Season Five Revisited (Part One)

1. Homer’s Barbershop Quartet

  • 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.

4. Rosebud

  • 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.

Season Four Revisited (Part Four)

17. Last Exit to Springfield

  • “Ice to see you.” The McBain opening is perfect on its own, but also is a great lead-in to the villain mirroring Burns’ real-life cruelty. The moment of the guy about to eat cake getting shot, and the other guy happily about to eat it himself before getting killed is just wonderful.
  • “Why must you turn my office into a house of lies?” They originally wanted the dentist to be played by Anthony Hopkins, clearly trying to allude to his recent successful role in Silence of the Lambs, but instead, we have Hank Azaria not quite doing a Hannibal Lector impression, but definitely capturing the spirit of it. The first act definitely captures the absolute terror of visiting the dentist through a child’s eyes (“Now the first thing I’ll be doing is chiseling some teeth out of your jawbone. Hold still while I gas you!”) We also get a great parody of the scene from Tim Burton’s Batman of Lisa laughing maniacally and smashing the mirror. I barely remember that movie, I really know the scene more from this version, and it works absolutely perfectly in-universe and within context, as all good parodies should be.
  • I wonder if they extended “Dental plan!” “Lisa needs braces!” even longer to fill out time. I love how it just keeps going and going, another great joke explaining how long it takes for a thought to formulate within Homer’s thick skull.
  • We get two great Mr. Burns monologues in act two: his “strange bedfellows” speech trying to appeal to Homer (“I don’t go in for these backdoor shenanigans. Sure, I’m flattered, maybe even a little curious, but the answer is no!”) and his euphemism-laced speech in his basement that makes Homer have to pee (“Now, it doesn’t take a whiz to know that you’re looking out for number one! Well, listen to me, and you’ll make a big splash very soon!”)
  • The thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters gag is great, but why exactly is Mr. Burns doing this? To write the great American novel to make a bunch of money? He already wrote his memoir, why would have want to push for another book?
  • Lenny grooving to “Classical Gas” is a great moment that’s been memed a bunch. I personally love the mash-up with it and the “Shooting Star” trend from a few years back.
  • I could listen to Abe’s onion-belt story for an entire episode. Definitely his best ramble.
  • “Look at him strutting around like he’s cock of the walk. Well, let me tell you, Homer Simpson is cock of nothing!”
  • The montage music as Burns and Smithers run the plant themselves is my favorite piece of music in the entire series.
  • In an episode filled with pop culture parodies, I feel like the Grinch speech at the end might have gone too far. Visually echoing the animated special with the workers joining hands in a circle as Burns dramatically gestures to listen, that’s all fine, but then he just starts to inexplicably rhyme as he just reenacts the scene from the special going back and forth with Smithers/Max the dog. It goes from a clever allusion that works in context, to just them doing a semi-verbatim reference.
  • “I’m beginning to think that Homer Simpson was not the brilliant tactician I thought.”
  • Lots of people rank this episode incredibly highly on their Best of lists, but I still don’t hold it as one of my favorites. I think the best episodes need a strong character through-line, where there’s a strong motivator pushing them through the show that feels like it matters. Homer is motivated to lead the union solely so he doesn’t have to pay out of pocket for Lisa’s braces, but then the gag becomes that he’s just dumbly gliding through the rest of the story until it reaches its conclusion. As dumb as he is, Homer is best when he’s acting with some kind of agency. Not to say there’s not amazing stuff in this episode, because of course it is, but I wouldn’t even say this is top 5 of season 4.

18. So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show

  • One of the most interesting tidbits I recall from the DVD commentaries was on this episode, where they mentioned this episode was born out of a meeting FOX held where they proposed that to ease up on their already rigorous production schedule, they would do four clip shows a season. The writers were aghast at this, of course, and eventually just this one was produced. I get that FOX wanted as many episodes of the show as possible at that point, but that is a crazy idea. Did any sitcom ever do more than one clip show a season? Even in the days pre-reruns I’d imagine that would be tedious. But this is easily the best clip show (excluding “The 138th Episode Spectacular,” which I don’t consider a clip show), purely because act one is all new content. But it’s still a clip show, which by default, is still a little bit terrible. The only good clip shows are episodes specifically making fun of clip shows with all new material (Clerks The Animated Series’s second episode, Community’s “Paradigms of Human Memory.”)
  • “God bless those pagans.”
  • Anytime I narrowly avoid some kind of blunder, I always either think or say aloud, “I’d have looked quite the fool. An April fool, as it were.”
  • “APRIL FO-”
  • It always irrationally bothered me that they show a clip from the non-canonical “Treehouse of Horror.” Marge recalls that Homer always had “good coping skills,” then shows the scene from “Hungry Are the Damned” when the family gets abducted by Kang and Kodos. I don’t quite see how that shows Homer’s coping skills… also, Marge, how are you remembering that?
  • “Marge, what if I wind up as some vegetable watching TV on the couch? My important work will never be completed.” “Society’s loss, I suppose.”
  • Despite the middle being littered with clips, at least there’s some semblance of a conclusion with Bart admitting what he did to Homer, and getting strangled for it. It definitely feels more like a real episode than all the ensuing clip shows.

19. The Front

  • “That’s as bad as the Itchy & Sambo cartoons of the late ‘30s!”
  • This episode is the reason I never pick rock in Rock-Paper-Scissors. “Good old rock. Nothing beats that!”
  • I love how gigantic the Itchy & Scratchy scripts are throughout the episode. Surely the transcripts of each episode have got to be, what, two, three pages long at best?
  • Another too-obvious re-use of animation when the Harvard writer pokes his head in Roger Meyers’ office and gets hit in the head with the name placard a second time. The scene didn’t really need it, but this episode was notoriously short, so they had to pad the time somehow.
  • “I did the Iggy!” is a quote that pops into my brain more times than I care to admit, for no real particular reason.
  • My best friend in high school used “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” as his senior yearbook quote. He truly was a greater super fan than I.
  • Oddly, this episode features two guest star-voiced characters performed by series regulars. Hank Azaria takes over as Roger Meyers, Jr., doing a pretty good job, and Dan Castellaneta voices Artie Ziff. His “Jealous?” in particular is pretty spot on to Lovitz.
  • This whole episode is basically the writers taking the piss out of themselves, so it’s only appropriate that they appear as themselves as the I & S writers. We also get a great line from what looks like Al Jean: ”I wrote my thesis on life experience!”
  • Humans don’t appear that often in Itchy & Scratchy cartoons, but whenever they do, it’s cool that they’re flesh-toned, like this is The Simpsons universe’s version of weird technicolor cartoon characters.
  • “Did you call the girl from the escort service?” “They said their insurance won’t cover you.” “Ohhh, that’s a fly in the ointment…”
  • The other nominees at the comedy awards are all great in their own ways. First, “StrongDar, Master of Akom” is named after AKOM studios, the South Korean animation studio that made this show amongst many, many other 80s and 90s animated series. “How to Buy Action Figure Man” is the perfect distillation of the cartoons from the 80s made to sell toys, and they even nailed the awful look of those awful, awful cartoons (fact: all 80s cartoons are terrible). And finally, a well-deserved shot at John K’s poor time management with the Ren & Stimpy season premiere clip still not finished yet. That fucker got a chance to revive the show a decade later on Spike TV, and he blew it again by not producing his shit fast enough.
  • “I’m gonna write that sitcom about the sassy robot.” Seven years later, we got Futurama. Coincidence? Yes.
  • We are now only four years away from the flash-forward at the end of Homer and Marge’s 50th high school reunion. Will the show still be running by then? Only time will tell.
  • “The Adventures of Ned Flanders” is still fantastic. There’s a Twitter account that appropriately reposts the clip every Saturday morning.

