Family Guy’s “The Simpsons Guy”

Original airdate: September 28, 2014

I absolutely hated Family Guy when I was younger. Following its initial cancellation in 2002, the show gained new life on DVD and reruns on Adult Swim, leading to its network revival in 2005. I was in high school during that in-between stage when Family Guy DVDs were being swapped around like wildfire, and having the reputation of loving cartoons and drawing my own comics, many people assumed that I must have loved Family Guy. I did not. I had seen a couple episodes of the show and didn’t care for its style of humor, but its rampant popularity and people’s assumptions that I liked it made that dislike turn even more sour (South Park‘s “Cartoon Wars” two-part episode definitely felt like a catharsis, featuring a similar dilemma with Cartman and his crusade to get Family Guy taken off the air). My biggest gripe was its reliance on pop culture cutaway jokes which usually felt nonsensical and without any sort of satirical element. One that’s always stuck out to me is a retelling of the ending of Back to the Future, where Doc wants to take Marty and Jennifer to the future to stop their daughter from marrying a black man. When Marty asks why that’s a big deal, Doc stammers awkwardly and backpedals. The only real joke to the scene is that Doc is inexplicably a racist for no reason, which isn’t really based on anything contextual from the movie, or within the episode itself. The show definitely leaned heavy into shock humor similar to South Park, but mostly as one-off gags, so it just came off more like the show just wanting to make racist, sexist and homophobic jokes for their own sake. I never understood the show’s crazy popularity, so I just held that hate in my heart through high school and never let go. Past that, I remember randomly watching a couple episodes in college; at that point, my extreme feelings had subsided. I’m sure I’ve said I hate Family Guy and Seth MacFarlane a couple times on this blog, but I don’t feel that strongly anymore. I just don’t find what he does that funny. Simple as that.

Since Family Guy‘s return to the airwaves, Seth MacFarlane’s comedy stock exploded in the late 2000s/early 2010s. Two more successful animated series, a couple of live-action movies, and what seems to be his most precious baby, The Orville, a live-action series starring himself in the most expensive Star Trek cosplay production ever made. I don’t know how hands-on MacFarlane is with Family Guy anymore; the fact that he still does the core voices makes me believe he must be more actively involved in some capacity than Matt Groening is with The Simpsons. But with the show now in its 19th season, Family Guy has become its own television institution just like the show that inspired it. In Disney’s acquisition of FOX, the two shows definitely seemed like they were being positioned as equally valuable assets. They’re pretty similar at this point, two wildly popular animated comedies with a huge catalog of episodes that the majority of fans seem to hate the latter half of. I don’t know what the equivalent rise and fall of Family Guy is versus The Simpsons in terms of when things went to shit. Some fans only like the original three season run, while others thought the revival had a few good years in it before the quality dipped. If any of you out there are Family Guy fans and want to give your thoughts on this, I’d be interested to hear it. But either way, by 2014, both Family Guy and The Simpsons were cultural relics whose older fans had mostly grown disinterested in their contemporary antics. Why not have them do a crossover?
When I first heard about the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover, it was a few years after I had abandoned watching The Simpsons, so I really didn’t care that they were about to co-mingle with “the enemy.” I mean, what integrity did the show have left to lose? I had absolutely no interest in watching it, not even out of morbid curiousity. The only clip I saw online when it came out was the Homer/Peter car wash scene, and that was more than enough to keep me as far away from it as possible. More than a few people asked whether I would be covering “The Simpsons Guy” in my reviews, which I didn’t because it was a Family Guy episode (unlike the Futurama crossover, which I did cover, because it was a Simpsons episode. S’a bit confusing). So in the spirit of the season, I thought why the hell not give the crossover a watch, just to see how they pulled it off, and also to reevaluate my feelings on the more modern version of Family Guy.
Before the Griffins and the Simpsons officially meet, the first five minutes of the episode is the “set-up” of how Peter and the gang to end up in Springfield in the first place. This section served to give me a little taste of what newer Family Guy has to offer. Peter gets hired as a newspaper cartoonist, and comes under fire due to his offensive punchlines, specifically toward women. His cartoons are crudely drawn, with smudges and fingerprints all over the page, with purposefully inflammatory subjects like bestiality (a man on a desert island asks a monkey if he’s free later) to the one that gets him in hot water about spousal abuse (a man slams his battered wife on the counter, complaining, “My dishwasher broke!”) The cartoons are so on-the-nose offensive that I couldn’t help but laugh, but it made me think about how the series as a whole seems to be like that. I guess this reflects Peter’s sense of humor being incredibly off-color, but it feels like that’s a lot of the rest of the characters’ attitudes as well. There’s an overall meanness to this show that doesn’t seem to be rooted in any sort of specific commentary, it’s just kind of crassness for crassness’ sake. In the context of this one episode I’m watching, I can sort of appreciate it, but it feels like it would grow incredibly thin after a while, and certainly after almost twenty years. Anyway, when an angry mob descends on the Griffin house, they decide to leave home for a while, only to have their car stolen at a gas station. Thankfully they happen to be nearby a large town, as the camera turns to reveal them standing before Springfield, USA (“What state?” “I can’t imagine we’re allowed to say.”)
It isn’t long before the Griffins run into Homer Simpson, where they meet up with the rest of the family at the Simpson house. While Homer helps Peter try to track down the stolen car, the other characters have their own little team-ups. Stewie practically imprints himself onto Bart, wearing his clothes in wanting to be as cool as he is. Seeing Stewie desperate for this ten-year-old’s approval is weirdly pretty sweet (“Y’know, I’m only wearing this diaper as a dare, it’s not like an every day thing…”) The scene where the two make prank calls to Moe is something I remember being talked about when this aired; people complained Stewie’s “Your sister’s being raped!” line was pushing it too far, but standing in contrast to Bart’s comparatively innocent prank, it works perfectly in depicting the comedic dichotomy of the two shows. Meanwhile, Lisa struggles to raise eternal punching bag Meg’s self esteem by trying to find something she’s good at. When Meg proves herself to be a better saxophone player, Lisa bitterly takes the instrument away, in a moment that definitely feels like modern-era Lisa (“It would be a shame to waste such great butcher’s arms on a musical instrument.”) But later, surprisingly, she redeems herself by presenting the sax to Meg as a farewell gift. Meg stammers and goes into a self-deprecating tangent, to which Lisa sincerely interrupts, “Shut up, Meg.” It’s another oddly genuine subplot, that like Stewie and Bart, blends the two series’ styles well, with the Simpsons reacting aghast at the Griffins’ more blue humor (Meg offhandedly mentions she usually beats up a cat when she feels depressed, causing Lisa to hastily shut the door on an eavesdropping Snowball II.) Chris and Brian are left to walk Santa’s Little Helper, with the Griffin dog aggravated at the Simpson mutt’s undignified behavior (responding to SLH’s barks, Brian is unable to communicate back, “I’m sorry, that’s a gutter language.”) Brian lets the dog loose, and he and Chris must chase him through town, running by and interacting with other Springfield residents and locations: Patty & Selma at the DMV, Dr. Nick at the hospital and finally Krusty at Krusty Burger. Considering the whole appeal of the episode is the Griffins visiting Springfield, this section was a logical excuse to check off a bunch of Simpsons highlights at once. Lastly, Marge and Lois’ outing of going to a movie in the afternoon happens off-screen, presumably because both series don’t much interest in writing for women characters.
Homer and Peter’s efforts to find the missing car is definitely the weakest section, as they attempt to “think like a car” by gulping down gasoline, then proceeding to administer it rectally (followed by a cutaway gag of the videotape of their violation being sold at a sex shop). Next they hold a carwash for stolen vehicles, where they seductively clean cars in skimpy outfits to Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” It’s pretty gross, purposefully so, but it just goes on for so, so long that I don’t really get how anyone could find it funny. Things pick up when the Griffin car returns, having been stolen by a confused Hans Moleman, and Peter treats Homer to a drink in thanks, having brought his own Pawtucket Patriot Ale into Moe’s for him to try. Homer is shocked to find the beer is just Duff with a new label, accusing Peter of being a rip-off. The allegory is pretty obvious, but the dialogue is well aware of that and it’s pretty well done (“Duff is an icon!” “Yeah, but some folks prefer Pawtucket Pat. Don’t get me wrong, I used to love Duff when I was younger, but I haven’t even had it in like, thirteen years.”) This leads to a climactic court case where Peter is put on trial for grand theft. In a courtroom packed with Simpsons and Family Guy regulars, the Blue-Haired Lawyer helpfully narrates that the suit also calls into question other suspicious similarities between Springfield and Quahog, from the obvious (Mayor West and Quimby running off to smoke a J) to the tenuous, like Quagmire and Lenny (“You like sex?” “Ehh.” “I don’t think we’re very similar.”) The judge being Fred Flintstone, himself believing that neither party is very original, is a pretty good gag, and he rules in favor of Duff, leaving Peter and the many other employees of the Pawtucket Brewery out of work.
As the Griffins are about to leave, Peter snaps at Homer for costing him his job (“I think I speak for everybody when I say, I am over the Simpsons!”) This leads to an all-out brawl between the two, a seven-minute-long fight that has them tumble all over town, ending up falling into the power plant’s reactor, up to Kang and Kodos’ spaceship, then flying over Springfield Gorge (“We’re gonna make it!” “Trust me, we’re not”) and plummeting to the bottom. This is a variation of Peter’s ongoing battle with the Giant Chicken, a reoccurring Family Guy set piece that became longer and more elaborate each ensuing time. I guess the fact that it goes on for so long is supposed to be the joke? I was just incredibly bored by it more than anything. Plus the extent of the violence, how Homer and Peter get absolutely brutalized and are completely willing to murder each other definitely feels wrong to me. I know we’re playing by Family Guy rules, but seeing Homer try to brutally kill somebody isn’t something I want to see (though we’ve seen it quite a few times in later Simpsons seasons, to “hilarious” effect.) The two make amends at the end, of course (“I’m sorry we fought. I just wanted to make you laugh and cry. You see, I’m a Family Guy.” “I understand. I’m a The Simpsons.”) Back in Quahog for the final scene, we get a logical wrap-up from Lois as to why Pawtucket Brewery is in no trouble at all (“We lost, but how are they gonna enforce it? What, are they gonna come here? I think we know that’s never gonna happen!”) 
I’ll give this easy compliment: “The Simpsons Guy” is a much, much, much better crossover than “Simpsorama” was. Outside of Homer and Bender being drinking buddies, “Simpsorama” didn’t seem all that interested in pairing the two series’ characters together or having them react to each others’ worlds, favoring cheap cameos and Easter eggs over anything of substance. It felt like such a severely wasted opportunity. Meanwhile, “The Simpsons Guy” feels like as well done as a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover could possibly be. Well, modern Simpsons at least. This is definitely a Family Guy episode featuring the cast of the Simpsons. Visually, it’s odd to see Simpsons characters with the incredibly flat and stiff staging of a Family Guy episode; despite all of them being on-model throughout, it definitely doesn’t feel like a Simpsons episode in that regard. Writing-wise, there’s not a lot of isolated sections with just Simpsons characters, but the few there are, they definitely felt like jokes that would be at home in season 26-era Simpsons, if not a little bit better (Krusty Burgers being made from dog meat, Dr. Nick waiting on “Doctor Dog” to start the operation) But the show as a whole, in focusing on the characters bouncing off of each other, building up to the meta-commentary about Family Guy being a “rip-off” was plotted well and executed pretty entertainingly. I even enjoyed some of the Family Guy-only moments. I feel if there’s anything from the series I genuinely like most, it’s the Stevie-Brian dynamic (“He’s like something out of Mark Twain!” “Whose real name was Samuel Clemens!” “…how does that further this conversation?”) I also liked a bunch of the meta jokes, like when Peter tries to allude to a cutaway gag but Homer just gets confused, then in the back half of the extended 44-minute episode, Peter snaps at Lois, then apologizes (“Sorry, Lois, I’m tired, we usually only do these things for half an hour.”) 
So yeah, outside of the more egregious elements like the car wash and the endless final fight, I was pretty surprised how much I enjoyed this episode. I guess you could complain that it leans more Family Guy than Simpsons in terms of its focus and humor style, but considering the current-day quality of The Simpsons, I don’t really view that as a problem. Honestly, I’m kind of stunned as to how much I liked this. And seriously, if you’re reading this and you’re a Family Guy fan, or ex-fan, or whatever, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the trajectory of the series, its rise and fall, how the show changed over time, and what it’s like now. The only thing I kind of know is that the show is incredibly meta and self-referential now, more-so than it ever was before, but I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Is there a mirror image of Me Blog Write Good out there of someone watching every episode of Family Guy, impotently yelling and screaming about how the new seasons are horrible? Boy, what a sight that would be, huh?

