Season Eleven Revisited (Part Four)

18. Days of Wine and D’ohses

  • All the garbage scavenging stuff is just to kill time until Homer ends up at Moe’s and the plot actually starts. A few gags work (Cletus and Brandine, CBG shooing nerds away from his trash bins), but then we get to Homer and his fire-breathing Talky Tiki, who flees the scene as the fire spreads too quickly. We see the fire traveling back through the shoddily rerouted gas line back into the house, and Homer just runs off to a bar as his wife and kids stand there aghast right before their house could fucking blow up and kill them.
  • In a season filled with unnecessary series changes, this feels the most unnecessary of all. Barney’s entire character is being the drunk at the bar, that’s his primary function. If you’re going to make him sober, you’d better have an actual story in mind to tell, and give the character something new to be their thing that’s interesting and makes sense. Neither of those things happen here. Barney goes to AA to get sober and he learns to fly a helicopter. That’s it. We learn nothing else about him, and between a B-plot and Homer monopolizing almost every single scene, Barney doesn’t feel like he has a lot to do in his own episode. 
  • Case in point, the first thing Barney does in act two is ask Homer for help. I’d say this is somewhat better than Apu and Ned Flanders coming to him for guidance since Barney used to be Homer’s best friend, but that role has basically been completely diminished at this point, so it just feels arbitrary. Homer takes Barney to AAA by mistake to make a joke, he sits in on Barney’s AA meeting and does his little stand-up routine as Barney just stands there… like I said before, this season is filled with “When Homer’s not on screen, everyone should say, ‘Where’s Homer?’”
  • The B-plot of Bart and Lisa trying to win the phone book picture contest is pretty dull. You’d think that an episode featuring a major life change regarding one of the oldest, most iconic characters on the series would warrant an entire episode about him, but I guess not.
  • Act two ends when Homer acts like a petulant child to Barney and runs off crying, which is fucking annoying. Barney talks about how he values his memories at Moe’s, but “I don’t want to do that stuff anymore.” Well, what do you want to do, Barney? Now that you’re sober, what life do you want to lead? New job? New hobbies? Anything? He learns to fly, maybe he decides he wants to be a pilot? Something, anything I can latch onto here as an actual plot.
  • The two plots merge at the end where Barney has to pilot the helicopter to save Bart and Lisa from a forest fire, but so much of it makes no sense at all. Bart and Lisa were walking away before the fire started, how did they get trapped? Barney is nervous about flying, but then lands his copter on a bridge with expert ease? Also, just like in “Faith Off,” we have Homer getting completely wasted, then sobering up when the need calls for it. He drinks an entire six pack in seconds, getting totally fucked up, then when a bear tries to climb up the rescue ladder, he’s totally cogent as he cuts the ropes, then immediately afterwards he’s wasted again as he walks out of the helicopter, hooking his leg on the rail and flipping it around in a circle, with no real consequence.
  • Barney trading one addiction for another with coffee is an amusing idea, but again, if this episode were actually about Barney, maybe it would have been interesting to actually put into the story, like that he’s got an addictive personality or something. But it’s all a completely pointless exercise anyway. Giving Apu kids and killing off Maude didn’t change much, but they were changes that the writers had to address in some way. With Barney, despite his lamenting his wasted years at Moe’s, we’d still see him perched at that bar stool for seasons to come, only with a coffee mug in his hand in place of a beer stein. Then in season 14, they did a joke about him relapsing, because why the hell not. Absolutely pointless.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:It’s great to finally see an episode with a logical story. This episode had a nice, believable storyline and a nice Bart and Lisa sub-plot. It was a good experience to see an episode that revolved around Barney for the first time. I liked the many good alcoholic jokes in this episode and the entire beginning sequence was nice. It’s good to see an episode where the story works nicely. The Simpsons writers need to continue writing episodes of this quality.

19. Kill the Alligator and Run

  • I honestly wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud at the very start of this episode, but I forgot all about Homer’s Montana Militia money (“It’ll be real soon enough…”)
  • Here we see the “great” brief running joke to come out of Maude’s death: Homer repeatedly forgetting she’s dead. Just like Frank Grimes, he has a very short memory when it comes to the people he’s inadvertently killed.
  • Re-watching “Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” I forgot they had inched Homer’s age up even further from 38 to 39, with Marge telling Homer his birthday was coming up, and now this episode “confirms” his new canonical age is 39. I know this was the result of the aging writing staff feeling horrified that they were becoming as old or older as the originally 34-year-old Homer, but I don’t like that he’s that old. Marge found out she was pregnant when the two of them were directionless young adults, turning their carefree lives upside-down, but now Bart would have been born when Homer was pushing 30.
  • Mr. Burns acting nervous around the health inspector and giving him kiss-ass compliments feels incredibly wrong. The real Burns would have insulted him while stuffing bribe money in his jacket pockets by now.
  • Structurally, this episode is a humongous mess. Homer is an anxious mess fearing death, then he instantly becomes a spring break party animal, then the family become fugitives, and temporarily adapt to being country folk. There’s nothing to hold onto. Right after Homer’s insomnia is miraculously cured after they arrive in Florida at the end of act one, George Meyer pipes up on the commentary, ”You’re usually in trouble in a story when you don’t take your own premise seriously.” Well, shit, that statement applies to the majority of episodes nowadays.
  • Kid Rock just performs what I assume is a typical concert for him, in another boringly normal guest appearance. Even his schtick with pouring a gigantic 40-gallon on a curb they wheel onto the stage doesn’t feel ridiculous enough. “Homerpalooza” featured some pretty big-name bands who all brought their own quirks to the party, while here, it’s just a Kid Rock concert played straight.
  • I really like the idea of the local sheriff being paid off to look the other way during spring break, I wish it had worked its way into a more effective joke than him just bluntly saying it aloud.
  • Falling asleep in the car being dragged by a train, working at a diner in the middle of the woods, catering a fancy dinner party in shackles… they really had no fucking idea what to do in the third act and decided to just throw everything and the kitchen sink in.
  • The magical whipping man thwarts the Simpsons’ escape by trapping them in a ring of fire, and their response is to applaud, impressed. Then a few seconds later, the fire is just gone. This is a great episode.
  • As someone who lived in Florida for five years, the biggest sin this episode commits is completely wasting their shot to rip apart what an awful state it is. Large portions of act three made it just seem like they were in the deep South, while Florida folk are like a whole other breed of Southern maniacs. Months after this episode aired, the 2000 election would result in Florida becoming a national punchline, but they could have beat them to the punch, but per usual in this era, they didn’t even try as far as satire is concerned.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:This episode is so crazy, it’s SUPERCRAZY! I mean, Homer has yet ANOTHER mid-life crisis, so he goes to see the plant shrink. Shrink tells him to go to Florida with his family. Then it starts getting funny. Very funny. The humor went a bit south in Act 3, but it’s no big deal. Heck, I think ALL 233+ episodes are funny, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that thought for the sake of sounding like a critic. In that wise, my grade for BABF16 is A+!”

