692. The Road to Cincinnati

Original airdate: November 29, 2020

The premise: Superintendent Chalmers is scheduled to speak at an administrator’s conference in Cincinnati and is dispirited when he ends up having to take Skinner with him. Their road trip proves to be calamitous, but the two end up growing fonder of each other along the way.

The reaction: One of my biggest wants over the past fifteen or so years for this show is for them to explore their enormous roster of secondary characters. I think we’ve had enough Homer and Lisa shows for one lifetime, why not give us some variety and feature Ned Flanders, or Mayor Quimby, or in this case, Skinner and the Superintendent? Just like Comic Book Guy going to Comic-Con, a story with Skinner and Chalmers together feels like a promising idea, one I was genuinely curious going in as to how they would execute it. While it definitely felt novel to have an episode that barely featured the Simpsons at all, I was ultimately disappointed as to how bland and unambitious the episode ended up being. If you’ve seen any road trip comedy featuring two mismatched protagonists, you can basically predict the story beats here: the two bicker, meet up with odd characters and get into wacky shenanigans, one or two token acts bring them closer, a secret is revealed leading to a falling out, then a tearful reconciliation and everything is a-OK by the end. That’s not to say a traditional story can’t be engaging or fun to watch, but there’s not enough unique here that really kept my attention. Skinner resolves to have more backbone and be more proactive in getting on Chalmers’ good side, and his kindness and quick thinking gets the two out of a few jams, which helps to make Chalmers grow more fond of him. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like we learn a lot about these two during their trip. We see Chalmers freaking out about air travel, getting them kicked off the plane, but that never really develops into anything. Skinner finally standing up for himself to Chalmers feels a little cathartic, but feels a little empty since there’s no real stakes for him in the episode. He tags along with Chalmers not for a promotion or a pay raise, he just wants to be his friend, I guess. This show has actually had some success in the past few years in showcasing new and different shades of our familiar characters (Mr. Largo and his partner’s domestic life, Krusty’s dream of filming an “unfilmable” adaptation of a sci-fi story), it’s just a bummer that this episode entirely focused on not-the-Simpsons feels so rote and formulaic. 

Three items of note:
– In an episode where the Simpsons barely appear, it was interesting seeing how the rest of the cast were given some rare token roles. Dan Castellaneta plays the Missouri sheriff, though he typically plays a lot of non-Homer roles per episode. Yeardley Smith gets a lot of lines as one of the improv Shakespeare performers Skinner and Chalmers pick up. And, something I didn’t notice before the credits revealed it, Julie Kavner performed the turkey on the airplane that freaks Chalmers out, and pretty well, I might add. She also gets a decent sized bit as Marge in the tag of the episode, so don’t worry, all of our regular performers definitely earned their large paychecks for this episode.
– Attached to the episode description I read somewhere, it also mentioned that there would be a steamed hams reference, which instantly made me cringe. I feel like the genesis of this episode was inspired by the explosion of the Steamed Hams meme, so I was preparing for the worst, most on-the-nose callback ever. However, the reference ended up simply being a Steamed Hams restaurant they drive by, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it background sign. I was surprised by the restraint.
– If it’s one thing this show is unable to do anymore, it’s balancing genuine sentimentality with a snarky twist, something that really made this series shine in its heyday. Now, happy endings are played 100% straight, and even if they feel earned, they feel like they belong in a completely different show. Here, Skinner races back to Cincinnati to get Chalmers his cue cards for his speech while Chalmers riffs on stage about how lame Skinner is, before slowly realizing he actually cares for him (“God help me, I respect Seymour Skinner! In fact, I like him!”) The two have a tearful hug and Chalmers gives his speech uninterrupted. It literally feels like something out of a bad movie, with no attempt at adding anything new on top of it. Maybe Chalmers’ speech goes terribly? The two get kicked out? Some other crazy thing happens? You can still have your sweet moment and have it land meaningfully, but there’s got to be more to it.

Season Six Revisited (Part One)

1. Bart of Darkness

  • Through multiple heat waves across the series, I like that Bart takes after his father in just lying around in his skivvies, Marge tries to remain respectable with her normal dress, while Lisa has changed to her pink one piece bathing suit.
  • The scene where Bart and Lisa confront Homer about getting a pool is one of those great scenes that just has joke after joke after joke. Homer turning sideways off the couch to see the TV behind Lisa, Bart unplugging the set, Homer replying cheerfully after his obstinate display (“Yes, Lisa?”), then Lisa’s very eloquently prepared speech, followed by incessant chanting of “Can we have a pool, Dad?” with Bart. I also love that Lisa holds her hand up to signal Bart to stop the repetitive chant, so he gets to the next “Can we” before stopping. And then Homer’s diplomatic, “Let us celebrate our new arrangement with the adding of chocolate to milk.”
  • “Awww, I’m going to miss the whole summer.” “Don’t worry, boy. When you get a job like me, you’ll miss every summer.” Last time I watched this episode I was gearing up for another year of school; watching this again after many years in the workforce, this hits harder.
  • The Busby Berkley-style pool performance is great, almost like the summertime version of “Bart Gets an F” where Bart is forced to watch an incredibly fun day out that he can’t participate in. I don’t quite know why, but I always laugh at Homer’s tube just floating into the human circle, like he’s probably really loaded and not sure what these kids are doing, but he’s having a great time drinking Duff in his undies, so whatever.
  • This episode has the longest Itchy & Scratchy up to this point, which in later seasons would be a bad sign, but this one is great, I love the slow build where you’re not quite sure how Scratchy is going to get butchered, and the sound design of the future Itchy’s heads pulsing is pretty wonderful and gross.
  • I love all the glimpses of older Krusty shows, where despite being a low-rent kiddie clown, he’s done several different adult formats over his career for no discernible reason.
  • The lighting in Bart’s darkened room is just fantastic, it looks beautiful and further emphasizes his isolation. Also, when his shirt is completely shadowed, it almost looks light blue, which is almost like a weird Easter egg to early merchandising that inexplicably had him wearing a blue shirt instead of orange. Also, this face of him wordless calling Lisa on her bullshit is great.
  • Is spying on people in the nude with a bucket of popcorn the grossest Chief Wiggum moment? Last season he entertained a brothel, but those are professional sex workers, not regular civilians having their privacy breached.
  • A special shout-out to Nancy Cartwright’s demented performance as Bart goes more and more stir-crazy. Even beyond his more animated lines, I love how he’s completely uneven through the whole second act and most of the third.
  • “He’s going to kill Rod and Todd too? That’s horrible! …in principle.”
  • I like how dramatic the ending feels; of course Ned isn’t a killer, but the combination of the great staging, the music, and Bart and Lisa’s childlike naivete, it definitely feels a bit intense. I also like that despite the joke being that it’s a big cheat that Ned was just burying Maude’s plants, none of his language feels that purposefully misleading, like him saying Maude was with God being revealed that she was at Bible Camp (“I was learning how to be more judgemental.”)
  • Martin singing “Summer Wind” in his ravaged backyard all alone might be my favorite Martin moment, and maybe in my top 10 endings in the whole series. There was just enough set-up to his final scene that made it seem worth it, also this being a whole show about summer, it feels really appropriate. I only wish they had him sing through the credits, Russi Taylor is such a great performer, but I like the instrumental version just the same.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “In many ways, ‘Bart of Darkness’ was a typical Season Fiver: it had the ‘Simpsons get a wacky object plot’ (already used twice before, with a trampoline and an elephant), and a long movie reference that substituted for a plot (‘Rear Window,’ as opposed to ‘Cape Fear,’ ‘Thelma and Louise,’ ad nauseum). The Simpsons has never been a formula show, but last season (and this episode) came dangerously close.

