Season Eight Revisited (Part Four)

20. The Canine Mutiny

  • How little do Homer and Marge care about where Bart got an entire room full of new expensive items? They also have absolutely no questions about his story about getting Laddie at a truth-telling contest at a church two towns over. Like, yeah, that’s the joke, but it makes Marge (and to a lesser extent, Homer) out to be an incredibly gullible idiot in the process.
  • When Bart returns to find the repo men taking back all his stuff, he asks Lisa if their parents are home. Lisa replies, “They went for a walk with the Flanderses.” Say what now? Can you believe for even a microsecond that Homer would not only agree to go on a walk, but go on a walk with Ned Flanders? I get they needed Homer and Marge out of the scene, but any other excuse they could have written would have been more believable.
  • Last time around, I remember having an issue with this episode being about Bart and Santa’s Little Helper, but Bart never really regarding the dog or having any kind of connection with him to set it up. It’s not even about how he realizes he ignored this dog he loved and needs to work overtime to get him back. Bart actively ignores Santa’s Little Helper for most of the first act; watching this episode for the first time as a dog owner, those scenes of SLH being shut out made my heart hurt, and I found myself rooting against Bart even more through the episode. It also doesn’t even make sense he would pick Laddie; we don’t see much of a personal bond between the new dog and Bart either, but also, Bart loves SLH because they’re both disobedient screw-ups. The “perfect dog” shouldn’t have much appeal to a little hellion like Bart.
  • “Why did I have the bowl, Bart? Why did I have the bowl?!
  • On the Simpsons Archive, the madam in Bart’s dog-furnace fantasy is credited to Tress MacNeille, but it really sounds like Yeardley Smith to me, which is an absolute rarity. She’s voiced, what, a dozen characters over thirty years?
  • Baby Gerald blinks one eye at a time, that’s how you know he’s evil.
  • Moe’s repossessed floor is easily the best joke of the episode. It’s stupid by itself, but made even funnier that we just saw Bart walk into the building, and it was clearly much, much too small for the huge floor to fit inside of.
  • Bart prepares himself to beg for SLH back by wetting his hands to streak tears onto his face. Again, not making it easy on me to want him to succeed.
  • Bart sneaking into Mr. Mitchell’s house to take the dog is basically a joke-free action set piece, something we would see a lot more of going into the Mike Scully years. It sucks.
  • This really is the first giant dud of the series. I’m not a fan of “Secrets of a Successful Marriage,” but it definitely has its share of funny lines. This episode is just such a vacuum leading up to an overly dramatic ending that I couldn’t care less about. Though we did get Chief Wiggum feebly attempting to sing along to “Jammin’.”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Finally, a solid Season 8 episode! As an utterly forgettable season nears its close, it’s good to have at least one episode that qualifies as an instant classic. Groundskeeper Willie was hilarious, as was the Comic Book Guy. And for a change, the ending was a) hysterical, and b) a complete surprise. Let’s just hope that ‘Canine Mutiny’ is not a fluke in a deteriorating series, but a sign that the Simpsons are back on track for good.”

21. The Old Man and the Lisa

  • We get two great gags within the first twenty seconds: Marge’s beehive smushed against the pillow before popping back into place, and the snippet of Colonel Dracula Joins the Navy (“Uh, Colonel?” “BLEHH!!”) The episode just started and it’s already better than “The Canine Mutiny.” 
  • “What a load of garbage. I’m ecstatic!”
  • I like that Burns’ internal dictionary for “redskin” is labeled as “usually taken to be offensive,” which seems impressively progressive for him. I also love “running dog: one who does someone else’s bidding: LACKEY (ie: SMITHERS)”
  • Burns’ incredibly sycophantic underlings (and Smithers) being responsible for bankrupting him is a good enough excuse to get this plot started, with good enough material as well (Burns reacting in horror at the 1929 stock market crash is a great moment), but it does seem a bit silly. I feel like either Burns would be smart enough to listen to his advisors (as we’d seen in other episodes like “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?” and “Homer Goes to College”) or his lawyers would know how to best placate their feeble old man of a client while still investing correctly to keep them all stinking rich.
  • I love how violently Skinner smashes into the tree and knocks it down, complete with the screaming and crying children inside, just completely undercutting the wholesomeness of everything that came before it.
  • Something I never noticed before on the bottom of Burns’ bankruptcy chart: “Prepared for You by ChartCo,” complete with little smiley faces.
  • Burns’ shopping trip feels like an extended, more exaggerated reprise of him trying to be self-sufficient in “Homer the Smithers.” While these moments would creak open the door to many, many pathetic, neutered Burns moments in the future, I can still appreciate them in the context of these episodes for what they are. Him getting trapped in the freezer is a bit much, but goddamn do I love me some ketchup-catsup confusion (“I’m in way over my head!”)
  • It’s a little on the nose with the one leaf waiting to fall, but I like Burns standing by the window, lamenting at this being the end of his life, his legacy. It’s actually kind of affecting, and a much-needed “real” moment following his more enfeebled behavior after losing his fortune.
  • I don’t know one damn thing about “That Girl,” but the sequence of Burns pursuing Lisa still works as a silly little montage. But I absolutely love how the song ends with the doorbell ring in time with the music. Such a small attention to detail that’s just fantastic.
  • “People, if we meet this week’s quota, I’ll take you to the most duck-filled pond you ever sat by!” “Hot-diggity! That’s how they got me to vote for Lyndon LaRouche!”
  • The reveal of the new recycling plant’s operations is so incredibly well done. It was set up with Lisa explaining the hazards of soda can rings to the sealife, and of course, Burns’ mind interprets this in a completely different way than her. It’s not like Burns was doing an act in seemingly reforming himself, this is just environmentalism through his own prism, that of a brutal, heartless capitalist.
  • Smithers walking into the Simpson living room at the end, asking Homer, “Why aren’t you at work?” definitely feels like a harbinger of things to come. The seat at sector 7G is about to get colder and colder as we enter the Scully years…
  • If you want, you can watch the episodes out of order and put this one last, so the series finale is Homer suffering a heart attack and dying. I can’t imagine the actual series finale, if we even live to see it, could be a more satisfying end than that.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Pretty much your Ho-hum 8th season Simpsons episode. A few good gags thrown on top of an unrealistic plot followed by an abrupt ending. Anyone notice that the writers’ things to be killing a lot of things on the show this season? Dogs, sea life, soldiers, James Bond… Some of it is funny because it is well done, but a lot of it seems to be done for shock value (like tonight’s episode), which isn’t especially funny (at least that’s what it seems like to me).”

22. In Marge We Trust

  • Snowball II scratching under the floorboards between the first and second floors feels like a grim joke, but I guess if the cat got there in the first place, it can find a way out too.
  • I love how painful Homer smacking his head on the backside of the pew feels, making his incredibly loud “DAMMIT!” even funnier.
  • Homer and the kids giddily scrounging around in the dump has shades of Scully-era antics, but it kind of fits in line with them being a not-so-well-off family trying to score some free stuff the more fortunate have discarded. Similarly, Homer getting attacked by the raccoon feels like a moment that would go on for twice as long and be incredibly annoying just a few years later, but here, it happens quickly, you get your laugh and you get out.
  • Reverend Lovejoy gets just the right amount of backstory: he was once an idealistic man of God ready to lead his new flock (“The sixties were long over and people were once again ready to feel bad about themselves,”) until he found himself getting pestered relentlessly by a neurotic Ned Flanders (“I think I may be coveting my own wife!”) until his spirit finally broke (“Finally, I just stopped caring.  Luckily, by then it was the eighties, and no one noticed.”) I wouldn’t be opposed to other episodes about Lovejoy, but this section is so satisfyingly succinct, I don’t really need anything else. We just got that terrible “Warrin’ Priests” two-parter last season that ostensibly was about Lovejoy, but didn’t tell us a goddamn thing about him, so I’ll pass on any further attempts, thanks.
  • “Mother’s gone too far. She’s put cardboard over her half of the television. We rented Man Without a Face,’ I didn’t even know we had a problem!”
  • “I’ve lost the will to live.” “Aww, that’s ridiculous, Moe. You’ve got lots to live for.” “Really? That’s not what Reverend Lovejoy’s been telling me.”
  • I absolutely love Homer dialing the phone at the library. I feel with these scenes that go on for so long, they can hit or miss with some people, but I think it’s great. The librarian shooting him a look before leaving, Homer not being able to remember more than one number at a time… fantastic.
  • In certain situations of meeting up with people, I feel like I would say “Let’s talk, why not?” a bunch, like the English-speaking Mr. Sparkle employee.
  • I assume the writers looked up a bunch of saints’ names and picked the most obscure one with the longest name they could (“St. Eleutherius of Nicomedia!” “That’s my name, don’t wear it out!”) His Wikipedia page is literally one line. Also included is an “In popular culture” section citing this episode, which is as long as the “article” itself, which is pretty amazing.
  • What more could I say about the Mr. Sparkle commercial? The entirety of that scene, complete with the intro and outro dialogue, was on one of the soundtrack CDs, despite it not being a song. The commercial section is certainly weird to hear only audio. Also, I really hope whoever designed the two logos merging into the Mr. Sparkle head got a raise.
  • The Sea Captain lamenting his lost Game Boy is one of those scenes that’s so dumb, but that’s why I love it. Losing your Tetris high score is no laughing matter.
  • Act three is where the episode starts to derail. The bullies are hassling Ned at the Leftorium, fair enough, but then they proceed to chase him out of town literally all night? It doesn’t really make much sense. The culmination also doesn’t really represent any character change. Marge’s “bad” advice didn’t really create Ned’s situation, and there’s nothing specifically that Lovejoy did to save the day, besides actually give a shit to try and save Ned at all. I’m not expecting a deep, thoughtful re-examination of Lovejoy’s faith, but something a bit more grounded and character-based would have been preferable to him attacking a bunch of wild baboons. At least they utilized his love of trains in some fashion, it at least added a character touch to the action sequence, which is more that can be said for similar scenes in the future.
  • “You’ve got to get him out of there!” “Jeez, I’d like to, but if they don’t kill the intruder, it’s really bad for their society.”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Yuck! What a stretch for a story-line (Both ‘Mr. Sparkle’ AND ‘In Marge We Trust’). This episode was as flat as a five-year-old can of Coors Light. Could the ending be any less believable? Sheesh! At least we know Ned still runs the Leftorium and Rev. Lovejoy’s first name is ‘Tim.’ After ‘Canine Mutiny,’ I guess the writers were bound for a DUD! During Act 3 I was not ROTFL, as hoped. Instead I was RFRC (Reaching For The Remote Control).”