20. Last Tap Dance in Springfield

  • Homer screams his lungs out getting laser eye surgery, just as he did with the leprosy treatments earlier this season. I recall a later episode where he screams while going to the dentist. Anytime they can get Dan Castellaneta to yell himself hoarse, it’s comedy gold to the writers, I guess.
  • “Tango de la Muerte” is pretty excellent, both as a piece in itself and Lisa’s adorably childlike enthusiasm watching it. Even something ridiculous like Mexican Milhouse is pretty funny. This exchange always makes me laugh (“Only one man was crazy enough to dance that dance, and he is dead! “My twin brother, Freduardo. But where he died, I shall live… in his apartment.”
  • This episode is held up on the shoulders of Little Vicki, who is really a very funny and entertaining character. I feel like I grumble a lot at Tress MacNeille’s overuse on this series, but she’s obviously an incredibly talented voice artist, and she’s just fantastic as Vicki. Almost all of her jokes land, and her discouragement-with-a-smiling-face to Lisa is great throughout (“You’ve just got to turn that frown upside-down! …that’s a smile, not an upside-down frown. Work on that, too!”)
  • The Little Vicki sign of her rotating finger against her cheek scraping against the metal is fantastic too.
  • The mall subplot is some light fun. Bart and Milhouse clowning around the mall at night feels similar to them messing around the abandoned factory in “Homer’s Enemy.” I’m not completely clear on the timeline though; the cops are called after their first night trashing the mall, then they stick around while the mall is closed and the police are bumbling around? Why wouldn’t they just leave since the heat was on? The mountain lion chase and Lou thinking the yarn in his mouth is the giant rat’s tail is kind of a whimper of an ending, but everything leading up to it was mostly enjoyable. Even Wiggum getting slammed with the ACME anvil got a laugh out of me.
  • Homer and Marge unknowingly pressuring Lisa to keep dancing even though she hates it still feels pretty contrived, like they needed a reason to explain why Lisa just doesn’t quit but didn’t bother weaving it into the story.
  • I feel like I’ve used “This plot is hard enough to follow as it is!” a number of times when I’ve had friends over to watch a stupid movie and they talk over it.
  • Even a simple story about Lisa taking up dance of course needs an over-the-top climax where her self-tapping shoes go out of control and she freaks out the audience. It’s certainly not bad by Scully era standards to be fair, and I like how it’s resolved by Homer just effortlessly tripping her, so that’s good. But then we get our actual ending where he gets shocked by Frink’s weasel ball and screams in agony. Man, those writers love to hear that man scream!
  • Looking back at my season 11 recap, why in the hell did I leave this out of the top 5 in favor of “Pygmoelian”? Did I hit my head or something?
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This is a lousy episode disguised as a neo-classic, using the formula of giving ATSers what they keep saying they want (more Lisa, less Jerkass Homer, Baby Gerald, etc.) to hide the fact that the writing is lazy and the script is a schizophrenic hydra spliced together by committee writers. Vicki is inconsistent and unlikable and the plot follows the road most traveled by. ‘Tap Dance’ reminded me of that old Alaska Airlines commercial where cheerful stewardesses on a competitor’s airline serve hungry passengers a measly bag of peanuts surrounded by plastic garnish. Bon appetit, my fellow Lisa lovers.”

21. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge

  • Otto’s engagement to Becky is pretty solid: the flashback to Woodstock ‘99, Otto’s skull ring, and the kids cheerily wildly out the windows as the STOP sign waves back and forth. The first three minutes of this episode are actually pretty good… until it isn’t.
  • Who is Becky? Does she have any family? Any friends? She appears to have no family present at the wedding, and is reliant on this family of strangers to take her in. She’s an absolute nothing of a character, an amorphous figure in the Simpson house to drive Marge off the deep end for no discernible reason. It’s not Parker Posey’s fault; at least she got to be in a much better Futurama episode around the same time.
  • Act two opens with a joke about Moe leaving Otto’s wedding. You remember all those great Moe-Otto scenes of seasons past? Man, those two work great off each other.
  • Why does Marge believe Patty and Selma’s bullshit about Becky wanting to kill her and steal Homer? The whole second act is this increasing build-up of Marge’s paranoia, but it honestly feels like we’re supposed to feel a bit uncertain about it too, with Marge’s cut brakes not going explained until the end by Homer. We do see him working on the car earlier, so it does connect, but maybe instead of making sure their bullshit mystery all connects, they could have focused on making Becky an actual character.
  • Wiggum is this episode’s MVP, with all of his appearances being genuinely funny, from when Marge first comes to her and refuses to help (“How about this: just show me the knife… in your back. Not too deep, but it should be able to stand by itself,”) to later when he apprehends her (“I thought you said the law was powerless.” “Powerless to help you, not punish you.”)
  • The third act is so bizarre, with Marge getting declared insane and her going on the run within like a minute of screen time. While she’s on her own journey to dig up dirt on Becky, we cut back to the Simpsons twice just sitting on the couch doing fuck all to try and find or help Marge. Bart and Homer talk about schoolyard rumors about Marge, and Krusty does a whole sketch about her, so how many days have passed that they’re just sitting on their asses not giving a shit about Marge’s safety and innocence?
  • The bait-and-switch-then-bait-again ending is so fucking terrible. The Simpson living room gets transformed into a dungeon… somehow. Where’d they get all those props? Complete with wallpaper that looks like cobblestone, I guess. Also, Marge would have been staring right at Lisa, who is revealed to be holding a video camera. But hey, I’m glad we paid off the running plot of Bart finding just the right thing to film for his school project. It’s so shitty that I can’t even muster energy to care about the reveal that Becky was planning on killing Marge. Like, who gives a shit?
  • And the final moment of the last “canon” episode of this re-watch is Homer tranquilizing his wife, who’s been on the run and missing for multiple days. And so ends another episode I will be glad to never watch again.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Talk about a perfect Marge episode. I have not seen anything like this since Marge went on the Lam. The way that Marge got in trouble is great, but including Patty and Selma, by having them make Marge paranoid, is classic. Becky’s upstaging of Marge at dinner, Marge being the victim of a cut brake line, how Marge stopped the wedding of Otto and Becky, and the Video tape project in Bart’s class, all happen to be Highlights of this episode which gets a perfect A+++ from me.

22. Behind the Laughter

  • I really wish this episode had no opening title sequence and just went straight to the Jim Forbes opening. You even have a fake out where you start with the Simpsons clouds and then it goes into the beginning of the documentary, it would have worked so much better if it didn’t start like a normal episode.
  • Jim Forbes just absolutely sells this episode, taking the gig as seriously as any other Behind the Music episode and performing his role to a T. Referring to Homer as a “penniless peckinpah,” his insistence on “figurative” storm clouds, there’s so many small little moments throughout the episode that he just nails. 
  • I love all the different lower third identifiers for each interviewee (Krusty: Embittered Comedy Legend, Moe: Local Hothead, Abe: Coot)
  • Simpsons Boogie obviously refers to “Simpsons Sing the Blues,” and I have to say, despite my lifelong obsession with the series and my engagement of all sorts of related media, I’ve never listened to that album. I randomly found “The Yellow Album” at a Best Buy and listened to that, being very confused as to why Homer and Linda Rondstadt were singing a ballad. I can’t imagine how much better “Blues” is compared to that. I’ve heard “Do the Bartman” and “Deep, Deep Trouble” thanks to the inclusion of their music videos on the season 2 DVD. “Trouble” is actually pretty damn catchy, it’s got a great hook, I guess thanks to DJ Jazzy Jeff. 
  • “I want to set the record straight: I thought the cop was a prostitute.” I feel like there are a number of ways you can interpret this joke, and none of them come out well for Homer.
  • The joke about Lenny and Carl being paid to kiss is okay, but Jim Forbes coming in afterward referring to the Simpsons’ “reckless spending and interracial homoerotica” made me laugh out loud hard. I tell you, Forbes just killed it here.
  • The only big wince I give this episode is the Homer getting hurt split screen, with the narration about how his addiction to painkillers “was the only way he could perform the bone-cracking physical comedy that made him a star.” The clips shown are all post-season 9, and I don’t recall much bone-cracking physical comedy out of the first few seasons, do you? It’s all terrible recent shit of Homer screaming in pain like an annoying asshole. Funnily enough, when we cut back to Homer talking, the clips we see on the TV are of older seasons (Homer clung to the wrecking ball in “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” Homer hit by the chair in the tub in “A Milhouse Divided.”) Now why are those bits so funny and the other clips suck? Why indeed.
  • Marge’s scolding, personalized diaphragms is definitely a gag I did not understand watching as a kid.
  • Ah, the “gimmicky premises and nonsensical plots” bit. Really sticking it to Oakley, Weistein and Ken Keller, just shouting at them “fuck you” for that Armin Tamzarian episode. In what must be a purposeful joke, I like how the “trendy guest stars” list includes the likes of Butch Patrick and Tom Kite. We also get our second instance of reusing Gary Coleman’s karate noises (or Sir Gary Coleman as he’s credited). 
  • They reference a Simpsons newspaper comic at the end that Homer allegedly writes, which I guess is just a joke, but a few years after this episode, Bongo Comics actually did syndicate a Sunday comic strip that lasted I think barely a year. I remember seeing it advertised in their Simpsons comics but it never made it to my local paper, sadly.
  • “This’ll be the last season.” If only, Homer, my friend. If only.
  • This episode is still great, especially given the season it’s in, but as a gimmick episode, I feel like it’s slightly diminishing returns each time I watch it. I remember when I was younger, I just loved this episode because of how unique and high concept it was, but now, I just see it as a pretty solid and entertaining experimental episode that would have made a damn good series finale.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “What the hell was that? Why do they expect us to take them seriously when they no longer do so themselves? As a parody of the documentaries about old TV which is now the rage, this was passable, but as a canonical episode of OFF this was an abomination. When has it ever been suggested that the Simpsons are actors playing themselves on TV? This treatment of the Simpsons cast is not faithful to the dramatic context. I give it an F.”

