15. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
- “You Have The Right To Remain Dead” really feels like it should be a Bond title.
- I love all the small interfamilial moments in these early seasons, when the show was a bit more leisurely and could make the time for it. Bart and Lisa bicker at the dinner table, Homer tells them to knock it off, so the two pantomime (or “panta-ma-mime” as Homer puts it) their insults to each other. That alone is great, but what’s even better is that they both laugh about it. They’re just little brats trying to annoy their dad a little, and it works. Such a pure moment.
- There’s a lot of risque material in these early years, but explicitly showing Abe paid for sex and impregnated a prostitute has got to be the craziest example. I also love that Abe doesn’t even try to sanitize the story, openly talking about how he “dunked the clown” with this carnival floozy. Also, baby Herb has a beard line, because of course he does.
- Danny DeVito is an absolute powerhouse right out of the gate, just nailing the opening boardroom scene. And as belabored as it gets by the end of framing the scene to explicitly not show his face, it still works pretty well. And finally, I love that at the end when Herb deflates and admits he’s just a lonely guy, we cut back to this dumb guy’s dumb face for no real reason.
- “All born in wedlock?” “Yeah, though the boy was a close call.”
- One of the biggest sins of post-classic Simpsons is the change in Homer’s self-esteem. He became an absolute maniac who believed he could do anything and be praised for it, but what made him so likable and relatable was how insecure and vulnerable he could be. This is evidenced by Herb trying to build Homer up to get him to take control of building his own car. When Homer mumbles that he “sort of” understands Herb’s pep talk, Herb demands, “Say it like you mean it!” to which Homer loudly repeats, “Sort of!!” Then he proceeds to go nuts on Herb’s build team, but this is only after he’s been riled into it, so it feels appropriate.
- I love how openly Unky Herb just digs his own grave in letting his empty-headed half-brother have free reign, brought to its ultimate level by ignoring his head engineer and forcing him to lie to Bart and Lisa (“Homer Simpson is a brilliant man with lots of well thought out, practical ideas. He is ensuring the financial security of this company for years to come. Oh yes, and his personal hygiene is above reproach.”) It’s actually really sweet how Herb does Homer a solid by making him look good to his kids like that. Also at the end of this scene, he looks like he’s got Bender teeth.
- The moral of the story, of course, is that what the common man wants is usually very stupid and probably should be ignored. I love how expertly the episode is geared toward building to the point where Herb views Homer as the solution to his problems, but ultimately becomes his undoing.
- The Homer costs $82,000, which is roughly $150,000 today. I guess considering it’s stated that Powell Motors is getting killed in the marketplace, that might be enough to bankrupt the company. But to bankrupt Herb personally? It feels like a bit of a stretch, doesn’t it? Ah, who cares. Also, the turntable animation here is really excellent, given the complex design of the car with Homer waving inside it all had to be tracked.
- “As far as I’m concerned, I have no brother!” “Maybe he just said that to make conversation.”
18. Bart’s Dog Gets An “F”
- Great visual of SLH digging a perfect circle in the radius his chain will allow him.
- “Not that I’m angry, but how did you get my home number? …I see. Quite ingenious.”
- Homer getting angrier at Mrs. Winthrop on the phone is one of Dan Castellaneta’s greatest performances. I love how his irritation builds as he’s just so sure that the dog is out back, only to be swiftly proven wrong. The fact that there’s barely a pause between his rantings and the “D’oh!!” upon seeing the empty yard is just perfect.
- Sick Lisa calling Homer at work is a really cute scene, with him teasing Lisa about having “the kissing disease” and her laughing, and Homer agreeing to get her her slightly scandalous reading material (“Teen Steam Magazine? Well, okay, you’re the sicky.”) It’s sweet to see Homer be an actually good dad.
- Marge turning her hand to show off her sewing finger has always stuck with me. The hands on this show are pretty simple shapes, but the turn is just so fluid and perfect.
- It goes by really quick, but I love the slogan for the Assassins sneakers, “Join the Conspiracy.” It feels like such a solid joke that perfectly encapsulates the projected brand attitude, the idea that you’re part of a secret club railing against “the Man” by buying a product, and such a gag goes by in the blink of an eye.
- Right on the heels of DeVito last episode, Tracy Ullman delivers her own tremendous performance here, just owning every scene she’s in. I assume she did a lot of characters on her sketch show, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything she’s done, or honestly would even recognize a photo of her, despite being an instrumental person responsible for my favorite show of all time. What a surreal position to be in, where you decide to give airtime on your show to these weird little cartoon bumpers, only for them to later be this monstrous hit and cultural phenomenon. I know she initially sued FOX to get a bigger cut in the merchandise, I think, but I’m pretty sure she still gets a yearly check to this day. And hey, why not? She deserves it.
