Season Nine Revisited (Part Four)

20. The Trouble with Trillions

  • At some point every New Year’s Eve night, I’ll think, “Will this horrible year never end?” The opening scene is fantastic; I love the added touch that the Jebediah statue is TP’d as the townspeople gather to count down. Also a favorite is the snippet we hear of Krusty’s drunken rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”
  • Ned doing his taxes on January 1st (complete with a fistful of mints) is very in-character, as is his explanation of what taxes are for to his son (“Policemen, trees, sunshine, and let’s not forget the folks who just don’t feel like working, God bless ’em!”)
  • I really like the reveal that Marge is the artist behind the sailboat painting above the couch, and her saying she painted it for Homer is a very sweet detail (I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few seasons we get an entire terrible episode about the story behind it.) The ending of the scene of Marge hanging the painting back on the wall, lamenting the waste of her talent, is cut in syndication, and maybe better off, it’s kind of a bummer.
  • Homer is in full invincible stupidity mode in his frantic rush to the post office, which sucks, but this piece  of animation is ironically fantastic. It looks like the totaled car gets smashed flat; whoever was in there is most certainly dead.
  • The reveal of the second IRS agent behind the swivel chair, following which the first agent sits and turns back around is a wonderfully stupid gag.
  • The IRS uses Homer to spy on the gang at Moe’s, but they never say that they suspect anyone there. Did they have a target in mind, or did they just assume maybe we could arrest one of these idiot’s buddies? Also, Charlie is dressed identically to Homer with a white collared shirt and blue pants, that’s kind of weird.
  • Milhouse posing in the photo booth shirtless is so great; Pamela Hayden nails his awkward and embarrassed “My… my shirt fell off” when he’s exposed.
  • The whole trillion dollar bill scandal is kind of stupid when you think about it for more than five seconds. The government let Mr. Burns abscond with a literal trillion dollars for over fifty years without any substantial investigation? Plus it’s revealed that he keeps the damn bill in his wallet, so they could have confronted and arrested him at any time. Why did they need a big dope like Homer to handle this seemingly very important, half-a-century-old assignment?
  • Burns just letting Homer into his home feels off to me. They make a joke out of it, with him wanting to hurt Homer in some way before he leaves, but his feeble concessions to him (“I’ll get you a towel,”) while kind of funny, aren’t worth defanging him like this. Also, the Hall of Burns is really stupid. Why would he have these elaborate museum-quality dioramas in his private home that no one ever visits?
  • I’m all for an episode that’s anti-worthless government spending, but this episode is such a giant mess that I don’t even know if it’s supposed to have a point or not. Burns makes a speech about thinking for yourself and not letting the government control you, and then the act break is Homer giggling about making one of the unconscious IRS agents touch the other’s ass. Great writing, guys.
  • People rightfully point out how out-of-character Lisa’s “screw college, we got dune buggies!” bit is, but even weirder is Marge, for some reason, assuming they would be keeping the trillion dollars?
  • I love the rear IRS agent’s expression after the other comments, “They’ll be back. They’ll miss American TV.”
  • The third act is pretty terrible, basically tanking an episode that was already careening off a cliff. There’s some good bits with Castro, but the road there wasn’t worth it. There’s also way too much of dumb oblivious Burns (calling being Vice President, not remembering he’s flying the plane).
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:A pretty funny episode! The plot meandered, but at least that’s better than last week’s jumpy episode. It was fun to see a good Burns/Smithers episode again. Also amusing was the kids’ reaction to getting a trillion dollars (Lisa doesn’t need college after all!) A nice, if not perfect romp.

21. Girly Edition

  • The opening with Krusty and Lindsey Naegle is so solid. Krusty attesting to Itchy & Scratchy’s educational value (“What don’t they learn? Don’t trust mice, cats are made of glass…”), the setting up of the Mattel and Mars Bar Quick-Energy Choco-bot Hour (“That’s barely legal as it is,”) Krusty outlining his show (“There’s a monologue, those idiot puppets, Krusty’s nap time, the second monologue, Paul Harvey, Senor Papino… I tell you, it’s the tightest three hours and ten minutes on TV!”)
  • I like how we see the small splats of creamed corn against the school window representing Willie’s shack exploding. It feels more creative and shows some restraint from making the event more bombastic… as well as not needing to animate it, which was probably a plus.
  • Lindsey Naegle would be dulled and overused in future seasons, but she’s at her strongest in this episode (maybe second to “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show.”) Her rambling off all her showbiz buzzwords, then not grasping Lisa’s simple turn of phrase (“Let’s be honest, Bart’s not exactly the brightest penny in the fountain.” “In English, Lisa?”) is just excellent.
  • The Mojo B-plot feels like a crazy Homer story, but it never gets too off-the-wall, considering the most extreme Homer does with the monkey is get it to steal donuts for him, which sounds about right for him. Also great is Marge’s consistent horror at this filthy monkey being in her house, and her irritation at Homer that just grows and grows through the episode.
  • The best section of this episode is Kent Brockman explaining his human interest stories (“They tug at the heart and fog the mind.”) Him on the carousel pausing as it goes around at “This is Kent Brockman…..  reporting”) always makes me laugh. I also like how we see Bart attempt to mimic Brockman’s tone and some of his phrasings as he attempts his own version for “Bart’s People.”
  • I have no idea why the hell Burns and Smithers are in bean bag chairs, but this scene still cracks me up (“Smithers… do you think maybe my power plant killed those ducks?” “There’s no ‘maybe’ about it, sir.” “…excellent.”)
  • Oh my, the Crazy Cat Lady. Great in her first appearance, terrible in every other one.
  • The obese Mojo struggling to breathe is pretty disconcerting, but purposefully so.
  • Milhouse’s report about discreetly discarding urine-soaked bed sheets is great, but it’s compounded and made even funnier when Bart observes the “soiled mattresses” at the dump and we quickly cut back to a guilt-ridden Milhouse.
  • I love Willie’s incredibly loud and shocked “WHAT?!” at Lisa telling him Bart’s his son. I also love that Lisa saves the day by channeling her own version of Bart/Kent’s empty schmaltz reporting, and she’s smart enough to come up with one completely off the cuff (“That little hellraiser is the spawn of every shrieking commercial, every brain-rotting soda pop, every teacher who cares less about young minds than about cashing their big, fat paychecks. No, Bart’s not to blame.  You can’t create a monster, and then whine when he stomps on a few buildings!  I’m Lisa Simpson.”)
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “While there were a few things in the episode which were quite funny; all of it is lost for me in the absolutely inexcusable behavior of Lisa… this was like watching PTA Disbands all over again. I have always had a soft spot for Lisa Simpson, and to see this episode was very disheartening… This wasn’t Lisa Simpson; this was someone who acted cold-hearted, egoistic, and downright selfish. Whoever wrote this episode needs a serious slap in the face… I don’t think anyone should be allowed to write for the Simpsons unless you know how the characters are supposed to act; this was horrible, and it totally ruined what I thought was an otherwise decent episode.”

22. Trash of the Titans

  • The opening few minutes is easily the best stuff in the episode: Costington’s concocting a bullshit holiday to increase their profits even further (I’d love to hear more about Christmas 2), and Marge eating up the idea of “Love Day” feels very appropriate. I also love Homer’s ridiculous disappointment at getting the “wrong” bear (“They didn’t have Lord Huggington?”)
  • The scenario of Homer and the kids prolonging taking out the trash for as long as possible is excellent (Bart stapling the banana peel to the pile is a great gag), but then that snowballs after Homer pisses off the garbagemen to them living in increasing levels of filth. It goes on way longer than Marge would reasonably be able to tolerate, as rancid trash covers the interior and exterior of their house. It feels like an instance where the writer’s room came up with a bunch of gags (Marge tossing bacon outside to distract the rats, her talking about the crazy lady who lives in their trash pile) forsaking any realism that Marge would do any of this. She may be generally submissive, but it feels like she would have written that forged apology after the first scene.– The poison pill of this episode is Homer, who acts like an absolute maniac from the moment he storms into Ray Patterson’s office. He rants and raves about standing up for the little guy, “rattling a few cages,” but for the entire episode, I have absolutely no idea what his motivation or wants are, and I don’t think he does either. It’s just supposed to be funny that he’s a directionless lunatic? The episode even acknowledges it with the “Local Nut at it Again” subheadline in the newspaper starting act two. Homer’s confusing, intolerable behavior for the entire runtime makes this episode the worst of season 9 for me (excluding “All Singing, All Dancing.”)
  • Continuing that, Homer waltzing on stage with U2 without a care in the world feels like a big turning point. He just has no qualms about breaking into a rock show, attacking the female technician backstage, and addressing the crowd under the belief they’ll be thrilled to see him and watch him pathetically rock out. It’s all really sad and unfunny. The scene also ends with the very first instance of me enjoying Homer getting hurt because it felt like satisfying karma to an asshole character, as he gets beat up by U2’s goons.
  • The best gag in the episode is actually at the U2 show, where the crowd is going nuts except for Otto, who is still seated and shouting, “Sit down! You’re ruining it for everyone!” I grew to love that line even more the year I went to Comic-Con and attended the Steven Universe panel, where the crowd full-on cheered almost every few minutes. It got to be really bothersome, as the panelists could have actually talked more if they didn’t have to constantly stop for the crowd to keep going nuts, and I felt exactly like Otto in that moment.
  • More than halfway into the episode, Homer actually gets some fucking direction with his “Can’t Someone Else Do It?” campaign slogan. I like the idea of it, directly appealing to a lazy populous with grandiose claims of people doing all your dirty work for you, but Homer’s attitude just sours everything it touches. “The Garbageman Can” thankfully comes off unscathed, one of the last classic songs of the series. It’s a real showstopper that I only wish was in an episode that wasn’t shit.
  • Homer cutting Patterson’s brakes is his first attempted murder of the series, and sadly would not be his last.
  • “Simpson, the American people have never tolerated incompetence in their government officials.” Just gets funnier each passing year!
  • When we get to the third act, the episode really starts to feel like the Wacky Homer Adventures, guest starring the rest of the family, a template that would follow through the rest of the Mike Scully years and beyond. The scene where they’re at home and Homer interrupts Lisa’s explanation about sanitation work (“Wait, shut up! I have an idea!”) and runs out the door, leaving the family just sitting them, looking around vacantly is a pretty telling moment.
  • I can’t really get all that upset about the reality-breaking ending of moving the entire town. I almost feel like I would almost embrace a crazy ending like that if it were tacked on the end of an episode that actually tried to be about something.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I’m starting to wonder why I bother reviewing these anymore. Mike Scully rightfully held this episode until now, and the high-quality animation and extra attention to detail given to it because it was the 200th are the only things that can compliment it enough. I’ll soon be quoting everything like crazy so watch out… everyone with 14.4kb modems thank me for my short review. (A+)