20. Whacking Day

  • The first act at the school really is stupendous. First, we get a proactive Skinner taking control prior to the superintendent’s visit by self-admittedly sweeping his problem students under the rug, before contemplating leaving them to rot (“Would the world judge me harshly if I threw away the key?”) Then, we get our first look at Superintendent Chalmers, where Skinner walks a tightrope trying to keep up his ruse and make the man happy for the sake of his job, and perhaps a cushy promotion (“What do you think of the banners?” “Nothing but transparent toadying.” “It was the children’s idea. I tried to stop them.”) Skinner taking great pride in his rinky-dink school but living in fear of being scrutinized by a higher authority created a great dynamic, and he and Chalmers worked so well together. When they would start appearing together all the time, the two lost a lot of their edge, as they would devolve into just bitchy bickering that held no weight.
  • Gotta love the sign outside the religious school: We Put the FUN in FUNdamentalist Dogma. I also love the one squinty-eyed kid waving his fist.
  • Abe’s German cabaret story may be his finest flashback ever (“Is that story true, Grampa?” “Well, most of it. I did wear a dress for a period in the ‘40s. Oh, they had designers then!”)
  • Reverend Lovejoy reading from the Bible to justify Whacking Day is such an important scene, perfectly encapsulated how people will willingly jump through the mental hoops necessary to make excuses for outdated beliefs and practices.
  • Between “Mr. Plow,” her fantasizing about Jack Nicklaus, and now getting revved up by Homer’s whacking stick, this has been a very horny season for Marge.
  • Homer with his cowboy hat and air horn is one of my favorite drawings of the entire series. It’s also my icon on Slack for work.
  • “Gentlemen, start your whacking!” Still love it. Thank goodness they got rid of that sexpot and replaced her with the new Miss Springfield with the annoying fucking voice. What a great character.
  • Bart being homeschooled is separated from the Whacking Day storyline, but I like how they quietly lead into each other where we see Bart slowly developing a love of books, which leads him to get the idea about luring the snakes into the house to save them.
  • “I’m sick of you people! You’re nothing but a pack of fickle mush-heads!” “He’s right!” “Give us hell, Quimby!”

21. Marge in Chains

  • The Juice Loosener is second only to the tombstone polish for best Troy McClure infomercial. “IT’S WHISPER QUIET!”
  • This episode re-emerged into the public consciousness recently due to the Osaka flu in the first act eerily mirroring the COVID pandemic. Too bad the virus isn’t actually a visible floating green cloud like it is in this episode, then it might be easier to avoid infection.
  • The Itchy & Scratchy in this show is one of my favorites just because it’s so brutal, as all of Scratchy’s organs get ripped out of his body and tossed out the window, he swallows them back up and still ends up impaled on a cactus. The two needles through both his pupils is an especially disturbing touch.
  • “No offense, but we’re putting that bitch on ice!” It’s never quite clear why Apu and Sanjay are so hellbent on getting Marge prosecuted. They know Marge is no actual threat to their business, but it doesn’t seem like they’re using her as a cautionary example to deter all shoplifting. It’s not like they get restitution for a guilty verdict either, at least they never say as much. While Apu wasn’t quite family friends with the Simpsons at this point, it still feels unnecessarily petty.
  • Beautiful tribute to Psycho. I love the charcoal-like etchings on the close-up.
  • “Let the record show that the witness made the ‘drinky-drinky’ motion.”
  • Phil Hartman really is this show’s secret weapon. His stalling-for-time while taking his tie off is one of his finest moments.
  • In spite of the title, there’s really not many scenes of Marge at the women’s prison, the majority of the third act is the other Simpsons getting by without their matriarch. It feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to tell some sort of story, either with Marge finding prison a nice stress-free break from being a homemaker, or her docile personality butting heads with some of the gruffer inmates, even maybe reforming them, sort of like in “Take My Wife, Sleaze.” While writing this, I also remember they did another Marge in prison episode within the last five years. I don’t remember a thing about it, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it sucked shit.
  • The conclusion still puzzles me. A large crowd of people leave the bake sale disappointed that Marge’s Rice Krispie squares aren’t available. At the end of the day, a park ranger (?) remarks that they’re $15 short, “exactly” what Marge’s treats normally bring in. I mean, I guess Marge could be selling those for a buck a piece, but turning this into a joke kind of diminishes the point about the impact Marge makes on the community a bit. And I guess $15 is the crucial difference between being able to afford a Lincoln statue and a Jimmy Carter statue, which leads to town wide rioting, and later, a town wide apology to Marge when she gets released. The ending feels like it reeks of burnt out writers trying to tie up a script at the end of the production season, and I mean that with great respect.

