I watch, and blog, and watch and blog and watch. It's the Simpsons every day!

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Four Great Women and a Manicure

Couch gag: The Simpsons and couch are carved from stone, but the artist is unhappy and sculptures a man on a horse instead.

Director: Raymond S. Persi

Guest Voice:
Jodie Foster as Maggie Simpson

Synopsis: While Lisa and Marge are getting mani-pedis, they tell four stories of great women who were smart, beautiful and powerful.

Discussion: Let me just say that cramming four stories into twenty minutes isn’t a brilliant idea. None of the stories have any time to fully develop, and the first story is completely marred by credits taking up the first 5 minutes. Not only is a fulfilling plot missing, so is Bart! What’s a Simpsons episode without Bart Simpson?

Queen Elizabeth I is portrayed by Selma, who is courted by several suitors, including the very camp King Julio of Spain. When she rejects him, he sets the Spanish Armada onto England’s shores. Meanwhile, Sir Walter Raleigh (Homer) is caught making out with Elizabeth’s Lady in Waiting (Marge) and is saved from execution by the arrival of the Armada, which Walter accidentally sets on fire.

There’s a lot going on in such a short space of time and if you’re suffering a head cold like me at the moment, you’ll be easily lost and confused. Also, I’m not sure why Ralph is a suitor to Selma. She ain’t no cougar (well, in Ralph’s case, it’s a bona fide crime). If this was drawn out by an extra couple of minutes, it could have been a lot better.

Snow White is portrayed by Lisa, who is being pursued by a jealous queen who wants her heart in a box, and finds herself in a house owned by dwarfs (BTW, dwarfs is the accepted correct spelling, not dwarves). The wicked queen, disguised as a witch, forces Snow White to eat the poisoned apple and then Snowy is resuscitated by a female doctor, not Prince Charming.

Again, not enough time for a fully fleshed out story to be told. Lisa’s ending is hasty and closes it off without any satisfaction to the viewer. Even though Doctor Hibbert is one of the dwarfs, Lisa specifically mentions a female doctor (unseen) who rescues her. Other than that, the story is suitably Disney-fied and appeals to fans of the Disney film. (As an aside, although I’m a huge Disney fan, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of my least favourite films. Snow White is an ungrateful bitch- she wanders uninvited into the dwarfs’ house, makes herself comfortable, the dwarfs tell her to be careful yet Snowy is welcoming to the first strange woman at the front door. When she falls into the coma, the dwarfs give up their jobs for over a year to keep vigil, but do they get any thanks when Prince Charming comes along? No! Snow White awakens, bids farewell to the dwarfs without any gratitude for a) building the glass casket, b) giving up their income to keep vigil and c) for not burying her! Disney’s Snow White character makes me very annoyed.)

Macbeth is the story of Marge, who tells Homer to kill the good actors so he can have the part of Macbeth to himself, but he earns horrible reviews, scoring less than the actors with no lines. Furious, Marge orders Homer to kill every actor in the play.

Is this segment the longest or does it just feel that way?

Finally, Maggie is the main character in The Fountainhead, which I admit I have never read. Maggie is a gifted student in a daycare where the teacher wants conformity and mediocrity in the students. When caught expressing herself, Maggie is placed on trial and years later, is shown as a successful architect who runs a daycare where babies can express themselves.

There’s only one highlight of this segment and that’s Jodie Foster.

This episode was then the least-watched episode of the series (currently, it’s the third least watched). Did people know it was going to be rubbish and that’s why they didn’t watch? Or was there a drawer of socks that needed to be folded? I concede it’s not the worst episode ever, but it’s not fantastic. There’s too much happening and the viewer is left unsatisfied by each segment and the overall ep. Maybe just pick three stories and lengthen those by a couple of minutes each to really give a full story with a satisfactory ending to each.

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Waverly Hills 9021 D’oh

couch gag: The Simpsons are sitting at the Colosseum during Roman Empire times. A gladiator’s head flies into the crowd and Bart catches it. 