23. King of the Hill

  • McBain fights the CommieNazis in his last great appearance. I also like that Homer crosses paths with Rainier in a believable fashion (of course he’d be the only one in Springfield using an all-night gym) and Rainier’s motivational insults are great too (“Go past the max! Master your ass!”)
  • Lovejoy’s exasperated “Just play the damn game, Ned!” always makes me laugh.
  • A reliable classic era story motivator was Homer wanting to regain the love of his kids or make them proud of him, and this episode holds that firm from the beginning. Homer embarrassing himself during the kid’s game is just horrifying enough for Homer to actually feel ashamed of it (him wailing on the floor covered in deviled eggs definitely seems scar-worthy for Bart) and I like how this motivates Homer through the rest of the episode.
  • The tub of ice cream with miniature pies looks pretty damn good to me right now.
  • I am incapable of seeing a sign for a gym and not thinking it’s pronounced “guy-m.”
  • I appreciate the restraint of showing that Homer has gotten fitter, but is not like absolutely ripped. The scene of him daring the family to find any flab, only for them to find a whole bunch of soft spots, much to his chagrin, is pretty adorable. Only two months of working out at night and he’s certainly built up his arm muscles, but he’s not like a bodybuilder, unlike a handful of future episodes where he got completely roided out at the drop of a hat if the plot required him to (“Homer the Whopper” comes to mind.) 
  • I don’t know why they cast Brendan Fraser and Steven Weber together as the Powersauce reps, but their repartee with each other is very good. The product itself is a great send-up on “diet” bars as nutritional substitutes (unleashing the awesome power of apples!) and Fraser and Weber play the perfect energetic corporate shills. I like later in act three when they actually break their facades to warn Homer not to climb the mountain alone, and then immediately throw him under the bus with faux-seriousness in broadcasting that Homer has switched to their market competitor (the Vita-Peach Health Log), absolving them of any wrongdoing or bad press.
  • Those flapjacks in a can look really good too. If you had a little slot on the bottom to separate the syrup so they didn’t got soggy… man, that sounds delicious. And I just had lunch, so it’s not like I’m particularly hungry.
  • Homer getting assistance from the sherpas not only makes the insane idea of him scaling a hugeass mountain a little more believable, but they also provide some of the best lines of the episode (“I foresaw your death last night.” “Stop saying that!”) I also like their absolute glee at being dismissed by Homer, and their hitchhiking inexplicably in front of the Simpson house, just so the family could see them outside and realize that Homer is fucked.
  • I don’t know if I ever registered this before, but it’s odd that Abe’s rambling stories are usually complete bullshit, but him climbing up the mountain (and falling 8,000 feet?) is apparently true, as Homer finds the frozen body of his “buddy” McAllister. Abe’s failure is meant to mirror Homer’s, but before that point, it was just a nonsense story, so any emotional impact isn’t really felt. But no matter, McAllister’s last words (“Tell my wife my last thoughts were of her… blinding and torturing Abe Simpson”) and the grim finale of Homer using the frozen body as a sled are more than worth the trouble.
  • Homer using the Simpson capture-the-flag in place of the Powersauce flag is a pretty sweet detail, making the story feel like it’s coming full circle. The entire top half of the mountain collapsing is pretty ridiculous, but I don’t know how else you’d get Homer to have his moment of triumph. It’s a little rickety, but the Homer-Bart emotional through-line works surprisingly well, especially for a show this deep into season 9.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:This episode seemed to play upon the viewer’s emotions more than usual. I think the communazi’s death was one of the most graphic scenes I’ve seen on the Simpons. Also, the closing of act I was big on emotional content. Lastly, the victorious ending. This almost seemed like a WWF match with its emotional choreography! I think that’s especially potent for those of us that see similarities between Homer and ourselves. Anyway, the whole ep ended up being a real watchable pick-me-up, due primarily to the emotional content. The amount of hilarity was kept to a minimum, which i suppose is needed in order to have a real emotional response from your audience. Here’s hoping for something crazy next week…”

24. Lost Our Lisa

  • I’m sure my wife wishes that teacher conference day was as much fun as it’s shown here. Also very nice of them to invite Willie along with them.
  • Bart and Milhouse just show up at the power plant to bug Homer about getting super glue, just because, I guess. They couldn’t have gotten the glue some other way? Also, why is Bart allowed to wander around the entire town on his day off but Lisa is forbidden to take the bus by herself? Maybe Marge thought Bart was just at Milhouse’s house, but with no line explaining that, it reads kind of weird to me.
  • I really like Lisa playing Homer like a fiddle in getting his “permission” to take the bus, inflating her request to a limousine and acting faux-disappointed in Homer delicately downgrading her. Lisa hanging up on her father in the middle of him saying he loves her is a perfect capper to the scene.
  • The two flocks of geese flying at each other is a stupid gag I love; the pan over revealing the second flock, and one of the poor birds nosediving out of the sky during the fight, it’s so funny.
  • When offered a ride in the back of Cletus’ pick-up truck full of roadkill, Lisa holds back vomit and squeals as she flees the scene. I assume it’s Yeardley Smith crying while clasping her hands to her mouth, but the sound has always sounded like a baby cry to me. Does anyone else hear that?
  • Dr. Hibbert’s frightening button applicator feels a little too silly for a “serious” doctor to use, but I love his incredibly severe insistence that “it had to be terror sweat!”
  • My goodness does the episode plummet when Homer goes after Lisa. The end of act two into act three has Homer and Lisa frantically looking for each other with a whole lot of suspenseful music in place of any humor. And then we get Homer in the cherry picker, and man… not only isn’t it funny, but it’s a very early example of Homer-getting-hurt being used as a humor crutch for the writers. He scrapes his skull against a low bridge, he smashes through an entire drawbridge neck-first, and finally, a fucking drawbridge closes on his head. Homer fell down a goddamn gorge twice in “Bart the Daredevil,” and not only was he horrifically injured and hospital-bound, there’s multiple layers as to why the scene is funny outside of him getting hurt (he skateboarded over it himself to “teach Bart a lesson,” the absurdity that the “lesson” would even work, his cockiness in thinking he would make it.) Here, Homer experiences a cavalcade of injury for no reason, then walks away scot free with a tire mark on his cranium and a smile on his face. How far we have fallen.
  • Despite the episode seeming to have blown its wad with the endless cherry picker scene, we still have Homer’s soapbox about taking stupid risks, because that makes total sense for his character (”Me, I’m a risk taker! That’s why I have so many adventures!”) It’s not even consistent in this very episode: he’s wary about Lisa taking the bus at the beginning of the episode, and he runs off scared for his daughter’s safety after Lenny and Carl worry him about Lisa taking the bus by herself. Where was Captain Wacky then? But there’s even more doom lurking behind that quote. “Homer’s Enemy” cast a spotlight on Homer, the not-so-average Joe, and how many crazy escapades he’s gotten into over eight seasons. It effectively breaks the character to some extent, and it feels like some of the writers took that as permission to just go for broke on not only Homer getting up to crazy shenanigans, but for him to just flat-out admit it too. This is Homer now, and this scene is his new mission statement. And it fucking sucks.
  • Boredom continues with the museum break-in. There’s just so much of it played for suspense with barely any jokes, and what little they do make aren’t even good. Homer can’t even break open the stupid orb without needing a pointless sequence of all of the rope pylons tipping over as Lisa gasps in horror. This episode and “Trash of the Titans,” both at the tail end of season 9 and the latter being lauded the landmark 200th episode, are the biggest omens for things to come: over-dramatic action/suspense sequences, knee-jerk character changes, forced sentimentality, and Homer the human punching bag/sentient asshole.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:A pleasant surprise which makes Season Nine better than Season Eight, in that it’s the first episode I’ve given an A to since Season Seven’s finale, ‘Summer of 4’2.’ A realistically troubling situation for both Lisa and Homer when Lisa’s natural immaturity gets her lost in Springfield. Most of the humor is woven well into the story, too, which is rare. Not to mention everyone is in character for once, and the episode deals primarily with the family–and not the entire town. Act Three’s change of pace feels more like a story progression and less a jump from one thing to a completely unrelated other. All and all, an outstanding effort, especially for the waning ninth season.”

25. Natural Born Kissers

  • The opening where Homer discovers Frank Grimes’ funeral program feels like yet another season 9 warning sign. As I talked about in “Homer’s Enemy,” that episode works only within its own vacuum, but multiple episodes past this point feature casual mentions of Frank Grimes where Homer continues acting like an inconsiderate dick, the biggest offender being “The Great Louse Detective” where he acts like a braindead dope in front of Grimes’ own illegitimate son. Homer sleeping through Grimes’ funeral was a dark button on a subversive solo story, but him not recognizing the man who killed himself right in front of him makes him seem like a sociopath.
  • Up, Up and Buffet is a neat set piece, the perfect contrast to Homer and Marge’s intended romantic evening. The valet attendants manually shaking the restaurant to dip the wings feels like a classic Simpsons bit.
  • There’s something I noticed in the scene where Homer and Marge soberly look out the plane window at the happy romantic couple at the Gilded Truffle. It feels like the character design standards shifted during the Mike Scully years where new characters were designed with slightly more detail and features more akin to actual humans than bug-eyed, simplified cartoon characters. Just look how different the dining couple looks compared to Homer and Marge. This issue would continue up through the present, as the Simpson family and other Springfield residents would look weirdly out-of-place against celebrity guests and one-off characters, like they were plucked from two different series.
  • I really love how we see Homer not close the freezer door, but it’s not really highlighted, so you might not totally connect it with what happens the next morning. Moments of restraint like this are incredibly rare in episodes nowadays.
  • Great use of “Spanish Flea” during the divorce radio commercial.
  • “Hey, are they pulling the plug on anybody today?” “Nope, everybody’s paid up!”
  • I absolutely love Bart’s pirate dream with the practical pirate suggesting they use their gold to buy things they like gets him immediately shot. It’s a syndication cut, but I wish they’d kept that bit and cut it off at the captain showing the map carved on a cracker, which really could have just been trimmed out of the episode anyway.
  • I love Marge’s read of “Hey! Look at that!” when Homer takes his shirt off trying to get the magic going. You can really hear the strained attempt at enthusiasm in Kavner’s voice.
  • Much appreciated continuity at Homer and Marge acknowledging the windmill as their old lovenest, and story-wise, it makes sense that their adult undoing would occur at the same place they acted like reckless, carefree kids (“We drank so much that night!” “Yeah, I thought Bart would be born a dimwit!”)
  • Even though it’s basically cribbed from a joke from The Critic, I still enjoy the Casablanca alternate ending, especially with the “The End?” end card (“Wasn’t it great? And the question mark leaves the door open for a sequel.”) But why exactly was it buried in Springfield? I guess the Crazy Old Man had all the reels in his possession when he moved to Springfield, attempted to bury some of them but then just gave up? Ah, who cares.
  • It’s kind of weird that Homer knows Gil’s name when he bumps into him, but it’s a pretty solid scene, with Gil so desperate for a sale he doesn’t bat an eyelash at his potential customer’s nudity.
  • Gil scene aside, act three is pretty much a slog, with Homer and Marge scurrying across town, then into the hot air balloon, with plenty of suspense music. Also a lot of Homer getting hurt, which is throughout the whole episode (the avalanche of silverware falling on him at Up, Up and Buffet was pretty excessive), but the bit of Homer hanging from the balloon and Marge causing him to get torched with flames that come out of absolutely nowhere is pretty damn stupid, like there’s no actual joke there other than him getting inexplicably hurt. The pastor at the crystal cathedral and Sideshow Mel’s “Look at that blimp! He’s hanging from a balloon!” deserve kudos, but that’s about it.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I have mixed feelings about this one. While it’s a very funny episode, with an appealing plot, I would prefer it if this episode had never happened. Running around town naked and having sex in public is a road I hoped the Simpsons would never go down. Such a ridiculous idea.”

Season 9 episodes I would pluck from the scrap heap: “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” “The Cartridge Family,” “Bart Star,” “The Joy of Sect,” “Lisa the Simpson,” “Simpson Tide,” “Girly Edition,” “King of the Hill”

Season Nine Revisited (Part Three)

