Season Seven Revisited (Part Three)

13. Two Bad Neighbors

  • This is an episode I remember seeing soooo many times in syndication, so the opening TV bit is completely burned into my brain (“It’s Grand Nationals of Sand Castle Building… preview!”) I also never understood the joke about the “absence of Mark Rodkin.” I get now that it’s a gag about sportscasters talking about the looming absence of a star player in a new season, but seeing this so many times as a kid, I just assumed “Mark Rodkin” was just a celebrity I didn’t know.
  • We see Apu washing his flashy Pontiac, apparently living not too far down the block from Homer. I guess we never really established where Apu lived. In “Lisa’s Pony,” we see him screwing Princess Kashmir at the Fiesta Terrace, but it’s unclear whose home that was, though I assumed it was Apu’s. We wouldn’t see Apu’s place of residence again until “I’m With Cupid” (if I’m forgetting something, let me know), showcasing the apartment he shares with new wife Manjula, as we’d see for multiple episodes afterward. But what happened to his house? Why would he downgrade to an apartment for his wife and eight children? THIS IS AN ENORMOUS PLOT HOLE.
  • There was a period of my life where I played an unhealthy amount of the Tapped Out app game, exhaustively modeling my own Springfield, so seeing the Presidential Estate across the street from the Simpsons reminded me of my irrational annoyance that I couldn’t properly recreate Evergreen Terrace accurate to this episode, as all the buildings face the same direction.
  • Having seen this episode so much in syndication, the cuts stand out to be even more than usual. One joke that I think plays much better in the syndicated version is when Marge pulls out Homer’s “DISCO STU” jacket. Homer sheepishly explains, “I wanted to write ‘Disco Stud’ but I ran out of space.” That’s a pretty great joke as is, but in the uncut version, he completes his sentence, “…not that Disco Stu didn’t get his share of the action.” Not only does this feel like a needless add-on to the gag, it kind of ruins what I thought was the humorous reveal of Disco Stu being an actual person. Luck upon luck that Homer’s misprinted jacket would actually find the perfect hand-me-down owner, with the added joke that Stu doesn’t want it (“Disco stu doesn’t advertise.”)
  • So this episode is pretty crazy, and seemed kind of controversial when it aired. Along with bristling some of the more conservative viewers, the real George Bush moving into town is a pretty out-there idea. But like “Deep Space Homer” before it, this show manages to take an absurdist plot and keep it relatively grounded. Homer lets his pity jealousy overtake him as the town sucks up to H.W., provoking a feud between the two. It all unfolds in a fun and engaging way, without getting too insane or feeling like Homer or Bush is pushed too far out of bounds.
  • “George and I just wanted to be private citizens again, go where nobody cared about politics. So we found the town with the lowest voter turnout in America.” “Just happy to be here among good, average people with no particular hopes or dreams.”
  • I can see how some people would be annoyed at Bart acting as Dennis the Menace, that it’s out-of-character for him to be that obnoxious and juvenile. I disagree; I think the sign of a great character is you can squash and stretch elements of their personality to put them in a different scenario, and as long as the writing is still solid, it’ll still work. Hell, one of the greatest inspirations for the Bart character was Dennis the Menace, so it doesn’t seem a far cry for him to be the irritant to his own Mr. Wilson, George Bush. They’re both named George! C’mon, it’s perfect.
  • In high school, every single time my best friend and I would go to a drive-thru, we’d quote this episode (“A Krusty burger? That doesn’t sound too appetizing…”)
  • The scene where Homer verifies Bush’s presidential credentials in a history book (great gag) and him asking if Marge still respects him is a wonderful scene. Again, in this pretty wacky episode, we get just enough actual grounded characterization to fuel it and keep it from flying too far off the rails. And again, because this show is still at its peak of juggling sentiment and comedy, Marge’s genuine pleasantry (“Homey, as long as you keep the car full of gas, I’m happy,”) is turned into panic as Homer worriedly side-eyes out the window to the car in the driveway, ending the scene. Fantastic.
  • “And since I’d achieved all my goals as President in one term, there was no need for a second.” What a great line. It feels especially rich as I’m writing this on the final day of Trump’s presidency.
  • It’s rare that we get an episode title drop, but this is easily the greatest of them all.
  • It’s still so funny that George Bush’s two sons “come to visit,” at a time when they were virtually unknown to the general public. How delightful in hindsight that we had no idea of those two knuckleheads that Barbara Bush thought only needed a letter of recommendation, one would become one of the worst Presidents in history, and the other a hilarious political dud.
  • The drawing of an intense-looking Homer at the window as Bush does donuts on the front lawn, together with the gravely serious line reading, “He’s not lost,” always makes me laugh.
  • Per the inevitable status quo, George Bush leaves Springfield, angrily honking the horn at his wife to hurry the hell up. I’m realizing I’m watching this after Bush’s death, and now I’m remembering all the media talking heads lionize him as one of the last great Republicans or whatever the fuck. Ugh. Rest in pieces, Georgie.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “FOX should’ve preempted this episode indefinitely instead of just one hour. This episode was unfunny, mean-spirited, out-of-character, and I absolutely abhorred it. Worst Simpsons episode ever? Do you HAVE to ask? If there was a lower grade it would get it: F.”

14. Scenes From the Class Struggle in Springfield

  • “We can’t afford to shop at any store that has a philosophy.”
  • Lisa rummaging in the circle rack of clothing awakened some dormant childhood memories. Remember doing that as a kid? Man, simpler times…
  • Marge’s absolute resistance to doing anything for herself is both slightly sad and hilarious (“It wouldn’t be right to buy something just for me. If it were a suit we all could wear, maybe…”) She finally buckles under Lisa’s insistence… quickly adding, “It’ll be good for the economy!”
  • It slightly bugs me that we see the Kwik-E-Mart with gas pumps out front. I love how it plays into Marge enchanting Evelyn with her commoner skills (“Automotive skills and fashion sense. Why, you’ve come a long way from the girl I knew nothing about in high school!”), but it feels like a bit too much of a cheat since we’ve never seen those gas pumps ever before (except the quick gag in “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baaadasssss Song.”)
  • “Do I have to go? That country club is a hotbed of exclusionist snobs and status-seeking social climbers.” “I’ve told you, I don’t like you using the word ‘hotbed.’”
  • I never noticed before, the logo for the Country Club is a swan with a golf club wrapped around its neck.
  • I absolutely love the scenes of Marge feebly attempting to fit in with the other rich women. As they’re all gabbing about their elite dining experiences, Marge is able to chime in with her own suburban tips and tricks about using Good Housekeeping coupons. There’s a real underlying sadness in this episode from Marge, a woman wracked with insecurities and unsuredness, thinking that if a “higher class” of people accepts her, it will validate her (“Today, while the rest of you were being different, I did a very good job of fitting in.”) I wish there were more episodes that really dug into Marge’s character, hell, even another flashback show that focused on a story from her young life. But too little, too late for that, I guess.
  • The Homer golfing subplot acts as a fun diversion without straying too far away from the main plot, especially as it ends with Homer staying mum about Burns’ fraud for the sake of Marge’s potential status at the club. It’s also a great example of Burns appearing weak and naive without forsaking his character, a rich, powerful man oblivious to his toadying underling’s decades of “help” on the green.
  • Lisa’s flip from her rightful objection to country club ways to obsessing about their horses feels very appropriate for her (“I found something more fun than complaining!”) I also love how it leads into the end of act two, in the absolutely fantastic scene where she pushes Marge to her breaking point with her incessant gabbing about horses and jumping on the bed. Yeardley Smith gives such a great performance as an excitable, yet annoying kid, and the moment of silence after Marge erupts at her, as the squeaking of the bed comes to a stop as Lisa is stunned by her mother’s outburst is so affecting.
  • “At times like this, I guess all you can do is laugh.” Probably in the top 5 greatest act breaks.
  • Krusty getting hit with the golf club and falling to the ground is the actually funny version of Family Guy’s “fall-over-incredibly-fast” running gag. His movement is exaggerated, but any physical comedy is much funnier if it feels like the character has weight. Speaking of which, his final line after Homer inadvertently steps on his head (”I knew my kind wasn’t welcome here”) is fantastic.
  • This is probably tied with “Brush With Greatness” for my favorite Marge episode. “Brush” is all about Marge’s most important trait: her empathy for everybody, extending even as far as the evil Mr. Burns. This episode examines Marge and her place in life, her yearning for an ambiguous “better” class status, before realizing that her family, “low-class” as they are, is what makes her whole. The very end of the family eating happily at Krusty Burger is an ending really representative of the series as a whole, a fractured family finding peace with each other in a crapsack world.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Any episode centering on Marge is doomed to failure, and this one was not an exception; on the other hand, the golf subplot was not bad. In general, however, this episode seemed like it could have been written for any sitcom, with the characters warped to meet the plot, rather than molding the plot to meet the characters.”

