Season Four Revisited (Part Four)

17. Last Exit to Springfield

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

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

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

19. The Front

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

20. Whacking Day

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

21. Marge in Chains

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

22. Krusty Gets Kancelled

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

Season Four Revisited (Part Three)

12. Marge vs the Monorail

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

13. Selma’s Choice

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

14. Brother from the Same Planet

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

15. I Love Lisa

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

16. Duffless

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

Season Four Revisited (Part Two)

6. Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie

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

7. Marge Gets A Job

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

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

8. New Kid on the Block

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

9. Mr. Plow

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

10. Lisa’s First Word

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

11. Homer’s Triple Bypass

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

Season Four Revisited (Part One)

1. Kamp Krusty

  • Bart’s locker combination 36-24-36 is yet another entry on the long, long list of jokes that flew by me as a kid. Also, the design of his filthy locker is just wonderful. I feel like this is an unintentional callback, but you can see his science experiment potato from “Dead Putting Society” in there.
  • “Here are your final report cards. I have nothing left to say to any of you, so if nobody minds, let’s just quietly run out the clock.”
  • My first go-around writing this blog was right when I finished college, where up to that point the concept of summer vacation as a school student was still somewhat fresh in my head. Now, almost ten years later, as the idea of summer break is an even more distant and wistful memory, the big countdown to the final bell letting school out feels so pure, truly capturing the absolute joy of that wonderful three months every year where you could just do absolutely fuck all as a kid.
  • Krusty slapping his cheek in astonishment at the fat kid’s magic transformation always makes me laugh. The single cheek slap has been used to hysterical affect two other times I can recall, once in a Troy McClure infomercial, and the other from Patty & Selma (“Five cents off wax paper.”)
  • We set up the “conflict” that Bart’s bad grades might keep him from Kamp Krusty, but I love that not only is that concern eliminated by Homer immediately by the end of act one, but we get it through not one, but two solid jokes (“Now Bart, we made this deal because I thought it would help you get good grades. And you didn’t. But why should you pay for my mistake?” “You mean I can go?” “Yeah. I didn’t want you hangin’ around all summer anyway.”) These days, even dialogue that moves the story along is filled with great, memorable lines.
  • “Image Enhancement Camp” (“Spare me your euphemisms! It’s fat camp for Daddy’s chubby little secret!”)
  • “Gentlemen, to evil.”
  • “I feel like I’m gonna die, Bart.” “We’re all gonna die, Lis.” “I meant soon.” “So did I.” I love this exchange so much, and it’s a great example of dialogue that I feel wouldn’t really fly with live-action sitcom kids.
  • Krusty enjoying his strawberries at Wimbledon is another heavily memed frame in the shitposting community. It’s especially great when paired with Darryl Strawberry.
  • “We want Krunchy! We want Krunchy!”
  • It’s great that they gave Krusty three identifying marks on his body for the purposes of the ending, but outside of “Bart the Fink,” have they ever been mentioned ever again? Certainly not in the other instances we see Krusty shirtless. Ehh, but who cares.
  • Another great shot from the writers at FOX’s excessive merchandising of the show: “How could you, Krusty? I’d never lend my name to an inferior product.”

