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

Archive for April, 2013

We’re in the Itchy Lot

Itchy & Scratchy Land

I am not the reincarnation of Sammy Davis Jr

Couch gag: The family are ‘beamed’ onto the couch as in Star Trek, along with noise.

Director: Wes Archer

Synopsis: The family take a vacation to the grand opening of Itchy & Scratchy Land, where they experience violence first hand.

Discussion: Some episodes, I groan with having to watch again as I only remember the crap bits out of them. Then I watch the whole ep and think, “This is actually pretty good… until the crap bits”. In this case, the crap bit is the robotic Itchy & Scratchy turning their violent ways on the humans- namely the Simpson family. The irony is that the robots can be defeated without the use of violence.

Until that point, it’s a pretty good ep. Lots of memorable lines and allusions to various Disney theme parks around the world, as well as Disney animated films (anyone who knows me also knows I am a total Disney nut!) There’s very little plot, so this episode is placed nicely within season 6 (you’ll remember that season 5 was heavy on plots and exploring relationships). And because the plot is thin, there’s extra room to shove in as many parodies as possible. It’s not a bad thing- it’s a hallmark of the show as a whole and makes it that extra bit more entertaining for the viewer.

It seems new to impressionable youth

Another Simpsons Clip Show

I will not use abbrev.

Couch gag: A giant foot stamps on the family.

Director: David Silverman

Synopsis: Marge reads The Bridges of Madison County and wonders where the romance has gone in the marriage.

Discussion: There’s a lot of criticism for clip shows, but when done well, they work nicely. The family sit around the table after Marge laments the lack of romance in their lives. Each Simpson tells a story of broken romance- Homer finds out about Jacques and Marge finds out about Mindy. The moral of these stories is that the romance is alive and well between Homer and Marge. Aww!

There’s a lot of clips from the previous 5 seasons; someone else has done the hard work and listed them all on Wikipedia. Clip shows look very dated when viewed (as in this case) nineteen years after they first aired with a lot of water under the bridge and reruns every day on TV, but I still think that this one works well. You need a theme to build on when you’re doing a clip show, and showcasing the Simpsons’ flirtations with temptation highlights just how ‘human’ they are. They’re not impervious to temptation. I’ve said this a hundred times before, but the original idea of the show was to humanise sitcoms and not show a sanitised-for-TV showcase of robotic forms. (In case you wanted to read the original post, here it is again, complete with research). This clip show emphasises that perfectly in one neat half hour gig.

Welcome to the nether regions of the soul

Lisa’s Rival

No one is interested in my underpants

Couch gag: The family swim to the couch.

Director: Mark Kirkland

Guest voice:
Winona Ryder as Alison

Synopsis: There’s a new girl at school named Alison, who is younger and smarter then Lisa. Lisa feels threatened and decides to sabotage Alison’s diorama in the school’s Diorama-rama competition. Meanwhile, Homer finds a crashed sugar truck, steals the sugar and tries to profit from it.

Discussion: There are a lot of great lines in this episode, especially by Ralph.

“My cat’s name is Mittens.”
“Aww I bent my Wookiee.”
“My cat’s breath smells like cat food.”

Homer has a great soliloquy about his sugar mountain in the backyard, delivered perfectly by Dan Castellaneta and you can almost hear the production team who recorded the session cracking up as they did so. Winona Ryder makes a lovely Alison; the character itself could have been a lot more demeaning to Lisa, making for an all-out brawl but that would have ruined the episode. Having Alison as nice as pie just infuriates Lisa more. What happened to Alison? She’s never seen again.

It’s not the first time Poe’s tale of The Telltale Heart has been used in The Simpsons. Back in season one, we saw Bart stealing the head of Jebediah Springfield. Lisa hiding Alison’s diorama under the floorboards and “hearing” the beat of the metronome sends Lisa crazy, as the beating of the heart sends the character crazy in Poe’s story.

All in all, it’s a pretty good episode. It’s lifted by the inclusion of some great lines and Homer’s subplot is also worthy.

Your epidermis is showing

Bart of Darkness

Beans are neither a fruit nor musical

Couch gag: The family are not sitting on anything, the couch comes in pieces and assembles itself on them.

Director: Jim Reardon

Synopsis: It’s the middle of summer and it’s HOT! After nagging from Bart and Lisa, Homer agrees to install a pool. Lisa becomes instantly popular but Bart breaks a leg, forcing him to stay inside. He witnesses what looks like a murder committed by Ned Flanders.

Discussion: Welcome to season 6! Borrowing heavily from Rear Window, this season opener is a good one. Lisa enjoys her popularity even though she’s well aware that it is fleeting and only because of the pool. Bart, jealous that he’s unable to swim, uses a telescope to spy on “Springfield’s seedy underbelly” because the universe is too boring.