15. Bart the Fink

  • The show dusts off the “one night in a haunted house” trope they used as the ending of “Homer Loves Flanders,” but with a great new twist: the Simpsons have the best night’s sleep they ever had, and here at the start of the episode.
  • The Tacomat recently re-emerged in shitpost form after last December’s new pitiful rollout of stimulus checks, rechristened “600 Tacos for $600.”
  • Wise words from Marge: “A professional in an ape mask is still a professional.”
  • The Cayman Islands banker is the greatest one-scene wonder of the entire series. It’s just so fucking funny every time I watch it.
  • Really funny drawing of the file photo of Krusty behind bars.
  • This episode is a true tour de force performance by Dan Castellaneta as Krusty. Him wailing in fear at the IRS (“Who’s joking?!”) and later his angry ranting at Bart on the curb are two stellar scenes. Castellaneta fills Krusty with such loud and vicious energy, it’s an incredible passionate performance.
  • It’s funny that during the “Herschel Krustofski’s Clown-Related Entertainment Program,” Krusty is dressed down in sweats, but is still wearing his floppy clown shoes, as he would for the entire second act. 
  • IRS Burger is such a great set piece. I love the detail of the signage on the trash cans (Net Refuse, Gross Refuse.)
  • This is another episode I saw a lot in syndication. The most jarring cuts to me is the extended auction items at Krusty’s estate: his enormous porno collection being sold to a Japanese bidder for twelve cents, and Moe buying Krusty’s bed and heading off to sleep. I can’t say these scenes are sorely missed to me, but I love the attention to detail that as we see everyone leaving with their items, we see a man carting off a big stack of boxes with a JAPAN label on it.
  • That is the face of a man seconds away from punching a child in the face.
  • As much as I love Wiggum’s “OH MY GOD, A HORRIBLE PLANE CRASH!!,” I kind of feel if the show had just cut on Krusty’s plane crashing into the mountain, that would have been one hell of an act break.
  • Has there been any explanation why John Swartzwelder with Kermit the Frog on his hand is at Krusty’s funeral? I like the continuity inclusion of Luke Perry among the line of Sideshows. Also, Bob Newhart is a great example of a guest I really don’t know much about, but the situation built for him in the show is still funny: he’s put upon to make a speech for a celebrity he barely knows and doesn’t seem to have much knowledge or respect for, but he stumbles through it anyway. It’s great.
  • Bart lying on his bed repeatedly pulling the pull-string Krusty doll, which makes a haggard “Uggggh” noise while the sad music plays is another of those effortless scenes where the show is earnest and hilarious at the same time.
  • Krusty made it a little too easy to find him with those checks. He signs his new alias with stars around his name? That’s a pretty good giveaway. I also just now realized that the plot unfolds thanks to Krusty stamping a check, and now his undoing at the very end is thanks to how he signs a check. Pretty neat.
  • One last praise for Dan Castellaneta for his “Rory B. Bellows” voice, which sounds distinct from Krusty’s, but still feels like an assumed voice the clown could probably do. I also love how when he’s exposed, he gives out an elongated groan that transitions from “Rory” to Krusty, and it’s basically seamless. What a talented cast.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “You call that an episode? It should have been at least a two parter because it had a very abrupt ending, and a not-so-hot plot. So far what I’ve seen from the writers is krap for Krusty and mush for Marge. They need to understand that these characters are pretty inflexible. D-”

16. Lisa the Iconoclast

  • The best part of the “Young Jebediah Springfield” filmstrip is the two extras pushing the “tamed” buffalo prop to the center of the crowd, who then just stop and look away awkwardly as if they were standing there the whole time.
  • I love that now even in season 7, Homer is still being treated as just a regular townsperson. Him winning over the council with his vocal chops for town crier isn’t depicted as wacky Homer antics, it’s just him being a loudmouth and winning over these equally simple-minded council members like Wiggum and Quimby. 
  • It’s not every show where we get to see George Washington use his wooden chompers to take a bite at a pirate’s groin.
  • “This is nothing but dead, white male-bashing from a PC thug. It’s women like you that keep the rest of us from landing a husband.” Wow, Miss Hoover was a disgruntled forum poster ahead of her time!
  • “Unfortunately, historical research is plagued by this sort of hoax, the so-called confession. It’s just as fake as the Howard Hughes will, the Hitler Diaries, or the Emancipation Retraction.”
  • Homer and Lisa’s team-up through the entire episode is so incredibly sweet, and starts on a believable note (“You’re always right about this type of thing, and for once, I want in on the ground floor!”) Any time Homer vehemently stands up for his kids, I love it, and this episode is probably the loudest example, with Homer imbued with his own sense of authority as town crier.
  • Nice background detail when Apu kicks Lisa out of the Kwik-E-Mart, we see him washing the window where Lisa once hung up the Jebediah traitor sign.
  • Excellent detail that Springfield’s historical celebration is largely dependent on corporate sponsorship, which Quimby is fearful to breach (“You are tampering with forces you cannot understand. We have major corporations sponsoring this event!”)
  • After being stripped of his title, Homer attempting to muster a smile to Lisa, but inevitably breaking is one of my favorite bits of acting in the entire series. It’s just so damn sad…
  • I always thought it was pretty silly that Hurlbut hid the silver tongue in such plain sight, not to mention didn’t bother disposing of Jebediah’s confession after throwing it in the trash. Perhaps he wanted to be exposed all along?
  • Lisa nearly getting sniped may be the most shocking gag the show’s ever done. It’s funny enough with the set-up of seeing the sniper holding his position, but that they would actually pay it off and have him shoot really took balls.
  • Leaving the people of Springfield blissfully ignorant of their own history feels like the appropriate ending. It’s one of those wonderful double-edged sword messages: honoring the general spirit of the positive elements of history is a respectable thing, but that idea is warped as depicted by a town who everything but worships an actual pirate. At least he didn’t want to marry his cousin.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Typical for this season. How low can it get? It just wasn’t funny enough, and it seemed like Lisa and Homer were the only ones in existence; we hardly saw Bart or other characters. And the ending…it was not only predictable, but it was also bad. Rating: D+”

17. Homer the Smithers

  • I don’t blame Mr. Burns, that was one terrifying thumbs up.
  • “To make up for my failure last night, I alphabetized your breakfast; you can start with the waffles and work your way up to the zwieback.” Zwieback is a crisp, sweet biscuit, so chalk that up to another new thing I learned from this show. Apparently it originated in East Prussia; earlier this season in “Mother Simpson,” Burns attempted to mail a letter to the Prussian consulate in Siam. Coincidence? …yeah.
  • I love Mrs. Burns’ response to Smithers attempting to drown himself in the water cooler to press down on the tap, draining the water to “save” him. It’s the perfect blend of him “helping,” but with as little effort or care as possible.
  • Smithers’ abandoning his search in minutes and deciding to just get Homer to replace him is a great meta gag, but it’s also contextually believable, as Smithers wants to hire the most incompetent replacement to make him look better. Contrast this with “The Mansion Family,” where the Simpsons are chosen to watch Burns’ estate for some dumb reason I can’t even remember at the moment.
  • This episode does such a phenomenal job balancing Mr. Burns as both feeble and ruthless. I can see how some could complain that it’s too much the former, but as formidable as Burns is, he’s still a 104-year-old man, and along with his age, has had people work under him hand and foot for his entire life. Him not knowing how to make coffee or dial a phone is believable to me, but his exasperation and annoyance at Homer makes us never lose sight at the true wicked Burns.
  • I love how the fire in Burns’ office gag that ends act one carries right into act two as Homer hurriedly puts the fire out. It gives the plot a little more weight that we immediately see Homer trying his hardest at his new title. That’s another great thing about this episode, he’s genuinely doing his best, which is definitely a whole lot funnier than him being a dumb, lazy idiot. Even when he’s smashing open a microwave to cook a breakfast-kabob, I can still go along with it because in context, Homer is acting in earnest, not just being a fuck-up.
  • Homer reading the missed messages about Burns’ car is such a funny scene, with Burns’ face getting more and more annoyed with each message. And it’s the subject of another Dankmus remix! I don’t know if I’ve already picked a favorite writing these, but this is definitely top 3.
  • We get our most overt “hint” at Smithers’ sexuality in showing him clearly staying at a gay resort (“Actually, sir, picture-taking is not allowed at this… particular resort.”) I like that they don’t push it, or worse, make his sexuality itself a punchline, the jokes are more about how Smithers is still hyper-focused on Burns (“Mr. Burns, 48 rings, are you all right? What did Simpson do to you?”) It’s not like later seasons where he’d just scream “I’m flaming!!” or some stupid shit. 
  • Homer finally snapping and punching out Burns is one of my favorite moments of the entire series. The build-up is so dramatic, and the immediate fallout is just as tense. I love that they let the moment hang there, where Homer fully processes what he just did and runs off scared. I guarantee you if that scene were done in a show now, the punch would be immediately followed by Homer talking to himself for forty seconds in some awful attempt at a joke. But no, the episode lets the moment breath, and have the character appropriately react to this serious thing that just happened. Also great is when Homer returns to attempt to apologize, only to find a traumatized Burns. Again, the two are acting believably; Homer worriedly trying to make things right, while a wounded Burns is fearful of being attacked again. It’s pretty sad, but even through all of that, it never gets too serious that it feels out of place. We truly feel bad for Homer, but simultaneously, it’s still funny seeing him overreact with worry. It’s really masterful how they do this kind of stuff on such a regular basis.
  • I love the touch after Moe yells at Burns’ “prank call,” Burns puts the phone in his desk drawer and locks it.
  • I’ve definitely said “Out of my way! I’m a motorist!” behind the wheel a number of times.
  • While Homer knocking Burns out is treated with serious gravity, Homer’s fight with Smithers at the end is more comedic, while still feeling satisfying as the culmination of the episode. It’s great how the show is able to have its cake and eat it too with moments like these. There’s a lot of great touches through the whole sequence, like Smithers’ “Stop fighting like a girl, Simpson!” and Homer incapacitating Smithers’ fist with his gut, leaving him free to smack and mush at Smithers’ face.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Been there, done that. Not funny at all, except for that Clockwork Orange reference, but we had to wait to the end for that. It Stunk Like Limburger.”