23. Homer’s Enemy

  • Frank Grimes’ sad backstory is still great of course (clashing wonderfully with Kent Brockman’s enthusiastic narration.) I still love the implication of seeing the footage from inside the car as little kid is being abandoned, implying not only did his parents film this devastating moment, but later made the video public in some form, or provided Channel 6 with the tape after the fact.
  • I feel like Burns hiring the dog as his executive vice president is a little too silly, but I really like when he’s chewing out Grimes later and you hear him growling.
  • Just like Julie Andrews almost voicing Shary Bobbins, I can’t imagine anyone else bringing Frank Grimes to life than Hank Azaria. I knew he had based the voice on William H. Macy, who I had thought was actually considered for the role, but apparently according to Wikipedia, producers were thinking of Nic freaking Cage for the part. While that would have been its own kind of amazing, it certainly wouldn’t have been the same character, and much less appropriate than Azaria’s take.
  • Frank Grimes perfectly rides the line of being just a regular guy we have some sympathy for, but also being kind of a pompous ass. Wiping his hand before he shakes anyone else’s, his special dietetic lunch, his manner of speaking with others, like his humorless response to Homer first calling him “Grimey” (“I took the trouble to learn your name, so the least you could do is learn mine.”) It brilliantly sets up the grand finale; if he was too likable, his tragic death would hit a little too hard, but giving him these foibles, as well as his continued obsession with Homer through the episode being his own undoing, almost softens the blow a bit.
  • I like that the “Bart Simpson” on the abandoned office door almost looks like it’s written in blood.
  • “That’s the man who’s in charge of our safety! It boggles the mind.” “It’s best not to think about it.” The first of many great meta lines.
  • Grimes’ angry tirade at the Simpson house is an all-time great, and now feels especially more venomous following a recent article about how unattainable the Simpsons’ standard of living is by modern standards. The Simpsons were originally supposed to be an average, but struggling American family, but nowadays? Grimes is right, their place is a palace. A huge house and kids on a single income? It’s like a fantasy for a lot of people I know.
  • This episode, of course, is like patient zero for Jerkass Homer… kind of. His irritating behavior driving Grimes to the edge teeters on the edge of being way too annoying, but it’s the whole point of the episode, and it never feels like it goes too far. The problem would come when these characteristics would bleed into the series and normalize, similar to Lisa’s militant liberal pestering from “Lisa the Vegetarian” or pathetic, feeble old Burns from “The Old Man and the Lisa.” Homer is saved in this episode because he still has a sense of shame and self-awareness, genuinely wanting to win Grimes over, as seen in him fretting before the big dinner. The scene where Marge finds him in the driveway is also strangely affecting, almost like he’s a kid afraid to go to school and face his bully. It’s endearing and sweet, two traits that Homer would soon shed in favor of selfish and irritating.
  • Syndication cuts the scene of Bart enlisting Milhouse as night watchman (losing the terrific line, “So this is my life. At least I’ve done better than Dad,”) leaving me to always find it weird that we just get the one quick scene in act three wrapping up the B-plot of the destroyed factory.
  • I love Smithers’ amused chuckle at Ralph’s converted Malibu Stacy Dream Home model. Burns is not as tickled by it (“It’s supposed to be a power plant, not Aunt Beaulah’s bordello!”)
  • Homer getting applauded by everybody, Burns included, definitely gave me chills about how often this dumb oaf would be commended town-wide for his dumbass actions in the future. That’s the thing with this episode, it’s holding a mirror up to the series and how nonsensical it’s become. Homer, once a schlubby everyman, has rubbed elbows with celebrities, nearly caused multiple meltdowns with no risk to his job, and been to outer space. He’s incapable of being the complete lovable loser he once was. So where to go from here? That’s when we get the real chilling harbinger line (“I’m better than okay! I’m Homer Simpson!” “Pfft. You wish!”) With that, we set the doors open for Homer to shed his sweet humbleness and become an egoistic lunatic in the Mike Scully years, engaging in crazy schemes and fucking shit up because why not? Once you open up this Pandora’s Box of exploring who Homer is, he really can’t go back to the way things were. And once again, this is another example, if not the biggest example, of why the show shouldn’t have gone past one more season. Episodes like this, “Poochie,” and big moments and others are fantastic isolated, but are slightly more sour when you remember there’s five hundred fucking more episodes that follow it.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I’ve never said this about any episode, because 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. Homer’s irresponsibleness is glaring, and the story focuses too much on Homer’s lack of professionalism, making him very unlikable. Frank, on the other hand, had many a good point, and got a raw deal throughout the entire thing. I actually felt sorry for him, instead of Homer. Our hero is sleeping through Frank’s funeral, and cracking an inappropriate joke during it. And everyone LAUGHS at it. This is perhaps the single most tasteless, cruel, cold-blooded moment in OFF’s history. Let’s hope this one is played few times in syndication, and buried as a ‘Lost Episode.’

24. The Simpsons Spin-off Showcase

  • This episode gets a big laugh right away at the quick zoom as Troy turns to camera, proudly shouting, “Spin-off!” Always the professional, doing his damndest to sell this bullshit. This show and “The 138th Episode Spectacular” are two-of-a-kind in this fourth wall breaking format, but this episode particularly feels like the embarrassed forefather of the future trilogy episodes, most of which are terrible. I certainly wouldn’t want them to have done “Spin-off Showcase 2,” but maybe a different kind of trilogy episode, like showing “What If?” scenarios or different moments in side characters’ lives with a shared theme or something. Instead, we got such riveting trilogy episodes like the one where they’re all about famous historical ships. Remember that classic?
  • Great exposition dump at the start of “Chief Wiggum, P.I.” explaining the impetus for the premise (“I still don’t understand, Clancy. Why give up your job as a small town police chief to open up a detective shop in New Orleans?” “Oh, lots of reasons, I suppose. Got kicked off the force, for one thing.”)
  • “Look, Big Daddy! It’s regular Daddy!”
  • Gailard Sartain earned his paycheck for Big Daddy just for the “BLEEAGH” noise he makes throwing Ralph at Wiggum before he tosses himself out the window.
  • The canned laughter is used so perfectly in “Love-Matic Grampa.” I can’t believe there are still sitcoms being made with laugh tracks, even ones that aren’t shot in front of a live audience. It feels like such a woefully antiquated format of storytelling. 
  • “I’ve suffered so long. Why can’t I die?” The only way this line could be improved is if the laugh track were put right after it.
  • “You know what’s great about you, Betty, is you’re letting your looks go gracefully. You’re not all hung up on looking attractive and desirable. It’s just so rare and refreshing.”
  • I still love Moe’s quick “He’s haunted!” aside in the laughing outro of “Grampa.”
  • Nice touch that the clock behind Kent Brockamn during the “Variety Hour” intro is in “real-time” for its primetime original airing, at around 8:20 pm.
  • “And now, a family that doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘cancelled,’ the Simpsons!” A cheeky line when it was written, a dire threat over twenty years later.
  • Cutting back to the Sea Captain with his manufactured loud pipe whistle and floating hat for seconds before the finale always makes me laugh.
  • Gotta love Tim Conway booking it the hell out of there the second the show is over. I don’t blame him.
  • For the series finale, they might as well go for broke and give Homer magic powers and have Bart’s triplet siblings make an appearance. Fuck it, why not?
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “In answer to the question, ‘How do you keep the Simpsons fresh after 8 long seasons?’, you don’t. Let’s not drag it through the mud here guys. Like many episodes this season, it’s funny for about 2 minutes, then it degrades into absurd, outlandish jokes that are hard to follow and not particularly funny. If they had ended the show with ‘Summer of 4′ 2’’ I would have been pretty upset, but after seeing most of season 8, I’d say it’s time to put OFF to rest.”

25. The Secret War of Lisa Simpson

  • Of course Chief Wiggum would leave the police station door key under the mat.
  • Wiggum’s hippie mannequins are great. The woman getting ready to chow down on her “California cheeseburger” reminds me of reading through when I was younger in their ‘Horrors’ section, looking at all the different urban myths and legends, including the likes of the babysitter who was high on LSD and put the baby in the oven thinking it was a turkey, that kind of shit. Nowadays, the site seems to be focused on debunking fake news in fact checking all of the stupid phony bullshit we see in the news and on social media every minute of our lives. The nostalgic innocence is all gone…
  • “It’s not my nature to complain…” Just give it a few years, Lisa, your character will be ruined soon enough…
  • I really love the bit where everyone has to wait until the townwide ringing echo stops. It helps to further emphasize the enormity of Bart’s prank, and having a follow-up scene gives it even more weight.
  • A rebuttal to anyone who thought “Diary Queen” was believable characterization for Edna: her and Skinner toasting in celebration when Bart gets shipped off to military school (“You dream about this day for so long, then when it comes, you don’t know what to say!” “Edna, your tears say more than words ever could.”
  • The gag about the girliest cadet at Rommelwood certainly hasn’t aged well…
  • “Since you attended public school I’m going to assume that you’re already proficient with small arms, so we’ll start you off with something a little more advanced.”
  • This episode is a bit more of a slog than I remember. There’s not really much critique about military schools, you’d think a prime target for a show like this, it’s completely hyper focused on Lisa’s struggles, which all comes down to the other students giving her and Bart a hard time, the type of bullying and hazing you can get in many other different shows. Also, Lisa specifically wanted an academic challenge, and there never felt like there was any connective tissue of her feeling like she would be up to the actual physical challenges of the school. Why does she care about doing this?
  • “Good job, Simpson, although that’s more cursing than I like to hear from a cadet in peacetime.”
  • Act three is almost a deadzone between the training and the loooooonnnnggg sequence of Lisa doing the Eliminator. There’s so few jokes, and while Bart ultimately rooting for Lisa is sweet, it doesn’t feel worth the time investment. The greatest emotional moments of the series sometimes caught you by surprise, or were motivated through the story that was almost jam-packed with jokes. Here, the entire back half of the episode is devoted to Bart feeling bad for shutting Lisa out and making it up to her, with not much else to, as Bart himself once said earlier this season, “cut through the treacle.”
  • “The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: to build and maintain those robots. Thank you.”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “VERY, VERY disappointing. It’s amazing how far a show can fall in one season. The episode was so bad, I really must wonder why anyone bothered to make it. Seeing Bart spun on a propeller and Lisa firing a machine gun really made me feel like I was watching a show that just happened to contain characters from the Simpsons. Where’s the realism? The relevancy? Gone.”

Season Eight Revisited (Part Three)

14. The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show

  • I love that we just see the end result of Krusty’s one-man pie fight. It’s a great example of something that’s funnier seeing the aftermath than the actual action.
  • There’s a great note on Krusty’s door that you can barely read on screen: Cleaning Crew: The Liquor is Not For You.
  • The hierarchy of power between Krusty and Roger Meyers, Jr. has swapped a few times, but it seems to make more sense that Krusty would be the “boss,” since the I & S cartoons run on his show. I love their dynamic in their first scene, where Meyers, Jr. effortlessly gets Krusty distracted from his chewing out session (“What happened here? Lightning hit the transmitter?” “See, that’s what I thought at first, but then… hey, shut up!”)
  • “Please refrain from tasting the knob.”
  • “So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show that’s completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots?” Sounds like they’re describing Futurama a few years early. Although, sadly, you could not win stuff by watching, at least as far as I remember.
  • Lisa’s speech about Itchy & Scratchy not having the staying power they once had is one of many overt meta references in this episode on how long this show has gone on and the inevitability of it growing stagnant. Oakley & Weinstein really felt that season 8 would possibly be the final one, and it shows clearest here than any other episode, and it’s pretty funny (not in a good way) watching this while knowing there’s over two decades more seasons to come.
  • I love Krusty’s boardroom suggestion that the new character be a gangster octopus. Now I want to see a drawing of that…
  • A lot of this episode is reflective of the writers’ views and efforts, but I like that we get a bit devoted to the grievances of the artists, as an animator who looks suspiciously like David Silverman is subject to Krusty, Lindsay Naegle and Roger Meyers, Jr’s incessant design by committee. I’m sure there are plenty of artists on staff who had similar nightmare stories about producers who think they’re creative coming in and fucking their work up.
  • Roy’s introduction reminded me, was there a story about FOX suggesting the show could add a new character at some point? I might be remembering that wrong. I know James L. Brooks’ presence killed a fair share of network meddling, but I wonder what notes and creative direction came through from the network over the years. I’m curious how horrible they must be, and how thankful we all should be that they never got enacted.
  • A scene I still don’t quite get is during the auditions where Roger Meyers, Jr. is absolutely enraptured by Otto and Troy McClure’s auditions (“You’re perfect! In fact, you’re better than perfect! Next to you, perfection is crap!”) I guess it’s supposed to make him seem easily impressed that it makes Homer’s harsh rejection sting all the more, but it doesn’t seem to fit his character to see him so complimentary to Otto of all people.
  • The college nerds are the perfect avatars for the 90s-era Internet obsessive cartoon nerd (gifting us the classic line, “I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.”) As big a cartoon fan as I was, I don’t think I was ever at this level, and I was a 2000s-era adolescent, but it’s kind of fascinating hearing and reading about adult men’s obsession with the likes of Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. I mean, I enjoy a lot of cartoons ostensibly meant for children, but this interest seemed like it was on a whole other level.
  • Great bit of (ad-libbed?) ADR before the Poochie premiere, we hear Barney in the crowd comment, “You know, Poochie’s based on me!”
  • I find myself saying “You’re missing the jokes!” if someone’s talking while we’re watching a comedy, particularly if it’s a shitty comedy.
  • I both love and hate the Bart/CBG scene; it’s a perfect encapsulation of CBG’s character and the sense of fan entitlement, but Bart’s rebuttal is kind of strange. His impassioned defense of professional TV writers really makes him feel like the writers’ mouthpiece (“They’re giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? If anything, you owe them.”) I totally get how frustrating it must be to work incredibly hard on the show, only to have self-righteous Internet dwellers shit all over it seemingly without a second thought, but saying “you owe us for writing this show” is kind of on a whole other level. Plus, as mentioned before, this scene rings more and more hollow the more shit seasons of this show keep piling up.
  • “One, Poochie needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine. Two, whenever Poochie’s not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking ‘Where’s Poochie?’” I love Roger Meyers, Jr’s stone face, he can’t even be bothered to look at Homer when he’s giving his dumbass suggestions.
  • Homer’s impassioned speech in defense of Poochie sets up one of the greatest bait-and-switch endings of the whole series. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to make me feel kind of emotional about the fate of a gangster surfer cartoon dog (“But if everyone could find a place in their hearts for the little dog that nobody wanted, I know we can make them laugh and cry until we grow old together.”) Poochie’s rejection is Homer’s rejection, so that’s why it still feels affecting, but it’s still crazy to me that I always get a slight chill hearing that speech. Then, of course, it all comes smacking Homer in the face with the actual cartoon, where his line is unceremoniously dubbed over by Roger Meyers, Jr. himself, they didn’t even bother paying to animate Poochie’s outro, and Krusty’s announcement of his permanent death is met with rapturous applause by children everywhere, including Homer’s own kids. Just fantastic. One of the biggest casualties of this show’s decline was its ability to switch gears from genuine emotion to completely undercutting it without undermining it, and making it look completely seamless.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Either the writers are trying too hard, or they just don’t give a damn anymore. This episode was utterly predictable and not funny. I wouldn’t call it the worst episode; I would rather see it than Bart Gets an Elephant. Still, the idea of having a ‘cool’ dog with Homer’s voice is just absurd.”