2. Lisa’s Rival

  • “Lisa, stop blowing my sex! I mean, stop blowing your sax, your sax!” I also love that Marge admits she “sacrificed a very expensive camera just to get some quiet time,” it’s a quick line, but it makes the opening feel more connected and coherent. Homer is an absolute dummy who instantly breaks the camera by hammering it with a power drill, which is funny in a base, simplistic way, but revealing it was a calculated move by a knowing Marge makes it even funnier.
  • It’s great that Lisa is very quickly threatened by Allison usurping her turf, and despite how incredibly open and nice Allison is to her, Lisa is doing all she can to bite her tongue and grin and bear it. Her begrudging “Me too…” after Allison says they’re going to be best friends is fantastic, as is her lifeless compliment, “You’re a wonderful person” after she later “decides” there’s no shame in being second best and to try and be nice to Allison.
  • The Homer sugar B-plot is definitely the craziest Homer scheme yet, and it makes sense that it was written by Mike Scully, whose tenure on the show would turn Homer into Captain Wacky. It feels a little too silly at times, but the fact that it’s just the subplot definitely helps, and there are definitely great moments to be had in it (the proper English gentleman stealing sugar, the two beekeepers).
  • There’s a great moment when Lisa is confronting her mother about why she hasn’t been moved up a grade, where she says, “Maybe you could have been nicer to Principal Skinner, if you know what I mean.” She certainly isn’t implying what my impure mind is thinking, but I like that the adult Marge’s knee jerk reaction is, “Lisa!!” Pause, and then a flat, “I am nice.” I love that bit.
  • I’m not sure why Skinner is at the band tryouts, but he certainly looks incredibly bored being there.
  • Bart’s extended laugh into his tape recorder always makes me laugh. It’s infectious, I guess.
  • Ah, the Milhouse Fugitive moment. It’s an absurd moment that is mostly just recreating a movie scene, something I usually bitch about in newer episodes, but the fact that there’s actually set-up to it in Bart selling himself to Lisa on his manipulation skills (“Remember how I got Milhouse’s picture on ‘America’s Most Wanted’?”) and the ridiculousness of seeing a dweeb like Milhouse staring down the barrel of not-Tommy Lee Jones’ gun makes it even funnier.
  • Homer’s ridiculous monologue about how his sugar business will enter him into high society (I think?) feels similar to his similarly nonsensical movie-quote-rant in “Secrets to a Successful Marriage,” but this one is better only because it’s kind of related to what he’s doing, and it sports some great character animation, I think by David Silverman, instead of “Secrets” where he was mostly stationary.
  • I love that the gag of Uter having eaten his chocolate diorama could have easily just been the only joke, but his anguished, “I begged you to look at mine first! I begged you!” just adds to it, like he knew he couldn’t help himself and tried his best to avoid the inevitable conclusion. Fantastic.
  • In the end, as Lisa gets more and more frazzled by her conscious, Skinner’s continued dressing down of Allison in the background is great, as he loses track of his point and starts getting a little too introspective (“Young lady, cow hearts belong in a butcher’s window, not the classroom. Well, maybe in an older students’ biology classroom, but that’s none of my business. Elementary school is where I wound up, and it’s too late to do anything about that!”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Not a great episode by any stretch of the imagination, it was more a mishmosh of a lot of subplots, some funnier than others, others overplayed. You could tell it was the last episode of the season, and the writers threw in everything that couldn’t make it into its own episode.”

3. Another Simpsons Clip Show

  • This is definitely a sharp decline from “So It’s Come to This” in regards to clip shows, but honestly, the first five minutes are pretty serviceable. I think I mentioned this in my original review, but I like the idea of a creative experiment of trying to concoct a whole new episode using as many clips as possible. Marge recalling Homer on the lawn in the kiddie pool, the Itchy & Scratchy rerun, Bart talking about “Fluffy Bunny’s Guide to You-Know-What,” they all felt like semi-organic callbacks. But once Marge starts recapping “Life in the Fast Lane,” the episode tanks.
  • “Mom, romance is dead. It was acquired in a hostile takeover by Hallmark and Disney, homogenized, and sold off piece by piece.” I’ll once again remind readers that this episode is available to watch on Disney+.
  • I’m sure I talked about this last time, but it’s a clip show, how much new stuff is there to talk about, but it really feels bizarre that Marge and Homer talk about their almost affairs in front of their children as a means of teaching them about true love. I wonder to what extent the writers were aware of how weird this is, although considering Homer’s line before he tells his story, I guess they were (“As long as we’re traumatizing the kids, I have a scandalous story of my own…”)
  • It’s also strange when Homer’s recollected stories contain scenes that he wasn’t actually present for, like Mr. Burns releasing the flying monkeys (which I assume is a syndication cut in this episode just like “Last Temptation of Homer,”) and the beginning of the final flashback to “The Way We Was,” when Homer presumably narrates to the kids how Artie Ziff attempted to get extra handsy with his wife after their prom.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This is ridiculous. Shape up or you risk losing even your loyalest of fans. At least make it look like you are trying and let the show die gracefully. That is, unless Bart’s comment about the Cosby show was right and you do plan to ‘run the show into the ground.'”