18. The Day the Violence Died

  • This episode is filled with expertly produced animation parodies that are all so well done. The Ralph Bakshi-produced Itchy & Scratchy is perfect, the 1919 “Manhattan Madness” captures the look and feel of silent-era cartoons to a T, and the Schoolhouse Rock riff “Amendment to Be” is rightfully one of the series’ most memorable song moments. Listening to the soundtrack albums as a kid, “Amendment” was definitely the song I understood the least. Funny, why would a song about Constitutional amendments, Ted Kennedy and dangerous legal precedent opening the floodgates for tighter governmental control not resonate more with a ten-year-old? I also never actually saw any segments from Schoolhouse Rock until much later after I saw this episode, so that also didn’t help.
  • $750 seems incredibly low for Comic Book Guy to be selling that Itchy drawing. Considering “Manhattan Madness” is a lost cartoon, I can assume that it’s considering a drawing from an unproduced short, but still, considering its age and the notoriety of Itchy & Scratchy, CBG could be selling that thing for a whole lot more. I mean, come on, a cel of Scratchy’s arm cost Bart $350.
  • Kirk Douglas is one of those guest stars who is a humongous classic Hollywood celebrity who I know exclusively from this episode. I’ve never seen one of his movies; when I hear Kirk Douglas, I think of this episode, and this prank from the Howard Stern Show.
  • Milhouse’s voice over during “Manhattan Madness” is great, with him not able to read the cards fast enough and yelling out at the screen (“Look out, Itchy! He’s Irish!”)
  • I love how through the entire episode, Chester seems like he could care less about forming any kind of connection with this kid who’s trying to help him (”Last time I try to impress a four-year-old.”) He doesn’t even remember his name, calling him “Brad” in the courtroom. He gives the Simpson family a couple of bucks for their troubles after his big win, and after buying his solid gold mansion and his rocket car, he proceeds to basically tell Bart and Lisa to fuck off. 
  • “Mr. Hutz, we’ve been in here for four hours. Do you have any evidence at all?” “Well, your Honor, we’ve got plenty of hearsay and conjecture. Those are kinds of evidence.”
  • This episode has, in my opinion, the greatest syndication cut, by which I mean a scene that I think plays so much better in syndication than the original. After exposing Chester’s message on the Itchy drawing, Roger Meyers Jr. goes into his big speech about how animation is built on plagiarism, which is such a great monologue, ending with the tremendous line, “Your Honor, you take away our right to steal ideas, where are they gonna come from?” In the syndicated cut, we go right to Judge Snyder banging his gavel (it’s cut so tight that it seems like Snyder is cutting Meyers off, which I thought was a great touch) and announcing his verdict. In the uncut version, after asking where all these great ideas are gonna come from, Meyers points to a random person in the audience (Marge), incredulously asking, “Her?!” On the spot, Marge murmurs, eventually coming up with “Ghost Mutt.” I get the joke, but it seems like it just takes the energy and momentum right out of an already very funny scene. Snyder appearing to cut Meyers’ tirade off, moving the plot along, I think plays off so much better.
  • Liver and onions-posting became huge in the shitposting community for a while, producing some absolutely incredible memes.
  • I still love the gag with Roger Meyers Sr.’s frozen head, obviously alluding to the rumors of Walt Disney. I love Alex Rocco’s read on “You comfortable in there, Daddy?” He’s being sincere, but there’s still a level of sarcasm in his voice that it’s still really funny.
  • The meta ending is great, of course, where the day is saved by the totally distinct character Lester and Eliza, discomforting Bart and Lisa because things didn’t happen like they usually do, like the universe is off balance or something… I also love in the deus ex machina reveal that the US Postal Service stole one of Roger Meyers Sr.’s characters, thus restoring his fortune and reputation, Meyers Jr. holds up two posters of the two characters, and while he’s speaking about the theft, draws over his father’s drawing in plain sight to make it look even more similar to the USPS’ “ripoff.”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Grade: F-. This episode was suckiest, bunch sucking episodes, that ever sucked. Come on I didn’t have a good laugh once in the two times I watched this episode, I am beginning to wish I hadn’t bothered to watch it. There a few decent scenes, like any of Hutz’s but it’s hard not to make Hutz not funny, and the Schoolhouse Rock parody was well done but not really that funny (it did give me a small laugh). Even the comic guy was not funny and there was way too much of him, he only works in small spread out.”

Season Seven Revisited (Part Two)

7. King-Size Homer

  • What a beautiful pan. Who cares that it makes no sense spatial-wise that all these rooms are directly next to each other, I love it. Also great is Burns’ absolute befuddlement at Homer just appearing in his office, with great, understated reads by Harry Shearer (“Can I help you?”)
  • I like that Homer’s starting weight is 239 pounds, the weight he got down to by the end of “Brush With Greatness.” In fact, I now consider this episode to be a direct sequel to that show, where after Homer’s personal triumph of losing weight, he gleefully chooses to gain it all back and then some.
  • “Assal horizontology” is a term I wish I had more cause to actually use in real life. Also, I’ve searched up and down Los Angeles for Hollywood Upstairs Medical College, but sadly, I cannot find it.
  • I love Ned’s guest appearance in Homer’s work-from-home fantasy as a haggard victim of the rat race (“A crazy guy shot a bunch of people, and the subway ran over my hat!”)
  • I really like the first act twist; as would be expected, Homer is almost at his goal weight, and a hail Mary Play-Dough donut from Maggie pushes him over… but his gut was on the towel rack, revealing he was actually heavy enough already. Even better is the towel rack gag was set up earlier, so it doubles as a great callback too.
  • Another great newspaper headline. I also love that drawing of Burns for some reason.
  • I used the “To start, press any key” audio bite as the Windows start-up sound on my PC when I was younger. Boy, was I clever!
  • Morbidly obese Bart and his washin’ rag would go on to launch a thousand shitposts. I love that it’s yet another dark future for Bart that he for some reason thinks is awesome, like him being a drifter or get horrifically mutated by an experimental cola.
  • I love Marge’s presence throughout the first two acts and how she eventually creeps her way into the foreground of Homer’s story. During Homer’s rapid weight gain, she timidly brings it up, but is quickly dismissed by Homer. This drives her into the background, hoping this crazy episode will fade out on its own like it usually does (“Normally your father’s crackpot schemes fizzle out as soon as he finds something good on TV. But this season…”) Later, when Lisa confronts her mother to do something, Marge is hesitant, not wanting to hurt Homer’s feelings, in one of the greatest crazy lines in the whole series (“Your father can be surprisingly sensitive. Remember when I giggled at his Sherlock Holmes hat? He sulked for a week and then closed his detective agency.”) When she finally does get Homer’s ear, she’s understandably upset and things do get a little sad, where she admits not only does she fear for her husband’s health, she finds herself less physically attracted to him. It’s genuinely affecting.
  • I absolutely love the bit where Homer cockily brags to Marge about “tripling his productivity,” using the mocking moniker “Miss Doesn’t-Find-Me-Attractive-Sexually-Anymore,” his pettiness completely blinding him to what an awful label that is to both her and himself.
  • Homer being bored working from home, distracted by the dog, the mail, anything to pull him away from the computer, definitely reads differently after ten on-and-off months of me working from home.
  • Homer’s incredibly fast ranting at passing motorists, and then the ice cream truck driver, feels reminiscent of the raving homeless man from “Bart Sells His Soul.” Dan Castellaneta is really great at talking incredibly fast, it seems.
  • The rising action of Homer making his way to the manual shut-off switch plays as very dramatic, but it still feels like it has real weight. By the end, there’s not much in the way of jokes as Homer climbs and tries to balance on the ladder as the tension ramps up, but it still works after Homer vowed at the end of act two to actually give a damn about his job, and now he has to put up or shut up on his promise.
  • You might think why Homer didn’t just get more liposuction to make him into a slim man, but I absolutely buy that Burns would only pay to have him returned to his “normal” size.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This was an OK episode, not very outstanding by OFF’s usual high standards. Did they really make fun of FDR’s disability? It was better social commentary on the way people are granted disability freely, IMHO. The animation of the fat Homer was not all that pleasant to look at. C-.”