Season Six Revisited (Part Four)

19. Lisa’s Wedding

  • Pretty cute detail of Maggie giving the thumbs down to Ned and Smithers’ knight battle.
  • My wife has gotten into looming over the past year; I’m hoping at some point I walk in on her and she’s made a tapestry reading, “Hi Mike, I am weaving a loom.”
  • Last time I watched this episode, we were a year removed from the fantastic far off future of 2010, and now we’re almost a decade beyond that point. Regardless, this is still easily the best depiction of the future this series has ever done, seamlessly combining plausible predictions (video phones, overcrowded schools with corporate sponsors, the death of the environment) and purposefully silly gags like the old-new planes and exploding robots.
  • It’s funny hearing that Lisa has taken up vegetarianism in the future, seemingly predicting “Lisa the Vegetarian” one season later.
  • The digital Big Ben flashing “12:00” is my favorite future joke in the entire show, it’s the perfect representation of a technologically advanced future that is still plagued by human error. It reminds me of the pilot of Futurama where we first see the futuristic splendor of New New York, featuring a floating billboard where the ads rotate, but one of the sections is broken and doesn’t rotate when the ads switch. Such a great touch to signify that the future ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
  • Hilarious performance by Yeardley Smith giving her awkward, unsure laugh at Hugh’s father’s pithy remark (“Should I laugh? Was that dry British wit, or subtle self-pity?”) Mr. Parkfield is pleased, delighted to hear such a “boisterous” American laugh.
  • Every other future show past this point depicts an older Bart who is just an absolute man child screw-up, which always feels very sad and uncreative to me. For me, I think the most plausible fates for Bart is either he eventually straightens up and flies right, as we see him in “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie” as a Supreme Court Justice, or in this episode, where he’s a normal blue collar guy working construction and going to strip clubs. He’s still immature, but it feels more believable than him just never maturing past the age of 10 like later episodes.
  • Nice touch as we pan by executives Lenny and Carl who appear to be taking a meeting at the plant with the Germans from “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk.”
  • Poor Milhouse, bald like his father at the age of 25. I also love seeing him as a teenager, getting easily shot down by Lisa. Future future shows would depict the two of them as married, which always felt wrong to me, but I can easily see Lisa go on a pity date with Milhouse, play nice, but turning him down before he gets his hopes up.
  • The gag with Maggie always getting cut off before speaking is pretty funny in this episode, which they would of course repeat every single other future show. But what is Maggie’s personality? That would actually be interesting to see. How does she get along with the rest of the family as a kid? Or a teenager? The show has done two episodes featuring Bart and Lisa’s adolescence, why not go three for three and characterize Maggie? I’m sure it’ll be terrible, but why not give it a shot?
  • Kent Brockman reporting for CNNBCBS (a division of ABC) is definitely the most eerily predictive joke in this episode.
  • Gotta love Marge and Lisa laughing about how Milhouse “doesn’t count” in regards to Lisa still wearing white. Poor, poor Milhouse.
  • I absolutely love Homer in the third act. He feebly tries to relate to Hugh’s parents (“You know what’s great about you English? Octopussy. Man, I must have seen that movie… twice!”) It’s silly, but he’s really trying. Later, he timidly explains to Lisa why he still has the cufflink (“I found them on the nightstand this morning and… well, I guess they weren’t his cup of tea. Don’t worry about it.”) Like, you can see that he was actually hurt that Hugh left them, but didn’t want to cause a fuss because of Lisa. It’s kind of a sad moment, and perfectly tees up Lisa’s ultimate defense of her family to Hugh.
  • “You know, I’ve attempted to enjoy your family on a personal level, on an ironic level, as a novelty, as camp, as kitsch, as a cautionary example… nothing works.”
  • Another sweet detail that when Lisa returns to the faire tent at the end, we see Wiggum taking a nap leaning against it. Awww.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Last night’s episode was among the most disappointing displays I’ve ever witnessed. Everyone’s already seen Back to the Future, guys. We don’t want the Simpsons version.”

