s classic kid tactics at work, capped with her hanging up the phone, cutting her father off of saying he loves her.
– Nice minor bit of Moe hailing a taxi to the VD Clinic. Of course.
– Stupid, but I love the bit where Lisa sees a flock of geese flying north… who immediately fly into another flock heading in the other direction and they have an aerial scuffle.
– Lisa stumbles upon Area 51… A. A map outside provides no help on finding her location (“You are Here. We are Not.”)
– The scene in Dr. Hibbert’s office really is the best scene here (“Why, if I had seventy five dollars for every novelty I removed… oh, by the way, I’ll need a check for seventy five dollars.”)
– Like the seemingly angry Russian man playing chess, and the reappearance of the Khlau Kalash vendor from “City of New York.”
– Another stupid bit, but I love the timing and progression of this scene: Homer concludes he needs to get to a higher plane to look for Lisa. He buys a bunch of balloons from a street vendor, vocally hoping his plan works… then he walks over to the man by the cherry picker (“These are for you if you let me use your cherry picker!” “Well, I’ve already got some balloons, but.. they’re not this nice. Deal!”)
– That Homer speech… I could just dissect it line for line of how awful it is, and horribly foreboding of what’s to come. “Feeling stupid? I know I am!” encapsulates it pretty well though. Oh jeez…
– Thinking of it more, the ending with the Orb of Isis also bothers me. Archeologists studied that thing for decades and couldn’t figure out how to open it? It fell a few feet and just opened by itself, for God’s sakes. The entire third act is just one terrible thing after another.

201. King of the Hill

(originally aired May 3, 1998)
Here’s an episode that surprised me. A few improbable elements aside, this one actually features a pretty solid story, with appropriate emotional heft. Having been dabbling in the key of Jerkass throughout the season, Homer actually exhibits some pathos here, and in almost a throwback to the earlier seasons, the plot is fueled by his desire to make his son proud. It all starts at a church picnic, where Homer embarrasses Bart and himself playing capture the flag, becoming exhausted after only running a short bit. Following this, he vows to get into shape, triggering a complete incredulous reaction by Marge, a great bit as we know it’s a line she’s heard many times before. Also sweet is Homer’s act of working out at night, so if he fails he can avoid being shamed. He discovers a late-night gym (where he learns the proper pronunciation) and begins training with Hollywood super-hunk Rainier Wolfcastle, and by “train,” I mean shout slogans at him while he does weights (“Reach over the top! Master your ass!”)

In two months, Homer starts to show some pretty fair results. In a great scene, he shows off to his family, and in a boast to them to try to grab some flab, they find quite a few deposits of it; he’s not gonna lose all that fat in such a short amount of time. Along with working out, he’s been on a diet exclusively of Powersauce, energy bars that allegedly have a secret ingredient that unleashes the awesome power of apples. Rainier is their spokesman, who is later approached by two representatives to do a promotional stunt for them: climb the Murderhorn, the tallest mountain in Springfield, to show how much vigor and energy their product has given him. He refuses, but Bart volunteers his father for the job, and not wanting to let his son down, he accepts. Powersauce reps Brad and Neil are voiced by Brendan Fraser and Steven Weber, and while they’re amusing and do an alright job, I kinda feel they could just have well been voiced by Hank or Harry. Especially great is their running commercial breaks through the show (“This just in! Powersauce is amazing!”)