22. Krusty Gets Kancelled

  • Another beautiful show by David Silverman right from the get-go; the Gabbo show opening is pretty incredible, with the little dummy spinning and prancing around. Also, exactly what kind of character is Gabbo? He moves independently of his ventriloquist, which in this scene’s case could have been done in post production, I guess, but several times after we see him speaking and acting on his own. Arthur Crandall must have some kind of split personality or something.
  • Krusty’s initial response to Gabbo with his own dummy is hilarious; every time the kids scream, it gets even funnier. The dummy with the caved in head sprawled out in the middle of the audience is an amazing drawing.
  • Quimby using Gabbo’s catchphrase to ameliorate himself after literally admitting to funding the murder of his political enemies is great enough, but made even better with the following day’s newspaper, “Two More Bodies Surface in Springfield Harbor” is a mere secondary headline to “Quimby Re-Elected in Landslide.”
  • I’ve seen quite a few older Eastern European cartoons, and Worker & Parasite is pretty spot on to a lot of the look and feel of them. Krusty’s gobsmacked reaction is a solid go-to reaction image.
  • The Gabbo’s “S.O.B.s” scene is so absolutely prescient to our current political and social climate. A public figure getting caught saying something damning, or being exposed as a hypocrite, absolutely doesn’t matter, as it’s forgotten in an hour when the next “big” thing happens. Also, if you’re popular and have a stronghold in your field, you can just get away with it, but if you’re lower on the totem pole, not so much luck, as is the case with Kent Brockman (another amazing smash cut to a newspaper where “Brockman Fired” is the subhead to GABBO). As this episode points out, exposing your opponent doesn’t stop them, you have to beat them at their own game, a lesson I wish was actually being heeded to twenty-five years later.
  • This episode kind of gave Crazy Old Man his “name” (“And now, the Crazy Old Man dancers!”) I don’t know if he was ever referred to this moniker again, but all supplemental material would all call him Crazy Old Man. Then, for whatever reason, his name was switched to Old Jewish Man, I guess because the old name was too subtle. It’s one of those small changes in later seasons that would irrationally bother me, just like when they switched Frink’s lab coat color from light green to white. It looked so much better in green!!
  • It’s kind of a bummer that in this star-studded episode, the majority of the guest stars have passed on at this point. That’s been the case with the bulk of the guest stars so far in the series, for obvious reasons, but when they’re all together in one episode, it becomes a bit more somber.
  • Why does Elizabeth Taylor have irises? I get she was known for her violet eyes, but it makes her look so damn weird. Also, I guess the joke with her is that, to make it seem slightly more realistic, not every celebrity Bart and Lisa asked said yes, and she later regretted it, but it always struck me as odd.
  • Major kudos to Luke Perry, who suffers through maybe the most abuse of any guest star, for no other reason than Krusty’s burning jealousy. He really sells those screams and cries of agony (”My face! My valuable face!”) I also love the drawing of a disfigured Perry in Krusty’s fantasies.
  • All the celebrities featured get their moments of being superhumanly awesome, but not only is it absurdist, but they’re all for the purpose of Krusty’s show being the biggest, most amazing thing ever on TV. Nowadays, a guest star doing something cool or amazing is just some dumb gag about how incredible they are and how much we should love them. Blecch.
  • I always laugh at Flea yelling “HEY, MOE!!” It sounds slightly echoey, like he was screaming away from the mic when he recorded it, but that makes it even funnier to me.

Season Four Revisited (Part Three)

12. Marge vs the Monorail

  • It’s so great how you see the Liberty and Justice for Most inscription right at the start of the courthouse scene in the background as Burns is being carted in, succinctly telegraphing what’s to come, as Burns proceeds to effortlessly pay his comparatively paltry fine for his monstrous crimes, and literally buy the statue of justice with his pocket change.
  • I should have kept a counter for how many times the same Homer “Boring!” sound bite has been reused. He says it at the town hall, he said it just last episode in “Bypass,” he said it twice in “Marge Gets a Job”… it’s such a unique read you can easily recognize it.
  • “I have an idea. It might sound a little boring at first…” “Chat away. I’ll just amuse myself with some pornographic playing cards.”
  • I’ve always loved these crowd shots during “Monorail,” everyone looks so jubilant. We also get another great instance of the one-armed Herman gesturing like in “Streetcar,” and next to him is show producer Richard Sakai, who has made cameos every now and again, most prominently as a karaoke singer in “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.”
  • Act two begins with the Simpsons driving home on the pothole-filled road, and we see it again in act three at the monorail grand opening, serving as constant reminders at Springfield’s skewed priorities. Rather than make real substantial change on a base level for their town, they’re easily led astray by whatever shiny new object or topic is dangled in front of them. It only gets more and more believable over time as our society continues to deteriorate.
  • Lyle Lanley is such a great bullshitter, he’s even able to effortlessly diffuse Lisa’s suspicions by appealing to her ego. An episode like this done now would probably feature Lisa being the only sane voice in town, trying to get everyone else to listen to reason and being smug while doing it, but here, she’s a smart little kid who is just as susceptible to this huckster’s charms as anyone else.
  • An actually good use of blatantly reusing footage: the ad for Truckasaurus: the Movie, featuring Marlon Brando (“You crazy car. I don’t know whether to eat you or kiss you.”) Then after just the right length of pause, we get the disclaimer: “Celebrity voice impersonated.” Brilliant.
  • “Your lifelong dream was to run out on the field during a baseball game, and you did it last year, remember?”
  • In “Lisa’s First Word,” the episode was short, so they had to loop the floating heads around baby Bart’s head twice, and here they do the same thing with Marge driving to North Haverbrook, except they hold on Homer’s head for a few extra seconds after his line before they cut. It’s so weird thinking about episodes back in these days having to be padded and extended, rather than FOX just running another commercial.
  • She reappeared a decade later in an awful episode, so I prefer this show to be Lurleen’s one and only official revival, her life in absolute ruin and her soulful voice replaced by a gravely Doris Grau. I also love the comparatively tepid applause she gets compared to the other celebrities Kent Brockman introduces. I wonder if Lurleen and Homer ever crossed paths at the event? Must have been a bit awkward.
  • I keep repeating this, but man, I really miss the Quimby-Wiggum dynamic (“Watch it, you walking tub of donut batter!” “Hey, I got pictures of you, Quimby!” “You don’t scare me, that could be anyone’s ass!” These two dopes trying to act tough for control over this jerkwater berg is just so funny.
  • Leonard Nimoy feels like one of the best guest stars of these early years, because it really rides the line of reverence and mockery. Just like Adam West a few episodes ago, he’s a fading celebrity stuck doing guest appearances in small towns, and treated with that level of respect by normal people, which is to say not much at all. We get our moments of Quimby not knowing who he is and Nimoy clearly boring someone while giddily recounting Star Trek trivia, but then we get moments that are genuinely funny action moments from him, like saving Krusty’s life (“The world needs laughter”) and his reality-bending outro, literally beaming out of the scene. It’s the perfect blend of honoring a beloved celebrity while also sweeping the leg on them, compared to nowadays when it’s basically all reverence with one or two incredibly soft-gloved jabs.