14. Das Bus

  • Homer cheering for a 5pm bedtime definitely hits harder watching in my 30s than last time in my 20s.
  • “You’ve seen the movie, now meet a real-life Noah! Only this Noah has been accused of killing two of every animal! Coming up next on ‘AM Springfield!’”
  • I don’t know if I ever really processed the joke of Milhouse reading out old polish jokes as “facts,” like their submarine with the screen door. It’s certainly something I never understood as a kid watching this, I thought he was just saying a bunch of weird stuff.
  • The Model U.N. banner is pretty excellent.
  • Homer’s B-plot isn’t terrible, only because it barely feels like a story and more of just some stupid thing we keep cutting back to, helped by some pretty excellent quotes (“I think I’ll make myself… vice president. No, wait! Junior vice president!” “Oooh, they have the Internet on computers now!”)– It’s unclear where the bus crashed off the bridge, but how far away is this island from land? The bus gets caught up by a small tidal wave, sinks, then we see the kids crawling onto the island. A cutaway back to Homer and Marge talking about the kids would have at least implied somewhat of a passage of time.
    – Nelson gets two solid lines in response to Bart’s grandiose plans for island living: him asking how many monkey butlers there will be, and his excitement at Bart saying they’ll find some wine for the older kids (“Delicious wine?”)– I know I talked about it last time, but I still hear Sherri (or Terri’s) line, “I’m so hungry, I could eat at Arby’s” as “I could eat an army.” It’s probably because that’s what I heard it as for so many viewings, but the “bys” section sounds so soft and muted. It feels like if they bumped up the level of the final syllable a bit higher, it would be so much clearer.
  • Bart’s underwater adventure to get the sunken cooler feels like a big time killer. Very nice music, very nice animation, but this is a show that used to cram as many gags into twenty-two minutes as possible, and here we have a thirty-second sequence that all culminates in a blowfish biting Bart in the butt. Feels like a waste of good real estate.
  • Exactly how did Homer get an online banner ad without even having a computer? Oh, who cares. The Comic Book Guy scene is maybe one of his best, impatiently waiting for his Star Trek pornography to load, complaining “Oh, hurry up, I am a busy man!” before taking a healthy gulp of his jumbo soda.
  • It’s interesting watching Bill Gates’ appearance having just seen the new episode with J.J. Abrams, it’s a very stark compare and contrast. Gates (not voicing himself) shows up at Homer’s house, not knowing a damn thing about his business, or even caring that it’s not even a business at all, figuring the easier thing for him is to “buy them out,” meaning have his nerd goons smash the joint up (“Oh, I didn’t get rich by writing a lot of checks!”) Scathing, satirical, a truly excellent Simpsons moment attacking the rich and powerful. Compare this to J.J. Abrams (voicing himself), who is depicted as a visionary filmmaking genius who wins over everybody in the end, subject only to the lightest of ribbings about him specializing in reboots and found footage movies. Dramatically different approaches.
  • I feel like I’ve seen this episode so many times in syndication, I have some degree of nostalgia for it. But there’s an awful lot of dead space in the island story where it’s just mostly plot with some jokes peppered in. I think they were so devoted to following the Lord of the Flies template that they forgot to subvert it in any meaningful way. Bits like Nelson pummeling Milhouse in the cage and Milhouse being deadweight to Bart and Lisa in the chase are good, but the back half of the episode with the mystery of “the monster” is pretty boring, bordering on feeling like a kid’s cartoon.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “’Das Bus’ shows that you can have surreal setups, yet still maintain the characterization and ‘human-ness’ that makes ‘The Simpsons’ special. The civilized children’s slide into primitive behavior was generally funny, and didn’t violate anything we knew about their characters. A subplot detailing Homer’s attempts to enter the Internet business provides some good contrast and a few laughs. This show aired on creator Matt Groening’s birthday. It would make a pretty good present, indeed.”

15. The Last Temptation of Krust

  • “What do we need church shoes for? Jesus wore sandals.” “Well, maybe if he had better arch support they wouldn’t have caught him.”
  • Gil working at the shoe store is less “desperate older employee holding on by a thread” like he was in “Realty Bites,” and more just a sad old man with a bad back. Not his best appearance. 
  • The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was making Jay Leno appear likeable in this episode, though he still does brag about his “acres of cars” that he loves so much. The other guest comedians are harmless set dressing who don’t really add or take away anything specifically. On that note comes a major problem with this episode, and with all movies/TV shows about stand-up comedy. The performed jokes are never funny, so you just sit there as you’re watching an audience applaud looking as dumb as Homer (“I get jokes!” is a very quotable line.) In terms of depicting comedy, bad jokes are easy, because it’s all about the audience’s reaction and the behavior of the performer (see: Krusty’s flapping dickey, and the amazing pan of the stunned audience.) But when it’s “good” comedy like the opening comedians, as well as Krusty’s reimagining of himself as a George Carlin-type comic, the jokes never hit right. The third act felt like the writers were coming up with routines inspired by Carlin, but not really satirizing his type of humor.
  • Dog Kills Cat, Self is a wonderfully dark newspaper headline.
  • The scene of Lisa translating each line of the Spanish movie for Marge is kind of weird. It feels like someone came up with the joke concept of an annoyed movie translator, and they decided to just slap it onto Lisa because she’s smart, but I don’t expect an eight-year-old, not even Lisa, to be able to understand full dialogue in a foreign language, especially words like “disco ball.”
  • Bart finding Krusty on the Flanders’ lawn after his bender feels like a believable way to get a Simpson back into the story, unlike future Krusty episodes where Bart and Lisa will just show up at Krustylu Studios for little to no reason at all. My favorite scene is Krusty coming face to face with all the garbage licensed products in Bart’s room, where it finally dawns on him how he’s sold himself out in exchange for his dignity and relevance as a performer. It’s really well done and funny, I almost wish it was put into a stronger episode.
  • I feel like the classic line that’s run through my head the most times watching decades of new episodes has been Krusty’s attempt at relatable comedy (“You mean like when your lazy butler washes your sock garters and they’re still covered with shmutz?”) As Springfield slowly morphed into Los Angeles, Jr. and the Simpsons found themselves recurring instant successes in lavish scenarios, that quote would instantly come to mind.
  • “Bart’s Comedy Jam” is an excellent scene, starting with Bart’s impression of his mother (Nancy Cartwright having fun mimicking Julie Kavner), much to the adorable enjoyment of Homer and Lisa. Krusty feebly tries his hand at observational humor, but falls flat (“Two cent stamps… pizza pie’s very hot these days… can’t open pickle jars… no mail on Sundays…”) I also love Bart repeating his excuse about the acoustics being bad, only to be rudely cut off by Krusty. A consistent in this episode is the classic relationship of Bart’s undying allegiance to his childhood hero, and Krusty barely giving a shit about his young fan.
  • When (or if) the show actually announces it’s ending, I will be incredibly disappointed if a reporter doesn’t ask, “Why now? Why not twenty years ago?”
  • A nice detail I don’t think I’ve noticed before, Bart’s voice has a little bit of echo on it while sitting in the incredibly spacious Canyonero.
  • There’s a bunch of good, even great, moments in this episode, but it could have been a complete dud and still been mostly saved by the Canyonero ending. Just the perfect fake ad for the obnoxiously large and questionably safe SUV (“Top of the line in utility sports! Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!”)
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “A dismal effort. Joke after joke failed to make me laugh, with all those comedians up there you’d think something would. Celebrity cameos do nothing for me, and neither does stand-up type of humor. A very weak outing in a very weak season… something has to change.”

16. Dumbbell Indemnity

  • Homer just completely destroying the water heater will trying to “fix” it is not a great moment. There are plenty of past moments of Homer being as stupid if not more so, but this is Scully-era Homer stupidity where it’s more aggressive and destructive, in this case, flooding the entire house as he scurries off to Moe’s to let Marge deal with it (what a guy!) To be fair, the animation of the flooding water cascading over the house looks very nice.
  • Rene appears to be the first in an incredibly long line of guest girlfriend/boyfriend characters on the show to have absolutely no personality. She’s a nice girl who likes Moe… because that’s what the plot is. No quirks, no backstory, no specific wants or desires, she’s just a plot device for the Homer/Moe story. It’s made all the more eyebrow-raising as she’s voiced by Helen Hunt, Hank Azaria’s then-girlfriend, so maybe the writers were hesitant to make her anything but the sweetest, blandest woman ever? She also gets introduced running a flower cart at night, which is never referred to again and makes no sense. It reminded me of one of the last episodes of Futurama where Zoidberg started dating a woman who ran a flower cart, but that actually played into the episode; she had no sense of smell, so Zoidberg’s horrific odor doesn’t turn her off.
  • “Bring us the finest food you’ve got, stuffed with the second finest.” “Excellent, sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos.”
  • This episode also brings us our first glimpse at softened Moe, which has been a favorite with writers over the past twenty years, and it just doesn’t work. I remember liking “Moe Baby Blues” okay, but I feel like if I rewatched it, I’d be less charitable. I’m fine with depicting Moe as more sympathetic and less of a psychopath, but he still needs to be funny or interesting, and most of the time, he’s not, he’s just sad and pathetic. 
  • I like that Lou is already noticeably buzzed before the cruise even starts.
  • Moe’s car flies off the cliff, then it sinks, then it falls down an underwater cliff, falling, falling… man, is it boring.
  • I winced when Homer tearfully said that he and Moe were best friends. His best friend originally was Barney, but that relationship has more or less faded at this point. He hangs out with Lenny and Carl all day at work and at the bar. I’ve repeated over and over why Moe and Marge should never, ever be on good terms with each other, but I also don’t like how close Homer and Moe end up becoming either. Homer can be deluded enough into thinking Moe’s a good friend of his, but I enjoy Moe the best when he’s a crass, manipulative reprobate, not the surly jerk with a heart of gold they would eventually turn him into. I guess it’s personal preference, but I just find Moe funnier and more interesting in the former characterization than the latter. As for this new Homer-Moe relationship, it’s like “The Homer They Fall” creaked the door open, and “Dumbbell Indemnity” bum-rushed its way in.
  • Moe goes to talk to Homer in the alleyway of the jail, which just happens to have a window there, but I can excuse that. Meanwhile, Rene is just standing there on the sidewalk waiting for Moe to come back, I guess not particularly caring what he was doing in the alley or who he was talking to. Homer’s jail window also becomes a huge cheat because for the rest of the scene, the window is now right up against the corner of the jail so Moe can see him from across the street.
  • Rene is such a non-character, she doesn’t even create the conflict of the episode. Moe inexplicably feels the need to spend as much money as possible on this woman, but she doesn’t seem to be a woman who enjoys the fancy things at all, evidenced by her initially turning down Moe’s suggested trip to Hawaii (“Let’s just get a can of poi and eat it in the tub.”) That’s all fine, as the episode could be about Moe’s incredible insecurities making him think he needs to spend, spend, spend to hold onto this woman, but that idea isn’t evident or fleshed out in the episode at all.
  • The ending kind of sucks, Moe and Homer fighting in the burning bar. Then Barney comes out of the bathroom, I guess being oblivious to everything, carries Moe and Homer’s bodies out, then passes out from smoke inhalation just so he doesn’t have to be in the scene anymore. Meh.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:This was the episode I KNEW the current staff could do! Instead of the forced references and vain attempts at Simpsonesqueness other episodes this season had fallen back on, this had what the show should always be: A funny, fast-paced, decent plot with tons of originality and classic Homer. For the first time since ‘The Cartridge Family,’ I don’t need to give an episode the benefit of the doubt!”

17. Lisa the Simpson

  • Great snappy piece of animation of the vacuum sealed lunch. The squash and stretch of Milhouse’s face and Lisa’s hair points is just lovely.
  • I like that the Picto-Puzzle is on screen enough times that you might be able to solve it yourself. It’s also the perfect catalyst to throw Lisa off her game, a deceptively easy brain teaser, one of those things that would finally click with you after spending hours on it and kicking yourself for not thinking of the simple answer sooner. Ralph figuring it out before her just pours salt into the wound (“I don’t need a hint, Ralph!” ”But you’re suffering!”)
  • The exterior shot of the school as both the kids and teachers run out overjoyed at the final bell is so great, and made even better when you see the next day, the kids and teachers walking back in together, depressed about another school day.
  • Homer’s innocent giddiness at the nudie pens is a nice little scene, and an effective joke to carry over the time lapse before he and Apu discover Jasper in the freezer.
  • Marge cutting Abe’s hair is such a great scene. This show used to thrive on showing believable moments of a normal family, and Marge cutting her ornery father-in-law’s hair (using the kitchen tablecloth as a bib, a wonderful little touch) is a great example, even better with two characters who don’t directly interact that much. The ending of Marge “accidentally” nipping the back of Abe’s head after he insults her cooking is a great passive aggressive moment.
  • Although not his final appearance, “Someone’s in the Kitchen with DNA” feels like Troy McClure’s swan song. Each joke is a slam dunk: Troy taking off his hazmat suit, causing the other scientists to flee, two of the greatest “you may remember me” film titles ever (“Alice Doesn’t Live Anymore” and “Mommy, What’s Wrong With That Man’s Face?”) and of course, his dumbstruck look when little Billy asks him a simple question, hard-cutting to the end card.
  • The Freak-E-Mart is the perfect B-plot for this episode, a breezy, dumb-but-not-too-dumb story to offset Lisa’s tale of introspective woe. Jasper freezing himself is kind of outlandish, but nothing too crazy that I can’t go along with it. The different cheap exhibits Apu puts up are great (Haunted Cash Machine: Dispenses Images of Dead Presidents) and the conclusion of Jasper awakening in the “future” is so good (“Moon Pie? What a time to be alive.”)
  • The dramatic lighting and staging of Lisa joining Bart and Homer in front of the TV is beautiful, it really drives home the weight of Lisa’s resignation.
  • “When Buildings Collapse” and “When Surgery Goes Wrong” almost sound too much like actual programs that FOX would air in the late 90s.
  • The montage of Lisa indulging in enlightened pleasures before her “dumbening” is perfectly emblematic of the world of the show. Each one of her interactions is coated with cynicism: the art gallery guard who admits to forging the painting, the petulant music critic (“You have to listen to the notes she’s not playing.” “Pfft. I can do that at home,”) and finally the violinist who serves Lisa a cliche line about sharing your specialness with the world, but only to get her to actually buy one of her tapes. If this scene were done in a season 32 episode, it would most definitely have been played straight, this fellow musician dispensing heartfelt advice at the emotional climax of the story.
  • Jeez. Either Sanjay’s tucking himself, or he ain’t packing much.
  • This has got to be like the twentieth or so time I’ve seen this, and I just realized that Lisa getting on TV via an editorial reply was set up earlier with an editorial reply interrupting “When Buildings Collapse.” They didn’t need to connect those two dots, but they did anyway.
  • The station director letting Lisa go off script (“Let her speak. I’m trying to get fired”) is another joke that I love that would never have happened in a season 32 equivalent scene.
  • I love all the vocal variants Dan Castellaneta does for all the Simpson men. The “Simpson gene is true” ending is a bit silly, but it feels like a suitable backhanded payoff, where Lisa’s future is cleared but Bart is doomed to failure (“a spectacular failure!”) I think this is my favorite episode of season 9, with “City of New York” a close second. I do not consider it a coincidence these are both Oakley/Weinstein shows.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “An interesting expansion on the theory that failure is familial for Simpsons, but too general and simplistically off-the-mark in the ending. The subplot was a major drag, having no relation at all to the main plot, and being incredibly stupid, mediocre and far-fetched. Another minus is Bart’s ‘dance on her grave’ line, indicating that Ned Goldreyer could use work (namely pre-fifth season work), but is on the right track somewhat more than other writers have been. I appreciate his goal to tell a story rather than to clutter a story with inappropriate or idiotic gags that try too hard.”