2. A Streetcar Named Marge

  • God, I love the dissonance of the beauty pageant contestants earnestly singing “Seventeen.” It actually bookends really nicely with the final song of the show, “You Can Always Depend on the Kindness of Strangers,” another upbeat number that humorously clashes with its context.
  • One of the many times we see Bart and Lisa on the couch in the opening, we see them lying down kicking their legs back and forth against each other. This is another one of those incredibly sweet, human acting touches; they could have just been sitting there normally, but someone decided to have them doing this, and considering they’re little kids who’ve been watching a beauty pageant for a few hours, it makes perfect sense they’d be a little restless on the couch.
  • Llewellyn Sinclair is my favorite Jon Lovitz-voiced character in the series, hands down. His bravado, his heightened sense of passion and importance laid upon this community play of a ridiculous musical performed by complete amateurs, he really gives his absolute all, as does Lovitz to this boisterous and forceful character. Almost all of his lines are so memorable (“Mrs. Simpson, if you set out to push the bile to the tip of my throat, mission accomplished!”) And that wardrobe!
  • It’s never addressed, but it’s a great touch that we see several bullet wounds in Apu’s chest when he stands shirtless.
  • The scene of Homer asking Marge in bed about coming to the play is the quintessential example of writing Homer callously insensitive, but still genuine. He’s pretty rude to Marge through the whole show, which of course is the point, but his actions are always born out of either obliviousness or stupidity (or oftentimes both). He openly admits he’s never had an interest in any of Marge’s “kooky projects” (“the painting class, the first aid course, the whole Lamaze thing…”), but when pressed as to why he never told her that, he earnestly replies, “You know I’d never say anything to hurt your feelings.” It’s a tremendous line, but it also perfectly exemplifies Homer: he doesn’t know what he’s saying and doing is hurtful, and it’s incredibly clear to the audience that we know that. Later characterizations of Homer would depict him being too self-aware and cognizant of the irritation or hurt his actions cause his wife and kids, and the tone would be much more sour and harder to swallow.
  • Ayn Rand’s School for Tots is a great set piece (the sign “Helping is Futile” is a particularly brilliant touch). Watching Maggie’s great pacifier liberation made me think back to the “Longest Daycare” short that took place in the same location, and to a lesser extent the more recent “Playdate with Destiny” short. All three are extended nonverbal stories featuring Maggie, but within this episode, it’s an enjoyable little side story that doesn’t overstay its welcome, is filled with good jokes and actually feels like it’s about something important. As silly as it may be, the babies recovering their confiscated pacifiers as a story definitely holds more narrative weight than Maggie saving a caterpillar or her little playground romance or whatever. Those theatrical shorts are just so treacly and empty-feeling, especially “Playdate.”
  • Herman is inexplicably in the chorus of the musical, and it’s a great touch that in the opening number, at one point as the cast is gesturing to the audience with their right hands, we see Herman perfectly mimic them, just with no arm to do it with.
  • “Oh, Streetcar!” is fucking brilliant. I’m sure I gushed about it enough in my initial review, but I still love it so much. The Planet of the Apes musical is a close second, but “Streetcar” has more songs, the added charm of seeing our favorite Springfielders act and sing their hearts out, and the added narrative dissonance of making a bright and peppy musical out of such a dark story, most evident, as mentioned before, in the final number, which is just so, so, soooo goddamn good.

3. Homer the Heretic

  • I always laugh at the gleeful enthusiasm Homer gets out of being able to freely swear in the house (“You bet your sweet… ass!”)
  • The animation in this episode specifically is really outstanding, even from the start, there were so many great moments that felt like they had extra care put into them, and the way the characters moved and reacted seemed even more pronounced than usual, in a good way. Homer assembling his special “moon waffles” is a particularly lovely piece of animation.
  • Homer mispronouncing “These Things I Believe” as “This” when he’s looking right at the record jacket is so great, as is Bill’s hushed, “Can we accept that?” before awarding Homer the winner.
  • The “Stand By” card for the Public Affairs show might be the best one of the entire series.
  • I love that act two starts with Marge attempting to scrub the waffle iron of the remnants of Homer’s breakfast. These little callbacks are great because they make the world feel more tangible, where a character’s actions feel more “real” because we see the outcome. It also adds an extra layer of frustration on top of Marge’s already aghast state at her husband rejecting his faith. And on top of that, it shows the downside to Homer’s newfound hedonism, that it’s all fun and games until someone has to clean up the mess afterwards. All of this communicated by the first five seconds of act two.
  • “And what if we picked the wrong religion? Every week, we’re just making God madder and madder!” I feel like this line was one of the early instigators of my future agnosticism.
  • God having five fingers was a touch I always enjoyed as a kid, but what are the implications of this? If He made them in His own image, why would he leave off a finger? Or is this God actually the real God, visiting his animated creations? But then why would he be yellow? Of course, then we have to remember that this is just God as represented in Homer’s dream, which only raises further questions about his appearance. It’s just interesting to think about. I also love that Harry Shearer voices both God and Satan. And Hitler.
  • It’s always been so funny to me that the thing that cinches Homer’s rejection of faith after Marge pleads with him for one last time is “Coming up next: make your own ladder.” The most banal thing ever that Homer really should have next to no interest in.
  • I don’t know if I ever really processed that the Kwik-E-Mart “employee lounge” Apu refers to is just a dingy old closet. I guess I was always focused on Homer reacting to Ganeesha and didn’t really register that as a joke. Is that just me? Another example of how jam-packed these scripts were back then, without ever feeling bloated.
  • I previously gushed about how pretty the fire in “Flaming Moe’s” looked, and the third act with the Simpson house on fire just turns that up to eleven. This whole episode looks amazing, but the ending is really gorgeous. Ned saving Homer from the ravaging flames is actually pretty intense given how amazing everything looks. But the best moment, of course, is Homer being shoved off the second story and bouncing back through the window. The gag is executed just perfectly, and I loved Ned’s “Okay…” In one word, Shearer perfectly communicates his discouragement, but it’s clear he’s not giving up.
  • My one criticism of this episode is that after Homer is saved from the burning house, we don’t really need the four or five random joke moments with the firefighters, the insurance agent, Kent Brockman and such. We already had the emotional climax of Homer’s story, and then we have to wait through a bunch of disconnected gags to get to his resolution.