Season 11 episodes I wouldn’t kick out of bed in the morning: “Brother’s Little Helper,” “Treehouse of Horror X,” “E-I-E-I-D’oh!,” “Grift of the Magi,” “Last Tap Dance in Springfield,” “Behind the Laughter”

706. The Last Barfighter

Original airdate: May 23, 2021

The premise: Moe participates in Homer and company’s drunken night out for the first time ever, breaking the sacred bartender-customer oath of the secret society he belongs to, resulting in every bartender in Springfield being out to get them.

The reaction: Season 28’s “Treehouse of Horror XXVII” featured a segment with Moe in a secret society of bartenders in a half-baked Kingsmen parody. Four years later, we’re doing John Wick, except it’s a normal episode and it’s three times as long. The concept of “The Confidential” is kind of interesting: a place where bartenders can share their woes, but always must keep the secrets told to them in confidence by their clientele. We open with Moe toasting to the grand institution, which begs the question, why is Moe such a lonely, miserably sad sack when he has all of these other bartenders who are open to talk with him? Instead, he’s touched that Homer and the guys ask him to drink with him, and they go all out on a raucous, drunken night, during which Moe blabs a bunch of secrets told to him by other bartenders (again, indicating he belongs to a social circle), breaking the Confidential’s code. Not only is Moe expelled from the organization, his regulars are being hunted by other bartenders to be injected with “anti-booze,” which will make them sober forever. All of this is absolutely ridiculous, of course, and has the feel of an extended Halloween episode. It’s also a “parody” in the usual sense that it just recreates visuals and plot elements from a film without even trying to satirize it. Just as the Kingsman “parody” featured a sequence imitating the elaborate church fight scene from the first movie, this episode has Moe fighting like John Wick in the street against a bunch of bartenders, subbing a gun for his trusty bar rag. None of the fight choreography is particularly entertaining or creative, especially when stood up against the exhilarating and fun action sequences of the John Wick movies. Homer, Lenny, Carl and Barney all end up getting de-boozed, but flash forward three months, we see that they’ve all greatly improved their lives now that they’re sober. They track down Moe to gloat about it, but when they find him miserably working at an omelette bar, they make amends and return to Moe’s (which Moe still has, I guess), wanting Moe to be their bartender again, even serving just water. Then the Confidential head magically appears in the bar, offering them all an antidote to the anti-booze because the episode is almost over and we need to reset the world. For an episode supposedly parodying an exciting action film series, one that I very much enjoy, this show felt particularly boring, and a really tired way to close out the season.

Three items of note:
– After the opening with Moe, Bart and Milhouse end up in the audience of Bumblebee Man’s late night talk show, an exciting affair filled with ridiculous game show segments and Horchata sponsorships. It felt kind odd that we get entire lines of dialogue from Bumblebee Man and the audience in Spanish with no subtitles, like you can follow what’s going on (and Milhouse helpfully shouts explanations to Bart from the audience when he’s brought on stage), but none of it felt particularly funny and was mostly just time wasting. Bart’s prize from the show is a crystal skull bottle of tequila, which Homer eventually gets his hands on (through a Raiders of the Lost Ark opening parody, inevitably reminding me of the superior “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love” sequence) and shares with everyone at the bar. A credits scene features the broken bottle magically regenerating and speaking ominously to the kids in Spanish. It’s not like a bilingual bonus joke, where you understanding the language is an additional joke; in the case of the Bumblebee Man scene and the ending, it’s just full Spanish dialogue and that’s it.
– Ian McShane voices Artemis, the leader of the Confidential, appearing in a similar role as his John Wick character. I really don’t even know how you would parody a series as ridiculous and over-the-top as John Wick. You could comment on its gratuitous, exaggerated violence, I guess, but it kind of feels redundant to what the series does anyway, and certainly not something you could do on a network show. Maybe something on Adult Swim could do it. Or maybe Robot Chicken will do a shitty John Wick sketch. They probably already have, but I don’t care to look it up.
– In the end, Homer is the only one who chooses not to take the antidote, prompting Artemis for some reason to put out a Confidential hit for him to be re-boozed. Sober Homer is shown to be a wonderful husband and father, fully functioning at work after his new promotion, noticeably thinner, with everything going great for him. I was expecting him to be as quick to jump on the antidote as the others and that being the tired joke, but him choosing to keep his new, better life, only to be doggedly chased down and forced to be an alcoholic again felt a little bit sad, even if it really doesn’t even matter.

And with that, that’s a wrap for yet another season, and boy howdy, can you believe it was a real stinker? This honestly may have been the worst season yet, but ranking anything within the past decade of this show feels so unnecessarily granular to me, since it’s all been pretty terrible. I always held season 28 to be the worst, with the ensuing few seasons after feeling not quite as bad, but looking back at the episode list this year, this felt like a particularly sorry crop. Season 31 had the surprisingly enjoyable “Thanksgiving of Horror,” while this season, I can’t point to one episode I even halfway enjoyed (the closest being “The Road to Cincinnati,” enjoying the impulse of an honest Skinner/Chalmers episode, but not the execution.) Meanwhile, my worst episode list is bursting at the seams (“The 7 Beer Itch,” “Sorry Not Sorry,” “Diary Queen,” “Yokel Hero,” “Do PizzaBots Dream of Electric Guitars?,” “Manger Things,” “Burger Kings,” “Mother and Child Reunion.”) But one thing I can say, I’m genuinely curious about the future of the show for the first time in years, but only because of the world outside the show itself, thanks to their new corporate overlords. The FOX acquisition by Disney has been over and done with for a few years, and the upcoming 33rd production season is the first one actually ordered by Disney. Meanwhile, The Simpsons  still airs first-run on FOX, who has no ownership of the show anymore, while Fox Entertainment, the FOX-owned media branch that formed after the Disney buy, is busy creating their own slate of new animated series, starting with Housebroken, which premieres next week, as well as Dan Harmon’s Krapopolis, and I’m sure more to come. Despite the dwindling popularity of The Simpsons and Family Guy, it’s probably still very important for FOX to hold onto them to anchor their Sunday nights, but I imagine their goal is to create their own new animated hit that they can reap all the financial rewards of. When (and if) that happens, they might see less and less need to air shows that their major competitor owns. Meanwhile, who’s to say Disney might not want to move The Simpsons onto FXX? Or Freeform? Or cancel the series as it is and revamp it in a new streaming format altogether? I’m not aware of all the ins and outs between Disney and the FOX network airing the show, and at what point that might change, but suffice to say, I have to imagine sometime in this next decade, there’s going to be a major shift in the show for sure. Whether that be a channel hop, a new movie, or the end of the series, it all remains to be seen. And seen it shall be, come this fall, when we dive headfirst into season 33. That’s right, for yet another year, it’s back into the toilet I go.

As for the blog, there’s the last few Revisited posts to come: the finale of season 11, The Simpsons Movie, and a small conclusion post for the 10th anniversary of the blog. Stay tuned!