- The dog-vision throughout this show is really well done, with that great fisheye lens effect and the limited color scheme.
- Ah, nothing like watching a nice animated family sitcom where a man gropes a dog’s genitals, with the mutt yelping in reaction.
- I feel like this episode suffers a bit in that it doesn’t feel like there’s enough focus on Bart and his relationship with SLH until the back half, and then he has to fight screen time with Homer trying to sell the dog. But there’s one moment that rings incredibly true, after Bart still can’t get the dog to obey and uses the choke chain after Winthropp bellows at him, he hugs the poor mutt and says, “I’m sorry, boy. You can’t help being dumb.” Considering “Bart Gets An F” earlier this season, and with this show sharing a title with it, this feels like very meaningful, where Bart sympathizes with SLH since he’s a fellow screw-up like him. A moment or two more like that, and this episode would have been all the stronger for it.
17. Old Money
- Abe starts out the show as ornery as ever, but softens upon laying eyes on Bea. But I love that even with him attempting to be more congenial, the crotchety fire still burns deep (“I was wondering if you and I you know, might go to the same place at the same time and… jeez,you’d think this would get easier with time!”)
- “Nothing says ‘I love you’ better than a military antique. Let’s look at the bayonet case.”
- It’s great that the first act is mostly Abe’s story, as we see a microcosm of his month at the home with Bea (like “Principal Charming,” it’s great seeing a side character operating solo of the Simpsons). Everything seems to be going fine until that pesky Simpson family shows up to ruin everything.
- The scene at Grandma’s World where Abe buys a wool shawl, prompting the clerk to call in a price check on “active wear” goes by so damn fast. I’d say this is another pause-your-VCR moment, but I say it goes by too fast, the scene starts with VO from Herman, then goes right into the clerk’s line, it’s literally only a few seconds long, and the way it’s phrased makes it more challenging to put the joke together. Or maybe I’m just dense, I don’t know.
- I love how pissed Abe is during the whole Discount Lion Safari trip, even when it becomes clear that they’re in real danger. This shot in particular is awesome, the composition of Abe’s irritated head bouncing in the center of frame is so great.
- “Has it ever occurred to you that old folks deserve to be treated like human beings whether they have money or not?” “Yes, but it passes.”
- Whelp, this hasn’t aged well.
- This episode is a great example of how Homer’s attitude, and the audience’s feelings towards him, can effortlessly change on a dime. We see him mock and tease Abe about his “imaginary” girlfriend, unintentionally making him miss her last day on Earth, but then once Abe “disowns” him as a son, he’s absolutely devastated, and despite him being kind of a dick earlier, we really feel bad for him. Even though this episode is all about Abe, we still get in this little arc with him and Homer that wraps up rather quickly, but still feels sweet and earned.
- The cavalcade of characters begging Abe for his money feels like a pivotal moment in the series. We’ve developed to the point that we have a stable of lovable side characters populating this town that we can have a series of scenes featuring the likes of Otto, Moe, Mr. Burns and so forth, and as an audience, we love to see these familiar faces. We even get our first appearance of Professor Frink (my favorite character as a kid, tied with CBG), who is flummoxed when Abe asks if his death ray can actually be used for good (“Well, to be honest, the ray only has evil applications. You know, my wife will be happy. She’s hated this whole death ray thing from day one!”)
- “I’m looking for Abe Simpson. It’s important I get a hold of him. I have to tell him that I don’t care about his money and I love him!” “We get that a lot.”
- What a great shot, and I love how he runs to camera, getting down to eye level with the roulette wheel as it settles, his eyes tracking the chips as they cross the table.
- It’s great that the very end of Abe using the money to renovate the retirement home is completely tracked by making the place look like even more of a dump throughout the entire episode. But it never feels too overt that it feels weird, or you can too easily predict the ending.
18. Brush With Greatness
- Krusty’s plea to the kids about coming to Mount Splashmore (“I told them you would! Don’t make me a liar!”) leads into the Kroon Along With Krusty song, which I love so much (NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW!) Lisa even openly identifies it as a “rather shameless promotion,” but admits it worked on her anyway, a sentiment I feel in more advertising than I care to admit.