8. Mother Simpson

  • I love the bit where without thinking, Lenny picks a bird’s nest with eggs out of a tree and tosses it in the garbage. Just not even paying attention.
  • Great drawing of “Homer” getting stuck in the turbine, up for barely a second before he disappears inside.
  • We get a rare moment of Marge actually expressing anger at her sisters over their treatment of Homer, when they present her with his tombstone (“Get out of here, you ghouls!”) It’s not shown often, but Marge isn’t an idiot, she must be hurt by her sisters’ treatment of her husband, as we briefly shone a light on in “Homer vs. Patty & Selma.”
  • The animation of Homer and Marge left in the dark after the power is cut is fantastic. With just the eyeball animation, everything still feels very expressive.
  • I’ve mentioned it before, but Homer’s upbringing really was pretty awful, all in the hands of how absolutely cruel and uncaring Abe was. Him telling Homer that Mona died when they were at the movies is so incredibly awful; in the blink of an eye, li’l Homer’s life changed forever, doomed to be raised by a man providing him nothing but insults and disencouragement. When Marge asks him what “good reason” Mona had to leave him, Homer solemnly responds, “I guess I was just a horrible son and no mother would want me…” That might be the most devastating line in the whole series, Homer really has some deep scars from his childhood, and for good reason.
  • I always found it odd that Marge addresses Mona as “Mother Simpson” when they all finally confront her. I guess they never really firmly establish her name is really “Mona,” we only see that as one of her many other aliases that Lisa discovers. But to me, when I hear it, I just think, “Hey, that’s the title of the episode!” I also like how when Mona talks about her radicalization in the 60s, Marge asks, “So where did your newfound sense of irresponsibility take you?” Of course that’s how Marge would frame any form of protest; it definitely feels in line with her awkward bra burning in “The Way We Was.”
  • I definitely say “Now there’s a [blank] you can set your watch to!” in an approving way just like Abe from time to time.
  • I really like that they show Wiggum as campus police in the flashback. Considering he’s probably a young college student and Homer’s a kid, that would make modern day Wiggum in his late forties, which feels right. It’s definitely a lot more interesting than future flashback shows where we see every citizen of Springfield is exactly the same damn age so they can make Springfield Babies-type jokes.
  • I get that the point of Mona going back to help Burns is to show how she’s incredibly kindhearted, she would even lend a hand to her enemy, but… come on, that’s an incredibly rookie move for an anarchist. Which she was. So that checks out too.
  • The back-and-forth between Abe and Mona is just wonderful, just incredibly passionate performances by Castellaneta and Glenn Close. 
  • It’s great that we see Wiggum quietly in the background for most of the investigation in act three, which explains how he was able to tip off Homer before the cavalry arrived, retroactively explaining why Wiggum wasn’t quick to volunteer any information himself to the feds. Very well done.
  • The ending is still a killer, just absolutely tragic and beautiful at the same time. When I last watched this episode, my mother had just passed a few months prior, and now nearly ten years later, it still hits just as hard. I feel you, Homer. I feel you.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “C-plus – I just stared at the screen for 22 minutes in sort of the same way that Homer stared at the sky at the end.  On top of that, the ‘Lisa is just like Grandma’ bit was stressed a little too much.”

9. Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming

  • This is my favorite Sideshow Bob episode in that it really perfectly illustrates the character. A pompous thespian through and through, Bob’s true nemesis is idiotic lowbrow culture, personified by the “chattering cyclops” that is television. It stings even greater considering he was once an active participant in such moronic programming (“My foolish capering destroyed more young minds then syphilis and pinball combined!”) The final straw comes from overhearing a moronic FOX sitcom with a familiar guest star: accomplished stage actress Vanessa Redgrave. Bob is practically in mourning hearing a respected performer reduced to appearing on TV’s “bottomless chum bucket.”
  • “I renew my objection to this pointless endeavor, informally now and by affidavit later… time permitting.”
  • Lisa’s excitement about seeing the first female stealth bomber pilot is really a fantastic joke (“During the Gulf War she destroyed seventy mosques, and her name is Lisa too!”) It’s funny on its own how Lisa is childishly enraptured by this trailblazing woman who she shares a name with, conveniently overlooking her horrific actions, but it’s also a tremendous slam on the celebration of a non-cis white men breaking into notable or high rank positions overshadowing any of their actual terrible actions (see: most of the Obama administration.) Of course, this is also a joke that would never, ever be done with modern era Lisa.
  • I love how Bob’s scheme unfolds, creating an inconvenience for the colonel solely to hear his voice and speaking patterns, allowing him to mimic the colonel in order to access a restricted area of the base. Like his showboating to the schoolkids in “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” Bob once again puts his performing abilities to work, affecting the voice of a dimwitted Southern recruit to egg the colonel on, then Kelsey Grammer does his best R. Lee Ermey impression as he chokes his way through one of his slightly distasteful exclamations (“Get moving or I’ll tear you up like a Kleenex at a… snot party!”)
  • Speaking of Ermey, he’s great in this episode. He’s doing the schtick you expect him to, but any character whose dialogue includes “I’m going to come in there and corpse you up!” is aces in my book. I also like the scene later in the bunker where his Garfield-related expression is met with awkward silence, and he sheepishly says, “Sorry, my wife thought that was gangbusters.”
  • I love the animation of the fighter jets hovering in front of the Tyranno-Vision (great name) to watch Bob.
  • “American Breast Enthusiast” has got to be the classiest porno magazine ever.
  • It makes absolutely no sense, but I love how Bob is able to shoo away the helium, allowing him to speak in his normal tone.
  • Another great childlike moment from Lisa where she escapes the air force base and excitedly tells her mother about all the exciting things that happened. Modern-era Lisa would seriously urge to push onto capture Bob with some kind of pithy remark or something stupid.
  • Fantastic animation of Bart’s book bag getting promptly run over and nonsensically set on fire.
  • This episode kind of feels like a spiritual sequel to “Krusty Gets Busted,” as they’re both about Bob’s utter disdain toward mindless pop culture, perfectly represented by Krusty’s loud and moronic antics. It’s appropriate that Krusty is the last TV man standing, the man who made Bob suffer for so many years, thwarting him once again. Enough is enough for Bob, in his last ditch effort, vowing to kill the awful clown. Of course, this builds to a hilarious anti-climax as the Wright Brothers plane pathetically bumps into the broadcast cabin, foiling Bob almost instantly.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “‘That was a well-plotted piece of non-claptrap that never made me want to retch.’ ‘Sideshow Bob Roberts’ aside, I never like Sideshow Bob episodes. They’re appealing, but just not funny. This one had too many FOX swipes and not much plot development, and the conclusion was rather hasty. My Grade: D+.”

10. The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular

  • This is definitely the best clip show, both in watchability and the creativity of the concept. Not only is most of the content material never seen before on TV, there’s also the brilliance usage of Troy McClure as host, filling his fourth wall-breaking role perfectly. He would reprise such a role one season later in “Spin-off Showcase,” but sadly, never again.
  • I love the characterization of Matt Groening as a reactionary right-wing crank, angrily shooting at trespassers in his office and injecting conservative Easter eggs into the show (NRA4EVER!)
  • It’s kind of crazy that after all these decades, there’s never been an official release of the Tracy Ullman Simpsons shorts. I’ve seen them all, but the bulk of them are low-quality TV rips of The Tracy Ullman Show reruns on Comedy Central. It’ll most likely never happen now; a complete shorts collection would have made more sense as a limited DVD release than a feature on Disney+ at this point. Also, they’re basically a bizarre cultural artifact rather than something I’d watch for legitimate entertainment; you watch a few of them and you basically get the idea.
  • The second act is the only section featuring actual show clips. It does its best to package them in a unique way with Troy reading viewer mail, but I still end up skipping through them. It’s a clip show. It is what it is.
  • I always laugh at Phil Hartman’s gravely serious read of “You’ve got some attitude, mister.”
  • I like the faded color and scratchy film effect put onto the deleted scenes, like they were locked in a vault for decades and unearthed. As for the clips themselves, robotic Richard Simmons from “Burns’ Heir” is the one most people probably remember, but all the clips from “Treehouse of Horror IV” are just great, and I wish they didn’t get cut (especially the set-up and payoff of Lionel Hutz’s free pizza guarantee.) It’s  also kind of funny that we get a cut scene from “Mother Simpson,” an episode that had just aired two weeks prior.
  • It’s so great how purposefully bad the fake “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” ending is. Smithers’ elongated groan at getting a 5% pay cut for shooting his boss is so damn funny.
  • “Who knows what adventures they’ll have between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?” HASN’T HAPPENED YET, APPARENTLY.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Please. Not another clip show! This one was better than the others, in that the writers made it pretty obvious that they (and Troy McClure) hate doing this sort of thing. The Robotic Richards Simmons clip is the ONLY thing that saves this from the garbage dump. Overall, a D-.”