13. Selma’s Choice

  • Anytime the show mentions a specific future date as a gag is always great, like the “To be completed in 1994” line in the Duff Gardens commercial. That coaster’s twenty-five years overdue!
  • The quiet dignity in Homer’s “Please” when the waiter asks if he wants another kid’s place mat is so wonderful; Dan Castellaneta can make a single word hysterical.
  • Is that kid in the back some kind of misshapen Bart clone, or is that actually just an off-model Bart?
  • I guess it’s supposed to be a dick move of Homer for eating Marge’s aunt’s treasured potato chips, but honestly, what was Marge going to do with those things? Put them in a shadow box?
  • “Back to the Loch with you, Nessie!” This one scene makes me want to see an entire episode about Willie hitting the dating scene in the 90s. That shirt and chains!
  • The fortune teller scene is one of those great jokes that’s impossible to unravel. The punchline is her exposing herself as being a fraud by drinking her own “truth serum” (“What are the magical ingredients?” “Mostly corn syrup, a little rubbing alcohol. You’ll be lucky if it doesn’t make your hair fall out actually.”) So her love potion is bullshit, but the truth serum actually works? But it not making sense almost makes it even funnier to me.
  • Best sign gag of the entire series at the Springfield Sperm Bank: “Put Your Sperm in Our Hands”
  • Any scene with Marge, Patty and Selma together is really interesting considering it’s just Julie Kavner talking to herself back and forth. Patty and Selma have effectively the same voice, but I feel like for almost every line you can pick out who’s who due to their subtle differences in tone, with Patty being gruffer and Selma more hopeful or despairing, depending on the situation.
  • Coming so soon after the Frying Dutchman “All-You-Can-Eat” episode, I find it hard to believe that Homer couldn’t polish off a ten-foot hoagie in a day or two. I love how disgusting the sandwich looks in the end, just completely purple with fungus growing on it. I can’t imagine how rancid that thing must taste.
  • Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland would really be improved with an Abe Lincoln rap.
  • The only net positive of Disney owning The Simpsons that could happen would be a complete re-theming of “It’s a Small World” to “The Little Land of Duff.” Hell, they could just Velcro a little beer bottle into every puppet’s hand and play that song on a loop and I’d be satisfied.
  • Some great animation of Lisa’s psychedelic trip. I also love how the “Duff” music fades away and kicks back in as a new rock variation.
  • Troy McClure’s loud laugh as Hercules always makes me laugh. Also, is “The Erotic Adventures of Hercules” actually a porno, or is it just a really racy adult movie? Surely Troy isn’t having sex on camera. I vote for the latter.
  • “Stop the ride!!” “I’ll have to ask my supervisor!” “Better stop it!” This is one of those gags that’s great on its own, but I also love the added joke that the supervisor is a squeaky voiced teen just like the ride operator. It feels true to junky little theme parks run by teenagers of the olden days, but it’s also great how the joke just goes by, unfocused upon, and you can either pick up on it or not. So often nowadays, both in this series and other comedies, there’s such an emphasis to make sure you point out all the jokes and make them clear as day for the audience, when it’s so much more effective and satisfying for the viewer to pick it up themselves.
  • It’s such a quick moment, but I love the small touch of Homer grabbing Selma’s hand to comfort her after she comes back from Duff Gardens and expresses how she doesn’t think she can take care of a baby. Even a lunkhead like Homer who hates his sister-in-law’s guts can see this woman is emotionally despondent, and reacts in a very human way.

14. Brother from the Same Planet

  • The Barton Fink joke walked so the Naked Lunch joke in “Bart on the Road” could run.
  • A pretty obvious instance of reused animation is Homer sitting on the beanbag chair in the rumpus room (?) from “Three Men and a Comic Book,” which I guess was only repurposed because you can clearly see it’s raining outside, as opposed to any scene with Homer in the TV room. Seriously, what room is he in?
  • “Now how about a hug?”
  • The Bigger Brothers commercial is really so dark, with the announcer bluntly telling the kid his dad’s not coming back to life, and ending with him happily playing catch with his new big brother over his recently deceased father’s open grave.
  • Tom was written with Tom Cruise in mind to voice him, but Phil Hartman is always a reliable back-up. He still brings a uniqueness to his performance, making Tom both cool and confident but also sincere. Even though he doesn’t have the greatest vocal range, how he carries himself in playing the character makes him notably distinct from Troy McClure or Lionel Hutz.
  • It really is incredibly weird that there’s just a random Ren & Stimpy scene in the middle of the episode. It’s not even like making fun of the show, it just literally seems like a bit that would be on that show. They even had a layout artist from Ren & Stimpy supply reference materials to make it look authentic, and it shows. I wonder if this was just a ‘Fuck you’ by the writers toward John K, who notably said that The Simpsons was a success in spite of its writing.
  • “Don’t thank me. Thank an unprecedented eight-year military build-up.” Pffft, eight years? We’re almost thirty years later, and STILL LOVING IT BABY. We love our obscenely high military budget, folks!
  • After witnesses him being out with Tom, Homer confronts Bart at the door in that manner of Richard Burton accusing Elizabeth Taylor of adultery in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? Dan Castellaneta mixes Homer’s voice with Burton’s unique affect, but it’s only for a brief scene, and doesn’t really distract from the story. If you don’t know Woolfe, you just read it as Homer being overdramatic. Flash forward to decades later in season 30’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” where we get a three minute sequence of Homer and Marge almost verbatim doing actual lines of dialogue from the film for no discernible reason that just goes on forever, isn’t funny and makes no sense to anyone who’s unfamiliar with the source material (when “Hotel” aired, Woolfe was an over fifty-year-old film).
  • Homer saying “revenge” was honestly probably one of the better options on this list.
  • The Lisa subplot with the Corey hotline is mostly empty filler, with the only real notable sequence being the montage of Lisa waiting by the phone and getting increasingly more anxious before she blows up at Maggie. It’s also kind of weird that the Simpson men and women are separated in their respective stories. Homer and Bart have multiple day trips with Tom and Pepi, some at the Simpson house, and Marge never had anything to say about it, I guess.
  • Bart reenacting his “fake” glee of being on the swings to torture Homer being akin to him talking about faking an orgasm is maybe the most diablocally low-key filthy thing this show has ever done, and I love it.
  • The all-out brawl between Homer and Tom at the end is a little bit too much, mostly just in how Homer could possibly hold his own for that long against a strong guy like Tom. I guess everyone has their own threshold on what “unrealistic” joke they’re willing to go along with and laugh, or think is pushing it too far. Leonard Nimoy literally beaming out of a scene? That’s funny. Homer and Tom wrestling down Springfield Gorge and then going back up the other side? Now that’s just silly.