- The sign gag is literally on screen for a second, now this is a pause-your-VCR moment. I remember this more from being featured in the Simpsons Guide to Springfield book, which was like a fake travel guide with write-ups on all the great things to do and see if you were to visit Springfield. Does anyone remember that book?
- I love this bit of animation of Homer going down the tube, since it’s just a static image of him jittering about the frame. Combined with his warbling excited sounds, it’s so damn funny.
- “Am I just a little bit overweight? …well, am I?” “Forgive us, Dad, but it takes time to properly sugar-coat a response.”
- We don’t even get to the main plot until act two, which is a criticism levied at the show mostly started in the Mike Scully years, but here, we see the two plots (Homer’s diet/Marge’s paintings) living side-by-side with Marge’s award winning painting being of an exhausted Homer on the couch, and her breaking point with Burns being his vicious insults lobbed at an excited Homer reaching a new goal weight.
- Professor Lombardo may not be as immortal as Artie Ziff or Llewellyn Sinclair, but I still love how simple a character he is, a man who is endlessly positive about everything, even announcing he’s got to take a leak (“Now if you’ll excuse me, nature calls!”)
- Another fantastic piece of animation, set to wonderful faux-Rocky music. I love that the cat gets spooked twice in a row by the falling weights before fleeing the room.
- I remember for my last re-watch, season 2 is where I really fell in love with Mr. Burns, and I’m experiencing the same feelings now. He’s just such a fucking great character, you can tell that the writers just love coming up with material for him to say. And as with all the characters, he’s multi-faceted; as despicable and evil as he is in all other regards, there’s that killer line in this episode where he earnestly and honestly looks Marge in the eyes and asks, ”Can you make me beautiful?” And you really feel it, he means it.
- Ringo’s “Gyeeaahh!” was worth whatever they had to pay him to guest star.
- The reveal of the Burns portrait is just phenomenal, in one of the best endings of any episode. It’s perfectly exemplary of the series’ best quality, of being able to have its cake and eat it too in regards to balancing thoughtfulness with humor. Marge’s defense of her portrait is genuinely touching, and completely in line with her character, but we still get our final line where she admits she purposefully mocked an old man’s genitalia in her depiction. I feel like I love this episode a little more each time I watch it, it might be my favorite of the whole season, and there are a lot of contenders.
19. Lisa’s Substitute
- It’s really hard for me to picture Mr. Bergstrom bursting through the classroom door firing off blanks as a joke now. All I can imagine is children screaming, the police being call, Mr. Bergstrom getting arrested and the episode being over after two minutes.
- Dustin Hoffman of course is great as Mr. Bergstrom, but Yeardley Smith gives such an incredible performance in this episode. Her first line to Bergstrom, her quieted “I know the answer,” really strikes me, timid, humble, slightly taken aback by this strange new thing called engaged learning. I also love her little giggle after Bergstrom compliments her for getting her first point right. Their interplay is full of moments like these; I’m pretty sure Hoffman and Smith didn’t record together, but it sure feels like it.
- Ladies and gentlemen, the singing dorkette!
- My wife is a teacher and she has literally pulled a Mrs. Krabappel and sent irritating kids to the principal to keep them busy, or have them run a lap around the field to blow off some steam. I also love that the kids cheering for Bart eventually just devolves into mindless hooting.
- I love that not only are Marge and Lisa folding laundry during their conversation, making the scene more visually interesting and believable, that we also get a little bit of Snowball II leaping up and rubbing on the sheets, with Marge picking up the cat annoyed. Such a wonderful little addition.
- More asbestos! More asbestos! More asbestos!
- In high school, I helped make posters for a friend running for student council, and I considered replicating this poster for probably longer than I should have.
- Another landmark first, Homer’s first time fighting with his brain, which admonishes him for being stupid (“You’re trapped! If you were smarter, you might think of something, but you’re not!”)
- Homer’s absolute glee at the baffling concept of a “suggested donation” at the museum always cracks me up. I also love that this is Mr. Bergstrom’s first exposure point to the father of his most esteemed pupil, being cheerfully urged not to give to charity (“You don’t have to pay! Read the sign!”)
- Homer is a clueless oaf, but once again, it’s funnier, and more sympathetic, that he knows it and is ashamed of it. I love how quickly he breaks under Mr. Bergstrom’s delicate inquiries about Lisa’s lack of a male role model (“She looks around and sees everybody else’s dad with a good education, youthful looks, and a clean credit record, and thinks, ‘Why me? What did I do to deserve this?’”)
