705. The Man From G.R.A.M.P.A.

Original airdate: May 16, 2021

The premise: After fifty years of searching, a British spy arrives in Springfield to unmask the Russian spy known as “The Grey Fox,” who he believes is Abe Simpson, enlisting Homer in planning his capture.

The reaction: There’s been a couple episodes this season where the lead character is a one-off guest star (Olivia Coleman in “The 7 Year Itch,” Ellie Kemper in “A Springfield Summer Christmas for Christmas,” Megan Mullally in “Uncut Femmes,”) and they’ve all come off very confusing and awkward. There’s varying levels of attempt to actually develop these new characters into someone you actually give a shit about following through a story, but this show can barely create engaging stories with its thirty-plus-year-old leads, let alone brand-new ones. Our focal point this time around is Terrence, an M15 agent who’s been hunting for a Russian spy for fifty years, finally arriving in Springfield to take down our very own Abe Simpson. First he must get Homer to help him, working to convince him his father is actually a spy, for reasons I’m not really sure why. How hard is it to apprehend a doddering old man like Abe? This is also one of those episodes where it’s treating its story a bit more seriously than most. Both acts end on dramatic moments with no jokes, there’s tense music as Homer considers whether his father is actually a spy, the two end up tied up in Terrence’s trunk and make tearful amends… but as usual, there’s literally nothing specific for me to latch onto to make me care. Terrence believes Abe, the Grey Fox, is getting nuclear secrets from Homer, but how? And to what end? He’s been doing this over fifty years and nothing of note has happened because of it? He implies that Abe’s influence is why Homer’s never been fired for his years of negligence, but how does that make sense? Also, Homer’s only worked at the plant for ten years, so what was Abe doing for the other forty? There’s no attempt to give us any information that might make us interested. Terrence gathers the barflies around to tell his life story, but then we just get a music montage of him talking. In the end, Terrence’s daughter reveals that his father is retired and is just deluded in his own senility, and Homer and Abe are saved before any tension can escalate or anything that might possibly be interesting happens. This one was a real snoozer; so many episodes feel like there was so little effort given in the writing, but this one seemed to completely fall asleep at the very premise. Abe is suspected of being a spy… that’s good enough, when’s lunch?

Three items of note:
–  In the M15 flashback from fifty years ago, Terrence knows that the Grey Fox was part of the Flying Hellfish battalion and is in a small town with a nuclear plant. Wouldn’t there be some available recorded list of all the Hellfish soldiers? It’s not like it’s a secret. Springfield Cemetery has a Hellfish monument, that’s where they all were from. We also see from Terrence’s dossier that the Grey Fox is confirmed to be living in a town called Springfield. He doesn’t mention it aloud in the flashback, but it seems like this is the original report as the paper is all aged and ripped. So how many small towns with a nuclear plant are Springfields? How the hell did it take Terrence fifty goddamn years to find Abe?
– It’s really jarring anytime the show uses live action footage, which seems to happen at least once or twice a season now. In the Retirement Castle rec room, we see an old black-and-white live action movie playing on the big TV. I don’t know what it is, but I assume it’s some kind of old spy movie. Later, on the boardwalk, there’s a sign gag, “Joseph Cotten Candy,” featuring a real photo of old film star Joseph Cotten. I don’t know how many people actually know who Joseph Cotten is, but I’ll tell you what’s not going to help sell the joke: putting his actual fucking picture on screen. Was it worth it just to sell your awful pun? I guess he was in some old spy pictures? Both of these inclusions feel like another example of this show sometimes doing plot lines or extended references to source material that feels way too old for anyone in the audience to get. I really don’t know what the demographic breakdown of this show is anymore, but I would hazard a guess a lot more younger people watch it than senior citizens, who are the only people who could appreciate a Joseph Cotten reference, or a whole episode about the 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird film.
– Speaking of old references, Orson Welles (voiced by Maurice LaMarche, of course) makes an inexplicable cameo at the boardwalk getting on a Ferris wheel. I have no idea why he’s there, he just is, because why not. There was another recent episode within the last few years that featured Welles, and it feels weird that they’re still trotting this impression out. LaMarche’s Orson Welles is impeccable, without question, but both Pinky & the Brain and the infamous “green pea-ness” scene from The Critic are almost thirty years old. If you’re going to re-use the character so many times, you should have something new or interesting for him to do. The first time The Simpsons used LaMarche was in a Halloween episode fifteen years ago that recreated Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast, which was actually a pretty creative idea. Here, the joke is that Orson Welles was fat so they put a bowling ball on his Ferris wheel seat to balance the weight. Worth it!

Season Eleven Revisited (Part Two)

6. Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder

  • How did Krusty manage to swing getting “Where’s Waldo?” on the back of his cereal boxes? That seems like quite the get. The kitchen scene at the beginning is one of three muted attempts to set up the Homer-Maggie bonding plot turn, but they’re spread out so far apart and don’t feel like they’re meaningful whatsoever, so it still feels completely abrupt when we get to the third act. It doesn’t help that all three acts feel like three completely different stories to begin with.
  • Mr. Burns just stands motionless as Homer repeatedly gropes his face and yanks out his dentures (causing new ones to regenerate with a cash register noise). Then Homer is forced to eat dozens of barrels worth of toxic waste. What a stupid wacky cartoon this show has turned into.
  • Homer starts to bowl a perfect game out of his hatred of Mr. Burns, and serving as a catharsis at the end of such a bad day, but that never really feels like the case. He overslept for an entire day, was late for work, and ran away screaming from his boss. It’s not like Bart’s bad day at the beginning of “Bart the Murderer” where we have any kind of sympathy for his misfortunes. Homer used to be the king of bad luck and unfortunate circumstance, but now he’s a raving lunatic who more often than not creates his own problems, so I don’t really care about anything that happens to him as a result.
  • Homer the celebrity sucks. I feel like Homer bowling a perfect game making him a town hero is a plot that might have worked in like season 2, but at this point, the man’s toured with rock stars, won a Grammy, and been into outer space, why would anyone give that much of a shit about this? Homer spends all of act two acting self-important and trying to pathetically hold onto his minor level of fame, and it all sucks.
  • The celebrities on Springfield Squares are an odd bunch: Krusty, Sideshow Mel, Rainier Wolfcastle, and Bumblebee Man all check out. Princess Kashmir is an odd get, but I guess maybe she’s the most famous nightclub dancer in town? Capital City Goofball is a weird inclusion, being the mascot of a rival city’s baseball team. Then we have Itchy & Scratchy, who appear to be real? It’s not like they’re on a TV screen as animations, they’re actually on the set reacting in real time. It’s very odd.
  • This episode is bursting at the seams with pointless guest stars, none more pointless than Pat O’Brien and Nancy O’Dell, who are inexplicably hosting Access Springfield for some reason. But at least it made me remember the infamous Pat O’Brien tapes of him calling a woman he wanted to fuck and do coke with, which in turn made me think of the Howard Stern show prank call where they called a sex line using O’Brien’s voice, resulting in them eventually hanging up. Funny stuff.
  • I’m sure I talked about last time how dumb and abrupt Homer’s suicide attempt is. The organized line of jumpers at the top of the building feels a bit too grim of a joke… although I guess the escalator to nowhere is no different in concept.
  • A new story begins in act three where Homer tries to give his life meaning by being a good father, but quickly gives up on his first two kids to focus exclusively on Maggie. Up to this point, we’ve seen Maggie is sad that Homer is neglecting her, missing her tea party and being sad she wouldn’t help feed her, but in act three, all she does is try to get away from him, so it doesn’t make sense at all. It’s odd that Marge doesn’t appear at all until the very end, this plot would definitely have felt more substantial if she had checked in on Homer and gave him some advice or guidance or fucking something that might resemble plot progression or any kind of cohesion to the entire episode. Instead, Homer almost drowns and Maggie becomes Super-Baby to drag a 250+ pound man to shore. Awesome.
  • Looking back at my Season 11 final thoughts, I’m shocked that this episode didn’t make the bottom five. To be fair, I’ve got a lot of season left to watch, but this sticks out as one of the worst of the Scully era. Episodes like “Kill the Alligator and Run” and “Saddlesore Galactica” stand out more for their more absurd, reality-breaking elements, but this episode not only also has a bunch of that shit (eating toxic waste, real-life Itchy & Scratchy, CHUDs and mole people), but desperately attempts to be an emotional family episode at the very end (which makes sense since he wrote it). Al Jean’s solo scripts really took such a tumble; “Lisa’s Sax” and “Mom and Pop Art” are quite good, but then in barely a season’s time, we get this, “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?” and “Day of the Jackanapes.” Then he takes over the show as executive producer, and a decade plus later, every season or so, we get an episode he wrote, and they’re all pretty notably bad (“I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” and “Daddicus Finch” being especially terrible). All five of my previous “worst” picks are garbage, but this is such a train wreck, it’s gotta be bottom three, easy.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Well, now THIS was a great breath of fresh air! Hardly any wackiness (Maggie saving Homer was a spoof on an urban legend, so I don’t count that as wacky), a GREAT use of the townspeople, quick celebrity cameos rather than basing an entire episode around them, great gags, and a non-jerkarse Homer, and one who CARES about his family to boot! Man, if all of season 11 is going to be like this, I’ll be a happy Simpsonite. The most enjoyable ep since ‘Miracle on Evergreen Terrace,’ IMO.”

