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

Archive for June, 2013

You can cram it with walnuts, ugly

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The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show

couch gag: The Simpsons pardoy the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Guest voices:
Alex Rocco as Roger Meyers Jr
Phil Hartman as Troy McClure

Synopsis: With ratings falling for the Itchy & Scratchy Show, the creative team introduce a new character, voiced by Homer. 

Discussion: Ooooooooooooh spooky! This episode is a dark foreshadowing of what the show has sadly become… but not quite this early. This is episode number 167, which was the ep that surpassed The Flintstones as the longest running animated show ever. The writers tried to deal with issues that writers/shows face when they’ve been running for a long time. One such issue is the introduction of new characters which don’t bode well with the audience- who remembers cousin Oliver (Robbie Rist, who is now a popular voice actor himself) from The Brady Bunch

The “Impy & Chimpy” show has flagging ratings and is rejuvenated with Poochie, voiced by Homer. The character goes down like a lead balloon with the audience and is soon killed off, much to Homer’s dismay. 

The overarching message of the episode wasn’t intentional, but anyone who has watched the show since about oh, season 16 will probably tell you it’s jumped the shark. One of the aims of this blog is to analyse when and how that happened, but we’ll get to that later. 

The scene of the kids in the focus group, where Lisa tells Roger Meyers Jr that there’s nothing wrong with the show, people are just tired of it, cuts too close to home when one considers that the viewership of early episodes was regularly 8-10 million people, whereas season 24 barely hit 4 million viewers. 

Apart from that, this isn’t a fantastic episode, however Poochie lives on in various forms in episodes to come. 

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I’m not a bloody jukebox

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Simpsonscalafragalisticexpiala(annoyed grunt)cious

I will not hide the teacher’s Prozac

couch gag: The living room is empty as the Simpsons are locked outside

Director: Chuck Sheetz

Synopsis: Marge’s hair is falling out due to stress so the family hires a nanny to help out. 

Discussion: Yippee! Disney + Simpsons + songs = WINNER! 

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for musicals and songs in the show, but I’m also a massive Disney fan (don’t be surprised if, one day in the future, you see a blog from me about every Disney film ever made…) Combine all three of these things and I’m one happy camper. 

Of course, the episode is a parody of the Disney film Mary Poppins. The Simpsons’ new nanny is Shari Bobbins, who sings songs and tries to help the family knit together but gives up once she, and the family, realise they like things just the way they are. 

Once again, the songs are the standout feature of the ep. There’s Shari singing about doing a half-arsed job to clean the house, her lullaby featuring Barney’s struggle to get $2 for a glass of beer, Homer’s ode to loving his family just the way they are and even a special demonstration from Groundskeeper Willie as a one-man band. He’s a maniac, maniac and he’s dancing like he’s never danced before. 

Apart from the obvious Mary Poppins parodies, there are several more, which are fun to discover for yourself (code for: I’m too lazy to list them all here). 

Overall, this is one of my favourites from the whole series. Disney magic works in crossovers too. 

I’ll kill you, you bloated army of treachery

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Mountain of Madness

couch gag: Grampa is on the sofa bed. The family shove him and the bed back into the couch and sit on it. 

Director: Mark Kirkland

Synopsis: Mr Burns sends the power plant workers on a team-building exercise on Mt Useful. He and Homer are stuck in a cabin covered by snow and try to stave off madness. 

Discussion: When a fire drill at the power plant sees the employees panic and taking more than 15 minutes to exit, Mr Burns decides to take them all to Mt Useful for a team-building venture. Mr Burns is “randomly” paired with Homer and they cause a few avalanches, burying the destination cabin and officially becoming Missing Persons. Whilst in the cabin, they both go a little stir crazy. 

The essence of this episode is really the madness faced by Homer and Mr Burns. We already know Mr Burns is prone to paranoia from when he built the casino and adopted a Howard Hughes-type phobia of germs. This time, he wants to build an army of men from snow (but not snowmen) and becomes convinced that Homer is planting paranoid thoughts into his mind. This particular scene is intense: the camera angles suggest slow descent into insanity while the glare between Homer and Mr Burns indicate an increasing hatred and contempt, willing each of them to commit murder to get away from their own evil thoughts. Taken in context, it’s very powerful imagery. 

To lighten the episode, there are pairings of characters not normally seen together, such as Smithers, Bart and Lisa. Smithers, who has ended up on the team challenge alone, meets the Simpsons kids and is annoyed by “the Bobbsey Twins“; Lisa is continually finding hurt animals and Bart is, well, not doing much besides being Bart. Marge is left with Maggie in search for Bart, Lisa, Homer and entertainment… 

This is a good episode. I hear it had some development problems with the script needing several rewrites, but they’re come through with the goods. Or maybe I’m just saying that because it provides a great background for analysis and I’ve just come out of a screen analysis uni unit… 

If you want some butter, it’s under my face

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The Twisted World of Marge Simpson

I am not licensed to do anything

couch gag: The couch is a Whack-a-Mole game; Homer is hit with the mallet.

