145. Homer the Smithers

(originally aired February 26, 1996)
One thing that makes this show great is that the personalities of its characters are malleable; they can be pushed to certain degrees, ramping up specific aspects of themselves, all depending on the episode. This show opens with a power plant trip to the speedway, and we see Smithers assist Burns in every which way, from holding up “bi-oculars” to feeding him teaspoons of booze (“This beer isn’t working. I don’t feel any younger or funkier.”) Look back to “Dancin’ Homer” when Burns downed buckets of Duff with Homer. Later he can barely drive his own caddy, whereas he was behind the wheel in “Bart Gets Hit By A Car.” These discrepancies aren’t bothersome since in both episodes, Burns is Burns, just two shades of him. Here he’s the enfeebled old man who has been waited on hand and foot his whole life, unable to cope with something as harmless as a brief encounter with a drunken Lenny.

Noting Smithers is running himself ragged, Burns demand he take a vacation. Smithers must find a temporary replacement, one who’s not very competent and won’t outshine him in the toadying department, and you’ll never guess who he picks: Homer Simpson! The second act is basically a series of goofy scenes of Burns’ ridiculous daily routine and demands, with Homer repeatedly fumbling and coming up short. We also get glimpses of Smithers as he repeatedly calls to check up on Burns, who appears to be at an all-male resort. Even when references about Smithers’ sexuality are incredibly overt, they’re still handled with an ultimately subtextual manner, like when Smithers tells Burns the resort forbids photography so he can’t show pictures. All the buffoonery with Burns and Homer reaches a tipping point when Homer can only take so much hostile retorts from Burns, eventually snapping and impulsively socking him in the face. I love how serious this sudden act of violence is taken, with Homer greatly worried and sorry for what he did. Burns, terrified of Homer, must now fend for himself, doing his basic everyday tasks, until eventually he becomes completely self-sufficient. Smithers returns and finds that he’s sorely out of a job.