Director: Michael Polcino

Guest voices:
Maurice LaMarche as the school inspector
Ellen Page as Alaska Nebraska

Synopsis: Marge is unimpressed with the quality of teaching at the kids’ school so she arranges for an apartment in upmarket Waverly Hills, which boasts a better school. Bart and Lisa try to fit in at the new school by lying.

Discussion: I don’t know why Springfield Elementary is suddenly not to Marge’s liking. Surely she must have realised long before this that the school was mostly keeping up appearances? Lisa has been complaining about it for years! Anyhoo, this time Marge has decided to do something about it and has arranged to have an apartment within the district of upmarket Waverly Hills, where celebrities have dogs in their handbags which hold tinier dogs with tinier handbags. The school is so fancy that maths and PE are in two separate rooms!

Naturally, to fit in, Bart and Lisa have to lie through their teeth. Bart makes promises to Chief Wiggum that he can’t keep, while he tells Lisa’s classmates that she’s besties with the hot young starlet Alaska Nebraska (an obvious and clever take on Hannah Montana). Obviously the plan falls apart but not before a chicken-skin covered Lisa begs for mercy from the hot young starlet in an awkward encounter which the viewer knows is doomed to fail- after all, the Simpsons need a reason to return to Springfield.

There’s a subplot about Homer living in the apartment to wait for a random inspection to ensure the kids actually live there in order to attend the fancy school. He turns the place into a bachelor pad where he and Marge can be alone and do what rabbits do. I found this subplot to be a bit weird. We know Marge and Homer have a sex life (for better or worse) but when they start behaving like teenagers, it’s more than just a bit weird and doesn’t fit with the overall themes of the episode. However, I do like Homer’s frat boy neighbours, especially the one wearing the What Would Itchy Do? T-shirt.

Although Joe Mantegna is credited as Fat Tony’s voice in the ep, Fat Tony doesn’t actually speak. It’s the second time I’ve noticed this; were lines recorded and edited out of the final episode? Ellen Page is delightfully snooty as Alaska Nebraska although I did kinda want to hear her sing her speech to Lisa. The character is supposed to be very theatrical and I think it would have been nice to employ that a bit more… although I don’t think Ellen Page is a singer.

Overall, I think it’s a slightly above average episode. It’s certainly a lot of fun.

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Father Knows Worst

Billboard gag: Principal Skinner with the caption: I paint houses

I will not put hot sauce on the CPR dummy

Couch gag: The Simpsons swim in a pool to the couch, except Homer is floating face down at the end of the pool.

Director: Matthew Nastuk

Synopsis: Homer tries his hand at helicopter parenting; by being with his kids all the time, he can help them succeed.

Discussion: I have two questions about this episode: 1) When Marge first discovers the sauna, there are already hot coals. Where did they come from? and 2) How does Homer know Geoffrey Chaucer, Oscar Wilde and Anne of Cleaves?

Apart from those worms in my brain, this was a thoroughly enjoyable episode with one huge laugh-out-loud moment: when Homer was actually demonstrating being a helicopter, “Helicopter Homer- Away!” and then slamming into a row of lockers; “Black Hawk Down!” Geez, that scene alone was worth watching the episode!

This is Homer’s episode, with a bit of Bart and Lisa. Marge and Maggie are largely forgotten (but it’s nice to see Marge taking some time to relax). Once you get past the “where’s the rest of the family?” bit, sit back and enjoy Homer at his finest. This is all thanks to writer Rob Lazebnik, who hadn’t written an ep for about 8 seasons. The ep is full of Homer-centric jokes, which really lifts it to a way above-average rating. Lisa and Marge’s storylines are quite weak in comparison, and really do feel like they’re there just to add the family into the ep. Homer helping Bart is really the highlight, even though Bart blends into the background, buoyed along by Homer’s antics.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen such a one character-centric episode, and I’m glad it’s Homer. He featured prominently in most of the early episodes but seems to have taken a step backwards while the family as a whole have taken a step forwards. This isn’t a bad thing- it reminds us of why we loved the show to begin with and also reminds us why the heck we keep watching (although, to be fair, I do put myself through some terrible episodes in order to find the gems; it’s entirely self-induced torture).