15. Homer’s Phobia

  • Like “Date with Density,” this is another title I didn’t get as a kid. It’s so damn good, it’s as if Homer got his name for the sole reason of making this genius pun title.
  • “These campaign buttons are all partisan. Don’t you have any neutral ones? ‘May the better man win’? ‘Let’s have a good, clean election?’ That sort of thing?” “No… but we do have some old shirt buttons. They’re kinda kooky and fun!” “Missy, you just talked yourself right out of a sale!”
  • John of course is just John Waters. Hell, it might actually be him moonlighting as owner of a kitsch store in a small town during his off-time. Contextually within the story, the casting and characterization is perfect.
  • Lisa’s quick interjection when Marge gives John the Confederate statue (“Please don’t construe our ownership of this as an endorsement of slavery”) is another great example of showing her believably wise and enlightened beyond her years. A moment like this in a modern day show would have Lisa give a mini-monologue about how aghast she is that Marge treasures such a problematic heirloom and that slavery is wrrroooooonnnng you hear me wrrrroooonnng, but here, she gets to make her point, but her quickly getting the comment in right before John might pass judgement on them is a nice little joke along with it.
  • I love that John’s embracing of the Simpsons is based on their world basically being camp in and of itself (”Pearls on a little girl? It’s a fairy tale!”) In yet another meta examination this season, it’s the first big magnifying glass held to the show in how it’s starting to feel dated a year since the characters’ creations. That age starts to feel even greater in 2021, while new characters look and dress like “normal” people, Lisa’s still got those pearls and plain red dress.
  • It’s such a delicate line keeping Homer from being unlikable with his ignorant views on gay people, but it still manages to work just because of how blindindly stupid he is on the subject (“Think of the property values! Now we can never say only straight people have been in this house!”) It never gets way too silly, but it never goes too aggressively homophobic either. Homer’s panic comes from ingrained societal expectations that he himself can’t even understand, so they’re really less his views than him just parroting what middle-aged men in the 90s would latently believe on average.
  • Smithers being pissed that John blew off their date for lunch with the Simpsons tells so much with so little. It makes sense that a live wire like John would find straight-laced Smithers kind of boring. I guess Malibu Stacys just aren’t his thing.
  • Anytime I hear about white people being pissy they can’t say the n-word when black people can, or any other kind of slur, I always think about Homer being equally whiny over the word ‘queer’ (“I resent you people using that word! That’s our word for making fun of you!”)
  • “Well, it’s been two hours. How do you feel?” “I dunno. I kinda want a cigarette.” “That’s a good start! Let’s get you a pack. What’s your brand?” “Anything slim!”
  • What more could I possibly say about The Anvil? One of the greatest scenes in show history. I also love how act three immediately opens with Homer at Moe’s sadly commenting, ”And the entire steel mill was gay…” If you had just tuned in at the commercial, what could you possibly be thinking was going on?
  • Moe and Barney are more lowkey bigoted in this episode as Homer is to serve the third act, but they’re even dumber than Homer is, so their ridiculous beliefs feel just as delightfully ignorant (“You still got that other kid, Lisa. Let’s take her out hunting tomorrow, make her into a man.” “She’d never go. She’s a vegetarian.” “Oh, geez! You and Marge ain’t cousins, are you?”
  • I never noticed before, but in the time lapse of Homer and company in the woods, we see Homer has shot a smiley face into a nearby tree out of boredom, with his gun still smoking.
  • Homer getting tenderized by the pack of reindeer feels like an early sign of the “hilarious” scenes to come in the Mike Scully era and beyond of Homer + pain = funny, but it works here almost as an amends to how he’s treated Bart and John, taking the brunt of the harm he’s caused.
  • “Well, Homer, I won your respect, and all I had to do was save your life. Now, if every gay man could just do the same, you’d be set.”
  • Dedicated to The Steelworkers of America. Keep Reaching For That Rainbow!
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This was indescribably horrible. Just when I was beginning to get optimistic from last week’s inside joke-themed ‘Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie,’ along comes an episode full of lame, ‘In Living Color’-style routines about homosexuals. Did Ron Hauge win a ‘Write a Simpsons Episode’ contest or something? This was the first episode where I’ve ever hated any character, and here I had three to choose from: Homer, in super-doltish Al Bundy mode; Moe, who had nothing but lame bile and not one good line; and John Waters, who is the last person I would choose to do a voiceover. His ‘hoo!’s had me muting the TV halfway through. Simpsons episodes are about memorable lines, and this one had absolutely none. Please, get Ron Hauge a writing partner.”

16. Brother From Another Series

  • Krusty’s song at the prison was another track on the soundtrack albums, one I never really understood as a kid (“I slugged some jerk in Tahoe/They gave me one to three/My high-priced lawyer sprung me on a technicality” aren’t exactly lyrics a ten-year-old can really grasp.) But I love how quickly Krusty recovers and wins the convicts back.
  • I know I harped on this the first time around, but this really should have been (and at times feels like) the last Sideshow Bob episode. Bart running to his room in fear at seeing Bob on TV was so refreshing to see. The next Bob episode “Day of the Jackanapes” would do a big joke that Bart was no longer afraid of Bob since they’d done their song-and-dance so many times before, and each ensuing appearance almost drew comical exasperation from the Simpsons, wanting him to explain his new plan and just get on with it. Here, Bart is believably acting like a ten-year-old boy seeing the man who tried to kill him twice. The realism is still there… but not for long.
  • “He explained his reasons for trying to kill us all, and I assure you, they were perfectly sane.”
  • The Bob/Cecil dynamic is wonderful right off the bat. I’ve never seen any of Frasier, but I assume Grammar and Hyde Pierce naturally kind of fell back into the same dynamic, and they’re very convincing as bickering brothers (“Hydrological and hydrodynamical? Talk about running the gamut.” “Snigger all you like, Bob.” “Thank you. I believe I shall.”
  • “Free comedy tip, slick: the pie gag’s only funny when the sap’s got dignity!” Interesting how this comedy philosophy didn’t carry over when Bob actually joined the show, replacing his sophisticated suit with a bare chest and hula skirt.
  • “Shake it, madam! Capital knockers!” So fucking funny. Kelsey Grammar kills it in this episode, this might be his best Bob performance.
  • “Hey, you said we were going to Dairy Queen!” “I lied. Now help me rummage through Bob’s trash for clues. Then I promise we’ll go to the waterslide.” Yet another example of Bart and (especially) Lisa just talking and behaving like kids. Also, could the waterslide comment be an intentional foreshadow of the ending where they make their escape down the water pipe?
  • Wonderful attention to detail: the dumpster Bart and Lisa search through isn’t a dumpster at all, it’s a Trash-Co waste disposal unit, as seen in “The Otto Show.” 
  • I’ve always liked these two shots toward the end of Bart, Lisa and Bob’s chase. Just some nice visual direction to break up the scene a bit.
  • Bart sicing Lisa on Bob (“Get ‘em, Lis!”) and her barreling at Bob with an intense growl is absolutely adorable, as is Bob’s lack of response in just holding her head at bay as he continues to process what’s going on with the shoddily built dam.
  • The misdirect with Bob through the entire show is really well done, and I love how it culminates in his awkward team-up with Bart and Lisa to escape and save the day. As much as I wish this were the final Bob episode, there are definitely still ways they could have brought him back somehow. I thought the premise of “The Great Louse Detective,” having Bob act as a Hannibal Lector type in assisting the capture of a wanted man was a promising one, it’s the episode itself that blew.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This Frasier crossover turned action adventure, was not the worst episode ever, but it was pretty close. The good, kind bob didn’t work, and his brother playing a sinister mastermind out to destroy the town didn’t work either. The writers need to save these action episodes for a spinoff series. I don’t want to see Bart and Lisa look through dumpsters, sneak through offices, run around a hydroelectric dam and then save a city. The show can sink much lower after the ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ Bob saves Bart ending.”

17. My Sister, My Sitter

  • Kent Brockman referring to the boardwalk prostitutes as “allied tradespeople” is a great line.
  • Lisa and Janey read “The Babysitter Twins,” an obvious reference to the “The Babysitters Club” in name and cover design. This kind of “Funtendo Zii,” same-name-but-tweaked-slightly stuff I usually rip on, but I give this a pass since it helps set up the premise of Lisa being interested in babysitting, and for convenience’s sake, just making a stand-in “Babysitters Club” makes more sense than creating an all-new thing.
  • Another great church marquee gag: No Synagogue Parking
  • Eight-year-old Lisa the successful babysitter is a bit of a pill to swallow, but the episode puts in the legwork in the first act to build her trust within the neighborhood and her parents. Her first job is for Ned, who is only talked into it since Homer and Marge would be next door in case of an emergency. From there, I was able to just go along with her being trusted by the other parents by Ned’s recommendation. The only thing that’s a problem is that Marge might be okay with Lisa watching Bart, but definitely not one-year-old Maggie. It’s not a huge deal for me though.
  • A very cute exchange where Lisa tries to mollify her father’s worry about his unwashed tuxedo (”Can you see the pie stains?” “…it’ll be dark.”)
  • I love the slight Doppler effect on Mayor Quimby’s “Stop, you idiot!” as Homer drives past him.
  • I like that as big of a brat Bart is to mess with Lisa, she throws it right back at him. It makes it more satisfying to watch than Bart just making Lisa’s life a living hell and her not being able to take it.
  • Homer and Marge walk the Squidport past all the different stores, reminding me of the Squidport expansion of the Tapped Out app game I had an unhealthy obsession with years ago. Having to wait 24 hours per boardwalk tile… man, fuck that game. Good thing I had it cracked for near unlimited donuts.
  • “This isn’t faux-dive. This is a dive!” “You’re a long way from home, yuppie boy. I’ll start a tab.”
  • I love that the sub delivery man just flies off screen as Krusty bursts his way through the door.
  • Great design of the Dr. Nick phone book ad.
  • Yeardley Smith is fantastic in the third act as Lisa gets more and more panicked and exhausted. Two highlights are her “Maaaagggiiiiieee!” right before she puts the wriggly baby in the pet carrier, and her extremely elongated struggle noises as she slides all the way down the cliff with the wheelbarrow after Bart.
  • Patient Diagnosis list: Unusual sex practice, looter’s hernia, Mexican stand-off, prison tunnel syndrome, armed homeowner, allergic reaction to mace, pepper spray or bullets, liquor store robbery, or John Gotti’s disease.
  • Smithers’ “situation” at Dr. Nick’s is a joke that feels a little too far. For the gags about Smithers’ sexuality outside of his unhealthy obsession with Burns, I prefer lighter stuff like him being miffed at being stood up by John Waters rather than him going to a back alley emergency room to have God knows what removed from his rectum.
  • The Squidport reacting aghast to Lisa plays itself a bit too seriously, although it seems intentionally and exaggeratedly so (I always laugh at Quimby’s loud “What the hell is that?!”) I don’t like how the scene just fades out with no real ending; I guess the joke is supposed to be that Lisa’s paranoid nightmare came true with Dr. Hibbert saying exactly what she feared, but it’s not the best.
  • The very ending feels very true to this show, that the parents of Springfield don’t give a shit about what Lisa did, as long as they can pawn their kids off to someone else, it’s all good.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Worst episode ever, first truly to deserve that crown. A sadistic and hate-filled Bart torments Lisa for no apparent reason other than sheer malice (with maybe a touch of envy over her money making thrown in, not that that would excuse anything.) I honestly can’t think of any high points, although there might be some. But I haven’t the heart to watch this episode again.  I’m marking the tape with a big black ‘X’ so I don’t accidentally see a few seconds of this episode while looking for something else.”

18. Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment

  • Lisa goading on the kids to “attack” Bart in the opening is another great, believable kid moment for her (“No one’s pinching his legs!”)
  • Drunk Bart is understandably played a bit seriously, but true to this show, it’s still undercut with the kids in the crowd cheering for him, and his pretty blaze attitude after the fact, announcing he’s heading off to Moe’s for a couple of beers (Homer gets up to follow, “I’ll come with!”)
  • “Ladies, please, all our Founding Fathers, astronauts, and World Series heroes have been either drunk or on cocaine.”
  • The only thing I know about Bernice Hibbert is that she’s a drunk. Is there any other appearance she’s made that illuminates anything else?
  • Anytime some kind of mild to moderate inconvenience happens and then resolves within a small amount of time, I always end up saying, “That was a scary couple of hours,” subbing hours for minutes, or whatever other measure of time is applicable.
  • This animation… wow. Is that top painted on Princess Kashmir’s chest?
  • I don’t know why, but I’ve always thought Li’l Lugger, Springfield’s U-HAUL equivalent, was a really great name.
  • The ball retrieval system from the bowling alley to Moe’s is just rinky dink enough that I can believe that Homer constructed it himself. Though did he have the permission from Barney’s Bowl-O-Rama to do it? It seems like it would be a natural connection to include Barney in the scheme, giving him access to his uncle’s business to run this scheme that ultimately benefits him with as much beer as he can drink. I guess it wasn’t an intentional connection, since we immediately see Barney get charged $45 for his first drink (“This better be the best tasting beer in the world! …you got lucky.”)
  • “This isn’t a very happy birthday for Rex Banner.”
  • At Moe’s “Pet Shop,” all the patrons raise their glasses and cheer, then quickly put them back behind their backs when Rex Banner turns his head back around, but we still clearly see that Eddie and Lou are still facing forward. Most likely just an animation oversight, but also, I can easily believe that Eddie and Lou don’t give a shit about enforcing the prohibition law, and are getting pretty sick of Rex Banner to do anything about it.
  • I spent way too much time thinking if the Simpson basement could possibly fit forty-two bathtubs in it. I guess it could? They also managed to get Xtapolapocetl’s head down there, so none of this logistics shit really matters.
  • I’m on the fence about the unceremonious expulsion, and presumed death, of Rex Banner. It’s unexpected and a funny visual, but it’s the only of the season 8 death quartet that was directly caused by a character, in this case, Eddie, now with blood on his hands. It’s funny how while I’m mixed on Rex Banner and Frank Ormand’s demises, I still love the final outros of Shary Bobbins and Frank Grimes, and even more interesting is I’m sure other fans have different feelings on this topic too.
  • To alcohol! The cause of, and solution, to all of life’s problems.” That’s got to be like top 5 most famous phrases from the show, right? 
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Some funny lines, good routines, the Narrator was pretty funny and Lisa’s darling in a green dress, but the story for the most part sucked. It was just one big love letter to alcohol, and I, for one, am not for overuse of alcohol (for health reasons.) I also was disappointed in Swartzwelder for the various spots of characters out of character, especially Marge, and I really don’t think the Homer I once knew would be stupid enough to break so many laws for alcohol. And what’s with these morbid endings?  First Sherri Bobbins killed in 3G03, and now Rex Banner killed. I can’t laugh at stories that end in such sick, black ways. Adding to the list of 19 worst ever episodes with a C- grade.”

19. Grade School Confidential

  • “The bake sale to raise money for the car wash has been cancelled due to confusion.”
  • Putting Skinner and Krabappel together feels like a natural idea, but I like the effort the episode puts in to make it feel that much more believable. Both are self-acknowledging sad, lonely people whose lives haven’t gone how they’d hoped (Edna’s is, though, “But then I was a very depressed child.”) We know Skinner is kind of an awkward geek play-acting as a disciplinarian, but this show gave him some more shades of innocence that appeal to Edna. It’s both heartening, and a bit sad, when Skinner explains how he’d always dreaded that he would end up with a woman like his mother, and that he’s glad he didn’t.
  • We get a welcome appearance of a new unnamed cafeteria cook (“Good gravy!” “Oh, thank you, it’s just brown and water.”) Doris Grau passed away a year and a half before this episode aired, so this script was definitely written after her passing, and look! They wanted to make a joke with a cafeteria worker, so they just made up a new character! I kind of go back and forth as to whether retiring or recasting is a better option with these characters, but as I’ve mentioned many times already, it’s just curious which characters ended up retired (those voiced by “major” names like Phil Hartman and Marcia Wallace) and those that ended up recast (Russi Taylor, Doris Grau.)
  • Chalmers the annoying moviegoer is one of my favorite syndication cuts. It’s just so stupid. (“You think they actually filmed this in Atlanta?” “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s important.” “Yeah…”)
  • Toward the end of act two, it starts to get a little stupid how far Skinner and Krabappel push Bart. Like, they have to know how unreliable their alliance is, that he could blab at any second and it’s all over for them, so why are they forcing him to courier notes for him during school hours? Skinner forcing Bart to say, “I love you” in the middle of class is really, really dumb, but Martin’s jab at Bart that finally breaks him almost makes it worth it (“Now, Bart, you must promise not to fall in love with me!”)
  • “Baby looked at you?!”
  • “Willie hears yah. Willie don’t care.”
  • I always laugh at Homer forgetting to pull the megaphone away from his mouth after he finds the remote, sheepishly pulling it from Marge’s face before repeating himself (“IT WAS… it was in my pocket.”) Such a nice little moment.
  • Why exactly would the police choose to blast romantic music to try to drive a romantic couple out of the building? Who knows. The third act does get a little dull at points, I won’t lie.
  • I love the contempt Chalmers has for the rest of the townspeople, and Sideshow Mel’s impassioned rebuttal (“Let us take our case directly to the townspeople.” “Oh, yeah, that’ll be real productive. Who do you want to talk to first? The guy with a bumblebee suit, or the one with a bone through his hair?” “My opinion is as valid as the next man’s!”
  • Of all the show moments that made no sense to me as a child, Skinner’s admission to being a virgin is probably the biggest of them all, since it’s basically the resolution to the entire story, and season 8 ran a lot when I was big into syndication. I don’t think I even had a clue as to what Skinner meant when I first saw this. But I love it, how Chalmers can’t get away fast enough to escape the awkwardness, and also this excellent bit (“Hey, does this mean that Mrs. Krabappel is a virgin too?” “Ha!”) This also implies a kind of sweeter element to the story: we’ve seen Krabappel to be a bit… more open sexually in episodes past, but I guess despite their heavy make-out sessions, she still respected either Skinner’s hesitance to have sex or his desire to wait. How wholesome.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “A promising premise made for the worst episode ever (tied with 4F04). The birthday party and the standoff were the suckiest scenes I’ve ever seen (no pun intended), and Bart’s role seemed like nothing more that something the writers put in to keep us from bitching about OFF’s lack of screentime (like we did last year with 3F15).  That and that fact that I don’t know which makes me wanna wretch more- this ep or 4F04.”

Season Eight Revisited (Part Two)

7. Lisa’s Date with Density

  • As a kid reading the Simpsons complete guide, I never understood the title. I thought it was “Destiny” and they made a typo. Even after seeing Back to the Future, it was still a bit of time after that I read the title again, and was like… oh. Now I get it.
  • In maybe like his sixth or seventh major appearance, the show is already making fun of Chalmers’ “SKINNER!!” This is the point where you would dial back the running gag after getting self-aware of it, but no, we’d be in for decades more of “SKINNER!” (and uninspired variations of it) being one of Chalmers’ only two jokes.
  • Everything about the telemarking scam subplot is an ominous harbinger for stupid and wacky Homer antics to come. Silly one-off stories like this or Homer’s sugar business in “Lisa’s Rival” work perfectly fine on their own, but it wouldn’t be long past this point where that exaggerated cartoony version of Homer would just be his “regular” character, an eccentric maniac who acts completely on impulse and gets off scot-free from all his crazy adventures.
  • “When she sees you’ll do anything she says, she’s bound to respect you!” Boy, this quote doesn’t bring back any painful high school memories at all!
  • “Guess who likes you” is still a very popular shitposting macro to this day. It also gave us this wonderful looping gif.
  • The premise of this episode is fairly simplistic, but it feels incredibly human, especially the scenes where Lisa and Nelson just kind of stand in silence not really knowing what to say with each other. Childhood romance is incredibly awkward, since neither of them don’t really know what they feel or what to do with those weird feelings. It all feels like it comes from an honest place. Lisa has this odd infatuation that she wants to control to suit her, but cannot, and Nelson, in the end, admits he humored Lisa because he appreciated deep down that she actually saw some good in him. Coming from a clearly broken home, it adds just a drop of emotionality to the character that really works. Eventually, Nelson’s “poor kid” label would become his thing, either to be the subject of scornful ridicule, or to elicit sympathy, sometimes both in the same episode. It sucked.
  • “You kissed a girl!” “That is so gay!” Every time in the mid-to-late-2000s where an episode would use “gay” as a punchline (which was quite often), I’d always think back to this line as another reminder of what actual clever writing used to be like.
  • Skinner yelling at Agnes to not look at the window at the mooning bullies feels like a good example at how the Seymour-Agnes dynamic was a bit more developed back then. There’s an obvious pathetic sadness to Skinner living with his mother, more or less under her thumb, but in moments like this, or in episodes like “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baaadaaasss Song” and “Grade School Confidential,” we see how Skinner is also acting as caregiver for this old woman, and has some kind of controlling hand in the household. In later shows, he’d become absolutely submissive to Agnes, which worked to heavily neuter the character, robbing him of his position of authority as the head of the school and Bart’s archenemy. …boy, I really didn’t mean to bitch this much about the modern-era show in this specific episode. A lot of stuff in it just ended up reminding me of how far things had fallen since this point.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “One of the best Lisa-based episodes ever, but more time should’ve been spent on the subplot (Homer’s telemarketing scam). I was glad to see that Nelson never actually showed any sign of changing his character, as the kiss was without sincerity. I own a Honda, so I particularly liked the beginning, but a Lisa episode is still a Lisa episode, and the best of those still only gets a C-.”