15. I Love Lisa

  • The “Monster Mash” opening is another fantastic Bill & Marty bit, with Marty’s feeble attempt to justify playing the song on Valentine’s Day (“It’s kind of a love song. All the monsters enjoying each other’s company, dancing, keeping their evil in check…”) and his defeated “Why are you doing this to me?” when Bill rightfully calls him out.
  • “This is just another Hallmark holiday cooked up to sell cards!” I feel like Abe’s disgruntled sentiment wormed its way into my brain as a kid, as I hated mailing store bought cards when I could just make and draw my own instead. My aunt recently mailed me a giant box of old letters I sent to her and my grandparents when I was younger, and on more than one Hallmark card, I had written, “Enjoy this mass produced corporate card!” What a little shit I was.
  • In grade school, I remember we were required to write out Valentines to everybody in the class so nobody felt left out, so the scenario of this episode would have never happened to me (thankfully).
  • “The children are right to laugh at you, Ralph.” It may not seem possible, but Miss Hoover really is an even worse educator than Mrs. Krabappel, especially in dealing with younger children.
  • My single favorite frame from any Itchy & Scratchy episode.
  • “Six simple words: I’m not gay, but I’ll learn.”
  • Pretty neat animation with the light streaks going across Chief Wiggum’s windshield.
  • “Hey, Mr. President! I campaigned for the other guy, but I voted for you!” Presumably this line was written before the election, and they added in the actual winner and his wife after the fact. I kind of feel like Krusty’s line makes more sense if Bush Sr. would have won.
  • Sideshow Raheem. “Angry. Angry young man.”
  • “Y’know, one day, honest citizens are gonna stand up to you crooked cops!” The Simpsons predicting 2020 again…
  • “Mediocre Presidents” really is a great song, and how I first learned about William Henry Harrison’s 30 days in office. Fun fact, some people think he fell ill due to his rainy inauguration day, but he actually went into septic shock due to the White House’s water supply being downstream of a literal shit ton of public sewage. Eww.
  • From this point, Ralph would devolve into a mildly annoying non-sequitur machine (last Sunday’s episode featured at least two such moments), but I miss this short-lived version of Ralph: very dim and immature, but still with enough sense to know what was going on. It strengthens the episode for sure; the moment of him dropping Lisa’s card into the (inexplicably real) fireplace is weirdly powerful.

16. Duffless

  • It’s always great when Homer gets tripped up by his own brain. Him getting mixed up on whether he spoke his secret Duff Brewery plans out loud or thought them is so great; I love that as we pan up and down from his mouth to his head, it pans down to his mouth for a moment, before panning back up to his head as he thinks what he thinks he’s saying, starting the mix-up.
  • “Hey, that looks like Princess Di! Ohh, it’s just a pile of rags.” Can anyone explain this joke to me? Is it that Barney’s drunk already? Or is the complete stupidity of Barney driving off his mark meant to make it even funnier that Homer gets hurt jumping out the window?
  • Hey, it’s Big Butt Skinner two seasons earlier!
  • Homer’s complete disdain toward Nixon is always funny. “The man never drank a beer in his life!”
  • I love Homer’s frozen smile watching the horrific footage of Troy McClure’s driving safety video (“Here’s an appealing fellow! In fact, they’re a-peeling him off the sidewalk!”
  • Ned’s tale of woe of his one fateful night of raspberry schnapps is so great (“I was more animal than man!”) I love the touch of when we see him get into bed, he feebly grasps at the sheets for a moment before settling in, both showing that he’s a bit tipsy, and he can’t see so well with his glasses off.
  • “My name is Hans. Drinking has ruined my life. I’m 31 years old!” Well, it happened: I’m finally as old as Hans Moleman.
  • Are beer commercials still like this? I haven’t watched live TV since 2008.
  • “That’ll learn ‘em to bust my tomater.”
  • I like that we see Homer still riding Lisa’s bike several times through the show, a signifier of what alcohol has cost him, but then by the end we see him embracing his new sober life as he takes his final bike ride with Marge. Of course, none of that matters because by next episode he’ll be blindingly drunk, but it’s kind of sweet for the purposes of this one episode.

687. Now Museum, Now You Don’t

Original airdate: October 11, 2020

The premise: Lisa stays home from school sick and tells some stories about famous artists: herself as Leonardo da Vinci, Bart as an unspecific French impressionist, and Marge and Homer as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

The reaction: Oh jeez, two of these in a row? Seriously, these fantasy episodes are so boring to watch, I barely even have anything else to say about them. Treehouse of Horrors, at least in the classic era, felt like exceptions because the stories mostly took place in the “real world” of the show as horrific elements befell the characters. I asked last week, but seriously, does anybody like these episodes? Even looking at No Homers this morning, most of those diehard fans are giving it low scores. Hell, I don’t like it when any show does this fantasy episode shit. Futurama‘s “Naturama.” It’s Always Sunny‘s “The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell.” They’re always my least favorite; I watch the show I’m watching because I like these characters in this setting, so when you change that, I don’t care as much. I mean, if they were to tell these stories about famous historical or fictional people, maybe it could be engaging, but that’s never the case. Act one has Lisanardo being very talented and sad. In act two, Bart leads an impressionist movement, and then the king likes his paintings. Act three has Homer/Diego and Marge/Frida more or less just straight retelling the story behind Rivera’s “Man at the Crossroads” commissioned mural at Rockefeller Plaza. Being an art major, this all should be appealing to me, but it just doesn’t at all. It’s not taking these historical events and retelling them in unique or satirical ways, it just feels like an excuse to draw the characters in different costumes and give the other artists more work to do. Futurama‘s “The Duh-Vinci Code” featured a twist explaining da Vinci’s genius: he was actually a refugee from an alien world, but upon returning there, we see that he was actually one of the dumbest of his extremely advanced species. It was a unique episode, and also felt natural within universe, as the premise is driven by Professor Farnsworth idolizing da Vinci as a great inventor. These episodes just suck. S’all I can say about it.