4. Itchy & Scratchy Land

  • Krusty hawking Itchy & Scratchy Land once again brings up the oscillating power dynamic between the two. Who calls the shots, Krusty or Roger Meyers, Jr? It wouldn’t be until much, much later that we would see Krustyland (way later, after it was featured in the ride, I believe.) It was also featured in a short-run of Simpsons comics in the early 90s, where the gag was that it was built on the cheap and was a rickety nightmare. Meanwhile, Itchy & Scratchy Land is pretty well put together, a gigantic park with a huge nightlife/dining extension, all put atop an exclusive island with the titular cat and mouses’ faces carved into it. How much did this thing cost, billions?
  • Great animation of Bart and Lisa running into the kitchen as Bart screeches to a stop. It’s framed a little low like it’s more from their POV, which is a nice little touch. Also, the drawing of their aghast faces when Marge tells them of her planned vacation is hilarious.
  • “Dead serious about going to Itchy & Scratchy Land” is yet another shitposters dream, hundreds of great memes have come from it.
  • My only complaint this episode is that we never got to see what exactly recipe-related bumper cars are.
  • Every single time I park at Disneyland, my first thought is always, “Remember, we’re in the Itchy lot.”
  • I’m a big theme park nerd, so I love all the little touches in this episode. One of my favorites is the parade, where they remix the I&S theme to sort of sound like the Electrical Parade music. Also the underground tunnels that Bart and Homer are taken to are inspired by the utilidor system that runs under the Magic Kingdom in Orlando.
  • Boy, good thing the Simpsons were those exact heights. I feel bad for whoever’s in the next log. I also love how the guests are expected to climb out of the way of the giant buzz saw and fall onto the mattresses below.
  • The John Travolta bartender joke is pretty funny in hindsight as this episode aired less than two weeks before Pulp Fiction released in theaters, which completely revitalized Travolta’s career.
  • The gift shops in the Springfield section of Universal Studios have plenty of vanity plates, and they’re always out of BORT ones, which I appreciate.
  • I’d make another snide “THIS IS ON DISNEY+” comment in regards to Roger Meyers Sr’s controversial “Nazi Supermen Are Our Superiors,” but I just did that last episode. The “Scratchtasia” and “Pinnitchio” segments are classic, of course.
  • The “With a dry, cool wit like that, I could be an action hero” joke feels so unique, like I can’t think of a bit quite like that, where not only does Bart ignore Homer’s theft of his joke, but does so with a canned line talking about how great their vacation was, in an attempt to just keep the story going. I love it.
  • Like John Travolta, Euro Itchy & Scratchy Land is another antiquated reference; Disneyland Paris (formerly Euro Disneyland) was a financial failure in its first few years, but soon after became pretty successful.
  • I love the meta ending with Bart explaining how violence is funny if it’s happening to someone else, catching even Marge in a giggle, before she snaps back and punishes Lisa. Also, this episode has my favorite little ending motif over the executive producer credits. I can’t explain why, and they’ve used it a handful of times, but something about it feels very satisfying to me.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This makes my Top 5 worst list of all time, easily. The racing form in the 1st 60 seconds of the show was the only thing that made me laugh out loud. After that, it was nothing but about 10 jillion stupid ‘Jurassic Park’ jokes. Killer robots? Puh-LEEZE.”

5. Sideshow Bob Roberts

  • Springfield’s very own answer to Rush Limbaugh, Birch Barlow’s schtick in this episode feels so absolutely tame compared to the alt-right reactionary industry that exists today. Even modern Rush Limbaugh would eat this doughboy alive. As scathingly as this episode paints Barlow and Republicans, we also get some great comments from the fence-sitting Lenny and Carl (“That Barlow’s a right-wing crackpot. He said Ted Kennedy lacked integrity! Can you believe that?” “I consider myself politically correct, and his views make me… uncomfortable.”)
  • I’ve said a bunch of times at this point lines and scenes I can’t believe they were able to get away with, but how in the hell were they able to show Quimby watering his pot plant?
  • It’s odd that in Lisa’s helpful recap of Sideshow Bob, she specifically says Bart exposed Bob for framing Krusty in 1990. Four years later, everyone’s the same age. Why mention the year at all?
  • I love that Bob uses his years as a buffoonish sidekick to use in showing up Quimby at the rally event at the school. Like it or not, he is a clown, and he’s used his athletic prowess a couple times over the series for his own benefit.
  • “Uncle Mayor was just saying that us kids are the most important natural resource we have!”  “More important than coal?!” Lisa manipulating the reporters by acting like a photo-friendly precocious kid is a great bit, and also one that would never work in the show today. Nowadays at Town Hall meetings, Lisa is practically a regular presenter regarding the town budget and other matters an eight-year-old would logically be privy to.
  • Homer getting rejected by Archie and the gang is such a bizarre bit, which is only made stranger when we later see him angrily reading Archie Comics (“Stuck-up Riverdale punks. Think they’re too good for me!”) So are the comics based on the adventures of actual real, flesh-colored teenagers who exist in the Simpsons world? Just one of those things you shouldn’t worry about too much.
  • Pamela Hayden’s “What’s happening?!” as a mummified Milhouse careens downhill is so damn funny, the absolute confusion and terror in his voice is great.
  • The act two ending has the best Bob laugh of the entire series. It just keeps building and building; I just can’t imagine anyone but Kelsey Grammar doing his voice, who else could provide such a scheming, maniacal laugh like he can?
  • I like Bob’s petty act of revenge of sending Bart back to kindergarten, which of course backfires as Bart loves it. Also, that’s one damn accurate Fred Flintstone voice on the Flintstone phone (I think it’s Hank Azaria?)
  • “I can’t believe a convicted felon would get so many votes and another convicted felon would get so few.”
  • The quick callback to the bats in the library is fantastic. It’s a good gag on its own, but as a recall of one of the first jokes in the episode, it’s even funnier that it cuts away so quickly, since they’re relying on you remembering the joke from the beginning.
  • Homer and Marge fending off construction workers aiming to demolish their house to make room for an expressway must be an intentional Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference, right?
  • “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! No truth-handler, you! Bah! I deride your truth-handling abilities!” Again, Kelsey Grammer just nails it.
  • “Your guilty conscience may force you to vote Democratic, but deep down inside, you secretly long for a coldhearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king.” More political commentary that feels even more potent in 2020 than when it was written.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “The really sad thing is that the episode had no humor value, and was a blatant attack on political views…in a cartoon! Welcome to sleazy politics in the nineties.”