11. Marge Be Not Proud

  • The Bonestorm commercial is just glorious, with the savage reindeer inches away from goring the poor children to Santa bazooka-ing the game cartridge into the game console, almost shattering it.
  • This may be the most genuine Marge quote ever: “If loving my kids is lame, then I guess I’m just a big lame.”
  • I don’t know why, but I love that Comic Book Guy halts Bart’s reaching hand for the cash register with a Sharpie. He could have just said “ah ah ah” and stopped Bart, but the little extra action makes the scene feel more alive.
  • Milhouse screaming for his mom to eject Bart from the house (twice) is a great character moment. As we saw with “Bart Sells His Soul,” the moments where Milhouse can actually get one over on Bart are few and far between, but when an opportunity presents itself, he’ll easily take it.
  • Don Brodka is such a hilarious character, ironically because he’s completely humorless (“Don’t smart off to me, smart guy.”) The gag where he calls the Simpson home and leaves a message, despite it seeming like he was actually talking to someone, is absolutely spectacular. Even better considering, I think I remember from the commentary, Bill Oakley and/or Josh Weinstein talking about how they vainly tried to explain the concept of the joke to guest voice Lawrence Tierney and he just didn’t understand it, but the way it turned out, you’d never realize that.
  • Troy McClure’s shoplifting video might be in my top 5 infomercials/tapes: the fact that the production is openly a legal requirement for McClure (“I’m here today to give you the skinny on shoplifting, thereby completing my plea bargain with the good people at Foot Locker of Beverly Hills,) and the very origins of the very first thief (“Oh, Shakazaramesh, will you ever learn?”)
  • I absolutely love that in Bart’s vision of Brodka, he says “cat-feesh” instead of “capiche,” which is a great callback to Bart’s earlier not understanding him saying “capiche.” So of course, his memory would screw it up. It’s a really neat subtle detail.
  • Another great touch I never really noticed before is when the family arrives at the Try-N-Save. Bart worriedly inquires if it’ll be a quick in-and-out trip (“So we’re just going to do this photo and get out, right? Badda-bing, badda-boom?”) The rest of the family talks about all the stuff they want to do in the store, and Marge caps it off, “We’re going to have a great day! Badda-bing, badda-boom, right, Bart?” Marge clearly doesn’t understand “badda-bing, badda-boom” normally punctuates something done quickly, but she uses it anyway as a means of wanting to play off of Bart. Between this and her giggling at Bart’s hug earlier, it all does well to build her up for her eventual disappointment when Bart’s thievery is exposed at the end of act two.
  • It’s a quick little scene, but I like how annoyed Lisa is at the photographer messing with her hat before the shoot.
  • I love the bathroom scene with Bart and Lisa, where Lisa explains how Marge processes things differently and this latest escapade has clearly cut her deep. But when Bart asks her to clarify further, Lisa gives a childlike shrug. In later seasons, Lisa would just flatout explain to Bart (and the audience) what Marge is feeling and how he should make it up to her exactly. Here, she’s just a kid who doesn’t have all the answers, and that’s wonderful.
  • I gotta say, that giant marshmallow that absorbed all the hot cocoa looks absolutely delicious. I’m with Abe, I want a slice.
  • This episode is decried by Dead Homer Society as the “one bad episode” in the classic era, for leaning heavily into “after school special” territory, playing the morality play and Bart’s redemption mostly straight through the whole thing. I understand the criticism, and also, having seen a decade-plus worth of new episodes since I’ve watched this one, I understand how this sort of serves as a harbinger of things to come. Especially in the last six or seven years, we’ve seen episodes that play emotional moments 100% straight, with very little subversion or uniqueness laid on top of them. The third act of “Proud” is sort of like that, but I think what separates it from the bullshit that airs nowadays is, aside from having more actual jokes, the characters still behave like real people, and the conflict is rooted in something that feels incredibly relatable: deeply disappointing a parent and how much it can screw you up as a kid. That genuine emotional core holds strong, and makes the ending where Marge and Bart reunite pay off beautifully. 
  • Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. That’s it.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “No characterization, forced continuity, and worst of all – forced emotion. In other words – one of the biggest pieces of tripe to come out of the Gracie Films offices since ‘Radioactive Man.’”

12. Team Homer

  • “They’re really socking it to that Spiro Agnew guy! He must work there or something.”
  • When Moe inquires where Lenny, Carl and Barney are, Homer answers that they’re spending time with their mistresses? What?
  • I love how stupidly simple the riot caused by Bart’s shirt begins (“His shirt makes a good point!” “I’m with the shirt: homework rots!”) And of course the desk bursts into flames when the kids knock it over. I’m always a fan when something just randomly lights on fire. Also absolutely wonderful is Chalmers’ incredibly slow evaluation, just milking the time before the crowd of kids inevitably rushes by to ruin everything (“I am going to give this school a perfect ten! I’ll just write the zero first… now, a vertical line to indicate the one…”
  • In hands-down the funniest Vietnam-joke from Skinner, he explains he spent three years in a POW camp eating nothing but a thin stew, but upon returning to America, his true anguish came as a result of not being able to create the dish (“I came close to madness trying to find it here in the States, but they just can’t get the spices right…”) It’s such a genius bait-and-switch.
  • This feels like the first major instance of fleshing out Apu and Moe. It’s weird since they’ve both had their own episodes, but seeing them and Homer bouncing off each other in a normal setting like a bowling alley allows new characteristics to shine through, like Moe’s crippling insecurity (“Buenos noches, senorita!” “What’d he say? Was that about me?”)
  • Martin (proudly) and Lisa (begrudgingly) model the school uniforms, and I like how you can kind of infer that they roped the two smartest kids in the school (or maybe they’re in student council or something) to have to do this little fashion show. Also great are the two different types of giant boxes carter into the auditorium: Mr. Boy and Mr. Boy for Girls.
  • Homer’s “suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked” speech is great, but I also love Lisa’s annoyed “We are not wieners!” after he hangs up.
  • I only know what colorfast clothing means from this episode, I’ve never heard it used in any other context. I could barely understand what Chalmers was screaming about for the first couple times I watched it. He excitedly follows Skinner to find Agnes in the park (“This I gotta see!”) although I’m not sure what the spectacle would be. Agnes screaming and collapsing into a heap because her dress turned tye-dye, I guess?
  • Surely somebody has made that lobster harmonica at this point, right? If so, I want one.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This was a middle-of-the-road so-so episode. They’ve done worse, but they’ve also done better. Some good laughs, some really good meta-humor involving the competing teams. The school uniform subplot didn’t really go anywhere. A perfectly average C.”

Season Seven Revisited (Part One)

1. Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part Two)

  • The opening misdirect of Smithers’ dream is another great example of the show making cultural references that work without knowing what they are. Hell, “Who Shot Mr. Burns” itself was directly inspired by Dallas’s “Who Shot J.R.,” and now the beginning of this episode where Smithers finds Burns alive and well in the shower is a reference to an infamous season premiere of Dallas where they brought back Patrick Duffy’s character after killing him off, effectively erasing the entire previous season where he was dead as just a dream. Speaking of which, considering how “Part One” ended, it’s easy to interpret that Mr. Burns might actually be dead, with some online and print speculation from fans at the time before “Part Two” talking about the identity of Burns’ “killer” rather than the “shooter.” But whether you know about Dallas or not, it’s still funny how quickly the opening descends into fantasy madness (Speedway Squad! In Color!) before revealing it’s actually a dream, and it’s kind of cool how they dance around the question of whether Burns is actually dead or not for a few minutes before finally revealing he is in fact alive.
  • The rickets gag never felt that successful to me. Lack of sunlight apparently gave Homer a bad case of rickets, but it’s basically been just one day since Burns activated the sun blocker and was shot. Also, am I dumb for not automatically knowing rickets is caused from a lack of vitamin D? It’s a bit too much to put together for a joke where Homer walks funny.
  • I guess this episode shows why we don’t see much of Dave Shutton, he’s an awful reporter, even compared to Kent Brockman (“Dave Shutton, Springfield Daily Shopper. Who are you? Where are you going?” “Oh, do your research, Shutton!”)
  • Smithers is obviously the most likely suspect, and I like how the first act works as quick as it can without feeling rushed to cross him off the list. It’s great how the episode itself remarks on this too with Marge and Lisa (“I guess it’s never the most likely suspect.” “Actually, Mom, in 95% of cases, it is.”)
  • Lisa’s given titles on her suspect list are a great touch: it’s odd hearing Moe being called a “nightclub owner,” but Barney as “liquor connoisseur” is just perfect.
  • Tito Puente’s “Senor Burns” still really slaps, as the kids say. And MVP of this episode is unquestionably the guy at the condom machine.
  • All the other characters’ alibis are fantastic, from Skinner’s awkward bathroom encounter with Chalmers, Willie’s Basic Instinct nod and Space Invaders obsession (“That was a pretty addictive video game.” “Video game?”) and, of course, Moe’s polygraph test, which is the subject of, you guessed it, another amazing Dankmus remix.
  • Just like the Dallas opening, Wiggum’s Twin Peaks dream still works without knowing the source material. Twin Peaks is a show I’ve been meaning to watch forever, and even though the dream scene is incredibly specific to the series, I still think it plays if you think of it as a weird, cryptic dream Wiggum is having, which makes it funnier when Lisa just breaks down and tells him the information point blank when Wiggum fails to pick up the clue.
  • Gotta love the DNA guy who’s easily bribed by a carton of cigarettes.
  • Even though Homer obviously wouldn’t be our shooter, I like how there’s still credible evidence that must be unraveled. Sure, someone could have planted the gun in the Simpson car, but how did the fingerprints get on there? It’s enough to keep the audience thinking until the final reveal. Going along with that, I love how Homer continues to get more erratic to the point he threatens Burns and points Wiggum’s revolver point blank at his head in impulsive rage. Again, he’s not our man, but I love how dramatic the ending gets.
  • Yeah, Maggie shot Mr. Burns, and it’s the perfect fuck-you reveal that doesn’t feel like an insult whatsoever, especially since Burns’ desire to take candy from a baby was set up in “Part One.” That the entire incident was just a complete accident “caused” by an infant is a great ending, but as one commenter mentioned, it did set the stage for a whole lot of future jokes involving Maggie being an expert marksman or weirdly violent (like breaking her baby bottle to threaten Mr. Teeny in the movie), completely missing the point of the joke.
  • During my rewatch, I’ve been using the Simpsons Archive to help copy-paste quotes. As a young fan, they were always one of my favorite sites, I’d look through all their different lists and guides for hours. The episode capsules were their crown jewels, especially in an era before the DVDs were released. A curious time capsule to look back at now is their reviews section, featuring fan reviews of the episodes as they aired, and it’s really intriguing to hear negative feedback for episodes most fans would consider bonafide classics. The archived reviews start at season 5, when the show was getting a bit wackier, and clearly there were some fans that were absolutely not having it. If you’re curious, pull up the capsule for your favorite episode that you consider a flawless peak for the series, and you’ll find two or three people who just fucking hated it when it aired. Y’know, I think I’ll feature one negative quote per episode for novelty purposes. I might even retroactively do it for seasons 5 and 6.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “That was the worst Simpsons ever. I would’ve rather seen an old repeat.  If you hadn’t figured it out before, you can figure it out within the first few minutes. I would’ve expected more from the talented Simpsons writers.”

