- The “I WILL NEVER WIN AN EMMY” chalkboard gag is a bit odd to me. Yes, they had lost the Primetime Animated Program Emmy the year previous, and this year wasn’t even nominated, but they already had two Emmys for their first two seasons. I guess they felt discouraged that their favor by the Academy seemed to have slipped after their initial explosion of success at the start of the series. The show wouldn’t nab another Emmy for another two years until season 6’s “Lisa’s Wedding.”
- The Springfield Swap Meet sign is my favorite visual sign gag of the series. The design of the trash cornucopia is absolute brilliance.
- In all the times I’ve gone to Disneyland, and of those times I’ve only seen the Dapper Dans perform twice, I really should ask them if they can do “Baby on Board.” All the original members who performed the singing for this show are presumably retired, but I wonder if the song is still in the newer Dans’ repertoire.
- Lovejoy’s “Ching-ching!” as the collection plate fills up during the Be Sharps’ set is so funny.
- It’s great that Apu’s new stage name, Apu de Beaumarchais, isn’t any shorter for a marquee, so it really was all in the name of whitewashing (“Isn’t it true that you’re really an Indian?” “By the many arms of Vishnu, I swear it is a lie!”)
- ”Far out, man. I haven’t seen a bong in years.” Not only did they show a bong on screen, Homer names it as such! How did they get away with this in 1993?
- “I would prefer we kept your marriage a secret. You see, a lot of women are going to want to have sex with you, and we want them to think they can.” “Well, if I explain it to Marge that way, I’m sure she’ll understand.” The smash cut to Marge crying is perfect. Also, I always thought her sobbing sounded weird here, almost like it was Julie Kavner not quite crying “in character.”
- “We had fame and fortune, now all we needed was the approval of record company low-lives.” Their relentless Grammy bashing I think is an extension of their saltiness about the Emmys. Or maybe they thought “The Simpsons Sing the Blues” got snubbed.
- Love this frame, recreated from a famous photo of the Beatles and Yoko Ono looking absolutely haggard in a recording studio.
- I like how the ending has Bart and Lisa making the same criticisms about the episode conflicting with series continuity as fans would make, and Homer just dismisses them and sends them off to bed. The show would do a lot more openly thumbing their nose up at fans, or anyone hoping to watch a coherent story on their televisions, but an episode like this I can go along with. It’s not like Homer was a mega rock star who was raking in millions. Although Grammy-winning, he was in a successful barbershop quartet, the very premise itself is a joke, so it’s not worth trying to piece together the timeline and go into detail in answering Bart and Lisa’s questions.
- This episode is a classic for sure, but I think The Powerpuff Girls’ “Meet the Beat-Alls” is the superior Beatles parody, which must break a record for most pop culture references made in 11 minutes.
2. Cape Feare
- The “Up Late with McBain” announcer is a literal armband-wearing Nazi, which is pretty crazy. Rainer Wolfcastle was of course largely based on the Austrian Arnold Schwarzeneggar, so I don’t really know what that’s about. Years later, McBain would be viciously fighting those fiendish Commie-Nazis!
- I like that in the gag where everyone runs in as Homer reacts to the letter, we see a very Itchy-like mouse run in as well, even better considering the previous scene was an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon.
- This episode has the most egregious use of recycled, redubbed animation in the back-and-forth between Bart and Abe talking about Matlock and his false teeth. It’s such a lengthy conversation and isn’t particularly funny, so the fact that it was refitted animation makes it stand out even more.
- “Who’s someone you’ve been making irritating phone calls to for years?” “Linda Lavin?” “No, someone who didn’t deserve it!” Exactly why would a little boy be prank-calling the star of Alice, and how did he get her number? This definitely rings as a joke written by a writer with a weird bug of their ass about Lavin. Does anyone know what this joke means?
- Bernard Herrmann’s Cape Fear theme is utilized to great effect here, and since this episode has kind of become Sideshow Bob’s theme music. I don’t know if they reorchestrated it just enough to be legally distinguishable, or if they had to pay for music rights, but either way, it’s such a chilling piece of music. My wife was recently watching Netflix’s Ratchet, and I was surprised to hear them just straight up rip-off the Cape Fear theme and use it as part of their score several times. I guess The Simpsons basically did the same thing, but it feels different when a comedy lifts a piece of music in service of a parody, versus a serious-business prestige drama. I kept expecting Kelsey Grammar to emerge from the shadows.