I guess the only thing I have an issue with is the mountain; the gag is how absolutely humungous it is to even greater intimidate Homer, but the thing is fucking ginormous. Like how have we never noticed it in the town before ever, or since? But a minor gripe it is, so I won’t harp on it. Homer is sent up with two Sherpas by the Powersauce reps to make sure he survives, but more importantly that their promotion goes off without a hitch, and they get a lot of great lines (“Brad and Neil were quite insistent that you not die.” “Frankly, we don’t care.”) But when Homer finds they’ve been dragging him up the mountain while he sleeps to speed up his climb, he fires them and does the trek alone. There’s suspense periods with no jokes of Homer climbing up and up, but you’re devoted to the character and hope he succeeds. And even though he only reaches the summit by technicality, you’re still proud of him. So yeah, a pretty great episode, consistently engaging, lots of laughs, and a more traditional characterization of Homer, which is a breath of fresh air this season.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Oh jeez… the McBain movie at the beginning with the Commi-Nazis, absolutely brilliant. And that he’s delivering UNICEF pennies (“Go, pennies! Help the puny children who need you!”) I also love Marge’s attempt to make a joke, which admittedly is pretty good, when she walks in the room and watches McBain break one of his enemy’s necks, just as he was begging for mercy (“That’s what I call break-neck speed!”) Bart isn’t amused (“Mom, a man just died.”)
– Not a big fan of Homer parking in the middle of the baseball diamond. Probably because it’s just like him parking in the middle of the boardwalk in “My Sister, My Sitter” last season. And it’s just like him parking in the middle of the beach in “When You Dish Upon a Star” next season. Hrmm.
– Love Flanders’ ethical qualm about playing sports on a Sunday, and Lovejoy’s absolute disdain (“Oh, just play the damn game, Ned!”)
– Great moment with Comic Book Guy, who is exposed when the outer shell of the porto-john is knocked over (“It appears I will have to find a new fortress of solitude.”)
– Homer attempting to roll over as kids pelt him with deviled eggs is another of the series’ great moments that are so incredibly depressing and hilarious simultaneously.
– Love Homer’s signature Kwik-E-Mart item: a bucket of ice cream with miniature pies in it. Homer instead asks for something a bit more healthy (“We do have some low-salt candy bars and some reduced fat soda, and our beef jerky is now nearly rectum-free!”)
– The “abdominator” is a great name, like all of those crazy exercise contraptions that come out all the time with brand new ways to work your [insert muscle here] better than before!
– Brad and Neil pitch their promotion to Wolfcastle: picture him (“I love it!”) climbing the Murderhorn. Turns out it’s too much even for him (“Not for all the apple sauce in Glückenschabbel!”)
– Love the bits with the Sherpas (“I foresaw your death last night.” “Stop saying that!”) and when they hitch a ride to Nepal in the back of a pick-up truck at the end.
– When Homer announces he’s doing the rest of the climb alone, Neil breaks and reveals that Powersauce bars are nothing more than apple cores and Chinese newspapers. Homer examines one carefully (“Hey, Deng Xiaoping died.”) Brad and Neil cover their asses and announce on TV that Homer has abandoned their product in favor of the “Vita-Peach Health Log” and that he may not have enough “mega-nutrients” to make the climb.
– Homer’s hallucination is alright, but we’ve seen plenty of them in the past done much better.
– Love the reveal of the frozen corpse of Grampa’s supposed rival near the top of the mountain, revealing the old man’s story was all fake. His last written words are particularly touching (“Tell my beloved wife my last thoughts were of her… blinding and torturing Abe Simpson.”)
– The moment where Homer replaces the Powersauce flag with the one with ‘Simpson’ on it from capture the flag, putting it in the mountain in the name of his son is a pretty sweet moment; we buy the cop-out of the mountain collapsing because we believe in Homer.
– Little grim of Homer using a corpse as a toboggan, but we get the great dumb moment where Grampa’s false teeth pop out of his mouth and magically place themselves to where the bite mark is on McAllister that he bit on so many years ago.

200. Trash of the Titans

(originally aired April 26, 1998)
Wow-wee, episode number two-hundred… This show’s come an awfully long way, and while the way it’s going down now remains suspect, self-proclaimed meaningless milestone episodes like these are like times of reflection of how much the series has changed. But I won’t get into that deep a topic right now, let’s talk about the episode at hand. A rash altercation with some garbagemen leaves the Simpsons without trash pick-up, which turns the family home a veritable dump. The situation is mollified when a fed-up Marge writes an apology note in Homer’s name, which incenses him enough to run for sanitation commissioner. Before we get to the craziness, I’ll say the opening of the show is fabulous, with the creation of a new holiday for the sole purpose of selling cards, candy and useless junk: Love Day. I also love the members of the Simpson family’s continued avoidance of taking out the overflowing trash before Homer ends up stuck with the thankless duty of taking it out. His ire toward the garbagemen driving the way is instinctive, but it’s when his antagonism gets pushed even further this episode where things turn a bit sour.

So Homer runs for public office for reasons that honestly escape me. He bursts into current sanitation commissioner Ray Patterson’s office spewing a bunch of nonsense regarding standing up for the little guy and shaking things up, but hasn’t an idea in his head for what any of it even means. It all seems somewhat pointless until he gets on track with a campaign the people can get behind. His “Can’t Someone Else Do It?” is pretty inspired, pandering to a lazy public’s desire to pass the buck on even the simplest of tasks. But overall Homer’s race against Patterson strikes such a wrong chord with me; he’s such a belligerent and aggravating entity toward this well-meaning average guy. It almost reminds me of “Homer’s Enemy” in that Patterson, like Grimes, feels like a real-life person reacting to an out-of-control cartoon, but while Homer in “Enemy” was bumbling but ultimately kind-hearted, Homer is needlessly vindictive and abusive toward Patterson, going so far as cutting the brakes on his car. Voiced splendidly by the great Steve Martin, Patterson is actually a pretty great character, a sensible hard-working guy who has the utmost pleasure in abandoning the town and the idiots within it to clean up the mess they created for themselves.