8. Hurricane Neddy

  • “The weather service has warned us to brace ourselves for the onslaught of Hurricane Barbara. And if you think naming a destructive storm after a woman is sexist, you obviously have never seen the gals grabbing for items at a clearance sale.” “That’s true… but he shouldn’t say it.”
  • The onslaught of panicked customers raiding the Kwik-E-Mart definitely gave me March 2020 vibes trying to go into any grocery store.
  • There’s a great attention to detail when the National guardsman is trying to get Abe to leave the nursing home, he does a perfect heel turn when he goes to leave the room.
  • It’s on-screen too long to be a “blink-or-you’ll-miss-it,” but I love that Homer has ripped off the back door to nail over his back window and it’s never highlighted as a joke.
  • The death row convict blowing away, then getting shocked by the power lines to everyone’s elation is such a crazy, grimly wonderful joke.
  • Fun animation of the Simpsons getting swirled around in the eye of the hurricane.
  • “Neddy doesn’t believe in insurance. He considers it a form of gambling.”
  • “God Welcomes His Victims” has got to be the greatest church marquee joke in the whole series.
  • There’s so many great moments as Ned tours his shitty new house: the toilet in the bathroom (“Ned, you ever try lugging a toilet up a flight of stairs?,”) the load-bearing Krusty poster, the upstairs replacement flooring… (“We ran out of floorboards there, so we painted the dirt. Pretty clever!”) It serves as the perfect last straw for Ned, showing on full display this entire town of absolute morons who are completely incompetent, yet they came out of the storm completely unscathed. Hey, have I mentioned Dankmus recently?
  • I love everything about the first two acts, misfortune after misfortune befalling Ned (he himself specifically compares it to the story of Job) until he finally, after eight seasons, loses his cool. However, I still don’t like the ridiculous explanation of his childhood therapy, which retroactively turns his “okily-dokilys” into suppressions of his incredible rage. I am absolutely all for an episode exploring what made Ned try to shut out all negative emotions in his life and how it deeply affects him, but the year-round spanking treatment felt way too silly when I would have rathered a more character-specific exploration. Ned admitting he hates his parents and the episode immediately ending feels like the ending of “$pringfield,” but rather than it feeling like a clever joke about addiction (“Maybe I should get some professional help.” “No, no, that’s too expensive. Just don’t do it anymore,”) to me, it just feels like teasing an interesting plot line that never actually happens. But despite my bitching, we do get the ever-useful classic line, “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas!”
  • “Ned Flanders, I mock your value system. You also appear foolish to the eyes of others.” “Past instances in which I professed to like you were fraudulent.” “I engaged in intercourse with your spouse or significant other. …now that’s psychiatry!”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “It’s a waste of time to make an episode centering on a minor character. This format necessitates too many Simpson-less scenes. Also, the Ned-talk resulting from therapy is inconsistent with ‘Lisa the Vegetarian’ in which the clan talked like Ned. The slam at my alma mater didn’t help.”

9. El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer

  • I like the framing in the opening scene at Homer looking through the cut-out newspapers to each of his suspects. We also get this ever-useful reaction image at Marge’s limp excuse for why she’s suspiciously holding the scissors.
  • Since getting a dog a few months ago, I have had many a dog-dangling afternoon. I highly recommend it.
  • “Of course everything looks bad if you remember it” is yet another incredibly handy phrase this show has given us.
  • The cowboy Smithers scene was a syndication cut, and seeing it for the first time on DVD really baffled me. I still don’t have any idea what it’s supposed to mean. I guess his costume is pretty flamboyant, but he’s affecting a macho voice while asking Marge to dance… anyone want to explain this to me?
  • I really liked how Ralph was kind of lucid in this episode, innocently giving Homer the idea to use the candle wax. There’s a line between making him dumb and simple, and making him a braindead one-liner generator, and this show would very soon cross it.
  • Kudos to Dan Castellaneta for reading wax-lipped Homer’s dialogue with his mouth slightly open, really selling that he’s talking through the wax.
  • I like that right before Homer’s freakout begins, he laments how Marge wasn’t there to see him triumph over Wiggum. He grumbled about Marge’s no-beer promise when the two parted, but he still loves and values her company, even if he’s doing something all for himself. His great victory means less to him since he wasn’t with Marge, almost like she’s his soulmate! It’s a small, but important touch.
  • The animation in this episode is really just gorgeous, with so many great trippy visuals.
  • A while back, I was absolutely obsessed with the game “LEGO Dimensions,” a toys-to-life crossover game featuring many different franchises like Back to the Future, Harry Potter, Adventure Time, Doctor Who and so forth, where you collected the actual LEGO figures that appear in-game when you put them on the gamepad. The Simpsons was one of the first expansions released, with Homer, Bart and Krusty as playable characters, and the bonus level was based on this episode (you can watch it here.) The thing was, the game publisher was able to get the Simpsons license, but could only secure the voice rights of Dan Castellaneta (while playing as Homer and Krusty will trigger random quips, Bart is left a completely mute character.) In regards to making a game level using only existing show audio, this feels like the only possible episode they could have used, since the plot is really only focused on Homer. They dodged around it well enough, with Marge conspicuously left mute in the opening. They were still able to use Johnny Cash’s voice, so I guess his estate wasn’t hard to deal with.
  • While barely featured in this episode, Bart and Lisa get two fantastic scenes: Bart’s “Time for Chili” hat, and “So I says to Mabel, I says…,” which I’m still not completely sure what it’s a reference to or why it’s so funny.
  • Homer desperately running around the never-rotating Marge and her blowing away like sand is honestly kind of chilling imagery. 
  • Johnny Cash is the perfect wise voice for the Space Coyote, and he even does really great coyote growling and gnawing noises!
  • “We don’t have anything in common! Look at these records: Jim Nabors, Glen Campbell, the Doodletown Pipers. Now look at her records! They stink!”
  • I really love how act three is fueled by Homer’s insecurities. Unlike future Homer-Marge episodes, where Homer would do some incredibly stupid shit and get forgiven by Marge for no real reason other than the episode was almost over, it’s great that here and in “A Milhouse Divided,” Homer is more introspective about his relationship, wondering if he’s truly deserving of a saintly woman like Marge, a much, much more sympathetic portrayal than his future Captain Wacky de-evolution. The resolution is incredibly sweet, as Marge gives her believable and funny reasoning as to how she found Homer, revealing to him that she knows him better than anyone. The elation in Homer’s “Oh, Marge!” when it all dawns on him is palpable, it’s so endearing.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Bad animation, mostly flat jokes and a story that lacks depth makes this an all time clanger, to me. Homer’s quest for his new soulmate is handled rather improperly. I, myself, am tired of seeing stories about Homer and Marge’s relationship in jeopardy. The ending is so predictable and forced that it just totally falls flat. I didn’t too much care for the animation or most of Homer’s hallucination either. A few good jokes, but a story that leaves much to be desired.”

10. The Springfield Files

  • It’s pretty obvious from the start that this is an Al Jean/Mike Reiss show, considering almost half of the first act is just isolated scenes of characters talking about how it’s Friday. It’s a writing style that’s held firm since their years running the show, as well as The Critic, which can result in some funny individual moments, but makes the episode itself feel kind of thin and underdeveloped. This show feels like one of the “worst” examples; if you only left in the scenes that actually progressed the story, it’d probably barely be ten minutes. There could have been ways they could have beefed the story up a bit more, although, to be fair, I don’t really know how much further you can develop a plot as thin as “Homer sees an alien.”
  • The score at the end of the first act is really great. I don’t know if it’s meant to be specifically evocative of any music from The X-Files (besides the actual theme music when the “alien” appears), but it sets a real unique and ominous mood as Homer gets more and more lost and out-of-sorts.
  • I’ve never seen one episode of The X-Files, but I’m aware enough of the characters of Mulder and Scully to go along with their roles in the story. It’s also pretty curious that two years prior, Matt Groening cried foul at “A Star is Burns,” but I guess he didn’t have a problem with this. I guess he softened a bit in the time between, but it’s pretty interesting, especially since both episodes are Al Jean/Mike Reiss joints.
  • I’m still torn about the alien line-up gag. It’s kind of funny, but it kind of shoots a gigantic hole in the reality of the series to just have five aliens standing there in a police line-up. Also, Mulder and Scully are there to verify if Homer’s wild claims of actually seeing a real alien are true… yet they’re able to drag in Chewbacca and Marvin the Martian at the drop of a hat? The joke is a little too muddy. Also, since ALF is there, I’ll plug Phillip Reed’s ALF reviews again, since I just finished re-reading them for the fourth time and laughed my ass off just as hard.
  • “I’m like the man who single handedly built the rocket and went to the moon. What was his name? Apollo Creed?”
  • Even though I just bitched about isolated gags, I still love the man waking up from a 23-year coma bit (“Do Sonny and Cher still have that stupid show?” “No, she won an Oscar, and he’s a Congressman!” “Good night!” [dies])
  • The reveal of the Burns alien feels like such a classic moment, and part of me still loves how stupid an explanation it is, but really, what’s the deal here? Smithers explains how Mr. Burns gets all of these debilitating and disillusioning procedures done every week… and then just lets him wander around defenseless in the woods? I guess he just picks him up later in the night? It’s really kind of pushing the boundaries of logic a bit.
  • It’s odd that there’s no real wrap-up for Mulder and Scully. They reappear in the crowd at the very end with no dialogue, but it feels like they should have had an actual role in the third act, like they come back to Springfield after the alien footage gets released. They could still be skeptical, react in shock when the “alien” appears, then have some kind of conclusionary remarks before the big song. It would definitely make this feel more like a real crossover; instead, they’re just around for a few minutes in act two and leave.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Ugh, ugh, retch. I’m sorry, I really expected something funny out of this episode, but aside from the Nimoy intro, the exploding lie detector and a couple other small things, this episode’s jokes were predictable, corny, cheesy, dated, poorly thought-out and just plain embarrassing. The premise? Done to death. The crossover? Anticlimactic. I really hate to say this, but this episode blew.”

11. The Twisted World of Marge Simpson

  • Women don’t really have many robust roles on this show, but what we do see (at least in this era) was very good. The Investorettes is a great idea, this collection of bored housewives and single women exerting some independence via meager, quick-on-return investments. But when Helen wants to up the ante a bit, it’s too much for Marge to handle (“I’m not wild about these high-risk ventures. They sound a little risky.”) Most Marge episodes boil down to her wanting more excitement out of the house, which this episode kind of is, but I like that the framing of it is completely different, where she pushes herself out of her comfort zone to go toe-to-toe with her fairweather friends.
  • The pancakes in the mail joke is such a fantastic double-joke, carried over two scenes with two separate characters. Helen sternly telling Marge she’ll get her pancakes in the mail is funny on its own, then when we cut back to Marge having finished telling the family the story, Homer asking about the pancakes is even funnier, because of course that’s the one detail of the story he would hone in on. Also, bits that carry over from scene to scene really work to make the story feel more cohesive, as small as they are.
  • Fleet-A-Pita’s blatant whitewashing to rebrand scary “ethnic” food as an exciting “specialty” business venture makes for such a great scene. Cautious suburbanite Helen is cautious (“I don’t know about food from the Middle East. Isn’t that whole area a little iffy?”) but the saleswoman wins them all over thanks to “flavor sauce,” “crunch patties,” and her world-class chef “Christopher.” This episode is over twenty years old, and you still see this kind of white American-ization of foreign dishes, the scene plays as strong as ever.
  • Jack Lemmon does a great job, just the perfect person to convince Marge to invest, a simple, kindly man who forgoes flash for wholesome values. It sets up the perfect David and Goliath between her and the Investorettes. Fleet-A-Pita, the flashy new worldly food option with a heap of money behind it, and Marge’s made-in-American, family-run Pretzel Wagon.
  • The family helping Marge’s business out lends itself to some really sweet and funny scenes, from the phony ticker tape parade to avoid littering laws (“Welcome back, space girl!,”) Homer diligently acting as pretzel inspector, with a taped on label over his work shirt and helmet, and Homer actively talking up the Pretzel Wagon to his co-workers as she arrives at the plant (“Why, it’s one of those pretzel wagons the movie stars are always talking about!”)
  • Something about Cletus yelling out his enormous list of kids paired with their incredibly slow walking out of the house and into place on the porch makes that scene extra funny, capped off by Cletus’ big goofy grin at the end, extremely pleased to have outsmarted his way to free food (“I should’ve said limit one per customer.” “Should’a, but didnt’a.”)
  • “‘Copyright 1968.’ Hmmm, determined or not, that cat must be long dead. That’s kind of a downer.”
  • Whitey Ford’s unconscious body lying on the field is such a hilarious image.
  • Frank Ormand being dead, and the reveal of his executor being dead as well (“They were in the same car!”) feels a bit too dark, which is saying something in a season with both Shary Bobbins and Frank Grimes. Maybe because both those episodes ended with the guest star’s death (one built up to, one a shock joke), while here, it’s a scene where we find out the kindly old man is dead, and the ending twist is another old man is also dead. Not quite as funny to me.
  • This feels like one of the last great appearances by the Springfield mafia. Their third act montage of muscling other foodstuffs off Marge’s turf is full of great gags (Legs removing the little table from the pizza and smashing the box, escorting the Girl Scouts out of town by gunpoint), but even better, they use the Mermaidman and Barnacleboy music! Up, up and awaaaaaayy!
  • “You have twenty-four hours to give us our money. And to show you we are serious… you have twelve hours.”
  • Marge’s reconciliation with Homer at the end feels like a great summation of her love for him: “I don’t hate you for failing, I love you for trying.” Homer getting the mafia to help Marge without her knowing is an insane and dangerous idea, but, being the saint she is, Marge knew how it came from an absolutely pure place of earnestly wanting to help. It’s such a pure moment surrounded by the crazy Yakuza ending.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “If I could sum up this ep in a word, it would be ‘weak.’ Even before I realized Jennifer Crittendon wrote it, I started thinking that it was like the Country Club episode. I am seriously starting to wonder if maybe a female writer can’t capture the essence of The Simpsons correctly. And is it me, or has it been awhile since we’ve seen much of Bart or Lisa?” (surprisingly, this was written by a woman.)