Director: Chuck Sheetz

Guest voices:
Jack Lemmon as Frank Ormond
Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony

Synopsis: Marge buys a pretzel franchise but it’s not doing well, so Homer steps in and asks the Mafia for help. 

Discussion: This is a somewhat unusual episode: Marge is part of an investment club but is kicked out for not wanting to take high risks with their money. At a franchise fair, the investment club and Marge each buy food franchises, in direct competition with each other. 

We’ve all been there: our greatest dreams fall to the wayside because… well, just because. Marge’s scene at the kitchen table where she tells the kids to aim low strikes a chord with everyone. As kids, we’re encouraged to have great dreams and the reality is, most of us are just going to have average lives doing average things. It’s a heartbreaking scene. 

Of course, Homer hates to see his wife sad. Enter Fat Tony, who turns the town into a pretzel-loving mecca… with a cost that Homer has conveniently forgotten to tell Marge about. I just love Fat Tony. He’s sarcastic and a little bit naive; Homer doesn’t usually catch someone out yet Fat Tony fell for it. 

I’m going out on a limb here and am not going to criticise the ending. Because Fat Tony and his gang have stopped everyone else’s food franchises in the town, the investment club hire their own Japanese mafia to fight Fat Tony and his cronies. How else are you going to end it? Have Marge give all the money to the mob? Fat Tony cripple Marge for not paying? Kidnap Homer until Marge pays the money? Nah, bring forth the Japanese mafia! 

Good morning starshine

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The Springfield Files

The truth is not out there

Couch gag: The family use jet packs to fly into the room and sit on the couch. Maggie zooms around the living room before sitting.

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Guest voices:
Leonard Nimoy as himself
David Duchovny as Mulder
Gillian Anderson as Scully

Synopsis: On his way home from Moe’s, Homer sees an alien.

Discussion: Life was simple back in the mid 90s. We watched The X Files and believed that the truth was out there. This is a crossover episode; the characters of Agents Mulder and Scully visit Springfield to investigate Homer’s claims of seeing an alien on Friday nights after he’s been at Moe’s. At the time, both shows were top of the ratings and must-see TV. 

There’s a ton of references to TV shows and movies, and this episode’s Wikipedia entry has them all listed so I won’t go into it here. But if you recognise the references, it definitely enriches the experience. 

The alien is revealed to be Mr Burns, who undergoes rejuvenation treatments once a week, leaving him delirious and joyful. This ending is entirely plausible and not disappointing at all. Who knew Mr Burns could be such a foil? 

The main problem with crossover episodes is that they are dated. I’m not aware of The X Files being shown on Aussie TV at the moment, so younger viewers are likely to scratch their heads at Mulder and Scully, and wonder WTF Mulder has a picture of himself wearing only a Speedo. Having said that, it’s still a very good episode, one of the better parodies and providing a genuine mystery for those who haven’t seen it a million times… 

I hope I didn’t brain my damage

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El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)

couch gag: The family parachute in, Homer falls flat on his face because his parachute didn’t open.

Director: Jim Reardon

Guest voice:
Johnny Cash as the Space Coyote

Synopsis: Homer eats several Guatemalan insanity peppers at a Chili Cook Off and has strange visions where a space coyote tells him to find his soulmate. 

Discussion: It’s tough to do an episode like this and not have the visions stem from drug use. Gotta remember the demographic who watch this, you know. So the idea of having insanely hot chilis trigger the hallucinations is inspired. The whole hallucinatory sequence is brilliant- things are distorted and exaggerated and blended perfectly to fit into a world where nothing and everything is real. 

Homer’s journey begins with Marge wanting Homer to stay sober at a chili cook-off. It’s a reasonable idea; Homer doesn’t usually come out of such things with his dignity intact. But when Chief Wiggum tantalises Homer with rare Guatemalan chilis, all hell breaks loose… in Homer’s mind. 

Enter the Space Coyote, voiced brilliantly by the late Johnny Cash. He tells Homer to find his soulmate. Homer wakes up in a golf course and sets out to find his soulmate, who apparently isn’t Marge because Marge is mad at him for “drinking” (which he didn’t). 

Let me start by saying that the animation in this ep is awesome, particularly the hallucination sequence. I’m not sold on the idea for Homer to be wandering around for half the episode looking for a soulmate we all know will be Marge, but those scenes are good too. It’s the idea I have trouble with. Who wants to have an awesome vision with a talking space coyote only to have him say, “Find your soulmate”? BORING. (And that goes even if you do believe in soulmates). 

Overall, it’s a fantastic episode (in both the literal and figurative sense). Homer needs to trip out more often. 

Springfield’s answer to a question no one asked

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Hurricane Neddy

Couch gag: A couch falls from above when Homer inserts a coin into Vend-a-Couch

Director: Bob Anderson

Guest voice:
Jon Lovitz as Jay Sherman

Synopsis: When a hurricane flattens Ned’s home and the rebuilt house also falls down, Ned tells the townspeople what he really thinks of them. He then commits himself to a mental hospital and finds the source of his repressed anger. 