20. Two Dozen and One Greyhounds

  • Santa’s Little Helper chasing Snowball II with a knife in his jaws is a pretty insane gag
  • Wonderful animation of SLH pulling the “precious cable TV cable” all through the neighborhood. Great touch as the mailboxes get knocked over as the cable hits into them.
  • I don’t know if I ever really put it together, but I love the touch that She’s the Fastest is the new #8 at the dog track, seemingly having filled Santa’s Little Helper’s old number.
  • The staging of SLH humping She’s the Fastest on the track is just so damn funny. It’s completely unnatural, just him rising up in frame while still running and mounting at the same time, but who cares, it’s great.
  • The newborn puppies are so fucking adorable, with their half opened eyes and the little puppy whimpering sound effects.
  • Hilarious read by Dan Castellaneta’s “GET THAT CAT OUT OF THE WAY,” followed by the entire family staring daggers at the damn cat.
  • The sitcom scene is just fantastic, just a perfect display of on-the-nose hacky writing of the very important dinner where nothing can go wrong, and everything goes wrong. And “See you in hell! …from Heaven” is a hall of fame line for Lovejoy.
  • “See My Vest” has got to be in the top 5 songs of the series, a peppy, upbeat, Disney-inspired showstopper that’s all about murdering two dozen puppies for their pelts. What’s not to love? Plus a cameo by human Mrs. Potts, informing Burns he should save two to kill to make matching clogs. Once again, this dog-killing episode is available to stream now on Disney+.
  • The door knob jostling and eventually turning all the way around is another of those ridiculous gags that I love just because of how ridiculous they are.
  • Bart’s plan of pulling the clothesline to get all of the dogs to stand on their hind legs prompts Burns to spout some purposefully on-the-nose dialogue (“This can’t be happening! They’re all standing. I can’t tell them apart!”) Normally I’d admonish the show for something like this, but the third act paints Mr. Burns as basically a cartoon villain, about to murder a bunch of puppies point blank with a gun, so I feel like dialogue like that almost plays into that angle. He then proceeds to try to murder all the puppies, then Bart and Lisa, but in the end, doesn’t have the heart for it.
  • The fake-out of Homer “hanging himself” at the end is absolutely my favorite bait-and-switch of the whole series. It’s just so stupid, but that just makes it all the better. Homer bats the basement light bulb to make him feel better. Sure, why not?
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This episode had the potential to turn into something absolutely awful, and it did. Puppies? I’m supposed to laugh about puppies? I haven’t seen so much commercialized cuteness since the Care Bears. I think we were all rooting for Burns.”

21. The PTA Disbands

  • The gag with the cannon at Fort Springfield is so great. I love any joke where the thing you expect to happen doesn’t actually happen, which this show does a lot of. Pamela Hayden’s matter-of-fact read of the tour guide just totally sells it.
  • The Diz-nee takeover of the historical park is such a scathing gag (Sorry, But There’s Profit to be Had), making it all the more inappropriate given the show’s new owners.
  • It’s pretty wild seeing Uter get left behind and the camera cuts away just before he’s beaten mercilessly by a bunch of adults with the butts of their fake guns. Not only that, but Krabappel and Skinner don’t really seem to be that bothered by it (“Because of your penny-pinching, we’re coming back from a field trip with the fewest children yet.” “God bless the man who invented permission slips.”)
  • I like that in her butting heads with Skinner, Mrs. Krabappel does seem to actually give somewhat a shit about her responsibility as a teacher (“Our demands are very reasonable.  By ignoring them, you’re selling out these children’s future!”) Unlike someone like Miss Hoover, it seems like there is a genuine core to Krabappel that wants to be an inspiring educator, but years at a hellhole like Springfield Elementary have worn her down to a nub, and Skinner repeatedly failing to meet her and her fellow co-workers halfway have finally gotten her to the breaking point.
  • The band playing “the forbidden music” might be the lamest syndication cut joke. It feels like such a long scene devoted to a joke that’s not even funny. The little girl stuck hanging from the gymnasium rings, a casualty of the teacher’s striking, the dramatic event ending our first act, really feels much more appropriate as an act break scene.
  • I like how Bart’s weekday shenanigans feel a bit more wild and reckless than his normal fare, fucking with people at a construction site and causing a pandemonium at the bank. It all signals how without any boundaries, he ends up pushing things a bit too far, like flying a kite at night (“Hello, mother dear…”)
  • Meanwhile, conversely, I love how Lisa falls apart because of her desperate need to be validated. It’s not so much the learning as the reinforcement that she’s doing a good job, which feels very believable for a young child to feel. Her desperate pleas to Marge to give her any sort of grade, prompting her to scribble an “A” on a piece of paper and hand it to her, is a great scene.
  • Dan Castellaneta’s ADR in the crowd during the PTA scene when Skinner and Krabappel shoot back and forth at each other is really funny. (“Taxes are bad!” “Children are important!” “The taxes! The finger thing means the taxes!”)
  • Bart’s “prank” of an enormous log embedding itself into the chalkboard, and presumably the new substitute’s head, is so wild, it’s one of the few times I actually created a shitpost of my own.
  • In another instance of the show mocking TV convention, we have Skinner and Krabappel trapped in a small space to figure out their problems (“Me? Go to my office? Well, it’s highly irregular, but alright!”) They then proceed to bang on the door to be let out for hours and hours on end, and eventually when they do get to talking, we get our grand solution: occupied jail cells in the classroom (“It’s all right, children, just ignore the murderer.”)
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Improbable, poorly scripted, and lacking in all respects. Lisa was completely out of character throughout — proof positive that Jennifer Crittenden must go. An utter disaster and total failure from start to finish. 5/10.”

22. ‘Round Springfield

  • I love how awkward the big TV set looks wedged between the counter and the cupboards as the family apparently hauled it into the kitchen to watch during breakfast.
  • “Who was George Washington Carver?” “Umm… the guy who chopped up George Washington?”
  • What the hell kind of prize is a jagged metal Krusty-O? It’s not a toy of any kind, and the fact that it’s literally a dangerous lookalike of the actual food product literally hidden in the bag of cereal makes it even more on-the-nose stupid… but in a good way.
  • Great performance by Marcia Wallace humming “Stars and Stripes Forever,” really milking it before she finally lets a clearly pained Bart go see the nurse. I also never noticed how this “foreshadows” the band concert later where they play the same song; I imagine this wasn’t intentional, but it’s kind of neat.
  • “Cheese-eating surrender monkeys” has its own goddamn Wikipedia phrase, as the joke was co-opted by overpaid columnists and blowhard reactionaries to admonish the French for being cowardly or some shit. I remember it came into resurgence leading up to the Iraq War when France decided to opt out of helping us. What a blunder, huh? Almost twenty years later and that occupation’s going just great!
  • I really wish we’d gotten at least one other major reappearance of Bleeding Gums Murphy. He was such a fascinating and engaging character out of the box, representing both a dour and optimistic future for Lisa the jazz musician. At least in this show, we give him a decent amount of background, which is interesting to learn, while also feeling like a nice little send-off.
  • Great animation on Krusty’s pained overreaction to the (regular) Krusty-O. It feels a little reminiscent of his on-air heart attack from “Krusty Gets Busted.”
  • I guess there’s not really much point in knowing exactly why Bleeding Gums is in the hospital and what killed him, it doesn’t really matter. I love how him giving Lisa his sax basically seems like him knowing he’s on his way out, and he might as well give his prized possession to someone who will use it and appreciate it.
  • I love the irrationally angry crowd at the school recital, they give the band not even five seconds before they start vehemently booing these eight-year-olds, including Abe (“This sucks!”)
  • Alf Clausen’s jazz motif after Bleeding Gums dies that plays throughout the rest of the episode is a really beautiful piece of music, it really just emphasizes and enhances Lisa’s emotional state.
  • I’ve always appreciated how the two plots come together at the end so effortlessly, where Bart uses his settlement money to buy Lisa Bleeding Gums’ record, with the very reasonable and believable explanation that she was the only one who believed him when he said he was hurt. Plus, of course, he has his back-up plan with the newly issued Krusty-O’s, featuring flesh-eating bacteria in every box. What  could go wrong!
  • And of course, obligatory shout-out to Yeardley Smith’s wonderful rendition of “Jazz Man.” Just great.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I thought this episode was just plain awful, the only really funny part being the end cloud scene with James Earl Jones voiceovers. I was offended by the sappiness; I like cutting satirical humor. That’s why I watch The Simpsons and why I don’t watch dumb sappy sitcoms.”