6. Treehouse of Horror V

  • Unlike Paint Your Wagon, 200 Miles to Oregon is not a real film. This is also the first instance of live action in the show, right? There’s only two times they actually shot live footage in the first 10 seasons, and they were both in Halloween shows, the ending of Homer³ and the Regis & Kathy Lee segment. Am I forgetting something?
  • The intro to this special is actually pretty disturbing, with Moe’s eyes bugging open after being hung, and Skinner giving the thumbs up before getting decapitated. Good stuff.
  • This is the first time I’m watching this having actually seen The Shining in its entirety, and once again, it’s a credit to how expertly they used to write these parodies that “The Shinning” plays great without having seen the source material, and it plays even better if you have.
  • I love the idea that just by his own accord, Willie has designated a personal hour to himself to have dirty thoughts.
  • Homer going crazy is a classic sequence in terms of his manic animation, but I also love his crazed pleading to Marge walking up the stairs.
  • The ending of the first segment with the Tony Awards on TV singing “One” is a great gag by itself, but even better when it comes back around to the very ending.
  • “I’m the first non-Brazilian person to travel backwards through time!” I don’t know if anyone knows the meaning behind this joke. The Simpsons Archive theorizes this might be referring to the work of author Carlos Castaneda, but I don’t know if that’s true. The commentary reveals the original line was “I’m the first non-fictional character,” which I think is much better; David X. Cohen says that they pitched on the joke for hours and the line might have just been a result of laughing at it because it made no sense and they were tired. I can see that. Also, regarding Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s appearance, it’s funny that we get two cameos in a row by other comic/cartoon characters with flesh-toned skin, not yellow.
  • “I’ve gone back to the time when dinosaurs weren’t just confined to zoos!”
  • I love when the Simpson floor morphs into the screen with Ned on it, there’s a little music sting that sounds reminiscent of the Terminator score, since the floor morphing kind of feels like the liquid metal T-1000.
  • I never noticed this before, but in the rich Simpsons alternate universe, the kitchen curtains have blue corn cobs on them, as opposed to the normal yellow ones.
  • “Nightmare Cafeteria” has got to be the most genuinely disturbing segment in Treehouse of Horror history. The speed at which Skinner and the teachers are just a-OK with not only killing students, but serving and eating them for lunch (which they also laugh at!) is actually pretty chilling, leading up to the end where they’re all completely addicted and crave the succulent flesh of youth.
  • Great performance by Harry Shearer as Skinner soothing Lisa’s worries about Uter, before he realizes he’s said too much (“You might even say we just ate Uter and he’s in our stomachs right now! Wait… scratch that one.”)
  • Willie getting killed in all three segments is a solid running gag (“Ah, I’m bad at this.”) Good use of rule of threes, or a hat trick, as I learned from the Simpsons complete guide as a kid. You guys read that thing, right? It was like my Bible when I was younger. I could write a whole other blog about my absolutely meaningless, incredibly specific remembrances on that one book alone.
  • The kids falling into the giant blender is pretty horrifying by itself, even before the grotesque look on their faces as they’re seconds from an instant, bloody death.
  • I love the ending so much, the inside-out fog is bizarre enough before it leads into a song-and-dance number, because why not? And then Willie returns and he’s no worse for wear… except for the inside-part, I suppose.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I have to say this weekend’s Hallowe’en show was not funny but disturbing. Creepy, even. I suppose that’s the point, since it’s a Hallowe’en show and all, but the Sloppy Jimbo et al. scenes were all too realistic, if that can be said about a cartoon.”

691. Three Dreams Denied

Original airdate: November 22, 2020

The premise: Three tales of minor misfortune: Comic Book Guy fulfills his dream of coming to San Diego Comicalooza, but blows his chance to get a job at Marvel, Lisa’s newest crush ends up screwing her out of first chair saxophone, and Bart gets a voice acting gig, but is shocked to find out he’s voicing a princess character.

The reaction: This isn’t one of those my most dreaded three-story episodes, but merely three different stories that don’t intersect or mirror each other thematically in any meaningful way. It’s like someone took a bunch of undeveloped story scraps and crammed them into one episode. The title “Three Dreams Deferred” implies the episode involves three characters having their most desired dreams dashed, but that’s not really the case. Story one has Comic Book Guy get the cash he needs to finally go to San Diego Comic-Con… errr, I mean, Comicpalooza, but his actual  dream is the chance to work at Marvel. He believes if he asks the perfect question at a Hall H panel, he’ll get the job, but sadly, he loses the card he wrote it down on and ends up humiliating himself. This is definitely the most promising of the three stories; Comic Book Guy at Comic-Con feels like a no-brainer of an idea that you could tell a multitude of different stories out of, but what little we have here, having to share screen time  with two other dull plot lines, it’s not enough to develop into anything interesting. Story two features Lisa crushing on a new hot guy who plays the saxophone, who is later turns out to be a double crosser who sabotages her out of her first chair. Blake is a non-character, so his dramatic reveal as a backstabber (he literally takes out his bright blue contacts to show his evil red eyes) means nothing. But what was Lisa’s denied dream? I guess being first chair forever? Story three has Bart becoming friends with the man running the Android’s Dungeon in CBG’s absence, a voice actor who invites Bart to the studio and ends up getting a part. Remember Bart’s series-long desire to do voice acting? It’s hard to get any investment of a goal we never knew a character had. Bart is teased when it’s revealed the character he voices is a princess, then Lisa gives him a pep talk that he should be proud for being woke, then he’s publicly vindicated when the princess character becomes a violent badass who gores people with her unicorn. Whatever. An episode with three independent stories might work if they were some significant connection between them, but this was just a bunch of fractured nonsense.