The episode’s greatest highlight is of course the music number “The Garbageman Can,” an illustration of Homer’s insane pie-in-the-sky ideals for what trash pick-up should really be like. But reality quickly slaps him in the face when he finds he’s spent the annual budget in a month, leading him to resort to more questionable methods in getting more funds. He is able to collect money to pay his employees by charging other cities to bury their garbage under the town, but it isn’t long before Homer’s dirty laundry, amongst other bits of trash, come to the surface in large amounts. The final solution? Move the entire town five miles down the road as the site formally known as Springfield becomes an absolute filth-ridden dump. So… yeah, this ending… I like it in concept, following the lazy attitude of the town that they’d rather pick up and move than actually buckle down and solve the problem at hand. But in practice, it’s just too goddamn absurd. So they picked up the power plant too? What about Springfield Gorge? Various bodies of water, forests and parks? It’s just too big a pill to swallow for the sake of a dumb joke in a dumb ending. So while the episode suffers a lot from Homer being a rampant asshole and some issues with the plot and pacing, there’s enough good stuff throughout that make this a fair episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great stuff at the beginning at Costington’s department store, starting with a man presenting a chart of the year’s profits. He comments on the natural summertime slump, and covers that they’re already making enough money, right? He is immediately escorted from the premises for his blasphemous comment. A new holiday must be created to fill the void. The executives’ various ideas are pretty great (“How about something religious? We had great penetration last spring with ‘Christmas II.'” “I know, Spendover, like Passover but less talk, more presents!”)
– Love Homer’s dissatisfied reaction to receiving the Sir Loves-A-Lot teddy bear rather than his sought after Lord Huggington. Also great is the Kisses-Make-Me-Boogie-O-Lantern, blatantly reissued unsold Halloween merchandise.
– Crafty move from Bart where his banana peel keeps slipping off the top of the trash pile, he just staples it to the trash bag. Later, Homer is unable to place his breakfast log wrapper on top, so he places it on the fridge with a letter grade on it like it’s a test paper. Then he walks right into the can and knocks it over anyway.
– I’ll say the whole bit where the Simpson house becomes a big trash heap is pretty dumb. Mounds upon mounds of garbage pile up, like how long is this lasting, months? And no way Marge would have put up for this for that long. And couldn’t they have just thrown their garbage out with the Flanders? But there’s some good lines thrown in to make it bearable (“Homer, that crazy lady who lives in our trash pile attacked me again.” “That’s not the way she tells it.”) Also great is Homer’s insistence against apologizing (“Dad, you’re always telling me and Bart to apologize.” “Yeah, but I’m always secretly disappointed when you do.”)
– On the registered sex offender line: Freddy Quimby, Patty and Selma, Jimmy the Scumbag, and Moe, each one of them I’m sure has an incredibly fascinating story to tell.
– The U2 concert scene is a bit of a mixed bag; it’s got some great bits in it, like Homer’s guise as the potato man and Bono’s exasperation at the crowd cheering after his mentioning of Springfield, but the conceit of it all feels a bit wrong. Like Homer has no qualms interrupting a big concert; at one point he was a little humble, but now he feels he can just walk right on stage with big time celebrities. That and again, he’s loud and obnoxious with no idea of what his campaign is, resulting in him doing some pathetic dancing on stage to massive booing. You just feel real bad for him. Though I love the end with Bono’s patronizing (“Wow, look at him go. You’re the real Lord of the Dance, Homer”) and the band continuing with “In the Name of Love” while we see Homer getting pummeled by security guards on the jumbo-tron.
– Homer gets in some good lines once his campaign has a purpose (“Animals are crapping in our houses and we’re picking it up! Did we lose a war? That’s not America! That’s not even Mexico!”)
– Lots of great stuff in the musical number: Krusty’s marked box of used-up porno, which he labeled for reasons that escape me, U2’s reappearance (but not featured on the “Go Simpsonic” CD seemingly to avoid royalty fees), and a cameo by Oscar the Grouch. And we go right from the fantastical to reality as Quimby informs Homer he’s broke (“I think I’ve got the perfect solution!” “You’d better! ‘Cause those garbage men won’t work for free!” “D’oh!”)
– Love the ominous shot of the garbage being stuffed underground, where we see Sir Loves-A-Lot stuck with a bunch of needles.
– Nice Redd Foxx reference with Ray Patterson, with the band playing him on and out with the “Sanford and Son” music. Also pretty fitting since Sanford was a junk dealer.
– I do like the dramatic reveal of the name of the town’s all-purpose contingency plan… Plan B.