7. Eight Misbehavin’

  • Were IKEA stores recently expanding in the 90s that prompted this SHOP opening scene? It really makes me crave IKEA breakfast and Swedish meatballs. The IKEA in Burbank is the largest in the US, and it’s pretty dang neato.
  • Since “I’m With Cupid” established the writers have no particular interest in exploring Apu and Manjula’s relationship, I guess they figured why the hell not give them some kids, that’ll eat up an episode. I mean, Manjula should really have at least one distinct character trait other than nagging wife, right? Whatever. At least their scenes leading up to the pregnancy have some good jokes (“All that sex for nothing!” “Well, that is a pretty grim assessment,” the pregnancy tests with slot machine symbols)
  • Apu enlists his best pal Homer to help him conceive, because of course he does. Remember his brother Sanjay? Maybe he could talk with him about it? Instead, Homer tears the roof off of Apu’s car and leers at Apu and Manjula making out like a creepy pervert. What a guy!
  • This episode keeps reminding me of “Octomom,” but that was like a decade after this episode aired. I guess mothers with six+ kids were common topics on daytime TV, so that’s what this is kind of a riff on, but all of the media circus and bizarre zoo third act come at the expense of any sort of emotional element from Apu and Manjula. In a way, it’s kind of the opposite of this season’s “The Dad-Feeling Limited.” That episode sucked, but at least they gave Comic Book Guy a believable reason why he would even consider having children and why he would like it. That’s more than can be said here.
  • Hank Azaria is pretty funny as an exhausted Apu; his line reading after going off with Larry Kidkill is especially great (“But you don’t know who he is!” “Who cares, there’s only one of him!”)
  • The zoo plot is incredibly strange. Why would Octopia be such a big draw? A mother having eight babies is a peculiar human interest story for like a day, but they’re made out to be this big attraction at the zoo, the majority of the time being eight babies in a nursery, where we see zoo attendants enraptured and pressed up against the glass. They’re just babies, literally any other animal is more fascinating to watch than them. Again, the writers had no real interest in a real Apu/Manjula story. This show could have been about the Lovejoys having octuplets and there would’ve been no difference.
  • Chief Wiggum gets a pretty good scene, clearly being paid off by the zoo in peanuts and giving Apu his blessing to take the law into his own hands (“Y’know, a lot of people are doing that these days”)
  • The episode ends with Octopia being replaced by Homer and Butch Patrick riding a unicycle through a stage full of cobras. Why bother trying to make sense of it? Are they doing this multiple times a day? How much venom is getting pumped through Homer before he drops dead? Who gives a fuck, as long as we have him scream over the end credits, the audience will laugh their asses off, right?
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Season 11 continues with a roar, of laughter that is, with the second best episode of the Scully era after ‘Natural Born Kissers.’ Matt Selman shows yet again that he alone among the newer writers fully under- stands the show. Exaggeration of our modern-day idiosyncrasies replaces all-out zaniness, thorough character interaction stands in for formulaic subplots, and laughs are enhanced by a story that brings out meaningful emotion, not aimed at ripping our care for the characters to shreds.

8. Take My Wife, Sleaze

  • The disclaimer at the end of the Greser’s Cafe commercial, “where it’s 1955 every day of the year,” is pretty good (“Actual year may vary. Consult calendar for current year.”)
  • Having Jay North, the original Dennis the Menace, on the show feels like a good idea in concept. I remember hearing Matt Groening say how disappointed he was in the original TV show as a kid that Dennis wasn’t anywhere near the rambunctious hellion he was billed as, which subconsciously led to him creating Bart decades later. Having TV’s original “bad boy” meet his match feels like something that should have happened about five or six seasons back, at this point, Bart’s no longer the flavor of the month and his character has been pretty defanged, so it just feels meaningless. 
  • I don’t really get the joke where after Homer tosses Marge up and out of the cafe (just ignore the logic behind that) and she walks back in, why does she act like an amnesiac and act like she’s never been in the building before (“Wow, a 50’s nostalgic cafe!”) Did she slam her head into the pavement outside and lose her memory?
  • Why the hell does Homer want the motorcycle at all? This is another great example of the new Homer who lives for crazy, exciting adventures, not the Homer that loves sleeping in and snacking on the couch. When he forms his pathetic biker gang which everyone really wants to be in for some reason, it all feels really sad and annoying. Why the fuck do Moe and Ned want to pretend to be a greaser tossing pennies at the wall of the Kwik-E-Mart? 
  • Submitting Marge’s bedroom photo to be this month’s “Cycle Slut” is probably one of the scummiest things Homer’s ever done.
  • The real Hell’s Satans trash and take over the Simpson house, and at that point I give up wondering what the hell the point of the episode is. What an absolute waste of the great John Goodman and Henry Winkler, who give their all to the characters (their loud, boisterous laugh at a nervous Marge is pretty great), but the characters are just way too exaggerated to feel even the slightest bit believable, and they don’t even keep that consistent. They’re self-processed lowlives who smash eggs into toasters and think that yelling at bloodstains will clean their clothes, but later they have a discussion about how both pronunciations of “resume” are correct. So are they violent morons or do they have hidden depths? Who cares.
  • Speaking of inconsistency, Marge is discouraged that none of the bikers find her attractive and wants to gangrape her (in a very in-character and tasteful scene), but later are discouraged they can’t take Marge to an orgy. If none of them want to bang her, then were they going to use her as sexual currency? What a wonderful episode this is.
  • Speaking of tastefulness, Homer tells his children that if he can’t get their mother back to call and get him a Korean love bride. Flipping to the commentary real quick, after laughing at Bart and Lisa’s uncomfortable reaction, Mike Scully chimes in, “His heart’s the right place.” Is it?
  • I mentioned this in my original review, but the idea of Marge domesticating the bikers and them being physically unable to defend themselves against a raging Homer would have made a decent ending, and the episode might have even worked if it had builded up to that point where we see Homer getting increasingly unhinged and the bikers embracing their pacifist ways for a reason. Instead, despite Meathook wanting to solve the conflict with words, for no reason, we end up at the Circle of Death, and as the cherry on the shit sundae, we get the motorcycle swordfight. What more can I say? This episode sucks ass.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “All the wit, subtlety, clever dialogue, and charming characters The Simpsons is known and loved for are absent from this loud, raucous, obnoxious, hollow, confusing, painfully dumb, predictable, freakishly unfunny script. The attempt at comedy here seems founded on the idea of driving motorcycles indoors and flat, unexamined biker movie stereotypes, peppered with warped retreads of classic Simpsons scenes. The season 10 trends of wildly inconsistent quality and all-time worst episodes written by long-time writer John Swartzwelder return. His drafts are rumored to be rewritten by staff only now, and seem shamefully filled with the least inspired bits deemed not good enough for their own scripts.”