Two items of note:
– This episode features our next re-casted POC character: one line from Eric Lopez as the new Bumblebee Man. He doesn’t really sound much like Hank Azaria, but it really doesn’t matter. When was the last time Bumblebee Man had a line? On the Simpsons wiki, he’s made relatively sporadic appearances over the last decade, but I don’t know if they list appearances based on if the character actually speaks, or if they just make a silent cameo in a crowd or something. The only actually notable characters left to be dealt with are Apu, Dr. Hibbert, Lou the cop, and maybe Drederick Tatum, all of the others barely show up anymore and don’t really matter. Also, specifically about Bumblebee Man, why does he even still exist in 2020? The character was born out of one of the writers randomly coming upon a Mexican comedy show featuring a man in a red grasshopper suit, so they replicated it with Homer doing the same. Back in the early 90s, if you flipped your TV up to like channel 79, you could just watch Spanish television and be fascinated by “weird” shows like that. But in 2020, when nobody channel surfs and just watches streaming services, and with El Chapulín Colorado long removed from the air waves, what is Bumblebee Man supposed to represent on the show anymore?
– Marge/Frida mentions that a young man named Bernie Sanders has recently been born who will champion socialism, which is followed by a scene of baby Bernie vouching for free cootie shots on the playground, under the threat of his “Bernie Babies” bullies, who just beat another kid up for no reason (“I disavow that, and welcome it!”) Now, a couple things with this. First, Diego Rivera’s Rockefeller Plaza commission was in the early 1930s, and Bernie Sanders was born in 1941, so the timeline doesn’t even come close to lining up. Second, this gag clearly feels like it was written a year ago when Bernie was the frontrunner leading up the primaries, so seeing this joke three weeks before the Trump/Biden election feels like another example of the show being woefully too late in making cultural references. And finally, it’s just a shitty gag. There’s plenty you can poke fun at Bernie about, but a Bernie Bros joke? Seriously? It also feels especially tone-deaf now to joke about someone demanding free healthcare when we’re still living in a pandemic with 200k Americans dead. But don’t worry, the majority of the show’s writers and producers have been working this cushy job for over a decade, and I’m sure they’ve never had any serious worries about their healthcare.

Season Four Revisited (Part Two)

6. Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie

  • “Star Trek XII: So Very Tired” was specifically mocking the seemingly endless string of Star Trek movies featuring the aging original cast (ironically, the last of these, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Colony released in 1991, when this episode was being written), but watching it now, it reminds me of modern day reboots/reimaginings of movies and TV shows where they bring original cast members back to do the same schtick they did decades prior. I guess they’re a draw to get people to watch, but it really just makes me sad more than anything watching that kind of stuff. It’s a more minor example, but I had a similar reaction trying to watch the fifth season of Arrested Development. In addition to the show being total garbage, it felt so depressing seeing the cast look so incredibly old trying to recreate the chemistry they had fifteen years prior. Also, Arrested might rival The Simpsons in terms of the greatest drop in quality for a comedy from the start of its run to the end. Season 4 was spotty, but mostly bad, but season 5 is a complete and utter shit show.
  • “What if one of us has been good and one of us has been bad?” “Poison pizza.” “Oh no, I’m not making two stops!”
  • The drawing of Homer wedged in the small classroom seat with a big dumb smile always makes me laugh.
  • “Where did Bart stick the fireworks?” I kind of feel like this gag is a bit too dark, but I’m still impressed they got away with it.
  • Bang-Bang Bart: what a tragic vision of Bart’s future, especially by his own mother.
  • I absolutely love how episodes can feature Homer as an authoritative parent, and others have him as a complete pushover, and both characterizations feel completely appropriate to the character. This episode perfectly illustrates his psyche: by default, he’s a lazy slob, but when pushed or motivated to do something, he’ll stick with it until the end, believing in his heart of hearts he’s doing the right thing.
  • I just love the Itchy & Scratchy Movie billboard. I wish they would have recreated it in the Springfield section of the Universal Studios theme parks; they could position it in such a way on top of a building where the spurting “blood” could be collected and reused.
  • Another great Homer drawing as the absolutely checked out father. I love that he mostly holds this pose for the entire scene as Marge is talking to him.
  • “Do you want your son to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or a sleazy male stripper?” “Can’t he be both, like the late Earl Warren?” “Earl Warren wasn’t a stripper!” “Now who’s being naive?” One of those jokes I love but don’t really understand. Is there any actual explanation for this joke relating to Earl Warren, or is it just ridiculous for its own sake?
  • I’ve mentioned it several times, but I’ll never get over that you can watch both “Steamboat Willie” and “Steamboat Itchy” on the same streaming service. Disney owning the show as it exists now I don’t really care about, but them having and controlling the library of older episodes? It kind of sucks, spiritually speaking.
  • “We’ll be back with a real-life Itchy and Scratchy, a rabid mouse in Boston who attacked and killed a small cat.”
  • I recall someone posting a comment a while back talking about how I complain about the show doing weird unrealistic stuff despite the classic years having plenty of crazy moments, using Maggie driving the car as an example of a joke I would balk at if it were done in the series now. I can’t speak to every moment like this, but besides the comedy being subjective (this scene is funny to me, unlike [insert dumbass joke from season 29 here]), I can say that the Maggie driving scene also works in acting as the final straw of Bart’s reckless and negligent ways. Homer has let increasingly rowdy behavior go unpunished: destroying Abe’s dentures, ripping up the carpet, everything ramps up to this really cartoony, but still potentially dangerous incident of Bart letting his baby sister get into danger, resulting in Homer finally laying down the ultimate punishment.
  • Homer angrily reacting, “Don’t point that thing at me!” at Bart pulling his pants down demanding a spanking is such a great fucking line.
  • I’d love to know which of the nine categories “The Itchy & Scratchy Movie” swept at the Academy Awards.
  • I really love the ending; I for one find the futures where Bart actually straightens up and flies right feel more believable and satisfying than the ones where he’s a total fuck-up. Seeing him bonding with his elderly dad finally getting to watch the movie he’d yearned for as a child is genuinely really sweet.

7. Marge Gets A Job

  • “The Half-Assed Approach to Foundation Repair” might be Troy McClure’s only competently made production, but I’d love to see the other two he cites: “Mothballing Your Battleship” and “Dig Your Own Grave and Save!”
  • Homer’s honest “Did you see the bubble?” after watching Surly Joe’s level slide to the ground and audibly break always makes me laugh.
  • It’s simple, but I love the animation of Homer sliding down the couch and knocking the lamp over. It’s also great that Marge doesn’t even acknowledge the breaking lamp as she’s talking, this sort of slanty-shanty chaos has become normalized at that point.