12. Mountain of Madness

  • I’m not a coffee drinker, but Burns’ reaction face makes me want to be.
  • The unnamed ranger is this episode’s understated MVP. I love his measured voice, almost like a more muted version of Hank Azaria’s Adam West-esque beekeeper from “Lisa’s Rival.” 
  • It’s weird seeing Smithers with blue-tinted glasses in this episode. I don’t know at what point this switch was made permanent, but at some point, Smithers went from normal white eyes to having them slightly blue due to his glasses, which never made any sense to me, since that logic doesn’t apply to fellow eyeglass-wearers like Ned or Milhouse. It’s similar to another random design change where Professor Frink’s lab coat changed from green to white. At least in that instance, I understand the logic, as a white coat makes him easily recognizable as a scientist, but I still miss that green coat! #NotMyFrink– I love how irritated Smithers gets by Bart and Lisa. We typically only see him as Burns’ ever-obedient lapdog, but there’s undeniably some repressed feelings building up in him, both from the stress of his overbearing job and his eternally unrequited feelings. I also like how Bart and Lisa are both annoying in their own distinct ways: Bart is of course a dim little shit, searching for gold and not knowing how a watch works (“Wh-what comes after twelve?” “One.” “No, after twelve,”) while Lisa tries to tend to each and every woodland critter with a bum ankle or a light cough (”Aren’t there any healthy animals in this forest?!”) Has Smithers ever had any extended screen time with these two before or since? I can only think of Lisa getting Stacy Lovell’s address from Smithers in “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” but that was pretty quick. It’s a pretty unique pairing, another reason I really enjoy these scenes.
  • “I’ve always felt that there’s far too much hysteria these days about so-called cheating. If you can take advantage of a situation in some way, it’s your duty as an American to do it. Why should the race always be to the swift or the jumble to the quick-witted? Should they be allowed to win merely because of the gifts God gave them? Well, I say cheating is the gift man gives himself!”
  • “From the mightiest Pharaoh to the lowliest peasant, who doesn’t enjoy a good sit?” Harry Shearer nails each and every one of these Burns lines.
  • Like in “Bart After Dark,” I’m reminded once again of Rocko’s Modern Life, which did their own trapped-in-a-cabin-by-an-avalanche episode, and a really great one at that. Seriously, guys, Rocko really does hold up pretty damn well.
  • I love the build-up right before Homer and Burns finally throw down, where their ghost armies close in on each other, the tension increases… and then they fade away as the two start fighting, their grandiose delusions melting away to just show these two cold and tired men attempt to kill each other.
  • The rocket cabin is a little dumb, but it’s absolutely worth it for Lenny’s ”Something’s wrong with its brakes!” I fucking love that line.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Stupid TV… be more funny! I find myself saying that a lot lately. I had thought this season’s biggest problem with the bad episodes was that they wrote the plots around the jokes. Well this week my words come back to haunt me, because this week there were few jokes at all. A few of the slapstick gags (which seems like the writers’ humorous element of choice for it these days) got me snickering but that was about it. And yet again Bart and Lisa are pretty much ignored except for a few inane lines. Still, it had a few moments, which were a few more than that horrible abomination of last week. C’mon writers, let’s get back to the dialogue and satire that made the show what it always was which is relatively absent most of the time these days.”

13. Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala-D’oh-cious

  • Seeing Lisa pull one of Marge’s looooong hairs out of her soup really shows what an enormous hassle her giant beehive must be. Those drains at the Simpson house have got to be clogged at least once a week.
  • As Homer attempts to expose the “man in drag” at his door, I’ll just say I recently watched Mrs. Doubtfire for the first time in 15 years, and it 100% does not hold up. Just an annoying and ugly movie.
  • All the songs from this show were on the soundtrack CDs, and I’ve heard them so, so many times. In “Minimum-Wage Nanny,” after Lisa yells at Bart for interrupting, I always misheard when he replies, “Just cutting through the treacle.” Never having heard the word ‘treacle,’ I heard it as ‘treehole,’ which makes absolutely no sense. Treehole like in the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird? To be fair to my young self, Nancy Cartwright doesn’t really emphasize the ‘k’ sound, so it almost kind of sounds like “tree-hull.”
  • Speaking of the soundtrack, it contains a full song cut from this episode featuring Patty and Selma, “We Love to Smoke.” I don’t know if it ever even got to the animatic stage; it’s a nice little song, but I understand why it was cut, since it’s completely separate from Bobbins and the main family. Also, the final line of the song, “Although we’ll croak before 2003,” would have only gotten funnier with age.
  • This is another episode I’ve seen a ton of times in syndication, and this moment always stuck out to me. During the slow push-in on the window where we first see Shary Bobbins, we hold on Marge’s incredibly dumb-looking face as the magical music swells, which kind of taints the moment a little bit. Couldn’t they have had Marge looking sad or defeated or something?
  • Maggie Roswell got a separate “Starring” credit for this episode, and it’s absolutely earned. Of the supporting cast, Roswell may not have gotten meaty regular roles like Pamela Hayden or Tress MacNeille, but her talents shone through in recurring characters like Maude Flanders and Helen Lovejoy, as well as a cast of random no-name one-off characters. Shary Bobbins was her spotlight show, doing so great a job that the producers decided to let her voice the character rather than Julie Andrews herself. Hearing her incredible talent here makes her later contract battle with FOX a few years later all the more aggravating.
  • This episode has my absolute favorite Willie scene. Him doing the Flashdance dance and him screaming at a not-blind Shary Bobbins (“It’s good to see you, Willie.” ”That’s not what you said the first time you saw me!!”), either one of those bits would have been enough to make it an all-time great scene, but both of them together? They’re just spoiling us.
  • Another misheard line I’ve listened to a hundred times: Abe’s “I think we got our umbrellas switched!” Great line, great act break, took an embarrassing number of times watching as a kid to understand what he was saying. Maybe it’s just me, but like Bart’s “treacle,” I can’t hear the “r” in umbrella, and the back half of “switched” fades out very quickly since Abe’s out the door by that point, so I can kind of see how I got confused.
  • If I may praise one specific moment of Roswell’s performance, it’s most definitely her exasperated “D’oh-re-me-fa-so…” under her breath as she scurries back to the kitchen.
  • Where the sizable amount of “filler” scenes in “The Springfield Files” bothered me a bit, I don’t really mind them here, since they’re mostly all stuff the Simpsons are watching on TV, reinforcing their sloth-like nature. Included is one of the best Itchy & Scratchys, the Reservoir Dogs parody where Itchy slices the head off of Quentin Tarantino. Asked to voice himself, Tarnatino apparently was slightly offended by his dialogue and turned it down, so I guess he got what he deserved.
  • The episode doesn’t really resolve Marge’s problem, but that’s kind of the point, as she explains she’s just going to emotionally disassociate and go with the flow from now on. “Happy Just The Way We Are” is a card-carrying ode to the status quo, and it’s wonderful for what it is, though it feels like another illuminating example of the Oakley & Weinstein years feeling like the would-be final years of the series. In another world, maybe they would have been. We can only imagine…
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “As fate put it, I couldn’t watch the episode live, and had to tape it; during any subsequent viewing, my thumb just ached for the ‘forward’ button, which speaks in volume. It’s not that I dislike music in the Simpsons universe, but I find myself uncomfortable around musical numbers, where people start singing out of the blue for no other apparent reason than to make sure it’s a real musical number. So, when facing song after song of ‘we’re bad, we’re rad, we’re a mess and we love it,’ I grabbed whatever humor was left, silently waiting for the real Simpson family to be back next week.”

Season Eight Revisited (Part One)

1. Treehouse of Horror VII

  • The Simpson kids forming a human ladder is a cute little piece of animation.
  • It doesn’t rain much in LA, but when it does and I have to drive somewhere, I invariably think, “Who needs a car-wash when you can just drive around in the rain?”
  • I love Marge’s surprised scream at Hibbert’s appearance is followed by Hibbert screaming like back. It just kind of happens and we just move on without highlighting it, which makes it even funnier to me.
  • “I think I’ll bottle feed that one” is yet another joke I didn’t get until like my fifth viewing as a kid.
  • I don’t know for sure, but it sounds like they electronically deepend Nancy Cartwright’s voice for Hugo. She can get pretty low register at times, but watching this episode ago, Hugo sounded a little bit artificially sweetened to me.
  • I like that if you’re really paying attention, you can figure out the “twist” ending of Bart being the evil twin, since we see what side Bart’s scar is on right before the flashback.
  • Bart’s teasing of Lisa on her petri dish society of “You trying to grow a friend?” feels like the most authentic big brother taunt he’s ever said.
  • The sequence of the mini fighter jets flying up to Bart to attack is pretty neato.
  • Neat touch that we see mini-versions of the college nerds alongside mini-Frink after Lisa is first shrunken down. 
  • I know he did Bill Clinton on SNL, but Phil Hartman doing Clinton here is a little distracting, considering how similar he sounds to his other Simpsons characters. I like that Kang and Bob Dole are both voiced by Harry Shearer, and I thought it would be more appropriate if Dan Castellaneta voiced Clinton, since he also voices Kodos. He had voiced Clinton in previous episodes, but in future appearances in seasons 10 and 11, Clinton was voiced by Karl Wiedergott, which is kind of weird. Why bring in a guest voice when one of your main cast members can do a serviceable job?
  • “Aliens, bio-duplication, nude conspiracies… Oh my God! Lyndon LaRouche was right!”
  • The “abortions for some, miniature American flags for all!” scene is still a classic, but I was more struck by the beginning of the scene, where for some reason, Dole is introduced as “73-year-old candidate Bob Dole.” I was a little kid during the 1996 election, did Dole consider it a point of pride that he was the oldest Presidential candidate? It’s even funnier now since last fall, we had two candidates who were older than Dole, and now have the oldest President ever to be elected. Boy, living in a gerontocracy sure is great!
  • “I am looking forward to an orderly election tomorrow, which will eliminate the need for a violent blood bath” was a quote that popped up a lot last November.
  • The “third party candidate” bit at the end is so great, but it’s bizarre that the line is said by Skinner’s doppelganger. Did his model sheet get accidentally mixed into the crowd pile and they didn’t have time or want to spend the money to do a retake? It’s weird that a pretty big mistake like this could happen as late as season 8.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I thought this was a horrible special. Every single episode had no, or a very sketchy, bad ending, unlike nearly all of the previous specials. I was very disappointed with this episode, and if it is an indicator of what’s ahead, look out.”