9. Grift of the Magi

  • Bart and Milhouse being bored at home is a fine opening. Milhouse being chased by the killer sun beam is a little silly, but I was okay with it. But whose wigs were those?
  • Fat Tony and his instant ramp operation ultimately feels pretty unnecessary. It’s all too goofy, with the ramps spiraling around the building like a Dr. Seuss drawing, and the reveal that they were made of breadsticks. You don’t really need to manufacture an excuse why the school has run out of funding, the place is always portrayed as a poor dump. At least we get some good lines out of Fat Tony (“Look, you’re getting a little philosophical for me.” “I suppose so. They say it happens in the autumn years.”)
  • The school is flat broke but the emergency meeting has fancy catering with attendants carving a turkey and manning an omelette bar? And why is Moe there? It’s for a quick gag, but is yet another “insert-character-here” moment.
  • Mr. Burns would have never let Skinner and the kids into his house for any reason whatsoever, let alone sit there quietly like a senile old man reacting aghast at the poor production.
  • It’s interesting that on Bumblebee Man’s daytime court show, his wife is the one suing, apparently having been sold an inoperable Ford Escort.
  • This episode’s biggest success is the plot itself: greedy capitalists using and manipulating children to their own gain and to further exploit them and their families. If that’s not a pessimistic yet completely accurate social commentary The Simpsons would tackle in its heyday, I don’t know what is. The scenes in the school in act two all work, with the teachers not-so-subtly getting focus group information out of the kids; I especially love Milhouse’s frenzied response to what the perfect toy should have (“Its eyes should be telescopes! No, periscopes! No, microscopes! Can you come back to me?”)
  • Gary Coleman being security guard for Kid First really feels like “insert-guest-star-here,” there’s no reason that I can think of why it’s specifically him. Regardless, it’s still a memorable appearance, in the ever-shrinking number of guest stars willing to actually ridicule themselves. Although I never understood why at least three other episodes would have Coleman show up as a cameo and reuse his karate sounds. Would they have to pay him again for that? I think in some of those episodes he was credited at the end, so maybe so.
  • “They must have programmed it to eliminate the competition.” “You mean like Microsoft?” “Exactly.” Just like the Homer line about professional writers in “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner,” it makes absolutely no sense why Bart would have any knowledge about Microsoft’s business practices, but they wanted to make that scathing joke so they stuck it into the script.
  • I guess the Funzo toys were only released in Springfield for the holidays as a test market, which is the only way Bart and Lisa’s plan to steal all the toys in town makes sense. It would be nice if there was a line addressing that, but whatever.
  • The ending speeding through other classic Christmas stories befalling other characters is a nice idea, as well as a good last-minute conclusion to the actual plot with Burns’ tuxedo pants money. Why they all go to the Simpson house is unclear, but whatever. I’m still a sucker for “Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout everyone!”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “After a promising start, it looks like this season is already going down the tubes. ‘Grift of the Magi’ was full of satire, but satire that was misguided and obvious. The idea of a sinister toy company never quite clicked with me, especially when it did things that toy companies probably never do in reality. Not very funny, and not very interesting.”

10. Little Big Mom

  • Itchy & Scratchy episodes would proceed to get longer in later seasons, making these glorious quick bursts of incredible violence kind of a slog. The opening short really could have been done in half the time. The only notably long I & S I can think of in the classic era is the one where Scratchy is holed up in a wall for decades and rescued, then tortured by the future Itchys with giant brains. That was certainly more interesting for its timeframe than just “let’s clone Scratchy.”
  • The Mount Embolism stuff is okay, not great; “Mountain of Madness” wasn’t a stellar episode, but definitely outshines this. A lot of it is just Homer screaming and getting hurt. “Stupid sexy Flanders” is a classic line in its own right, but it’s soured a bit since it’s followed by Homer getting hit in the dick with snow piles like twenty times.
  • Disco Stu may be a joke character, but the idea of him picking up single women at a ski lodge feels very appropriate.
  • Lisa the Mom feels like it should be a promising plotline, but it felt like it wasn’t clicking for me watching it again. I know some people have issues with “My Sister, My Sitter” in Lisa being left alone with Bart and Maggie, but the episode laid enough groundwork to make me accept it, at least to me. Here, even though grown adult Homer is still there, positioning Lisa as the guardian, cooking their meals, and ultimately being driven to her wits end by a cackling Homer and Bart ultimately feels weird to me. I dunno, it’s hard to say exactly why, but a big reason is from act two on Homer and Bart are rambunctious buddies, which I always hate to see. The two can bond over shared infantile interests, and I understand Homer is supposed to be the second “kid” Lisa has to tend to, but it just feels like they dumb down Homer way too much whenever they want to do these Homer-Bart stories.
  • I’ve noticed some pretty weird visual quirks these last two seasons regarding the cel animation, the most glaring being a lot of obvious cel shadows. One scene in this episode had the largest shadows of all, it looks pretty rough. I’ve heard the show eventually had to move to digital ink & paint because there were fewer and fewer artists who did it, as basically every animated show transitioned to digital sometime during the 2000s. Maybe these last few cel-painted seasons look rougher because they were more short-staffed and overworked?

  • Sweet Emotions cereal must have killed in the writers room to get a glory shot in the episode, but it feels like such a non-joke. It’s not even a pun, so what is it? Some cereals are sweet?– Did we really need the literal spirit of Lucille Ball to appear to Lisa to give us our ridiculous third act twist? I don’t know how the hell this came about in the writer’s room. We’ll do a crazy sitcom-esque scenario, but we’ll lampshade it so that’ll be part of the joke!
  • Leprosy! Are those “sores” pasted on their bodies with superglue? It’s fucking oatmeal and poster paint, how did they never come off? It’s so, so silly.
  • The Flanders family are the MVPs of the episode. In addition to “stupid sexy Flanders,” we also get a wonderful but brief bit of bickering between Ned and Maude (“Remember those scary lepers in Ben Hur?” “You saw Ben Hur without me?” “We were broken up then!”), Ned’s mustache getting ripped off, and Rod and Todd’s imaginary Christmas.
  • Another spectacular example of characters spouting jokes instead of reacting like humans: Marge arrives home, and Lisa tells her Homer and Bart are missing and that she tricked them into thinking they have leprosy. Marge corrects her, “Hansen’s disease. Like the terrible cream soda.” I guess one of the writers has a big vendetta against Hansen’s. But instead of gasping or being worried or shocked about her husband and son, or wanting to get more information out of Lisa, Marge instead corrects Lisa with the medical term for leprosy and gets in a dig at a soda brand.
  • We end the episode in Hawaii, and who cares. Couldn’t the medical staff tell right away that Homer and Bart aren’t sick, and their sores are actually painted goddamn oatmeal? Whatever. As long as we have Homer screaming his lungs out over the end credits, people will still laugh!
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I’ve said this about several episodes, but my opinions usually change on them, but this was by far the worst episode in the history of The Simpsons. I don’t think any other program will be able to top this one. Lisa’s irresponsibility is glaring, and the story focuses too much on stupid and tasteless jokes, making it very unlikable. I actually feel sorry for myself, instead of Lisa. This is perhaps the single most tasteless, cruel, cold-blooded moment in OFF’s history. The Marge hospital-massage subplot was pointless and unfunny, as well. Let’s hope this one is played few times in syndication, and buried as a ‘Lost Episode.’