I feel Bart’s pain. When I was 6 (and 7), I managed to break my arm. The first time, I was playing at a friend’s house. The ball went onto the road and I fell, breaking my right arm (I’m right handed). The second time was almost exactly a year later: the girl next door was having a birthday party that I wasn’t invited to so I was standing on a chair looking over the fence. The chair broke, I fell and broke my left arm. Both times, I managed to break my arms during summer. And both times, I’d broken right near my elbows so the cast encased my hand all the way to the shoulder. It sucked! It was hot, stinky and itchy. Having to bathe with a plastic bag wrapped around my arm, not allowed to play in the pool… Worst summers ever!

But I digress. Bart sees evidence that Flanders has murdered his wife and buried the evidence in the backyard. Eventually the truth is hilariously revealed and all is well in Springfield once more. One of the highlights of the ep is the very end, where Martin is standing naked in the wreckage of his pool singing a Frank Sinatra song.

Don’t mind me boys, just scrubbin’ me undies

Secrets of a Successful Marriage

Five days is not too long to wait for a gun

Couch gag: The family run together and explode into a fireball.

Director: Carlos Baeza

Guest voice:
Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz

Synopsis: Homer signs up to teach an adult class on how to have a happy marriage. The class becomes bored so Homer starts spilling private things about his marriage. Marge is disgusted and throws him out of the house.

Discussion: I can’t believe we’re at the end of season 5 already! It has flown by so fast!

Anyhoo… there’s another marriage crisis in the Simpson household. Homer’s been spilling secrets that Marge doesn’t want people to know about, like she dyes her hair (scandalous!) or that she likes her elbow being nibbled. Homer ends up living in the treehouse and Moe drops by as a suitor for Marge.

It’s familiar territory with new twists. In Matt Groening’s original vision, The Simpsons is “realistic” situations, which includes marital problems. Marge and Homer have encountered problems in almost every season so far and always work through them at the end.

This time it’s a bit different. Homer is intentionally continuing to sabotage the relationship. Not because he wants to break up, but because he wants to earn the respect of his class. While he’s busily scrubbing away grass stains from his underwear, Moe comes a-knockin’ on Marge’s door. It’s the first time that Moe’s crush on Marge is shown.

Lisa and Bart have a subplot about a pink elephant balloon, but it’s lost within the main plot. Good episode, good choice to end season 5 with.

I made a special cake for you to ruin

Lady Bouvier’s Love

I will not re-transmit without the express permission of the major league baseball. .

Couch gag: The family smash together and shatter

Director: Wes Archer

Guest voice:
Phil Hartman as Troy McClure

Synopsis: Grampa falls in love with Marge’s mother and is devastated when she agrees to marry Mr Burns instead.

Discussion: Something I’ve never realised about Marge’s mother: she’s really uninteresting. It’s like she doesn’t have a personality, she just says what needs to be said and that’s it. Maybe that’s why we don’t see more of her- she’s boring.

In fact, the whole episode is uninteresting. It’s like they writers put two old people together, ran out of ideas, threw Mr Burns in there and slid in a reference of The Graduate and called it an episode. There’s no memorable lines (I had trouble just finding one to title this post with!) and the subplot of Bart using Homer’s credit card to buy a lame animation cel is completely pointless.

The one highlight of the episode is the moody segment of Homer’s Love Advice to Grampa. That bit alone is worth watching the ep for. Otherwise, give it a miss.

It’s chowder! Say it right!

The Boy Who Knew Too Much

There are plenty of businesses like show business

Couch gag: The Simpson couch is part of the David Letterman show set

Director: Jeffrey Lynch

Guest voice:
Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz

Synopsis: Bart skips school and witnesses an incident which goes to court. By testifying (releasing an innocent man), he’d be condemning himself to the wrath of Principal Skinner.

Discussion: To be honest, I don’t love this episode. There’s too many gaping plot holes for this to work. First, while I totally buy Bart truenting school, Principal Skinner’s almost superhero-like powers to track Bart down is just silly (I know, it’s a parody of Westworld). Secondly, although I buy Homer wanting a deadlocked jury in order to stay free at a fancy hotel, this subplot takes up far too much time, considering it’s not actually a subplot. Third, why is the waiter holding out on the truth? I get that he doesn’t want to be seen as a clumsy oaf, but surely a waiter’s reputation isn’t the whole motivation. Maybe an embezzlement subplot would be better: several characters mention what a jerk Freddy Quimby is, why not have the waiter sue him for all he’s got, just on principle?

We know Bart’s range of emotion includes guilt- we saw it last episode. Putting two similarly themed episodes back-to-back doesn’t work for me.