23. The Springfield Connection

  • The Springfield Pops is a great opening set piece, with Homer’s bizarre indignation toward butchering the Star Wars score (“They’re butchering the classics! Could that bassoon have come in any more late?”)
  • Marge’s passion for law and order being sparked by Snake’s crooked card game definitely feels appropriate: she’s speaking as a moralistic housewife wanting clean streets for herself and her children, in a perfect motherly scolding tone (“How dare you prey on the greedy and stupid like this!”)
  • Lisa getting Bart in an arm-lock in the kitchen is pretty adorable, both seeing her easily manhandling an emasculated Bart, and her enthusiasm over her mother’s exciting apprehension.
  • The sound effect of the shopping cart disappearing in the gigantic wheel of cheese is just… [chef’s kiss]
  • Each magazine cover in the “Death Sports” section is better than the last. I really want to read that glass eating article.
  • Wiggum’s “What-what-what-what, this better be about pizza!” makes me laugh every damn time.
  • Marge really is a badass during her training, especially on the shooting range. Her whole build-up through the first act is great, she’s a character with a lot of pent up frustration and energy, finally getting an outlet.
  • I love the Hill Street Blues motif played throughout the episode, and the end credits version where it’s blended with the usual Simpsons theme. I love that version, it’s probably in my top 3 favorites.
  • Trigger happy Marge pulling out her gun at the hair salon isn’t quite as “funny” watching it nowadays… Also, the joke where Lisa rightfully questions the police’s focus on mass incarceration to maintain the status quo of the privileged rather than systemic or societal changes to benefit all rings truer than it ever has. And McGruff, the Crime Dog! Did I mention he had a music album?
  • The interplay between Homer and Marge at the end is great, as Marge tries harder and harder to give Homer a way out, which then turns into embarrassment and an attempt to save face after Homer takes her hat. The emotions are played so well, thanks to a great performance by Julie Kavner.
  • Hans Moleman’s execution is definitely one of the show’s grimmer jokes; Lovejoy’s “From this point on, no talking” is hilarious, but even darker is the following scene with Homer and Marge in the bedroom, the lights flicker off for a second. RIP Hans.
  • Herman’s only had a handful of appearances over the years, which is why it’s always interesting whenever he comes back into view. Here, he’s perfect as the understated culprit, as liaison to a smuggling ring under everybody’s nose. If they wanted to write Herman now, he’d basically have to be an insane online Quanon supporter, which would either be hilarious, incredibly depressing, or both.
  • There’s a great piece of ADR toward the end that I don’t know if I ever noticed, where everyone’s out on the front lawn with the police, and in the background, Abe complains, “That’s my ambulance! I called for it four hours ago!”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Tonight I did something I haven’t done in a long, long time. I actually turned off an episode of The Simpsons before it was over. It seems like the good episodes only come every other week these days. The portion that I saw: D-.”

24. Lemon of Troy

  • I love Bart’s fantasy of the future, a technological wonderland that can bring him back to life out of thin air, while concurrently being absolutely fascinated by writing in cement and his simple yo-yo tricks (“What’s normal to him amazes us!”)
  • I feel I’ve given Tress MacNeille a bit of a hard time on this blog, as she would be somewhat overused in later seasons, but she is an incredibly gift voice actress, appearing in this episode as Bart’s county line doppelganger Shelby. Tress is just excellent at voicing kid characters, and Shelby is just such a gutsy little shit, the perfect annoying foil for Bart.
  • “Hey, everybody! An old man’s talking!” is another line that makes me laugh every single time I hear it.
  • Shelbyville Manhattan… what a name.
  • I love Milhouse’s slowly building rage at Shelbyville through the first two acts, threatening to kick their butts… at Nintendo, getting more and more incensed at their “thievery” of wearing your backpack with one strap or his famous catchphrase of “radical.” But of course, upon meeting another Milhouse, he melts like a pat of butter in the sun.
  • Marge’s phrasing of “a violence gang” is just wonderful.
  • Luann Van Houten reveals she was born in Shelbyville (a point that enrages Kirk), but it certainly seems like quite the coincidence given how Kirk and Luann most definitely look like they’re related…
  • The Nelson/Martin team-up (Team Discovery Channel) is so fun to watch. I love that Martin takes it upon himself to rough up the poor little kid peddling lemonade (“Okay, piglet, start squealing!” “This is Country Time lemonade mix! There’s never been anything close to a lemon in it, I swear!”) Then only when the kid’s bigger brother emerges does Martin unleash Nelson, who awkwardly knocks the kid out, but not before attempting to justify this bizarre pairing (“Aww jeez, I never hang out with him, normally.”) Episodes in later seasons would depict Nelson and Martin as equal chums to Bart, which always felt incredibly bizarre, making me always think back to this episode.
  • This episode perfectly displays Springfield and Shelbyville as two towns filled with the same ignorant loudmouths engaging in a pointless rivalry (“Sounds like Springfield’s got a discipline problem.” “Maybe that’s why we beat them at football nearly half the time, huh?”) This becomes even more absurdist during the skateboard chase when we see all the bizarro mirror-image establishments like the Speed-E-Mart, Joe’s and femme Groundskeeper Willie. I think more than one later season episodes would depict Shelbyville as a more highbrow, enlightened town that looks down at the dirt urchins of Springfield, an extremely strange re-characterization.
  • It’s funny that Bart’s eureka moment of knowing Roman numerals is from Rocky movies, when my base knowledge of Roman numerals comes from Treehouse of Horror episodes.
  • It’s great that Homer’s Shelbyville double is basically Dan Castellaneta doing a slightly Southern version of his original Walter Matthau-inspired Homer voice. I also figure I say or think ”There’s a doin’s a-transpirin’!” at least once a month. Also, fantastic animation of him attempting a smug face after taking a huge bite out of a lemon.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Well, it was an okay episode. A little on the stupid side (at points, so stupid, it was funny). I better see some improvement to the show, or it will be history soon.”

25. Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One)

  • I’m not quite sure why Willie is digging Superdude a grave in the basement. Wouldn’t it be easier to just do it in the yard? He needs to strike oil in the school itself, that’s why.
  • The bit where Homer ignorantly returns Burns his own important envelope is fantastic, I love that he actually was trying to do a good job, which makes the scorn from Burns sting even more. The chip on Homer’s shoulder just gets more and more unbearable as the episode goes on; he’s just a poor miserable schmoe working a job he hates for a relentless rich old codger, and all he wants is to just be recognized by name, and he can’t even get that.
  • Great sign gag at the Executive Spa: Physical Fitness for Better Tyranny.
  • Some of Skinner and Chalmers’ back-and-forths in the first act definitely feel like forebears to “Steamed Hams,” in particular the Awful School is Awful Rich headline, which I always laugh at (“An unrelated article? Within the banner headline?”)
  • Tito Puente’s impromptu appearance is almost like how celebs would randomly show up in future seasons, but it still works because his arrival in Springfield is immediately (and humorously) explained, as Tito has been fooled by Lisa into coming to be her new teacher (“Lisa has told me all your students are as bright and dedicated to jazz as she is!”)
  • Skinner confronting a poorly disguised Burns is such a great scene. It’s so much fun seeing him actually with balls; his flat “Please don’t waste those” at Smithers shooting staples at him is so funny.
  • What the hell is a sour quince log? A quince is apparently some kind of fruit, but the idea of a sour fruit chocolate doesn’t sound very appealing to me. Burns was right to dispose of it. Poor Homer.
  • Burns’ master plan to block out the sun couldn’t be more perfect. A scheme that would be absolutely devastating for the town, representing Burns’ absolute dominance over them all. In addition, it’s the perfect move for an ultra-capitalist to concoct a way to charge people for what nature provides them for free. You think if big business could figure out a way to monetize sunlight, they wouldn’t be all over that shit?
  • This might be the greatest script ever written for the show in terms of its story. The potential suspect list just grows and grows as Burns’ oil drilling has more and more natural repercussions to the town. Smithers is shown as getting more and more worn down by Burns’ over-the-top villainy, until even he can’t take it anymore. By act three, literally everyone in town is out for Burns’ blood, but he just revels in their hatred. He’s won, at least for now. It’s just an absolutely compelling ramp up for the entire episode.
  • God, what a beautiful camera move when Homer finally snaps and runs across Burns’ office.
  • Quimby’s plan to confront Burns is right out of the establishment Democrat’s playbook (“I have here a polite but firm letter to Mr. Burns’ underlings, who with some cajoling, will pass it along to him or at least give him the gist of it.”) His follow-up line is also fantastic (“Also it has been brought to my attention that a number of you are stroking guns. Therefore I will step aside and open up the floor.”)
  • Smithers shamefully admitting he spends his days drinking and watching Comedy Central is a joke that didn’t quite age well. I have no real remembrance of a Comedy Central pre-South Park and Daily Show when it was apparently a pretty crap channel.
  • The only real clue as to Burns’ true assailant is really brilliant; after Burns confidently asks, “You all talk big, but who here has the guts to stop me?,” we get a pan across all our characters, all of whom lose their nerve and look away. The only one who doesn’t? Maggie, who stares straight ahead.
  • I actually watched something I’d never seen before for this rewatch, the “Springfield’s Most Wanted” special that aired before Part Two in the fall of 1995. An obvious parody of America’s Most Wanted hosted by John Walsh, it goes over the case details of Mr. Burns’ shooting, identifying the most likely suspects, and getting thoughts and predictions from guests such as Dennis Franz and Chris Elliott. It’s kind of a cute piece, definitely a product of its time, but feels basically like pointless fluff, considering it aired right before the season premiere. I was originally going to ponder why the special never got released on the season 6 DVD, but looking back, it actually was included as an extra. I poured over those DVD sets so many times, how in the hell did I skip over that feature for so many years?
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I really liked this episode. The sense of drama was skillfully created, and the jokes largely character-driven instead of merely surreal. A promise of improvement for the next season?”