Discussion: This is another case of “WTF?”: Ned goes nuts and it’s all down to his Beatnik parents who refused to discipline him. Huh? 

The first act is great. A hurricane hits Springfield and the residents bleed the Kwik-E-Mart dry before taking shelter. The Simpsons try to help Marge solve a Rubik’s Cube (I am one of those people who have never been able to solve that thing). When the storm is over, there’s very little damage in the town except for the Flanders home. Ned doesn’t believe in insurance, he considers it a form of gambling. 

The second act is also good. The residents of Springfield rebuild the house even though they have no building skills. The house falls down, leading Ned to unleash his bottled up anger onto everyone. He checks himself into a mental hospital to deal with this new anger. 

And then it gets weird. Beatnik parents, repressed anger, Homer is given the task to anger Ned and then he’s cured. Well, OK. There’s not much you can do in 22 minutes but still… It’s a hugely unsatisfying ending. 

Look closely at the patients in the mental hospital and you’ll see Ms Botz and Jay Sherman

I’d be happier with the dollar

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Lisa’s Date With Density

couch gag: The lounge room is upside down. The family sit on the couch but fall down.

Director: Susie Dietter

Synopsis: Lisa develops a crush on the school bully, Nelson. Meanwhile, Homer finds an automatic dialling machine and scams Springfield into sending him money. 

Discussion: Normally I’m not a fan of episodes with double plots. They make little sense and don’t really fit together. Somehow, this one does, even though the two plots have nothing to do with each other. 

Lisa has her first crush on a school mate. She had previously developed a small crush on her teacher but this is really the first time she’s felt this way about a kid around her own age. And strangely, it’s Nelson Muntz! He’s everything Lisa is not, and she attempts to bring out his softer side (with hilarious results) but they’re just not meant for each other and that’s OK.

There’s also something about Homer scamming Springfield out of money. It’s funny. Not much to say about it, really.

I like the episodes which centre on different characters. We learn a bit more about Nelson and his home life, as well as Skinner’s, Kearney and Jimbo (whose first name, unsurprisingly, is actually James). The only real problem I have with this ep is the kissing scene between Lisa and Nelson. They look like flies, you know how flies have those long sucker things? It’s kinda gross.  

Ta ta, I’m off to the beauty salon!

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A Milhouse Divided

couch gag: The family sit on the couch and Bart is fuzzy. Homer tunes the TV, causing Bart to changes colours. Finally Homer smacks Bart and he returns to normal. 

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Synopsis: When Milhouse’s parents split up at the Simpsons’ dinner party, Homer reassesses his own marriage. 

Discussion: This is another episode in which the events carry on past this one ep. Lisa’s vegetarianism is another example. Kirk and Luann Van Houten are clearly having problems and it all boils over at Marge’s dinner party with the couple deciding to divorce. Despite the episode’s title, Milhouse doesn’t really feature much except in the scene where he’s driving a race car around his house. Apart from this scene, he’s not shown as feeling conflicted or sad. You’d think there’d at least be a scene where his parents are asking him where he’d like to live. That seems a logical scene from the title, doesn’t it? 

In any case, in the third act, the focus shifts from the Van Houtens to the Simpsons, and Homer reassesses his own marriage, thinking Marge might take a leaf from Luann’s book and divorce him as well. This was done because the writers thought a whole episode about the Van Houtens wouldn’t hold the audience’s interest… maybe so, but shifting the focus makes the ep feel disjointed. Having said that, this is a technique the writers use a lot: the beginning scenes are often just the set-up for what comes later, not necessarily having anything to do with the final plot. 

In any case, Milhouse’s parents are now separated and will stay that way. There are future episodes which toy with them getting back together, but we’ll get to those in good time. 

I have been grossly misinformed about witches

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Bart After Dark

couch gag: The Simpsons are dressed like The Beatles on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  

Director: Dominic Polcino

Synopsis: Marge and Lisa volunteer to clean up a beach after an oil spill, while Bart pays off a debt in a burlesque house.

Discussion:. This episode takes a while to get to the point, but when it does, it hits with a BAM! There’s been an oil spill and Lisa wants to go help clean up all the cute baby animals (which have actually been reserved for celebrities to clean). While they’re gone, Homer and Bart muck around, one thing leads to another and suddenly Bart breaks a gargoyle from a house and is made to repay the debt. Springfield learns it has a house of ill-fame. Oooh! Naturally, Marge overreacts and wants to tear the place down and the problem is solved through an Emmy-award winning song. 

Although it takes a while to get moving, it’s still a fantastic episode. As always, I’m a sucker for a catchy song and also burlesque. It’s a lost art. It keeps the mystery of a woman. Anyhoo, I digress. Marge’s insistence that Maison Derriere be bulldozed is typical and expected of Marge. It’s a bit tiresome but hey, that’s what we love about Marge: her high moral ground. But please, don’t make up your mind until you’ve heard both songs. 

It’s one of the best episodes of the series. 

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