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Archive for January, 2013

Are we the most pathetic family in the universe?

Bart vs Thanksgiving

I will not do that thing with my tongue

couch gag: The family rush in to find Grandpa asleep on the couch.

Director: David Silverman

Synopsis: It’s Thanksgiving. Lisa has made a beautiful centrepiece for the table featuring heroines from America’s past. Trying to find room for the turkey, Bart flings the centrepiece into the fireplace, breaking Lisa’s heart. Bart is sent to his room, but he runs away with Santa’s Little Helper. When he returns, he has a heart-to-heart with Lisa and finally apologises to her.

Discussion: Ah, Bart! It’s a typical Bart stunt to make room for the “real” centrepiece of Thanksgiving, the turkey. But in a moment of a collective gasp, the centrepiece bursts into flames as does Lisa’s heart. It’s sibling rivalry at its finest, along with the touching moments on the roof when Bart finds that centre of guilt and truly apologises to Lisa. Aww!

Both the Bouvier and Simpson families are represented here. Marge’s sisters and mother have come for dinner as well as Grandpa Simpson. Mrs Bouvier has laryngitis but is willing to risk her voice to put Marge down at every opportunity. Patty and Selma are kind in comparison. It’s exactly the awkward family situations many people find themselves in over the holidays (obviously, here in Australia we don’t have Thanksgiving, but there are plenty of other holidays for awkward family moments).

As with any holiday-themed show, there’s the Real Meaning of Holiday scene, where various members of the show do some soul searching and find that special meaning. However, for the viewer, that scene is probably Kent Brockman’s broadcast from the homeless shelter where Bart found some free grub. At that moment, the viewer is to be grateful for family and food. Mr Burns’ wasted food is another example; be thankful for what you have. Let’s face it, holiday specials are supposed to be meaningful, and this episode pulls it off perfectly.

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Read the bosom part again

Dead Putting Society

I am not a 32 year old woman

Couch gag: Snowball and Santa’s Little Helper squeeze onto the couch with the family.

Director: Rich Moore

First appearance of:
Maude Flanders
Rod Flanders

Synopsis: Homer feels that Ned Flanders’ perfect family is being rubbed in his face, so when Bart and Todd enter a mini golf tournament, a wager is placed that the father of the boy who doesn’t win has to mow the lawn wearing their wife’s Sunday best. Bart and Todd reveal themselves to be equals at the game, deciding at the final hole that they want a draw. Because neither boy won, both Ned and Homer fulfill their wager. 

Discussion: Here we’re introduced to the whole Flanders family (even after all this time, I’m still confused which one is Rod and which is Todd…) The episode deepens the rivalry between Ned and Homer. Well, Homer’s rivalry and Ned’s love thy neighbour attitude. Ned loses his temper several times within this episode, which rarely happens in future episodes (for reasons explained in later eps).

Again, not a favourite episode although I think the reason for this is simple: I’ve seen it far too many times. It’s hard to look at these early shows with a fresh eye, especially as I know how things work out and how relationships progress.

Of course, the Homer-Ned rivalry was first visited in ‘Call of the Simpsons‘ when Homer became jealous of Ned’s RV and sets out to buy a bigger, better one. Homer is easily aware of his family’s flaws, as was demonstrated in ‘There’s No Disgrace Like Home‘ where he compares his family to a seemingly perfect one and takes his own family to therapy in order to improve their inter-familial relationships. It’s a recurring theme; Homer wants to deconstruct the Flanders family just to prove their imperfection. Ned tries so hard to be perfect (even calling Rev Lovejoy to ask advice on simple matters) so he is aware of his imperfection although Homer never sees it. In any case, what this episode is really demonstrating is Bart’s desire to be just a regular kid without any pressure.

I’m gonna miss you, spit brother

Dancin’ Homer

I will not trade pants with others

Couch Gag: Maggie pops out from Marge’s hair

Director: Mark Kirkland

Guest voices:
Tony Bennett as himself (singing the Capital City theme)
Tom Poston as the Capital City Goofball

Synopsis: At an employee’s invitation-only baseball game, the home team are heading for a record 27th loss. Crowd morale is low so Homer starts dancing to liven up the crowd. He’s a big hit and soon is dancing at every game. He is offered the chance to dance for the big leagues in Capital City so the Simpsons move there. Unfortunately, Homer’s act is unappreciated and the family return to Springfield.