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The Good, the Sad and the Drugly

Billboard: Luigi holding a breadstick with the caption ‘Luigi’s- Home of the Breadstick’

I will not mock teacher’s outdated cell phone

Couch gag: The Simpsons slice through jungle to reveal a family of apes sitting on the couch

Director: Rob Oliver

Guest Voice:
Anne Hathaway as Jenny

Synopsis: Bart and Milhouse pull a prank but Milhouse takes the fall. Bart meets a girl and falls for her, forgetting Milhouse. Meanwhile, Lisa’s school assignment leaves her depressed so she’s prescribed medication to control her moods.

Discussion: Apart from the obvious repeating of themes, I found this episode to be a bit weird. It’s not that Bart gave Milhouse flowers, it’s not that Bart did things to impress a girl, it’s not that Lisa saw smiley faces everywhere. I dunno, it just felt like I was watching a slow car crash that didn’t happen: it’s not a bad episode but it does feel like deja vu. For example, Lisa’s strong empathy for the world around her was explored in season 1. Homer’s solution back then was to dry her tears with a hairdryer. Bart and Milhouse have fallen out over girls before but this time we’re privy to a make up prank. Aww.

In terms of structure, the episode works well. There’s two complete, separate storylines contained wholly within the episode. They both belong there; neither of them are particularly weak but neither of them could carry a full episode on their own.

Jenny is an adorable character, voiced well by Anne Hathaway. This is about as much as Bart has allowed any romantic interest to see; he’s tried being a good boy, he’s tried being a bad boy but he’s never tried being himself and this is as close as he’s come. He even introduced Jenny to his family!

It’s a slightly above average episode which re-treads old ground, but still enjoyable to watch.

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Eeny Teeny Maya Moe

couch gag: A series of animation cels builds up a naked Homer and clothed family; Marge pulls down the final cel which clothes Homer.

Director: Nancy Kruse

Synopsis: Moe has a date with a little person named Maya, whom he met online. Meanwhile, Maggie is hassled by playground bullies.

Discussion: Poor Moe. He just doesn’t have any luck with women. If it’s not his gargoyle looks turning them away, it’s his attitude. This time, he’s met a beautiful woman name Maya, who is a little person. He makes some inappropriate jokes about her size and bingo, the relationship is over. C’est la vie.

The Homer-Maggie subplot is really quite uninteresting save for the very end when the baby bully is beating up Homer and Maggie rescues him. It’s reminiscent of previous episodes but strengthens their bond in much the same way as Homer spending time with Bart or Lisa (which usually goes very wrong).

Moe, although a peripheral character, is actually quite interesting and to see him explore a relationship to this level is very sweet. He’s had a few dates before but the woman is always out for something else, e.g. money. Maya is the real deal and still Moe manages to screw it up. Homer consoling Moe after he’s dumped is a sweet moment which begs the question of will Moe ever settle down with a woman who truly appreciates him?

I don’t think it’s a fantastic episode; it has very few funny parts but it does have a lot of heart. The character of Maya was treated with respect (except for Moe, which was the whole point) and Moe’s vision of what the bar flies would do if they met her was a laugh-out-loud moment just because it’s far more awkward than what Lenny, Carl, Barney and Homer would actually do. I did want to see a scene where they met Maya, just to contrast Moe’s vision with what they’d actually do… but it’s not there. Overall, it’s an above average episode but needs something for an extra kick.

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Wedding For Disaster

Billboard: Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney with “Support your local bullies” written on it.

My piggy bank is not entitled to TARP funds

Couch gag: A four course meal where Homer is the salad, Lisa is soup, Marge is spaghetti, Bart is steak and Maggie is the after dinner mint on the cheque. This is all eaten by Comic Book Guy and when he wipes his mouth, the stain on the napkin is the family on the couch.

Director: Chuck Sheetz

Guest Voice:
Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob

Synopsis: After Reverend Lovejoy reveals he wasn’t certified when he performed Homer and Marge’s previous wedding, therefore making it invalid, so they decide to get married again. Marge turns into a Bridezilla while Homer is kidnapped on the wedding day, leading Bart and Lisa to suspect he’s in the hands of Sideshow Bob.