The highlight of the ep is the courtroom scene where Skinner and Homer mentally tell Bart “I know you can read my thoughts, boy” and Homer using glasses to make him appear wide awake when he’s actually sleeping.

Grease me up, woman!

Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song

I will not celebrate meaningless milestones

Couch gag: Homer pulls off the Fox watermark and the family stomp on it.

Director: Bob Anderson

First appearance of:
Assistant Superintendent Leo
Uni-browed baby Gerald

Synopsis: Bart takes Santa’s Little Helper to school for a Show and Tell and the dog escapes, wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, it’s also the day for a visit from Superintendent Chalmers, who fires Skinner on the spot and Ned Flanders takes his place. Bart and Skinner become friends because Bart feels guilt at his part in Skinner’s sacking.

Discussion: Welcome to episode 100! *throws streamers*

In keeping with the “emotional attachment” that season 5 has brought to the characters, here we see Bart feeling remorse for getting Skinner fired. It turns out Bart does have feelings for someone other than family. Who knew??

Every kid remembers Show and Tell at school. I remember bringing in a snow globe with a duck inside… I didn’t have a geode like every kid in Springfield 😦 It’s actually a really inspired idea for Bart to take a dog to school and get Skinner fired. We don’t know much about Skinner at this point: he lives with his mother and is a Vietnam War veteran. Am I the only one thinking he’s a bit like Norman Bates, just waiting for the right moment to strike…? (This occurred to me because Skinner calls his mother “Mother”, just like Norman Bates. Yep, think about it.)

Anyhoo, after Skinner is fired, he and Bart strike up a friendship, mainly because it’s a law of physics that you can’t be friends with your teacher or principal. Skinner re-enlists in the army but misses the school and conspires with Bart to get Flanders fired.

Which brings me to: WTF is Flanders doing as principal? Another inspired idea because Ned doesn’t have a clue about anything except religion (which is ultimately his undoing), so he lets the kids run wild and Martin is locked in a cage doing his ironing and singing songs from Carmen.

A very well-written and executed episode, fitting for the 100th episode of the series.

But my mom says I’m cool

Burns’ Heir

The pledge of allegiance does not end with Hail Satan

Couch gag: The family bounce in as basketballs

Director: Mark Kirkland

Guest voice:
Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz

Synopsis: Mr Burns comes close to death and decides he needs an heir.

Discussion: The plotline is a good one: give Mr Burns an heir and make him be Bart. The rest of it, well, I’m not loving. It just doesn’t seem to quite gel together even though all the pieces are there. Homer and Marge explore their options to get Bart back while Mr Burns tries every trick in the book to get Bart to stay. Maybe if Bart snuck out to see for himself what the family were doing, the emotional punch would kick-start the episode. But for me, it falls a bit flat.

Phil Hartman is, as always, a very welcome addition to the voice cast. Here he’s Lionel Hutz, attorney at law and also show repairer. When he loses the case to get Bart back from Burns, Marge remarks that they really should stop hiring him. Let’s hope he’s better at shoe repair than he is at law…

With $10,000 we’d be millionaires!

Bart Gets an Elephant

Organ transplants are best left to the professionals

Couch gag: The family’s eyes are unattached and the family pop them back in.

Director: Jim Reardon

First appearance of:
Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel

Synopsis: The family are cleaning the house when Bart answers a call from the local radio station and wins an elephant. The elephant, Stampy, proves to be far too expensive to keep so has to be sold.

Discussion: Between real life and what happens in TV shows lies the humour: the unrealistic reaction from a character is what makes something funny. Take this episode as an example. You’ve got Bart winning a radio contest and choosing the elephant over the $10,000 prize. Then you’ve got the radio station coming through with said elephant, and in between, you’ve got the Simpson family saying nothing about the practicalities of keeping a wild animal in their backyard. Lisa mentions the cruelty of doing so, but only after the elephant has come to stay.

So, the realism isn’t all there, but as we’ve seen, it doesn’t have to be. This is animation, which traditionally holds that the impossible can and does happen. It’s also a TV show, which doesn’t adhere to reality in any form.

Anyhoo… Bart has an elephant and Marge still has a messy house, messy backyard and messy suburb because Stampy likes to wander and destroy. Eventually the bills start piling up (similar to Lisa’s Pony) and the elephant has to be sold. It comes down to a wildlife refuge or a suspected ivory dealer (“Dad! I’m pretty sure he’s an ivory dealer. His boots are ivory, his hat is ivory and even that check is ivory!” To which Homer replies, “Honey, someone with a lot of ivory is less likely to hurt Stampy than someone with no ivory!” You can’t argue with logic like that…!) Eventually, in traditional narrative closure, Stampy is sent to the wildlife refuge where he immediately starts head-butting the other elephants because some animals, like humans, are just jerks.

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