Discussion: This is the second episode told in flashback, the first being ‘The Telltale Head’. It’s an effective narrative device because Homer is feeling a bit low and by the end of his story, told to the regular barflies at Moe’s, his confidence is boosted. There’s nothin’ like real friends.

There’s also a continuity error; in the first season episode ‘There’s No Disgrace Like Home‘, the Simpsons are met by Mr Burns and Smithers, who is holding a card. That card correctly named all the Simpsons, however in this episode the card lists Marge as “expecting”, having not been updated since Maggie was born.

I’ll be honest, I don’t love this episode. I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Australia and baseball isn’t a big deal here, or if there’s just something that doesn’t click with me. Perhaps it’s Baby Elephant Walk which grates on my nerves. In any case, there are redeeming features. Tony Bennett’s ode to Capital City is fantastic, plus we meet the Goofball for the first time (hereafter relegated to cameo appearances). Homer’s facial expressions and dancing are fun, too. I feel the episode drags a bit, never really getting to the point. Of course, I miss the baseball references as well because I have absolutely no knowledge of anything related to American baseball. Understanding references always enriches the episode, I think. I’m disappointed that Homer’s first performance was the one that got him fired; I’d like to have seen him have a good run and then something happens like a better mascot, a better dancer, someone a bit risque and more to the liking of the elite Capital City folk. Anyway, it’s not one of my favourites.

Hold me, Smithers

Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish

I will not Xerox my butt

Couch gag: The couch pops out as a sofa bed.

Director: Wes Archer

Synopsis: Bart and Lisa are fishing when Bart catches a fish with three eyes. A reporter happens to be at the scene, sees that the lake is next to the nuclear power plant, and puts two and two together. Mr Burns’ reputation falters, especially when the plant then fails an inspection. Drunk and depressed, Mr Burns follows Homer’s suggestion to run for Governor, thereby creating all the laws he likes and his plant won’t be breaking any. Mr Burns’ campaign is doing exceedingly well until the night before the election, when he has dinner with the Simpsons in order to attract last minute support from voters.

Discussion: This episode features several references to the film Citizen Kane, but even if you haven’t seen the film (heed my warning, it’s as boring as all hell) you’ll be able to enjoy the fun. Mr Burns decides to run for Governor in order to bend some laws and pass his own nuclear power plant instead of spending the $56 million to fix it up (of course, a political campaign would probably cost about that… details, details).

Bart’s infamy is growing; when a nosy reporter snaps some pictures of Bart holding the three-eyed fish (affectionately called Blinky by Mr Burns in a hilarious attempt to explain the process of Darwin’s theory of natural selection using an actor), Bart adds the newspaper clipping to a scrapbook. Astute viewers will notice on the opposite page is an article about a vandal decapitating the statue of the town’s founder, Jebediah Springfield. However, at the family dinner with special guest Mr Burns, Bart uncharacteristically has very little to say. Instead it is Lisa who struggles with her conscience to ask a pre-prepared question instead of the burning question on her mind.

In short, the episode satirises American politics as well as highlighting environmental issues. Nuclear power is a controversial issue and although Blinky was an invention at the time, a real three eyed fish was discovered in 2011.

For those playing Android’s Simpsons Logo Quiz, Mary Bailey sure looks a lot like Homer’s mother…

Hey Poindexter, it’s Halloween

Treehouse of Horror (aka The Simpsons’ Halloween Special)

Directors: Wesley Archer, Rich Moore & David Silverman

Guest voice: James Earl Jones as the moving guy (segment 1), Serak (segment 2) and the narrator (segment 3).

First appearance of: Kang and Kodos

Synopsis: The episode is split into three segments, each dealing with a scary story.

The first segment sees the Simpson family move into a haunted house. The house tries every trick to get the family to leave but they stand their ground. Told that the Simpsons were staying, the house opted to self-destruct instead.