Hearing Burns’ speech about how happy he is that he does things for himself, it makes me feel a little bad that the status quo must be attained at the end. Similar to Krusty at the end of “Bart the Fink,” these characters seem so happy with their recent turn of events, that it’s almost unfortunate to see them get knocked down to square one as they must. Here, feeling bad for inadvertently causing him his job, Homer agrees to help Smithers back in Burns’ good graces. When Homer screws it up (of course), the two have an all-out brawl (a wonderfully animated and arranged sequence), culminating in Burns getting knocked out the office window, becoming completely infirmed and wholly dependent on Smithers once more. This is another show that focuses on characters being happy just where they are. Regardless of someone else prepares and alphabetizes his breakfast, Burns is still most content in his position of power. More importantly is our view on Smithers. All the times we see his vacation, he’s never really actively participating in anything; a conga line forms behind him, he drives the motorboat instead of actually waterskiing, and so on. His entire world is Mr. Burns, and that’s where he belongs.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Wonderfully timed sequence of the dragracers after Smithers tells them to slow down so Burns can see. They keep it in first gear, and their parachutes simply unfurl and prattle along behind them. Burns’ “Excellent” is hilarious.
– Love how Burns complains about the over-sized novelty foam hand and asks for a smaller one. And that they even sell those that Smithers can buy. Drunk Lenny is hilarious too, with his face squished against the window, and that his thumbs up is what drives Burns over the edge.
– Great cavalier reaction from Burns when Smithers tries to drown himself in the water cooler, simply pressing the water lever to drain the tank until Smithers surfaces.
– Smithers’ search for a replacement is a classic bit, indicative to the viewers, who obviously know it’s going to be Homer. First he searches for employees under “incompetent” 714 matches found. He decides to expand the search a bit: “lazy”, “clumsy”, “dim-witted”, “monstrously ugly.” …714 matches. “Oh, nuts to this, I’ll just go get Homer Simpson.” And the great Homer line into the next scene just builds on it: “I think Smithers picked me because of my motivational skills. Everyone always says they have to work a lot harder when I’m around.”
– Smithers lays out the job description for being Burns’ assistant: answering Mr. Burns’ phone, preparing his tax return, moistening his eyeballs, assisting with his chewing and swallowing, lying to Congress, and some light typing.
– Nice that Burns’ mother is set up so early in the episode, and that the rift between them is Burns’ never forgave her for having an affair with President Taft (Homer comments, “Taft, you old dog.”) Mama Burns is 122 years old, and here we learn Burns is 104, at least according to Homer.
– Great bit where Homer blindly picks one duty to ask Smithers about out the door, what to do in case of fire, and of course that’s what happens. The shot of Burns’ office on fire with Burns blankly sitting at his desk is hilarious. Also great that it carries into the beginning of the second act as Homer frantically extinguishes it.
– Homer’s incompetence is pushed to its limits when he attempts to make breakfast. He skewers eggs and breakfast meats like a shiskabob and places it over the burner. It bursts into flames. Then he smashes open the microwave and sticks the kabob in there. Bursts into flames. He then pours cereal and milk in a bowl. Flames. In the end, he lands on Lard Lad donuts and Kwik-E-Mart coffee. Burns is not pleased (“Dough-nuts? I told you, I don’t like ethnic food!”) Then there’s a great bit where Burns asks about his stocks and what are his options (“Well, you can either get up or go back to sleep.” “I believe I’ll get up.”)
– Brilliant scene where Homer relays Burns’ messages (“You have 30 minutes to move your car”, “You have 10 minutes”, “Your car has been impounded”, “Your car has been crushed into a cube”, “You have 30 minutes to move your cube”) and great how Burns’ expression gets more and more annoyed after each message. And how when Homer answers the phone, Burns asks, “Is it about my cube?”
– The montage of scenes leading to Homer’s breakdown is fantastic, starting with something as small as Homer getting the wrong light bulbs (“60 watts? What do you think this is, a tanning salon?”) The scenes get shorter and shorter until they’re just shots of Burns throwing things at Homer and berating him, until Homer just loses it and punches the old man out. The tension is just so wonderful, with a aerial shot of the office and Homer whimpering until he dashes out and back home, huddling himself beside the door. Marge has to squeeze information out of him (“Is there something wrong, Homie?” “No.” “Except?” “Except… I killed Mr. Burns!!”)
– The POV shot of Homer coming back for Burns is hysterical, with Burns’ heavy breathing and him clearly hiding behind the potted plant. Also great is when he attempts to check if the coast is clear, sticking a mirror under the door. All clear… then Homer’s smiling face comes into view, complete with dramatic music sting.
– Excellent bit where Burns attempts to call Smithers (dialing S-M-I-T-H-E-R-S), getting Moe’s Tavern. But Moe’s been fooled one too many times to fall for this (“So you’re looking for a Mr. Smithers, eh? First name Waylon is it? Listen to me, you! When I catch you, I’m gonna pull out your eyes, and shove ’em down your pants, so you can watch kick the crap outta you, okay? Then I’m gonna use your tongue to paint my boat!”)
– This show’s a haven of old time Burns words, especially describing how to operate a motorcar (“I’m sure the manual will indicate which lever is the velocitator and which the deceleratrix.”) I also love his cockiness later when he becomes self-sufficient (“No, you have the wrong number. This is 4-2-4-6. I suspect you need more practice working your telephone machine.”)
– I like the montage of Smithers’ job searched, starting at AT&T… actually Neat & Tidy Piano Movers, where he seriously injures his spine in one day. Then he’s the announcer at the Speedway, where he’s chucked out for his incessant commentary about the ramping-up script (“The people are already here, we don’t need to keep hustling them like this, do we?”) His lowest point is almost working at Moe’s: keeping Barney away when the beer delivery comes. But the clock strikes and there’s no guard, leading to a hilarious off-screen encounter of Barney gleefully assaulting the delivery man and sucking down all the new supply, made even better by Moe’s look of shock and despondency.
– Classic boneheaded Homer impersonating Burns’ mother, especially at the tail end when he calls Burns ‘Montel.’
– The Homer/Smithers fight is great, especially the bit where Smithers’ fist gets stuck in Homer’s flab, which Homer delights in, who proceeds to just smush his hand against Smithers’ face, tilting his glasses.

And that’s my last review for 2011. I should be back sometime the first week of January, at a somewhat truncated schedule. But thanks everyone for reading, and have a lovely New Year’s.

144. Lisa the Iconoclast

(originally aired February 18, 1996)
Lisa episodes always tend to be more understated; not bombastic as shows starring Homer and Bart, but more introspective, or about a broader topic. In this show Lisa inadvertently uncovers a horrible truth regarding the town’s beloved founder Jebediah Springfield, that he was actually a murderous pirate who had nothing but contempt towards the town. This occurs during preparation for the town’s bicentennial celebration, and if one thing unites the citizens of Springfield, it’s their mutual love and respect for their town founder. Among those excited is Homer, who manages to horn his way into the position of town crier, who he admittedly is quite good at (Bart comments, “You’re a big fat loudmouth and you can walk when you have to.”) Particularly sweet in this show is that Homer believes in Lisa’s story (remarking she’s usually right about everything), and vehemently assists and vouches for her in her quest to expose the truth.