Three items of note:
– Blake is voiced by Broadway performer Ben Platt. This show has had many guest stars who voice new classmates of Bart and Lisa’s, and many of them sound pretty jarring since they’re basically doing their adult voices as children. Of all of the worst offenders, Blake may be the worst of all, his voice is so deep, he’s a literal adult man that Lisa is just fawning over, and it’s kind of uncomfortable.
– Comic Book Guy spends two second lamenting that his beloved wife Kumiko won’t be able to go to Comicpalooza with him, as we see a letter saying she’s visiting her sick father. Of course she’s absent, just like Selma’s daughter Ling, the writers have shown they have absolutely no interest in further developing these seemingly “important” characters after they’ve been introduced. Why did they bother giving Comic Book Guy a wife and then proceed to do nothing with her? Her only other moment of note I can recall is in the “Sad Girl” episode where she finds Lisa’s discarded graphic novel and decides to publish it in her husband’s store. And regarding CBG going to a convention, there was an episode a few seasons back “101 Mitigations” that ended with CBG taking Homer to Comic-Con. Like the actual Comic-Con. So he’s already been to the biggest convention ever, and just like this time, also didn’t take his beloved wife.
– Bart’s subplot gets so little screen  time that I don’t even feel like complaining about how little sense it makes. Bart gets the voice over job on the spot, and the cartoon instantly goes on the air? (they make a joke about it, but come on) The opening credits show it’s a cast full of A-list actors, but a nobody child like Bart gets a solo credit card. Bart gets a check from Warner Bros. Animation, but why are they recording in Springfield? Who gives a shit, who gives a fuck.

Season Five Revisited (Part Four)

17. Bart Gets an Elephant

  • Every time I force myself to clean the house, I always think of Homer in this episode (“What’s the point of all this cleaning? Are we so vain?!”)
  • Bill Clinton’s cameo is pretty “unrealistic,” but as he’s playing his sax with the little girl group Lisa was supposed to meet up with, it works as a payoff to that earlier set-up that now Lisa is stuck at home cleaning when she could have been jamming with the President.
  • The shot of the revolving door to the kitchen revealing it to be completely trashed again within less than a second is amazing. There’s been a couple of jokes over the years that magically place a door between the kitchen and TV room that’s never been there before, but a lot of the time, it’s worth the minor inconsistency (the only other one I recall is in “Treehouse of Horror IX” when Bart slams the door on hobo Homer’s harmonica song, which is a great joke too).
  • Nice touch when Bart is waiting for the phone to ring, he’s eating just the chocolate section of the neapolitan ice cream. Could he have been the guilty party all along from that old joke of Homer annoyedly opening up two packs of chocolate-less neapolitan?
  • We get Bill & Marty’s first, and only (correct?), extended appearance within an actual plot, and it’s damn good. The on-air yucksters are quick to try to cover their ass and gloss over any controversy, but can’t do damage control quick enough before the station manager threatens them with her secret weapon: the DJ 3000. I love the mild characterization that Bill is the slightly dimmer one, who is instantly impressed by his possible new replacement (“Don’t. Praise. The Machine.”) Also, whenever I read a political news report I don’t quite understand right away, my mind always goes to “Those clowns in Congress did it again. What a bunch of clowns.”
  • The Jurassic Park shot is another perfect use of parody: completely recontextualizing a famous movie moment so it’s an actual joke if you get the reference, but also works if you don’t.
  • The second act is basically a bunch of bits related to the Simpsons’ new life living with an elephant, but it’s mostly pretty silly and funny, so whatever. My favorite moment is Homer’s adoption of a little bird to help groom his delicate two hairs (“Mmmm… elephant fresh.”)
  • As we saw with “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacey,” we have Lisa’s advocacy cries fall upon deaf ears, which is logical that Homer would barely understand her complaints about animal rights let alone care about them. It’s the perfect balance where we have Lisa acting as the smart, concerned party, but having her righteous concerns rebuffed by an ignorant populus makes sense in the crapsack world of the show. Later seasons would treat her crusades with much greater seriousness, which kind of ruins the joke aspect of it.
  • Kirk demanding Homer get off his property after he attempts to shake them down for money is probably his boldest moment. It’s all downhill from here, Kirk, get ready for a decade of suicidal single dad jokes!
  • “Lisa, a guy who’s got lots of ivory is less likely to hurt Stampy than a guy whose ivory supplies are low!”
  • Stampy marching through the RNC (We Want What’s Worst for Everyone, We’re Just Plain Evil) and the DNC (We Can’t Govern, We Hate Life and Ourselves) is the greatest political gag of the entire series, and the fact that it plays even stronger today than it probably did in 1994 is very depressing. Although maybe not so much about the Democractic establishment hating themselves, a lot of them probably do in secret, but there’s a whole lot of inflated self-importance in there too.