  • Smithers’ ode to Burns song is one of the many, many moments I was delighted to recognize upon finally watching Citizen Kane. It’s also a good illustration as to why this kind of reference works, and so, so many of the “parodies” this show has done in the last 10+ years doesn’t. The joke works even if you haven’t seen Kane, and it re-contextualizes the song from the original source material, with the misdirect of the song actually being about Burns, who is already a Charles Foster Kane figure himself. 
  • The portrait of Burns behind Smithers in his office glaring down at him is great, but I also love in the reverse shot of Marge, we can see the picture of Burns meeting Elvis that Burns gifted to him when he left the plant in “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk,” a pretty impressive callback.
  • Bart’s daydream about the radioactive Curies is one of my favorite random cutaways. Despite it being a totally random joke, the likes of which would be picked up by Family Guy, pioneering a new comedic plague on our nation, I feel like it still feels true to what a boy like Bart would fantasize about hearing about the Curies getting radiation poisoning.
  • I love the music over the pneumatic tube scene. It feels melodically similar to the music later used in “Last Exit to Springfield” when Burns and Smithers try to run the plant by themselves.
  • “Think warm thoughts, boy, ‘cause this is mighty cold!” Not just any show can make a joke about an old man rectally probing his grandson.
  • The staging of the start of this scene is really great, where as Marge keeps moving her head back and forth, we see Burns in the background get in closer and closer.
  • I love the awful drawing of the portrait of Burns in the background. We see the normal-looking portrait in the following shot behind Smithers, but here, it’s like the background artist had to finish in thirty seconds and just scribbled this masterpiece.
  • Tom Jones really is a good sport of a guest, getting repeatedly gassed, chained up and held at gunpoint, by Smithers of all people. I also love when the automatic door in Burns’ office closes, it conks him on the head as it goes down.
  • “I want you to show this woman the time of her life.” “Gotcha! Marge, we’re getting some drive-thru and we’re doing it twice!” And Marge smiles at this. Despite their differences, Homer and Marge really are made for each other.

8. New Kid on the Block

  • I love that upon hearing she’s moving, when Homer asks Mrs. Winfield, “Gonna run out the clock in Florida, eh?,” she replies with a quick, quieted, “Yes…”
  • Captain McAlister’s joyous, maniacal laugh after the dining woman quietly asks for more iced tea is so funny.
  • “I actually had some doubts about moving to Springfield, especially after that TIME cover story, ‘America’s Worst City.’” “You can see our house in that photo!”
  • Lots of great looping gifs to be had this episode.
  • With Ruth only appearing two more times (the latter being in the awful “Strong Arms of the Ma,” the Powers really are underutilized characters. I get they were voiced by guest stars, but Laura and Ruth could have been interesting recurring characters, with Ruth acting as a good foil for Marge, as we’d later see in her next appearance next season.
  • Bart and Laura’s dream dance is really well animated.
  • “Hey, can your grandfather do this?” Also, is that a picture of Bea Simmons on the wall?
  • “Good luck in your trumped-up lawsuit, Dad.” “Thanks. That means a lot to me.”
  • Barney gets in a pretty funny retort after Moe’s call for “Amanda Huggenkiss,” “Maybe your standards are too high!”
  • One last looping gif of a crazed Moe at the window (yes, I know what it looks like). Every time the show does an episode featuring Moe as sad and sympathetic, I think back to this show where he was ready and raring to slice open a young boy with a giant rusty knife. Although to be fair, he didn’t actually go through with it.
  • I like that as writer Conan O’Brien points out on the commentary, the ending features Bart exposing Jimbo as a coward… by showing him get afraid and plead for his life when an insane stranger bursts down the door and threatens to kill him. What a wuss.

9. Mr. Plow

  • “Take it easy out there, folks, it’s snow picnic out there!” “I snow what you mean!” “You’re dead weight, Marty.” God, I love the Bill & Marty moments where one of them just cracks. Those two pretty much disappeared after their only major plot-relevant in-person appearance in “Bart Gets An Elephant,” but I think they’re great sleeper characters who were so fantastic when they’d pop up randomly for a slam-dunk joke every now and again.
  • Homer’s deadpan read of “It’s a pornography store. I was buying pornography” is still the best.
  • Crazy Vaclav and his cries to “put it in H!” spawned just an endless parade of phenomenal shitposts. Doing this rewatch now is just further illuminating how rich this show is, in seeing how almost every single episode has at least one still frame or scene or quote that’s been spun off into literally hundreds of different memes over the last few years. This scene was also fodder for one of my favorite Dankmus remixes (all of them are great, if you’ve never listened to them).
  • “Pure. West.” RIP.
  • Another great callback: Homer’s plow is manufactured by Kumatsu Motors, the auto company that took over Powell Motors at the end of “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”
  • Homer envisions himself mowing down protesters at the behest of President George H.W. Bush, which is kind of funny given this episode aired two weeks after the 1992 election where Bush Sr. lost. I mean, he was still President, but I would imagine when they wrote this joke, they assumed he would probably win re-election.
  • “It might be on a lousy channel, but the Simpsons are on TV!”
  • “Well, John Q. Driveway has our number.” As a kid, I had the two Simpsons CDs that featured the music and songs from the first eight seasons, and included was the Mr. Plow commercial and jingle, which included the “waiting game” scene as a little tag. I listened to those CDs endlessly as a kid, and for all the times I heard that track, I could never fucking understand what Homer was saying. I knew he was saying “driveway,” but my brain merged “John Q” as one word and never could figure out what it was. I certainly didn’t know the expression “John Q. Public,” so it was understandably lost on me.
  • Bart getting pelted with snowballs is another effective use of parody. The over dramatic scene of him writhing in anguish is funny in and of itself, but when you later realize it’s directly referencing Sonny Corleone getting killed in The Godfather, it makes it even better. Reframing a violent mass shooting as kids throwing snowballs adds on another comedic layer. Over a decade later in season 16’s “All’s Fair in Oven War,” James Caan would appear as himself, and the ending featured him getting shot to death at a toll booth by Cletus and his kin, literally just recreating the Godfather scene with no subversion.
  • The Barney’s first beer flashback is really funny by itself, but it’s kind of sour when used as the ironic example Homer uses to hold up their great friendship (“How could you, Barney? After all I’ve done for you!”) Considering we’re meant to sympathize with Homer’s business being in trouble, it feels wrong to start act three showing how he helped ruin Barney’s life. And then since we also saw Barney shoot out Homer’s tires and start a slander campaign against him, it makes both of them kind of unlikable, which I guess is the point since they’re friends who take a rivalry too far and have to make amends, but it all feels less impactful being isolated in the final act.
  • I felt it back then, but I still feel “Mr. Plow” is one of the most overrated classic shows. I follow a Simpsons Shitposting group on Facebook (the only reason I even still have a Facebook), and remember being unusually angry that “Mr. Plow” was sweeping a Best of Season 4 poll. I think its biggest failing is I didn’t really care about Homer’s plow business. He liked the idea of having a big truck, and revelled in the fame his business brought, but none of that really felt very meaningful. Even the most unrealistic of Homer-gets-a-job episodes, “Deep Space Homer,” has the emotional through-line of Homer wanting to be treated with respect, where here, Homer cares about being Mr. Plow just because that’s what the episode is about. It has a good amount of funny moments, of course, but so does every other season 4 episode. I dunno, maybe it’s just me.

