184. Bart Star

(originally aired November 9, 1997)
So here’s another episode with a somewhat interesting story and a lot of great gags and laughs throughout… but again tainted by early glimmers of Jerkass Homer. Is this going to be a consistent theme this season? …probably. When a local health fair illuminates the fact that Springfield’s kids are overweight, many of them are hooked into peewee football. Flanders acts as team coach, but when Homer’s incessant and overbearing heckling digs into him a bit too deep, he resigns and makes him the coach. Although the rough and ruthless Nelson is essentially carrying the team, Homer goes for nepotism and puts all his stock into Bart as the new quarterback, despite his objections.

I don’t know what it is about Homer, I guess the writers figured the farther they pushed him, the more ridiculous it would be, ergo more funny. But, as later seasons will show, it just makes him less attached to the “real” Homer we know and love and more into a caricature, dare I say, a “cartoon” of his former self. Sure he holds a disdain toward Flanders and complains about it, but doing it in such an aggressive manner, in public seems way too over the top. Then Flanders confronts him about it and he shirks away from it. Again, like last time, not a good move when you make your protagonist unlikable; Homer has a lot of negative qualities, but any harm he inflicts is unintentional, you should never not be on his side. There’s an inkling of interesting character stuff with Homer; flashing back we see his father, disgruntled as ever, never supported him during his athletic days, and after being overbearing toward Bart, decides to go the other way and encourage him too much. Homer as an overzealous team dad worked a lot better in “Lisa on Ice,” it seemed a lot less exaggerated than it’s played out here.

But again, I have to say I’m still laughing a lot at these episodes regardless. While Roy Firestone was essentially a worthless cameo (ditto with the King of the Hill scene), I loved the stuff with Joe Namath, it’s a very brilliant self-aware celebrity appearance. Bart’s at his lowest, and against all odds or logic, Joe Namath appears to help him, and is about to instill his greatest wisdom… then leaves. There’s a lot of great Nelson stuff, like his end field dance and many great quotes (“I won’t give you a B but I’ll tear you a new A!”) The health fair at the beginning is a great first act set piece, there’s humor within the games themselves, and I even like the ending where Bart swaps with Nelson in the squad car. Like last time, everything works but Homer. I just know this complaint is going to grow larger and larger as we go on here, but I’m kind of startled how suddenly it came upon us. We’re just starting the ninth season here; did someone just turn a dial in his brain? I just watched every episode up to this point, did I forget about more telltale signs in the last few seasons? I don’t think so… But, again, despite Homer, a pretty funny episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Always crack up at Dr. Nick standing with a big grin on his face at the “What’s Your Sex?” booth. Also great is the old men at the hearing booth (“Nothing yeeeeeeett!”) When the tone gets unbearably loud, Jasper goes to raise his hand, but Abe shakes his head. A no-nonsense Rainier Wolfcastle is present to dole out “FAT” stickers, and he goes through a lot of them (“I loved your last McBain movie, Mr. Wolfcastle!” “Quit stalling, fatty.”)
– I like Marge’s sheepishness over asking for a cup, and the store clerk’s childish behavior regarding it (“Cup? Could you spell that?” “C-U-P. I wanna C-U… oh my God!”) Once he’s all protected, Bart instructs Milhouse to repeatedly kick him in the groin, which he does with great vigor.
– Another classic Ralph line (“Ralph, you’ll be on special team.” “I’m special!”)
– I do like Lisa wanting to join the team on principle only, just to find there’s nothing she can really get uppity about. It’s handled well here, but her rampant activism would only absorb more and more of her character as year went on. I just remember later she’d whip out a bullhorn labeled “Li’l Agitator.” Once the characters get too self-conscious about themselves, things can go a bit too far.
– I love that both teams are the Wildcasts, it sounds like the most common name for a kids team (“Who are we?” “The Wildcats!” “Who are we gonna beat?” “The Wildcats!”)
– Homer’s disdain toward Flanders usually works best when he’s seething to himself, like his comment when the coach of the winning team is hoisted up by the players (“Big deal. I’ve been carried out of Moe’s like that hundreds of times.”)
– Clever bit where Bart avoids the tires on the stairs by sliding down the banister. I’m sure he does that every morning and didn’t even notice Homer’s “obstacle course.”
– The flashback is great, I love that Homer was into aerobics. Smithers is announcing the event (“Now, that’s the end of the girl’s full exercise. Now, lets bring on the men!”) Homer does pretty well to start, but Abe’s blatant disdain (I always crack up at his sudden, unprompted “You’re gonna blow it!”) screws him up (“That’s what I get for having faith in yah.”) Also points go to Lenny’s “Bull Shirt” shirt.
– Recalling that traumatic memory, Homer vows to be nicer to his son and meaner to his dad, going out to give the former a hug. Bart’s brain informs him it’s a trap and to run like hell. Homer gives chase (“Hug meee!”) Then the scene goes on longer for some reason with them running about the yard. That’s another thing that would get more prominent, scenes running long. Do the joke and move on, don’t linger.
– I do like Homer’s continued cuts (“Steven, I like your hussle. That’s why it was so hard to cut you. Congratulations, the rest of you made the team! …except you, you and you.”)
– Homer is very blatant about his sudden change of heart toward Bart (“Son, you can do anything you want. I have total faith in you.” “Since when?” “Since your mother yelled at me.”)
– I love that Joe Namath scene. Bart tries to recall Namath’s advice… but then remembers he never gave any. Also, he seems to clearly envision Namath’s wife/girlfriend/whoever even though he never saw her.
– Great bit where Homer sarcastically calls up Mr. Burns (“This is Homer J. Simpson, the father of the big quitter! Well, I just wanted to tell you I’m a big quitter, too! And I quit!”) Then he realizes his winks don’t translate over the phone, screams and hangs up. It’s a hilarious performance, and is a total bonehead Homer move.
– This episode gave birth to Skittlebrau, a wonderful concoction Homer appears to have imagined. We see it actually exists in a later episode though.
– Part of the show comes full circle when Abe is at the championship game, Marge comments that he must be proud of his son. Abe replies, “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” and promptly falls asleep.