Season Eleven Revisited (Part Three)

12. The Mansion Family

  • This episode came out at the height of Britney Spears’ popularity, and they just gave her normal lines to read, in a tremendous display of a total lack of creativity. Why in the living hell is one of the biggest pop artists of the time hosting an awards show in a small town?
  • Probably this episode’s only significant cultural export is this frame grab of Lenny.
  • Why is Mr. Burns even at the Springfield Pride Awards? I kind of thought it was weird he was at the Chuck Garabadian seminar in “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” but it makes a little sense if you don’t think about it too long. But here, it makes no sense at all.
  • “Who’s that fellow who always screws up and creates havoc?” “Homer Simpson, sir?” “Yes! The way I see it, he’s due for a good performance!” And just like that, reality is broken. The show has done meta commentary about how all relevant events of Springfielders lives seem to always come back to the Simpsons, but this is just the writers throwing their hands up and going fuck it, we don’t care if it makes sense, we just want to write a story where Homer pretends to be a rich guy. Also, why does Burns even need house sitters at all? The Simpsons don’t have any specific duties to tend to during their stay. How many days does he need to just go to the Mayo Clinic and back? And why are Burns and Smithers taking a normal taxi? Aaaaaagggggggh.
  • There’s no story to be had whatsoever in this episode. Homer wants to be a high-rolling rich guy, pretends to be one, then some crazy shit happens, and then he’s back home lamenting he’s not rich. That’s it. His international waters boat party is just a crazy random thing that happens in our third act, as a crowd of recognizable faces joins him to hoot and holler. Moe, Apu, Krusty… it’s like the Super Bowl mob in “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday” all over again.
  • The only scene I like in this episode is Burns’ diagnosis of having every disease ever, but them all existing in “perfect balance.” It’s a bit of a silly conclusion, but it’s a humorous explanation of why a decrepit old skeleton like Burns is still alive.
  • We got pirates as our ending. And one of them has four shoulder parrots. They capture everybody in a giant net ball, plummet them into the ocean where we see shark fins, then the sharks are gone as the net ball magically floats and over two-thirds of the people drowned, I guess. I can’t wait to never watch this episode again.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:More proof OFF’s writers still have it. Except for a few ludicrous moments during the last act (the ‘net in the water’ gag, for example), nothing was horribly wrong. Both of the ‘in-jokes’ were excellent. I liked both Homer’s gang in international waters, and Burns at the Mayo Clinic. Even Britney Spears’s appearance was pretty cool.”

13. Saddlesore Galactica

  • I like the brief bits we see of Mr. Largo at the beginning and his startling lack of imagination (“I thought for once we could play a song that wasn’t written by Sousa.” ”You mean something just arranged by Sousa?”)
  • At least the state fair is kind of fun, right before the episode starts to plummet off a cliff. OmniGogs and the punchline with Lenny is good, and Homer yelling at BTO to play their two hit songs is alright.
  • Why does Bart care so much about Duncan right away? They tried to pepper in a few moments of him encouraging and bonding with the horse, but it doesn’t play at all. But I guess his quick plea is enough to convince Marge to take the damn horse with them. Why not? We also have the meta Comic Book Guy scene, which honestly, isn’t really that necessary. The two episodes are about the Simpsons getting horses, but the set-ups and executions are so wildly different, I may not have even put the connection together if the writers hadn’t shone a big spotlight onto the fans of their show and told them to shut the fuck up. It certainly feels like the first big moment (of many) trying to excuse their shoddy writing by highlighting it as a “joke.”
  • Act two ends with a sad beat after Duncan loses his first race, and I’m wondering why exactly I should give a shit. There’s zero investment to be had in Homer and Bart’s racehorse plan, other than I guess it’s like a Honeymooners-esque get rich quick scheme. But to what end?
  • Furious D acting like a human sucks. There have been a few times where Matt Groening’s “animals should only act like animals” rule has been broken that have been funny (the pets attempting to speak in “Bart Gets an Elephant.”) This is not one of them.
  • The fucking elves. The fucking elves. Jockeys are short, so they’re elves who live in a Keebler treehouse. They keep themselves secret until they fire a cannon in broad daylight and chase Homer and Bart through town. Then they’re sprayed with water, shoved into a trash bag and left on the curb. What more could I possibly add?
  • I kind of liked how peeved Lisa was at the Ogdenville band’s glow stick-assisted win, but the President Clinton ending is just terrible. Also, his final lesson he gives to Lisa (”If things don’t go your way, just keep complaining until your dreams come true”) aged like milk considering the stolen 2000 election nine months after this aired.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Coming just days after a Salon article outlining the growing rift between the show’s writers and many internet fans is a rather blatant attack on this newsgroup. The show responded to criticism that the show is no longer realistic with one of the most outrageous episodes ever. And to be honest, I laughed so hard through most of it — especially the frequent appearances by the Comic Book Guy — that I really don’t mind having been slagged in this manner. Say what you like about the character development and outrageous plots of late, but the show has rarely been this funny.”

14. Alone Again, Natura-Diddly

  • Marge is a-OK with her and the family crossing a busy racetrack, and with Bart riding along with a racecar driver whose car just flipped over and burst into flames. Cool.
  • Before he inadvertently causes Maude’s death, Homer gets the pit crew to work on his car before booking it, causing a big pileup of cars on the track. What a wonderful man.
  • It’s pretty sad that the impetus of this entire episode was FOX being too cheap to keep paying Maggie Roswell. At the time, she was commuting from Denver to Los Angeles to record her lines and asked for a couple grand per episode raise, and FOX countered with a measly $150. But Roswell leaving resulted in the unceremonious killing off of Maude in the bluntest way possible. It’s honestly pretty awful how she just gets flung off the bleachers, it feels so tonally improper for this show.
  • The funeral filled with meta references about Maude’s role on the show and the few “permanent” changes the series has made like Apu’s kids and Kirk and Luann’s divorce is early proof that the show doesn’t give a shit about treating this serious in-universe event with any sort of realism. This show has done so many wonderful, touching and poignant episodes about death, with this one feeling like the drooling, inbred stepchild of the bunch.
  • In an episode ostensibly about Maude’s death, it really isn’t dealt with at all. To be fair, we really barely knew anything about Ned and Maude’s relationship, so you can dive too deep into specifics, but if that’s the case, then just don’t bother doing the episode. Rod and Todd disappear after the wake until the very end, we don’t even see Ned talking to his boys about their dead mom. 
  • “Do you even have a job anymore?” “I think it’s pretty obvious that I don’t.” Great writing, guys. Again, this is an episode about a significant character’s death, and Homer’s having a giddy old time shooting and editing a videotape and hiding in mailboxes.
  • We see that Lisa is the one who edited Ned’s dating tape, so I guess that means Homer had his daughter review footage of Ned naked in the shower with his enormous schlong. Now that’s parenting!
  • I forgot that one of the women Ned goes on a date with is Edna, so I guess Nedna was planned all along! Or maybe it’s because this show has incredibly few women characters, and even fewer single ones. They had to invent a new third woman; if this episode had aired a few seasons later, they would have had Ned go to dinner with the Crazy Cat Lady.
  • The back half of this episode has shades of “Viva Ned Flanders” where Ned keeps going to Homer to find out what the next part of the episode is. Again, where are his children? Who’s watching those boys during his father’s dates? It would take almost two decades to get to an episode where one of the Flanders boys deals with their mother’s death, and it was goddamn fucking horrible.
  • Rachel Jordan’s song is so long and so boring. She would return the following season and then never again, leaving Ned more or less a permanent bachelor until Nedna twelve years later, except for that one episode where he dated not-Marisa Tomei. Like all the “permanent” changes this show executed during this era, the series didn’t change at all. Neither Ned nor his sons acted any differently after this, and as I’ve mentioned before several times, killing off Maude completely ruins Ned as the subject of Homer’s envy for the perfect family. It’s an episode pretending to be emotional and serious, but if you look closely at it, you’ll clearly see that it’s actually a steaming pile of horse shit.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This was a surprise. I think this episode is comparable to season 2: mostly realistic, emphasizing character, and disappointingly short on laugh-out-loud humor.  Flanders is portrayed more like a real person than in any previous episode centering around him, while Homer is a well-meaning schemer who (gasp!) actually helps Ned out. The first two minutes were weak and the last two minutes were rushed, making it seem as if Rachel Jordan will return (most likely she’ll be voiced by Tress Macneille).  Rachel seems much more interesting as a character than the relatively bland Maude, and I hope we shall see her again. It was also wonderful that they didn’t have a cheesy scene where Maude reappears to Ned as a ghost. I didn’t think they could pull this episode off with dignity and maturity, but they did!”