11. Faith Off

  • The opening inevitably feels like a hollow retreading over “Homer Goes to College.” The contextual through-line of Homer believing he’s living in a college movie is gone, so here we have an actual evil Dean (named Peterson, despite not being the same character from “College”), and “normal” Homer proposing a wacky prank, and it doesn’t work as well.
  • Hibbert conveniently has three hilarious trauma victims lined up against a brick wall in the room next to his office. Where the hell is this, and what are they doing there? Showing Homer pictures of them maybe would have made more sense, but here, it just feels ridiculous.
  • Brother Faith doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but Don Cheadle commendably gives it his all. His muted asides when he falters his boisterous persona are particularly funny (responding to Bart’s plan of a lifetime of sin and repenting on his deathbed, “Wow, that’s a good angle…”)
  • Why is Homer making a homecoming float at all? They don’t even set it up. I imagine current students are responsible for homecoming affairs, not dumbbells who only took one course five years ago. Later we see the actual Springfield University floats before Homer rolls up in his, so I guess he just made it on his own? Why?
  • One big piece missing from this episode is a town wide reverie of Bart being a miracle child. A bunch of Springfield regulars are present when Bart lifts the bucket off Homer’s head, but there’s never any significant mention of it after that. When Bart gets up in church and talks about how faith can be powerful, and randomly does Tae-Bo, all the other churchgoers go nuts for some reason. Couldn’t they have had Moe or somebody stand up and establish they all know about his “powers”? Instead, when we see Bart’s backyard “church” tent with everybody in Springfield in attendance, it doesn’t feel very motivated. They’re all there because Bart did some kicks in the aisle at church and they thought it was cool, I guess.
  • “Testify” is an alright song, probably the best original song done in the Scully era. Following the first two soundtrack albums that I listened to to death as a kid, they put out a third one titled “Testify,” containing songs from seasons 9-16 or so. I was already in college by the time it came out, and I remember listening to it once and never again. How could that be? With great, memorable tracks like “You’re a Bunch of Stuff” and “What Do I Think of the Pie?”
  • There’s a weird awkward hold after Lenny delivers his line at the bar before we cut to the stadium. It’s weird, was this episode like three seconds short?
  • Homer drunkenly drives his float onto the field and crushes the star player’s leg, and of course there’s absolutely no repercussions for this. Not only that, he’s immediately sober when confronted by Fat Tony, because fuck you.
  • The flying leg really is so stupid, and it doesn’t even make any sense in regards to how it caught up to the ball at all. So I guess Homer is basically responsible for making that guy an amputee, and again, nobody cares.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I am speechless beyond speech. This didn’t feel like a Season 11 episode. This felt like a Season *5* episode. I can’t remember the last time I saw as many clever spoofs of clichés in one show — I think it was sometime in 1995. The characterization of Bart and Homer was so good it was frightening (except for the latter’s sowing salt). The only real fault was that the satire could have been more incisive. I may not have faith in god like Bart does, but I have had my own revival of faith in the writing staff.

704. Mother and Child Reunion

Original airdate: May 9, 2021

The premise: Nine years into the future, 17-year-old Lisa suddenly decides she doesn’t want to go to college, unsure of what she wants out of her life. This infuriates Marge, who was riding her entire hopes and dreams through her daughter, causing a massive rift between the two that would last for decades.

The reaction: The novelty of these future shows really start to run on empty when you’re going on your eighth one. I honestly don’t remember anything about the last one, which was also focused on Lisa, but this episode feels a bit discouraging because it actually touches on a promising premise: after grade-grubbing and spending her entire childhood studying, Lisa has an internal crisis about what her life is going to be. However, as it’s introduced in the episode, it’s difficult to follow. Lisa complains about how college costs a fortune now (now?) and won’t lead to any jobs, and separately laments about how she missed out on doing anything fun as a kid. These feel like two separate issues: Lisa’s future career prospects vs. actually having fun in life/having friends and relationships. Before she expresses her crisis, she had just rebuffed a promposal from Milhouse, but it’s not like it was specifically triggered by that, but I thought there would be something about how Lisa is crestfallen how she’s made no friends or had no romantic partners through school and regrets it. But hey, you know where you can start over and have a rich social life? College. Anyway, Lisa has gotten into every school and Marge is waiting with bated breath as to which she’ll pick. When Lisa announces she’s not going to college, Marge is pissed, outright telling her daughter she’s rested all her abandoned hopes and dreams on her so you better fucking pick a college, you sniveling ingrate. In three different interactions, Marge comes at Lisa hard about how much she’s sacrificed for her so pick a damn school, rather than, y’know, ask why her daughter feels this way and what’s going on. There’s been plenty (way too many) recent episodes featuring Marge being an irrational bitch toward Lisa, which always feels so incredibly distasteful. Marge is an eternally loving and understanding mother, so seeing her act this way is bizarre to see. So Lisa doesn’t know what to do next, which is fine, but the episode feels like it’s fumbling its way into finding a point. Lisa gets a food service job, and after an interaction with a dullard kid customer, gets the inspiration to start an after-school program to help underprivileged kids. Hey, do you know what might help you get that started? An education degree. We quickly flash forward and see that Lisa’s teachings (Knowledge Minus College) leads to great success, with dozens of schools opening nationwide, with Lisa later becoming superintendent, governor, and finally President. We barely get a scene out of Lisa’s classroom, where she teaches Shakespeare using dances from TikTok, so I really have no idea what I’m supposed to latch onto. Over halfway through the episode, Lisa’s existential ennui is finally solved, she’s interested in education, and then after one minute of screen time, we move through decades into the future, and then it becomes about Lisa and Marge finally making up, with Marge apparently a completely senile old person who didn’t even know her daughter was elected President and still insists she was right that she should have gone to college. The conflict between the two is so completely empty and meaningless that they don’t even make up directly, thanks to a great joke involving a “Mom translator” who “interprets” Marge and Lisa’s remarks back at each other until they hug and that’s the end. This one was a real stinker. It honestly feels like they wanted to do an episode featuring President Lisa after Trump was elected because of the reference in “Bart to the Future” (who is referenced to without naming him as Lisa’s new aide tells her, “Just after you were sworn in, your predecessor finally conceded,”) and then they worked backwards to actually come up with a plot. Maybe they should have worked harder and actually written one.

Three items of note:
– The wrap-around features this future vision being told by magician shop owner Werner Herzog and his mystical tarot cards (hey, remember “Lisa’s Wedding”?) Herzog appeared in an episode last season (or two seasons, I forget), and I gotta say, I have a little difficulty understanding his voice, especially when he’s trying to work his way through some labored joke dialogue.
– There’s been so many future episodes that nothing in these shows really feels fresh anymore. 3D printed pancakes, floating tablets, an antiquated Fruit Ninja reference, the college drones (which I think was in the last future episode), none of it feels like anything new. We see muscular teenage Milhouse, who has shown up before, as well as the ending with Bart and Lisa getting high and having a heart-to-heart on the White House roof, which very much feels lifted from when they got drunk in the treehouse in “Holidays of Future Passed.” We also need to give some kind of excuse for why Maggie doesn’t talk, so they have her communicate through emoticons or something. Why the fuck not just have her talk? At least it would be something different.
– Nate Silver voices himself to smugly poke fun at how absolutely incompetent and shameless he is as a political commentator and it made my skin crawl just a bit. Worst guest appearance since Chrissy Teigen.

Season Eleven Revisited (Part One)