Lisa finds herself butting heads with the curator of the Springfield Historical Society (where she found Jebediah’s confession stuffed in his old fife) Hollis Hurlbut, voiced by Donald Sutherland, a wonderfully subtle performance. Hollis assures Lisa the note is a forgery, even with her logical evidence to back it up. Any attempts Lisa makes to spread the truth are met with great scorn; from the school to Moe’s Tavern, no one will bear to hear anything derogatory about Jebediah Springfield. Lisa’s pursuits can only be calmed upon exhuming the founder’s corpse, to see if he bears a silver tongue (his actual one apparently bitten off during a grog house fight). When no tongue is found in the coffin, Lisa is discouraged, but soon unravels the mystery, finding that Hurlbut is attempting to cover up the truth, unable to admit he had spent years devoting his life to a fraud. Unable to cope, he swiped the silver tongue quickly, hoping the controversy would fade. But in the end, Lisa finds she just can’t rain on the town’s parade and keeps the facts to herself.

Like many Lisa shows, this one doesn’t go for the huge laughs; it’s more of the content and feelings of the characters that keep it going. Jebediah Springfield’s true past is reminiscent of many other famous historical figures whose pasts may not be as illustrious as we are led to believe. However, the ending is spot on: regardless if the man was the real deal, the legend certainly is; it brought out the best of the entire town, and that makes the myth just as real as anything. As I said, I love that Homer teams up with Lisa in this, and also that both end up in dour positions as a result: Lisa seemingly being proven wrong, and Homer being stripped of his town crier position as a result of making a fuss. The best moment of the show is when Lisa apologizes to her father, who accepts, and Homer attempts to feign a smile until he deflates into a mope. He wants to keep his spirits up for his daughter, but can’t quite bring himself to it. But of course things are a-OK at the end, as father and daughter lead the parade in grandiose fashion, a sweet end to an interesting show.

Tidbits and Quotes
The beginning film strip of young Jebediah Springfield (starring a young Troy McClure) is pretty shoddily made, with stage hands and boom mics in shots, and a poorly disguised stunt double for McClure when he’s taming the buffalo.
– ‘Embiggen’ and ‘cromulent’ have entered my personal lexicon. They may even be real words at this point. The former certainly sounds like one. Embiggen (verb): To make bigger.
– I believe our first mention of Kearney being an especially old fourth grader, who, since he can recall Watergate, must be at least twenty-five years old. Later shows would reveal he has a young son, Kearney, Jr.
– I love the uselessness of the essay contest, that the top eighteen essays will be put on file at the library, to rot away unread.
– I really love Jebediah’s actual name Hans Sprungfeld. It’s just very silly.
– Wonderful awkwardness between Lisa and Hollis after she discovered the confession. The “You have arthritis?” line was apparently an ad-lib from Sutherland, and Lisa’s quieted “No…” is adorable.
– Love the title of Lisa’s essay, “Jebediah Springfield: Super Fraud.” She certainly doesn’t sugar coat, I can give her that.
– Nice quick bit with Comic Book Guy at the copy store, paranoid Homer will rip off his unpublished screenplay. Homer is just waiting for Lisa, but makes a mental note: “Steal his idea.”
– Brilliant bit when Quimby warns Lisa about the corporations sponsoring their bicentennial. Lisa rebuts that they’re sponsoring a murderous pirate, to which one man responds indignantly, “A pirate? Well, that’s hardly the image we want for Long John Silver’s!” The animation of their quick exit is pretty funny too.
– I would think Jebediah’s skeleton, not to mention his clothes, would be mostly deteriorated, but I guess it’s worth it to have Wiggum desecrate a corpse for a little ventriloquism act.
– Love the pathetic sight of Homer shaking an alarm clock when his town crier bell is taken, almost similar to him singing the blimp song with a pickle in “Lisa the Beauty Queen.”
– The flashback of Hans fighting George Washington is pretty epic, and pretty stupid. But even that is handled with care, and lays in a subtle clue about the end. We see Hans smash against the portrait and knock it to the ground, which must have damaged it slightly, at least enough to Hans to catch part of it on his boot and rip it, which he later used to write his confession on. Lisa completes the puzzle, and exposes Hollis, who stupidly has displayed the stolen silver tongue out in the open in one of the dioramas.
– Hilarious bit where Quimby has hired a sniper to take out an eight-year-old girl, who still fires a shot after Lisa doesn’t expose the truth as she walks away.