2. You Only Move Twice

  • “I’ve dug myself into a happy little rut here and I’m not about to hoist myself out of it.” “Just bring the rut with you, honey!”
  • I like that after Bart shoves Lisa out of the way, the next shot she’s annoyedly rubbing her arm. I like when small stuff like that carries over past the joke; they could have easily had Lisa just standing there, or not had her in the next shot at all, but I like the added detail. Similarly, we see the collapsed chimney in exterior shots of the house, when it could have just been ignored past the goofy gag.
  • I love the end of act one where we get our entire cast saying goodbye to the Simpsons. This being the season premiere, it’s almost angling itself like this is the start of a whole new revamp of the show where they move to a new town with all new characters and situations. It’s also funny that the second character to say goodbye after Ned is everybody’s favorite side character, the Blue-Haired Lawyer.
  • Ah, Hank Scorpio, hands down Albert Brooks’ best Simpsons role, and one of the best one-off characters ever. Almost every line of his is quotable. The character itself is brilliant in his conceit, that a Bond villain would also angle themselves as the world’s best boss, but on top of that, the excellent writing and Brooks’ performance elevates the character to a whole new level. It may be somewhat of a front that he genuinely cares for Homer at all, but I like to think that he does. Why else would he have worked so hard on his coat bit if not to earnestly try and impress Homer?
  • Cypress Creek Elementary School being so impressive as to have their own website is most definitely a time capsule joke. Also, in case you’re wondering, does not exist.– I always laugh at the dramatic music stings at Marge drinking the wine.
  • It doesn’t seem very logical for business to have so many identical stores in one place, but man, that hammock distinct sounds mighty comfy.
  • “Maybe it just collapsed on its own” is one of many random lines I find myself saying quite a bit, in reference to anytime I or someone else messes something up.
  • Another signal Scorpio is actually a nice guy: despite having his goons ruthless gun down his arch nemesis James Bont, he still intends to pay for his funeral. A cheap one, but still.
  • They tried their best to come up with big reasons why the other Simpsons would hate Cypress Creek, but really, even Homer could have figured out how to help them, especially if he had the help of Scorpio. Surely there are effective allergy medications Lisa could take, Bart could have been transferred to a different class, maybe even held back a grade, and if Marge couldn’t bother to find a new hobby or something else to occupy her time, just rip all the automated shit out of the house and let her down the housework again. But whatever, it all works well enough
  • Watching this again, I once again wonder why the hell they didn’t just make Albert Brooks’ role in the movie Hank Scorpio. He could have still been the head of the EPA and had some kind of throwaway dialogue about how he infiltrated the government, but not so much as to alienate casual fans who wouldn’t know who he was. But hey, why throw the fans of your show any bones when you’re trying to appeal to the widest demographic possible? I think after season 11, I may do a Revisted of the movie to cap things off.
  • “Scorpio!” is definitely in the top 10 songs of the series. Even though they had to speed it up a bit to fit in the credits, it’s still fabulous.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “One of the more forgettable episodes I’ve seen; this one just wasn’t as well written as I’ve come to expect. The only big laughs come from Bart’s remedial class and a climax that parodies just about every 007 movie ever made. Worst of all was Homer’s new boss, who was just plain annoying.”

3. The Homer They Fall

  • Homer pulling Marge at the mall (“Homer, please! You’re hurting my arm.” “No, I’m not!”) feels like an early sign of Jerkass Homer to me. 
  • The designs for Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney’s dads feels a bit silly to me. I get you want to make them instantly recognizable they’re the bullies’ parents, but Jimbo’s dad is literally wearing his son’s exact same skull shirt and purple hat.
  • Fun background detail in Moe’s “office” on one of his old fight posters: Szyslak vs. Oakley (complete with a little caricature of showrunner Bill Oakley.) Also advertised is Kirkland vs. Silverman, referencing show directors Mark Kirkland and David Silverman.
  • I wonder if the producers actually tried to get Don King and he said no, so they decided to just make their own stand-in character (“He’s exactly as rich and as famous as Don King, and he looks just like him, too!) They might talk about this on the commentary, I’m not sure. Either way, Paul Winfield is fantastic as Lucious Sweet, caricaturing the Don but still playing it straight when needed in the story.
  • Glad to see Dr. Hibbert keeps his surgical 2x4s sterilized in their own packaging before use.
  • At the precipice of endless Homer-gets-a-job episodes, this episode gets a pass for two reasons: first, there’s believable reason and explanation as to why Homer both wants to do this job (working with Moe, money) and why he’s actually good at it, and second, the story is really Moe’s, as we get a look into his past and his struggles to reclaim his former glory in exchange for his friend’s well-being. 
  • More words I learned from this show: verticality, fustigaton.
  • Homer having no idea who Drederick Tatum is still feels like a big pill to swallow. I don’t care about it as a continuity error given him watching his big fight in “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment,” but even if Homer didn’t know a thing about boxing, Tatum, being a Mike Tyson expy, is such a well-known public figure that even Marge knew who he was. 
  • I really hope someone made a T-shirt of the fist coming toward Homer’s face.
  • Some of the melodrama in act three gets to be a little much: Moe tossing away the towel, the backend of the fight as Tatum pummels Homer and prepares for the final blow. There’s a few jokes peppered here and there, but it still felt like it needed a bit more sweetening.
  • “I can’t remember where we parked.” “That’s all right. We’ll just wait till everyone else leaves.”
  • Moe as the globetrotter altruistic Fan Man is such a bizarre ending. Is this any kind of specific reference to something? I feel like an ending with Homer and Moe at the bar giving a final coda to the story would have felt more appropriate.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “There’s very little to say about this episode at all, aside from the fact that it’s riddled with continuity errors. Janey’s voice is wrong. Homer’s age is 35, not 38. Homer’s dealing with Bart’s getting beaten up is COMPLETELY inconsistent with ‘Bart The General.’ And Moe has SO had a woman in his establishment since 1979. Furthermore, I don’t believe that’s even the real Drederick Tatum. This episode is quite frankly the biggest piece of sh*t I’ve ever seen dubbed as a Simpsons episode.”

4. Burns, Baby Burns

  • Homer’s body crumpling to the ground after his brain floats away is such a funny moment. Similar to Krusty collapsing after getting brained by a golf club in “Class Struggle,” this show mastered hilarious fall animations before Family Guy showed up with their own crappy version of it.
  • I really like the mini-running joke of Marge’s mis-pronounciations. First she gets mildly annoyed at her daughter correcting her on “foliage,” then later she makes her feel better by saying it correctly… but then messes up again (“I can’t excape Lisa, our little walking liberry.”)– Another great line I think about often for no reason: “If this stuff’s too nice for you, I’ve got some crap!”
  • I used to have a big collection of the Playmates Simpsons figure line when I was younger, most of which I ended up selling. Two of the figures I still have are Larry Burns and Hank Scorpio, two characters who have nothing in common, yet I have them standing right next to each other anyway, being two fantastic season 8 characters.
  • “This guy’s got more bread than a prison meatloaf. He’s rich, I tell yah. I never seen a place with a walk-in mailbox. …hey, who am I talking to?” I can see some people not like that Larry is basically just Rodney Dangerfield, but I still like that it works within the context of the story. If there’s any friction to be had from a long lost son of Monty Burns, it would be because that son is a light-hearted and uncouth jokester that he has no idea what to do with.
  • “Under the smiling eyes of four stuffed Eskimos, we expressed our love physically, as was the style at the time.”
  • According to the commentary, the Snoopy puzzle that Homer frantically wipes off his console was designed to not actually show Snoopy’s head, as to not incite the ire of Charles Schulz’s lawyers. Was he that litigious about stuff like this? A couple years after this, South Park would feature a gag where Snoopy beats a naked Charlie Brown with a baseball bat. Also, was there any specific reason it was a Snoopy puzzle? Why even do it if they were afraid they might be sued? Why am I obsessing over this five second shot?
  • There’s a great little moment in the dinner scene, after Larry tells his father to “make with the yakkity-yak-yak,” Burns grumbles and under his breath, mockingly refrains “the yakkity-yak-yak…” It’s such a well performed moment, clearly showing that he’s just about at his wit’s end with his undignified son and his ridiculous manner of speaking.
  • The phony kidnapping feels a bit like a Mike Scully-era Homer hairbrained scheme. I feel like if there were a few more lines where Homer and Larry come upon the idea and rationalize it a bit, it would have played off better. Instead, Homer just says, “There’s only one sure way to make him realize how much he loves you, and that is a phony kidnapping!” Like he just had that idea at the ready, because he’s such a wacky character! The idea of trying to get Burns to actually admit he loves his son is what we need from act three, which leads to great moments like Burns only caring out of principle that someone stole from him (”I’m missing one son! Return it immediately!,”) but kicking that part of the plot into gear was a little too abrupt.
  • Really cute moment where Bart mimes readjusting his tie after delivering a Rodney-style zinger to Marge.
  • “You know how I feel about hoaxes.” “Still?
  • The timing of Hans Moleman’s incredibly slow walk back to the lobby, then cut right to all the squad cars speeding up outside the theater is so fantastic.
  • I really love how we don’t get a sentimental reconciliation between Burns and Larry. After seeing so many modern episodes featuring a completely neutered and defanged Burns with schmaltzy bullshit endings, it was so refreshingly honest that we see Burns attempt to hug Larry, but then pull back, acknowledging that he just doesn’t have it in him to exhibit any actual human kindness. The best he can do is wish Larry luck living somewhere else far away from his property, and his parting words to his own flesh and blood are completely self-serving (“It’s good to know that… there’s another kidney out there for me.”)
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Losing only to ‘Two Bad Neighbors,’ this is the worst episode in the last 6 seasons. I found it hard to sit through a second time because Larry just wasn’t funny. His cutdowns give a very brief chuckle, but there isn’t a single line that sticks out as notably funny afterward. Include that with a poor plot and significantly less Homer humor than usual and you’ll get a deadly combination which earns this episode an F!”

5. Bart After Dark

  • The episode opens with a V-chip joke, which I really only know about from the South Park movie. I was a kid during the 90s, so I never had any direct consciousness of Clinton-era morality policing and legislation over movies, TV and video games. I’m kind of glad I was none the wiser, because as an adult, it would have driven me nuts. Rot in peace, Jack Valenti.
  • The first act features another great depiction of Lisa as a bleeding heart activist, who is also a distractible little girl with a childish mindset. Going to help clean up the oil spill is a righteous cause, but Lisa, appropriately, is incredibly excited to clean and cuddle cute little baby seals and otters. Marge wisely calls Lisa out on her flighty interests, alluding to the peach tree in the background she presumably wouldn’t stop talking about and quickly lost interest in. This leads to a fantastic performance by Yeardley Smith of Lisa pleadingly play-acting how much she loves the peach tree until Marge just throws her hands up and relents.
  • Bart’s childish fascination with the Maison Derriere is played well, his suggestion that he can sort through bras toes the line of him being a little brat, but also subconsciously acting out some prepubescent hormones. That attitude falls away as the plot continues and the days pass, as Bart becomes more comfortable at his new job, as the normalization of him just being a “normal” employee at this burlesque becomes more of the joke. An episode like this stands in great contrast with many Bart episodes in the last decade or so, where they either write him as incredibly sexually immature or more direct like a teenager, and in some cases, both within the same episode.
  • One of the greatest looping gifs to ever come out of this show. I also love the little added yelp Abe gives when he sees Bart before he turns around.
  • “President Eisenhower celebrates 40th wedding anniversary. Not pictured, Mrs. Eisenhower.”
  • I love the callback to Mel Zetz when Homer confronts Belle. It’s another one of those examples as a kid where I figured that was an actual celebrity, instead of a purposefully comic name they made up.
  • Skinner’s “I was only in there to get directions on how to get away from there!” is fantastic, but it’s even better that it seems that he was literally crouched behind Lovejoy and popped up just to deliver his line.
  • One of the most illuminating Marge lines: “Sleazy entertainment and raunchy jokes will never be as popular as sobriety and self-denial.”
  • “Mayor Quimby!!” “That could be any mayor!”
  • Abe and Jasper apparently both frequent a local bordello. So there’s a nice mental image for you.
  • “We Put the Spring in Springfield” is one of the great show stopping numbers of the whole series. Since the song is about the town as a whole, it’s appropriate that so many characters get verses (the highlight being the bullies, “We just heard this place existeeeeeddddd!”) The big finish, involving as many wacky sound effects as possible, is also really fun. It’s also great when Marge arrives and they have a semi-meta discussion about how their spontaneous song just kind of happened impromptu and they can’t really do it again. It reminded me of the Rocko’s Modern Life episode “Zanzibar” (which actually aired the same year) where Rocko is similarly disillusioned by the townspeople’s coordinated musical numbers (Heffer informs him they spent weeks rehearsing, unbeknownst to him.)
  • Where did Marge get that little dummy of herself made? It looks well crafted. Also, as crude as it was, I found it weirdly kind of sweet that Homer yelled, “Take it off!” Is that weird? The man really loves his wife.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Well, actually, it seemed to be going well. Then, unfortunately, we get More Musical Mucilage. I despise this ‘musical’ ‘comedy’ that we see in ‘Animaniacs’ all the time. I’m not making fun of ‘Animaniacs,’ I just hate the songs. And to see this on OFF, altogether too many times (also the terrible ‘Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart’ ruin-the-whole-episode-thing). Without the song, it’s a B — but as it stands, a D.”