10. Lisa’s First Word

  • The cover of Fretful Mother magazine feels straight out of a Life in Hell strip.
  • The punchline for the Bart swinging on the clothesline gag always sticks out to me, since it’s clear they just created it in post, using the same looped animation but darkening the frame to make it look like it’s night, despite the obvious blue sky and clouds.
  • Nancy Cartwright does such a great job as baby Bart, infantilizing the voice down to an adorable level. I love his attempt to mimic Ed McMahon’s “Hi-yo!” while watching Johnny Carson.
  • “There’s going to be twice as much love in this house as there is now!” “We’re going to start doing it in the morning?”
  • One of Homer and Marge’s prospective homes is right next to the rendering plant. Is that near the pony farm according to the pet shop owner in “Lisa’s Pony”?
  • “Don’t forget to check out the galley! That’s real shag carpeting!”
  • It’s interesting tracking Abe Simpson through the three years of flashback shows. In “The Way We Was,” he was incredibly harsh and brutally blunt with Homer, “I Married Marge” he acted similarly but with slightly less vigor, but now we see he’s definitely much softer, which I chalk up to good ol’ senility. Homer shoving him into the retirement home would continue to sand down his edges, surely.
  • 80s Sideshow Bob with teal hair must be a coloring mistake, I never understood why that happened.
  • The clown bed is an infamous moment, of course, but it never dawned on me just how preposterous it is that we’re to believe Homer actually built this seemingly well made piece of furniture.
  • Following up Cartwright into the final act, Yeardley Smith as newborn Lisa is even cuter, with her little coos and giggles. Right after Bart triumphantly announces, “You can talk!,” she makes a little babbling noise right before we cut to the next scene, and it’s so goddamn fucking precious.
  • It’s a pretty good gag to cast a legendary actress to be the “voice” of Maggie for just a single word of dialogue. It reminds me of the first season of South Park when they had George Clooney “guest star” as Stan’s dog and just had him bark and growl for a bit. I’m sure there was a big marketing push focused on Elizabeth Taylor and the big question: what will Maggie’s first word be? It could be anything! TUNE IN AND FIND OUT!! As someone who works in promo marketing, this feels really funny to me, like you make a big deal out of it, and then when it turns out to be “Daddy” and people feel tricked, it’s like, what the fuck did you think a baby’s first word would be? And what word could it have been to make you feel satisfied?

11. Homer’s Triple Bypass

  • “COPS in Springfield” features the police tracking down cattle thief Snake at 742 Evergreen Terrace. Had that not been established as the Simpsons’ address at this point, or was this just a goof?
  • The music sting over Homer’s heart pangs leading up to his attack is so great, combined with Homer’s painful groans, it really feels dramatic and really sets the stage for the inevitable climax.
  • Homer’s heart attack is one of the more famous pieces of animation in the whole show, thanks of course to David Silverman’s great Homer poses as Burns chews him out. How can someone make cardiac arrest look so funny? I also love right before his heart shorts out, the picture-in-picture flashes the different playing card suits. I assume that idea was also Silverman’s, it’s one of those things I don’t really know why it feels so great, but it really does.
  • The waiting room of the hospital is another quick scene featuring a collection of familiar faces, illustrating how filled out the world of this series has gotten, and they’re all “amusing” injuries: Jasper’s beard caught up in a bike chain, Akira’s hand fractured against a piece of wood, and of course, Chief Wiggum’s locked jaw, complete with a reprise of the “COPS” music.
  • “Woo-hoo! Look at that blubber fly!”
  • “Don’t worry, Marge. America’s healthcare system is second only to Japan, Canada, Sweden, Great Britain… well, all of Europe. But you can thank your lucky stars that we don’t live in Paraguay!” Nearly thirty years later and this is still depressingly accurate.
  • The entire scene at the insurance office is so damn funny, with Homer barely keeping his “scheme” together, breaking even before he gets the chance to sign, and when he finally does, his heart gives out once again. I love the camera turn from him signing back to the two-shot, that extra bit of motion really enhances the desperation of Homer and the insurance agent tugging the form back and forth.
  • Now, I can’t say I’m too familiar with the medical business, but how is Dr. Nick allowed to operate in Springfield General Hospital? Outside of him being grossly incompetent and a legal liability, he’s not a resident doctor. I think hospitals allow outside doctors to use their facilities, but only if it’s like a certain specialty or a certain type of procedure, I think. How does Dr. Nick keep his operation costs so low? Is he juiced in somehow? Also, have Dr. Nick and Dr. Hibbert ever had a scene together? I can’t recall at the top of my head, but I feel like I must be forgetting something. I imagine Hibbert would be low-key pissed by him being allowed to step foot in his hospital.
  • I love the pantomime action by Krusty explaining why he has to do community service (“Glug glug, vroom vroom, thump thump!”). It feels like a more elaborate version of similar acting he did off-handedly talking about the exploits of a previous Li’l Miss Springfield winner in “Lisa the Beauty Queen.” Also, ”This ain’t makeup!!” is easily in the top three of best Krusty lines.
  • The designs of the guests on the “People Who Look Like Things” segment are all just fantastic. I also love the pumpkin head guy’s disgruntled face after the host jokes about him.
  • There’s a lot of touching moments by the end of this episode, but Homer’s goodbyes to Bart and Lisa is my favorite. It doubles up as both a sweet Homer and the kids moment, and a sweet Bart-Lisa moment, as the two are basically making each other feel better through Homer’s words, reassuring that they’ll be there for each other in case anything goes wrong.