143. Bart the Fink

(originally aired February 11, 1996)
There was a time when Krusty actually had artistic integrity; he was a clown of the people, one who lived to entertain. He has some of that vigor of the past deep within him somewhere, but his enthusiasm has been replaced by his status as a celebrity, his high accolade and millions of dollars made from shoddy merchandise. He’s become so far removed from his humble roots that if you take away the fame, you’ve broken the man completely. And that’s precisely what happens in this show, as Bart inadvertently gets Krusty cited for massive amounts of tax evasion. His show (and his trademarked name) are stripped away completely, as are all of his subsidiary assets and his estate. He gets increasingly despondent about his situation, eventually culminating in him driving his plane into a mountain side, where he is declared dead.

This episode is an absolutely tour de force from Dan Castellaneta, giving his all as Krusty, loudly bemoaning his predicament and bitching about having to be a normal human being (“I was a big cheese. A huge cheese! And now look at me! I got to ride the bus like a schnook. I got to live in an apartment like an idiot! I have to wait in line with a bunch of nobodies to buy groceries from a failure!”) A key scene depicts Krusty’s show under IRS scrutiny, “Herschel Krustofsky’s Clown-Related Entertainment Show,” with Krusty in sweats forced to perform with no sets or props. Is his attempted enthusiasm his natural showmanship, or just his desire to stay on the air as a celebrity? I dunno, maybe it’s a little of both. Meanwhile Bart has to cope with ruining the life of, and then by association causing the death of his beloved hero. As a result, he seems to see Krusty everywhere, until he realizes all of his sightings had some kind of connection… maybe Krusty isn’t dead after all.

As in many classic episodes, Bart and Lisa join forces to put this mystery together; turns out Krusty is alive, reborn as Rory B. Bellows, man of the sea. Krusty seems to have had a change of heart, no longer desiring a life of notoriety and riches, but a simple life off land. I feel like I can buy this, that at his lowest point, Krusty concluded that he can begin life anew in an entirely different direction. But we’ve only got two minutes of show left so we have to get the Klown back in Krusty. Bart manages to convince him by reminding him how he’s more respected than all the country’s educators, and Krusty declares he’s not going to let them hog all the respect. I feel like the joke would have worked better if Krusty hadn’t already had a monologue about it earlier (“Everywhere I go I see teachers driving Ferraris, research scientists drinking champagne. I tried to drink a Coke on the bus, and they took away my pass!”) But regardless the status quo is restored, a fair enough end to an episode with great performances and plenty of laughs to go around.