Discussion: This episode won a writing award, and deservedly so (even though the other nominees were all Simpsons episodes). Way back in season 8, Milhouse’s parents split up and Homer reassesses his own marriage, secretly filing for divorce so they can be remarried the way Marge deserves. Fast forward and it’s revealed that Reverend Lovejoy wasn’t certified during this time due to his lapsed ministerial certification. So, it’s wedding number 4 for the Simpsons!

This episode is fantastic for several reasons:
1. There’s a mystery. Some of the best Simpsons episodes are mysteries and I wish they’d do more.
2. Sideshow Bob is a cameo. I’m not the biggest fan of Bob episodes, and his cameo in this one is a bit weird, but it provides the awkwardness that the viewer needs.
3. There’s a Saw parody and I do love the Saw films! Homer wakes up to find himself chained in a bathroom with a disembodied voice. There’s some tension but I’m not feeling the awkwardness that I did when watching the first film in the franchise. This is where Sideshow Bob and Krusty’s awkward experience comes in.
4. The real solution is very satisfying.
5. The wedding scene at the very end is very kitsch but a perfect ending.

As I’ve been watching these episodes and reading the background on wikipedia, I’ve seen a handful nominated for the writing award. With each mention, I kept wondering what could possibly have been better than nominated ep in order to actually win. Now I know. Personally, I probably would have voted for ‘Gone Maggie Gone’, but that’s just me and shouldn’t take away the honour bestowed upon this episode, because it really is quite good.

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In the Name of the Grandfather

Billboard gag: Dr Nick is holding up babies with the caption “Pay for septuplets and get octuplets free”

Four leaf clovers are not mutant freaks

Couch gag: The Simpsons are paraded like dogs on show and Homer attacks Bart when he wins the blue ribbon

Director: Ralph Sosa

Guest Voices:
Colm Meaney as Tom O’Flanagan
Glen Hansard as street performer
Marketa Irglova as Eastern European woman

Synopsis: Fearing his days are numbered, Grampa wants to travel to Ireland and have a last beer in his favourite pub. While drunk, Homer and Grampa purchase the pub.

Discussion: Well, to be fair, this episode wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t very good. While the Simpsons’ journeys to other foreign countries were quite controversial (and frankly, really stupid), this one acts like a giant love letter to Ireland. Were they sucking up? Who knows. The point is (yes, eventually there is a point to this) that Homer and Grampa end up owning the pub. Why they didn’t move this particular plot point 10 minutes forward, I don’t know. Instead there’s a bunch of cliches and stereotypes as filler while waiting for the plot to start.

Due to Homer and Grampa taking so long into the ep to buy the pub, there’s no time to fully explore this. There’s a few random Springfield characters thrown into the mix, an appearance by a Judge who resembles Mr Potato Head and that’s about it. The ep is largely nonsensical, except for Act I which is full of fun and great one liners.

Marge, Lisa and Bart’s side plot (you can’t even call it a subplot) is about them sightseeing. It’s not very interesting; just an excuse to put as many Irish things into the episode as possible. Also, having never seen the film Once, I completely missed the references.

As far as foreign episodes go, this one is pretty much the best in that you can’t really be offended by anything, unless stereotypes of leprechauns are offensive. Flesh out Homer and Grampa’s pub storyline and it might be something half decent. As it stands, it’s only average.

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Gone Maggie Gone

couch gag: The couch, hung like a pinata, is hit by a blindfolded Ralph and the Simpson spill out from it.

Director: Chris Clements

Synopsis: Maggie is accidentally taken by an order of nun’s, and it’s up to Lisa to infiltrate and solve the mystery.

Discussion: What a fun episode! Loosely following the plots of National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code, ‘Gone Maggie Gone’ has everything you’d want in a mystery episode. Each act break (i.e. just before a commercial break) has a riddle or puzzle that needs to be solved. At the end of Act I, Homer needs to figure out how to get Maggie, a bottle of poison, and Santa’s Little Helper across a river only carrying one thing at a time. Act II is figuring out the biggest ring in Springfield and Act III has an anagram which needs to be solved. If anyone can solve the anagram in the approximately three minutes of an ad break, you have my awe.