4. Lisa the Beauty Queen

  • Skinner beating the snot out of vulturous Disney lawyers is another example of both how much better Skinner was when he had a spine, and of how truly bizarre it is this show is now streaming on Disney+. What once was mocking Disney’s brutal stranglehold on copyright law is now owned by that very company.
  • I love that Milhouse is inexplicably wearing a scout’s uniform before he goes into Jimbo’s Spookhouse. I don’t know if it’s a remnant of a cut scene, but it makes him look even more naive and impressionable at the start, which strengthens the joke.
  • “If I could gouge out somebody else’s eyes and shove them into my sockets I would, but to me, she’s beautiful!” This episode is another crowning example on how best to write Homer: entering Lisa into the beauty pageant is maybe the worst thing he could have done for her (and telling her he submitted the caricature with the application is like pouring salt into the wound), but Homer’s intentions are 100% genuine.
  • Child beauty pageants really are perverse and bizarre. This episode felt really ahead of its time, given ensuing hit shows like “Toddlers & Tiaras” and “Dance Moms.”
  • “Taping your swimsuit to your butt, petroleum jelly on your teeth for that frictionless smile, and the ancient art of padding.” Bart’s extensive knowledge of beauty pageants is a bit odd, but as a curious little boy starting to get interested in girls, I guess I’ll buy that he’s interested in watching pageants (he literally watched one two episodes ago). His adeptness of walking in heels is another story…
  • “My name is Lisa Simpson, and I want to be Li’l Miss Springfield so I can make our town a better place!” “Yeah! Clean up this stinkhole!”
  • Introducing her dance act, Lisa talks about how some folks think being patriotic is uncool, “real Melvin.” What the hell is that expression? Google searching it, the first hit is someone asking the same question, referring to this episode, and then several different posts about guys named Melvin. Has anybody heard this saying? Also, I’ve always loved the frantic animation of Lisa dancing.
  • Not just any show can make an eight-year-old girl getting struck by lightning funny, but this show finds a way (“Doctor, what is Amber’s condition?” “Oh, she’ll be fine. In fact, she already won the Little Miss Intensive Care pageant.”)
  • “Love that chewing gum walk.” “Very Wrigley!” Bless these two little perverts.
  • Tremendous poster design. I also never noticed that when Lisa looks out horrified at the crowd of smoking children holding cigarettes, there’s a pregnant woman smoking too. It goes by really quick, but I’m surprised they got away with that.
  • Invigorated, Lisa pledges to use her newfound powers to expose society’s ills, from dog napping to cigarettes. Her example of dog napping always struck me as odd. Thinking of indiscretions that would be of interest to children, and not major enough that she could actually do something about, I guess it sort of makes sense.
  • I feel I have the opposite issue with this ending as I did with “Homer the Heretic,” it wraps up too quickly. I could have gone for one or two more scenes of Lisa as Li’l Miss Springfield trying to make a difference before we get to Quimby desperately trying to shut her down.