Tidbits and Quotes
– To receive an inheritance from their deceased great aunt Hortace, the Simpsons must stay one night in a haunted house. But unlike “Homer Loves Flanders,” the joke here is that the stay is actually quite lovely (Lisa comments, “Their tap water tasted better than ours.”) In the end, each Simpson only gets a hundred dollars each, with the rest going to Ann Landers.
– Another great Springfield business: the Tacomat, now with a special: 100 tacos for $100. Comic Book Guy makes out with a wheelbarrow full, all set for a Doctor Who marathon.
– Love the running gag about the various stupid bank promotions, first with “You’ll Go Ape Over Our Car Loans” (“A professional in an ape mask is still a professional,”) the reindeer antlers, and then later in New York, “Our Interest Rates Are Through The Roof!” with a man wearing a giant house.
– Odd that Jimbo harasses Bart for only a one dollar check.
– Great laugh from Milhouse when he exposes his autographed stomach to some grossed-out girls; it’s so delightfully nerdy.
– One of the greatest scenes in the entire series is the quick bit with the Cayman Islands representative, the character design is great, and the timing of his scene is just perfect (“I’m sorry, but I cannot divulge information about that customer’s secret illegal account. …oh, crap. I shouldn’t have said he was a customer. Oh, crap. I shouldn’t have said it was a secret. Oh, crap! I certainly shouldn’t have said it was illegal. …it’s too hot today.”)
– Great bit with Kent’s tiff with an off-screen producer on his pronunciation of ‘evasion’ as ‘avoi-sion.’
– I love how uncontrollably devastated Krusty is meeting with the IRS. When told they’re going to garnish his salary, he thinks they said ‘celery,’ but he wasn’t actually joking; he’s just overtly (and loudly) distraught.
– IRS Burger is an example of a scene with ten jokes in one scene. The idea that the IRS wouldn’t just repossess the building, but open their own restaurant is stupid enough, then we have Homer ordering the various joke-titled items (“I’ll have four tax burgers, one IRS-wich, withhold the lettuce, four dependent-sized sodas, and a FICA-ccino.”) Then Pimply Faced Teen gives him a form to fill out, which Homer intently does, asking Marge what her gambling debts were for the year (“Seven hundred dollars!”)
– Love Krusty’s plane, the “I’m-on-a-rolla-Gay,” and Krusty’s sentimental memories (“I used to fly to Vegas in it with Dean Martin. One time we were flyin’ in it, and the moon hit his eye like a big pizza pie! We wrote a song about it! But it ended up infringing on one he recorded years before.”) I like the subversion that you think it’s going to be the origin of that song, but actually isn’t, making it even more stupid… and hilarious.
– I love how angry and mean Krusty is toward Bart, who is nothing but apologetic. He even considers punching a ten-year-old in the face when he asks him to, but not even he at his lowest point can go through with such a horrible thing.
– We do see Chalmers and Agnes Skinner on a date this episode, and Skinner’s wishes for a distraction from the awkwardness are answered as Krusty’s plane whizzes by (“That’ll do nicely.”)
– Great read on Chief Wiggum proceeding to the crash site (“Folks, show’s over, nothing to see here… oh my God, a horrible plane crash!! Hey everybody, get a load of this flaming wreckage! Come on, crowd around, don’t be shy, crowd around!”)
– John Swartzwelder is among those at Krusty’s funeral, who for some reason has a Kermit the Frog puppet.
– McClure is the perfect host for Krusty’s funeral (past ones include “Andre the Giant: We Hardly Knew Ye” and “Shemp Howard: Today We Mourn a Stooge.” Though a bit superfluous, I liked Bob Newhart as a guest, and his stumbling attempt at giving a speech about a man he knew nothing about. Then Troy concludes the funeral (“We’ll be sitting shivah at the friar’s club at 7:00 and again at 10. You must be over 18 for the 10:00. It gets a little blue.”)
– I love Homer’s attempt to console his son (“Don’t let Krusty’s death get you down, boy. People die all the time, just like that. Why, you could wake up dead tomorrow.”) He stares at Bart for a few seconds… then “Good night!”
– Bart blows up a Krusty balloon asking Captain McAllister if he’s seen him. The Captain mistakes the distorted face as Handsome Pete, a midget accordionist who dances for nickels, with a face just like Krusty’s, but more manic looking, perhaps the most insane idea for a Simpsons character. But we get the great line from the Captain, “Not a quarter! Yarr, he’ll be dancin’ for hours!”
– We get a semi-satisfying conclusion to Krusty’s money problems where he reveals the life of his other persona is insured for a lot of cash… then his boat explodes.

142. Scenes From The Class Struggle In Springfield

(originally aired February 4, 1996)
I feel a lot of regular fans of the show are not too thrilled about Marge episodes, but I think there’s great potential in delving into her character. I’ve addressed this many times, so pardon any redundancies; any hopes and dreams Marge had for herself were basically diminished upon getting knocked up, making her a doting housewife. She’s the kind of person who never wants to raise a fuss or do anything out of the ordinary, unless it’s a happenstance impulse, like when she became a cop. There have also been many times she’s dreamed of being more affluent; like many women she views the high life of the well off with an awe-filled attitude, thinking they are truly the better people, a life she cannot attain. But when presented that opportunity, she goes for it, ending up getting sucked into this other life that turns her into something she’s not. It’s not the jokiest of episodes, episodes focused on Marge and Lisa never are, but it certainly raises some interesting character stuff, and has a lot of classic moments.

On a trip to the outlet mall to get a new TV, Marge uncovers a ridiculously marked down Chanel suit; her overly modest personality is illustrated immediately in her hesitance to buy it (“It wouldn’t be right to buy something just for me. If it were a suit we all could wear, maybe…”) She eventually does, but is discouraged that she has no special place really to wear it but going to the Kwik-E-Mart to run errands. There she encounters a former classmate Evelyn, a high society girl who never really acknowledged Marge, but only does so now by her fancy, expensive suit. She invites her to the Springfield Country Club, her ticket to a seemingly better life. From the start we see how the rest of the family has no real place or interest in this strange plutocratic place; Lisa is vocal about the highfalutin nature of it all (until she spots some riding horses), and Bart and Homer are mainly bored or bewildered by it. Marge meanwhile runs with a new pack of women, incredibly pompous women with equally pompous names (all ridiculous alternate pronunciations of normal names, like Eliza-beth and Rau-berta), but despite their gilded, self-centered ways, Marge is enraptured, believing this is how the “good” people are.