199. Girly Edition

(originally aired April 19, 1998)
Sensationalist youth-oriented news and a gross abuse of the animal assistance program are on the docket this week, two plots that aren’t the absolute strongest, but have enough sense and gags to keep this an overall engaging outing. We start with the reappearance of Lindsay Naegle, who badgers Krusty into inserting educational content into his show, a ten-minute news program hosted by kids for kids. I remember around this time the FCC cracking down on networks to force them to broadcast children’s programming that had educational content, many of which found loopholes around it. I could bitch more about the asinine nature of this topic, but it’s neither here nor there for this episode. Many Springfield Elementary students are chosen to do the program, with Lisa ecstatic to be the head anchor. Unfortunately her spotlight is usurped by Bart, whose camera pleasing showboating is much better received than Lisa’s dry, straight-forward stories. He is made Lisa’s co-anchor, much to her chagrin.

The way the rest of the show gets going is a bit odd, where Bart overhears Lisa talking to Naegle about how she thinks he’s dumb. He’s pretty hurt by this comment, for some reason. Bart knows he’s not as smart as his sister, and moreover he doesn’t care, but here it’s enough to fuel him to want to one-up her. However, it does give us an illuminating view of Kent Brockman, who Bart goes to visit for advice on impacting news broadcasts. He informs the boy about human interest stories, “they tug at the heart, and fog the mind.” Soon enough Bart is reporting about a sad old man whose ducks at the park have left him, and old war veterans stitching flags out of old clothes, cheap, manufactured human emotion that are absolute crowd pleasers. All the reports are wonderfully smarmy, as is Bart’s new fake holier-than-thou attitude, which only drives Lisa even madder. Lisa gets revenge by sending Bart into the clutches of a homeless Willie, whose home was destroyed by Bart’s earlier shenanigans, but ends up saving her brother when she finds him truly in danger. It’s an easy, obvious end, especially the fake-out of their show being immediately cancelled after they agree to work together, but the Willie stuff was all set up, and it’s an all well and good ending.