- Psychosomatic: one of many, many words I learned from this show.
- I remember seeing the Dewey Defeats Truman photo in a grade school history book and it blowing my mind. What a great gag to cap out the B-plot.
- Bergstrom’s greatest lines to me come in his last scene, with him talking about his life as a substitute (“He’s a fraud. Today he might be wearing gym shorts, tomorrow he’s speaking French or pretending to know how to run a band saw, or God knows what.”) Also when he just flat out tells Lisa that yeah, I’m the best teacher you’ll ever have, I know this for a fact.
- “You are Lisa Simpson” is one of the most fondly remembered emotional scenes, but Homer making up with Lisa is the scene that really gets me. Him feebly trying to cheer Lisa up as the music box plays always tears me up a bit. Him pretending to be a monkey as Lisa giggles at her dad’s silly antics, and then the two do eskimo kisses? Fuck, that’s adorable.
20. The War of the Simpsons
- The opening of Homer drooling over “hors doo-vers” warped my mind, that the first time I saw hors d’oeuvres written out, I had no idea what I was reading.
- This image of Homer “having fun in bed” always cracks me up. I love that expression.
- “Anybody mind if I serve as bartender? I have a PhD in mixology!” “Pfft. College boy.”
- Homer’s memory of the party as a classy Algonquin group is so beautiful looking, with the Al Hirschfeld-inspired designs and limited color palette. I also love the 360-degree rotation that goes faster and faster as the stylized characters slowly morph into their normal forms. This art was all done by hand, so I wonder how long that cel was for the entire long pan, and whether it would fit on my wall (probably not)
- I always laugh at Bart smiling, sitting patiently, patronizing his father as he attempts to sugar-coat and explain his drunkenness from the night before, before bluntly admitting he gets it (“I understand why, you were wasted.”)
- Is that Hitler sitting in church?
- “Queen of the harpies!! Here’s your crown, your majesty!!”
- “He blows his nose on the towels and puts them back in the middle!” “I only did that a couple of times!”
- I love how brutal the impact of that hole in the wall is. This is probably my favorite McBain clip, just perfectly encapsulates the ethos of the lawless renegade movies they’re parodying. “Bye, book.”
- “As a trained marriage counselor, this is the first instance where I’ve ever told one partner that they were 100% right. It’s all his fault, and I’m willing to put that on a certificate you can frame.”
- Yet another line I can’t believe they got away with, from Otto: “Cherry party, Bart. Any chicks over eight?
- The ending never quite works for me. I never really got why Homer gave that much of a shit about catching General Sherman. I get that he fancies the idea of succeeding where others failed, and it’s his selfishness vs. caring for Marge, but it never really clicks with me. He tosses the fish back when Marge gets upset, and him using that as his only point of argument that their marriage is fine doesn’t hold that much water considering the joke where Marge literally lists Homer’s faults for hours until her voice is hoarse. There are plenty of episodes where Homer is a dick, but believably makes good by his wife and family by the end, but this isn’t one of them.
21. Three Men and a Comic Book
- The Casper/Richie Rich connection is a really brilliant observation, as is Lisa’s dark explanation (“Perhaps he realized how hollow the pursuit of money really is and took his own life.”)
- It’s a great little touch that Bart throws a crumpled bill on the ticket counter rather than hand him the bill.
- Comic Book Guy makes his first glorious appearance, sucking the nacho cheese off his fingers before presenting our heroes with the object of their desire: Radioactive Man #1. Also, a rare act of compassion that he brings the price down to $100 for Bart (“Because you remind me of me.”) Although considering he was bringing it down from Bart’s exaggerated “million dollars,” this might just be a sales tactic. Also, I wish “Freakin’ kids” took off as CBG’s catchphrase.
- There’s two “twister mouths” in this episode, where a character will jerk their head one way but their mouth will stay the other way while talking. I feel like this was a somewhat common animation goof in the early seasons, but this is the first one I noticed.
- I don’t know how many people actually use the expression T.S. for “Tough shit,” and I’m guessing the censors also didn’t know it, because there’s no other explanation how they got away with saying it at least two times (“Kamp Krusty” being the other episode, at least that I can remember)
- I love the juxtaposition between the smiling, clean and professional Krusty Burger employee on the sign, and his haggard, smoking real-life counterpart.
- At the money exchange counter, Bart drops his handful of coins on the counter as well as a bunch of bits of broken glass from the smashed case. One, how was he carrying that without cutting himself, and two, how have I made two separate observations about Bart giving someone money in one episode?