In the second segment, the Simpsons are kidnapped by aliens and promised a life of unimaginable luxury. However, Lisa suspects the aliens are planning to eat the family as soon as they land on their planet. The aliens are shocked that this was a possibility and assure the family of their intentions to treat them as gods on their planet. The family are returned home.

The third episode is based on Edgar Allen Poe’s narrative poem, ‘The Raven’. Homer plays the lead character while Bart portrays the raven.

Discussion: Here lies the seminal Halloween episode, loved by millions. Forever remembered as the pioneer of all Treehouses of Horror episodes.

The first segment, The Bad Dream House, was based on several horror films including The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist and The Exorcist. It’s fairly run-of-the-mill horror stuff, bleeding walls, voices telling you to kill your family, Indian burial grounds etc. The twist is, given the ultimatum that the Simpsons are going to live there “so get used to it!”, the house opts to self-destruct. Sagely, Lisa notes that “you can’t help feeling a little rejected”. Aww, the Simpsons aren’t that bad!

Kang and Kodos make their first appearance here. Traditionally seen in every Halloween special (sometimes just as the token cameo), they have a full story here. They’ve kidnapped the Simpson family and Lisa suspects the family are to be eaten as the feast back on the home planet. The segment is based in part on a Twilight Zone episode named ‘To Serve Man’. It’s a cute visual gag which works well and reinforces Lisa being too smart for her own good.

Of course, ‘The Raven’ isn’t the first time The Simpsons have paid homage to Edgar Allen Poe. The poem is kept largely intact but with added bits such as interjections to the treehouse where Lisa is relaying the story, plus Homer’s trademark “D’oh!” and other assorted Simpsonsisms. James Earl Jones’ voice is perfect for the poem’s narration, grounding the segment so it doesn’t get too carried away with Simpsons antics. Lisa’s remark that maybe people were easier to scare back in 1845 is pretty funny; ‘The Raven’ segment reminded me of a cross between Paranormal Activity and Hitchcock’s The Birds. Paranormal Activity was based around some bumps in the night (big deal) while The Birds was about a town being bombarded with thousands of birds. Neither movie (in my humble opinion) was scary so ‘The Raven’ wasn’t going to scare the pants off me either. However, intellectually speaking, I can see the scare factor. A guy has lost his wife (Lenore, seen in this segment as a painting featuring Marge) and the raven is a symptom of his deepening grief, sadness and loneliness. What goes on in your head is often more frightening than external forces, just ask anyone who has suffered depression or anxiety.

It’s a good episode, worthy of season 2’s finest accolades. I’ve basically grown up with The Simpsons, so I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen these early episodes. It’s great being able to see them again with fresh eyes, knowing how the rest of the seasons pan out and how these episodes fit into the canon. I suppose if I didn’t feel this way, there’d be no point in watching Simpsons every day!

Quit complaining, chrome dome

Simpson and Delilah

Tar is not a plaything

Couch gag: The family do a little jig before sitting.

Director: Rich Moore

Guest voice: Harvey Fierstein as Karl, Homer’s assistant

Synopsis: Homer uses a new product to cure baldness, and ends up with a head full of luscious hair. He is noticed by Mr Burns, who promotes him immediately. Homer is now an executive at the nuclear plant, with an assistant named Karl who boosts Homer’s self-confidence. Smithers sees that Homer has purchased the hair booster through the company’s health insurance scheme and attempts to fire him, but Karl takes full responsibility and repays the money. Meanwhile, Bart, trying to grow a beard, accidentally spills Homer’s hair product and Homer is demoted back to his regular position at the plant.

Discussion: Harvey Fierstein’s distinctive voice is hard to miss, and lends a richness to the episode just as Homer’s hair adds a richness to his life. This episode is somewhat satirical on the American preoccupation with looks. Even though Mr Burns himself is mostly bald, he has little sympathy for those, like Homer, who share a similar fate. Considering baldness is linked to testosterone levels, perhaps subconsciously Mr Burns avoids bald men as he is afraid of their masculinity? This theory explains why the effeminate Smithers is his right hand man…

It’s disappointing Karl hasn’t returned to The Simpsons. I understand he was set to return in season 14 but Harvey Fierstein wasn’t happy with the script and declined to reprise the role. I also suppose that having two recurring characters named Carl/Karl could be a tad confusing for some, despite Carl Carlsson being of African-American descent and Karl being Caucasian.