183. The Cartridge Family

(originally aired November 2, 1997)
“Homer’s Enemy” put forth the template for a boorish, more obnoxious Homer, one I knew we’d see put into action in regular episodes as the years went on. Now here we are, the first episode of the ninth production season, a show that has dramatic uses of those jerkass qualities. This episode actually has a lot going for it, an interesting story and many great gags throughout, but its prominent sore spot is Homer’s behavior throughout. Following a violent and destructive city-wide riot, Marge beseeches Homer to get something to protect the family with. Homer interprets this as buying a handgun, which Marge is staunchly against. There’s a great balance between the comedic elements and the dramatic, where Marge is very seriously against the situation, urging Homer to get rid of the gun. Amidst the craziness of the NRA members and Homer using his firearm to open his beer and turn on the TV, Marge’s concerns are incredibly valid. She gives the episode sort of an emotional weight, which is mostly successful, as Homer must choose between his gun and his family.

As I mentioned earlier, Homer seems too out of control in this episode. Once we get the smash cut joke of him wanting to get a gun, that’s his complete focus for the rest of the episode: anxiously awaiting getting the gun, using it in the most reckless of ways, and then repeatedly lying to his wife about getting rid of it when she desperately asked him to. Now, some of this follows standard Homer protocol, with him having a one-track mind and being thick and stubborn about his convictions. It also could be that he prides and obsesses over his gun as he believes others to do, which gives us the great scene toward the end where the pre-established gun nuts of the NRA are shocked at Homer’s usage of his gun. But there’s just something about his behavior on the whole that feels like it’s too much. Shooting Lisa’s ball out of the tree, then blasting the lights out in the house, all that stuff feels a little too dumb. That and I didn’t care for Homer’s repeated lies to Marge; you never want your protagonist to become unlikable, so lying to your wife on a rather grave issue… twice is kind of pushing it.