- “We object to the term ‘urine-soaked hellhole’ when you could have said, ‘pee pee-soaked heckhole.’” “Cheerfully withdrawn!”
- The scene at the movie theater always felt weird to me. I haven’t seen Cape Fear, but I know it’s lifted from the scene where Robert De Niro is smoking and laughing at Problem Child, where here it’s Bob doing the same but to an Ernest movie. I get it’s the famous scene from the movie, but Bob is such a culture snob that the idea of him guffawing at “Ernest Goes Somewhere Cheap” doesn’t compute with me. Or was he purposefully being obnoxious because he knew the Simpson family was there?
- Honestly, “Cape Feare” is probably my least favorite classic era Sideshow Bob episode. It suffers from two issues for me: one, the bulk of it really is just a bunch of gag scenes strung together, especially the first two acts, where the only story beats are Bart’s afraid and Bob gets out of prison. Disconnected jokes were certainly a trope of the Al Jean/Mike Reiss years, which they would proceed to carry on with them onto The Critic, but the structure doesn’t hold as soundly without a strong, focused story for the jokes to hang off of. Secondly, this is the only Bob episode without some kind of elaborate scheme or plot related to his character, so it really is just twenty-two minutes of this man chomping at the bit to viciously murder a ten-year-old boy, which is not nearly as interesting as his other stories.
- The Homer Thompson scene is so funny, and impossible for me to watch without thinking of the fantastic Dankmus remix.
- The infamous rake gag really does go on for too long. As far as lengthened gags go, I prefer Bob getting trampled by the elephants. The absurdity of how many there are in a row is much better, and I also have always loved this bit of animation where Bob’s face just bugs out as it’s getting stepped on.
- I love that Bart successfully stalls for time by appealing to Bob’s vanity, but the scene gets too silly for my tastes, with Bart reading the Playbill and the English flag unfurling behind Bob from God knows where.
- “It’s a good thing you drifted by this brothel!” Chief Wiggum shouted as he and his men were wearing bathrobes. I like that it’s just unspoken that the police force was busy screwing prostitutes.
3. Homer Goes to College
- “The watchdog of public safety. Is there any lower form of life?”
- Homer’s bee-stung butt is a fantastic drawing, but I love the scene prior where he chases after the bee, with his little float in the air before he lands and trounces down the hall.
- “Gentlemen, I’ve decided there will be no investigation, now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go away.” How fast Quimby says this line and exits is funny, but even better is the comically large $5000 price tag hanging off his new fur coat.
- I love the random time-filling TV commercial we hear Bart watching (“Finally, the great taste of Worchestire sauce… in a soft drink!” “Steaky!”)
- My friend and I in high school could recite “School of Hard Knockers” in its entirety, and I still can today.
- Mr. Burns really does have an impressive chair on the university board.
- It’s funny going back to read fan reviews around this era, as some of them were quick to bemoan what seemed like the declining point of the series. This episode seems to have been quite polarizing, if the reviews on the capsule at Simpsons Archive are to be believed. As I think I talked about in my original review, Homer’s behavior in this episode is explained due to his slavish belief in college life being just as he knows it from television, contrasted with reality. He’s emulating what he thinks he should be acting like as a college man, but never goes far enough to become aggravating, at least not to me. Even when he runs down the Dean with his car, there’s an innocent naivety to his actions, as wild as that sounds, like he didn’t intend for him to get hurt.
- Homer laughing at the professor dropping his notes might be one of my favorite jokes of the whole series. I just love how long it goes, and that multiple sets of rows slowly turn to look back at this idiot.
- This episode has my favorite syndication cut, featuring the doomed construction project because of the six missing cinder blocks (“There’ll be no hospital, then, I’ll tell the children.”) It’s just so absurd.
- It’s funny that Richard Nixon has a featured role in this episode, and later in “Treehouse of Horror IV,” before dying just half a year later. It’s especially ironic in the latter, of course, appearing on the Jury of the Damned, despite his protests of not being dead yet.
- Hearing the “crazy noises” from Marge’s phone took me back to those halcyon days of early dial-up. Remember when you couldn’t make a phone call if you were logged on-line? Remember when you’d leave your computer on overnight to download a 150MB episode of Futurama off of Limewire? I do.