Running alongside the A-story, Homer finds out about animal assistants for those who are disabled, and works the system so he can get a cute little monkey named Mojo. The animal proves to be no help whatsoever, and it isn’t long before man and monkey have stuffed themselves into a lazy food coma in the middle of the TV room floor. I’m not entirely sure why I like this subplot so much, since it’s really pretty dumb. Homer’s not so much of a jerk here as he is a big kid, enthralled and fascinated by this new creature he’s got. Meanwhile, Marge is mortified at first, then eventually just fed up with the whole situation. When we cut back to them from the kids news story, it usually involves Marge burying her head in her hands wondering where her life went so wrong. I like it for what it is, small silly breaks from the main story with crazy animal antics and just enough Homer buffoonery and Marge distress that it doesn’t feel too sad. An engorged, enfeebled Mojo is abandoned back on the doorstep from whence it came, giving perhaps its final words: “Pray for Mojo.” Pray indeed.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Krusty is adamant against the network cutting into his show (“There’s a monologue, those idiot puppets, Krusty’s nap time, the second monologue, Paul Harvey, Senor Papino, I tell ya, it’s the tightest three hours and ten minutes on TV!”) Naegle informs him they’re cutting those ten minutes, to which Krusty ponders, “Well, I guess we can trim the Hobo Parade to a lean twenty.” I would really love to see a full version of Krusty’s entire show.
– Willie is shocked to find his perfect pile of leaves destroyed (“Me pile! It’s been raped of its bonniness!”) Finding Bart to be the culprit, he confiscates his skateboard and holes himself in his shack. To drown out Bart’s pounding on his door, he turns on his old fashioned radio, then flips through three stations of virtually identical bagpipe music to the one he’s most satisfied with, then lays down to relax.
– Another horrible Simpsons product: Bubble-Crum, the gum with a cracker center (“It’s Crun-Chewy!”) But you know what, I’d love to try it.
– Homer goes to Animal Assistance (“As Felt in Braille Weekly”) to get himself a helper monkey. To get the animal, Homer uses his father as a front, who seems very appreciative, then he drives off with the monkey. Abe is none the wiser (“I can’t wait to eat that monkey!”)
– Lisa starts the program with hard-hitting news: the library’s budget being slashed by 3%. First on the chopping block? Periodicals. Devastating.
– I like that after Naegle spouts out a bunch of nonsense words like ‘zing’ and ‘zork,’ she doesn’t follow Lisa’s simple turn of phrase (“Bart’s not exactly the brightest penny in the fountain.” “In English, Lisa?”)
– Great bit where Bart struggles to read a newspaper, not being able to get through three words (“Supreme Court Reverses…”), loses his willpower and goes straight to the comics. First is Archie (“Hey Jughead, did you hear? The Supreme Court reversed…”)
– I like the small bits where the two plots kind of collide: Bart asks his mother if she thinks he’s dumb, who at the moment is preoccupied with the literal monkey business in her house (“Honey, I’d love to reassure you, but right now Mommy needs a Tetanus shot.”) And the second act break with Mojo mimicking Lisa’s laughter is great too.
– All the schmaltzy reports are pretty fantastic, perfectly worded and executed. The one on Joe Banks and his beloved ducks is probably the best, ending with a shot of the poor old man panning down to the soggy bread crumbs on the water to “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Then cut to Burns and Smithers watching it sitting in bean bags for some inexplicable reason, in the best scene of the whole show (“Smithers… you think maybe my power plant killed those ducks?” “There’s no ‘maybe’ about it, sir.” “…excellent.”
– Here we have the first appearance of the Crazy Cat Lady, who here is actually pretty funny. Lisa attempts to do a sympathetic story on her, but she proceeds to chase her away throwing cats like a maniac. Then she does one on a seemingly defunct train, which proceeds to pass right by upon broadcasting. It just keeps going and going and going and going, then we see the Cat Lady has followed Lisa and makes chase again. Somehow, for some reason someone thought they should bring the character back many seasons later, and then she became a regular. I have no idea why, since there’s not really much there to work with.
– I like Bart and Lisa’s back-and-forth on the air following one of Bart’s schmaltzy segments (“I just think our veterans deserve a little recognition.” “That’s what Veteran’s Day is for, Bart.” “But is that really enough to honor our brave soldiers?” “They also have Memorial Day.” “Oh, Lisa, maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong! The important thing is, veterans deserve a day to honor them!” “They have two!” “Well maybe they should have three. I’m Bart Simpson.”)
– Homer and Mojo passed out on the floor, and Mojo’s pathetic little happy dance is so disconcerting and hilarious at the same time. Speaking of disconcerting, great tail end of Milhouse’s broadcast (“So, by waking up a little early and having some extra sheets handy, no one’s the wiser. Tomorrow, ‘Destroying The Evidence.'”) And great callback when Bart broadcasts from the dump, amongst twisted metal and soiled mattresses. Cut to Milhouse, looking quite nervous.
– Ah, the Mattel and Mars Bar Quick Energy Choc-O-Bot Hour. A spot-on parody of rampant product synergy and commercials disguised as programming. But I would watch it. And now I want a Reese’s. Damn you, corporate America.

198. The Trouble with Trillions

(originally aired April 5, 1998)
A big problem continues to present itself this season. At this point, the writers still know funny; although not as hilarious as ones in the past, season 9 still has a very high quotient of laughs. What seems to be sorely lacking is a cohesive story that gels and makes sense all the way through. I’m not exactly tearing through new ground saying this, and I’ve probably mentioned it in past reviews. But this episode is the shining example of this: great individual set pieces amidst an absolute mess of a story. We start out strongly: Flanders wakes up midnight of the new year to hurry and get his taxes done, so perfectly in character. Then, of course, flash to April 15th, where the post office is mobbed with people desperately trying to get their returns sent in. Here we hear from some of our supporting players, from Captain McAllister sweetening his file with buried treasure to Otto, believing the giant line was for Metallica tickets. All excellent. Then Homer realizes he never did his taxes and frantically scribbles on a bunch of pages to get it in on time. Not only do I not buy Marge would stand idly by while the large mound of taxes on the ‘To Do’ pile right on the TV room table never got done, but really, wouldn’t she just do the taxes herself? Instead, Homer’s poorly packaged tax return ends up smack dab in the ‘Severe Audit’ bin.