It seems I’ve placed a dark cloud over this show, but there’s certainly a lot going on that works. Like I said, it is an interesting issue that plays out with a level of gravitas, Homer losing his family thanks to his gun purchased to protect said family. Then around it you have all these absurd elements indicative to the series, like Homer’s “potentially dangerous” moniker limiting him to only three handguns, and Moe’s jury rigged five gun contraption. We also get the Sleep-Eazy Motel (or Sl-e-azy Motel as the malfunctioning neon on the sign reads); it makes the Ye Olde Off-Ramp Inn look like a pleasure palace. The show’s still strong in these regards; in the middle of this huge show about guns they take the time to viciously satirizes seedy motels as well, and the town’s equally as seedy mayor (“Are you planning to stay the whole night?”) Between that and a good old-fashioned riot scene in the first act, this episode has a whole lot going for it. Despite Homer’s outlandish actions, this one’s got way too many funny jokes and scenes for me to besmirch it for long.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Continental Soccer Association is coming to Springfield, with all your favorite soccer stars (“Ariaga! Ariaga II! Bariaga! Aruglia! And Pizzoza!”) Homer pays this no mind, until he hears they’ll be signing autographs. The commercial is so convincing, he’s reduced to tears at the thought of attending this wondrous event.
– Lot of great small jokes before game time: Marge commenting on how the stadium used to be an internment camp, the walking paella vendor, and one soccer star announcing a plug for wax paper, and getting handed a giant sack of money with a dollar sign on it very discretely. Or rather, very blatantly.
– The sorry animation of the players kicking the ball to each other is hilarious. I love how long it lingers as the crowd is in a frenzy… then dies down. Brockman reports the plays quite bored, while the foreign announcer is in a frenzy (“Halfback passes to center, back to wing, back to center, center holds it! Holds it! Holds it!!”)
– Love Homer’s homemade burglar alarm, which I’ve stared at for a bit and have no idea how it’s supposed to work. Someone tries to open the door, then reaches through the mail slot and takes the fish out of the bowl. How would they know it was there?
– I’m not crazy about the home security salesman; he at first seems to be a crooked guy as he’s stealing items from Homer and Marge under their noses, but toward the end he seems to be genuinely concerned about them getting security. Or maybe he just wanted them to give him money. That’s probably it. I dunno, but I did love the exchange at the end (“Surely you can’t put a price on your family’s lives.” “I wouldn’t have thought so either, but here we are.”)
– The gun shop owner, the sarcastic guy (one episode revealed his name to be Raphael, so I’ll just call him that) is fantastic in this show; he’s the perfect foil for Homer (“I’d kill you if I had my gun!” “Yeah, well, you don’t.”) Also like all the standard features that come with a handgun: silencer, loudener, speed-cocker (Homer likes the sound of that), and something for shooting down police helicopters (“Oh, I don’t need anything like that… yet.”)
– Homer reveals the gun to the family. Marge is of course horrified. Bart is interested (“Can I borrow the gun tomorrow? I want to scare that old security guard at the bank.” “Only if you clean your room.”) Lisa rebuffs Homer’s assertion to his constitutional rights about the antiquity of the second amendment, to which Homer is quick to respond (“You couldn’t be more wrong, Lisa. If I didn’t have this gun, the King of England could just walk in here any time he wants, and start shoving you around.”) Then proceeds to shove her around until she concedes the point. When Marge refuses to budge her stance, Homer lays down the sweet talk (“Tell you what. You come with me to an NRA meeting, and if you still don’t think guns are great… we can argue some more.”)
– The speeches at the NRA meeting are great: Lenny’s support of assault weapons to take out today’s modern super animals, like the flying squirrel and the electric eel, and Moe’s heroic story of a would-be robbery (“It could have been a real ugly situation, but, I managed to shoot him in the spine. I guess the next place he robs better have a ramp!”)
– Love the fantasy of what Homer’s life would be like if he robbed the Kwik-E-Mart: he’d live in a mansion wearing fancy clothes, a monocle and a sash reading “Mayor,” and Marge would be his dancing trophy wife in a pink bikini. It’s such an absurd vision, like he thinks a local convenience store has millions of dollars stowed away. Before he can come to a decision though, he’s already driving away (“Oh well, I’ll rob it next time.”)
– Great sequence of Homer shooting the plates (“See you in hell, dinner plate.”) Reminds me of clay pigeons in Duck Hunt. Or… just shooting clay pigeons in real life. Regardless, the family is relegated to eating spaghetti out of other dishware, such as a strainer, cookie sheet and glass (“Does anyone know where all my dinner plates went?” “You probably left them at work.”)
– The scene at the table with the repeatedly firing gun is pretty disconcerting, the great set-up for Marge’s ultimatum for Homer to get rid of the gun. I especially love the opening where she starts off, “Homer, I think you’d agree that I’ve put up with a lot in this marriage…” Homer goes to respond, but notices the kids sternly shaking their heads.
– Bart comes upon the gun in the vegetable crisper and prepares to jerk around with it, shooting an apple out of Milhouse’s mouth. My God, would that have ended badly…
– The NRA is shocked at Homer’s recklessness with his firearm; he turns on the TV with his gun, the third shot is successful, conveniently turning on to a clip from a Western of a man falling off a ledge. Even Cletus knows better (“Are you some kind of moron?”) Krusty sets Homer straight (“Guns aren’t toys. They’re for family protection, hunting dangerous or delicious animals, and keeping the King of England out of your face.”) As such, he’s forced to tear up his membership card, and get his tattoo removed with a grater. Moe is disappointed that Homer hadn’t gotten his tattoo yet.
– Great stuff at the motel: the coin-operated Bible, racing vibrating beds, the dead man in the pool, the camera above Bart’s bed, the take-home continental breakfast… the show is still going strong in terms of jokes, there’s no doubt about that.
– I could be wrong, but I think this episode pioneered “Vote Quimby!” Maybe it’s because he says it a good three times in this show, but I don’t remember it being used prior to this.
– I like the very end with Marge deciding to keep the gun. Perhaps it reminded her of her old police officer days. Great music and sashay as she walks out of the motel.