5. Treehouse of Horror III

  • Now that we’re at our third Halloween special, the warning at the open feels appropriately snarky, like you should know what you’re getting yourselves into and we don’t care if you get upset by it. Swapping in Homer feels like the right move (“You see, there are some cry babies out there, religious types mostly, who might be offended. If you are one of them, I advise you to turn off your set now.”)
  • The famous “That’s good”/”That’s bad” back-and-forth always feels off to me just because the lip sync is completely off, since the bit was clearly written after the animation was completed and they retrofit the shots as best they could to match. I can forgive when they do it for a one-off line, but for an entire exchange, it just looks too weird.
  • The evil shopkeeper gives Homer the Krusty doll loose, but when he gifts it to Bart, we see that it’s in its original packaging! Boy, I hope someone was fired for that blunder.
  • “And in environmental news, scientists have announced that Springfield’s air is now only dangerous to children and the elderly.”
  • “There goes the last lingering thread of my heterosexuality.” It’s hard hearing this line not thinking about Patty’s eventual reveal as a lesbian, but I think it functions a lot better considering we know her at this point to be non-romantic, with her line acting as a swearing off of men rather than her sexuality. I wonder if someone on staff in the 2000s remembered this line and was like, “Hey! I know who we can make gay!” I’d rather not remember that episode any further though…
  • Ah, nothing beats getting a perfectly looping gif.
  • “King Homer” is a really beautiful segment, with great visual cues taken from the classic film. Speaking of cues, Alf Clausen’s music is just lovely as well. There’s a lot of great animated moments, but my particular favorite is when King Homer busts out of his torso chain, with his huge belly bulging out to break the lock. It goes by so quick but feels so wonderfully cartoony.
  • “Wow! Look at the size of that platform!” never fails to make me laugh.
  • “He’s not dead!” “No, but his career is. I remember when Al Jolson ran amok at the Winter Garden and climbed the Chrysler building. After that, he couldn’t get arrested in this town.”
  • “Find Waldo Yet Again.” I love the little kid standing and pointing at him. For some reason, that little kid reminds me of a “Life in Hell” drawing.
  • Great Easter eggs in the pet cemetery featuring headstones of the numerous primetime animated shows that tried to ape off The Simpsons’ success, all failing within one year on the air (Capitol Critters, Fish Police, Family Dog). I’m sure they’re all awful, but I’d be curious to watch at least an episode of these shows one day. Family Dog was actually created by Brad Bird, who I imagine took this jab with good humor. The Wikipedia page for the show intrigues me more; one choice quote, “Delayed for years and panned by critics, the show has been called one of the biggest fiascos in television animation history, on both a creative and commercial level, in spite (but, in many ways, because of) the high-powered talent behind the project.”
  • Mrs. Krabappel is oddly one of the first zombies shown in the crowd at the school, and the very first that Homer shoots dead. I imagine Bart had no complaints.
  • “Excuse me, I’m John Smith.” “John Smith, 1882?” “My mistake!”

81. Krusty Gets Kancelled

(originally aired May 13, 1993)
So we reach the star-studded conclusion of our fourth season. Even with all of the guest stars this show has, each one is highlighted and given a standout moment, contrasted with what wastes of time celebrity appearances would turn into. But before that, we’re introduced to the phenomenon that is Gabbo, the precocious ventriloquist dummy act that usurps Krusty’s kiddie show fame. The massive media hype is not let down at all: Gabbo is pretty damn impressive. He appears to be a traditional puppet, but has his own song-and-dance routine. No way this could be a live show, but still, that must be one sophisticated animatronic. Also, there are scenes where Gabbo and his handler Arthur Crandall exchange bits of dialogue while they’re not performing, implying that Arthur may have some kind of personality disorder. I’d like to watch a show that exclusively dealt with his personal mania.

Anyway, Krusty is unable to deal with the dummy’s wave of fame and his show ends up cancelled, and eventually goes destitute. Bart and Lisa assist their hero in his time of need, and noticing framed photos of Krusty’s showbiz friends, suggest he do a spectacular comeback show to reignite his star power. The glut of celebrity guest stars works as a mimicry of similar gala TV events, but also because each one is given their time to shine. Who could forget Bette Midler’s accosting of cars of littering drivers on the freeway? Or Johnny Carson lifting a Buick over his head? Or Flea’s overenthusiastic “HEY MOE!!” As I mentioned, the episode dances around celebrity overload, but provides enough classic moments to keep it at bay. Also, once again, what kind of show is Krusty putting on? He’s a children’s performer who opens with a dour rendition of “Send in the Clowns” (wonderful, by the way) and has Hugh Hefner and Playboy bunnies on his show. But whatever, it’s a big hit, and Krusty is restored to glory.