The IRS tracks down Homer, and to make up for his faux-pas, agrees to be a government snitch, wearing a wire to catch suspects incriminate themselves on tape. His biggest assignment is to uncover a stolen trillion-dollar bill from Mr. Burns, who pocketed it himself rather than hand it over to good-for-nothing foreigners after World War II. At this point halfway through the episode everything pretty much goes to hell. First, for some reason, Homer has qualms about betraying his boss, and I’m not quite sure why. Inside the mansion, Burns mistakes Homer as a columnist for a magazine, and gives him a tour of his estate, showing him his most prized possessions. The last stop is the Hall of Patriots, a wing featuring animatronic displays of Burns’ ancestors, because it makes total sense for an old timey fellow like Burns to have something like this. Then he openly shows the bill to Homer, and is promptly arrested. Then Burns goes on a tirade against government oppression, which I guess inspires Homer enough to knock the two agents out, grab Burns and take off. Then, so we have a joke to end the act on, he places one agent’s hand on the other’s ass, giggles and leaves. Well done, writers.

I just really don’t understand what’s with Burns in this episode. If anything, he should be all for the government, standing by a capitalist system that’s responsible to keeping him rich and on a higher platform than the little people. He was against the gross foreign aid after the war, but all the other points don’t really stick. Also, he seems so out of sorts here, not recognizing Cuba, or realizing he’s flying the plane, he’s like wacky cartoon Burns, not the ruthless no-nonsense miser we know and love. Homer sticks around with Burns for some reason, and ultimately is responsible for losing the trillion dollar bill to Fidel Castro, leaving them and Smithers stranded on a raft out at sea. Between that we have a dead space showing a joke-free Cuba, and a look back state side as federal agents interrogate the rest of the Simpsons, where Marge for some reason believes the trillion dollars is theirs and Lisa says fuck college, let’s buy dune buggies. This episode had a strong start, then stumbled and crashed and burned in a calamity of bizarre characterization, stuff that wildly made no sense, and an ending that wishes it was triumphant and hilarious, but is actually just irritating. A pretty disastrous outing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great New Year’s celebration… until the ball gets stuck (“Eight! Eight! Eight!”) Chief Wiggum shoots at it to dislodge it, ending up sending it crashing down, setting the roof of the town hall aflame, but no one seems to care. Everyone joyously sings Auld Lang Syne, including an incredibly inebriated Krusty.
– Love Ned doing his taxes; he considers putting cash register ink as a business expense, but figures he can’t because he loves the smell of it. Todd asks his father what taxes pay for, and Ned is all too happy to answer (“Policemen, trees, sunshine! And lets not forget the folks who just don’t feel like working, God bless ’em!”) He stuffs his folder full of mints and jets it off to the post office. He passes Hibbert on the way out, who is too pleased to announce he’s mailing death certificates from holiday-related fatalities.
– On April 15th, the post office is mobbed. Chief Wiggum mollifies the crowd (“The harder you push, the faster we will all get outta here!”) The crowd shoves harder and Wiggum appears content with his work.
– Kent Brockman appears smug in announces that some people had their accountants do their taxes months ago. Cut to a frenzied man with papers in hand asking if anyone has a calculator. Brockman looks worried (“Myron?”)
– Really bizarre moment where Marge hangs the ship painting back on the wall (revealed in this episode that she painted it) and muses about how she used to have a lot of talent. Bart and Lisa look at each other dumb-founded. Is this like a throwaway joke? It feels so devastating. It’s cut in syndication, and when I saw it on the DVD, I was like…. what?
– Homer makes a mad dash to the post office, running through a red light causing two cars to crash. But the animation is so that it looks like one car literally flattens in smashing into the other, presumably killing every person inside.
– Great bar talk where Moe posits a scenario: you pull a thorn out of the Pope’s butt and he grants you one wish, what is it? Lenny wonders what it would be like to wear something that’s ironed. Moe is impressed (“I was gonna say a night with Joey Heatherton, but an ironed shirt… damn, that’s tempting.”)
– I always liked Charlie; never reaching the high levels of screen time as Lenny or Carl, he’s Homer’s soft-spoken workmate who we don’t know much about. Here, he reveals a bit more of his secret life to Homer (“My militia has a secret plan to beat up all sorts of government officials! That’ll teach them to drag their feet on high definition TV!”) Then government agents come to take him away. We’ve never seen Charlie again. Actually, we probably had, but it’s more mysterious if I say we haven’t.
Love Milhouse in the photo booth (“My… my shirt fell off.”) The secret film is also pretty good, speaking of Truman’s drunken boast, the bill itself featuring Truman doing the “OK” sign and a thumbs up, trusting America’s wealthiest and therefore must trustworthy man, and “This film will self-destruct if not properly stored.”
– I kind of like how awkwardly Homer is allowed into the mansion. With the hounds button broken, Burns invites him in (“Perhaps there’s something I can scald you with.”) He puts water on the stove, saying it’ll be a few minutes. He ends up splashing Homer prematurely, then goes off to get him a towel. This whole thing’s a little out of character for Burns, but I like how silly it is.
– Nice that Burns is under arrest for “grand, grand, grand, grand larceny.”
– Smithers seems displeased by the whole affair; I especially love when Homer gripes about leaving the country and his family behind, Smithers coldly comments, “That can be shipped.”
– The scene with the agents at the Simpson home really irritates me: why would Marge assume the money is theirs? And the horrible Lisa line. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s like these characters aren’t themselves, they just needed a scene to show what they were doing and spout a few jokes. They’re accessories to the stupid story, not actual people.
– More dumb Homer jokes: putting the bill inside the vending machine, immediately gambling over international waters… yawn…
– I do like some of the Castro stuff (“But presidente, America tried to kill you!” “Ah, they’re not so bad. They even named a street after me in San Francisco. …it’s full of what?!”) His “Aye carumba!” is great, and I do like the timing of the end, even though I’m not a fan of the ending (“Now, give it back.” “Give what back?”) Burns groans, then cut to the three scuffed up on a raft.