182. Treehouse of Horror VIII

(originally aired October 26, 1997)
It always bummed me out that later seasons managed to bungle the Treehouse of Horror episodes; I’m sure they’re tough to write, but it really represented a true fall from grace that they were able to drop the ball again and again on their annual tradition of unbridled creative freedom and craziness. But the series has a fair share of good Halloween shows left in it, so let’s enjoy them, shall we? We got three great segments this time around, each one improving on the last. First is “The Homega Man,” where Homer finds himself the sole survivor after a neutron bomb hits Springfield, but soon finds himself in the sights of former living denizens of the town, now hideous flesh-eating ghouls. There’s a lot of great bits in this one, starting with Quimby’s adamant nature on his hatred of the French (“I stand by my ethnic slur!”), and France’s swift retaliation launching a missile from underneath the Eiffel Tower. A completely uninhibited Homer dancing nude in the church to “War” is a pretty classic scene; especially love after “Say it again!” in the song, he responds, “Okay!” The dramatic chase scene seems kind of like it’s filling time, but the fact that the ghouls have some weird undead roadster for some reason makes it goofy enough that I don’t mind. The finale’s pretty silly too, but I still remain entertained. It’s a Halloween show, it should be a little oddball.

In “Fly vs. Fly,” Homer buys Professor Frink’s old matter transporter, and some shenanigans by Bart results in his DNA getting spliced with a fly. So while Bart’s head is zipping around on a fly’s body, the Simpson family are stuck with Bart’s body with a hideous fly head grafted on it. Not sure which cast member voiced Fly Bart, but kudos to him; just a bunch of angry disgusting noises, keeping him not so much a threat as just really animalistic and gross. I also love how the family is very quick to take in and accept this new change; in fact, Homer seems to be much more affable toward his son than ever (especially sick scene where he kisses Fly Bart’s forehead, leaving a trail of goo behind). The real Bart manages to get Lisa’s attention to get her to help him, and eventually restores the two to their proper bodies. Lots of great stuff floating around this one, from the weird crazy stuff at Frink’s yard sale to all the lazy uses Homer has for his new technological purchase. The ending is pretty great too, with a swell of dramatic music as Homer seems to be having an epiphany… but is actually going to threaten his only son with murder (“I’ll chop you good!”)

“Easy Bake Coven” takes place in the 17th century, where “Sprynge-Fielde” is in the midst of a massive witch hunt. Marge is quickly signaled out, and in a test of her soul’s purity is pushed off a cliff. But, turns out she actually is a witch, and along with her hag sisters set out to besiege the town of their delicious children to eat. Like “King Homer,” it’s neat seeing our characters in a completely different setting, and how their personalities mesh with the times. Springfield’s traditional mob mentality translates perfectly to Puritan times during their witch hunt; the quick ganging up on Marge with no evidence whatsoever is hysterical, as is the swift dismissal of Lisa’s Bible verse urging compassion (“Doesn’t the Bible say ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’?” “The Bible says a lot of things. Shove her!”) Patty and Selma also easily translate as witches, given their already hag-like demeanors. The story strangely turns into a tale of the very first Halloween, as Maude Flanders manages to get the witches to swap their children for some delicious cookies instead. It’s kind of a neat ending, especially with Captain McAllister’s random narration (“It wasn’t long before this yearly custom became an annual tradition.”) All in all, three quality segments. Eight years of Halloween shows and they’re still pretty solid.