- Another first: Nelson’s “Haw haw!” He did a similar laugh in the last episode after hotfooting Abe, but this feels like the first real “Haw haw!” It’s also one of the greatest, I love how leisurely Nelson bikes by in dead silence before letting out his immortal guffaw for the first time.
- Not only do Eddie and Lou take beer from a child while on duty, they happily chuck their cups on the street when they’re finished.
- What a nice family friendly cartoon, featuring an old woman admitting a soap opera is getting her horny. “Filthy, but genuinely arousing.” Her reaction is quite similar to Martin watching porn from “Homer vs. Lisa,” actually.
- “I fished a dime out of the sewer, for God’s sake!” I always loved this briefly crazed animation from Martin, combined with Russi Taylor’s great line reading. Any time Martin gets upset and his hair gets ruffled is very funny to me.
- The boys not knowing the true origin of Radioactive Man feels like an innocent little time capsule. I was a kid during the early days of the Internet, and even in those primordial years, you could still look up pop culture spoilers on Geocities fan pages and stuff. But back then, an out-of-print or elusive comic would be the stuff of legend. Now, you can pull up anything you want in a microsecond.
- The third act is absolutely beautiful, everything feels incredibly cinematic. Sequences like those are an absolute tribute to the production that they could get animation at such a high quality on a network TV budget and schedule.
- “We worked so hard, and now it’s all gone. We ended up with nothing because the three of us can’t share.” “What’s your point?” “Nothing. Just kind of ticks me off.” And we end on a nasty skewering of moralizing in kid’s cartoons. Just great.
22. Blood Feud
- Core Explosion, Repent Sins
- In the last two episodes, we’ve seen Mayor Quimby start to be characterized, specifically as petty and vindictive in defense of his cushy job title (“Nobody leaves Diamond Joe Quimby holding the bag!”)
- “Bart, it’s not like I’m asking you to give blood for free. That would be crazy!”
- It’s such a dumb joke, but I love the guy holding the blood bag in the elevator forgetting to hit the button. It’s timed just long enough to break the flow, and I love his humming to himself before he finally comes back down to Earth.
- I love the separate cut closer in on Burns’ face when he says “the blood of a young boy.” I think I made this observation ten years ago, but it really makes it seem like he absolutely relishes the idea of harvesting more blood from young children to revitalize him more.
- What a beautiful mural. Now more than ever, we stand by our USPS.
- “You always told me I was going to destroy the family, but I never believed it.” “That’s okay, Bart. Nobody really believed it. We were just trying to scare you.”
- Simple details make all the difference, I love how disheveled and distressed Smithers looks here. I also love that Burns’ hired goons are just working schmoes doing a job, as we see that Joey and Homer are on name basis with each other when the former throws the latter out (“Homer, I don’t tell you how to do your job, okay?”) It’s just business; they play poker with each other, but he will beat the crap out of him if Burns requests it.
- “Judas!!” The Burns/Smithers scene is one of those perfect tonal balances where they exaggerate a scenario to comedic levels without sacrificing or undermining the characters or the story. It’s so hard to dissect scenes like this, because they just make it look so easy.
- Bart’s prank calls were so funny to me as a kid, but as an adult now, they’re more charming than anything else, except I guess for the subversion in “Flaming Moe’s” with Hugh Jass. The one in this episode “Mike Rotch,” the audio was used in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody of TLC’s “Waterfalls,” entitled “Phony Calls.” Listening as a kid, I remember being delighted hearing, after the second chorus, all of a sudden, it was Bart and Moe! Ah, memories.
- I like that when Mr. Burns comments, “What did you think I was going to do, have you beaten to a bloody pulp?,” he smiles and winks at Smithers, like it’s a fun in-joke between the two.
- No better way to finish an episode than the characters openly admitting there was no point to the story. “It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened” indeed.
9 thoughts on “Season Two Revisited (Part Three)”
Two seasons down. Can’t wait for Season 3 next week! Wonder what you’ll say about “Stark Raving Dad” not being on Disney+… I mean I get why, but at the same time it feels like they’re overlooking the brilliant twist with Jacko being a white overweight bricklayer.
Next next week; there’ll be a gap week between each season.
It’s great that your revisiting the older seasons (though seasons 10 and 11 might not be as great). The episodes that I’m most looking to seeing you talk about are Stark Raving Dad (for reasons PFC has already listed), Homer Badman, 22 Short Films About Springfield, and Bart to the Future (you know why).