18. This Little Wiggy

  • Milhouse and Nelson’s fantasies off of Robbie the Automaton’s in-class commercial feel like lesser versions of these kinds of childish dreams we’ve seen before. Milhouse touches a star and it disintegrates his arm, which feels more like a Bart fantasy, and Nelson’s really interested in the Three Stooges? This feels around the point where older references were starting to grow a little stale. Did kids in the late 90s even know who the Three Stooges were? Were they still being rerun on stations kids watched back then?
  • The Knowledgeum is a fun set piece, definitely the strongest stuff in the whole episode. Troy McClure gives a great intro on the moving walkway; I like his casual mentioning of your car may be subject to repeated break-ins much to Homer’s panic, but it’s kind of a slightly lesser version of the similar joke in “Lisa the Vegetarian,” without the expert pay-off of the Simpson car pulling up the driveway with a busted back window with no further mention.
  • Bart runs off to “toss the virtual salad,” which feels like a pretty raw entendre for him to make. It’s one thing if they had him do a general sex joke or a boner joke, but this is a ten-year-old talking about eating ass. Is there any other slang definition for “tossing salad” that I don’t know about?
  • There’s a sweet little moment when Martin takes a picture of Frink’s visible computer demonstration, and Frink gets visibly embarrassed and proud about it.
  • In this episode all about Ralph, he basically has no real agency in the story and just wanders about until he accidentally moves the plot forward. We’re a long ways from “I Love Lisa” where he was just this dim, oblivious kid still capable of actual emotions. This episode kind of firmly establishes this “new” Ralph, a literal mentally challenged child whose dialogue is 80% desperate one-liner attempts at making the next “I bent my Wookie” or “Me fail English?” There have been a few later attempts to try and give Ralph a bit more to do (he had actual sentences of dialogue recently in “Wad Goals,”) but they come off really bizarre given how he’s basically been reduced to a prop character over a decade. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, fellas, you’re stuck with what you made.
  • I really like the kernel of an idea of this episode about being stuck with an undesirable or embarrassingly playmate as a kid, where Bart butts heads with Marge about being forced to hang out with Ralph. The episode doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting with that idea, but it is there!
  • “Videotaping this crime spree is the best idea we ever had!” For all the stupid “Simpsons predicted it!” “theories” that went viral over the past year, this Jimbo line feels like an appropriate analogue for the January Capitol riots. A joke about short-sided and dumb teenage shenanigans translates perfectly to short-side, alt-right, fame-hungry dullards.
  • There’s some subtle depth to Chief Wiggum in this episode and his feelings toward Ralph, like when Marge almost sarcastically tells her, yeah, it would be nice if Ralph had some friends. He fully cops to his son having special needs and no one really wanting to be around him, and he feels bad about it, but has kind of run out of ideas of what to do. Later, when he sees Ralph and Bart playing together, his excitement over Ralph’s first friend is really endearing.
  • When Bart and Ralph run into the bullies at night, the average episode takes a big nosedive. Bart giving into peer pressure with the bullies and turning away a crying Ralph feels like cliche after school special material played completely straight. I can buy Bart standing up to Ralph getting mercilessly bullied, but when it gets to the point that he actually considers Ralph a friend, it’s just too much. Them exploring the penitentiary is boring and overly drawn out, and the grand finale of saving Quimby from the active electric chair is equally as dull, especially since they have not one but two scenes of Quimby explaining how dumb the ending is, telling his staff to not help him despite how “realistic” his convulsions are. Lisa fires a rocket with a note at the penitentiary… like, even if it did actually work, not only is the plan to fire at this building way in the distance, but were they banking on it going through the exact window where the execution room was? Is there even a window in that room? Oh, who cares.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:Can somebody please remind me why I’ve ever been  disappointed with this season? This was amazing. Nothing OOC, plenty of original, inspired gags and every member of OFF had a respectable amount of time. The plot seemed to change dramatically in the last few seconds of the first act, but it took me until second viewing to even notice. Looking back at my past few reviews, I’ve begun to realize I love this season! As of this episode, I’m raising my standards for an A.

19. Simpson Tide

  • The Planet of the Donuts is a pretty good opening dream. Maybe not as memorable as “Birth of Man” in “Lisa’s Pony” or the donut fashion show at the start of “Treehouse of Horror IV,” but pretty good. I also appreciate it ending right when Homer gets eaten by the enormous donut; I feel like a modern episode would include some unfunny button on that scene, but instead, it got out when the going was good.
  • Homer dropping a donut into the reactor (via a post office mail slot, no less) is just stupid enough that I can go along with it. I also like what we see of the aftermath that the cooling towers are on fire; I doubt that that’s very realistic, but it seemed like a believable consequence that would be worth Homer getting fired over.
  • The Navy commercial is fantastic, just the sales pitch that would appeal to Homer: getting drunk and doing fuck all for your country.
  • The man at the recruitment office is a familiar extra, it’s the “Just Stamp the Ticket” man from “When Flanders Failed”! I don’t know if I ever noticed that. He gets a one-scene wonder as Homer attempts to answer the one crossed off application question, much to his horror. Hey, have I brought up Dankmus recently?
  • I like that during basic training, Homer is more lovable buffoon than aggravating maniac (“You like me, but I don’t like you!” “Well, maybe you’d like me if you got to know me!”) Endearing touches like that stand out in a silly premise like this. Similarly, a ridiculous gag like a gigantic untethered ship going over a waterfall is balanced by Homer actually making a competent knot but forgetting to tie it to the ship, not him completely forgetting, or worse, having a blind active hand in the accident.
  • It really feels like this episode has one of the earliest “there’s-a-Starbucks-everywhere” jokes. When did those explode in popularity? My only frame of reference is a Lewis Black routine about “the end of the universe” being somewhere in Texas, where he saw a Starbucks across from another Starbucks, from a performance performed in 2001, while this episode aired in 1998.
  • The earring subplot is fine as is. It’s not really much of a “plot,” really, but I like that Homer’s annoyance at Bart’s earring runs throughout the show, and pretty effortlessly comes back by the end to be the lynchpin to save the day.
  • It’s so dumb, but I still like the “In the Navy” scene (although throwing Smithers in felt pushing it too far), if only because they just up and drown the Village People. They weren’t actually guest stars, but it’s nice to see one of the last big celebrity fuck-yous before we get deeper into the Mike Scully era and we get NSYNC magically arriving on their speedboat to heroically save the day.
  • I like that they clearly establish that Captain Tenille is not only a partially oblivious old man who projects onto people, but he actually might be physically ill on top of it (“Maybe it’s the saltwater in my veins, or the nitrogen bubbles in my brain…”) as an explanation as to why the fuck he would leave Homer in charge of the sub.
  • “I told him that photo would come back to haunt him.”
  • I absolutely love that Skinner brought Terri up with her sister on stage only to tell her to fuck off, we’re only saving one of you. That’s some good school administrator cruelty.
  • This episode is undeniably ridiculous, and Homer the naval captain is no less crazy and ridiculous as any of his future professions, but this episode feels like it strikes the right loose tone that it doesn’t feel out-of-reach outlandish, considering the climax is Homer plugging a pin-sized hole on the ship. Him magically knowing how to say “It’s my first day” in penguin is acceptable since I like the scene as a callback to the opening. We also get a joke explanation as to why the hell Homer wasn’t arrested, as all of the commanding officers in charge of indicting her are actually in the middle of their own indictments, getting him off the hook (“You can’t spell ‘dishonorable’ without ‘honorable.’’)
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I just want to say that I think ‘Simpson Tide’ was great… for an episode of ‘The Critic.’ It epitomizes the worst episodes of ‘The Simpsons:’ fast-paced gags, sophomoric humor, discontinuity, little or no ironic commentary, and a tacked-on plot which just serves as a set-up for quickie sight jokes. But the worst sin of all is the fact that the gags in this show were unfunny! All-in-all a very dissatisfying episode with a couple of genuinely funny bits. And to think I missed last week’s Ralph Wiggum episode only to see this clunker!”

Season Nine Revisited (Part Two)

7. The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons

  • Moe’s frozen grin as he walks across the stage to a sea of scornful women’s faces is great on its own, but even better with the weird knockoff “Stayin’ Alive” music. Also, I think the Sea Captain would be a catch for some woman in Springfield. The man owns his own restaurant and lives on a cool houseboat! I think he’s a catch.
  • “Sold to the five desperate chicks!” Kind of rude of Krusty to say, since one of the women is his secretary Miss Pennycandy.
  • This episode kind of re-frames Apu as a shy bachelor, whereas we’ve had previous examples of him being kind of a stud (dating Princess Kashmir in “Lisa’s Pony,” banging that one girl at the BBQ in “22 Short Films About Springfield.”) He seems to get back into the groove fairly quickly, so maybe he had just been out of the dating pool for a while. I wish there was more focus on Apu’s feelings through the episode, him talking about why he loves being carefree and single, as well as him separating leisuretime from his grueling work hours… there’s not much Apu characterization in this episode that’s ostensibly about him.
  • Homer growling suggestively at Apu opening a note from his mother… don’t care for it. It’s a joke off of him just reading a love note from one of Apu’s dates, but it plays so weird.
  • “Is it me or does your plans always have some horrid web of lies?” “It’s you.” This really feels like the first of many, many, many zany Homer schemes over the Mike Scully years. When he innocently suggests that Apu tell his mother he’s already married, he feels more like a normal guy throwing out suggestions, but escalating it to pretending Marge is Apu’s wife and his attitude to the ruse makes it more ridiculous and silly.
  • Very nice touch that Apu rolls out a Krusty the Clown sleeping bag next to Marge’s bed, seemingly borrowing it from Bart.
  • I really like Lisa’s innocence in not knowing what Apu’s mother’s “dot” is. A modern show would have Bart ask that question and Lisa would chastise him for being culturally ignorant and give a long explanation about it, but here, Lisa just doesn’t know, because she’s an eight-year-old who doesn’t know the specifics of every culture on Earth. We also get this great exchange between Apu’s mom and Bart (“Surely you know the background to your father’s heritage.” “So long you have no follow up questions, then yes… we do.”
  • Like I said, not a whole lot of Apu in this Apu show, because the second act is dominated by Homer living it up at the retirement home. It’s all fine material, I guess, but it just kind of becomes the wacky Homer show in the middle of what should be an Apu episode. Also when he leaves the retirement home, Apu and Marge just let him back into the house and into bed when Apu’s mother was literally just about to leave, which is stupid and makes no sense.
  • There’s a Homer line I hate, when Apu confesses to his mother, Homer judgingly reacts, “He lied to his mother…” This kind of tsk tsking attitude toward characters who are just saying and doing things that Homer pushed them into would reoccur a whole fucking lot over the next few seasons. Also included are jokes about his complete ignorance over stuff he himself started (“Oh right, the fake marriage thing. How’s that going?”) Homer really is pretty insufferable through most of this episode, and this behavior would only continue to get more flagrant as time goes on.
  • Apu’s mother just stays at the Simpson house and expects the wedding to be held in their backyard, with no real explanation, and she hates Marge. As Lisa says, why is she still staying there? Well, I guess they wrote that joke into the episode to whitewash over it, but as we will see time and time again, making a joke about a shit thing in your script doesn’t change the fact that it’s still shit.
  • “No pansies for me!” “It’s the tradition in India.” “Alright, it’ll cover the gravy stains.”
  • They make a meta joke about it, but why isn’t the elephant at the wedding just Stampy? They could’ve had a scene where they get him from the wildlife reserve, or at least just have one line explaining how the hell they were able to get an elephant in the first place.
  • The ending is kind of strange, in that it almost feels like the writers thought that making fun of arranged marriages would be too obvious, so their subversion was to make it seem like the marriage would actually work? They do the best they can; Manjula’s Fried Green Tomatoes question is clever and her interplay with Apu, what little there is, is sweet, but there’s no real emotional investment I can muster about Apu finding domestic bliss in an episode where he fought tooth and nail to avoid it. It’s more like him going, “Yeah, maybe this will work, hopefully…” As with almost all changes that would occur in the Mike Scully years, this character development doesn’t really amount to anything. He’s got a wife, and later kids, but Apu doesn’t really change, nor does any of his behavior change, other than he occasionally will do jokes about how having eight kids is hard.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This was, ‘without a doubt,’ as the CBG would say, the worst episode this season. Everything from the stupid premise to the tired, sitcom-standard gags were excrutiatingly unfunny and painful to watch; I probably cracked a tiny smile once. And, once again, Homer’s antics were much more grating than they could ever be amusing. Fortunately, this has been Richard Appel’s only real clunker; let’s hope he hasn’t totally lost it.” (note: Appel’s next, and final, episode was “When You Dish Upon a Star.”)