15. Missionary: Impossible

  • “Do Shut Up,” the PBS drive (with prizes like a tote bag and an umbrella with a picture of the tote bag), the Pledge Enforcement Van, all of that stuff is alright, if not stretched out a bit too much. Then we get the PBS mob with Yo-Yo Ma and Big Bird swooping in like a hawk and I start thinking of those damn jockey elves again. It’s all just a big pointless time sink because they only had two acts of material for the missionary plot (and could barely even fit that).
  • This episode is almost entirely disposable, but it did give us “Jebus.” I guess we can be thankful for that.
  • So much of this episode, we’re stuck with annoying Homer on the island on his own with no one to challenge or rebuff him in any way. Over the ham radio, Marge mentions that Ned is jealous of Homer’s mission work. Why couldn’t he and Homer have gone to the island together and have butted heads on how best to help the natives? Instead, it’s just Homer let loose to lick toads and kill pelicans by pouring cement down their throats.
  • Bart posing as Homer at work and at home is another joke that’s kind of cute in concept, but just serves to further destroy the reality of the series.
  • This is gonna be my shortest write-up yet, because I really don’t have a lot to say on this one. Like I said, with Homer functioning solo on the island, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot happens. He introduces sin to the natives, makes good by building the chapel, and then we get our cop-out ending. I feel like in a much, much better episode, they could get away with this kind of meta slap-in-the-face, but based on the crap I just watched, Rupert Murdoch working the FOX telethon isn’t enough to redeem this mess.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I was really impressed with this one. It had satire, cultural references, and an overall feeling that was reminiscent of the best seasons of the show. It also incorporated the silliness of recent seasons, but in an interesting way that I did not find disagreeable. I loved the way the writers played with the conventions of the television industry, especially the Fox telethon cutting off the Homer plot. Anyway, by adding up all of the positive points, and subtracting a couple for the gratuitous and relatively unfunny chase scene, my final grade for this episode is an A.

16. Pygmoelian

  • I don’t care for Homer’s fake fire alarm getting us to Duff Days, but there’s some pretty good bits while we’re there: Marge stuck in the Designated Driver Fun Zone (“When I get home, there’s gonna be a lot of open pickle jars,”) the drunk simulator (Milhouse’s dizzy “This is the guy…” always cracks me up), and the grand return of Duffman, who hasn’t worn out his welcome yet. Moe’s two opponents are also great bartender stereotypes, and I absolutely buy Duffman as the type who would sleep with a woman and walk back on his promise to help her win (“Duffman says a lot of things! Oh yeah!!”) 
  • The first act break with Carl talking to camera (“See, this is why I don’t talk much,”) is strange. Aside from the fourth wall breaking which I usually always hate, Carl has never come off as soft-spoken to me. He and Lenny seem to talk just as regularly, so the joke that Carl usually keeps his hurtful opinions to himself doesn’t make sense. On top of that, immediately into act two, everybody makes hurtful remarks and observations about Moe, so everyone is just as mean as him. 
  • “There’s too much emphasis on looks these days. That’s why they won’t let Bill Maher on TV before midnight.” Goddamn, I forgot how fucking long Bill Maher has been allowed on TV. Can he just go away already? 
  • The elephant balloon “subplot” is so strange, since we introduce the balloon at the end of act one and then it gets two scenes to conclude in act two. It’s more of a runner than a story, and is pretty transparent filler. By the time Moe gets his plastic surgery, there’s only eight minutes of show left; it’s literally the plot of the episode, and they couldn’t even fill time for half a show? The punchline with the gay Republicans is fine, I guess, but it felt like a long, unnecessary road to get there.
  • After the surgery, Homer basically becomes attached to Moe, be it gleefully attempting to commit arson or just hanging out backstage with Moe at the soap opera for whatever reason. It’s literally, “When Homer’s not on screen, everyone should ask, ‘Where’s Homer?’” On that note, Moe gets on the soap opera by just wandering onto the set with the good fortune of arriving just when another actor was about to be fired, and then he just gets hired on the spot. It’s all just so slapdash and random. We never really get into why Moe likes acting or what he gets out of it, he just does it because that’s the plot that they wrote.
  • I’m sure I bitched about this last time, but they’re apparently shooting the fucking soap opera live and the producer just lets Homer keep running his mouth instead of cutting the feed, despite her horror at spoiling a whole year’s worth of storylines. Is this really the best fucking conclusion they could come up with? I mean, considering they didn’t even bother writing how Moe got his old face back and decided to just comment on how nonsensical it was instead, I guess they just didn’t care about any of it.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:A little extreme wackiness is occasionally a good thing, but it’s always good to come back to a solid plot-line with good quasi-reality-based humor. I saw this solid performance in ‘Pygmoelian,’ and it made me happy. There were several laugh-out-loud moments, such as the return of Duff Man and Moe’s liquor license. However, I do have one complaint. Where did the balloon subplot go? I would’ve liked to have seen the balloon show up in the later scenes back at home. Anyway, keep ’em coming. Season 11’s turning out all right!”

17. Bart to the Future

  • “Hey, an Indian casino!” Why bother trying to write set-ups in your script when you can just have a character announce a location and they just go to it?
  • I feel a little bad that this awful episode has the unceremonious return (and only reappearance, I think?) of Arthur Crandall and Gabbo. It makes total sense that the two are washed up has-beens playing small venues, though. And why Gabbo did display some degree of “sentience” in “Krusty Gets Kancelled,” it’s still weird that Crandall reacts to Bart like Gabbo’s turned human.
  • Future Bart and his 10-year-old voice sucks. I’ve said all this stuff before, but I don’t like future visions of Bart as a childish loser, it feels less creative and believable than him either straightening his act together, or just being a blue-collar slob. He also lives with Ralph, because why not, I guess, whose voice is also the same. 
  • The biggest “Lisa’s Wedding” contrast I can make is that while almost all of the future gags in “Wedding” were mostly believable and achievable technological and societal advances, the future gags here are all goofs that would be rejected from Futurama scripts (virtual fudge, BrainVision News, etc.) There’s also a couple meta gags about how characters seem aware that they’re in “the future,” which tears at the reality as well.
  • Obligatory President Trump mention. He really invested in our nation’s children, didn’t he? It’s also not an “accurate” prediction since Lisa mentions she’s the first “straight female President,” implying a lesbian or bi President before her. That almost ties into the “Gay President in 2084” joke from the last episode, which sadly still feels like too generous of a prediction. And speaking of predictions, they might have accidentally hit on Trump, but the Chastity Bono shout-out turned out to be a big swing and a miss.
  • The Lincoln’s gold subplot is just complete boring filler, as the episode itself even acknowledges.
  • There’s no emotional narrative to latch onto considering that Bart is a directionless mooch who’s just kind of floating around Lisa’s orbit and ruining everything for the latter half of the episode. The Secret Service can’t lock that guy in a closet while Lisa’s doing her address to the nation? Then we’re supposed to feel bad when Bart’s at Camp David, and his “redemption” is that he buys Lisa maybe a day’s worth of time to repay America’s debts. And that’s the happy ending, I guess. As bad as this episode is, I would most definitely watch it over the recent future episode “Mother and Child Reunion.” Of the eight future episodes so far, this one probably falls in the lower-middle somewhere, as sad as that may be.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:When you compare this episode with ‘Lisa’s Wedding,’ this episode was a little better for me. Despite a so-so first act, the episode really picked up when Lisa became president. Bart’s behavior during Lisa’s speech was very funny. I liked the way Bart uncovered her lie so very much. Another highlight was the search for Lincoln’s Gold, and how Bart got the foreign leaders to think that America paid its bills.”

705. The Man From G.R.A.M.P.A.

Original airdate: May 16, 2021

The premise: After fifty years of searching, a British spy arrives in Springfield to unmask the Russian spy known as “The Grey Fox,” who he believes is Abe Simpson, enlisting Homer in planning his capture.

The reaction: There’s been a couple episodes this season where the lead character is a one-off guest star (Olivia Coleman in “The 7 Year Itch,” Ellie Kemper in “A Springfield Summer Christmas for Christmas,” Megan Mullally in “Uncut Femmes,”) and they’ve all come off very confusing and awkward. There’s varying levels of attempt to actually develop these new characters into someone you actually give a shit about following through a story, but this show can barely create engaging stories with its thirty-plus-year-old leads, let alone brand-new ones. Our focal point this time around is Terrence, an M15 agent who’s been hunting for a Russian spy for fifty years, finally arriving in Springfield to take down our very own Abe Simpson. First he must get Homer to help him, working to convince him his father is actually a spy, for reasons I’m not really sure why. How hard is it to apprehend a doddering old man like Abe? This is also one of those episodes where it’s treating its story a bit more seriously than most. Both acts end on dramatic moments with no jokes, there’s tense music as Homer considers whether his father is actually a spy, the two end up tied up in Terrence’s trunk and make tearful amends… but as usual, there’s literally nothing specific for me to latch onto to make me care. Terrence believes Abe, the Grey Fox, is getting nuclear secrets from Homer, but how? And to what end? He’s been doing this over fifty years and nothing of note has happened because of it? He implies that Abe’s influence is why Homer’s never been fired for his years of negligence, but how does that make sense? Also, Homer’s only worked at the plant for ten years, so what was Abe doing for the other forty? There’s no attempt to give us any information that might make us interested. Terrence gathers the barflies around to tell his life story, but then we just get a music montage of him talking. In the end, Terrence’s daughter reveals that his father is retired and is just deluded in his own senility, and Homer and Abe are saved before any tension can escalate or anything that might possibly be interesting happens. This one was a real snoozer; so many episodes feel like there was so little effort given in the writing, but this one seemed to completely fall asleep at the very premise. Abe is suspected of being a spy… that’s good enough, when’s lunch?