Marge endlessly listing Homer’s faults is one of those Simpsons jokes that hindsight makes sadder. Like yep Marge, your husband is an inconsiderate oaf. Enjoy.
Finally got round to commenting on part three of Season Two. As always Mike, you do fab work.
Oh man i love Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? so much, it’s one of my favourite episodes of the series for many reason which i will detail now.
First off, the Mcbain scene is brilliant, it nails all of the finale action stuff so perfectly from the massacre of all the bad guys, the one liners, the disney death and the tacked on romantic subplot and bond credits. All perfectly combined with Abe and Jasper complaining about it and then speaking to the manager that leads to Abe’s heart attack. Perfect way of setting up for Abe to tell homer about his half brother.
Oh man, its something i admire the show for being so upfront that Abe basically cheated on Mona with a carnival lady with the lines and Abe’s tone to Homer. Seems so tame today but this was really in your house back in the day. Mona gets her first appearance here as well and its certainly interesting to how we will see her when she shows up in season seven as the hipster she is.
But onto the main stuff, one moment of the episode i think that nails the theme of it is the bit at the orphanage where Homer hilariously keeps failing to take the bloody basic hints from the director and bribing him outright. This brilliantly nails Homers idiocy and foreshadows on how Herb’s failure to do the same leads to everything going the way it does.
Herb is such a wonderfully complex characters, i love how he has all the elements of being either a working class guy or blue collar worker who rose up to form his own car company (not sure on this since herb’s adoptive parents aren’t given any details other than Herb ranting he had to scrub toilets etc). All the understandable frustrations of being surrounded by upper class board members who seem to lack a clue (naming a car after a greek goddess? Really?) of his design production/marketing team being condescending and arrogant and not seeing why their sales are falling, something that taps into the real life American car companies that were going through the same thing during the period this episode came out.
He really takes to Marge and the kids as Uncly Herb, allowing him to show his softer elements and the pep talk he gives to homer showing his attempts to give his brother confidence (i love how manic Dan makes Homer as he runs out and back to the company demanding stuff, this is the Homer Simpson i love best).
Yet, Herb in his own hubris, continuing to think no one in his company has a bloody clue. His longing for affection and for roots and so on. Ends up ignoring the basics of any business practise, of doing actual market research to find out what people want and so on. By not reading between the lines of everything that happens and the problems of his own company. By empowering Homer to create something no one else would buy and at such a expense to manufacture. Brilliantly ends up destroying him, showing once again the show subverting expectations and taking apart the working class hero trope and other stuff you usually see in upper vs lower class stories.
Danny Devito was on top form as Herb and he captured all the nuances of Herb’s character perfectly.
Bart’s Dog Gets An “F” is a interesting episode, in many ways it feels like a sequel to Bart gets an F, but this time focusing on Santa’s Little Helper, who is truly at his worst here by eating everything up, not obeying any commands and so on. I think i read somewhere of how hard it is to domesticate Racing Track dogs and that this episode was to show how hard it is for anyone to truly make them a pet and show the realities of what a un housebroken dog brings to a household. And because Bart is most attached to Santa, once again we see him struggle against everything to train him, to keep him etc.
I love how they go all Jaws like with the POV and the menacing music they play when Santa’s about to strike again.
Though i find the ending a bit trifle with the way they have Santa suddenly learning to obey Bart so he isn’t given away and the status quo is kept. Which always was one of the main weaknesses of the show and why it stalled in the long run. Because there’s only so much you can do with the same stuff, setting and roles for so long.
Though i love the where they are now credits with mention of Santa biting Bart and Homer didn’t mind. Wonderfully bringing it back to Simpson’s undercutting humour.
Tracy Ullman nicely captures Barbara Woodhouse with her dog training character, its a nice way of her getting a appearance in a show that her own show helped to give its foundations, shame that she later sued for royalties. It’s interesting you bring up how you can’t recall a performance or photo of her, as i looked into Tracey recently and its honestly quite surprising on just how much under the rader she has fallen under with everything she has done in her career and what she has been involved with.
The Quilt subplot is one of those Marge/Lisa bits i really love because it allows them to really bond and expands on Marge’s side of the family that i think the show didn’t do all that often and in later seasons didn’t seem to know how to make it work. I love how each Quilt patch captures the era of the Bovier was in, really gives that generational feeling and why Marge is so upset when Santa eats it up. but the show gives it a nice ending of Lisa starting a new one by capturing the event in question.