Tidbits and Quotes
– This is probably my favorite TOH intro with the FOX censor; nailed it immediately with his laughing out loud at something in the script, then swiftly crossing it out. I’ve heard quips from many writers about how executives would love certain material then demand it be cut out. The censor appears to be doing a bang-up job with this script (“As the Fox censor it’s my job to protect <you>, from reality. And thanks to my prudent editing, tonight’s Simpsons Halloween special has been rated TV-G! This means there will be no raunchy NBC-style sex, or senseless CBS-style violence,”) at least until an arm holding a knife emerges from the ratings box and stabs him to death. I think this was also in the infancy of the parental ratings box as well, so pretty clever on them.
– Nice brief appearance by Herman in the first segment, showing Homer the ultimate bomb shelter, the Withstandinator (“It can take a six megaton blast. No more, no less.”) Also great that when he’s reduced to a skeleton, Homer hands him back his canned goods and causes him to lose his other arm.
– Always loved “Ready… aim…” [mouth pop]. And the Intel Inside logo on the missile.
– Classic, oft-quoted Comic Book Guy quote, mere seconds before his death: “But Aquaman! You cannot marry a woman without gills! You’re from two different worlds!” And then… “Oh, I’ve wasted my life.”
– I love how quickly it takes Homer to notice what’s going on (“Jeez, what’s with all the death?”)
– Great line from Sideshow Mel (“Silence! …you’re talking too loud.”) Just because “Silence!” is so over-used in so many movies.
– Love that Homer is freaked out by a coffin in the back of his getaway car, and his line, “Go to hell, cloaky!”
– I like that Flanders automatically designates the two groups as “freaks” and “norms,” like it’s pre-established rhetoric.
– At Frink’s yard sale, Lisa picks up a blivet, an famous optical illusion that could not and should not exist in the real world.
– Great Frink line welcoming the Simpsons (“Good morning, ma’am. Good afternoon, sir. It passed noon while I was speaking so that was technically accurate.”)
– Love Homer’s pondering over purchasing the matter transporter (“Two bucks… and it only transports matter… well, ah… I’ll give you thirty-five cents.”)
– The fridge contains a full rack of Duff, except for one similar can labeled “Cat Ear Medicine.” Guess which one Homer grabs through the transporter. Castellaneta gives some great disgusted moans after taking a swig.
– Homer sets up the transporter by the toilet during one scene, then the scene ends with him haphazardly throwing his hand through the machine hitting Lisa in the face, meaning a disembodied hand socked an eight-year-old girl while sitting on the can. Stay classy, Simpsons.
– Love the two splices of Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II, first both their heads (“Twice the pet and none of the mess!”) then both of their rears (“Ehhh, you can be Lisa’s.”)
– My favorite bit of the episode is probably the spider shaking its limbs in annoyance as the fly Bart flies away after tricking it.
– Love the conveniently marked “Door” button on the microwave. Because if it wasn’t labeled, we wouldn’t get that the button Lisa pushed caused the door to open! Integral!
– The court is basically classic mob dog-piling in Springfield, except set three hundred years earlier. Evidence? Mrs. Krabappel accuses that Marge’s whites come out much whiter than her’s. Moe is convinced (“Oh, I’ve heard enough, burn her!!“)
– Wiggum lays out how Marge’s due process works (“You sit on the broom and we shove you off the cliff. If you’re innocent, you will fall to an honorable Christian death. If you are, however, the bride of Satan, you will surely fly your broom to safety. At that point, you will report back here for torture and beheading.”)
– Nice nod to the classic Looney Tunes cartoons as the Bouviers float on their brooms and click their heels before they dash off, like Witch Hazel would do. Also love how they cackle loudly whilst airborne, and stop immediately upon landing.
– You know what… I’d eat a caramel cod. Why not. Smother anything with caramel, I’ll take a bite out of it.

181. Lisa’s Sax

(originally aired October 19, 1997)
Flashbacks always seem to be a slam dunk for this show; delving back into the past of our favorite family sheds light on the formation of their characters and how they came to be. Also seeing them younger is really cute, especially the case with the Simpson children. When Lisa’s saxophone is accidentally destroyed, Homer and Marge spin the tale of how she came to get the instrument. It’s a story that quickly gets usurped by another, waxing nostalgic about five-year-old Bart’s early school days. We see that li’l Bart was actually pretty excited about starting school before he got there, before the institute quickly squashed any hope and spirit he had. It actually is kind of a tragic story; Bart appears to be trying hard and actively participating, his mind is still developing, all kids minds develop at different rates. But the bitch teacher belittles this poor child at every turn instead of encourage him. We see how words can be emotionally damaging to a boy like Bart, how it can turn him off personal betterment forever. Poor Bart…