There’s a small subplot later in the show where Burns challenges Homer to a game of golf, which gets some earned laughs, but is mainly there to pad out the story. Responding to snide commentary from Sue-sin, Marge manages to alter her dress a few times to make it appear different, but an incident with the sewing machine tarnishes it. At her highest desperation, she ends up going to Chanel and blowing through savings money on a brand new dress. At this point, she’s getting especially curt with the family, particularly Lisa. Her continued dwellings in the high class world has made her near antagonistic toward her seemingly imperfect family. This builds as she forbids Homer from driving their crappy car to the valet, and before entering, demands they all must behave (“No vulgarity, no mischief, no politics. Just be good!”) But she manages to see what she’s become and what she stands to lose, realizing how much she loves her family just the way they are. It’s a great show with a nice lesson, and we learned a bit about Marge, the series’ most underrated character.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Love Bart and Lisa’s suggestions where to get a new TV: the former at Sharper Image (“They’ve got a TV shaped like a ’50s diner!”) and the latter at the Nature Company (“They’ve got a TV assembled by Hopi Indians!”) Marge asserts that they can’t afford to go to a store with a philosophy.
Like the salesman’s pitch to Homer on the ‘Carnivale,’ a TV that looks exactly the same as their old one (“It features two-pronged wall plug, pre-molded hand grip well, durable outer casing to prevent fallapart…”) Homer is swayed immediately (“Sold. You wrap it up, I’ll start bringing in the pennies!”)
Cletus has a great one-two punch this episode: picking out the Classy Lassy short shirt for Brandine, then later popping in when he hears the outlet mall will be receiving slightly burned Sears activewear later in the day (“What time and how burnt?”)
– Marge’s debate on buying the suit is filled with small great moments, maintaining that she does treat herself (“I treated myself to a Sanka not three days ago.”) Lisa explains she doesn’t have to rationalize everything, and Marge ends up buying it… then rationalizing it’ll be good for the economy. And the design of the suit is real good too, Marge looks great in it. I also like how when Marge looks at the tag, and later drives to the actual store, the ‘Chanel’ name is always auspiciously blocked.
– We’ve got the gas station right in front of the Kwik-E-Mart, which we only see if the plot or a joke requires it. The only other time I can think of was “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadassss Song,” but I’m think there were others. My readers seem to be more knowledgeable than I, so maybe they’ll know.
– Lisa is displeased about the country club from the start (“Do I have to go? That country club is a hotbed of exclusionist snobs and status-seeking social climbers.”) Marge doesn’t approve of Lisa using the word “hotbed.”
– Great animation of Krusty flailing to get out of the way of Homer’s car. He appears throughout the show constantly getting hurt (great animation of him falling to the ground after getting hit by a golf club), then after a final injury, he bemoans, “I knew my kind wasn’t welcome here.” Whether he’s talking about clowns or Jews, I’m not sure. Perhaps both.
– Marge is really out of sorts with these high society women, talking about how all of their food is fancy and mail order. She attempts to jump in with her own related commentary (“I get food in the mail, but in a different way. Every month, Good Housekeeping arrives in my mailbox bursting with recipes. Sometimes the most satisfying meal is the one you cook yourself.”) One of the other women responds with a story of how rather than waking their maid, she and her husband dared to microwave their own soup. It was a spectacular mess, but they had the maid clean it up.
– I love how Kent Brockman’s daughter looks exactly like him, white hair and all, and her brattiness (“I didn’t ask for a bologna sandwich! I wanted an abalone sandwich!”)
– Guest star Tom Kite is slightly unnecessary, but he’s made worth it when he reveals that Homer stole his clubs (“Stay the hell out of my locker! You can keep the shoes!”) and then later coaching Krusty when he gets knocked unconscious by a lost club, darts his eyes and runs off.
– That Sue-sin’s a real bitch, with her snide commentary about Marge’s suit. Evelyn attempts to mollify Marge’s concerns (“Don’t worry, Marge. Susan’s idea of wit is nothing more than an incisive observation humorously phrased and delivered with impeccable timing.”) Later, showing the gala event welcoming the Simpson family, Susan explains, “I hope she didn’t take my attempt to destroy her too seriously.”
– The golf subplot has a lot of great bits: Homer teeing off in the men’s room, hitting one in the handicap stall as his finale, Burns’ imitation of Richard Nixon (“Oh, I can’t go to prison, Monty. They’ll eat me alive!”), the greatest use of Homer’s “Mmmm…” “open faced club sandwich,” and Burns’ slow realization that he actually isn’t a golf champ. The plot also even ties in with the main story, as Homer has to swallow his pride and keep Burns’ secret to assure Marge will get in the club.
– God, I love the second act break. After mangling the suit beyond repair, Marge laments, “At times like this, I guess all you can do is laugh.” Then five seconds of silence before the fade to black. Amazing.
– We get a horrid look at Patty and Selma’s closet; that harlotty purple number is much too tight on Marge, and I can’t even imagine (nor do I want to) what it looks like on Selma.
– I love each of the family’s mentionings of what they’re going to do at the club, each completely true to their character: Homer aims to amuse with the anecdote that got him bleeped on the radio, Bart looks to be up to some trickery posing as an Italian count, and Lisa plans to ask if people know their servants’ last names (or in the case of their butlers, their first.) Marge immediately reprimands all of them, even Maggie, and we get beautiful performances by the subdued family (Homer’s is particularly heartbreaking: “I just won’t say anything, okay, honey?”)
– Marge says she can return the dress, they’ll just have $3300 credit at Chanel. Homer asks, “They have beer and gum, right?”
– The very ending is sweet, with the family back where they belong and are most comfortable: the Krusty Burger. Pimply Faced Teen sees otherwise (“Man, you’re crazy. This place is a dump!”)