Homer’s run in with the assassin sneakers and cookie wonderfully captures that 90’s consumerism trends of having the latest fashion stuff or trying the biggest food etc no matter what.
Old Money is another episode of season two, where you can really feel how much drama they are going for and the more emotional feels that really is something the show would avoid doing in later episodes. Abe and Bea’s short relationship of one of those times where i found it really worked, especially since this really feels like the first episode that explores Abe as a human being, of how despite the fact he was not the best of fathers to Homer as we have and will see more of in later episodes.
The fact he is a pretty grouchy person in general, he’s also stuck in a place where none of us want to end up in, his son now treats him with no respect (rightfully or wrongfully is up for debate) and his montage with Bea really captures nicely i think of how elderly people can bond with someone else and find something at that age that all too often doesn’t happen for the many lonely elderly people who can’t or don’t go out often, especially in Britain where its a major problem. Which is why the events of the episode and how it affects Abe really hits home and again allows the show to humanize Abe in a way that fits with his characterisation and what we have seen of him so far.
You so nail how Homer one minute can be really childish and petty in mocking his father for his ‘imaginary’ girlfriend, not realising she exists and costing his father his last day with her. Which Abe rightfully is pissed about, yet when he’s disowned by him. He’s truly devastated and realizes how bad he screwed up. This right here is why Homer was such a brilliant character back in the day, the fact he would and would do make mistakes like how does here, feel bad about them and work to redeem himself is why Homer is one of the best characters in fiction in general. And why i love him, because the show is not afraid to make me frustrated at him, to feel for him when he is regretful, to laugh when he makes a idiot of himself, but also to enjoy when he is being a lovable oaf or touching father.
Discount Lion Safari, the name says it all and the pathetic showing is exactly what i have seen of many of these Zoo’s where the animals often are sleeping if they aren’t trying to destroy your car.
The money interview scene is one of those that captures how great the side characters of the show are, from Otto’s wishing for a bus that does what he wants it to do, to Fink’s crazy Invention, to Monty trying to play Abe not unlike when he dresses up as Jimbo to Principal Skinner. To finally Lisa imploring her grandfather to give it to those he who need. Which the episode builds to the eventually ending by showing constantly how bad the retirement home where Abe lives is. Making it feel meaningful when we see the elderly in their new chairs, new screen and the Bea dining room. This is how you earn these heartfelt endings.
Brush With Greatness- I think is truly a great mix of Marge retouching on something she was great at school (Christ how much of a dick was that teacher just because she liked painting Ringo). And of Homer dealing with something that has been and would come back time and time again in later seasons. His weight issues, something this episode actually dealt with nuance here. firstly i love how Krusty shrills his own water park with the sing along song. Perfectly captures just how much advertisement works on children and Bart and Lisa pestering their father in a wonderfully hilarious montage.
The day at the water park lovely captures the Simpsons antics with Bart and Lisa working together to get to the front, Homer just brushing past with the most bullshit excuse you can find and hilariously getting trapped in one of his most embarrassing moments ever. Marge overprotecting Maggie in the baby pool. Though considering babies/kids can drown in a few centimetres of water. I can see her point.
I love how Marge hesitates at first in going to a art class and Lisa has to give her that push to do it, but once she gets back into it and the art teacher (another wonderful performance by Jon Lovetiz) who is a excellent caricature of that art teacher who is over the top and hammy. How she uses Homer’s exercise to give herself inspiration. Which leads into Mr Burns wanting her to paint him.
This episode really nails in just how disgusting, how unlikeable Mr Burns is with the way he acts, and for the comment he makes to Homer i will go into below. That it makes Marge nearly give up, yet she sues it to capture as she says in her speech, the frailty of him as a person, that he really takes in and i think there is some regret deep down in him on how he acted. Again the show is able to balance Mr Burns so well as a character by reminding us that he is human despite how much of a a hole bastard he is.
The way Homer reacts to what happens, his bigger than usual weight and how he is determined to lose that weight is what gives it the feels here where alter episodes would just treat it as a gag or gloss over that made it feel so much less every time they went back to this well. Especially when Mr Burns engages in truly one of his most cruelest acts ever by mocking Homer for it that drives him to nearly throw it all away until Marge intervenes. Very relatable for the amount of weight issues i have had myself and how society still mocks fat people in general.
Lisa’s Substitute I think might be the Lisa Simpson episode that nails her in general. Of her as ever quest for existential understanding, of her empathic nature, of having a teacher that nurtures that gift and her in general and of how despite her father not getting it per say, he’s still loving and accepting of her no matter what despite his boorish nature and lack of role model.