Apart from the religious overtones and Lisa’s comment about how clever God is to remove her scepticism by making her the answer to the anagram, this is an extremely well-crafted episode. It’s funny, clever, modern, fresh and surprising. It’s one of the best later-season episodes I have seen. Also, being a huge Disney fan, I appreciated the references to the film Ratatouille, including Homer’s pirated (and misspelled) DVD of the film.

Although Ed Begley Jr is credited as a guest voice, there’s only a gasp when the Ed Begley Jr solar train is about to hit Ed Begley Jr’s solar car. If he did in fact just voice the gasp, it’s a gross waste of talent for a mildly amusing joke. The Simpsons is great at dragging out crap, why didn’t they do it here? Just a few seconds would have sufficed.

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No Loan Again, Naturally

Billboard: Moe’s Tavern: Now with electricity!

I will not have fun with educational toys

Couch gag: The Simpsons find that their couch is torn and stuffing coming out. They bury it, and choose a new couch which bucks Homer off and he’s in a full body cast.

Director: Mark Kirkland

Synopsis: After a wild Mardi Gras party, Homer is in default of his mortgage and the house is sold. Seeing his neighbours sad to move, Ned buys the Simpson house and rents it back to them.

Discussion: Although predictable, the plot for this episode is fresh and fun. Ned buys the Simpson home and rents it back to the family, while they use him to repair the place and bring it up to Code. It’s such a simple idea and turns the tide on the Ned-Homer relationship: usually it’s Homer kicking Flanders from the friendship but this time, Ned grew a pair and kicks Homer out onto the street. Naturally, he has a change of heart and invites them back, ripping up the lease for the perfect new neighbours.

Ned’s a good Christian- he tries his ding dang doodilly darndest to please the Lord and do what’s right. Giving the Simpsons back their home under a lease agreement is possibly the nicest thing he’s ever done for anyone, but even Marge starts taking advantage of Ned’s generosity by asking him to fix everything that’s wrong with the house. After all, he is the landlord but then again, he did kinda put his foot in it by offering in the first place.

It’s a very good episode. It has a solid plot which is character-driven instead of trying to cram too much ‘stuff’ in there which has been happening over the past few episodes. By taking a simple idea, the writers have explored what happens when Ned is the strong one in the friendship and also a minor personal dilemma when he leaves the Simpsons homeless. Ned’s a good egg.

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How the Test Was Won

Billboard: A picture of Milhouse with “Missing Child: No Reward” written on it.

“March Madness” is not an excuse for missing school

Couch gag: The Simpsons travel through popular sitcoms: The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch and Cheers.

Synopsis: Lisa is taking a standardised test at school but doesn’t know any of the answers, Bart and the other unintelligentsia are taken to Capitol City by Skinner, and Homer forgets to mail in the insurance renewal.

Discussion: What the heck house did I just watch? None of the plots had any point and I was reaching for my rusty spoon, ready to gouge out my eyes at any moment. Luckily I didn’t, because a) I haven’t had a tetanus booster recently and b) because I still need to see in order to publish this blog.

We’ll start with Lisa’s test. Normally Lisa loves tests and being ranked, but once she’s in the testing room, her mind is blank and she doesn’t answer any questions. Saved at the last moment by Skinner, who deems the test stupid and encourages the class to rip them up. Plot verdict: snore-fest. Grab your pillow and catch some Zs.

Bart et al getting stranded in the city when Otto’s bus is dismantled by thieves. If I had to pick a highlight (or even mediocre-light) of this episode, this would be it. Ralph Wiggum is always fun to watch and Skinner using physics in a real-world application to teach the kids makes me smile (as opposed to weep for humanity with the rise of stupidity in the general population). Perhaps this plot should have been the main plot as it seems to have the most strength behind it.

Then there’s Homer forgetting to mail the insurance renewal. I, um, what? I can’t imagine a stupider plot… but I bet the writers can and will do in future episodes (or rather, ones I haven’t seen yet). It kinda reminded me of Homer’s car in NYC, but without the flair or actual storyline.

Give the whole episode a miss and do something else for half an hour, like kick off your Sunday shoes and dance to daggy 80s soundtracks.

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