8. Lisa the Skeptic

  • The boating scam opening isn’t bad. A casual opening of Homer being wanted by the police doesn’t bode well for the future, but here, it’s just for 235 unpaid parking tickets, and Homer’s petulance and obliviousness to the whole scheme is pretty good (“Lousy cops. Lucky for you, I’m double parked!”)
  • There’s a good amount of self-acknowledgement of Lisa’s rabble rousing, with her “Who wants to complain with me?!” and Kent commenting on her thirteenth appearance on her program. Her staunch, humorless position she takes through the whole show grows a little bit tiresome though, to be honest.
  • It’s so weird how Phil Hartman’s death lines up fairly well to the death of the show (not pleased by how that sentence came out, but I don’t know how better to put it.) As such, his few appearances in season 9 (and one in season 10) feel weird to me. Lionel Hutz or Troy McClure showing up used to be such a reliable staple of the show’s high bar for quality, so them popping up even in mixed bag early Scully episodes feels a little off. Not to say he doesn’t provide bright moments, this is Phil Hartman we’re talking about. Hutz gets a solid line here (“It’s a thorny legal issue, alright. I’ll need to refer to the case, ‘Finders vs. Keepers,’”) and the character gets an entertaining, unintentional swan song next episode in “Realty Bites.” 
  • Homer dragging the angel away chained to his car in an incredibly small amount of time in plain view of an entire crowd of people standing in front of it is a pretty huge cheat.
  • “I’ll just leave it in here for a few years and let it appreciate in value.” “It’s probably a million years old, Dad, I think it’s as valuable as it’s going to get.”
  • A good chunk of act 2 involves the mystery of what the angel is, a lot of it playing out with suspense music (like when Lisa takes the sample for analysis) without many jokes. Like, why does it feel so serious?
  • The Marge/Lisa emotional core of the show is a little interesting, but it definitely feels like something that would have benefitted with a lighter touch carried through the whole episode. Instead, Marge drops the bomb on Lisa that she believes in angels, and they have a way-too-serious dialogue about it, culminating in both of them saying incredibly hurtful things to each other (“My poor Lisa, if you can’t make a leap of faith now and then, well, I feel sorry for you.” “Don’t feel sorry for me mom, I feel sorry for you.”) Marge telling her daughter she feels sorry for her? That’s cold.
  • “Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends. Well, I say that there are some things we don’t wanna know. Important things!” This episode definitely seems like patient zero for Ned Flanders’ insanely stringent religious stereotype he would devolve into. As is the case with most of these “first” episodes, it works in this “science vs. religion” episode context, but not in future examples.
  • The best part of the show may be the Pope reading his newspaper in a flimsy lawn chair (“Your Holiness, there is word from America. They say an angel has foretold the apocalypse.” “…keep an eye on it.”)
  • The ending as a concept is peak Simpsons, that the shopping mall people would play on the townspeoples’ emotions for a marketing gimmick, and said townspeople would be instantly won over by it is just perfect. I’m even willing to forgive the magical pulley track carrying the angel that clearly wasn’t there before the reveal. One big missed opportunity is we don’t get any final scene with Ned and Lovejoy, how they react to being shoved off their pious high horse.
  • It’s a pretty random guest spot, but Stephen Jay Gould is good for what little he has. I kind of like that he’s inexplicably an asshole, but it does feel weirdly unmotivated. Him shaking down a little girl for money is good (“I didn’t become a scientist for financial gain. Whatever little money you have will be just fine,”) but his ending flatly telling Lisa he never did the test (presumably after she paid him) is funny in how randomly cruel it is, but doesn’t make much sense.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “There was something curiously unsatisfying about this episode. Maybe it was Lisa’s irritating dismissal of the townspeoples’ faith, seemingly without justification for doing so. Maybe it was a childish fantasy, but she never gave us anything to back up this claim. Then, too, there was the annoying ‘look! they’re hypocrites!’ stuff, like with Moe voice-controlling the tv. Not that it wasn’t funny. Some of it was. But in past episodes, they have managed to take a serious issue (faith vs. science) and treat it with respect and humor. Here they just sort of hit us on the head with it.”

9. Realty Bites

  • The opening bit where Homer thinks it’s Saturday is pretty great. I’ve certainly fallen victim to fake Saturdays in the past…
  • Homer driving Li’l Bandit like a maniac, him abandoning Marge on the side of the road… we’re not even halfway through season 9 and he already feels like an entirely different character.
  • “Trying is the first step toward failure” is a late game all-time series quote.
  • The kids play-acting as a couple to help Marge study is pretty adorable (“We should have lived together first…”)
  • Ah, our introduction to Gil. Funny that he shows up in Lionel Hutz’s last big episode, and would eventually sorta kinda take his place. He would certainly get a bit overused as we got into the Al Jean era, but I like Gil more than I don’t, and he’s pretty good in his first outing (“I brought this wall from home!”) We also get introduced to Cookie Kwan, who is a bad character and I have nothing further to say.
  • Never before has lumber seemed more enticing.
  • We get our first (and only?) appearance of Sideshow Mel’s wife Barbara, and man, she’s quite the stunner! And she’s got her husband’s same teal hair. She must really dig thespians.
  • Homer gauding Skinner about his dead high school sweetheart feels very sour. I dunno, it’s different from the tonal dissonance about him reminiscing fondly about Vietnam, or even the more exaggeratedly tragic flashbacks like the one from “I Love Lisa,” this is just sad.
  • “The truth” and “the truth” is a grade-A Hutz scene (“It’s time I let you in on a little secret, Marge. The right house is the house that’s for sale. The right person is anyone.”)
  • Poor Lenny. At least this scene became fodder for a lot of great shitposts.
  • Marge unable to hack it in real estate because she can’t stretch the truth is a pretty good premise, but it feels like there’s too many scenes of her trying to lie, but backpedaling, when we already get the idea. Also her big moral dilemma about telling Ned about the murder house is pretty overbearing. The overdramatic music cues started to creep in in season 8, and now they’re used in full force. Also, why are the Flanders’ moving in the first place? It seems like a thing they’d at least make a joke out of, but they don’t even bother.
  • The Flanders family lying motionless on the floor covered in “blood” marks is pretty stupid. Like, if you’re going to do a “fakeout” gag like that, it better have a damn funny explanation, or have some kind of twist, but “we were painting a room red and we got tired and passed out” isn’t it. Todd’s “red room” bit is good, though; they should have just had a scene where they were all in the room painting and done that joke.
  • Homer fighting Snake is fucking dumb. Snake’s allegiance to his beloved car is a nice character flourish (“Premiiiuuummmm! Duuuuuddee!”), and I also like how he and his cellmate are able to easily eavesdrop on the police auction from their cell, but this B-plot just sucks, and how it literally collides with the A-story in destroying the murder house is even worse.
  • The very ending at the unemployment office is really bizarre. Marge’s line feels weirdly demonizing (“Three hundred dollars for doing nothing? I feel like such a crook,”) coming off kind of heartless, which hits even more so given how countless people got fucked out of their jobs last year. Then we end on a freeze frame of George H.W. Bush picking up his check… what’s that about? The man’s been out of office for over five years, what is this a commentary on?
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Dan Greaney, often Simpsons’ best writer, turns in a story that is at worst mediocre. Haven’t we had enough Marge episodes where Marge gets some job to spice up her life that she ends up failing at? That, in addition to the fact Marge fails at the hands of her own sense of honesty, makes this episode look like ‘Springfield Connection’ rehash.”

10. Miracle on Evergreen Terrace

  • Busting the car heater, parking across three handicap spots, posing as a cashier to steal Xmas gifts… Jerkass Homer is out in full force immediately. It’s funny how the first two examples also happened in other episodes (“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” “The Springfield Connection,”) but both of those instances had greater character or plot motivations; here, Homer’s just being a dick because that’s who he is now! Also Homer’s reply to Marge asking why they waited until last minute to do their Xmas shopping (“You know me, Marge, I just love the hustle and bustle!”) is pretty telling. Homer is a lazy oaf who would love nothing more than to sit on the couch watching TV, but he’s now Captain Wacky, searching high and low for his new scheme/crazy adventure.
  • The kids watching the televised yule log in front of the real-life fireplace is a great quick gag, one I recall they copied verbatim in a recent episode, except they literally have Lisa explain the joke for the audience (“You know, we have an actual fireplace, and we’re watching a fire on TV! Isn’t that funny? Do you get it?”)
  • Homer falling from the roof while decorating is an easy compare and contrast with “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” The more climactic and painful fall clashes with the simplistic, almost gentle tumble from the very first episode. I do like that Homer comes back into the house to call everyone outside, completely nonplussed by his accident, but the kids laughing in good nature at Homer’s small fall in “Open Fire” is much more adorable than them laughing at him here.
  • I always liked this little animation of empty-bladder Bart leaving the bathroom (“How sweet it is!”)
  • The tree on fire looks fantastic. I just love the fidelity of the old cel-era animation fire effects, I don’t know why they can’t create that great glow effect as convincingly with digital tools.
  • “Cheer up. We’ll catch this guy.” “Uhhh, Chief?” “What? You can’t rule it out…”
  • Kent Brockman gets a handful of great lines throughout the episode (“Is your husband or lover here, ma’am?” “Absolutely devastated? …absolutely devastated. The words of a heartbroken mother.”) I also love him thanking the family at the end of his last broadcast, making it crystal clear he’s just doing his job and doesn’t actually give a shit.
  • A remorseful Bart on Christmas is definitely reminiscent of “Marge Be Not Proud,” but in that episode, the conflict was handled more relatably, about a kid who disappoints a parent and has to make good. A bit too teevee-y? Perhaps at times. But it doesn’t feel phony, has a satisfying emotional payoff, and is consistently funny throughout, never descending too deep into treacle. Here, for most of the middle chunk of the episode, Bart is racked with guilt over the ridiculous tree-destroying accident he pulled, so there’s nothing else to really grab onto. All you can do is count the minutes until the inevitable confession.
  • It’s weird that the Crazy Old Man is the owner of the TV shop who shoos away the two orphans (“Come back when you get some parents!”) He was a well established resident at the Retirement Castle at this point, was this just a weird production mistake that they used his character model by accident?
  • Simpsons Scam Springfield/Angry Mob Mulls Options is a great newspaper headline/subhead.
  • The Simpson family impromptu traveling to Los Angeles so Marge can be on Jeopardy for barely a minute of screen time doesn’t bode well for the ever shrinking reality this show has left. Luckily, Alex Trebek (RIP) is great in his small role. I love him rubbing his mustache after running the family out of the studio, and the fantastic ADR line from one of his goons (“They ain’t gettin’ the home version.”)
  • I feel kind of mixed about the townspeople robbing the Simpson home ending. I like that it’s a cruel “twist” that isn’t a cloying and sappy happy ending, like how basically all episodes end nowadays, but it still feels pretty silly. What is Apu going to do with Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II? Or Comic Book Guy with pants full of silverware? The people of Springfield are prone to riot and loot if provoked, but here, it comes off as almost pointlessly vindictive, which I guess is part of the point, but it doesn’t really work satisfyingly for me.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I know these characters, but not from OFF.  The characters seemed to be caricatures of themselves in this ep. Trite plot, lack of humor, Bart-must-be-the-center style all contributed to the grade. The writers have sold out, yet again. I haven’t seen an ep like this since season 1. It also seemed as if the episode started in about the last minute — i.e. the entire ep could have been condensed into act I. All in all, a big disappointment.”