1. Beyond Blunderdome

  • For the longest time, I never understood what the hell the title meant. I’ve never seen the original Mad Max movies, so I didn’t know about Beyond the Thunderdome. But then why isn’t the title “Beyond THE Blunderdome”?
  • Just a few minutes in, the Simpsons have driven an electric car into the ocean, floating along the sea bottom completely submerged, and electrocute a bunch of mermaids. With Loch Ness and Godzilla showing up at the end of last season, any semblance of realism left in this series is fading fast.
  • Rewatching this Mel Gibson asskissing session felt awkward in 2012, and it feels pretty much the same way. But even if you put aside all of Gibson’s controversies, there’s no joke with him except that he’s a perfect, beloved movie star, no different than Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger before him. It’s just so wild that an episode of TV exists depicting Mel Gibson as a universally revered celebrity and Robert Downey, Jr. being shot down by police.
  • I’d say there’s not even any commentary about test screenings and revising movies based on audience reaction, but we all know what this crew thinks about those kinds of things after The Simpsons Movie
  • When washed up baseball player Flash Baylor all but propositioned Marge to come to his motel room, Homer was impressed and was playful with her about it (“Wow! Flash Baylor came onto my wife!”) Here, Mel Gibson kissing Marge’s hand throws him into a rage, later confronting him and flaunting her wedding ring in his face (“You see this? It symbolizes that she’s my property, and I own her!”) Which portrayal sounds more likeable to you?
  • Homer hates Mel Gibson’s guts until he needs his help, then they’re the best of buddies. He’s not so much a character anymore as he is just a utility persona that can be changed and molded into whichever new profession or scenario they need him to fit into. But why exactly does Gibson need Homer anyway? Homer’s comment card complaining about the lack of violence mirrors exactly what Gibson wanted, it gave him the excuse to validate his feelings through a regular audience member to the studio execs. Why couldn’t he just fix the movie himself? He’s a fucking film director, and he needs some random dumbass to help him?
  • The only thing I like in the new Mr. Smith ending is Gibson slapping his face and making Curly noises. There’s a shot that’s always stuck out to me when Homer and Gibson give each other finger guns in the screening room where Homer’s grin is turned downward for some reason. He’s clearly not smiling, they couldn’t go back and fix that?
  • This episode is like an unholy blend of “When You Dish Upon a Star” with its toothless celebrity worship and “Viva Ned Flanders” where instead of Ned Flanders being Homer’s unquestioning sidekick, now it’s mega  celebrity Mel Gibson who continuously follows Homer’s lead for some reason, no matter how ridiculous or idiotic his suggestions are.
  • I guess there’s something to be said about the death of the brainless action pictures of yesteryear… but I can’t even pretend to say there’s anything close to satire here. Why does everyone at the Springfield premiere hate the new ending when they’re the kind of slack-jawed idiots that would eat up a brainless, violent spectacle like that? How did Gibson get the movie released at all? Last we saw in Hollywood, the executives lodged their car into Homer’s ass.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:This was a hilarious ep. The self-parody and the swipes at the Hollywood establishment were quite funny. It was a typical ep which starts with something completely unrelated, but as usual the show’s endings are the best on TV. It’s also funny Mel Gibson was willing to go along with all of that.”

2. Brother’s Little Helper

  • Bart feels believably obnoxious at the fire safety fair. We also get our first and only appearance of the gigantic gymnasium that is its own separate building from the school that for sure has always existed. 
  • I really like Skinner punching the giant clown inflatable in his office before beginning his meeting with Homer and Marge. He may be a giant rigid nerd, but Skinner also has some untapped rage, and it’s great to actually see it before he eventually devolved into a sniveling wuss.
  • Homer’s drug freakout is an excuse for some silly David Silverman poses, but ultimately not that funny (especially to repeat twice), however, I do like Ned instructing Rod to get his “exorcism tongs.”
  • Bart’s oranges/enlarged testicles is a great gag, made even better by Lisa’s disgust at Marge dropping them back into their lunches, with her responding with a dismissive, “Oh, grow up.”
  • Krusty’s skit resulting in almost being strangled by his automated bowtie is pretty excellent, as is him throttling his producer offstage (“Sorry, Krusty, I choked.” “You choked? YOU CHOKED?!”)
  • “My career has kind of lost momentum.” “I think it’s the bright blue pants. I mean, you’re not on a golf course.” “Well, I have been thinking about making them into cutoffs.” I like that when we cut to the next scene at the power plant with Homer’s crudely severed pants, they’re never explicitly addressed, and on top of that, we get a joke on top of it with Homer’s digital planner (Buy sunscreen for legs). I’m kind of surprised how much of this episode I’m enjoying so far, and surprised to look back and see it didn’t make my season 11 top 5.
  • With this episode airing at the end of 1999, it seems a little late to be taking shots at 1995’s Showgirls. It pretty much could have been a fake R-rated movie and there would have been no difference. 
  • I’m a bit mixed about Bart’s freakout. There’s definitely too many suspenseful moments in the second half of the episode, but I like Bart’s subtle change in demeanor, how focused and direct he is. I like his casual greeting to Marge when she steps in front of the tank (“Hey, Mom, thanks for coming out!”) 
  • There’s not much plot progression to be had in the third act, but there’s really a lot of good jokes: Homer reading the Focusyn side effects (“Erratic behavior, paranoia, diarrhea…” “I don’t think he has diarrhea.” “But how do we know, Marge? How do we know?!”), Comic Book Guy deliberating which hero could best the tank, and the sad tragedy that is Sir Wide-Bottom’s deflated bottom (“I know I’m alive, but why…”) Of all, my favorite bit is the showering soldiers (“I can’t believe that Sarge said we’re the worst bunch he’s ever seen.” “See, I have to believe he’s seen worse bunches than us. He was just trying to motivate us.” “Well, it ruined the whole hike!”)
  • The MLB conspiracy twist at the end is okay. It definitely feels like something that could have been strengthened with a more creative explanation, but compared to later absolute bullshit endings, I give this one a pass, especially with the ending joke with the surveillance bat Mark McGwire gives the Simpsons.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “A horrible episode even by last year’s standard. The plot made very little sense, and the conspiracy theory was just some filler material to make the episode long enough for viewing. Plus, the social commentary on the “over-drugged” society was too weak for the Simpsons. I guess Fox is trying to make the show appeal to the non-intellectuals and ‘non-nerds.’”

3. Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?

  • The incredibly random scene of Homer screaming bleeped expletives at an ambulance and his impromptu song about eating feel very much like evidence about how Homer is basically a completely malleable character who can say and do whatever the writers want regardless if it makes sense for the story or his characterization within a scene.
  • The Springfield Shopper isn’t a bad set piece with a fair share of good gags (the preserved Ann Landers and Dear Abby, the “recycled” trees) along with the excellent line, “If he’s so smart, how come he’s dead?”
  • Making Homer a food critic seems like a no-brainer of an idea, the man likes to eat. But it suffers from the problem nearly all Homer-gets-a-job episodes have, where it doesn’t even seem like Homer particularly seems to care about his joke. He gives a toss-off line about his excitement (“Can you believe it, Marge? This job is the greatest. They’re paying me to eat!”), but he never seems that invested in his job. Maybe that’s because everything’s getting filtered through Lisa’s words, and that’s really the core of the episode, but I dunno, there felt like a disconnect between what Homer actually cared about and what he was doing, which is fairly typical for this era of episodes.
  • “Wow, my first published article … although someone else’s name is on it.” “Welcome to the humiliating world of professional writing.” Speaking of malleable, Homer just gives this punchline about professional writers despite there being absolutely no reason for him to say this. The writers wrote it (clearly speaking from experience) and gave it to Homer because why not.
  • The cane “from” Citizen Kane at Planet Springfield is a great gag, and also gave us a whole slew of shitposts based on the template.
  • This episode wasn’t too bad until the midpoint, then things start going downhill. Why does Homer care about what the other critics think of him? He should be getting no pressure from the Shopper itself, since his positive reviews have been great for business for the restaurants, but why would Homer give any kind of shit about these snobby critics who we haven’t seen before or since their only scene? As the episode goes on, Homer smugly pisses on every bit of food he eats, and I don’t understand what pleasure he’s getting out of it and why he’s doing it.
  • Homer’s newspaper profile is a really funny drawing, the man is clearly very inebriated.
  • The restaurateurs of Springfield being a-OK with murder feels like a bridge too far for me. There’s some good banter to be had (“I’m surprised he doesn’t just give it up and go for sweatpants.” “He says the crotch wears out too fast.” “Yarrr! That’s going to replace the whale in my nightmares!”) but it feels like an unnecessarily crazy ending. Since they set it up, it should have been some kind of emotional reconciliation Homer makes to Lisa, but instead, the invincible Super-Homer gets no comeuppance, as he puts it. We also get a very telling line from an exasperated Marge when he finds out about the plan to poison Homer (“Only your father could take a part time job at a small town paper and wind up the target of international assassins.”) If that’s not an admission from the writers that this show has become a coo-coo-bananas wacky cartoon with almost no connection to reality, I don’t know what is.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: Three episodes into the eleventh season and I am not pleased. The episode started off groin-grabbingly good, but the quality descended. The episode was only sorta good, not excellent. Well, I think it’s safe to say that the UN has done its job. Screw Flanders. Screw Flanders. Screw Flanders. Screw Flanders. Screw Flanders. Screw Flanders. Screw Flanders. Screw Flanders.