18. Burns’ Heir

  • I wonder what those Extra Fancy Potato Chips Burns is eating taste like…
  • I like that the episode gets Smithers out of the way of the plot regarding who will inherit Burns’ estate, with Burns revealing his intentions for them to be buried together. He paid some sculptor to make that terrified Smithers figure.
  • The THX bit was repurposed and used by THX to play in movie theaters for a while in the late 90s. I’m pretty sure I saw it in the theater at least once.
  • Mr. Burns’ pitch trailer to find the heir to his vast, vast, VAST fortune (vast) is great, but also a weird dated reference to the teaser trailer for the film Toys where Robin Williams stood in a field and just riffed for a minute and a half. Boy, we were just absolutely over-the-moon for his stupid impressions in the early 90s, huh? I watched Mrs. Doubtfire for the first time in decades a few months back and it gave me a headache.
  • It’s great that even in Marge’s wildest fantasy, she’s very demure and timid, simply replying with “Ummm, sure” when Lee Majors proposes to sweep her away. I also love that we cut back to her with her eyes closed still fantasizing, so Homer and Bart just continue their conversation without her. I love whenever this show snaps back to reality after a fantasy sequence and everyone else is just awkwardly standing around waiting for them to come back to.
  • “I guess I’ll have to leave all my money to the Egg Advisory Council. Eggs have gotten quite a bad rap lately, you know.” Between this and “Homer the Great,” I think around this time, there was discussion about whether eggs were actually good for you or not. Is that correct?
  • “You can have anything you want to eat. Even some sort of gelatin dish! It’s made from hooves, you know.” It’s funny hearing Burns pitch Bart on some gelatin when in one of his first appearances, he was absolutely sick of the stuff after everyone at the company picnic brought nothing but Jell-O. Maybe he’s just got a ton of it leftover in his giant freezer and wants to unload it on someone.
  • “Being abusive to your family is one thing, but I will not stand idly by and watch you feed a hungry dog!”
  • It’s impossible to hear Homer yell “Go ahead, do your worst!” and not immediately think Burns is about to unleash the robotic Richard Simmons. It definitely feels like a quick edit, since we cut right on Burns and Smithers walking inside. I do love Homer’s incredulous high-pitched “He locked the door!” And before all that, I always laugh when Homer mows down Bart’s bike at the start of the scene.
  • “You know, we should really stop hiring him.” I love how Lionel Hutz’s appearance in this episode is condensed to the end of act two, where it’s just a distilled version of how incompetent he is, where he loses the case as bad as possible, and has taken to mending shoes as a side business. Again, the show is openly acknowledging and commenting on its overused elements, but still in a hilarious way.
  • Burns’ hustle to kick the football ending up knocking out Smithers and himself is such a great piece of animation.
  • Is the Homer actor supposed to actually be Michael Caine? Either way, it’s hilarious. I also like that his Homer voice kind of sounds like the early Walter Matthau-esque Homer. It’s odd that at the end, the Simpsons tell Bart that the actors followed them around to study their characters, like why would they let them do that, and effectively aid Mr. Burns in his scheme to brainwash Bart? But whatever, it doesn’t matter.
  • “Homer, I want that thing out of my house.” I love the rare moments where Marge has just had it and stops being nice, and Homer compulsively kissing a confused senior citizen’s forehead definitely feels like one of them.

19. Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song

  • “How would you like it if, twenty years from now, people were laughing at things you did?” Twenty-six years and counting from this episode!
  • Santa’s Little Helper keeping himself under the box while walking behind Bart, and then staying stationary until he takes the box off, reads as absolutely hysterical to me now that I recently got a rambunctious puppy.
  • “My geode must be acknowledged!” I really love Martin, he’s kind of becoming like a dark horse favorite character in this latest rewatch.
  • I love that as we see Skinner’s day get worse and worse, it already started out pretty horribly, as we first see him sweaty and disheveled in his office trying to put out a fire with some angry parents (“I know Weinstein’s parents were upset, superintendent, but… but I was sure it was a phony excuse! I mean, it sounds so made up, Yom Kipp-pour!”)
  • From moment one, Willie is just so fucking happy to see that dog. I also like that Willie getting greased up for the vents is done as a joke (“Grease me up, woman!”), but then actually becomes how he ends up catching the dog, in the great sequence of him building up momentum to slide fast enough to catch up with the mutt.
  • Great performance by Marcia Wallace as Mrs. Krabappel taunts Skinner by telling him Chalmers is coming. Just absolute gleeful torment as Skinner is having his worst day ever.
  • Ah, Leopold. Two appearances with the same exact joke both times. It’s a great voice by Dan Castellaneta, and I like that he seems weirdly protective of his boss Chalmers when he leaves in a huff (“Now look what you’ve done, you little freaks!”)
  • We get some great glimpses into Skinner’s psyche in this show, where he goes through all the different detergents, carefully considering which to try, and him mime-composing classical music in his room. I also kind of like the more kindly Agnes in this episode, she hadn’t turned into a complete vicious crone yet, which definitely helps to make Skinner seem more sad.
  • “Nobody’s mentioned me, have they?” “I thought I heard someone say your name in the cafeteria, but they might have been saying ‘skim milk.’”
  • Skinner walking past the school at night and remembering his past is a scene that should feel more schmaltzy than it is, but the strength of the characters and how much you care about them really helps it feel like it has weight. Those humanizing moments for Skinner I mentioned earlier and Harry Shearer’s great performance really makes you feel bad for the guy.
  • “How do I get out of the army?” “No problemo. Just make a pass at your commanding officer.” “Done and done. And I mean done.” So, Skinner as bi confirmed?
  • This episode really openly displays Chalmers’ absolute disdain toward children, first with him storming out of the assembly hall after not getting any laughs from his jokes (“It’s just a damn popularity contest with you kids!”) and then at the end with his absolute ambivalence toward getting Springfield Elementary back from the brink of anarchy (“The way America’s public schools are sliding, they’ll all be this way in a few months. I say, lay back and enjoy it! It’s a hell of a toboggan ride!”) That’s actually kind of been my viewpoint on America during this past year, funnily enough.