And that does it for me for 2020!  The Revisited series will return in 2021 with season 7, as well as the triumphant return of season 32! Oh boy! Although keep your eyes peeled, there might be a special Christmas surprise coming just in time for the holidays…

694. A Springfield Summer Christmas for Christmas

Original airdate: December 13, 2020

The premise: A “Heartmark” film producer is called to Springfield to assist in the filming of their new Christmas movie, where she instantly clashes with their small town ways, particularly with Skinner, but the two slowly start to fall for each other.

The reaction: So, I have to watch a lot of different shows and movies for my job, and one of our recurring clients is Hallmark. As such, I have seen a lot of Hallmark movies, including their never-ending supply of Christmas movies. One might think that doing a parody of a Hallmark movie is way too easy a target, but in all honesty, having seen them, it’s an impossible task. I don’t know if there’s a way you could parody them, they are so vacuous and paint-by-numbers, they’re basically already parodies of themselves. But despite that, this episode is basically trying to be one big Hallmark movie parody, but it basically ends up becoming just another Hallmark movie story, albeit with a meta twist. Big city, no-nonsense film producer Mary Tannenbaum (get it?) (played by Ellie Kemper) is our focal character for most of the running time; to secure her promotion to head of the network, she must supervise the shoot of a new Christmas movie in Springfield. She’s dreading this, having a clear aversion to Christmas movies, something that predictably will be revealed as to why later in the episode. Mary is written like the one of two basic types of protagonist in Hallmark movies: the working woman from the big city who needs to learn to slow down and appreciate the simple things, preferably from a small town she’s stuck in and with a handsome country boy who can bring her down to Earth. In this episode, that role is filled by Skinner of all people, who butts heads with Mary instantly, as her filming is standing to interfere with Springfield’s annual Lettuce and Tomato festival. The story beats predictably go from here: the two agree to help each other out, grow more fond of each other, they have a brief falling out, Mary’s fiance gets into the picture, yadda yadda yadda… The entire town turns on Mary when her negative view on small towns is exposed, but she later admits a change of heart. After that, the whole town comes together to decorate the town square for their big shoot, including Skinner. It’s just like something out of a Hallmark movie! Because it is. Yes, there’s the meta aspect of them actually shooting a Hallmark movie, complete with the director talking about how pointless and disposable they are, and Mary has her share of self-conscious lines (“Christmas movies are the best movies, because everything always works out, no matter how contrived,”) but everything about the episode itself is playing out all the tropes of these movies completely straight. Like I said, it’s basically just like watching a terrible facsimile of a Hallmark movie, with no significant twist or subversion to it to make it interesting or entertaining. Parodying such a softball target in a unique or significant way is possible, even with the meta movie-within-a-movie angle, but per usual, the show chooses to go with the easiest, blandest route possible. What a shocker.

Three items of note:
– I know I already mentioned it at the start of the season, but man oh man does Julie Kavner sound bad. Her screaming at Homer to take Mary’s bags at the start made me incredibly sad. I have to assume that Kavner is in no pain while recording, and that the producers make sure their talent isn’t being pushed too hard, but this poor woman sounds like her voice is going to give out at any moment. They certainly aren’t going to recast Marge, but it’s getting to the point that it doesn’t even sound remotely like Marge anymore.
– Through the whole episode, we’ve been waiting for the explanation as to why Mary hates Christmas movies (both act one and two end with her grumbling, “It just had to be a Christmas movie…”) She finally spills the beans to Marge: her father was killed on set as an extra for Jingle All the Way. Yawn. Maybe this feels especially lame since I just watched Gremlins, where Phoebe Cates’ story about her dead father feels much more shocking and impactful. Also, if Mary’s father died while filming a movie, why on Earth would she want to be in the entertainment business? She calls it her dream job, but wouldn’t she want nothing to do with a company whose crown jewel are their Christmas movies? This aspect could have been highlighted as ironic, but instead, they do nothing with it. Again, what a shocker.
– So this episode is basically just a condensed Hallmark movie, but there are some details they get wrong. First, Hallmark movies are 100% sexless. Everything is building up to the completely chaste kiss at the very end, and leading up to that, there is absolutely nothing sensual or titillating at all, no intimacy, no discussion of attraction, nothing. The episode mentions this, with the director enforcing a closed-mouth kiss between the leads, but between Skinner and Mary, there’s a bizarre cheesecake shot where Skinner pours water on himself, revealing his muscular physique and Mary gets turned on a bit, that would NEVER happen in a Hallmark production. Later, Mary mentions how she can’t wait to get back to the big city, her surgeon fiancé and her gay best friend. The gay best friend is a common trope of romantic comedies, but in Hallmark World, homosexuality does not exist. I think they might have broken the mold this year by having one gay minor character, but normally their movies feel completely lost in time (which I guess is part of their appeal). They actually use the black best friend trope a lot, which felt played out in most media by the end of the 90s. I wish I didn’t know so much about this shit, but if this show is gonna take on Hallmark, they should do it right. Maybe the reality of a grungy Springfield could have clashed with the saccharine, whitewashed world of a Hallmark story. Instead, all the Springfielders are cast in the small townies role of the story, congenial faceless nobodies who all joke around at the local diner and obediently save the day at the end. Absolute yawn.

Season Six Revisited (Part Three)