Three items of note:
–  In the M15 flashback from fifty years ago, Terrence knows that the Grey Fox was part of the Flying Hellfish battalion and is in a small town with a nuclear plant. Wouldn’t there be some available recorded list of all the Hellfish soldiers? It’s not like it’s a secret. Springfield Cemetery has a Hellfish monument, that’s where they all were from. We also see from Terrence’s dossier that the Grey Fox is confirmed to be living in a town called Springfield. He doesn’t mention it aloud in the flashback, but it seems like this is the original report as the paper is all aged and ripped. So how many small towns with a nuclear plant are Springfields? How the hell did it take Terrence fifty goddamn years to find Abe?
– It’s really jarring anytime the show uses live action footage, which seems to happen at least once or twice a season now. In the Retirement Castle rec room, we see an old black-and-white live action movie playing on the big TV. I don’t know what it is, but I assume it’s some kind of old spy movie. Later, on the boardwalk, there’s a sign gag, “Joseph Cotten Candy,” featuring a real photo of old film star Joseph Cotten. I don’t know how many people actually know who Joseph Cotten is, but I’ll tell you what’s not going to help sell the joke: putting his actual fucking picture on screen. Was it worth it just to sell your awful pun? I guess he was in some old spy pictures? Both of these inclusions feel like another example of this show sometimes doing plot lines or extended references to source material that feels way too old for anyone in the audience to get. I really don’t know what the demographic breakdown of this show is anymore, but I would hazard a guess a lot more younger people watch it than senior citizens, who are the only people who could appreciate a Joseph Cotten reference, or a whole episode about the 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird film.
– Speaking of old references, Orson Welles (voiced by Maurice LaMarche, of course) makes an inexplicable cameo at the boardwalk getting on a Ferris wheel. I have no idea why he’s there, he just is, because why not. There was another recent episode within the last few years that featured Welles, and it feels weird that they’re still trotting this impression out. LaMarche’s Orson Welles is impeccable, without question, but both Pinky & the Brain and the infamous “green pea-ness” scene from The Critic are almost thirty years old. If you’re going to re-use the character so many times, you should have something new or interesting for him to do. The first time The Simpsons used LaMarche was in a Halloween episode fifteen years ago that recreated Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast, which was actually a pretty creative idea. Here, the joke is that Orson Welles was fat so they put a bowling ball on his Ferris wheel seat to balance the weight. Worth it!

Season Eleven Revisited (Part Two)

6. Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder

  • How did Krusty manage to swing getting “Where’s Waldo?” on the back of his cereal boxes? That seems like quite the get. The kitchen scene at the beginning is one of three muted attempts to set up the Homer-Maggie bonding plot turn, but they’re spread out so far apart and don’t feel like they’re meaningful whatsoever, so it still feels completely abrupt when we get to the third act. It doesn’t help that all three acts feel like three completely different stories to begin with.
  • Mr. Burns just stands motionless as Homer repeatedly gropes his face and yanks out his dentures (causing new ones to regenerate with a cash register noise). Then Homer is forced to eat dozens of barrels worth of toxic waste. What a stupid wacky cartoon this show has turned into.
  • Homer starts to bowl a perfect game out of his hatred of Mr. Burns, and serving as a catharsis at the end of such a bad day, but that never really feels like the case. He overslept for an entire day, was late for work, and ran away screaming from his boss. It’s not like Bart’s bad day at the beginning of “Bart the Murderer” where we have any kind of sympathy for his misfortunes. Homer used to be the king of bad luck and unfortunate circumstance, but now he’s a raving lunatic who more often than not creates his own problems, so I don’t really care about anything that happens to him as a result.
  • Homer the celebrity sucks. I feel like Homer bowling a perfect game making him a town hero is a plot that might have worked in like season 2, but at this point, the man’s toured with rock stars, won a Grammy, and been into outer space, why would anyone give that much of a shit about this? Homer spends all of act two acting self-important and trying to pathetically hold onto his minor level of fame, and it all sucks.
  • The celebrities on Springfield Squares are an odd bunch: Krusty, Sideshow Mel, Rainier Wolfcastle, and Bumblebee Man all check out. Princess Kashmir is an odd get, but I guess maybe she’s the most famous nightclub dancer in town? Capital City Goofball is a weird inclusion, being the mascot of a rival city’s baseball team. Then we have Itchy & Scratchy, who appear to be real? It’s not like they’re on a TV screen as animations, they’re actually on the set reacting in real time. It’s very odd.
  • This episode is bursting at the seams with pointless guest stars, none more pointless than Pat O’Brien and Nancy O’Dell, who are inexplicably hosting Access Springfield for some reason. But at least it made me remember the infamous Pat O’Brien tapes of him calling a woman he wanted to fuck and do coke with, which in turn made me think of the Howard Stern show prank call where they called a sex line using O’Brien’s voice, resulting in them eventually hanging up. Funny stuff.
  • I’m sure I talked about last time how dumb and abrupt Homer’s suicide attempt is. The organized line of jumpers at the top of the building feels a bit too grim of a joke… although I guess the escalator to nowhere is no different in concept.
  • A new story begins in act three where Homer tries to give his life meaning by being a good father, but quickly gives up on his first two kids to focus exclusively on Maggie. Up to this point, we’ve seen Maggie is sad that Homer is neglecting her, missing her tea party and being sad she wouldn’t help feed her, but in act three, all she does is try to get away from him, so it doesn’t make sense at all. It’s odd that Marge doesn’t appear at all until the very end, this plot would definitely have felt more substantial if she had checked in on Homer and gave him some advice or guidance or fucking something that might resemble plot progression or any kind of cohesion to the entire episode. Instead, Homer almost drowns and Maggie becomes Super-Baby to drag a 250+ pound man to shore. Awesome.
  • Looking back at my Season 11 final thoughts, I’m shocked that this episode didn’t make the bottom five. To be fair, I’ve got a lot of season left to watch, but this sticks out as one of the worst of the Scully era. Episodes like “Kill the Alligator and Run” and “Saddlesore Galactica” stand out more for their more absurd, reality-breaking elements, but this episode not only also has a bunch of that shit (eating toxic waste, real-life Itchy & Scratchy, CHUDs and mole people), but desperately attempts to be an emotional family episode at the very end (which makes sense since he wrote it). Al Jean’s solo scripts really took such a tumble; “Lisa’s Sax” and “Mom and Pop Art” are quite good, but then in barely a season’s time, we get this, “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?” and “Day of the Jackanapes.” Then he takes over the show as executive producer, and a decade plus later, every season or so, we get an episode he wrote, and they’re all pretty notably bad (“I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” and “Daddicus Finch” being especially terrible). All five of my previous “worst” picks are garbage, but this is such a train wreck, it’s gotta be bottom three, easy.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Well, now THIS was a great breath of fresh air! Hardly any wackiness (Maggie saving Homer was a spoof on an urban legend, so I don’t count that as wacky), a GREAT use of the townspeople, quick celebrity cameos rather than basing an entire episode around them, great gags, and a non-jerkarse Homer, and one who CARES about his family to boot! Man, if all of season 11 is going to be like this, I’ll be a happy Simpsonite. The most enjoyable ep since ‘Miracle on Evergreen Terrace,’ IMO.”