20. The Boy Who Knew Too Much

  • I continue to be impressed with how many varied expressions they’re able to create with such simple characters. I love Otto’s haunted, sinister expression driving the prison bus; with his slow head turn, it’s pretty disconcerting (“Now take a seat before I blow your heads off!” “Otto!” “Oh, sorry. This bus and I have sort of a Shining thing going on.”
  • “Now unfortunately, our school clocks have been running fast all semester. So today we all have to stay two extra hours to make up for the time we lost!” This line alone is great in further piling on how much Bart wants to skip school, but the reveal that it was actually his fault from a prank biting him in the ass (Li’l Bastard Clock Tampering Kit) makes it even better.
  • Lisa giggling at Skinner and Willie doing Good Cop, Bad Cop is a really sweet moment. Over time, Lisa would end up becoming a surrogate member of the faculty, talking with Skinner and company about school matters like they were boring equals, so it’s sweet to see her in this setting acting like a little kid.
  • When Bart is running from Skinner, for some reason, they reuse shot from “Kamp Krusty” of him running from Mount Avalanche. I guess they wanted to have a different shot of him running last minute and didn’t want to pay to animate something.
  • I love that this episode features Skinner as a genuine threat to Bart. As I’ve said before, their dynamic is much funnier if it seems like there’s actual risk in Bart’s mischievous deeds. That Skinner goes from woefully misguided (“There are no children here at the four-H club, either! Am I so out of touch? …no, it’s the children who are wrong,”) to doggedly pursuing Bart up a mountain to bust him is tremendous; it doesn’t feel like those two depictions conflict with each other at all.
  • Freddy Quimby basically sounds like if Mayor Quimby sucked some helium. Also, his loud, obnoxious laugh is just wonderful.
  • The drawing of Homer’s face when his mind is singing the Meow Mix song is so damn funny. Also I assigned that sound clip as my shutdown noise on my old PC when I was younger, so I’ve heard him sing that song a lot.
  • Freddy Quimby’s lawyer sounds like the Blue-Haired Lawyer, but it’s not him, which is kind of weird, considering he always represents the powerful and well-to-do. It’s also interesting that an unnamed female judge is subbing in for Judge Snyder. I feel like she made one other appearance, but I like that we see that there’s actually more than one judge in Springfield, be it very briefly.
  • I’ve always loved Bart’s cafeteria nightmare; “Watch the potty mouth, honey” was another quote my best friend and I used to say all the time, much to the annoyance of anyone around us.
  • “Justice is not a frivolous thing, Simpson, it has little if anything to do with a disobedient whale.” This line goes by so quick, but I love Skinner’s bizarre, yet natural disdain toward Free Willy.
  • McGonigle makes his triumphant return, and basically is semi-responsible for the grisly murder of a child (“Well, McGonigle, Billy is dead! They slit his throat from ear to ear!” “Hey! I’m trying to eat lunch here.” This is immediately followed by another child death when Homer watches the Free Willy Director’s cut (“Oh no! Willy didn’t make it! And he crushed our boy!” “Ewww, what a mess.”)
  • The animation of the waiter’s ridiculous pratfalls in the kitchen is really well done, it’s a fantastically staged sequence.
  • Skinner’s confrontation with Bart outside the courthouse is probably my favorite Skinner moment of the whole series. The pause between “three months detention” and “Wait… make that… four months detention” always kills me.

21. Lady Bouvier’s Lover

  • The episode opens with Homer and the kids watching TV in the elusive “rumpus room,” a sort-of play room that’s appeared in a couple episodes, most notably “Three Men and a Comic Book” with Homer in his bean bag chair. Could they not have staged this scene in the TV room because of the credenza joke?
  • I’ve seen a few real-life versions of Marge’s special cake for Homer to ruin, they’re pretty cool.
  • It’s funny that Maggie’s baby nemesis Gerald appears in two episodes in a row, then disappears for who knows how long. But thankfully we can see him every single week in the new opening titles where Maggie lifelessly shakes her fist at him!
  • Maggie’s horrifying POV of the family holding cameras and the candle flames is really cool.
  • I love the Armor Hot Dogs/Chicken Tonight scene, it feels very appropriate that the Simpsons (and the Bouviers) have no real family traditions that don’t revolve around commercial jingles.
  • Another scene with endless shitposting potential: “Can I come too?” 
  • Homer’s vision of his freakish inbred children is actually pretty disconcerting, I’m not gonna lie.
  • It’s pretty shocking how many delivery men have no qualms about punching a child square in the face (“Don’t write no more letters to Mr. Sinatra.” “Stop stealing golf balls from the driving range!”)
  • Nelson having an out-of-body experience in order to laugh at Bart from across town feels like the ultimate version of the “Haw haw!” joke. Nelson would keep laughing regularly throughout the rest of the classic years, mostly just played straight, but as the years would go on and on, all the Haw-Haw subversions they’d do would always feel so unfunny to me. And they still do it; last season, Nelson had Milhouse stuffed in the freezer and laughed, “Thaw thaw!” Just awful.
  • Is the “Play It Cool” sequence a reference to anything specific? I like it even if it feels kind of random and strange. I never quite got Homer’s giggle after Abe tries out his yawn-and-stretch move; is he actually trying to give his dad dating advice, or is he just messing with him?
  • Smithers’ quiet (and not so quiet) annoyance at Mr. Burns’ courtship in the third act is wonderful, from him purposefully tricking Burns into calling Homer and Marge the Flintstones, to his reciting of a poignant, heartfelt message for Burn to write as a MASH note (“That’s marvelous! How did you think of that so fast?” “I sent it to you on your birthday!”)
  • Bart’s ketchup and mustard gun gambit is actually pretty clever. I love that Bart’s animation cel B-story had been completely separate up to that point, but bringing Burns into the A-story gives Bart an opportunity to get back the money he owes Homer perfectly organically. And of course, Homer is none-the-wiser (“Three hundred and fifty dollars! Now I can buy seventy transcripts of Nightline!”) Remember when buying scripts of TV shows was a thing? What was up with that?
  • I want to know the story of Mr. Burns’ only friend, an older German with a Kaiser helmet.
  • I always forget about “The Sound of Grampa” over the credits. It’s one of the only classic era songs to not make it onto any of the soundtrack CDs, I guess because it’s a direct parody of an actual song?