197. Simpson Tide

(originally aired March 29, 1998)
Homer gets a new job? Well, better get used to this premise, as we’ll be seeing it a lot more frequently in the coming seasons. There are some elements of this show that you could say are somewhat shoddy, but one thing can absolve any such shortcomings: humor. Rule of funny has a way of mollifying any gripes one might have; there are a few things in the episode that would be glaring if this weren’t the funniest episode of the season. Why does Homer join the naval reserve? Well first he was fired from the plant after an attempt to enlarge a donut using nuclear material ended up in disaster. Then a naval recruitment ad popped up on his beloved television, illustrating the absolute ease of the average recruit (“After basic training, you’ll only have to work one weekend a month. And most of that time, you’re drunk off your ass!”) The former is a traditional bonehead Homer move, and the latter a great comment of service scouting to the lowest common denominator; as silly as the conceit of naval Homer is, I’m laughing already.

Moe, Barney and Apu go along with Homer through basic training, a plot turn that’s kind of dumb and arbitrary, but I can kind of buy it at least for the first two; the latter I can’t see abandoning his store for that long in exchange for a joke (“Although my religion strictly forbids military service, what the hey!”), also we don’t really even see him for the rest of the episode. The gang later gets sent off to war games, headed by seasoned Captain Tennille, named after the pop music act, and voiced by Rod Steiger. He takes an immediate shining to Homer, encapsulated over a great scene on board the sub where the Captain is delighted to hear of Homer’s desire for peace but only attainable through force, but in actuality Homer seeks only peas with a knife. We don’t see him for long, but I really like this character, a man who effectively signs his own death warrant for trusting Homer. But he openly admits he ain’t that right in the head, so we believe it (“Maybe it’s the saltwater in my veins, or the nitrogen bubbles in my brain, but I’ve taken a real shine to you.”)