141. Two Bad Neighbors

(originally aired January 14, 1996)
Last time I minorly criticized “Team Homer” for being too silly, so now I’m gonna be a big hypocrite in saying how much I like this one, one of the craziest episodes of the entire series. In this show, the large mansion across the street from the Simpsons which we’ve never seen before or since is sold… to George H.W. Bush. The real George Bush (voiced by Harry Shearer, that is.) It doesn’t get more absurd than that, but dammit the show makes it work. His explanation of coming to Springfield is believable, wanting to get away from politics by moving to the town with the lowest voter turnout. His presence is much to the awe of most of the town, and George builds a small kinship with Ned Flanders, who shares his penchant for good Christian living and kooky catchphrases (“Fine and dandy like sour candy!”) But nothing could prepare our ex-President for a brush with our favorite little hellion Bart Simpson.

Bart becomes a pestering irritant to Bush with his constant questioning and lack of traditional respect for elders. So the episode pretty much becomes “Dennis the Menace,” also with Barbara Bush as the kindly forgiving Mrs. Wilson. Sure Bart isn’t typically that bratty or spastic, but it’s not incredibly out of the realm of his character, and moreover I just love the idea of this parallel. In the show’s early days, Bush made an infamous comment that America should be more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons. I’m sure this was something a speech writer came up with as a good sound bite, but it gives this episode some context, making Bush actual enemies with Bart and Homer. In no way does this feel like vindictive or petty on behalf of the writers though, since the tone is always goofy and Bush is never portrayed as a bad guy, just out of touch with the current generation, as evidenced with that real-life quote.