- Another memory of a by-gone era: missing something off live TV. Bart and Lisa freak out when they miss the climax of “Itchy & Scratchy,” but nowadays I’m sure there’s some kind of Krusty streaming service you can watch all ten thousand I & S episodes instantaneously on or something. I’m surprised they haven’t done an episode like that yet.
- I like how the episode turns into Homer’s relationship with the nerds, and then as we get midway through act three, the actual plot sneaks back up on us as much as it does Homer, in the form of his final exam.
- I miss little animation flourishes like Homer gleefully turning in his paper.
- The photos over the end credits of Homer’s full college experience are great. I like how they kind of give the college characters their well-earned due: the nerds take over the football field in a tank, and Homer and the Dean rock out behind a disgruntled Richard Nixon, newest victim of the Bra Bomb.
- Upon being woken up, Mr. Burns tells Smithers, “The bedpan’s under my pillow.” I guess he moved that himself? And I hope it has a lid on it so his pillow isn’t soaking in his own pee. I never quite got this joke.
- It goes by kind of quick, but I like how after Homer’s story about how he always gets abused at Burns’ birthday parties, we see Marge has gone back to sleep and Homer shoots her annoyed look.
- I just love Homer’s absolute glee in writing Burns’ roast speech, which then spills into him just trying to funny by insulting people (his instinctual “Okay, stupid!” response to Marge always makes me laugh). It all comes from this purely innocent, childlike place within Homer that’s really charming and infectious to watch.
- What a subhead. And where’d they get that photo?
- The Ramones scene is fantastic, of course. I like the drummer genuinely commenting, “Hey, I think they liked us!” after the set.
- I love the idea of Burns opening up all of those gifts we see strewn about his gigantic table as everyone just stands there and patiently watches, like a kid at a child’s birthday party, except it’s a joyless plutocrat giving as little interest to a pile of gold coins as a dust buster.
- I love Mr. Burns’ face reacting to Homer pulling down his pants. It’s just the perfect mixture of confusion and rage and you just don’t know which emotion is going to overtake the other. I also love that his order is, “Destroy him.” Not take him off the stage, not beat him up, not even kill him. Destroy him.
- Hitler in his bunker screaming, “This is all your fault!!” at a stuffed bear will never be not funny.
- The final gag in act one where the camera zooms in on the 100% Cotton tag as a “mistake,” we hear the record scratch, then the camera searches for the Bobo tag really doesn’t work. Like, I get what they were going for, but at least to me, it’s just too weird in execution.
- I don’t want to know what Burns intends to do with Smithers in the Bobo costume, but I have a feeling that Smithers wouldn’t have a problem with it.
- Homer being absolutely oblivious to Bobo is the subject of not one, but two absolutely fantastic scenes. The first scene with Kent Brockman’s on-the-nose news report is so funny, with continuous cuts to Homer’s absolutely blank face as Brockman is trying to make it as clear as possible what he should be doing. The second scene adds onto this by setting the scene perfectly for Homer to finally acknowledge that stuffed bear, but he still doesn’t quite get it for a few seconds (“How long have we had these fish?!”)
- Professor Frink’s robot bear is an understandable syndication cut, but I still love how stupid it is. “BEAR WANT TO LIVE” was a common quote with my best friend and I, and I also like how the bear has a wind-up gear on its back, like it’s a gigantic mechanical toy.
- Something I don’t think I ever noticed, when we see the police and firefighters outside the Simpson house after Burns and Smithers’ first break-in attempt (“More cocoa, Mr. Burns?” “Yes!!”), you can see the firetruck has just plowed through the Flanders’ front yard fence.
- The point of the conflict in act three is Homer choosing his family over money, but really, you could’ve just bought Maggie another teddy bear and called it a day. For one million dollars, I think she’d get over it. Hell, they have the joke where he tries to entice her with an empty box, and Maggie is actually interested in playing with it before Homer hogs it all to himself. Just give her the box! The box!
- A great blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag: Otto watching a portable TV while clearly driving.
- Burns and Smithers’ sitcom is just so stupid on so many levels that I absolutely love it. And Harry Shearer’s “Yes” is the funniest goddamn thing ever.