13. And Maggie Makes Three

  • Seeing Homer and the kids watch “Knight Boat,” the Knight Rider parody, reminds me how this show really was on at the right time. So many classic movies and TV shows were television rerun mainstays, that this series could lampoon pretty much anything they wanted and it would still be somewhat in the public consciousness. Nowadays, movies or shows that seem like cultural touchstones get forgotten about in a week because of how much shit there is. But regardless if you know what Knight Rider is (outside of the basic premise, I sure don’t), the parody is still funny. You get enough of the basics of what the show is that Lisa pointing out the absurdity of it is still understandable (“Every week, there’s a canal!”)
  • I love the beginning of Homer’s flashback story turning into an action movie where he saves the plant from terrorists. Considering this is now the fifth flashback episode, I like that they’re toying with the format, having fun with an unreliable narrator. This also comes into play at the start of the third act when Bart makes past Homer’s head explode, and Marge forces Homer to restore himself to his actual weight.
  • “Oh, I should be resisting this, but I’m paralyzed with rage! And island rhythms!”
  • Homer literally burning his bridge at his old job now that he’s officially out of debt is absurdly hilarious, but it actually isn’t as absurd as a lot of his other crazy impulsive actions we’d later see. He’s budgeted for this in advance (only for four Simpsons, of course), and him going to work his dream job at the bowling alley feels a lot like his carefree life working at the mini golf course. Homer is a man child who doesn’t aspire too much out of life, so it almost feels like him attempting to return to his old life now that his adult obligations are seemingly taken care of, but of course, fate intervenes. This is also the only instance where we see that Barney’s Bowl-O-Rama is actually named after Barney Gumble, a seemingly sweet gesture by his uncle Al, the owner (that sweetness seems to have soured as of late, though, considering he fires Barney and gives Homer his job.)
  • Bart running off to angrily punch the wall when Homer tells them they won’t buy any more fancy quilted toilet paper is one of those ridiculous random gags that always makes me laugh.
  • Homer and Marge going out for “dinner and dancing,” meaning grooving to the radio in their car at the drive thru, is probably my favorite Homer-Marge moment of the whole series. I love when we see that Marge is a woman of simple pleasures to a degree just like her husband, and that’s why the two fell for each other in the first place. It’s just so completely sweet.
  • The bowling pin gag where all pins are discarded into a giant pile out back after being used once, and gigantic logs are whittled down to create one new pin each is so wonderfully dumb. I also love Alf Clausen’s orchestration of the classic “Powerhouse” music.
  • Patty and Selma using the phone book to spread gossip is a perfect classic Simpsons gag. Even knowing the twist is coming, I still laugh every time (“Aaronson and Zykowski are the two biggest gossips in town.  In an hour, everyone will know.”)
  • Homer’s complete ignorance of people congratulating him about Marge being pregnant is really perfectly executed. There’s been lots of moments in the history of this show where Homer is just way too stupid for a gag, but in this case, it’s contextually funny, almost like Homer’s subconscious is putting up blinders, like nothing is going to interrupt his new perfect life, no matter how on-the-nose the commentary gets (“Hey, Homer! Way to get Marge pregnant.” “This is getting very abstract, but thank you: I do enjoy working at the bowling alley!”
  • Ruth Powers being at the baby shower before she even moved to Springfield is one of those amusing timeline accidents, like when we see Santa’s Little Helper in “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet.” We also see Homer and Marge in the Simpson house when he finds out she’s pregnant with Bart, which they hadn’t bought yet, but for the sake of the joke, it really isn’t a big deal.
  • I don’t know how controversial this will be, but I’m not crazy about the ending. Homer’s misery washing away with just one look at his new baby girl I love, that’s a very sweet capper to the episode, Homer finding joy in his adult life through his children. But the “Do It For Her” plaque always rings slightly hollow for me because of all the jokes made before and after this episode where Homer forgets Maggie even exists. Hell, there’s even a joke in this episode where he almost sits on her. The ending is kinda sweet, but it doesn’t hit as hard for me as Homer relating to Bart or Lisa or Marge; I wouldn’t even put it in a top 10 sweetest series moments. Homer sheepishly waving hello to the newly born Maggie and him gushing about her is a much more emotional moment to me than the last shot.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “First they did a great flashback episode about Homer and Marge meeting; then a very good one about Bart as an infant; then a fairly good one about Lisa as an infant; now a truly awful one about Maggie as an infant. I’m going to start a collection so the writers can BUY an original damn idea! GRADE: F.”

14. Bart’s Comet

  • Big Butt Skinner might be Bart’s finest prank, the perfect blend of ingenuity and immaturity. I love how much anguish it causes to Skinner over the course of the first act, when his plea for the kids to chuck rocks to pop it ends up getting his car pelted, being humiliated over the phone as the astronomers find it on their telescope (“No, there’s no need to do that… it’s already named after me,”) to the act break where he catches it but ends up letting it go in anguish after Bart accomplishes in one minute what he attempted for countless nights. Act one is probably the greatest depiction of the Bart/Skinner dynamic; Bart is a rambunctious, savvy prankster, while Skinner tries his best to exert authority, but it never pans out the way he hopes.
  • The fighter pilot scene where they end up blowing each other’s planes up feels like an absolutely ludicrous commentary nowadays (“This is what happens when you cut money out of the military and put it into health care!”) Jesus Christ, can you even remember a time where you could call the defense budget underfunded, let alone in exchange for government health care? What a “horrible” thing to make fun of!
  • Skinner’s silent rage against Principal Kahoutek as the ominous clouds blot out the moon is so fantastic, as is when his tone quickly shifts back to normal and the clouds quickly dissipate. Skinner is pretty brutal (“I got back at him, though. Him and that little boy of his.”) What exactly did he do? Once again, I like Skinner a lot more when he’s got some balls. Him getting angry at Chalmers and attacking him in “The Road to Cincinnati,” a scene stuck in an ultimately disappointing episode, was a very welcome display for Skinner.
  • I love the moment after Marge tells Bart she’s proud of him, he retorts with, “But then, you’ve always been proud of me,” causing Marge to pause and stammer out a yes. It’s great because it’s obvious that Bart is just messing with his mother like a kid would.
  • They’re pretty much one-scene wonders, but I do love the Super Friends, the biggest dorks ever to be animated. I like that Lisa is among their ranks, but her expression really reads like she’s much more self-aware then they are. She’s barely got friends as it is, so she figures why not sit with her fellow mega-geeks. Also, Martin is conspicuously absent from the group; given his standoffish attitude, I can imagine that he and the Super Friends have a silent rivalry going on. Martin versus the Super Friends is a new episode I’d love to see, although with a Grey Griffin-voiced Martin, I’d be slightly less interested. Also the script would almost certainly be shit, so that too.
  • You kind of just need to go along with it for the purpose of the story, but Springfield has just one bridge? What are they, on an island? It’s worth it for the scene where Arnie Pye is reporting on the cars flying off the destroyed bridge, effectively doing a mass suicide (“It’s a silent testament to the never-give-up and never-think- things-out spirit of our citizens!”)
  • The Congress vote on saving Springfield is a classic scene, where the bill ends up getting saddled with an additional rider: $30 million of taxpayer money to support the perverted arts (“All in favor of the amended Springfield-slash-pervert bill?”) The bill is killed unanimously, prompting Kent Brockman to give one of the greatest quotes of the whole series (“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: democracy simply doesn’t work.”)
  • What a wonderful display of all of our lovable characters. They even stuck a Waldo in there. I also love Nelson having Milhouse in a headlock.
  • Todd Flanders loading a shotgun intended for his crazed father while crying is a wonderfully dark moment.
  • Homer teeters toward asshole territory by vehemently demanding Ned’s expulsion from the shelter, but he immediately makes up for it by leaving after him when his conscience gets the better of him. I like how that leads to a Springfield solidarity in everybody following suit (“Hey, Homer, wait up, I wanna die too!”) The people of Springfield are selfish and moronic, but they do have a sense of town pride, with just a smidgen of familial unity, as the ending of this episode nicely displays.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “What the hell? I seem to remember when Simpsons episodes had plots which related to rather than hopelessly contorting real life. This continued in the recent trend of episodes being little more than jokes barely strung together by a thin, unbelievable plot.”

15. Homie the Clown

  • The opening of this episode is just fabulous, rapid-fire showing Krusty’s spend-happy lifestyle, completely ignoring any panicked statements from his accountant (”I don’t want to hear the endings of any sentences!”)
  • “Gambling is the finest thing a person can do, if he’s good at it!”
  • I love Homer’s excitement over new billboard day, especially considering how clear it is he’s excited that they’re all food-related (scoffing at Krusty’s billboard, “Clown college? You can’t eat that!”) Next scene we see he’s got all his new foodstuffs out on his work console, but the power of advertising proves to be incredibly intense as the clown college continues to worm into his brain.
  • Marge’s “I think I’ll have some wine” while the family stares at Homer sculpting his mashed potatoes always makes me laugh.
  • I like how the story of this episode is kind of a big in-joke reference to the long abandoned idea that Krusty was secretly Homer in disguise, the irony being that Bart reveres this famous TV clown, yet has no respect for his father. I assume this idea was abandoned around the same time as the intended reveal that Marge was a “Life in Hell” rabbit. I love that despite being in full costume, Homer is still easily identified by his single two hairs on top of his head, but nobody else seems to notice or care.
  • I love how brutal this pie-to-the-face looks, that the wealthy dowager’s head just imbeds itself into the wall. How is she not dead after this?
  • I like how most of act two is just Homer getting more and more degraded as a Krusty performer, to the point where he’s at a kid’s birthday party just getting shit thrown at him as he performs. And the lowest of the low, having Kirk Van Houten boss you around.
  • I really don’t know much of anything about Dick Cavett other than he had a talk show, but he’s got to be one of the most brutal celebrity appearances (“I’d just like to say, I know Woody Allen,” followed by the most tepid applause.) I miss the days when celebrities came on the show to get the rug ripped out from under them, not get their asses kissed (“Your churlish attitude reminds me of a time I was having dinner with Groucho…” “Look, you’re going to be having dinner with Groucho tonight if you don’t beat it!”)
  • Krusty betting against the Harlem Globetrotters is so funny. Watching a high stakes bet over a basketball game also reminded me of Uncut Gems, which is always a positive for me.
  • I’m sure there’s Rule 34 of post-plastic surgery busty Krusty, and no, I don’t want to see any links confirming that.
  • More wonderful cartoon brutality in Ned getting shot twice by Legs. The combination of the bullet impact, Ned’s yell and the quickness of the animation of him falling to the floor just makes it seem really intense.
  • I like that Homer is quick to throw Barney under the bus to save his skin, throwing out his name second after admitting his own identity didn’t work. Also, Barney apparently is kind of a big sleaze himself, taking pictures of Legs’ sister. I guess I can buy that.
  • What a great character Don Vittorio is. A self-professed Italian stereotype, yes, but Dan Castellaneta’s performance is so earnest, he makes even a character arriving late into the third act feel incredibly notable. He even got his own action figure, for Pete’s sake! I love how tickled he is by Krusty’s antics, and conversely, how offended he is when Homer/Krusty botches his act (“The fact that you did not do the trick well is the biggest insult of all!”
  • It’s a simple shot, but I love the POV of Homer failing to do the loop.
  • It’s pretty sweet that after Homer messes up Krusty by covering his eyes riding the trike, he redeems himself, and his clowning education, by swallowing the tricycle at the end and ringing the bell. It’s so stupid, but it feels like a triumphant moment for him.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Another Swartzwelder disappointment. Fat Tony’s return seemed so promising, but the plot was contrived. Homer becomes a clown? Come off it. I guess fresh ideas are hard to come up with after a while. Grade: D.”