Personally, I really like this episode. It’s a glimpse into an alternate reality where Homer has hair, confidence and is a better provider for his family. And the “awwww!” moment at the end where Marge sings ‘You Are So Beautiful’ to Homer is actually pretty sweet. Even though Homer is not the most attractive person, she loves him for who he is.

I kissed the teacher

Bart Gets an ‘F’

I will not encourage others to fly

Couch gag: The family sit on the couch, which then falls through the floor.

Director: David Silverman

First appearance of:
‘Diamond’ Joe Quimby, the town’s mayor

Synopsis: Bart regularly fails school exams and one more failure means he’ll have to repeat the fourth grade. In exchange for making Martin cool, Martin helps Mart study. The night before the exam, Bart feels unprepared and prays for a miracle so that school will be closed, giving him an extra day to study. It snows overnight and Bart gets his wish, spending the day studying in the basement. He fails the exam by just one mark, however demonstrates to Mrs Krabappel that he actually did know the material, earning him an extra mark and a D- grade.

Discussion: Welcome to the second season! We’re going to be here for the next three weeks so strap yourselves in for a fun-filled ride. The title sequence has changed slightly, and this sequence stayed until the HD episodes of season 20. Mr Burns and Smithers were added to the opening sequence, and Bart no longer steals the bus stop sign but passes by several regular characters, including Barney and Chief Wiggum.

As for the episode itself, Wikipedia tells me that this remains the highest rating episode ever of The Simpsons. I don’t think it’s the best episode, but it does have its moments. The animation is better (the director states that the snow scene was the hardest in his career at that point to animate), the characters are more rounded, the storyline is fun and edgy and there are moments when you realise this is what the show is known and loved for. Satire becomes more evident, such as ‘Diamond’ Joe Quimby, based in part on the mannerisms and voice of JFK. Bart’s diagnosed condition of amoria phlebitis is fictional. The family values are again seen; Homer and Bart are out to procrastinate and have fun while Lisa is the voice of reason and Marge just loves her family to bits. Martin’s new-found popularity doesn’t last longer than this episode, he’s back to Martin the nerd after the closing credits.

 

I think you’re right, Mambo Man

Some Enchanted Evening

I will not yell “Fire!” in a crowded classroom.

Couch gag: The family sit down normally and nothing happens.

Directors: David Silverman and Ken Butterworth

First Appearance of:
Bill Pie (Pie in the Sky radio traffic announcer).

Synopsis: Marge is feeling unloved and unappreciated by Homer and calls a radio therapist for advice. Homer hears the broadcast and turns to Moe for advice. Homer arranges a romantic dinner and overnight stay at the Off-Ramp Motel… but they’ll need a babysitter for the kids. Enter Ms Botz, whom is later identified on America’s Most Armed and Dangerous as being the Babysitter Bandit. Lisa and Bart apprehend her but Homer unties her and allows her to escape, believing she is the victim of another classic Bart Simpson prank.

Discussion: This episode has a long backstory, which I won’t go into here. Suffice to say it had a few issues which were largely resolved by the time of broadcast. There are some continuity errors, such as Barney’s hair is blonde as it was at the beginning of the series.

I’ve only just realised that Penny Marshall voiced Ms Botz (I know, a little slow on the uptake) and she does a fantastic job playing a thieving psychopath.

The main theme with the episode is again, the marital troubles between Homer and Marge. It’s a recurring theme throughout the first season (and occasionally, every other season as well) but this is a reflection of Groening’s desire for The Simpsons to be “real”. This is the last episode of the first season and in total, we’ve seen 3 episodes (out of 13) that feature marital problems between Homer and Marge (for the non-math geeks out there, that’s 23% of this season’s episodes- almost a quarter). So there’s a real issue going on here; it’s most definitely not a perfect family living in a perfect house in a perfect town. Other TV shows at the time didn’t really focus on marital problems the way The Simpsons did. It was probably deemed too uncomfortable for conservative audiences or something. But anyway, Homer and Marge always sorted out their problems within the half hour timeslot, ready for another episode ‘next week’. And that’s just the way it should be.