The episode’s rather trim storyline (Krusty’s rise and fall) is helped with plenty of laughs. Itchy & Scratchy’s Eastern European replacement Worker & Parasite is absolutely amazing, a spot-on parody of bizarre off-kilter foreign experimental animation. Krusty’s dumb-founded expression at its conclusion is hilarious. As is the appearance of Crazy Old Man (who now is Old Jewish Man, because I guess the joke was too subtle for modern Simpsons.) His “Old Grey Mare” routine is a hilarious rebutt to Krusty’s “Will Drop Pants For Food” sign, then comes back in a fantastic act break where he apparently got his own TV special in a matter of minutes. This is another one of those episodes where the story is nothing to write home about, but the fantastic use of gags and other funny bits makes it a memorable and classic outing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The epic build-up for Gabbo is great manipulative marketing. Bart smells blood in the water once the mystery is uncovered: “That cute little character could take America by storm. All he needs is a hook.” Gabbo proceeds to spout his catchphrase (“I’m a bad wittle boy”) and Bart responds with his own (“Aye carumba!”)
– Gabbo’s dancing during his musical number is wonderfully animated, again illustrating that this is one insanely sophisticated puppet. Who also does a tremendous imitation of Vin Scully. And travel back in time. I suppose that’s the doing of clever video editing… or is it?
– Love Krusty’s perverse joy in “slaughtering” the Special Olympics in the ratings.
– Krusty’s attempts to win back his audience are great: he tries his own ventriloquist act (with a giant prop mustache to disguise his poor lip sync), but the dummy is so shoddy, it falls apart and scars children for life. His next attempt also fails (“Every time you watch my show, I will send you forty dollars!” Followed by a voice-over, “Checks will not be honored.”)
– Quimby goes beyond sleazy to criminal in admitting to having his political enemies murdered, but gets away with it by parroting Gabbo’s precocious catchphrase. Next day’s paper has a sub-headline that more bodies surfaced in Springfield Harbor, but that’s not as important as Gabbo news.
– Gabbo’s crank call to Krusty is a great segment right off the bat (“Is this the callback for that porno film? Look, I was a little nervous that day, but I’m all man. I can assure you.”) Why anyone would want to see an old grotesque clown in porn is beyond me, but hey, people got all kinds of fetishes. Also love Krusty’s overenthusiastic “WOAH! ME RIKEY VERY MUCH!” Sort of foreshadows his giant teeth and dickey bit from many seasons later.
– Gabbo is unstoppable, even after on-air calling children S.O.B.s. He’s saved by Kent Brockman doing the same, but he’s fired for his blunder, almost immediately on his own show.
– I never quite understood the Elizabeth Taylor segments. I suppose that’s some kind of inside joke about her… but what? I guess the writers felt they couldn’t just blow their opportunity with Taylor for one word in “Lisa’s First Word,” just like they reused Barry White in the opening.
– I love Sideshow Mel’s quite dignity adorned with fast food regalia at his cushy job at the Gulp-N-Blow. Mel is such an underrated character; similar to Sideshow Bob in that they’re clearly intelligent thespians stuck in undermining jobs, but Mel seems more pleased with his position, and handles himself with a modicum of respect. His reunion with Krusty at the start of his comeback special is unusually touching.

Season 4 Final Thoughts
I can’t say for certain, I’ll have to wait until I’m done with next season, but season 4 feels like the bridge between 3 and 5. Dumb statement, of course it is, but I’ll explain. The Simpsons began as a traditional sitcom, very grounded and realistic to a point, but also very progressive in its content and barb. The first three seasons never really pushed this too far in terms of wacky cartoonish content. My memories of season 5, and also kinda 6, are really off-the-wall. Latter classic Simpsons is a bit more unhinged and ridiculous, with lots of silly gags and conceits, but is still made palatable by the foundations of the characters, and its fair share of emotional moments. Season 4 is the lead-up to this: we’ve seen in numerous instances with crazy stories (“Marge vs. the Monorail”) and other bizarre gags (the giant spider, Lisa’s acid trip) that the show is going to this weird place. But the balance isn’t there yet. Season 4 has a lot of fantastic episodes and great moments, but as a whole, doesn’t feel as cohesive as season 2 or 3. The show will continue to evolve, but into something just as astounding. I still salute you, season 4. Thanks for the funny. I’ll be back this weekend, roaring and ready for season 5.

The Best
“A Streetcar Named Marge,” “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie,” “Lisa’s First Word,” “Homer’s Triple Bypass,” “I Love Lisa”

The Worst
“Marge Gets A Job” and “Brother From the Same Planet” stand out, only in that they don’t really stand out.