2. Radioactive Man

  • The hats flying into the air gag really feels like it shouldn’t play, but I still laughed at it anyway. This episode actually has a lot of cartoony gags in it, like Homer running so fast it leaves a Homer-shaped dust cloud and Bart looking at the six corners of the treehouse before seeing Milhouse, the latter being especially brilliant and mindfucky.
  • Comic Book Guy’s waddle over to the computer is such a funny piece of animation. This scene is also a fascinating look at the dawn of Internet nerds circa 1995, back when they were stuck on landlines staring at gigantic monitors. I still don’t understand the joke where the last nerd shown is an incredibly tiny Prince. Is that really Prince, or just a nerd dressed like him? And yeah, Prince is short, but he’s not like a little person.
  • It’s so great how Quimby effortlessly goes from sucking up to the film production (“We’ll blow up our dams, destroy forests, anything! If there’s a species of animal that’s causing problems nosing around your camera, we’ll have it wiped out!”) to relentlessly bleeding them dry once they’ve set up shop. The whole town is on the same page about sucking Hollywood ass to drain as much money out of them as possible (as seen from the great signs around town, “Welcome Hollywood Money” and “We [heart] Phonies.”)
  • It’s very funny to me that Fall Out Boy, a hugely popular band still to this day, is named after one of the most obscure Simpsons characters ever. Not even a character, a fictional sidekick in Bart’s favorite comic book.
  • I love the moment where Nelson laughs at himself in the mirror after whiffing his audition, finally realizing how demoralizing his catchphrase is (“Ohhh, that hurt. No wonder no one came to my birthday party.”) It’s a brief and humorous moment of clarity that holds more weight than any of the countless future subplots featuring Nelson the sad, poor dirt urchin. Also, I previously talked about how the show was already mocking its own catchphrases and tropes by season 5, but “Haw haw!” still plays if they can find an applicable situation.
  • “George Burns was right: show business is a hideous bitch goddess.”
  • Bongo Comics published a dozen or so Radioactive Man comics over its lifespan, which is really interesting on several levels. First, the idea that you can read a fictional comic book from a fictional TV show in real life is novel in and of itself. There’s not a ton of Radioactive Man lore in the show, so the writers pretty much had to create their own superhero canon for the most part. Also, the comics spanned over Radioactive Man’s fictional lifespan as a comic; issue #1 “released” in 1952, while issue #1000 came out in the then-modern day 1990s. The rest of the comics are issues scattered between those years, and they would parody different comic book tropes within those decades. For instance, issue #679 “released” in 1984 featured a more gritty tone, as well as clearly referencing the likes of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. One of the final issues released is the comic book tie-in to the Radioactive Man movie, featuring the likenesses of Rainier Wolfcastle, Milhouse and Krusty in the roles in the film. It’s a really neat read, as you get to see how the isolated snippets we see in this episode were retrofitted into an actual narrative in the comic to make a complete story. I’d highly recommend seeking it out.
  • Even though this episode is mostly goofy, I like the throughline of Milhouse the tortured child actor. Pushed into the job by his uncaring parents who cared only for their own potential windfall, he has absolutely no interest at the start, which turns into bitter, seething resentment by the end. Pamela Hayden kills it with Milhouse’s acid-tinged disdain for the “jiminy jilickers” scene.
  • “My eyes! The goggles do nothing!” is a bonafide classic scene, of course, but what exactly was the outcome going to be had Milhouse been on set? Was a ten-year-old boy expected to swoop across the chasm and hoist Rainier Wolfcastle away before the acid hit? Ah, but who cares?
  • Slot car racers feel like a thing of the past. I’m sure kids don’t play with them anymore, but do any incredibly niche nerdy adults? I never had any race tracks of my own, but friends of mine did when I was a kid. Spirographs, on the other hand, I was all over.
  • Like Tito Puente, Mickey Rooney randomly appears as characters shout his name aloud, but he’s so damn funny and makes story-sense for him to be there, a former child star hired by Hollywood suits to talk sense into Milhouse. Then he tries to take his job, right before his next big break subbing for a little girl in a Jell-O commercial (“I could play that!”)
  • Having lived in Los Angeles for many years now, I have to say the ending depiction of Hollywood is 100% accurate.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Yeesh. That was about as subtle as a L.A.P.D. interrogation.  Only not as funny. Is it too early in the season to choose a ‘worst episode this year?’”

3. Home Sweet Home-Diddly-Dum-Doodily

  • Cute touch of Maggie karate chopped her toast before eating it. Also, I always thought Marge said that she “marbleized” the toast, but she was actually saying it was melba toast, which I never heard of until this moment.
  • Marge is in prime characterization in the first scene, the ultimate super mother for the whole family. She works her ass off for her family, but she loves to do it. It’s sweet that Homer goes out of his way to secure a gift for Marge in the form of a trip to the spa, but because this is the horrible world of The Simpsons, one half-day off for Marge leads to complete disaster. How the perfect storm is set up from the start with the old newspapers, Bart and Lisa’s troubles at school, the “Stupid Baby” prank, this entire first act is just perfect.
  • “Stupid babies need the most attention!” is a line I think of all the time.
  • Skinner is quick to call CPS on the Simpson house, but still uncaring enough to just send Lisa home wearing garbage bags on her bare feet and Bart wearing an onion sack.
  • Great work from the audio department adding whistling noises to Lisa’s dialogue when she loses her tooth.
  • “Oh bitch bitch bitch!” is another line I think of all the time.
  • Of course the one episode of Itchy & Scratchy Rod and Todd see is like the most traumatizing one of all time. A seemingly innocent “baby” Itchy stabs Scratchy twice with a broken baby bottle; just how slowly he pulls the bottle out of Scratchy’s bright red wound makes it feel extra painful. I also love that Itchy runs out with Scratchy’s TV, which really feels like pouring salt into the wound; it makes it feel even more scornful that he’s robbing him versus just his usual cartoon violence. As Scratchy weakly chokes out, “Why? My only son?” and sadly dies, we roll credits, and Rod and Todd are scarred for life.
  • The emotional scenes in this episode are incredibly potent, with Homer and Marge despairing walking to the kids’ empty bedrooms to Bart and Lisa fondly swapping memories of their parents. These are tender, heart wrenching moments, particularly the former, as the kids’ absence have left gigantic craters in Homer and Marge’s lives that they’ll do anything to get back.
  • Alongside the already emotional premise, I also really like how the emotional stakes of this episode is about the fate of Maggie’s soul. As Lisa helpfully explains, she hasn’t been a Simpson as long as she and Bart, as the impressionable young Maggie becomes more and more adjusted and comfortable with her new adopted parents. It may be incredibly silly when Maggie does a Linda Blair-esque head turn after saying, “Daddily-doodily,” but seeing her lovingly reunited with Marge at the end, reaffirming her identity as a Simpson, still feels like a powerful moment.
  • We get not one but two great drug jokes from Marge: first when she and Homer return from the spa, the CPA officials overhear her incredibly unfortunate comment, “It’s like I’m on some wonderful drug.” Later, at the Family Skills graduation, Marge gets an erroneous fail on her drug test, which she confidently rebukes (“The only thing I’m high on is love. Love for my son and daughters. Yes, a little LSD is all I need.”) I feel like if I came up with that line in the writer’s room, I would be so damn proud of myself.
  • Only on The Simpsons is the third act ticking clock to prevent a baptism, but it’s not played as cynical or ripping on religion at all. The happy ending of the Simpsons reuniting is played straight, and feels completely genuine without being saccharine. It feels so effortless how the show manages to toe that line.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Does anyone else agree that there is something missing this season?  It seems like the voices are a bit different and that the plot lines have a horrible Critic-esque quality. They just aren’t as good as the weekday reruns.”