4. Treehouse of Horror X

  • I never understood the Sugar Crisp joke at the start of the first segment. First off, when I watched it when I was younger, I didn’t get it since Sugar Crisp has been known as Golden Crisp for almost my entire lifetime. Also, Homer singing the jingle after recovering the cereal from an unseen vampire adventure, is this supposed to be a specific reference to a commercial or something? Or is it just a silly non sequitur?
  • Homer manipulating Ned’s corpse on the roof is pretty wonderfully macabre. It stands in stark contrast to only two seasons later where they would puppet Burns’ body like a marionette in the medical marijuana episode.
  • Moe calling the recent widow Maude Flanders to make his move feels very on-brand for him.
  • Milhouse’s awful Radioactive Man costume is a perfect representation of those bizarre old school costumes where it would just be a mask and a smock with the character’s face and name on it. What was with those?
  • Everything about the second segment works so well. Bart and Lisa act very true to themselves if they were to have super powers (Bart fucking with Skinner, stretching into the adult section), Comic Book Guy makes an excellent villain, with almost every line of his being excellent, and Lucy Lawless gives a stellar performance, both as herself and when she goes into Xena mode. Two lines stand out: her “Oh dear God!” upon hearing CBG’s plans to make her his bride is just perfect, the perfect mix of shock and disgust, like this is the devastating natural conclusion of all of the mouth-breathing nerds she’s had to put up with at conventions. And damn, does that woman sell the hell out of “Xena needs xex!” CBG is right, it would have made even Stan Lee blush.
  • The third segment is a true time capsule, but I remember how unnecessarily freaks out people were about Y2K and this feels like an appropriate in-the-moment rip on that. I really like the ominous rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” when everything goes to shit after the New Year’s countdown.
  • Speaking of time capsule, the ending with all of the “bad” celebrities sort of feels like that, although the joke still feels like it plays and doesn’t feel too obscure even in 2021 (I’m not sure why Spike Lee is there, though). It also gives way to a truly horrific ending with Homer and Bart’s heads exploding in the vacuum of space. It’s off-screen and has a cartoony balloon popping sound effect, but it’s also mixed with a light matter squishing noise, which makes it pretty gross, but that makes it even better.
  • My overall feelings on this special is it’s got an absolutely stellar middle section sandwiched by two alright sections. Of the Scully Halloween specials, I put this first, then IX, then VIII, then XI.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I Know What You Diddily-Iddly-Did: Lame. Homer’s characterization was absolutely abysmal, and Flanders’s unnecessary ‘diddily’s’ were tiresome. I can’t think of anything positive about this one. Desperately Xeeking Xena: The worst of the three Halloween installments. Absolutely ridiculous storyline, and despite that it’s supposed to be a parody of superhero cartoons, it completely falls flat. Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die: Probably the best of the three, but that’s really not saying much. The celebrity cameos were embarrassing, and Homer’s stupidity has reached a new low. The ending felt rushed, as well. Overall, absolutely pointless. One of the worst, if not the worst, THoHs in recent years.”

5. E-I-E-I-D’oh!

  • The Simpsons at the movies is full of good jokes: the Milk Duds swimming in butter, the Zorro movies where he inexplicably fights the Man in the Iron Mask, and the king screaming he’s a coward and fleeing.
  • Homer’s glove slapping never feels too dickish to me, there’s a degree of innocence to it that he’s just emulating something cool he saw in a movie. Plus we get the great B-52s cover, which, although a direct parody, is one of the last great songs this series ever did. 
  • Two very random callbacks: the design of Homer’s headstone looks a lot like the one Patty and Selma “got” him in “Mother Simpson” (although without the ‘Beloved By All’ inscription, of course), and the family stops near the outskirts of town at Donny’s Discount Gas, last seen in “In Marge We Trust.”
  • I’m okay with Jimmy Carter’s random appearance, but it’s yet another celebrity appearance where a character will just shout out, “Hey look, it’s [blank]!” I can only think of a few times that happened in the classic era, and usually always with some kind of self-awareness to it, while here, it’s almost every time a celebrity shows up, it happens.
  • I know everybody loves Sneed’s Feed & Seed, but it seems like it’s way too dirty for this show, even as a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it joke. Although there’s another great dirty joke that feels almost as gross later (“Maybe it needs more fertilizer.” “I’m only one man, Marge.”) Is it just me, or is the gag that he was going to jerk off over the entire plot of land?
  • Boy, they sure thought Homer getting pinned by that tractor was hysterical, huh? It happens four damn times, one of which was thankfully cut in syndication. I’ll say at least it’s much more bearable than other instances in the Scully era of Homer getting hurt, mostly thanks to him not screaming in pain during any of it.
  • I like that Homer has some kind of sense of responsibility in trying to grow food for his family, and a resulting sense of shame when the family reminds him this whole situation is his dumb fault (“Oh, you’re right! I’m a coward.  I made such a mess of things!”) Moments where Homer actually acts like a human are getting fewer and fewer to find, so I appreciate moments like this. But then there’s the runner where Lisa tells Homer to get rid of the last tomacco plant and he keeps talking about how he can’t do anything as only one man and it’s just terrible.
  • The concept of tomacco and the tobacco industry wanting their hands on it as a loophole to get kids addicted are both excellent. I’ll even give them that the animals getting addicted and going nuts being an alright idea, albeit pushed a little too far in the ending. But it’s way too much to cram into the last five or six minutes of the episode. Act two probably should have ended with the discovery of a crop growing, not the night before with the irradiated field.
  • This, “Mom and Pop Art,” and “Maximum Homerdrive” are like the Zombie Homer trilogy for me, where they’re episodes filled with crazy, unhinged Homer moments, but I find myself still able to get on board and enjoy myself for whatever reason. A lot of it is just the strength of the jokes, which up until now has been a big saving grace for the Scully era, but things are gonna be slipping real fast from here.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Was this a Halloween special? I’ve seen FAR more plausible things happen in those episodes than this one. Lessee… sheep and goats stoned on drugs, tobacco flavored tomatoes, radioactive waste being licked and chewed on. What is this? I’ve never been so appalled at a Simpsons episode… really. I can’t wait to see what the Maxtone-Graham apologists have to say about this one. ‘duh, homerz so kewl cuz he’s WACKY, you’re just a looser with no life.’ It’s sad, this show is no longer aimed at people with an IQ over 50. ‘The Simpsons’ today is like a close relative I once loved being slowly destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease. No offense to anyone who this has actually happened to.”

Season Ten Revisited (Part Four)