Even when she wasn’t yet a middle child, Lisa was getting overlooked, until school psychiatrist J. Loren Pryor notices her exceptional observation and critical thinking skills, and informs her parents that she is a gifted child. I’ve got to say, baby Lisa in “Lisa’s First Word” was pretty damn cute, but three-year-old Lisa is absolutely adorable; Yeardley Smith picks her voice up a bit and gives a great performance (especially love how she mimics her father’s enthusiastic “Wave of the future!”) Of course encouraging a gift comes with a high price tag for the local private school (Miss Tillingham’s School for Snotty Girls and Mama’s Boys), which the Simpsons can’t afford. Another possible option is to get her an instrument to fuel her creative brain, but money is pretty tight for something like that too. At King Toot’s, Lisa finds herself drawn to her soon to be beloved saxamaphone, but seeing its price, Homer must make a choice. He’s been sweating like a pig during the recent heat wave and is in dire need of an air conditioner. Will be splurge on that, or Lisa’s sax? Well what do you think?

I’ll say my only minor complaint about this episode is that these flashback shows are getting a tad redundant. “I Married Marge” and “And Maggie Makes Three” are both episodes ultimately depicting how Homer sacrifices his personal happiness and dreams for the benefit of his family. This is basically the same deal; the emotional impact is still there, but the third time around isn’t quite as effective. But it’s kind of a theme that exists in the series proper as well: Homer is a man driven by his own selfish impulses, but time and time again he must manage to put them aside for the sake of those he loves most. So, again, a really minor issue with this great episode. The resolution to Bart’s story alleviates some of the sadness, where he finds his niche as a class clown and utters his first immortal catchphrase, “Eat my shorts.” Homer is out yet another air conditioner to pay for a new saxophone for Lisa, giving us a nice jazz tune to go out on amidst clips of her jamming in past episodes. It’s a nice little show, another look into the forgotten years of the Simpson family.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Before Family Guy would come and shit all over it in their theme every week, All in the Family gets the Simpson treatment, with Homer and Marge singing their version of “Those Were the Days,” (“Disco Duck and Fleetwood Mac/Coming out of my eight track/Michael Jackson still was black/Those were the days!”)
– Nice slab on the WB (“We’re proud to present on the WB, another bad show that no one will see!”) That network never really hit its stride… and now it’s dead. But how could it with such fine programming as the Krusty the Klown Story, starring Fyvush Finkel? We learn he was apparently married to Mia Farrow at one point (“Chan Ho, your mother Mia and I are getting a divorce.” “Chan Ho is over there. I am Chin Ho.” “Whoever you are! Just pass it along, kid!”) Watching this, Homer comments, “What a bad father!” As if on cue, Maggie walks by carrying a power drill. Also love the callback later where to cheer Lisa up, Homer offers to destroy something Maggie loves. Cut to her clutching the drill in response.
– Homer sets the stage for our flashback, with a very knowing reference (“The year was 1990. Back then, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince was currently known as Prince. Tracey Ullman was entertaining America with songs, sketches, and crudely drawn filler material. And Bart was eagerly awaiting his first day at school.”)
– Homer tries to instill some words of wisdom onto his son as his father did him, but thinking back… (“Homer, you’re dumb as a mule and twice as ugly! If a strange man offers you a ride, I say, take it!”) …not so good (“Lousy traumatic childhood!”)
– Li’l Jimbo with the bunny shirt is pretty ridiculously cute (“I look forward to wailing on all of you!”)
– Sad five-year-old Bart is so heartbreaking, this little kid was so full of promise that was completely dashed to bits. Not even “Curious George and the Ebola Virus” can cheer him up. A disturbing drawing of himself with knives in his back in a thunderstorm reading “SAD” perks Marge’s concerns up a bit. The best scene is when she brings it to Homer’s attention. Not looking at the drawing, Homer gives an over-reactionary enthusiasm to how wonderful little Bart’s drawing is, which then immediately switches gears when he actually looks it (“Burn it! Send it to hell!!”) This also comes when Homer is watching Twin Peaks (“Brilliant! Heh heh heh… I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.”) Don’t worry, neither did we.
– I never quite got the Milhouse gay jokes considering his well-established crush on Lisa. I guess it’s commenting on the poor work of the psychologists, perhaps in trying to project themselves onto other kids? I dunno.
– I like Pryor’s advice for Bart (“Bart must learn to be less of an individual, and more a… faceless slug.”)
– The headmaster of the school can’t budge on the price, unless of course they’re a minority group. Homer immediately adapts a (terrible) Spanish accent, but the headmaster isn’t fooled. Homer then shifts to Chinese for some reason, “Aah-so…” Marge’s line to her daughter (“Come on, honey, I guess this is a world you’ll never know”) is pretty impacting and discouraging. This is kind of a bummer episode up until the end.
– Like Homer’s vision of what museums are like, him playing foosball with Michelangelo’s David. He beats him and asks who’s next. The figure from Munch’s “The Scream” appears, yelling, “Meeeeeeeee!”
– Homer demands Marge name one man who’s ever been successful without air conditioning. Marge cites Balzac, to which Homer retorts, “No need for potty mouth just because you can’t think of one.”
– Nice that we see the white Snowball I a few times in this flashback.
– Even Flanders can’t stand for Homer’s blatant thievery, ripping his air conditioner out of the wall and shoddily propping it to his. Homer is quick to defend (“I admit it looks bad, Flanders, but haven’t you heard of ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone?'”) On cue, li’l Todd Flanders, who is definitely without sin, chucks a rock at Homer (“Got him, dad!”)
– That teacher is such a bitch (“And the ugly duckling was amazed to realize it had grown into a beautiful swan. So you see children, there is hope for anyone.” “Even me?” “No.”)
– Li’l Milhouse is pretty cute too; I love his unusually astute observation that “the world needs a clown,” inspiring Bart to be the kid he is today.
– The ever observant Lisa counts thirteen pickled eggs and one cockroach in Moe’s jar. A nervous Moe laughs, “Who are you, sweetheart, the health inspector?” The actual inspector is actually a bit down the bar. To cover, Moe offers a free margarita… that has a dirty syringe in it (“Uh, that’s a parasol.”)
– So now King Toot’s isn’t right next to Moe’s, but perhaps they moved sometime between now and the present day. Still run by the same guy though.
– Love the two inscriptions: “To Lisa: Never Forget Your Daddy Loves D’oh!” and “Dear Lisa: May Your New Saxophone Bring You Years Of D’oh!”
– Apu appears for no reason through the episode and sticks around… for no reason, but I still love it, especially at the very end where he appears exiting the kitchen with a sandwich (“Will you get off my lawn?” “Why don’t you make me?” “Why- oh, I give up.”)