11. All Singing, All Dancing

  • “Gump Roast” is handily the worst clip show, but this might be the most disposable episode of the entire series. If I want to hear any of the songs from the show, I’ll just listen to them off the CDs, or off YouTube nowadays. There’s no appeal to me having them all in one episode, and the framing device is pretty bad. Snake the hostage taker/murderer doesn’t feel appropriate, or funny, to sustain an entire episode. The only saving grace is the first few minutes, the movie night set-up stuff is all good (“Did you get ‘Waiting to Exhale’?” “They put us on the ‘Waiting to Exhale’ waiting list, but they said don’t hold your breath,”) and of course, “Paint Your Wagon” is a tremendous sequence, but after Homer ejects the tape into the wastebasket, the episode completely tanks. Really not much more to say about this one.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review:I have to register my disgust at the utter lack of humor in last night’s episode. As a general rule, I am not a big fan of the Broadway-style singing engaged in by the Simpsons on occasion. However, I tolerate it as a necessary part of watching the best show on television and occasionally have a laugh at a cleverly worded lyric. But whoever the writer(s) is/are that insist upon this inclusion of non-funny, non-necessary musical filler should be drawn and quartered. Does anyone really feel that the musical numbers are necessary to the show? Perhaps once in a while, but not every show, and certainly not a whole show dedicated entirely to singing. Does Fox/Groening, etc. get some kind of feedback from some mythical audience that requests this piffle? To quote  Lisa, ‘Do they really expect us to swallow this tripe?'”

12. Bart Carny

  • The opening with Marge trying to get the kids to do chores is actually pretty damn solid: Bart and Lisa’s “ding ding ding”s (and Homer running out for the ice cream man), their talk about chopping their hands off to avoid doing work, and Marge gloating in getting the upper hand when the carnival rolls into town, only to get undermining immediately by Homer. Marge gets the knife dug in even deeper at the carnival when Bart excitedly wants to go on the Yard Work Simulator (though she unnecessarily explains the joke, “When I ask you to do yard work…” when a simple frustrated murmur would have sufficed.)
  • The Tooth Chipper is great, but definitely makes me wince. Between this and Homer chewing the tire bolts in “New York,” this is not a good season for my weird visceral reaction to dental mishaps.
  • It’s not very clear why Homer deifies the carnies so much. I guess it would be okay if it were funny in any way, but it’s not. He’s slowly settling into being generally insufferable by default.
  • Of course the Rich Texan would own Hitler’s car. Also while driving, when he’s saying, “Out of my way! I’m Hitler!” Bart is kind of doing the Nazi salute?
  • Homer butts in and pleads to be a carny with Bart, and the Rich Texan lets him because why not. What about his job or Bart going to school?  Also, maybe I’m overthinking this, but Homer and Bart doing grunt work at the carnival will be enough to cover their debt in totaling an antique car? How long are they in Springfield? None of these questions deserved answers, I guess.
  • Agnes browbeating Skinner during the ring toss game to the point he switches to the knife prize is a dark joke I can get behind.
  • Wiggum trying to get a bribe off Homer feels wrong; maybe it’s just me, but I think Wiggum is generally stupider than Homer. Also, he carts the ring toss game away, but isn’t the entire carnival crooked? Why wouldn’t he go after the Rich Texan as the owner? These details wouldn’t matter if the show were funnier; instead, this moment is enhanced with dramatic music, so I end up thinking about how this stuff makes more sense more clearly.
  • I most certainly like how pissed Marge is at the start of act three as she grabs Homer by the collar and hauls him into the other room to chew him out for bringing two dirty carnies home. It’s a far cry from later seasons where she’s just a blank Stepford wife who puts up with all manner of crazy crap from her man child husband.
  • The sunken “sister ship” is another great dark joke (“Went down with eighty-eight souls just last week,”) but it’s partially ruined by dumbass Homer and Bart taunting the shark. Marge daydreaming about a glass-bottomed car is also a great bit (“I can’t help but wonder what we’re missing!”)
  • The Cooders squatting is pretty damn boring, and I don’t know how you’d make the last act work better, but Homer’s hula hoop trick is a pretty damn satisfying conclusion. It’s just clever enough that I believe Homer could have come up with it, and them laughing through the mail slot, with their laughter cut off when the flap closes is a great bit of karma.
  • I wish Jim Varney was in a much better episode, but he gives one hell of a solid line reading for “We were beaten by the best, boy.”
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Awful, awful first act, followed by very good, very funny second and third acts. What, was this episode written by John Swartzwelder or something? Bingo! While the laughs from later acts partially redeemed the ‘setup’ act, they didn’t entirely.”

13. The Joy of Sect

  • The pay-off of Homer, Bart et al coming to see the home team return just to boo and riot is pretty great, as they proceed to turn the entire plane over. A truly hilarious final touch that I don’t know if I really noticed before is the inflatable ramp that unfurls after the plane is upside-down, causing the poor suckers trying to go down it to immediately fall to the ground.
  • Homer repeatedly asking the Movementarians about the free weekend felt like a poorer imitation of his questioning of each letter in “VIP” from “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington.”
  • “Remember when those smooth-talking guys tried to sell me a timeshare vacation condo?” “You bought four of them! Thank God the check bounced.” “So I beat the system!”
  • I’m fascinated by cults, so this episode has kind of a soft spot for me. They do a solid job presenting the Movementarians as a functioning pastiche of different famous cults. I love how act one is how all of the traditional manipulation tactics used by many cults just don’t work on someone as thick as Homer, and the usage of the Batman theme to finally permeate his psyche is excellent.
  • “Church, cult, cult, church. So we get bored someplace else every Sunday. Does this really change our day to day lives?”
  • Mr. Burns the God is a completely isolated diversion from the main story, but it’s still memorable all the same, and worth it if for nothing else the quote, “Ahoy hoy, lowly mortals!” One joke I don’t quite get is when Smithers tells Burns he’ll handle creating the religion’s logo after he throws out several copyrighted options (Special K, Mickey Mouse ears), we see the final version is a giant B inside of what is clearly a Christmas tree. Is the joke supposed to be that Smithers also picked a pre-existing symbol? 
  • I like how Marge just gets more and more angry as act two goes on. She can put a brave face on anything, but she has her limits, and these are it (“Homer, you know I always try to put the best face on everything, but there’s no face on that damn bean!!”)
  • Lovejoy being a little bit too ready to burn down the church is a great scene (“I never thought I’d have to do this again…”)
  • Willie working with Marge, Ned and Lovejoy to reprogram the other Simpsons is a great usage of a side character, having them interact with other characters they normally wouldn’t in a whole new situation, and it turns out quite well (“I made some Rice Krispie squares for our hungry deprogram-orinoes!” “You ruined the atmosphere, you daft pansy!”)
  • It’s so silly, but I love the trick with the hover bikes, and even better that Ned’s weird paper comb thing to make the noise is also used by the Leader at the end.
  • The ending is pretty solid, if a little bit long, but I like the double fake out where even though a single drop of beer hits his tongue, it seems like Homer is still brainwashed, but then he goes to reveal what’s inside the forbidden barn, which is actually the foretold spacecraft. Of course we never think it’s real, but it still works really well. Also great that the beer thing is set up from the very beginning when the Movementarians tell him that alcohol isn’t permitted.
  • After having watched hundreds and hundreds of awful new episodes, I was wondering if I would be a little more forgiving to the Mike Scully era of the series, but halfway into season 9, that really isn’t the case. I certainly would take any season 9-12 episode over season 32, but the fatal problems that start creeping into the forefront here and get progressively worse aren’t any more palatable. Thinking about what episodes I would actually want to watch again so far, I think “City of New York,” “Cartridge Family,” “Bart Star” and “Joy of Sect” are all pretty solid, but the rest, I don’t know when I would care to re-watch them ever again.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “This episode can serve as sort of a litmus test for ‘Simpson’ fans. People who like the older shows will give a ‘C’ or lower, while the ‘New shows rule’ crowd will perhaps give an ‘A.’ I’m in-between, so I’ll award a ‘B-.’ The show’s best sequence, curiously, is also the most superfluous, but it’s generally funny when taken on its own merits.”

Season Nine Revisited (Part One)

1. The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson

  • Coming in under the wire at the very end of the eighth production season, Duffman is the last great character to come out of this series (Gil was funny at times, but forever living in the gigantic shadow cast by Lionel Hutz.) It’s like “Oh Yeah” was made for him and his bravado showmanship. I also like his reluctant, but contractually obligated support of the designated driver program when Barney brings the mood down.
  • I feel kind of foolish not thinking of this before, but where the hell is Marge’s car? Why is Homer riding around on a scooter and building his own vehicle out of a mattress when the family has always had two cars, as angrily pointed out by Frank Grimes just three episodes ago.
  • “If you do not remedy this malparkage within 72 hours, your car will be thrown into the East River at your expense.”
  • Homer’s nightmare flashback to his bad New York experience is a wonderful sequence, it’s so expertly timed to the music.
  • Obligatory “SIMPSONS DID 9/11” reference.
  • The second and last (as far as I can remember) appearance of the Very Tall Man is sadly a syndication cut. It’s not the best joke, but to be fair, his first appearance was an all-time great, so to top that would be a tall order (ha ha ha.) Also interesting in that this episode is written by Ian Maxtone-Graham, the physical inspiration for the character.
  • Watching Homer in this episode kind of reminded me of “Homer Goes to College;” he acts wildly exaggerated in both shows based upon preconceived notions in his head that cloud everything else. In “College,” he was convinced he was living in a bad college movie, and here, his one bad New York trip (which he’s most likely exaggerated in his head over the years) has created his irrational hatred of the city. He may be crazier here than he was in “College,” but I can accept his behavior in context for the most part. But of course, it’s a slippery slope for Homer from here…
  • Homer biting the nuts on the tire really makes me wince. The sounds effects make it even worse, my teeth just recoiled inside my mouth.
  • Marge and the kids traveling from NYC landmark to landmark definitely set the template for all future travel shows, where it’s just a matter of showing a handful of tourist locations, make your tepid jokes and call it a day. It’s pretty similar here, but the jokes are definitely stronger, and their wonderful day exploring the city contrasts Homer’s miserable escapades.
  • “Chinese fire drill! Serious this time!!”
  • “Checkin’ In” is one of the last great songs of the series, it’s very catchy and well-done, feeling very evocative of a Broadway-style tune. It’s also another song off the soundtrack CDs that I never quite understood as a kid. Not many cartoons back in the 90s talked about methadone clinics and Liza Minelli. Also, the lead actor seems to be modeled off Robert Downey, Jr., one of two RDJ jokes in the series about him being a washed-up druggie, which is especially funny in retrospect, since he’s been the highest paid actor in Hollywood for several years now.
  • I totally get why some people would find Homer aggravating in this episode, but I love it. I laugh every time that boot just completely destroys the side of his car, and just how blinded with misplaced rage he is in his attempts to get the fuck out of NYC (smashing in the car radio as “Everything is Beautiful” plays is a highlight.) The only bit I don’t really like is when he tells Marge and the kids to jump in the car (“No time for the baby!”)
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Bland with little to laugh at – even with the contrived plot, there were plenty of opportunities for jokes that were missed. Homer was blazingly out of character, unless you prefer the idiot version of Homer, and the rest of the family, with much potential with NYC jokes, took a backseat to Homer’s antics. The age of the show is definitely showing, and seems to be lacking an overall QA manager.”