After inadvertently shooting the captain out of a torpedo tube, Homer is left in command, who ends up leading the sub into Russian waters, creating an international incident. The episode’s been pretty silly already, so why not get even crazier. Some of the suspense of the crew in danger is a bit ham-fisted, but it’s worth it for great bits like Homer’s unfortunate file photo, Grampa’s televised defense of his son, and perhaps the funniest bit in the entire season when the Soviets reveal they never disbanded at all, as tanks roll through Moscow, the Berlin Wall resurfaces, and Lenin rises from his tomb wishing to crush capitalism. It’s all pretty ridiculous, but there are glimmers of reality running throughout. Not wanting to get left out of the latest trend, Bart gets his ear pierced, much to his family’s chagrin. Upset at his father’s staunch disapproval, he bitterly gives him the earring before he casts off, an item which ultimately ends up saving the day. It’s not the most believable or emotionally heavy story, one that I can piece apart and examine, and there certainly are flaws, but I laughed through a good portion of it, and that makes it a winner in my book.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Similar to the 2001 opening of “Lisa’s Pony,” here we open with another movie parody dream of Homer’s at work, where he is being held prisoner on the Planet of the Donuts. It’s a nice sequence, ending in a gigantic donut proceeding to eat the prisoner (“Mmmm… Homer…”)
– I like how easy it appears to create a critical situation at the plant; Homer places the donut into a bin that makes it accessible behind glass for him to drop it into nuclear waste. That in turn causes a massive fire in the cooling towers? I barely know anything about how power plants work, but watching this show isn’t helping.
– I love the “It’s my first day” runner; I totally buy how Burns would be fooled by it, and like how it absolves Homer of all wrong-doing at the very end. It’s just the right level of stupidness that I take it as being funny instead of being pissed that it doesn’t make sense or is a cop-out ending.
– Quality programming on the Simpson TV as usual, it’s Exploitation Theatre: Blacula, followed by Blackenstein, and the Blunchblack of Blotre Blame (“Oooh, funky!”)
– Another great moment where Homer attempts to clap off his non-Clapper bedside lamp. It seems almost too dumb, but timing saves it; cut to outside the Simpson house where we hear Homer clap a few more times, then out goes the lamp through the window.
– Very disturbing look at Barney’s mother, who basically looks like himself in drag. And if that wasn’t enough, I don’t even want to know what’s up with the sexy Homer photo he puts up in his barracks. Or even how he got the photo. Or why Homer apparently posed for it. Huh.
– I think the repartee between Homer and the drill sergeant is pretty sweet (“All right, Simpson. I don’t like you, and you don’t like me.” “I like you.” “Um, all right… You don’t like me, but I don’t like you.” “Maybe you would like me if you got to know me.” “What are you, a comedian?” Well, I’m no Margaret Cho, but I do a pretty fair Columbo impression.”)
– Great first act break where we see the graduation of some World War I historical creationists, who throw their German spiked hats in the air, an action that can’t possibly end well…
– Milhouse’s earring gets him momentarily under fire by Skinner (“The school dress code specifically forbids the wearing of earrings unless you’re of Gypsy extraction.” “Well, uh, I’m a Gypsy. “Oh, really! Prove it.” “Uh… I vant to suck your blood!” “Nuh-uh, that’s a vampire. But they’re also covered. Carry on.”)
– Nice moment with Homer’s naval getup getting him some action in the bedroom. With this and Mr. Plow, Marge seems to love a man in uniform.
– Great Grampa flashback where he retells discovering John F. Kennedy’s dark secret (“Ich bin ein Berliner.” “He’s a Nazi! Get him!”)
– Great great great bit with Bart at the mall where every other store is a Starbucks. He eventually reaches In ‘N’ Out Ear Piercing (If It Dangles, We’ll Punch A Hole Through It), and leaves right before it, and every other store in the mall, has been turned into a Starbucks.
– I loved Captain Tennille pretty much immediately (“I’m a man of few words. …any questions?”)
– The “In The Navy” bit is pretty funny, but sometimes you can push it too far. The mislead up to the song and the crew dancing is great. Then you actually see the Village People, which would have been dumb if it weren’t for the later joke where they apparently all drown. And then… we see Smithers dancing with them. Little too on the nose, don’t you think? Plus then I guess he drowned too. Unnecessary.
– I don’t know if I’m behind Homer accidentally killing the captain, but I do like the enemy ship’s reaction, with the captain vowing they’ll respond in kind, and the crew immediately grabs him to prepare for launch (“Not me, a torpedo!”)
– Grampa defends his alleged traitor of a son on the news (“My Homer is not a communist. He may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, a communist, but he is not a porn star!”)
– Love that in the emergency fallout shelter at the school, Skinner saves the best and brightest, which apparently means Sherri, but not Terri. Terri was brought up to the stage with her sister, I guess thinking she would be saved, only to have her walk away dejected and given a supposed death sentence. Always the compassionate one, Nelson gives a well-timed “Ha-ha!”
– Following the fiasco, Homer must face the music before a committee of five naval officers, but they all are entwined in scandals of their own (“I’m under indictment for accepting bribes from military contractors.” “I torpedoed a Carnival Cruise ship.” “Impersonating the First Lady!”) so he gets a mere dishonorable discharge. Marge is relieved (“It’s the best we could’ve hoped for.” “You can’t spell ‘dishonorable’ without ‘honorable’!”)