16. Bart vs. Australia

  • Everybody learned about the Coriolis effect, right? And then at one point tried to test it out themselves? This show really taught me a lot of things.
  • The first act is the perfect representation of showing Lisa as smart, but not smug. She just knows a lot because she’s intelligent, and definitely feels some sense of superiority over Bart in particular, but never in a smarmy way. She stops short of mentioning the equator on the globe, in favor of “this line,” in both a helpful and condescending way. Then she messes with her brother about the bizarre land of Rand McNally (“They wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people!”)
  • The gag of an elderly Hitler still being alive feels like one of the most bizarre jokes ever done on this show.
  • Homer’s brain reasoning with himself on something he may or may not have forgotten definitely rings truer to me having a terrible memory married to a woman who remembers everything (“Quiet, it might be you! I can’t remember.” “Naw, I’m going to ask Marge.” “No, no! Why embarrass us both? Just write a check and I’ll release some more endorphins.”)
  • Hank Azaria as Bruno, Tobias’ father, is one of those incredibly loud and boisterous voices that is just so high volume, you can hear the sound bouncing off the recording studio. It’s fantastic.
  • Evan Conover (Undersecretary for International Protocol: Brat and Punk Division) is hands-down Phil Hartman’s greatest one-off role. All his characters are congenial-presenting shysters, so his voice is basically tailor made for a government official. 
  • The skeleton who appeared to dig his way out of his own coffin is a pretty dark visual gag.
  • I like how Bart releases his bullfrog at the airport as a means to not spread any more mischief (“I don’t want to get into any more trouble down here.  I’ll pick you up on the way home.”) The frog of course escapes into the wild immediately, providing an amusing through-line of the bullfrogs multiplying rapidly, wreaking havoc on the island.
  • The toilet at the US Embassy may be one of the greatest jokes of the entire series, at least conceptually. A shining example of useless government spending and American’s sense of superiority, all for a toilet to flush the “correct American way,” something most people won’t even realize.
  • Given the enormous statue at the Cultural Center, I guess Snake must have some Australian ancestors.
  • Have I mentioned Dankmus recently? Anyway, C-O-B-E is another bangin’ track.
  • One of the biggest laughs I’ve gotten this whole rewatch is after Marge gives her impassioned speech on the phone with the Aussies (“I think we can all agree, there’s no substitute for the discipline of a loving parent,”) then confidently hands the phone back to Conover, who continues (“…so we’re in agreement. She won’t be allowed near the phone again.”) So fucking funny. One of the best jokes just spitting in the face of narrative tropes.
  • This really ends up being a great character study of Bart by the end, this mischievous, unflappable kid who clearly can see the absurdity of the whole situation, so his own recourse is to mock it mercilessly and moon an entire country. That climax really is one of the series’ greatest individual moments.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Ouch, that was the single worst Simpsons I’ve ever seen. It was hard to figure out what the hell it was trying to say, I mean if I want to here about caning or ecosystems I’ll read Newsweek.”

17. Homer vs. Patty and Selma

  • Gotta love Homer’s wallet full of singed bills. I also love his annoyed face when Barney guesses his investment is in pumpkins, but as it’s my profile picture, that’s probably no surprise.
  • I’m sure Marge has a difficult enough time trying to save face about Homer in front of her sisters, and I love that Homer in his petty aggravation is no help at all. In saying that her husband is a very complicated man, Homer immediately hangs his head out the bedroom window, smashes a plate on his head, and yells, “Wrong!” Just great.
  • I love Homer’s dream about the mysterious invention that could make him rich, if he only knew what it was (“Why would you need to see it? You’re the genius that invented the… product in question.”) It looks like some kind of metal ball with weird little gizmos sticking out of it. What could it be?
  • Who could forget dear Rat Boy?
  • We get an incredibly rare moment with Bart’s seldom-seen chums Lewis and Richard fighting for slots at P.E. Sign-Up Day (“This gets uglier every year! Any sign of Bart and Milhouse?” “No, and if they don’t get here soon, it’ll be T.S. for them!”)
  • Homer’s frozen grin after Patty & Selma show up is so damn funny. He’s just stewing in his own juices in that armchair.
  • Susan Sarandon as the ballet teacher is another underrated guest character. Maybe not as unsung as a Brad Goodman, but she’s got some good lines (“So many of your heroes wear tights: Batman, for example, and… Magellan.”)
  • “You can’t spell ‘obsequious’ without ‘I.O.U.” “I’ll have to trust you on that.” Yet another word I learned from The Simpsons, although I don’t know if I’ve ever actually used it.
  • “Is this projection accurate?” is probably in my top 3 favorite Marge lines. The way that she delivers such a specifically worded question as earnestly if she had just said, “Is this true?” is just so funny to me.
  • Seeing Bart become incredibly proficient at ballet so quickly reminded me of modern episodes where in no time flat he becomes an expert drummer, cartoon director, etc. But the difference here is that the point of the subplot isn’t him becoming an amazing dancer, it’s his apprehension and fear about being a boy who likes dance. The subplot ends in true Simpsons fashion where the bullies are won over by the mysterious masked boy’s performance, Bart feels brave enough to reveal himself, but he is chased out of the school anyway. Nelson’s “As long as he’s hurt” always makes me laugh, and I sometimes forget the additional scene with Lisa, which is cut in syndication, but that’s just as great a moment.
  • In terms of classic era guest appearances, Mel Brooks skews the closest in terms of just being there to be fawned over, but the show smartly pins that reverence coming out of Homer’s mouth, showering Brooks with dubious compliments (“I love that movie, Young Frankenstein. Scared the hell out of me!”) and goading him into re-enacting his famous comedy routines, except getting them wrong or performing them awkwardly. Chief Wiggum showing up only compounds this, only annoying Brooks further.
  • I like that the ending kind of sneaks up on you, where Marge talks about how difficult the strife between her husband and her sisters is on her, leading Homer to make a great sacrifice: actually doing something nice for Patty & Selma. Marge finally having an example to show what a caring man Homer is and Patty and Selma sincerely apologizing is a very sweet conclusion.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I had a dumbfounded Krusty-like expression on my face after this episode was over. I’m not advocating a homogenized goulash of writers where no one has a distinctive identity, but I would like to see the consistent level of intelligence and humor that was present the last two seasons.”