When Bart’s antics accidentally lead to the destruction of George’s newly completed memoirs, he is given a pithy spanking, something that infuriates an already agitated Homer, who had been jealous of Mr. Bush the moment he stole his thunder at the swap meet. The third act becomes a ridiculous prank war between the Simpsons and George Bush, ending in an all-out brawl in the sewers. It’s so, so very absurd, childish and stupid… but damn it all if it isn’t so much fun to watch. By the time Mikhail Gorbachev shows up with a house warming gift at the end, I’m beyond the point of questioning what’s happening. There’s no sort of political angle here, or any harsh criticism about Bush at all; it’s still a story about our characters: Homer’s rampant jealousy, and the generational rift between Bart and his elders. I’m sure when this aired, it must have completely polarized the fans, some thinking it was just fucking retarded. But I absolutely love it; it was one of my favorites as a kid, and it’s even better now since I actually know stuff about Bush. As dumb as it is, it appeals to multiple sensibilities, like the show does at its best.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I always love the beginning bit (“the Grand Nationals of Sand Castle Building… Preview!”) which has a bait and switch with promises of bikini girls and daredevil surfing… which the beach would normally have, which is currently cleared for painstaking sand preparation.
– I don’t remember ever establishing where Apu lived… he lives in an apartment later on with Manjula, and we saw him with Princess Kashmir at the Fiesta Terrace, but that might have been her place. So I guess he moved after this. Lots of people show up to the rummage sale, but I assume they don’t all live on the same block.
– Great masking of the “Ayatollah Assahola” T-shirt to get past censors, and Homer displaying more specific knowledge of how it could still be useful (“It works on any Ayatollah: Ayatollah Nakhbadeh, Ayatollah Zahedi… even as we speak, Ayatollah Razmada and his cadre of fanatics are consolidating their power!”) Also great explanation of the ‘Disco Stu’ jacket, that he ran out of space to write ‘Stud.’ And that of course leads to the introduction of one of the greatest tertiary characters… Disco Stu (“Disco Stu… doesn’t advertise.”)
– Love Mrs. Glick’s firm enforcement of her prices, and their specific uses (“Just candy, Ned! Ninety dollars!”)
– God, I love Skinner’s dissertation of the tie rack, first complaining about the loud motor, then of the inability to reach ties in the back if it’s taken out. He then surmises since he only owns one tie, he’ll pass. …then he comes back and buys it. And then later when Homer puts the motor up for sale, he takes that too. So dumb.
– Homer’s bombastic karaoke is lovably bad, with Wiggum accompanying on keyboard.
– I love Rod and Todd’s harrowing warnings about Bart, with Ned following, “Now Todd, don’t scare the president.” Then Bart comes by on his skateboard and dramatic music plays.
– Really like Bush’s glee at the U.S. New cover article, featuring Clinton as Public Enemy #1 (“Roasting the new guy…”) Again, not painting him as vindictive, he’s just glad to see his replacement is catching some flack just as he did for four years.
– I love all the scenes with George and Bart; so many great quotes, like when Bart screws with his card shuffler (“Those cards are from Air Force One, and they only give you so many packs!”) and then when he accuses the boy’s hands are filled with mud and cookies, and Bart reveals clean hands, he mutters under his breath, “Probably stole a napkin.”
– George at the drive-thru line is hysterical, his confused reading of “Krusty Burger” is fantastic, and his assertion that cheeseburgers are more of a Wednesday thing. Homer, behind him in line, incessantly honks until a secret service member disables his horn (“Hey! My taxes pay for that horn!”) Even better that Homer willingly popped the hood when the agent asked so he could do it.
– Great bit where Homer has to consult a book that says Bush was President, then announces, “Well, his story checks out.” He then muses if his wife would love him more if he was President, to which Marge responds that as long as he keeps the car full of gas, she’s happy. Homer is relieved, then nervously looks back at the car in the drive.
– I love the finale of Bush’s memoirs (“And since I’d achieved all my goals as President in one term, there was no need for a second. The end,”) and the fact that he considers them good, not great. The animation of the outboard going nuts and wrecking everything in the garage is fantastic, especially the exterior shot where you see it all in silhouette, then the final part where a light bulb drops and causes it to reactivate and shred up all the memoirs. And great minor joke where we see one bit of paper fly by reading (“V.P. Quayle Disappointment.”)
– Great brief moment with Grampa, not knowing what all the fuss is about that Bart got spanked (“When I was a pup, we got spanked by Presidents till the cows came home. Grover Cleveland spanked me on two nonconsecutive occasions!”) Marge replies that she just doesn’t believe in that punishment, to which Grampa retorts, “And that’s why your no-good kids are running wild!” He points to Lisa, who is quietly reading.
– So very childish, but excellently executed prank with cardboard cut-outs of Bush’s sons at the door, but only serving as a ruse to slap a rainbow wig on George’s head. The writers claimed they didn’t even know who “George Bush, Jr.” was at the time, but we’d learn alllll about him soon enough. Love the reveal of Bush at the Elk’s club with his sheared technicolor hair (“Now, are there any questions? …keeping in mind I already explained about my hair.”)
– This show contains my favorite line reading of the entire series. George is pushed to the limit and is driving donuts on the Simpsons lawn. Marge naively questions that maybe he’s lost. We’ve panned across the front window, and we land on Homer, who has an amazing stern¬†expression on his face. “He’s not lost.” I can’t even describe it. It’s so severe and knowing, I laugh every goddamn time. That and, “It’s time to hit him where he lives!” “His house?” “Bingo.”
– The great Bush lines keep coming after he gets out of his car (“Can’t decide if this’ll be considered feisty, or crazy”) and then when he spies Homer and Bart through the sewer grate (“If he thinks George Bush’ll stay out of the sewer, he doesn’t know George Bush.”)
– Love Bush threatening while choking Homer, “I’ll ruin you like a Japanese banquet!” referring to the famous incident when a sick Bush vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister at a state banquet.
– Hank Azaria as Gorbachev always makes me laugh (“I just dropped by with present for warming of house. Instead, find you grappling with local oaf.”)
– The ending is great too, with Gerald Ford moving in and Homer finding his true equal; both trip on the walk to the house and go “D’oh!” in unison. Can’t think of a better capper than that.