180. The Principal and the Pauper

(originally aired September 28, 1997)
This episode is a little bit controversial. And by ‘little bit,’ I mean it’s the most controversial of the entire series. Similar to “Homer’s Enemy,” people often cite this one when talking about the death of the show, how this episode spat in the faces of the fans by disrupting the established canon. I can’t say that I share the vehement hate, but I do have my fair share of issues with this episode. There’s a lot to talk about with this one, so let’s blow through the story first: Springfield is shocked at the arrival of a Sgt. Seymour Skinner, who our Skinner reveals to be the genuine article. Turns out he’s really Armin Tamzarian, a Capitol City street punk who was sent to the army, befriended and built a deep report with the sergeant, then upon visiting Springfield to tell Skinner’s mother of his apparent death, assumed his identity for his mother’s sake. With the real Skinner back, Tamzarian realizes he needs to stop pretending and moves back to the city. But Agnes, Edna and the others find they’d rather have the old Skinner, but coming up with a solution to this issue won’t be so easy. Or they could just tie Sgt. Skinner to the flatbed of a train and send him out of town. Easy enough.

Let’s unravel this story step by step. On the whole, I don’t have an issue with Skinner being an “imposter,” and I don’t think it ruined his character. It made him a little bit richer, actually. Being under the wing of Sgt. Skinner showed him the errors of his past, and in the future as principal he would push strict obedience so kids wouldn’t end up like he did. And as an orphan with no real life back home, I kind of get why he would want to stay in Springfield as Skinner, to preserve the legacy of a man he felt so highly of. Kind of. Now… for what doesn’t make sense. Let’s just say that Agnes is the only living family member Skinner had. Springfield is a multi-generational town, people stick around there; so you’re telling me there’s nobody there that knew Skinner prior to being shipped out who ran into Tamzarian as Skinner and questioned this? Does Skinner sign leases and contracts as Skinner or Tamzarian? What about when he re-enlisted in the army? They must not have taken too kindly for the shenanigans. I’m willing to go half-way with a few of these points, but there’s just so many dangling issues involving a back story twist this major. Ultimately, it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow.