7. Eight Misbehavin’

  • Were IKEA stores recently expanding in the 90s that prompted this SHOP opening scene? It really makes me crave IKEA breakfast and Swedish meatballs. The IKEA in Burbank is the largest in the US, and it’s pretty dang neato.
  • Since “I’m With Cupid” established the writers have no particular interest in exploring Apu and Manjula’s relationship, I guess they figured why the hell not give them some kids, that’ll eat up an episode. I mean, Manjula should really have at least one distinct character trait other than nagging wife, right? Whatever. At least their scenes leading up to the pregnancy have some good jokes (“All that sex for nothing!” “Well, that is a pretty grim assessment,” the pregnancy tests with slot machine symbols)
  • Apu enlists his best pal Homer to help him conceive, because of course he does. Remember his brother Sanjay? Maybe he could talk with him about it? Instead, Homer tears the roof off of Apu’s car and leers at Apu and Manjula making out like a creepy pervert. What a guy!
  • This episode keeps reminding me of “Octomom,” but that was like a decade after this episode aired. I guess mothers with six+ kids were common topics on daytime TV, so that’s what this is kind of a riff on, but all of the media circus and bizarre zoo third act come at the expense of any sort of emotional element from Apu and Manjula. In a way, it’s kind of the opposite of this season’s “The Dad-Feeling Limited.” That episode sucked, but at least they gave Comic Book Guy a believable reason why he would even consider having children and why he would like it. That’s more than can be said here.
  • Hank Azaria is pretty funny as an exhausted Apu; his line reading after going off with Larry Kidkill is especially great (“But you don’t know who he is!” “Who cares, there’s only one of him!”)
  • The zoo plot is incredibly strange. Why would Octopia be such a big draw? A mother having eight babies is a peculiar human interest story for like a day, but they’re made out to be this big attraction at the zoo, the majority of the time being eight babies in a nursery, where we see zoo attendants enraptured and pressed up against the glass. They’re just babies, literally any other animal is more fascinating to watch than them. Again, the writers had no real interest in a real Apu/Manjula story. This show could have been about the Lovejoys having octuplets and there would’ve been no difference.
  • Chief Wiggum gets a pretty good scene, clearly being paid off by the zoo in peanuts and giving Apu his blessing to take the law into his own hands (“Y’know, a lot of people are doing that these days”)
  • The episode ends with Octopia being replaced by Homer and Butch Patrick riding a unicycle through a stage full of cobras. Why bother trying to make sense of it? Are they doing this multiple times a day? How much venom is getting pumped through Homer before he drops dead? Who gives a fuck, as long as we have him scream over the end credits, the audience will laugh their asses off, right?
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Season 11 continues with a roar, of laughter that is, with the second best episode of the Scully era after ‘Natural Born Kissers.’ Matt Selman shows yet again that he alone among the newer writers fully under- stands the show. Exaggeration of our modern-day idiosyncrasies replaces all-out zaniness, thorough character interaction stands in for formulaic subplots, and laughs are enhanced by a story that brings out meaningful emotion, not aimed at ripping our care for the characters to shreds.

8. Take My Wife, Sleaze

  • The disclaimer at the end of the Greser’s Cafe commercial, “where it’s 1955 every day of the year,” is pretty good (“Actual year may vary. Consult calendar for current year.”)
  • Having Jay North, the original Dennis the Menace, on the show feels like a good idea in concept. I remember hearing Matt Groening say how disappointed he was in the original TV show as a kid that Dennis wasn’t anywhere near the rambunctious hellion he was billed as, which subconsciously led to him creating Bart decades later. Having TV’s original “bad boy” meet his match feels like something that should have happened about five or six seasons back, at this point, Bart’s no longer the flavor of the month and his character has been pretty defanged, so it just feels meaningless. 
  • I don’t really get the joke where after Homer tosses Marge up and out of the cafe (just ignore the logic behind that) and she walks back in, why does she act like an amnesiac and act like she’s never been in the building before (“Wow, a 50’s nostalgic cafe!”) Did she slam her head into the pavement outside and lose her memory?
  • Why the hell does Homer want the motorcycle at all? This is another great example of the new Homer who lives for crazy, exciting adventures, not the Homer that loves sleeping in and snacking on the couch. When he forms his pathetic biker gang which everyone really wants to be in for some reason, it all feels really sad and annoying. Why the fuck do Moe and Ned want to pretend to be a greaser tossing pennies at the wall of the Kwik-E-Mart? 
  • Submitting Marge’s bedroom photo to be this month’s “Cycle Slut” is probably one of the scummiest things Homer’s ever done.
  • The real Hell’s Satans trash and take over the Simpson house, and at that point I give up wondering what the hell the point of the episode is. What an absolute waste of the great John Goodman and Henry Winkler, who give their all to the characters (their loud, boisterous laugh at a nervous Marge is pretty great), but the characters are just way too exaggerated to feel even the slightest bit believable, and they don’t even keep that consistent. They’re self-processed lowlives who smash eggs into toasters and think that yelling at bloodstains will clean their clothes, but later they have a discussion about how both pronunciations of “resume” are correct. So are they violent morons or do they have hidden depths? Who cares.
  • Speaking of inconsistency, Marge is discouraged that none of the bikers find her attractive and wants to gangrape her (in a very in-character and tasteful scene), but later are discouraged they can’t take Marge to an orgy. If none of them want to bang her, then were they going to use her as sexual currency? What a wonderful episode this is.
  • Speaking of tastefulness, Homer tells his children that if he can’t get their mother back to call and get him a Korean love bride. Flipping to the commentary real quick, after laughing at Bart and Lisa’s uncomfortable reaction, Mike Scully chimes in, “His heart’s the right place.” Is it?
  • I mentioned this in my original review, but the idea of Marge domesticating the bikers and them being physically unable to defend themselves against a raging Homer would have made a decent ending, and the episode might have even worked if it had builded up to that point where we see Homer getting increasingly unhinged and the bikers embracing their pacifist ways for a reason. Instead, despite Meathook wanting to solve the conflict with words, for no reason, we end up at the Circle of Death, and as the cherry on the shit sundae, we get the motorcycle swordfight. What more can I say? This episode sucks ass.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “All the wit, subtlety, clever dialogue, and charming characters The Simpsons is known and loved for are absent from this loud, raucous, obnoxious, hollow, confusing, painfully dumb, predictable, freakishly unfunny script. The attempt at comedy here seems founded on the idea of driving motorcycles indoors and flat, unexamined biker movie stereotypes, peppered with warped retreads of classic Simpsons scenes. The season 10 trends of wildly inconsistent quality and all-time worst episodes written by long-time writer John Swartzwelder return. His drafts are rumored to be rewritten by staff only now, and seem shamefully filled with the least inspired bits deemed not good enough for their own scripts.”

9. Grift of the Magi

  • Bart and Milhouse being bored at home is a fine opening. Milhouse being chased by the killer sun beam is a little silly, but I was okay with it. But whose wigs were those?
  • Fat Tony and his instant ramp operation ultimately feels pretty unnecessary. It’s all too goofy, with the ramps spiraling around the building like a Dr. Seuss drawing, and the reveal that they were made of breadsticks. You don’t really need to manufacture an excuse why the school has run out of funding, the place is always portrayed as a poor dump. At least we get some good lines out of Fat Tony (“Look, you’re getting a little philosophical for me.” “I suppose so. They say it happens in the autumn years.”)
  • The school is flat broke but the emergency meeting has fancy catering with attendants carving a turkey and manning an omelette bar? And why is Moe there? It’s for a quick gag, but is yet another “insert-character-here” moment.
  • Mr. Burns would have never let Skinner and the kids into his house for any reason whatsoever, let alone sit there quietly like a senile old man reacting aghast at the poor production.
  • It’s interesting that on Bumblebee Man’s daytime court show, his wife is the one suing, apparently having been sold an inoperable Ford Escort.
  • This episode’s biggest success is the plot itself: greedy capitalists using and manipulating children to their own gain and to further exploit them and their families. If that’s not a pessimistic yet completely accurate social commentary The Simpsons would tackle in its heyday, I don’t know what is. The scenes in the school in act two all work, with the teachers not-so-subtly getting focus group information out of the kids; I especially love Milhouse’s frenzied response to what the perfect toy should have (“Its eyes should be telescopes! No, periscopes! No, microscopes! Can you come back to me?”)
  • Gary Coleman being security guard for Kid First really feels like “insert-guest-star-here,” there’s no reason that I can think of why it’s specifically him. Regardless, it’s still a memorable appearance, in the ever-shrinking number of guest stars willing to actually ridicule themselves. Although I never understood why at least three other episodes would have Coleman show up as a cameo and reuse his karate sounds. Would they have to pay him again for that? I think in some of those episodes he was credited at the end, so maybe so.
  • “They must have programmed it to eliminate the competition.” “You mean like Microsoft?” “Exactly.” Just like the Homer line about professional writers in “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner,” it makes absolutely no sense why Bart would have any knowledge about Microsoft’s business practices, but they wanted to make that scathing joke so they stuck it into the script.
  • I guess the Funzo toys were only released in Springfield for the holidays as a test market, which is the only way Bart and Lisa’s plan to steal all the toys in town makes sense. It would be nice if there was a line addressing that, but whatever.
  • The ending speeding through other classic Christmas stories befalling other characters is a nice idea, as well as a good last-minute conclusion to the actual plot with Burns’ tuxedo pants money. Why they all go to the Simpson house is unclear, but whatever. I’m still a sucker for “Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout everyone!”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “After a promising start, it looks like this season is already going down the tubes. ‘Grift of the Magi’ was full of satire, but satire that was misguided and obvious. The idea of a sinister toy company never quite clicked with me, especially when it did things that toy companies probably never do in reality. Not very funny, and not very interesting.”