18. A Star is Burns

  • Regarding this episode’s controversial production, where Matt Groening removed his on-screen credit out of protest, I wonder if there was ever any bad blood between him, Al Jean & Mike Reiss. I assume Groening went back home to his solid gold mansion and rested on his giant pile of money and got over it fairly quickly. Anyway, I remember asking my mom who Jay Sherman was when I was a kid, thinking he was yet another celebrity playing himself. It wasn’t until later when I saw reruns of The Critic airing at midnight on Comedy Central that I realized it was a whole different show. I actually rewatched The Critic recently, and it sorta kinda holds up. It definitely feels like an extension of season 3 and 4 Simpsons in terms of its isolated cutaway jokes, but almost to its detriment at times. There’s a lot of great gags in the series, but sometimes at the expense of the audience really caring about the story or the characters. It’s tough to care about Jay when every other scene he’s doing a jokey celebrity impression or is dropped into a movie reference, there’s not a ton of room for actual character work. Season 2 definitely tried to remedy this, rendering Jay more relatable and crafting better stories that feel a bit more grounded, but as the season only had nine episodes and a clip show, the series died before it could really improve itself any further. It’s still definitely worth a watch, but it felt a bit more rickety than I remembered it.
  • Krusty as FDR always makes me laugh. Him absent-mindedly getting out of the wheelchair is a big faux pas, but him still covered in clown makeup wasn’t an issue?
  • “The easiest way to be popular is to leech off the popularity of others.” An ethos that modern Simpsons has put into practice many a time…
  • Todd’s screaming down the river bend getting cut off by the obscuring trees is one of those stupid jokes that I really, really love.
  • “Bart Simpson, meet Jay Sherman, the Critic!” You could argue about the artistic integrity of a crossover made to help promote another show, but this episode really doesn’t feel any less like an episode of The Simpsons to me. Jay Sherman is like a celebrity guest star (hence my confusion as a child) and the town holding a local film festival doesn’t sound too alien a premise for this show. Also, the two series share so much DNA in regards to their sense of humor. Homer and Jay’s stomachs growling at each other feels kind of like a Critic gag, but it doesn’t feel out of place on The Simpsons at all.
  • “I’m afraid we have a bad image, sir. Market research shows people see you as something of an ogre.” “I ought to club them and eat their bones!”
  • I love Homer’s prized belching contest trophy is just a big wide-open maw on a stand. Great design.
  • Dr. Hibbert mistakenly arriving at the theater for The Rocky Horror Picture Show in full costume is a great gag, but also feels like it adds onto his normally straight-laced character a bit.
  • “Man Getting Hit By Football” and Homer laughing at it is one of those early wav files I remember downloading off the computer. I think I had it as my PC start-up sound for a while, even though it was like a minute long.
  • Who exactly shot Barney’s movie? One of those questions I don’t want the answer to.
  • I like that despite being rejected by Burns, Bumblebee Man still gets a prominent role in his movie, presumably as Senor Spielbergo’s special request.
  • “How can you vote for Burns’ movie?” “Let’s just say it moved me…TO A BIGGER HOUSE! Oops, I said the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet..”
  • Another great newspaper headline.
  • Why exactly was an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon produced by a major studio eligible for an amateaur film festival? Who cares, just an excuse to watch another great I & S.
  • The story of how Hans Moleman’s short film was option by Hollywood, produced and went on to win an Academy Award definitely feels like a movie in and of itself. It could be the follow-up to Mank!
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Let’s face it: sooner or later, with the Simpsons so popular, the show will be destroyed by the very system and facet of society that it has made its reputation criticizing. This shameless, blatant promotion of ‘The Critic’ could well be the narrow end of the wedge for that.”

693. Sorry Not Sorry

Original airdate: December 6, 2020

The premise: When Miss Hoover gives Lisa a B-minus on her report, Lisa calls her a hack, landing her in detention. Miss Hoover proceeds to continue giving her detention unless she apologizes, but Lisa won’t budge.

The reaction: Of all the side characters I’d be interested in seeing a whole episode about, Miss Hoover would probably be towards the bottom of my list. Unlike Mrs. Krabappel, Miss Hoover functions perfectly as the complete inverse to Lisa; what cruel misfortune that a gifted and impassioned young student would get stuck with a teacher who couldn’t care less about her job. Could a Miss Hoover episode be interesting? Sure, I guess so. But unlike “The Road to Cincinnati,” this isn’t even that, it’s another boring as hell Lisa show. Lisa creates an elaborate model for her report, dreaming that it’ll be the lynch pin that gets her into Yale, but she is aghast that Miss Hoover gives the entire class B-minuses across the board because it’s easier. She also has a back injury so she’s laid up on a mat in the classroom, a detail that doesn’t really matter at all to the episode. Enraged, Lisa lays into her (“I come here every day eager to learn, and you just put me down!”) This presents an issue to me, as Miss Hoover has always been presented as incredibly apathetic toward all of her students, but this episode paints her as weirdly antagonistic, goading Lisa into her apology lest she get more detention and her Yale dreams go up in smoke. I mean, she’s an adult woman who presumably knows how silly it is that a second grader thinks any of her individual grades matter to any colleges, so maybe she’s just messing with her? But anyway, the idea could be that getting called a hack cut deep into Miss Hoover and this is her lashing out, but like I said, this episode isn’t about Miss Hoover or her story. The best we get is when Lisa follows her home to her shitty apartment where she lies on the floor with her cat who hates her (“I’m so alone,” she narrates, in case you didn’t pick up on that.) Real exciting stuff. Lisa believes she shouldn’t have to apologize, but after seeing how awful Miss Hoover’s life is, decides to make amends by spending her Yale piggy bank money on a down payment for a vibrating chair for Miss Hoover’s bad back. Upon getting the chair, Hoover still doesn’t accept Lisa’s apology, still upset about the “hack” comment. But why does she give a shit? Miss Hoover is a non-character, and we’ve learned nothing about her this episode, so why is she still holding this over Lisa? Just to be a cruel bitch? I guess so. But everything’s cool when she finds the massage function on the chair and ups Lisa’s grade to a B-plus. Nothing was learned, nothing was felt, what an absolutely pointless exercise.

Three items of note:
– This episode was written by Nell Scovell, who has written for a bunch of different series, but most notably wrote the season 2 episode “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.” Surely this must be the longest break in TV history, thirty years between scripts. Wikipedia also reports she’s a strong advocate for gender equality in the TV workplace, writing of her experiences of the toxic environment at Late Night with David Letterman. I guess this explains the bit in this episode where Lisa goes on a rant about how women are expected to say sorry all the time “because men make us feel like we have to apologize for existing,” a point that feels weird in context since she’s refusing to apologize to Miss Hoover, a woman. Anyway, as usual, this episode by-and-large feels no different than anything else this season, which just makes me wonder if there’s anything that can shake up this series at all at this point. Bringing back the classic writers yields nothing different, be it David S. Cohen recently with “Podcast News,” or the great Jeff Martin, returning to write absolutely awful episodes like “Moho House” and “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say D’oh.” I thought bringing in young blood would give the series a shot in the arm, but as we saw with “Undercover Burns” and “Three Dreams Deferred,” that didn’t seem to do the trick either. I say it over and over, but I just don’t know what happens in that writer’s room when they’re ripping these scripts apart that just sucks the life out of them
– Lisa’s super awesome presentation is on Gladys West, a mathematician whose work on satellite models of the Earth were incorporated into the development of GPS systems. She creates a little model Earth with satellites, then she hits a button that activates a recorded rap about Gladys West set to the theme of “Wild Wild West.” It’s Kevin Michael Richardson singing, but who recorded this song in-universe? Is this a real song? Or did Lisa get a random adult musician to perform a song she wrote? And the class is dancing and going apeshit about it for some reason. And what is this anyway? Lisa is normally the one who values studying and hard academic work over flashy gimmicks, it would make more sense if she got upset at her thoroughly researched and informed oral report got her a lower grade, not some dumb rap song. Same with her thinking this project will actually matter to the Yale admissions board, does she think they’re gonna be movin’ and groovin’ to her cool rap song? I just don’t get it.
– The episode is told in media res by Lisa sitting on the roof as she’s joined by the rest of the  family in the end. In a tag at the end of the episode, Homer’s lying on the roof a la Snoopy on his doghouse, where he dreams of being a World War I flying ace, just like Snoopy used to do in the comics and TV specials. I’ll admit, it was kind of cute seeing the dream sequence where Homer is sitting on a doghouse-sized Simpson house. But do people still get this reference? I don’t know how many people 20 and under have seen the Peanuts specials, and I’m sure a lot have, but if you didn’t know the reference, I don’t know what the hell you’d make of this. Then the sequence ends with him crash landing near two British soldier, referencing a major scene from 1917. As usual, too late with a movie that’s exited public consciousness, even more so with this fucking year. Jesus, I saw that movie in January, this year, it feels like an eternity ago. But none of that is the show’s fault, to be fair.