There’s also the issue with the real Skinner, in that we don’t really get to know him all that well. Again, I can sort of understand what they’re going for in the third act. We see the real Skinner in action, and he’s just out of touch enough with the rest of the characters that they’d feel uneasy about him and want the old Skinner back. But what did he do so wrong? As a man who was a POW for decades, he took mild offense to Bart’s warped version of the pledge. And he borrows his mother’s car. We gotta get this guy the fuck out of here; I guess that’s the point, that the characters are quick to act to get rid of this mild shake-up in their daily lives. The whole story is just so bloated and large that the final act feels so rushed and rash. We’re not sure what to make of Sgt. Skinner, he’s certainly not a bad guy, but he’s not all that nice either. When he gets ridden out at the very end, you feel kind of bad for him; with someone like Frank Grimes everything was building to that point and it fit with the running theme, here I’m not 100% clear on what’s being accomplished.

Any fan who hasn’t listened to the commentary for this episode should give it a listen. Writer Ken Keeler gives a vehement defense to it, in response to vicious Internet dwellers who wanted his head after its original airing. He talks about how the point of the episode may have ultimately ended up a little unclear, but it’s supposed to be a meta episode involving a shift in the status quo and the characters responding by sweeping the problem under the rug and pretending it never happened. Now I can’t besmirch Keeler; the man’s written some of the best episodes of Futurama, so he’s pretty skilled with a pen. But I will say if the aim here was to make a meta episode, they certainly kept it to themselves. Everything in the episode is handled so seriously, with dramatic music cues and scenes of serious dialogue. There’s no real wink to the audience; call back to “Poochie” where Roy shows up to spice up the show, but there’s nothing like that here. All in all, it’s a very bizarre episode that greatly misses its intended mark, but not quite the horribly offensive disaster many make it out to be. Skinner’s backstory may be a bit muddled, but I’d say “Hurricane Neddy” was much more damaging to Flanders than this is to Skinner. A somewhat interesting episode with a few laughs, but definitely bit off more than it could possibly chew in twenty-two minutes.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Nice opening with Skinner and his anal-retentive inspection of the school hallways. Chalmers is quite off-put (“Good lord! The rod up that man’s butt must have a rod up its butt!”)
– It’s kind of sweet at the beginning how Agnes berates Skinner into taking her out (“I’m sick of this house, and I’m sick of you!”) as a ruse to get him to his surprise party. Nice to see deep down she cares about her son. Speaking of, a whole other essay could be written on the degree in which she knew if Seymour was her son or not. It’s all a big tangled web.
– Lisa and Ralph tag team speaking of Skinner’s life and achievements. Ralph brings it home (“When I grow up, I want to be a principal, or a caterpillar. I love you, Principal Skinner!”)
– Narrating his flashback, Tamzarian speaks of how in his lowlife punk days it was only a matter of time before he ended up in front of a judge. Then young Armin plows his motorcycle into one. “They gave me a choice. Jail, the army, or apologizing to the judge and the old lady. Of course, if I had known there was a war going on, I probably would’ve apologized.”
– I like after Agnes’ dramatic proclamation “I have no son!”, Homer glibly responds, “Look, lady, obviously you have at least one son.”
– Tamzarian announces he’s giving up his position. Chalmers asks the real Skinner if he’s qualified to take over (“It’s been my lifelong ambition. And if a man pretending to be me can do it, well, then, logically, the real me must be far more qualified.” “Good enough.”)
– There’s a nice moment when Tamzarian leaves; he gives Skinner back his pocket watch, noting that his mother’s picture is inside and to take care of her. Skinner responds, “I’ll wind her every day.” I feel like this is a telling line about his character, but I’m not entirely sure if I should take it positively or negatively.
– Like the intro of the third act where the news crew continually irritate Brockman, first using the incorrect Skinner picture, then inserting the right one upside-down (“Idiots!”)
– Skinner is welcomed back to his home town with open arms, and he is quite pleased (“I must say, in many ways, Springfield really beats the old slave labor camp.”)
– Nice scene with Tamzarian reading off his script as flatly as possible attempting to bring people into Topless Nudes (“Capital City’s nakedest ladies. They’re not even wearing a smile. Nod suggestively.”)
– The ending is pretty crazy… first Homer spells out the point (“So he’s a fraud. I don’t care! His mom doesn’t care! Do any of you care?”) I guess addressing the audience. But we kinda do care. Then Skinner shows up and demands he be treated with some respect. Then they tie him down and ride him out of town. It’s just… I dunno, it doesn’t feel right. Though I do like Judge Snyder’s decree at the end (“And I further decree that everything will be just like it was before all this happened! And no one will ever mention it again… under penalty of torture.”) And Skinner’s claim that he’s going to loosen up a bit, but the town has just made it clear that they must keep the status quo, so that ain’t happening (“From now on, you’re going to see a new Seymour Skinner!” “Oh no we won’t!” “…yes, mother.”)