10. Little Big Mom

  • Itchy & Scratchy episodes would proceed to get longer in later seasons, making these glorious quick bursts of incredible violence kind of a slog. The opening short really could have been done in half the time. The only notably long I & S I can think of in the classic era is the one where Scratchy is holed up in a wall for decades and rescued, then tortured by the future Itchys with giant brains. That was certainly more interesting for its timeframe than just “let’s clone Scratchy.”
  • The Mount Embolism stuff is okay, not great; “Mountain of Madness” wasn’t a stellar episode, but definitely outshines this. A lot of it is just Homer screaming and getting hurt. “Stupid sexy Flanders” is a classic line in its own right, but it’s soured a bit since it’s followed by Homer getting hit in the dick with snow piles like twenty times.
  • Disco Stu may be a joke character, but the idea of him picking up single women at a ski lodge feels very appropriate.
  • Lisa the Mom feels like it should be a promising plotline, but it felt like it wasn’t clicking for me watching it again. I know some people have issues with “My Sister, My Sitter” in Lisa being left alone with Bart and Maggie, but the episode laid enough groundwork to make me accept it, at least to me. Here, even though grown adult Homer is still there, positioning Lisa as the guardian, cooking their meals, and ultimately being driven to her wits end by a cackling Homer and Bart ultimately feels weird to me. I dunno, it’s hard to say exactly why, but a big reason is from act two on Homer and Bart are rambunctious buddies, which I always hate to see. The two can bond over shared infantile interests, and I understand Homer is supposed to be the second “kid” Lisa has to tend to, but it just feels like they dumb down Homer way too much whenever they want to do these Homer-Bart stories.
  • I’ve noticed some pretty weird visual quirks these last two seasons regarding the cel animation, the most glaring being a lot of obvious cel shadows. One scene in this episode had the largest shadows of all, it looks pretty rough. I’ve heard the show eventually had to move to digital ink & paint because there were fewer and fewer artists who did it, as basically every animated show transitioned to digital sometime during the 2000s. Maybe these last few cel-painted seasons look rougher because they were more short-staffed and overworked?

  • Sweet Emotions cereal must have killed in the writers room to get a glory shot in the episode, but it feels like such a non-joke. It’s not even a pun, so what is it? Some cereals are sweet?– Did we really need the literal spirit of Lucille Ball to appear to Lisa to give us our ridiculous third act twist? I don’t know how the hell this came about in the writer’s room. We’ll do a crazy sitcom-esque scenario, but we’ll lampshade it so that’ll be part of the joke!
  • Leprosy! Are those “sores” pasted on their bodies with superglue? It’s fucking oatmeal and poster paint, how did they never come off? It’s so, so silly.
  • The Flanders family are the MVPs of the episode. In addition to “stupid sexy Flanders,” we also get a wonderful but brief bit of bickering between Ned and Maude (“Remember those scary lepers in Ben Hur?” “You saw Ben Hur without me?” “We were broken up then!”), Ned’s mustache getting ripped off, and Rod and Todd’s imaginary Christmas.
  • Another spectacular example of characters spouting jokes instead of reacting like humans: Marge arrives home, and Lisa tells her Homer and Bart are missing and that she tricked them into thinking they have leprosy. Marge corrects her, “Hansen’s disease. Like the terrible cream soda.” I guess one of the writers has a big vendetta against Hansen’s. But instead of gasping or being worried or shocked about her husband and son, or wanting to get more information out of Lisa, Marge instead corrects Lisa with the medical term for leprosy and gets in a dig at a soda brand.
  • We end the episode in Hawaii, and who cares. Couldn’t the medical staff tell right away that Homer and Bart aren’t sick, and their sores are actually painted goddamn oatmeal? Whatever. As long as we have Homer screaming his lungs out over the end credits, people will still laugh!
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I’ve said this about several episodes, but my opinions usually change on them, but this was by far the worst episode in the history of The Simpsons. I don’t think any other program will be able to top this one. Lisa’s irresponsibility is glaring, and the story focuses too much on stupid and tasteless jokes, making it very unlikable. I actually feel sorry for myself, instead of Lisa. This is perhaps the single most tasteless, cruel, cold-blooded moment in OFF’s history. The Marge hospital-massage subplot was pointless and unfunny, as well. Let’s hope this one is played few times in syndication, and buried as a ‘Lost Episode.’

11. Faith Off

  • The opening inevitably feels like a hollow retreading over “Homer Goes to College.” The contextual through-line of Homer believing he’s living in a college movie is gone, so here we have an actual evil Dean (named Peterson, despite not being the same character from “College”), and “normal” Homer proposing a wacky prank, and it doesn’t work as well.
  • Hibbert conveniently has three hilarious trauma victims lined up against a brick wall in the room next to his office. Where the hell is this, and what are they doing there? Showing Homer pictures of them maybe would have made more sense, but here, it just feels ridiculous.
  • Brother Faith doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but Don Cheadle commendably gives it his all. His muted asides when he falters his boisterous persona are particularly funny (responding to Bart’s plan of a lifetime of sin and repenting on his deathbed, “Wow, that’s a good angle…”)
  • Why is Homer making a homecoming float at all? They don’t even set it up. I imagine current students are responsible for homecoming affairs, not dumbbells who only took one course five years ago. Later we see the actual Springfield University floats before Homer rolls up in his, so I guess he just made it on his own? Why?
  • One big piece missing from this episode is a town wide reverie of Bart being a miracle child. A bunch of Springfield regulars are present when Bart lifts the bucket off Homer’s head, but there’s never any significant mention of it after that. When Bart gets up in church and talks about how faith can be powerful, and randomly does Tae-Bo, all the other churchgoers go nuts for some reason. Couldn’t they have had Moe or somebody stand up and establish they all know about his “powers”? Instead, when we see Bart’s backyard “church” tent with everybody in Springfield in attendance, it doesn’t feel very motivated. They’re all there because Bart did some kicks in the aisle at church and they thought it was cool, I guess.
  • “Testify” is an alright song, probably the best original song done in the Scully era. Following the first two soundtrack albums that I listened to to death as a kid, they put out a third one titled “Testify,” containing songs from seasons 9-16 or so. I was already in college by the time it came out, and I remember listening to it once and never again. How could that be? With great, memorable tracks like “You’re a Bunch of Stuff” and “What Do I Think of the Pie?”
  • There’s a weird awkward hold after Lenny delivers his line at the bar before we cut to the stadium. It’s weird, was this episode like three seconds short?
  • Homer drunkenly drives his float onto the field and crushes the star player’s leg, and of course there’s absolutely no repercussions for this. Not only that, he’s immediately sober when confronted by Fat Tony, because fuck you.
  • The flying leg really is so stupid, and it doesn’t even make any sense in regards to how it caught up to the ball at all. So I guess Homer is basically responsible for making that guy an amputee, and again, nobody cares.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I am speechless beyond speech. This didn’t feel like a Season 11 episode. This felt like a Season *5* episode. I can’t remember the last time I saw as many clever spoofs of clichés in one show — I think it was sometime in 1995. The characterization of Bart and Homer was so good it was frightening (except for the latter’s sowing salt). The only real fault was that the satire could have been more incisive. I may not have faith in god like Bart does, but I have had my own revival of faith in the writing staff.