2. The Principal and the Pauper

  • “Superintendent Chalmers!  Can I offer you a cup of coffee-flavored beverine?” “Yes, I take it grey, with creamium.”
  • I like Agnes’ poorly-disguised deception in getting Skinner to his surprise party. I feel like up to this point, there have been just enough moments showing that Agnes depends on her son and cares for him to some extent, while past this point, it would just be an endless parade of scathing remarks about how she wish he were dead while Skinner just takes it like a wuss.
  • “I’m an imposter. That is the real…” has become a really solid shitpost meme that’s been used for so many different things.
  • So yeah, this will mostly just be talking about the controversial story of this episode, and hopefully I won’t just retread what I talked about ten years ago. I can’t imagine what I would have thought watching this when it aired, especially to have a bombshell show like this as the second episode of the season. Even with Skinner’s rewritten history not contradicting much from what we already know, it still recolors him in a less than favorable way. Skinner looking back fondly about the horrors of war, be it his nostalgic satisfaction finding his old POW helmet at a swap meet or his desperate attempts to recreate his beloved rice stew stateside, was incredibly funny irony, but also spoke a lot about Skinner’s character. Here, his Vietnam experiences feel more normalized, where he was a punk kid who learned to be a better man under the wing of his commanding officer. Depicting Skinner as a rebellious youth is an interesting idea, but it’s an episode I’d rather like to see as its own story, not in this overcomplicated misfire of a show.
  • I know for sure I mentioned the audio commentary last time around, but I’d highly recommend listening to it, as writer Ken Keeler attempts to explain what he was going for (and admits himself it didn’t quite work out as he hoped.) He talks about how he never expected anyone to care so much about a secondary character like Skinner, a point seemingly represented in the episode with this Marge and Skinner exchange (“How would you feel if you suddenly found out Ned Flanders was an impostor?” “…who’s Ned Flanders?”)
  • Exactly how much time goes by between Sgt. Skinner’s arrival and Skinner leaving town? Where was he staying, and what was he doing? Another sizable problem with this episode is just what a black hole of a character Sgt. Skinner is. I get that he’s supposed to be this weird interloper that the rest of the cast doesn’t quite gel with, but we only get that from Agnes getting upset that he was at a bar and he’s borrowing her car. But who is he? What kind of life does he want for himself in Springfield? His lifelong dream was to be principal, and we barely even see that. And why did he come home to change to a turtleneck? Creating a deeper contrast between the two Skinners and emphasizing how weird life is with the “real” Skinner back may have helped this episode, but it’s already juggling so much plot I’m not sure if it would have helped much.
  • “Up yours, children!” is great, but why exactly are the kids just hanging by the storage center at night? Maybe the ice cream shop was just down the block.
  • Skinner’s new job outside Topless Nudes is definitely one of the highlights of the episode (”They’re not even wearing a smile! Nod suggestively!”)
  • Everything really starts to tear apart the more you mentally unravel it. You can say Agnes was an old woman who had forgotten exactly what her son looked like (even though they imply that she always knew, which is a whole greater topic I won’t even go into), but surely lots of other people in Springfield knew the real Skinner and would be confused as to what was going on. But the episode doesn’t really want you to think about any of that; as Homer explains at the end, “Do any of you care?” And the answer is yes, yeah, I kind of do. Ken Keeler is responsible for some of the greatest Futurama episodes (as well as Simpsons gems like “Two Bad Neighbors” and “Brother From Another Series”), but he really way over thought this one. The episode is a failure, but it’s an interesting failure, definitely enhanced by listening to the commentary. It also feels like Oakley & Weinstein’s very last meta deconstruction, but unlike “Poochie” and “Homer’s Enemy,” this one just really missed the mark.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Ken Keeler, I hate you. This episode is certainly a waste of tape. Abandoning all continuity and destroying a great supporting character in exchange for a few cheap laughs? I’m sorry, that might have worked on ‘The Critic,’ but if you haven’t noticed, this ain’t ‘The Critic.’ The only solace is that this appears to be Keeler’s final episode. Well, Mr. Keeler, with this episode, you have earned yourself the most welcome exit since Jennifer Crittenden.”

3. Lisa’s Sax

  • Man, it’s so weird that Michigan J. Frog was the WB Network’s mascot. It was meant to appeal to kids and younger teens, but not only is he a relatively obscure character, but he’s a fucking frog who sings turn-of-the-century showtunes, and he’s gonna appeal to 90s kids? Whatever. When they finally retired him in 2005, WB chairman Garth Ancier commented, “The frog is dead and buried,” which is pretty hardcore.
  • “It all happened in 1990! Back then, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince was currently known as Prince. Tracey Ullman was entertaining America with songs, sketches, and crudely drawn filler material…” The first big warning sign that the show’s been running too long is that the flashbacks are now officially clashing with show history. It’s a cute nod now, but it would become more of a nagging problem in the future.
  • Li’l Jimbo’s bunny shirt is just adorable.
  • I like Lisa’s demure clapping next to a more enthusiastic Bart and Lisa after Homer and Marge finish the first part of their story/song in the first act. It’s a great touch leading up to her outburst that they were telling the wrong damn story.
  • Gotta love Curious George and the Ebola Virus.
  • Li’l Bart’s troubling drawing is appropriately disturbing. Homer’s dismissive patronizing turned outright horror when he finally looks at it is a great performance by Dan.
  • Dr. Pryor and the owner of King Toot’s make their first re-appearances in years, but neither of them have the same voices. Could they not have checked the old tapes to double check that?
  • This episode has the first of what seemed like many Milhouse-is-gay jokes, with Dr. Pryor’s file about his “flamboyant homosexual tendencies.” The joke doesn’t really seem like it’s about the wild paranoia at overanalyzing and sexualizing young children, it’s more like, ha ha he’s gay/effeminate. Same with in “All Singing, All Dancing” with Bart’s lyrics “I hate to dance and prance and sing/That’s really more of a Milhouse thing.” 
  • “The point I’m trying to make here is, that Bart must learn to be less of an individual and more of a faceless slug.”
  • Yeardley Smith gives an adorable performance as 3-year-old Lisa (“Wave of the future!” still manages to touch my cold, black heart.)
  • The plot of this episode is weirdly kind of start-and-stop, since we focus exclusively on Bart for the first half, then it becomes about Lisa up until the very end, with Bart getting a scene wrap-up to his story in act three. It’s kind of funny that li’l Bart and li’l Lisa don’t even have any kind of interaction. But what we get is pretty good; Bart meeting li’l Milhouse (who is INCREDIBLY flaming, right?!) and his birth as a class clown feels very appropriate and satisfying. 
  • I really like the jazzy end credits, which Homer angrily interrupts (“Lisa! Enough saxa-ma-phone already!”), then continues and closes out minus the saxophone part. It’s a pretty clever joke.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Hmmm. This episode read kind of like the old Simpsons- old in that they stuck to a plot, made some sort of sense, and still verged on hilarity. I liked it a lot, but there were a couple of things I just sort of shook my head at. The Fruitopia bashing, the WB bashing, etc- what’s the point they’re trying to make? It’s not satire, just bitter bad-mouthing. What was the whole ‘Simpsons is filmed in front of a live studio audience’ supposed to mean? Why were they reminiscing about the ’70s at the start of the show? All in all, it could have been a lot worse.”

4. Treehouse of Horror VIII

  • God bless the FOX censor and robbing us of that bit about the crack pipe (“As the FOX censor, it’s my job to protect you from reality.”) It’s also probably the last clever TOH opening. The one next year with the twisted opening sequence where everyone dies is neat, I guess, but this one feels more creative.
  • “I stand by my ethnic slur!” is a Quimby line for the ages.
  • It’s weird that Homer refers to “The Far Side” calendar as a Gary Larson calendar. It couldn’t have been an issue of permission; why say the cartoonist’s name when most people would most recognize the name of the comic?
  • There was a period where I thought the show writers had forgotten to put Kang and Kodos in this year’s special. Sadly, they were victims of syndication cuts, which sucks because it’s one of their best appearances; I like the idea of a reverse-UFO sighting and their shock at seeing the missile fly by.
  • Seeing Homer in that theater full of corpses makes me really miss going to the movie theater. I’d even see a David Spade/Chris Farley movie, I don’t give at shit.
  • I always smile at Homer singing along and responding to “War” (“Say it again! Okay!”)
  • “The Homega Man” kind of falls apart by the end. The freaks and why they want to kill Homer feels kind of rushed, and we get an extended chase sequence that isn’t really funny, and Marge and the kids killing them as the twist ending feels more random than unexpected. The chase scene did give me Hit & Run flashbacks to the final Halloween level. Even the music felt kind of reminiscent of the game. Remember the last mission where you have to carry nuclear waste barrels to the spaceship, but you can’t drive too recklessly or else they’ll explode and you have to start all over? What a pain in the ass that was.
  • Not only is the cat ear medicine the exact same type of can as a Duff, but it’s placed right between two Duff cans. Amazing.
  • The two-headed Santa’s Little Helper/Snowball II fusion actually beat Nickelodeon’s CatDog to the punch by a year. FOX should have sued!
  • It goes against Matt Groening’s long-attested rule about animals never acting too humanlike, but the spider shaking its fists at fly Bart as it escapes is still really funny to me.
  • I love the touch of 1649 Krabappel having the scarlet A.
  • Impressively, this show has gotten two equally funny retorts to Lisa quoting the same Bible verse to make a point (“Doesn’t the Bible say `Judge not lest ye be judged?’”) In “Bart’s Girlfriend,” Lovejoy murmurs, “I think it’s somewhere towards the back…” and here, 1649 Wiggum dismisses, “The Bible says a lot of things,” before ordering Lisa’s mother to be shoved off the cliff. 
  • “Oh, Neddy, look at them up there, plotting our doom! They could force us to commit wonton acts of carnality!” “Pffft, yeah, that’ll be the day.” Great line, and interesting that 1649 Ned is considerably hornier than his modern day counterpart.
  • It really is funny how quickly the dial is being turned on Homer’s characterization. This is the second episode of the ninth production season, and first to air, and we’ve got Homer angrily punching corpses, threatening Bart with an axe and an ending where he gets an angry mob to chase Lisa out of town. Season 9 still has a lot of the same writers as season 8, but Oakley & Weinstein must have tethered these impulses to some extent, and then Mike Scully moves up and I guess decided to just let the chains loose. And look how good that turned out!
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “While TOH VIII didn’t quite reach the heights of III or VI, it was a decent entry in one of the most unique holiday series on TV today. ‘Fly vs. Fly’ was the best episode; it lacked any jarring shifts in tone and had an abundance of good gags. The endings for ‘The Homega Man’ and ‘Easy-Bake Coven’ clashed with the shorts’ beginnings, but each short had something to recommend it.”