- Burns confronting Maggie at the end is one of the best examples of the show being sincere and snarky at the same time. Burns’ plea to Maggie to not make the same mistake he made is surrounded by gags (him not able to out-muscle a baby, the shutterbug reporters popping up behind the fence), but they never undercut that 100% sincere moment. Nor does the gag following (“From now on, I’m only going to be good and kind to everyone!” “I’m sorry sir, I don’t have a pencil.” “Ehh, don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll remember it.”) Yes, we know Burns will go back to being a heartless monster in the next episode, but that doesn’t make his emotional climax any less meaningful.
- I always used to consider this my favorite episode, but now, I really don’t know. I love it dearly, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like it’s missing that strong character through-line that I maybe value more now than I did ten years ago. I love the idea of Mr. Burns finding no happiness in his immense wealth and chasing his carefree childhood innocence, but that raw nerve is only tapped in act one and at the very end of act three, and the rest is just a series of gags. They’re great gags, but I dunno. Of the episodes I’ve watched so far, “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie” really stuck out to me as being a fantastic example of a show that balanced a really strong character story with gags, it’s kind of emerging as one of my new favorites. But I don’t know if I can really label one episode as my favorite anymore, the playing field is way too crowded with greatness to pick just one.
5. Treehouse of Horror IV
- I know next to nothing about Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, but Bart’s introductions to each segment are still really great. Completely removed from its context, the wraparounds still work as they’re intended. I also love all of the different paintings parodying famous works of art. My favorite is the recreation of Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat,” but instead of the deceased holding his final written letter, it’s a tired (or hung over) Homer writing a grocery list. These paintings just go by in the background as delightful little Easter eggs, unlike the recently aired “Now Museum, Now You Don’t,” an episode where the art history “parodies” were completely in the spotlight, and much, much more terrible.
- Devil Flanders’ “true” form is such a beautiful design (clearly inspired from Fantasia’s Chernabog), and I love that when he disappears in a puff of smoke, you can see Flanders’ face in it just before he vanishes.
- Considering Homer’s words were “I’d sell my soul for a donut,” I don’t think him not eating the last bite counts as a loophole. He got the donut, the Devil gets his soul, that’s the transaction. But besides that point, why in the hell would he not just throw it away? Why keep it in the fridge? It’s almost as if this is some kind of ha-ha laugh-’em-up comedy show or something.
- This episode has got to be one of the most beautifully animated in the entire series, I feel like I could highlight every other scene and there’d be a great moment of note. The vortex in the Simpson kitchen, the trial, almost the entirety of act two on the bus, Count Burns’ castle, Bart as a vampire… I can’t post a hundred gifs, so I’ll just settle on Homer plunging into Hell.
- I love how the pets scamper as the fire lights from under them and forms Homer’s cage of flames. A lovely little touch they didn’t need to have.
- I think this is Lionel Hutz’s best appearance, every single bit with him is just hilarious, from his intro walking in, combing his hair with a fork (“I watched Matlock in a bar last night. The sound wasn’t on, but I think I got the gist of it”), his stressing of unbreakable not realizing it’s against his case, and his escape from the bathroom window. Even the deleted scenes with him we’d later see in “The 138th Episode Spectacular” are fantastic
- What a great drawing. It’s like a great piece of promo art within the show itself.
- Hutz is the MVP of act one, but runner up has got to be Blackbeard, from his fear of heights (“This chair be high, says I”), to his shameful admission of illiteracy (“My debauchery was my way of compensatin’!”)
- I love that in Bart’s nightmare, right before the crash, it flashes to show his skeleton before he wakes up. I also like his quiet “I hope this is sweat…” upon realizing he’s in his bed.
- The gremlin is such a great design; I love how he’s clearly taking so much absolute joy in taking his time causing the impending death of a bus full of small children. Also great is how uncomfortable he is when Ned Flanders rescues and embraces him.
- I wanna see the segment about the dogs playing poker. Also, it’s great how we transition from the painting to see it hanging behind the Simpson couch at the beginning of the segment.
- I’ve spent every night this October watching a different spooky movie, but Bram Stoker’s Dracula really should have made the list. I’ve heard it’s good, and I’m sure I’ll appreciate it even more because of this episode. Ehh, maybe next year.
- “Well, well, if it isn’t little… boy!” Just the right length of a pause. So funny.
- Boy, Burns must be a real deep sleeper to not even flinch at Homer repeatedly hammering a stake into his crotch
- The Addams Family-style end credits is one of my favorite remixes, it perfectly blends the motifs of both theme tunes expertly.