4. Bart Sells His Soul

  • I definitely watched this episode before knowing about “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida,” so I didn’t quite get Bart’s prank. He picked an extra long hymn and that’s his fault? Though to be fair, surely one member of the congregation had to recognize the song after ten minutes of singing before Lovejoy, right? (“Wait a minute, this sounds like rock and/or roll!”) But who cares, it’s great. They included it on one of the soundtrack CDs, but considering it’s just a reorchestration of another song, did Iron Butterfly get paid royalties for that?
  • Milhouse’s innocent question as to why organized religion would manipulate or obfuscate truth (“What would they have to gain?”), followed by the immediate cut to Lovejoy’s loud money-counting machine is so damn good.
  • Bart’s cheeky “Any time, chuuuuuuuu-mp” always makes me laugh.
  • It’s always funny when we see Dr. Hibbert’s children, reminding you that he and his whole family are basically just references to The Cosby Show. I don’t know the last time they’ve been seen on the show, but they certainly are an out-of-time parody at this point. I’d say a Dr. Hibbert episode could be kind of interesting, but… you know. Also, I’d love to go eat at Professor P. J. Cornucopia’s Fantastic Foodmagorium and Great American Steakery.
  • I love that Bart’s turmoil through the entire episode is completely internal. He didn’t “lose” his soul, but his uncaring attitude to his sense of self led to this weird crisis within himself that he’s unable to make sense of. It’s sort of similar to the series’ early morality play episodes like “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment.”
  • I really like how this episode features Milhouse finally getting one over on Bart. After being used and abused as a second banana for six seasons, he’s now in the position of power over a timid Bart, and he knows it. I love this little bit of animation (and Pamela Hayden’s performance) of Milhouse’s smug “yeeeeessss” as Bart walks up to him. Milhouse coldly demands $50 for Bart’s soul back, and cackles dorkily as he somberly leaves. So great.
  • The ending of the Uncle Moe’s commercial was cut in syndication, but I love how dumb it is. The uncreative simplicity of the extended jingle (“It’s good good good good, good good good!”) as Moe struggles in vain to keep a big grin to the camera, twitching wildly. Watching this silly subplot also reminded me of the Playmates Simpsons action figure line, and one of the dozen or so planned figures that was cancelled when the line ended was an Uncle Moe variant. That would’ve been a neat collectible, with a little Million Dollar Birthday Fries hat to put on his head. What a shame.
  • The scene where Marge naturally senses something is wrong with Bart is really, really sweet, further emphasizing that this is Bart’s mental struggle, so of course an obsessively loving mother like Marge would see something is wrong… but not quite know what (“It’s not fear of nuclear war… It’s not swim-test anxiety…”)
    – The little girl with the cold teef that causes Moe to lose it looks a lot like Samantha Stanky to me. I also love the ominous reprise of the Uncle Moe’s jingle right before everything goes to shit, really great music cue.
  • The street sweeper running down Bart is a fantastic double joke, where it looks like it just thoroughly cleaned Bart’s bike, but then quickly falls apart. Then the street sweeper is apparently a madman who drives down the subway stairs and crashes.
  • Speaking of madmen, Dan Castellaneta gives a dynamite performance as the homeless man Wiggum attempts to placate (“Who’s been stealing your thoughts?”)
  • Gotta love those ALF pogs. Speaking of ALF, if you think my episodic reviews are humorous and thorough, I’ve got nothing on Philip Reed’s ALF project, a writing exercise where he exhaustively reviewed every episode of ALF, as well as bonus articles about the characters, other ALF media, and so forth. I remember watching ALF reruns when I was younger and liking the show, but looking back on it now, it really was quite terrible, and Philip really digs into why. I’d say even if you haven’t seen ALF, they’re still really engaging in how in depth he goes into explaining every part of every episode and why it’s shit. I’ve read the entire thing several times at this point, I’d highly recommend checking it out.
  • I love Bart’s desperation by the third act. The time lapse shot of him sleeping all night in front of the Android’s Dungeon is pretty sad, all leading to his final desperate moment of prayer, with an absolutely fantastic performance by Nancy Cartwright. It’s probably the most vulnerable we’ve seen Bart in the entire series.
  • Lisa buying Bart’s soul back for him feels like a thank you for Bart buying the Bleeding Gums record in “‘Round Springfield.” Funny how there’s two endings where a Simpson sibling saves the day by buying something from Comic Book Guy. 
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This was one of the stupidest episodes I’ve seen. It was corny and predictable and it had the humor of Erkle’s show. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with the writers of the show, but I think the good ones have been replaced with nephews and beer buddies of the show’s producers.”

5. Lisa the Vegetarian

  • The sound design in Storytown Village is really strong, from Mama Bear’s busted speaker to the axe cutting off Mother Goose’s head. That latter gag is executed absolutely perfectly, together with the timing, the animation of how swiftly the axe goes through the goose, and the sound effect.
  • The Simpsons returning home with their busted up back window is such a wonderful joke in how it’s not even highlighted. It’s a great coming back to earth after the sweet bit of Lisa bonding with the lamb, where right as the gruff voiced “Mother Goose” comes on the PA system (“The following cars have been broken into,”) we cut right to the Simpsons pulling up the driveway. Like, of course they were among the unlucky ones
  • Gotta love Lord Thistlewick Flanders. And hey, have I mentioned Dankmus recently?
  • The Independent Thought alarm is a perfect Springfield Elementary feature. I also love Willie’s vindication at Skinner’s order to remove all the colored chalk (“That colored chalk was forged by Lucifer himself!”)
  • The Itchy & Scratchy in this episode really is one of the strangest, where Itchy serves Scratchy his own bloated stomach on a plate at a fancy restaurant. Even when he repeatedly eats a piece and it flies back out of the hole in his meal, he’s completely none the wiser. It just feels so gross, with Scratchy’s shaved pink belly and the sound effect of it flopping onto the plate. Of course, Scratchy only dies when he receives the exorbitant bill and his head explodes. Brilliant.
  • I’ve definitely thought “Yo, goober! Where’s the meat!” at least a few times waiting for my food at a restaurant. 
  • “A certain… agitator… for privacy’s sake, let’s call her… Lisa S. No, that’s too obvious. Let’s say L. Simpson.”
  • “Meat and You: Partners in Freedom” has got to be the best filmstrip of the entire series. Every moment in it is basically a classic bit: Troy forgetting the kid’s name, sliding a finger on the cow’s back and tasting it, the “kill floor,” the “science-tician” who gets cut off, the very memeable shark eating the gorilla, and of course, the very helpful diagram of the food chain.
  • The gas grill gag is great by itself, but made even better for knowledgeable fans who recall “Treehouse of Horror.” While Homer’s excessively doused grill caused a mini-mushroom cloud to erupt in that episode, here, he just lights a match and the grill lights up like normal. Really great bait-and-switch.
  • Barney’s “Go back to Russia!” always makes me laugh.
  • Paul and Linda McCartney’s appearance skews very close to the impending deluge of guest stars who show up just to be fawned over, or worse to hawk their image/beliefs/products/etc. But their interplay with Apu ends up mostly saving it. I love that Lisa, an eight-year-old girl’s natural reaction to seeing the vintage rock star is, ”I read about you in history class!”
  • I feel like some might complain about Lisa’s actions and behavior in the third act to be too mean and spiteful, but that’s kind of the whole point. She’s really devoted to this new cause, but, as a child, ends up getting too wrapped up in it and ends up ostracizing herself from the family. Homer is equally as petulant, of course being a dimwitted manchild. The ending when the two reunite (I absolutely love their back-and-forth “you looking for me?” dialogue. Both know they have to apologize, but have to muster up the courage to do so) is so very, very sweet, capped out with Lisa getting a veggie-back ride.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Kind of a disappointing episode. It seems like a WSB episode where every character is given a few token lines to say. Only Apu brought any sensibility to the show. And a message to the writers. Please do not devote entire episodes to your celebrity guests’ pet causes.”