5. The Cartridge Family

  • The soccer ad feels like a classic manipulative Simpsons commercial (“It’s all here: fast-kicking, low scoring, and ties? You bet!”) Also, Ariaga and Ariaga II is one of those jokes I absolutely don’t understand but love all the same.
  • Great bit of Springfield history from Marge about the soccer stadium (“It’s hard to believe this used to be an internment camp!”)
  • Great detail at the riot with Dr. Hibbert strangling Dr. Nick.
  • “But surely you can’t put a price on your family’s lives.” “I wouldn’t have thought so either, but here we are.”
  • Hey, have I mentioned Dankmus in a while?
  • Homer in this episode feels reminiscent of “Homer’s Phobia,” where his character is being co-opted slightly to represent the average American man, previously in his latent homophobia, now with his loudmouth support of his right to own a gun. He definitely comes off worse here than “Phobia” for a few reasons, but the core of the episode feels sound to me.
  • The episode has its fun with gun-nut culture, with the NRA group scenes feeling depressingly familiar over twenty years later. It’s not really even parody anymore. Moe’s closing joke of his story about shooting and paralyzing a would-be robber (”I guess the next place he robs better have a ramp!”) being met with raucous laughter from the crowd is quite literally something I’d expect to see from CPAC or a similar militantly right-wing meetup.
  • Homer’s fantasy about the gilded life he would lead if he robbed the Kwik-E-Mart is another wonderful looping gif-worthy moment.
  • I feel like I had greater anxiety with Homer’s reckless fooling around with his gun this time around. After the gun goes off twice during dinner, he sets it down on the table and it fires a third time. When we cut back to a wider shot of the kitchen, the gun is pointed incredibly close to where Maggie is sitting. Yeah, that scene is the breaking point with Marge, but Homer coming this close to shooting his infant daughter is pretty hardcore.
  • Homer going to respond to Marge’s “I think you’d agree that I’ve put up with a lot in this marriage,” only to stop when he sees Bart and Lisa sternly shaking their heads is a great moment.
  • Homer’s hiding place for the gun is pretty stupid, even for him, considering Marge is the only person in the family that would actually open the vegetable crisper.
  • There’s been so many “last straw” moments in the last twenty years of the show, of Marge insisting this is the worst thing Homer has ever done, and that it may actually threaten their marriage and their family. Here, it really does feel like it. The episode does a solid job with Marge’s progression, humoring Homer’s new obsession, then her calm and concerned plea for him to give it up, then her justified outrage at his betrayal.
  • Homer’s excitement over the gun is fine, but it goes too far by the third act when he’s gleefully shooting the TV and blasting every light in the house. It’s just way too silly.
  • “Are you some kind of moron?” This one line from Cletus is not only funnier than anything we saw in “Yokel Hero,” but says more about his character than anything we “learned” in that episode. He may be simple folk, but even he has better gun sense than Homer.
  • The episode really falls down at the ending, which I’m not even sure what to make of. Homer is exposed to lying to Marge again, but the day is saved by the other NRA members arriving, packing enough heat to frighten off Snake. So is this like a “good guy with a gun” happy ending? They joke about letting Snake get away, but characterizing reckless dimwits like Moe and Lenny as concerned citizens responding to the triggered silent alarm feels wrong and antithetical to the episode. Homer concludes he can’t trust himself and surrenders the gun to Marge, which I guess I understand, but then Marge decides she looks good with it and keeps it for herself, which I guess is the unexpected twist ending, but I don’t find it very funny.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “I find that this episode was confusing, trying to preach a lesson that it couldn’t sustain. Lisa’s statement that the Bill of Rights was out of date, picking out one section, while ignoring that her statements could apply to freedom of speech and religion, seemed far too radical for her. On the bright side, all of us that find Marge to be a sexy woman got two treats in this show. One, Homer’s mental view of her in a very sexy and revealing outfit,  plus Marge’s strut when she pockets the pistol for herself. I don’t think this one is destined to be a classic by anyone’s reasoning, but like any of the Simpson shows, it does have a bright spot or two.” (we don’t kink-shame on this blog, but what the fuck)

6. Bart Star

  • I love Dr. Nick’s big goofy grin manning the “What’s Your Sex?” booth. What else could his procedure possibly entail other than groping the genitals of whoever is foolish enough to indulge him?
  • The goaded fury which Milhouse repeatedly and violently kick Bart in the crotch to test the cup is still very funny.
  • Lisa’s attempts to rabble rouse pee wee football is a really wonderful scene. She’s clearly raising a stink to get attention, but she’s clearly just a little kid who sheepishly backs down when her efforts are foiled. She doesn’t come off as unlikable or out-of-character; she’s exaggerated a bit to serve the purpose of the scene, but it’s not pushed too far. Thankfully, this would be the very last time Lisa would bitch about a self-righteous cause and she would go onto be a worldly beloved, non-problematic character. Thank goodness for that.
  • The two teams both being the Wildcats is even funnier to me as my high school mascot was the Cougars.
  • Is there a reason that Uter is depicted throughout the episode only wearing one cleat? Is that a reference to a specific athlete?
  • Homer’s hatred of coach Flanders goes sour mainly because of how long it sustains, as we see him badmouthing him and acting like a dick over multiple scenes over multiple weeks. It also comes out of a self-processed place of meanness, which is incredibly out-of-character of Homer (“Dad, that was really mean!” “I know, sweetie!”) Maybe if he had vied for the coach job and lost to Ned, he would have some kind of motivation, but here, he’s just an asshole. Meanwhile, Ned seems quick to anger, or at least strong annoyance, at Homer’s taunting, and seeing him climb up the stands, stare down Homer and insult him to his face made this feel like a sequel to “Hurricane Neddy.” 
  • Homer’s flashback to his gymnastic days is great (Smithers’ excitement when we go from women’s events to men’s, Abe’s “You’re gonna blow it!!”) but it seems like it should have come earlier in act one, or a bit later in act two. As it is now, Homer acts like an overbearing coach dad to Bart for the first minute, then switches gears completely after the flashback. A little more breathing room in either direction would have helped.
  • “Son, you can do anything you want. I have total faith in you.” “Since when?” “Since your mother yelled at me.”
  • Joe Namath is fantastic, miraculously appearing to help Bart when he needs it most, only to leave without giving any actual information. I like how Bart cycles through all the things he said to him, trying to parse out anything useful, but ultimately, there was nothing. On its face, the scene reeks of what would come later where celebrities will just appear out of nowhere and a character will announce who they are (“Wow! Joe Namath!”), but this was intentionally done like that. Plus, Namath ends up looking like kind of a dope, especially in his ending PSA.
  • The King of the Hill guest appearance is pretty worthless. My mind wants to read it as intentionally underwhelming in response to a big FOX marketing pull promoting the crossover, but it doesn’t really feel that way.
  • Homer’s awkward mending of fences with Bart is pretty sweet, while being biting at the same time (“If you forgive me, I promise I’ll never encourage you again.”)
  • The bait-and-switch ending with Bart taking Nelson’s place… in the back of Wiggum’s squad car really works, it’s satisfying unexpected and feels like an appropriate ending.
  • Simpsons Archive retro review: “Did anyone else notice how superficial Lisa’s lines were tonight? She only wanted to play football because she thought it was going to cause trouble! As soon as she found out there were already girls on the team, she ran away. I’ve seen writers that couldn’t handle Lisa before, but this time they were just plain wrong! The C.U.P. joke was neither funny nor subtle. The only people that will laugh at it, have either forgotten it, or never heard it before. Even then, it’s likely to be a weak laugh.”

203. Natural Born Kissers

(originally aired May 17, 1998)
Finally, what we all came here to see… hardcore nudity! Talk about your season finale; I bet the promos for this episode were pretty bombastic (“Homer and Marge NUDE! Tonight on FOX!!”) It ultimately is pretty low on the risque factor, and has a few bits that kind of drag (woooo!), but there’s enough good stuff here that kept me satisfied and smiling (wooooooooooo!). The first act features Homer and Marge discouraged that their sexual life is in a bit of a rut, something that ultimately feels like a lite version of “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy.” But I appreciate the effort, and there’s some genuine-feeling moments: I love the ad-libbing by Castellaneta and Kavner in attempting to initiate obligated anniversary sex, and their relief of the dog entering the room to break the awkwardness of their inability to do so. Though perhaps with not as much emotional heft as the show used to do, but you still feel for these two, stuck in a natural rut that they can’t seem to get around.

The spark in Homer and Marge’s marriage is reignited thanks to one thing: dirty sex out in public. Sounds pretty questionable, but it’s mainly played for laughs, especially when you consider the final act. Although I have born witness to some disturbing Simpsons porn pictures on the Internet that have caused my mind to fill in a few blanks of the dirty deeds committed in this show… I can’t say that I’m proud of it, but here we are. The two lovebirds return to their most sacred place: the windmill on the mini golf course where Bart was conceived. But when they’re almost caught inside, they knock it over and escape, leaving them out and about the city completely nude. It’s a conceit that leads to a few good parts, like a pretty funny Gil scene, but it kind of felt too silly; like there were plenty of ways the bit could have logically ended, but instead it just kept going to its over-the-top conclusion.

There’s a B-story here that feels a bit more satisfying; Bart and Lisa uncover Grampa’s old metal detector and decide to go treasure hunting. Ultimately they discover an incredible find: an unseen alternate ending to Casablanca. Now, aside from the fact that the show The Critic did something incredibly similar, it’s a pretty amusing concept, an incredibly lame, tacked-on Hollywood happy ending to appease stupid film executives. One of said film executives turns out to be the Crazy Old Man (“We tried to hack that happy ending on the picture ’cause back then, well, studio execs, we were just dopes in suits, not like today.”) This little Bart/Lisa story serves as a nice break from the main story, and is pretty cute on its own. All in all, there’s a fair share of good stuff in this one, but despite the more mature content, in the end it’s not entirely memorable. But it’s not bad either. It’s like the season 9 malaise… maybe I can analyze it further in the final thoughts. I dunno, perhaps.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Love Bart and Lisa swordfighting with Hot Wheels tracks (“Ow! That had a guide pin in it!”) and Grampa repeatedly asking kids to cut him a switch… whatever that means.
– The Up Up and Buffet is a nice set piece, a perfect family-oriented high concept theme restaurant from hell (“Okay, folks, this is your pilot speaking. If you look to the left side of the aircraft, you will see Homer and Marge Sampson, who are celebrating with us today their eleventh air-niversary. So hang on, while we dip our wings to this happy couple.”)
– Nice that the dumb joke about Homer trying to catch the miniature bride and groom in animated action in the freezer pays off, as he left the door open and that causes the motor to short out. It’s not even emphasized, this is the first time I’ve really made the connection.
– Again, great job by Castellaneta and Kavner in the bedroom scene (“Do you want me to…” “No, don’t do that.” “But we used to do…” “I know, but I don’t like it.”)
– Great brutal exchange between Bart and Grampa at the retirement home (“re they pulling the plug on anybody today?” “Nope, everybody’s paid up.”) And the flashback to Abe’s poor usage of the mine detector in the war is pretty excellent too.
– Inspired observation from Homer (“When you think about it, mud is nothing but wet dirt.”)
– I don’t know why, but I love the disgruntled farmer and his shotgun-pitchfork, vowing to impose some serious ass-forkin’. He then leaves to go check the media room. Amazing.
– Like Bart’s dream about pirates, where the captain shoots one of his crewmen for suggesting they buy things with their treasure instead of bury it. But then it lingers too long with a bit involving the map drawn on a cracker, which isn’t funny.
– Great scene after work where Lenny and Carl find out about Homer’s jump-starting of his marriage. The two try to give pleasantries to Marge when she shows up, who promptly calls them perverts.
– Homer covering his shame, or his nipples, rather, with two teacups is great, s is the maid’s “I’m so sorry! I saw everything!”
– Love every bit with the Flanders family golfing: Ned telling his wife the secret of the windmill hole (“Not to hit the blades?” “Bingo”), him commenting the ball never came out the rear end, and Maude telling Rod to fish it out with his girlish hands. I do like how ridiculous it gets how everyone’s shoving their hands in there, then perhaps pushed too far when Moe shows up with his car on the green somehow aiming to gas the obstruction out. Homer and Marge make their escape, leaving their clothes behind. Ned is mortified (“It was people! People soiled our green!”)
– The Gil scene is pretty great: he’s so desperate he doesn’t even skip a beat in mentioning that Homer and Marge are naked, and he immediately defends himself to the police for living in the hot air balloon, just until things pick up, you know?
– Homer and Marge in the balloon is just extended bits of Homer getting hurt, but I love the slow drag up the church’s glass ceiling, and the pastor’s quick cover to his flock (“Gaze down at God’s fabulous parquet floor. Eyes on the floor… still on the floor… always on God’s floor.”)
– Love the Sideshow Mel line as the balloon enters the crowded stadium (“Dear lord, look at that blimp! He’s hanging from a balloon!”)

Season 9 Final Thoughts
So there it is. One Scully season down, and boy, he’s not wasting any time doing a number on this show. The series is steadily losing its ability to tell concrete stories with an emotional resonance, seeming to rely more on gag humor and the more exaggerated comic side of characters rather than be more subtle. We saw the emergence of the dreaded Jerkass Homer, as we witnessed the descent from mostly honest average family man to bombastic, inconsiderate cartoon character. But through it all, one thing the show still has going for it is its humor, and lots of these episodes get passes because they made me laugh throughout. The season also had a fair share of strong B-stories, from the Freak-E-Mart, CompuGloboHyperMegaNet, and just now the treasure hunting story. They can pull off these smaller plots, but longer ones have a bit more difficulty to them. I can’t exactly saw I’m hopeful for season 10 since I can already think of plenty of episodes I’m dreading to watch, but maybe there’ll be some funny stuff in store. Though four of the five episodes on the best list this season are not even in the ninth production season, so… yeah. Make of that what you will.

The Best
“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” “The Joy of Sect,” “Lisa the Simpson,” “Simpson Tide,” “King of the Hill”

The Worst
“Realty Bites,” “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace,” “Bart Carny,” “The Trouble with Trillions,” “Lost Our Lisa”