19. Mom and Pop Art

  • I like the few instances we see Ned Flanders actually getting annoyed, even angry; it certainly makes him feel more human. His stifled profanity getting hit by a can over Homer’s fence (“God… bless him!”) and his ending remark about Homer being in “heaven” (“I guess heaven’s easier to get into than Arizona State!”) are two great examples.
  • Homer’s meltdown attempting to build the grill is loud, obnoxious and over-the-top, much like a lot of his batshit crazy behavior of this era, but I still find myself enjoying it. I like how quickly it escalates, with all of the parts falling out of the box into the cement immediately and it only getting worse from there. I also love the specificity of Homer’s anguished cry, ”Why must I fail at every attempt at masonry?!” The only thing I dislike is the joke of Homer forcing his daughter to set the cement first, which feels unnecessarily cruel (and sadly, not the last time he’d do something like this.)
  • When Astrid arrives at the Simpson house, we’re treated to two jokes that make me feel bad. First, when Marge tells Homer someone’s at the door about a car accident, Homer whips out a shotgun and tells her and the kids to go out back. The most generous reading of this is that he’s going to brandish a gun to intimidate the poor schmuck who got their car totaled by his negligence, and that’s not a very good read. But later we see Marge and the kids poking their heads from the side of the house, with Marge piping up, “I got worried when I didn’t hear any shots.” So she was expecting her husband to shoot a stranger at their door then? Or at best, fire it into the air to scare them or something? There’s also the gag where Homer puts the loaded shotgun in Maggie’s crib at the foot of the stairs, so I guess Marge forgot to grab the baby before her insane husband answered the door with his gun. We also get this joke when Homer immediately breaks down (“Just go ahead and sue me! Everybody else does! The average settlement is $68,000!”) The idea of someone being involved in lawsuits so often they have an average settlement is kind of funny, but it’s another line that breaks the quickly crumbling illusion that Homer is just an average guy, not a wacky maniac who gets into law-breaking shenanigans weekly.
  • Homer being explicitly labeled an outsider artist definitely makes this “Homer-gets-a-job” episode much more palatable than most. His failed barbecue pit being embraced by the off-kilter art community for the visually bizarre and intriguing object it is makes much more sense than Homer becoming a bodyguard with no real ability or desire for being so.
  • I like that Bart is chomping at an entire wheel of cheese at the gallery opening.
  • I really love the bite about Burns passing on purchasing Picasso’s Guernica for a song (“Luckily that song was White Christmas and by holding onto it, I made billions!”)
  • Bart throws Homer into a rage by saying he felt a little attracted to Milhouse, which is a fair enough joke, whatever, but then a minute later he’s in the power plant shower room sketching a nude Lenny and Carl apparently just because he’s bi-curious? (“He’s just doing this for his art. Right, Homer?” “Yeah… art…”) So…?
  • Homer and Marge talking in bed near the end of act 2 is a really solid scene, where both characters express their feelings in meaningful ways, Marge with her jealousy of Homer succeeding at her childhood dreams of being an artist, and Homer saying how good it makes him feel that people actually appreciate his screw-ups. The latter makes him feel less of a rampant egotist as usually happens in a lot of “Homer-gets-a-job” shows, he knows he’s not a “real” artist but is embracing this opportunity nonetheless.
  • Moe attempting to shoot the shit with the Eurotrash is pretty great (“We are adrift in a sea of decadent luxury and  meaningless sex.” “Uh-huh …so where might this sea be located?”)
  • All the art history references in the third act are pretty well done, and definitely work on their own even if you don’t know the specific piece of work or the artist
  • I don’t know why, but Homer’s impassioned “Not the Reichstag!” always makes me laugh.
  • The ending is absolutely silly, no question, but it’s weirdly sweet in a way. I like how Homer took childish inspiration from the Joseph Turner painting of the Venetian canals and re-appropriated the idea in a ridiculous way. That the whole town would all embrace it and everything is fine at the end is a stretch, but whatever, I’m fine with an absurd fantasy ending as long as the road there felt satisfying.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Maybe my expectations have been lowered, but I didn’t find it to be a bad episode. Not very good though. The plot was tired, and there weren’t even any good gags to save it. I wasn’t groaning in agony, but I wasn’t laughing either. Boring!”

20. The Old Man and the “C” Student

  • Every Olympic season, I will invariably think of the “beautiful gold, so-so silver, and shameful bronze” distinctions.
  • The sub-headline under Town Prepares for Olympics is pretty good (Pickpockets Call Up Reserves).
  • I really don’t get why they devoted so much time to the “Children Are Our Future” song. You get the joke after Skinner’s belabored intro (“And now, because the children our are future, here are the children or Springfield Elementary, with a song they call, ‘The Children Are Our Future.’ Children?”)
  • Skinner is absolutely 100% at fault for the Olympics debacle. Why in God’s name would he not only allow Bart to do his insulting routine, but interrupt the commissioner mere moments before he sealed the deal on his decision? It feels so bizarrely out-of-character. Skinner is revealed to be a member of MENSA in two episodes, how could he be this stupid? Later when we see him force Martin and Milhouse into dangerous community service and repeatedly punch Homer in the face for Bart “costing” the town the Olympics, it makes him feel like an even bigger dick. Motherfucker, that was your fault.
  • Springfield Retirement Castle never looked so good, and that’s a big problem. What used to be a decrepit dump run by a borderline criminally negligent staff whose only concern was milking these old geezers and their paying families dry, now we see not-Nurse Ratchet and volunteer Lisa vacuuming their clothes for crumbs and holding Imagination Time hour to make the old folks feel good. It just doesn’t feel like the same place.
  • The Springy subplot is pretty stupid, but acts as a fun distraction from the incredibly dull A-plot. And as absolutely ridiculous as it is, I still like how the two stories intersect at the end where Homer’s flushed springs save the drowning ship.
  • Going hand-in-hand with the retirement home’s depiction, the old people themselves are completely de-fanged this episode. No longer crotchety and bitter, now they’re a pathetic, easily manipulated hive mind acting upon either Bart or Lisa’s whims in this weird battle over the senior citizens’ “freedom.” It more or less kills the entire episode for me. Abe, Jasper and the rest are at their best when they’re filled with piss and vinegar. This is just piss.
  • “I want some taquitos” remains a very quotable line.
  • Jack LaLanne is such a strange guest spot. How relevant was he in the late 90s? And how do Bart and Lisa know who the hell he is? Who was responsible for this booking?
  • The “Hard Day’s Night” parody album cover under the end credits feels weird attached to this episode since it had nothing to do with The Beatles, but I guess they figured since they paid the rights for “Money Can’t Buy Me Love,” they’d play it again over the credits and do that little parody artwork. And money well spent, used over a great montage of wheelchairs flying around skate ramps and Crazy Old Man and Jasper fencing at 1.5x speed. Pretty boring stuff.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:On the whole, I liked this episode. This episode had much to offer in the way of subtlety, and much to offer in characterization. Bart’s interests show once again that he is someone who seriously cares about people, and that he’s working to make a difference. The spring thing was kinda stupid, and a bit too cartoony for my tastes. We are, however, on the right track.

21. Monty Can’t Buy Me Love

  • The family walk opening feels so weirdly aimless. Like I get the point that it’s supposed to be boring, but it’s filled with weird lines like Marge writing poems about ducks and Homer suggesting they all ride dogs. What? The Fortune Megastore is also pretty bereft of jokes. We get a great scene where Lisa, an eight-year-old, makes a joke about Kevin Costner in The Postman, a joke that feels like it’s preserved in amber it feels so dated.
  • The bit about Burns daydreaming about how cool a talking banana would be is incredibly bizarre. So much of this first act is especially terrible humor-wise, I feel like John Swartzwelder didn’t write much of it.
  • So obviously this episode is patient zero for all the horrible Burns-wants-to-be-good episodes, the latest horrid example coming this latest season in “Burger Kings.” Like I said then, and for every other episode of this ilk, a story about Mr. Burns actually craving human acceptance could work, hell, it’s a promising idea, but it needs to be told in a believable fashion. Here, Burns feels sad that the townspeople and the media love some other billionaire more than him, and that’s it. “What’s it all worth when nobody likes you?” It’s just not enough. Honestly, the scene towards the end of “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” is a more than satisfying enough examination of this side of Burns, when a drunken Homer asks him if his money ever hugs him and tells him it loves him, and Burns sadly replies, “No, it doesn’t.” It’s a very honest moment, but what’s Burns’ takeaway at the end of it? He values his immense wealth and its power more than anything else (“What good is money if you can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?”) That’s the Mr. Burns we know and love.
  • Burns immediately enlists Homer to show him how to be beloved just because. Why not? He’s the main character so Mr. Burns obviously has to go to him. Though Homer is more a follower in this episode, this kind of feels like “Viva Ned Flanders” Part 2, where a side character gains Homer as a sidekick for no explicable reason.
  • Mr. Burns, Charles Montgomery Burns, writes a $200,000 check to a children’s hospital without a second thought. Just try and process that sentence for a moment.
  • I do like the cricket poison joke. I’m desperately trying to cling onto some positivity in this train wreck of an episode.
  • It’s not a very good scene for several reasons, but Michael McKean’s not-Howard Stern character is a pretty good caricature. The real Mr. Burns would have Johnny Rude executed on the spot for humiliating him, but part of me kind of likes his innocent childhood tale (“When I was six, my father took me on a picnic. That was a gay old time! Oh-ho, I ate my share of wieners that day.”) Also, “Won’t someone please stop the farting?!” is so wildly inappropriate for Burns that it’s funny to me.
  • In Scotland, Willie is there, of course, and Homer just casually addresses him by his first name when he asks about his family. What relationship could Homer possibly have with his kids’ school janitor? Yet another example of every character knowing every other character for no real reason.
  • The fucking Loch Ness monster… what more can I possibly say about this? They don’t even bother explaining how they apprehend the damn thing. It’s a humongous fucking monster and they somehow get it hitched up to a helicopter with not even a joke explanation. Nessie eats Burns… then they caught him? Then later he’s like a third of his size when he’s working at the casino. What a piece of shit.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:The best episode in some time. Great to see Burns being himself. In fact, great to see Burns period. The plot was wonderfully done, and got delightfully wacky during Act Three (especially the ending). The only bad part was the grotesque humor after Lenny got hit by a silver dollar. An 8/10.