6. A Milhouse Divided

  • The opening did a pretty serviceable job hiding Bart’s body in front of the TV for the joke about him lying around in his underwear (“This ain’t the Ritz!”) Definitely in comparison to similar jokes done by this and other shows where the framing is so obvious that you can easily predict the joke coming.
  • Pretty great detail that Homer is reading Hot Lotto Picks Weekly magazine in bed.
  • “Hey, Lis, check this out. Non-stick coating.”
  • Lovejoy’s first line about his missing coat is funny on its own (“My coat was stolen at last week’s interfaith banquet, so I helped myself to a few of the better umbrella,”) but I love that it pays off later when it’s revealed that Luann was the one who stole it.
  • This episode honestly performs a miracle in its instant characterization of Kirk and Luann Van Housten. For over 150 episodes before this, they were just Milhouse’s parents. We know next to nothing about them. But here, over the course of the dinner party, we learn so, so much about them individually and their relationship, emphasized even further by the powerhouse performances of Hank Azaria and Maggie Roswell. The Pictionary scene is one of the greatest scenes of the entire series, these two characters ratcheting up the tension more and more as everyone else gets increasingly uncomfortable. This and “A Fish Called Selma” are these beautiful hints at a future to the series that never happened, where we could pick from our wide array of supporting players and turn them into real, compelling, funny and human characters over the course of just one act. But, sadly, this did not come to pass… Also, Kirk and Luann have got to be cousins, right? How can they not be?
  • It’s funny how in the decade of seasons following this episode, Kirk became the show’s vessel for cheap, easy single dad/divorcee jokes, but they basically all get worn out in this very episode: his new home Casa Nova (A Transitional Place for Singles), his change in wardrobe, his new hobbies (“Today, I drank a beer in the bathroom!,”) his attempts to rebound with the lovely Starla (“Can I have the keys, lover? I feel like changing wigs.”) None of the jokes done past this point ever topped any of these.
  • “Crackers are a family food. Happy families. Maybe single people eat crackers, we don’t know. Frankly, we don’t want to know. It’s a market we can do without.”
  • Despite bearing his name in the title, Milhouse doesn’t factor in much of the episode. It’s implied that he’s enjoying being lovingly doted on by his parents trying to one-up each other, and that’s basically it. Then the episode turns into a Homer-Marge show, but in another miracle this show pulls off, it still all feels like it works. I love that the Homer-Marge strife has been played subtly through the whole episode with just minor annoyances, like Homer not getting dressed before the party and not going out with Marge when he agreed to it. The third act isn’t Marge being pissed at Homer and him having to make amends, like so, sooo many future episodes would be, it’s Homer remembering how terrible he’s been in the past and trying to make things right with an oblivious Marge. Their reunion at the end feels earned as a result, and their second wedding remains a sweet, memorable moment for their relationship. I also love the meta aspect about how this impromptu act of love doesn’t work for Kirk as he attempts to serenada Luann back to him. Unfortunately for Kirk, this show isn’t called The Van Houtens, no one gives a shit if they get back together. So they don’t, and Kirk gets the door. Brilliant.
  • Bart smashing the chair on Homer in the tub became a pretty popular shitpost for a while, and for good reason. Dan Castellaneta’s scream is so hysterical; you can hear in his voice when he switches from reacting in pure pain, then the confusion of what the hell happened creeps in, then finally to anger at Bart.
  • Is it gross that I kind of think butterscotch chicken sounds kind of delicious? Also, in “Blood Feud,” we learned that Bart is allergic to butterscotch and imitation butterscotch. BOY I HOPE SOMEONE GOT FIRED FOR THAT BLUNDER.
  • “Do you, Marge, take Homer, in richness and in poorness… poorness is underlined… in impotence and in potence, in quiet solitude or blasting across the alkali flats in a jet-powered, monkey-navigated… and it goes on like this…”
  • “Can I Borrow a Feeling?” is the perfect combination of funny: the lyrics are great on their own, and brought to another level entirely by Hank Azaria’s impassioned, yet pathetic performance.
  • I absolutely love the light jazz version of the end credit theme, it’s my favorite end credit variation, and yet it wasn’t on any of the soundtrack CDs, despite basically all the other end credit versions being on there. Scandal!
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Poor Milhouse: he finally gets an episode named after him, but he hardly appears in it. Why give so much screen time to characters (the adult Van Houtens) we don’t even care about? There were a few good gags, enough to save it from a failing grade. Also, I give a major thumbs down to Bart bashing Homer on the head with a chair; I don’t see how you can call that funny.

178. The Secret War of Lisa Simpson

(originally aired May 18, 1997)
Sort of like last season, we had our big-time show that felt like the finale (“Homerpalooza,” “Spin-off Showcase”), but instead we’ve got one more left, and in both cases it’s a Lisa episode. We begin with one of Bart’s wacky pranks going horribly awry, creating massive damage city-wide. As a result, Homer and Marge decide to send him to military school to straighten him out. Upon arrival, the family is shocked to hear that Lisa wants to attend as well; she’s tired of how interminably slow her public education is and seeks a greater challenge. Now, I guess I can buy this premise… maybe. The lynch pin for her is one quick scene where we see the cadets studying poetry, which she very much likes to see. But would Lisa really be for, or want to do any of the war training or obstacle courses? The girl got an F in gym after all. She really sought an intellectual challenge, and then we never see any of that stuff. I dunno, it sort of makes sense that Lisa would want to take this stance, but part of it doesn’t sit right with me.

A military school allowing ten-year-olds to wield rocket launchers and other heavy weaponry seems like it should be rife for brutal parodying, but most of it kind of takes a backseat to Lisa’s story. She is immediately ostracized from the other cadets for obvious reasons. After a round of strict hazing, Bart is accepted into their clique, leaving him torn between being a social outcast and standing by his sister. You do feel bad for poor Lisa; there’s a particularly touching moment when alone in her barracks Lisa listens to a tape of her mother singing “You Are My Sunshine.” The emotional content is still present through the episode, but it ultimately feels a bit thin. This all leads to our finale featuring the final assessment the “Eliminator,” climbing across an airborne rope forty feet over beds of thorn bushes, and seeing if Lisa can do it. Will she? Of course she can. The ending reminded me of “The Canine Mutiny” where it’s all played so dramatically yet we know exactly what’s going to happen and we’re checking our watches until it’s over: Lisa falters and the other cadets cheer, then Bart steps up to cheer his sister on, which gives her the strength to finish. Hoorah.

There are a lot of bright spots in this episode though. The beginning field trip to the police station with Chief Wiggum is fantastic, with many great jokes. It also segues into Bart’s prank utilizing the dozens of megaphones, which is kind of ridiculous and cartoonish, but no more so than his shaken up beer can blowing the roof off the house in “So It’s Come to This.” Also fantastic is Willem DeFoe as the Commandant, who gives a great performance and has a fair share of hilarious lines (“Traditionally, the academy tested these virtues by pitting you against each other in a two-day battle royale. That was prior to 1957, thank you very much, state Supreme Court.”) He gives the character a share of nuance, like his quieted confusion over Lisa wanting to enlist, and the great bit where he stubs his toe at lights out and mutters to himself as he walks out with a limp. There’s a few scattered bits of humor but a fair share of it felt kind of dry; I remember seeing this one a lot in syndication so maybe it’s dulled for me. But great episodes stand the test of dozens if not hundreds of reviewings. This one’s just… alright. I guess. It’s alright.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The beginning at the police station is fantastic, particularly of course the museum (aww..) of crime (yaaay!) The first mannequin is of “Johnny Welfare,” a dirty hippie with a joint duct taped onto his mouth. Not disobedient enough? The guitar he’s playing is stolen. And? He’s playing acid rock. And his old lady’s eating a sandwich. A baby sandwich (“She’s got the munchies for a California Cheeseburger.”) A great reference to those horrible urban legends, like where the babysitter gets so high that she mistakes the baby as a pot roast or something and puts that into the oven. Horrifying. But funny here. I also love later that all the banana stickers are all vague representations of the actual logos to avert copyrights, and that the children are so impressed by “Gorilla’s Choice.”
– The movies in Lisa’s class are fantastic, brought to you by Monotone Films. We catch the tail end of the sand one, unfortunately, but “The Moon of Earth” is hilarious, showing the future colonies of the moon (by 1964) and how you’ll weight considerably less there (“Slow down, tubby! You’re not on the moon yet!”) Miss Hoover took the opportunity during the movie to book it the hell out of there. Upset, Lisa goes to complain about how slow the class is to Skinner, who quickly rebuffs her (“Of course we could make things more challenging, Lisa, but then the stupider students would be in here complaining, furrowing their brows in a vain attempt to understand the situation.”)
– I love Wiggum suggesting behavior-altering drugs to Homer (“How wedded are you to the Bart you know?” “Not very.”) In a few seasons they’d do that plot anyway.
– Homer’s childishness of throwing rocks at young children is kind of bothersome, but not so much as the fact that he throws a clump of rocks that somehow manage to hit four different kids.
– I love how the Commandant talks about the winds of change, that now there are female motorists and female singers. Progressive!
– With Lisa in enrollment, Franklin is no longer the most effeminate cadet (“Well, we’ll see about that!”)
– All the other cadets seem to be older, like maybe thirteen, fourteen? So what’s with enrolling a ten and eight year old? Kind of bugged me a little bit.
– In her loneliness, Lisa is able to wipe even Grampa out of ridiculous stories talking on the phone. He can’t even pass the buck over to his fellow housemates, especially Jasper (“I’ve already talked to her twenty damn minutes.”)
– Like the bit where Bart uses analogies based off his line of vision (“I’ll just stick by you in secret. Like a sock maker secretly working on a top secret sock that…” “Will you stop looking at your feet?”)
Really big animation cheat where Lisa’s testing the Eliminator, slips and falls… but hey, she’s on a pulley system Bart has rigged up tied to her waist. That just magically appeared. Come on, they could have framed that shot so you wouldn’t see that.
– I do like the exchange of the cadets to Bart for cheering for his sister (“We’re going to make your life a living hell for the rest of the semester.” “But, graduation’s in three hours.” “We’d better go change!”)
– The Commandant’s best line is his graduation speech (“The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.”)

Season 8 Final Thoughts
I was quite flabbergasted to find that Dead Homers Society cited season 8 as the tipping point of the show’s quality. Absurd. It’s a classic season! Oakley and Weinstein, the people who gave us season 7, the best season! It’s in the Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family book! Seasons 1-8 being flawless classics had just been burned into my brain ever since I’ve been a fan, so I just though they were exaggerating. Well… not really, it turns out. Now, of course, none of the episodes were bad. There were just things I noticed throughout that either bothered me individually, or felt like smaller versions of things that would get exacerbated in later seasons. Lapses in story, a great number of jokes falling flat, characters acting slightly off, there were scattered problems throughout the season, though none that were that humungous and distracted from each episode. Then of course “Homer’s Enemy,” as I talked about, drew out the template for who we know as “Jerkass Homer.” But for the issues that were present, season 8 is still a fine season; I can complain and nitpick all I want, but the fact is that the episodes are still memorable. Homer’s chili pepper freakout. Rex Banner vs. the Beer Baron. Shary Bobbins. Mr. Sparkle. All classic Simpsons material. It’s kind of like seasons 1-7 were bright blue skies beautiful for sailing, and in season 8 the wind got a little blustery and the waves a bit choppier. But now we enter the Scully era, and a storm’s a brewin’. We’re in for the long haul here, folks, but don’t worry, we’ll make it through. Season 9, here we come…

The Best
“You Only Move Twice,” “A Milhouse Divided,” “Bart After Dark,” “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala-D’oh-cious,” “Homer’s Enemy”

The Worst
For the many sorted problems this season, there are only two I can point out for being specifically bad: “Hurricane Neddy” for tainting Flanders’ character, and “The Canine Mutiny” for being terminally boring.