22. Secrets to a Successful Marriage

  • “Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain!” As I get older, I find this quote to be more and more accurate.
  • Moe’s Funk Dancing for Self Defense class is definitely the MVP scene of the episode.
  • I guess it makes sense that we go from Homer feeling bad people think he’s stupid to him wanting to be a teacher to get respect, but him proceeding to showboat and brag about it for multiple scenes feels very Jerkass Homer to me. Then seeing him actually in class just standing there and not doing anything… I dunno, it’s just not very funny to me. It helps if Homer is actually driven by something in his own story, not if he just feebly falls into the next plot turn.
  • I like the miniature game of telephone as Homer’s, “I told Marge in bed this wouldn’t work” is turned into Moe’s “So something wasn’t working in bed, huh?”
  • Homer’s obnoxious movie-quote monologue to Marge is still pretty annoying. Despite that, it’s a very passionate performance from Dan Castellaneta, and actually, when I was in school for 3D animation, I used that long audio bite for a lip sync assignment on a character model.
  • For a while, I wanted to use Homer’s “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘wedding’ as ‘the process of removing weeds from one’s garden’” as the opening line for my future wedding.
  • The act two climax of Homer’s class gathered around the Simpson dinner table furiously writing in their notepads strikes me as bizarre. They like his class because he dishes out juicy gossip, that makes sense, but what scandalous news are they hoping to gain from openly hoarding in on a family dinner?
  • Homer stuck in that treehouse, getting dirtier and smellier each time we see him, is pretty disturbing. But just like when he tried nothing as a teacher, he’s also trying nothing to get Marge back in most of act three. His only attempt is the scene where he tries to emotionally manipulate Marge in the car, pretending to be her inner voice. It’s a pretty gross moment.
  • Silver medal for best moment goes to Moe’s gobsmacked face when Homer returns home after he just attempted to pick up his wife. The two frames of Homer and Moe have also become famous in the shitposting world.
  • After this episode left kind of a bad taste in my mouth almost a decade ago, I was curious how it would hold up seeing it again, and yeah, I feel about the same. The ending with Homer’s eureka moment about providing “complete and utter dependence” just doesn’t work for me. The world of this show is dripping with cynicism and defeat, and you could say the same about Homer and Marge’s marriage, how Marge really could have possibly married a better man for her, but highlighting her sorry lot in life of picking up after this absolute slovenly oaf this sharply as the emotional climax of the episode doesn’t feel right. On top of that, Homer’s assurance he’ll never lie to her again after Marge feebly asks, “How do I know I can trust you?” really falls flat considering the amount of bullshit she would have to put up with for twenty-plus more years. Too much of this episode feels like I’m watching the selfish, asshole Homer of the Mike Scully years.

690. Podcast News

Original airdate: November 15, 2020

The premise: Lisa and Marge are swept up in the true crime podcast craze. Wanting to get in on the lucrative new news market, Kent Brockman starts his own podcast series based on a recent unsolved crime: the disappearance of a retired TV actress who fell off a cruise ship. The number one suspect? Her new boyfriend, Abe Simpson.

The reaction: This show has had a handful of mystery episodes, but for the most part, the mystery itself isn’t so much the focus as the characters around it and how they’re dealing with things. By act two, this entire episode becomes about whether Abe actually killed his new girlfriend, which of course there’s no chance that he did, but the episode isn’t really about that, it’s how sensationalist journalism can sway public opinion, and even affect the case itself, this time via true crime podcasts. We start off with showing Lisa obsessively addicted to listening to them, which then leads to Marge getting swept up in it herself, which was pretty sweet seeing them share a common interest. Meanwhile, Kent Brockman is shocked to find how popular this new medium is, and decides to get in on the craze, chronicling the latest hot story: the cruise ship disappearance of an old soap opera actress, with her new beau Abe Simpson being the chief suspect. It’s logical that a large part of this episode is either listening to podcasts, or hearing people talk about podcasts, but I didn’t find any of that material that interesting or funny. Besides the basic jokes about podcast ad breaks and tropes about sound design, it’s just Kent talking about the case, and it just didn’t seem that engaging. This seems like it should be a Kent-centric episode, but it doesn’t really feel like it. In the end, when he discovers the truth that the actress isn’t dead, he struggles and eventually exposes the truth, rejecting the siren call of flashy faux journalism, but it really felt like a limp climax without much build-up. In act one, we see him returning home to find his four (!) kids listening to podcasts, further fueling his desire to switch careers. Maybe he could’ve had a conversation with one of them? What about their mom? Is she Stephanie the weather lady? Something new for us to learn about Kent maybe? Instead, we don’t really get anything meaty about Kent to grab onto since he has to share so much screen time with Marge and Lisa, who just keep fretting about whether they believe Abe is innocent or not after listening to the latest podcast. Their crisis of faith after having their minds warped by true crime podcasts is kind of the slow burn through the episode, but I feel like if they were suspicious of Abe from the start, and Homer and Bart were the clear-headed ones for once and had to try to exonerate Abe, that could have been something. Instead, Dr. Hibbert just shows up at the end with the evidence that solves the case, and that’s that. There were a couple of smirk-worthy moments, but I found the episode mostly pretty boring, and a squandering of a potentially interesting Kent Brockman show. In other words, it’s easily the best of the season so far.

Three items of note:
– This episode was written by David X. Cohen, writer from seasons 6-9, and more importantly, co-creator of Futurama. Seeing his name definitely perked my interest, but as I say over and over, it doesn’t matter who the credited writer is, it all comes out of the same homogenized tube in the end. There’ve been other Futurama writers who have been credited to lousy Simpsons episodes: Jeff Westbrook, Bill Odenkirk, J. Stewart Burns…
– Yeardley Smith guest stars as herself, hoping to get Kent to pull back from stoking the flames of an active investigation, appealing to him as one true crime podcaster to another. I actually had no idea she did a podcast, “Small Town Dicks,” and would have to guess that most viewers probably didn’t know either. It’s a short scene that comes off as a cute inside joke between the staff and Smith… but I could be wrong, do any of you listen to her show? Anyway, it’s notable that this is the first time a voice actor has “officially” played themselves. Harry Shearer played “himself” as Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls in “The Otto Show,” and Dan Castellaneta effectively played himself as the voice actor for Angry Dad in “I Am Furious Yellow,” but I don’t believe he was ever named. Am I forgetting something else?
– Judge Snyder and Dr. Hibbert make appearances in this episode, but they both still sound like Harry Shearer. Alex Désert is credited at the end, and this episode is after “Undercover Burns” in production order, so I’m not quite sure what happened. Maybe they recorded this episode earlier?