6. Treehouse of Horror VI

  • Pimply Faced Teen shouting “You don’t scare us!” when Homer storms out is so funny.
  • Homer steals the Lard Lad donut entirely out of spite, but seems to be having a grand old time lying in the donut hole in his underwear drinking beer. Never mind how he got that thing in the house though.
  • “Panic is gripping Springfield as giant advertising mascots rampage through the city. Perhaps it’s part of some daring new ad campaign, but what new product could justify such carnage? A cleanser? A fat-free fudge cake that doesn’t let you down in the flavor department like so many others?”
  • The captain of the high school basketball team that Wiggum shoots dead is literally taller than the building he walks out of. He’s got to be over ten-feet-tall. Forget what Lou says, that kid is a monster.
  • Lard Lad’s giant angry face through the door frame is such a memorable image to me. I always think of Lard Lad’s as one of the most iconic stores of Springfield, but I think this is its first appearance. I just love Lard Lad, he’s such a great design. I wish they had like a little statuette of him, I’d love to have that on my desk. Though maybe one does exist, there’s endless amounts of Simpsons merch, it’s possible.
  • I love the performance by the head of the ad agency (Harry Shearer, I think?) with his warbling attempt to sing the anti-monster jingle (“Don’t watch the mo… don’t watch them… mon-steeeeeeerrrrrssss…”) 
  • “Children, I couldn’t help monitoring your conversation. There’s no mystery about Willy. Why, he simply disappeared. Now, let’s have no more curiosity about this bizarre cover-up.”
  • Truly disturbing performance by Russi Taylor doing Martin’s death screech before he falls to the floor getting killed by dream Willie. It’s just so genuinely horrifying, but in classic fashion, is immediately followed by Nelson’s “Haw-haw!” and the great scene of Martin’s twisted, rigid corpse being exposed to the class, and then rolled into the kindergarten.
  • I got Simpsons calendars for a few years when I was younger, and I remember more than one year had a thirteenth page for Smarch, which featured a bunch of fake holidays on the calendar. It was a really nice touch.
  • While “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” plays the Elm Street premise mostly straight, I like how Willie’s origin story is almost like the inverse of Freddy Krueger’s. While Freddy was a school groundskeeper who murdered and/or molested children that the parents burned alive to protect them, Willie senselessly dies due to ignorant and uncaring budget cuts made by the parents (“Recharge fire extinguishers? Now, this is a free service of the fire department…” “Nay!” Also, there’s one shot of the parents toward the end of this scene that always stuck out to me. I know the kids’ desks are low to the floor, but jeez, look at those guys. The shot also makes poor Ned and Martin’s dad look as fat as Wiggum.
  • Willie’s “compost-mortem” line is some damn good writing. I also like how he takes a bunch of different (tartan patterned) forms before he sinks down into the sandbox. I don’t exactly know why he does it (the rocketship makes sense for him trying to get out, but the elephant and tank would serve more to weight him down), but I still think it’s cool.
  • I’m certain I mentioned this the first time around, but Homer^3 always reminds me of Cyberworld 3D, an 2000 IMAX film that acted like an anthology showcase of different early CG animation: shorts films, music videos, a sequence from Dreamworks’ Antz, and what I cared most about, the Homer^3 segment. Getting to see the Simpsons in IMAX was a real treat for my young self. I really, really wish the film was available in some form so I could see it again, but given the different rights holders of the different segments, that’s never gonna happen.
  • Even though it’s very rudimentary, I think the 3D animation holds up in the sense that Homer has basically been transported into an early 3D demo reel, walking past primitive CG assets and first-pass water effects. He’s trapped inside the concept of 3D; if this were some crazy, elaborate 3D environment, it would kind of sully that idea.
  • Can you believe there are actually people out there still excited for a Tron 3? Takes all kinds, man…
  • The meta aspect of Frink explaining the concept of three dimensions is so great. I love that the characters are all completely befuddled by the concept of the z-axis, which pairs nicely with the x/y/z directional sign 3D Homer walks up to.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I thought this Simpsons episode sucked. I mean, did it suck or what? And Homer^3 was just trying to camouflage the fact that…it sucked! And you know, what a way to cap an episode. Homer’s in the real world and goes into Erotic Cakes stores. So? What happens next. Credits…It sucked.”

695. The Dad-Feelings Limited

Original airdate: January 3, 2021

The premise: Comic Book Guy’s wife Kumiko gets baby fever, but CBG isn’t crazy on the idea of having kids. When the pressure gets to be too much for him, he retreats to his childhood home, forcing Homer and Marge to convince him to come back.

The reaction: Season 25’s “Married to the Blob” introduced Kumiko, the love of Comic Book Guy’s life whom he married by the end of the episode. In the seven years since then, we’ve only seen her a small handful of times; much like Selma’s daughter Ling or Ned Flanders becoming the new fourth grade teacher, this “big change” ended up barely being addressed in the years following, in this case, a new character to easily be discarded if need be (as we just saw this season in “Three Dreams Denied.”) Kumiko is a manga artist whose biggest turn-on is American sarcasm, but we basically know nothing else about her, so reading the synopsis to this episode was kind of laughable. How can I give a shit about whether CBG and Kumiko have a kid when I barely even understand them as a couple? That being said, I was willing to push all of that aside; if this episode wanted to retroactively develop Kumiko’s character and her relationship with CBG, I’m fine with that. But of course, that didn’t really happen. Kumiko is basically an otaku’s dream girl, as she and CBG spend their Sunday having tea service and attending a Miyazaki film marathon. This changes once she gets to hold Maggie for the first time, awakening her desire to have a child of her own. This change of heart doesn’t reveal any new info about Kumiko and her hopes for a family, never extending any further than her just being baby crazy, like all women get, amirite, guys?! CBG is blindsided by this, as they had bonded in their mutual disinterest in having children. This scene contains a nugget of actual character work, as CBG explains that his years of minding the comic book store have given him a natural disdain toward children, never imagining he could ever be a father. Marge (and begrudgingly, Homer) stick their noses in their affairs by trying to push CBG in the right direction, pawning Bart and Lisa on them during an outdoor film screening of a Back to the Future “parody.” Having never seen it before, Bart and Lisa are enchanted by the film, getting CBG incredibly emotional, watching this favorite film through new eyes, regaling the kids with trivia and factoids. Although over-explained through the dialogue, this feels like the perfect inspiration for why CBG would ever consider procreating, so kudos to the writers on that. When Bart and Lisa get frightened as their parents have seemingly gone missing (they’ve run off to have sex, btw), Kumiko continues to try and get CBG to emotionally open up and comfort the kids, but it proves to be too much as CBG flees the scene. Despite Kumiko still not being a real character, things seemed to be going in a promising direction with seeing the couple actually acting and reacting back and forth with each other, but it was over far too soon.

Kumiko knows where CBG has run off to, but she demands Homer and Marge go after him, because God forbid she actually take agency in her own story, lest we actually learn something about her. CBG’s childhood home is an old, pretty lavish mansion, and from this point, we’re regaled with CBG’s youthful origin story via a quirky, narrated flashback with picture book-esque visuals. These sections are clearly referencing the style of Wes Anderson, even though I’ve only seen four of his movies, I still got what they were going for. CBG grew up in a house full of childless relatives, each with their own obsessive collections, too busy to pay attention to him. When his father missed his big baseball game, he retreated to the world of comic books. All of this is not very funny and pretty underdeveloped, and it all feels like it would hold a lot more weight if CBG had actually narrated his own story, or if it unfolded over time as CBG and his father talked about it. Instead, it feels like Tell, Not Show again, almost intentionally, as the book closes on the flashback and we see the title, “Great Expositions.” But what specifically about comics was CBG drawn to? The escape into fantasy? How there’s always a status quo in long-running comics, so there’s no permanent emotional pain? Also, it’s unclear what CBG’s relationship with his father is. His father lets him back into the house, no problem, but then CBG just goes to his room and it seems the two don’t even speak to each other. Ultimately it’s revealed that CBG’s father missed his son’s big game in order to buy a baseball signed by his favorite player, but ended up not going (“I was afraid if you lost, I wouldn’t know how to comfort you.”) I guess they’re showing how CBG got his stunted emotional growth from his father, but there’s way too much open-endedness to this story. What happened after the game? Did CBG and his dad just never speak again? His father says he expressed his affection with collectibles, so did he buy CBG his comics when he was younger? Their story is so underdeveloped I just don’t know what to make of this ending. Despite my initial grumblings, a story about CBG and Kumiko planning a family could work, and a few pivotal moments here do, but it’s mostly just severely undercooked and rushed to actually feel like a meaningful story.

Three items of note:
– Continuing this season’s recasting, Jenny Yokobori is the new voice of Kumiko, replacing Tress MacNeille. I actually enjoyed her performance, though it’s hard to directly compare to MacNeille, since the material here is more emotional and substantial than any of Kumiko’s other appearances, where MacNeille just did a generic Japanese girl voice. Hopefully they don’t rope Yokobori into voicing Cookie Kwan, best to just let that horrible character stay dead.
– CBG, Kumiko and the Simpsons all attend the movie screening at Springfield Forever Cemetery, inspired by similar events hosted at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (yet another example of Springfield basically being Los Angeles, Jr. now.) There, they watch the classic sci-fi film “Forward to the Past.” Sigh. We see scenes of the movie featuring not-Marty and not-Doc and their time traveling steamboat. I honestly don’t get why they do these almost-but-not-really parodies. Am I supposed to think it’s funny that you took a famous movie and just changed some words around? Why couldn’t they have just been watching Back to the Future? Earlier, Kumiko cosplays as a character from Gremlins 2, which CBG mentions by name, so what the hell’s the difference? The fake movie scenes aren’t commenting on BTTF in a funny or interesting way, it just feels pointless.
– In our last scene, CBG returns home and tells Kumiko he’s a changed man. Kumiko is thrilled (“You are ready to make a baby!”), the two don their cosplay and share a romantic dance as the Faces song “Ooh La La” plays. Curtains close as the credits start to roll (this song was also used in the Wes Anderson film Rushmore, most likely why they used it here.) It’s all just so sickeningly sweet. This is another Matt Selman-produced episode, and all of his episodes always seem to have these incredibly saccharine conclusions, emotional endings that are 100% played straight. They always feel like shit the show would have made fun of in its prime. During my Revisited series, rewatching seasons 6 and 7, there are plenty of examples of genuine, heartwarming moments, but they’re always surrounded by absurdity, or have some kind of undercutting joke or weird element to them that make them simultaneously funny. Here, I guess we’re supposed to laugh that CBG is in a beaver costume, but it’s just not enough. It’s just a schmaltzy sweet final shot that feels absolutely unearned.