I’m sorry I fingered you in court

Krusty Gets Busted

They are laughing at me, not with me.

Couch gag: The family sit down and Maggie is squeezed out.

Director: Brad Bird

First appearance of:
Kent Brockman (although someone looking very much like him appeared in yesterday’s episode having a different voice and not named)

Guest voice: Kelsey Grammar as Sideshow Bob

Synopsis: Homer is asked to pick up some icecream and stops at the Kwik-E-Mart on his way home from work. He is interrupted by an armed robbery held by none other than Krusty the Klown. With the town in shock, Bart believes Krusty is innocent and, along with Lisa, finds evidence that Sideshow Bob is the real criminal. Based on this evidence, Bob is locked away and Krusty is released.

Discussion: I’ve been waiting for this episode! It’s truly a changing point in Simpsons history because this is a seminal episode: this sparks storylines for episodes for the rest of the series. Bart has made an enemy in Sideshow Bob, who is not going to forget in a hurry.

Bart and Lisa work together as a team in order to bring justice to Springfield. This highlights the police incompetency (another recurring theme in the show) as well as Lisa’s logical brain and Bart’s dedication to Krusty. If you see no other episodes from the first season, make sure you see this one because of the continuity is future seasons: this is where it all started! 

Bon voyage, boy!

The Crepes of Wrath

Garlic gum is not funny.

Couch gag: Homer is squeezed off the couch when the family sit down (they really should consider getting a new, bigger couch…)

Directors: Wesley Archer and Milton Grey

First appearance of:
Agnes Skinner

Synopsis: Bart has pulled one prank too many- while Skinner’s mother was using the bathroom, Bart put a cherry bomb in the toilets. Skinner proposes a student exchange program in which Bart would be sent to France and the Simpson family would host a child from Albania. The Simpsons agree to the plan, so Bart is sent to a wine-making establishment while the Simpson family hosts Adil from Albania. Adil is well-spoken and polite, showing an interest in Homer’s work which pleases Homer. Bart catches his hosts adding anti-freeze to their wine while Adil is stealing nuclear secrets. Adil is deported, Bart’s hosts are jailed, and everyone lives happily ever after (until the next episode of hijinks).

Discussion: In 1997, a critic from TV Guide named this as the best Simpsons episode ever. I disagree. The episode is quite depressing; Bart is mistreated, a kid is stealing nuclear secrets and French wine contains anti-freeze. There aren’t as many laughs as other episodes, however there are plenty of cultural references to catch.

Whenever The Simpsons do an episode set in a foreign country, they don’t tend to be very flattering to that country. It’s not only the predicament they find themselves in, it’s the whole way the country is portrayed (don’t get me started on the Australian episode). This episode is no different. Sure, Bart meets a friendly policeman and justice is served on the guys making dodgy wine… but I’m willing to bet that the French weren’t happy about child labour, dodgy wine-making tricks and animal cruelty implied. I understand, the point of the show is not to showcase foreign countries (leave that to Oprah), but really, making cheap jokes at the expense of some very beautiful countries isn’t helping the cause. America isn’t so perfect either, and although the show regularly highlights and satirises American culture, imagine the outrage if American citizens were portrayed as potential terrorists. Springfield has a lovely gorge; other places of natural interest aren’t shown in foreign episodes.

As a whole, I think the episode could have been done better (gasp!). Instead of making Bart a slave, put him in an actual chateau with all the airs and graces and then make him find out that the whole thing is a sham. Not that this would do anything to improve my concepts of foreign-based episodes, but the sentiment plays better. I do like Adil’s storyline- a child spy is pretty good. Maybe stick in a friendship with Milhouse; Homer loves Adil, Marge feels Adil is crowding out their own son in Homer’s heart, why not push the boundaries of The Better Boy by having Adil take over Bart’s friends as well?

PS, for anyone playing Simpsons Logo Quiz on Android, this episode contains 4 answers.

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