Oh yes, post Columbine has made Mr Bergstrom’s entrance truly something we wouldn’t see today.
Here’s a good point to go into something the show had throughout its run, celebrity guest stars like Dustin Hoffman and everyone else who appeared so far. This is something that later seasons in many fans eyes let get out of hand, that over time they let the guest stars be the attraction, be who episodes, jokes etc revolve around and the simpsons reacting to them. The older seasons and this episode especially show, is that the show used to have the guest stars, they always have either had a prominent role, were noticeable when it was the celeb talking, the way they were animated etc.
But why they worked originally was because the show took the effort and time to make sure they fitted into the episode, that they fitted in around the main/side characters, that they were there to evolve, push the characters in question, to serve in many ways the exploration of the character in question. Not the other way round as later episodes ended up happening. They felt naturally part of the show and had a purpose beyond hey we have this X actor, celeb etc here in this episode.
You are so right that Yeardley Smith gives powerhouse performance here, i think her best as she captures Lisa’s adoration of her sub teacher, of wanting to make a good impression on him by inviting to dinner (love how she asks Marge in childlike fashion of how they can do this, that etc.) of the heartbreak of seeing him go and lashing out at her father when he’s insensitive to it. This is the Lisa Simpson i remember so fondly and who i related to so much.
Oh i love Bart’s subplot in this episode, truly i don’t think another episode showed just how much kids can be so fickle when it comes to stuff like elections and also how they hound on antics Bart does, but when push comes to shove, they don’t really care or follow through with voting for him. But Homer nicely puts the reality spin that Martin’s going to have to do all the boring and meddle stuff Bart would have hated so he’s avoided a situation he wouldn’t have liked anyway.
The War of the Simpsons, hmm this is one of those episodes where i like parts of it like the party and the misdirection of Homer’s words by showing the image of what he meant (this is something the show was great at doing back in the day). The party itself is another great scene of numerous side characters showing up and doing stuff that’s different to how we see them usually like Ned making drinks (honestly i never had a issue with him doing this, just because he’s Christian doesn’t mean he can’t do stuff like this, but there lies the problem of the show and where they took Ned by reducing him to basically Christian as it went on) oh and the infamous off model bit of Ned having no neck.
Of Dr Hibbett being so dry that its hilarious (remember i said if) Barney getting peppered sprayed by Patty for the first time and of course Homer getting so wasted and leering at Maulde that is the first time i remember the show hinting to Homer secretly lusting on her (Jesus the way Dan nails the ones at the bottom line really makes Homer look creepy there).
I love the animation as Homer gets drunker, they really make him totally sloven, all over the place and just why Marge didn’t want him drinking.
The Algonquin group parody is one of the shows best and as you said, the way they 360 it to the actual events of the evening is brilliant and captures it perfectly. Bart mocking his dad when he tries to explain his actions and him not realising it is another great Bart moment.
Marge’s list of the things Homer does that annoy hers i imagine is something a lot of us have wanted to do at somepoint for both sides. It says a lot on how a couple communicates and deals with people’s quirks etc.
But from then in, the show runs into the same problems that they seem to run into with every single of these Homer and Marge marriage in trouble episodes they constantly did and still are doing. Namely Homer does something bad, Marge gets angry at him, she throws him out or punishes him etc. He goes off or does something like Sherman here they have another argument, Homer says a few words and then its all resolved no matter what. Hence repeat for the next 30 years to less believability every single time. It’s truly ridiculous they have gone back to this plot time and time again and it’s completely destroyed any attachment or feelings i have for their marriage. Which makes watching them in earlier seasons all the sadder because of where its going and the bits that did work look harsher in hindsight.
Abe sneaking cry tactic is one of his best moments and i love how gleeful he is at the end at having tricked his grandchildren after they took advantage of him the whole episode. Lovely payback.
Homer being so fixated on catching General Sherman I can buy, given that he’s just endured a royal humbling brought on by his behaviour at the party, and I can see why he’d leap at the chance for self-validation.
I agree that the resolution regarding his marital spat with Marge seems awfully glib, but that’s generally the case with their trouble-in-paradise episodes. Still better than Secrets of a Successful Marriage.
FYI “Lisa on Ice” also used “T.S.”, albeit as an abbreviation for “tethered swimming”.
I had Guide to Springfield, yes, I remember loving the “This park is not copless” sign. I always loved that book as a kid. Another bonus, it does not include anything from after season 9, thus feeling even more classic.