22. They Saved Lisa’s Brain

  • The “How Low Will You Go” contest is a good enough set piece, definitely believable as a crass contest put on by the schmucks that run KBBL, and it serves as a good establishing contrast between the dullards of Springfield and MENSA. It starts to wear a bit as it goes (also Burns and Smithers are there as two halves of a horse costume for some reason), but the riot set to Planet of the Apes music was excellent.
  • I’m pretty partial to the excerpt of Lisa’s open letters, “I write this letter not to nag or whine, but to prod.” It feels like an innocent distillation of her activist tendencies, before she would slip further and further into her insufferable soapbox characterization.
  • Lovejoy’s Book Burning Mobile is a great gag, but I remember it best as a playable vehicle in The Simpsons: Road Rage. The endless hours I spent playing that game…
  • It’s not exactly clear why MENSA keeps itself secret from Lisa until she arrives, other than to build to a surprise reveal to create an ending for act one. They could have just mailed Lisa the letter, which one of them was standing in the Simpson backyard to throw the note as a paper airplane through her window?
  • The boudoir photography subplot, like Springy in “The Old Man and the ‘C’ Student,” is a dumb, but fun Homer B-plot that serves to mix things up tonally with the main story. The enduring disgust of the photographer (“Light is not your friend”) to the ending where Homer’s gift to his wife backfires in her interest in satin pillows over the general eroticism. A bit that stuck out to me was the final scene (“But I was gonna score!” “Oh, no, you weren’t.”) Marge seemed pretty into the photographs when she was looking at them, and the two have normally been shown to enjoy each other’s company, so it felt weirdly out-of-character to me, like for one line, Marge transformed into a typical TV housewife who denies sex from her big dumb husband for the sitcom audience to laugh at.
  • I always laugh at the ADR “Faster, you moron!” as we see Quimby ride on the horse to his plane for his getaway.
  • How MENSA ends up running the town feels a bit rushed, but the concept of these super nerds trying to improve conditions for the dullards they live with in their own way is a novel one, as is their petty bickering amongst themselves (with great moments from the likes of Comic Book Guy and Skinner, smugly taking jabs at each other). It doesn’t feel like it all comes together in the best way, and I accept the episode for what it is, but it definitely seems like a story that could have been a slam dunk if it were done a couple seasons earlier.
  • Stephen Hawking (who gets introduced with everyone announcing his name, which is becoming a new annoying pattern) is a pretty damn good guest, harkening back to how celebrities used to be either ridiculed or depicted as assholes for no real reason. He’s definitely the latter, suckerpunching Skinner and openly being contemptious to everyone else he deems less intelligent (“Don’t feel bad, Lisa. Sometimes, the smartest of us can be the most childish.” “Even you?” “No. Not me. Never.”) One line sticks in my craw a bit though, at the very end when he and Homer are at Moe’s, and Homer says, “Wow, I can’t believe someone I never heard of is hanging out with a guy like me.” That kind of feels like a line you could put into dozens of future episodes where Homer is randomly hanging out with a big name celebrity that he would have little knowledge or care of who they are.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “There’s too much one-dimensional characterization and too many liberties taken with realism here. Intellect is given too much of a shallow treatment with this episode for its story to be likeable, and its efforts are undermined by mostly idiotic gags. It’s a bright milestone for Simpsons to celebrate to have someone as intellectually renowned as Stephen Hawking on the show, but it still doesn’t save the episode from having little impact for me.”

23. Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo

  • The Java Cafe opening feels like such a funny time capsule to the days of the early Internet. It’s also the early stages of me feeling awkward about the show entering the “modern” age with characters starting to use computers, which would soon be followed by smartphones, tablets, earbuds, etc. I also don’t know how good I feel about Lisa, an eight-year-old, referring to the Internet as “more than just a global pornography network.”
  • Speaking of a time capsule, Snake steals Homer’s life savings with a floppy disk! Remember when you could only store like 128MB at a time on those things? 
  • I don’t care for Homer burglarizing the Flanderses (on multiple occasions, as Ned points out), but I do like that Homer still expresses his series-long envy at the seemingly better lives of his neighbors (“It’s just that you and Maude live like royalty in your fancy castle while I’ve got Marge trapped over there like a pig in a mud beehive.”)
  • Between Wiggum scoffing at “she-males” in the last episode and the crowd’s disgusted reaction to Chuck Garabedean revealing the beautiful women in his photo used to be men, this is like a one-two transphobic punch. But there have been jokes that have aged much poorer than these, many of which are coming up in seasons to come, seasons that I thankfully won’t be watching.
  • Lots of great background products at the 33-cent store (Cool Ranch Soda, Onions?), including Skittlebrau, the soda Homer seemingly didn’t make up from “Bart Star.”
  • Whenever someone says that I “could have” done something, my knee jerk response to them is always, “A little late for could’ves”
  • “You liked Rashomon!” “Yeah, that’s not how I remember it” is one of those jokes that I never got until like my twentieth time watching.
  • Watching this episode is only making me want to go to Japan even more. Originally my wife and I planned to go last year for our delayed honeymoon, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. But when we finally go, America Town is first on my list. Though considering it doesn’t exist, I guess the closest would be to go to the Hard Rock Cafe in Tokyo and that robot restaurant and blend the two memories together.
  • Homer just assaults the Emperor of Japan and nothing happens. They put him and Bart in jail but then are just let out after Marge pays their bail. He attacked their head of state! The episode where they go to England and Homer rear ends the Queen’s carriage, the entire third act is his trial, but here, it just doesn’t matter. And boy does it not feel good to compare this episode I genuinely enjoy to that piece of crap.
  • George Takei is the MVP of the third act as Wink, just absolutely killing every single line. His role as Akira way back in season 2 didn’t give him much to work with, but he’s just splendid here.
  • Where exactly is this enormous fake volcano? How much does it cost to heat up all that orange soda close to boiling? Wouldn’t the Simpsons be able to tell the difference between the smell of lava and soda? And on top of all that, it’s really an incredible cheat to milk the suspense as much as they did, with each family member running across the bridge and the audience chanting for them to plummet. Like yeah, of course they’re not all going to die, so it feels like overkill creating this elaborate volcano set piece for a payoff that’s not bad, but maybe not worth all that effort.
  • Thinking about how ridiculous the volcano thing is kind of softens any annoyance I have about Godzilla and the other monsters showing up at the end. Yeah, it’s just a dumb gag versus the entire third act with Loch Ness in “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love,” but it feels like a cheap ending to an otherwise mostly enjoyable show.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “With this episode, the last bit of life is sucked out of ‘The Simpsons.’ The jokes are not clever but cartoonish and/or sitcom-ish — completely un-Simpsonlike. (What the hell was with that ‘squeeze the penny’ into the arm bit, to cite one example out of a sea to choose for?) Homer, as he was throughout the season, was not himself — though he wasn’t cruel this time, it’s nonetheless like watching a completely different character — an unlikable, way exaggerated cheap imitation of Homer with no depth to his character. The Homer from the earlier seasons was likeable — we could identify with him; this one is too shallow a character to be likeable. The plot and gags were typical of ‘wild cartoon goofiness’ rather than the puncturing intelligent humor found in seasons 1-8.”

Season 10 episodes I would actually help out of a burning bus: “Lard of the Dance,” “Treehouse of Horror IX,” “Lisa Gets an ‘A,'” “Maximum Homerdrive,” “Mom and Pop Art,” “They Saved Lisa’s Brain,” “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo”