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Posts tagged ‘Simpsons season 8’

Maybe she drove to the moon

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The Secret War of Lisa Simpson

couch gag: The couch is upside down and when the family sit on it, they fall down. 

Director: Mike B. Anderson

Guest voice:
Willem Dafoe as the Commandant

Synopsis: After another of Bart’s pranks, he is sent to military school. Lisa finds the school also catering to her needs and enrols there too, but finds that it’s a lot harder than she expected. 

Discussion: In the last episode of season 8, Bart and Lisa attend military school. This episode only works if you view it one way: as the connection between siblings. We’ve come straight from the satire of a spin-off showcase into a much darker episode where Lisa is challenged and unaccepted by her peers in a military school. Her secret war is her challenge for acceptance and to actually learn something at school, plus missing her mum and general homesickness. 

It’s not a strong finish to the season, leaving the viewer dissatisfied. If the ep had focused on Bart’s secret war with less emphasis on Lisa, it probably would have worked better. Bart’s prank with the line of megaphones is classic Bart, as is his subsequent prank of driving off on the ride-on mower as Chief Wiggum discusses military school with Marge and Homer. Sure, let Lisa stay at military school, but make Bart the focus; maybe Lisa is better at being accepted and encourages Bart to finish the Eliminator. 

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These rubber pants are hot

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The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase

Director: Neil Affleck

Guest voices:
Phil Hartman as Troy McClure
Gailard Sartain as Big Daddy
Tim Conway as himself

Synopsis: Troy introduces three possible spin-off ideas. Chief Wiggum becomes a PI in New Orleans, Grampa dies and his ghost haunts Moe’s Love-matic machine to give love advice and the Simpsons appear in a variety hour.

Discussion: Even looking past the intentionally bad script, I can’t love this episode. It’s lame… and meant to be.

Spin-offs are a way of furthering a franchise for more money. They’re like breaking The Hobbit into three parts: you don’t need it, it’s pretty pointless and it makes more money than just one show. Plus it fills a few gaps in the line-up, which Troy mentions at the top of the episode.

Done well, spin-offs can take a life of their own and become as popular as their seminal show. Done badly, and you get a parody 25 years later. Happy Days has a number of spin-offs, although none were quite as popular or long-lived as the original show. Happy Days spin-offs include: Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy and Joanie Loves Chachi (what’s a Chachi?) Mork and Mindy gave us Robin Williams and Laverne and Shirley gave us years of “what are they saying in the opening credits before ‘incorporated’?” On a side note, I can’t believe the writers didn’t include any of those shows in their wall of famous spin-offs that Troy walks past.

OK, onto the segments themselves. Chief Wiggum P.I. is a parody of cop shows like Starsky & Hutch  and Miami Vice. Wiggum, Ralph and Principal Skinner move to New Orleans and chase a guy named Big Daddy. It’s lame… but meant to be.

The Love-matic Grampa is also lame and supposed to be. Grampa’s dead and his ghost inhabits Moe’s love tester machine, first seen in Flaming Moe’s from season 3. Moe is awkward on dates and receives dodgy love advice. It’s lame… but in a good way.

Finally, the Simpsons Family Smile-Time Variety Hour. Oh my freaking God. It’s a parody of all those variety shows from the 1970s featuring the Brady bunch, Partridge family, Sonny and Cher and even the Smothers Brothers. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour was so camp and ridiculous that Eve Plumb (Jan), refused to participate, parodied in this segment by Lisa being replaced with an older, tall, blonder girl. Similarly, this segment is also camp and, dare I say it, gay that Waylon Smithers cracking a licorice whip is just so funny and stupid that it works.

History lesson: The baby boomers were the first generation to grow up with TV. In the 1960s, television catered to these new teenagers by creating shows especially for them (much like Hollywood’s 1950s era of rebellious teen movies catering specifically for a new generation). One of these shows was The Monkees, another was The Smothers Brothers. In many ways (and I’ve written an essay about this), The Simpsons are the epitome of 1990s television also catering to youth culture. The show’s themes of realism and self-reflexive paradigms mirror those of 1960s television culture. Looking beyond the lameness of these spin-offs, we see a clever parody of genres from television’s attempts to cash in on particular trends of the times.

I didn’t even know what a nuclear panda plant was

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Homer’s Enemy

couch gag: Bart flickers, Homer gets up to change the channel and finally smacks Bart on the head. Bart returns to normal.

Director: Jim Reardon

Synopsis: A new employee, Frank Grimes,  is hired at the nuclear power plant and takes a disliking to Homer. Meanwhile, Bart becomes the owner of a run-down factory and employs Milhouse. 

Discussion: What’s not to love about this episode? Frank Grimes has worked hard for everything in life and when he meets Homer, who is living the American Dream despite being an idiot, Frank is infuriated. The funny part is, Homer hasn’t really done anything to elicit this reaction… apart from eating Grimey’s lunch and chewing his pencils, but I’m sure that was really only a welcoming act of kindness. 

Frank Grimes is a real-world character. Almost everyone in The Simpsons is an in-universe character: they would not survive outside the show (not least because they’re 100% animated, obviously) because The Real World doesn’t work that way. Homer would never have the chance to meet former presidents or become an astronaut, which is mostly what fuels Frank’s fury because Homer is “an irresponsible oaf”. It’s true, Homer is lazy and not very good at his job and frequently leaves the job to do other jobs for a while. 

This is where the humour lies. In fact, it’s the basis of every sitcom. It’s funny because of the differences between the real world and the reactions of characters in a fake world; they don’t do what someone would do in the real world and this is funny. At least, it is according to one of my textbooks (which I can’t be arsed finding right now…)

Anyhoo, the subplot is Bart’s purchase of an abandoned warehouse where he appoints himself president and Milhouse is well, anything Bart wants him to be. There’s no real point to it other than to break up the heaviness of the main plot, but it’s amusing anyway. 

There’s your answer, fish-bulb

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In Marge We Trust

couch gag: Homer bashes the wall of vend-a-couch and a couch falls from the air

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Synopsis: Marge becomes a counselling volunteer at the church while Homer is puzzled by his name appearing on a Japanese washing detergent. 

Discussion: This episode contains two main plots: Marge’s stint as moral adviser and Homer’s face on a Japanese container. One is much more interesting than the other. Go on, guess which one. 

Not that I’m a frequent attendee of church, but from what I remember, it is pretty boring. Marge decides to give back to the community and take some of the heat from Reverend Lovejoy, who doesn’t have the time or patience to listen to the townsfolk and their #firstworldproblems . That’s fair enough too- Skinner and his mother have some doozies, no wonder he turns into Norman Bates (oh wait, that’s just my imaginative fanfic talking). Anyhoo, Marge becomes Listen Lady, gives Ned Flanders some bad advice and Reverend Lovejoy saves the day. Yippee.

Meanwhile, during a trip to the garbage dump, Bart finds a box with Japanese writing and Homer’s face. After some crack detective work (i.e. Asking Akira at the Japanese restaurant), the Simpsons discover it’s a washing detergent and that nobody is watching them right now (cue the shady eyes). Homer contacts the Mr Sparkle company and is sent a video containing a commercial for the product. Turns out, his face on the box is just a coincidence. 

Half this episode is great, the other half is just filler. Go on, guess which. Marge’s storyline, I feel, detracts from the far more interesting one of Homer, but there’s not really anything you can do to stretch that out into a 22 minute episode. Maybe if the writers had joined that with the future ’30 Minutes Over Tokyo’, we’d have something good. Oh well, maybe next time. 

You’ve got an enchanting musk

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The Old Man and the Lisa

Couch gag: The Simpsons’ couch is a game of whack-a-mole and Homer gets hit.

Director: Mark Kirkland

Guest voice:
Bret Hart as himself

Synopsis: Mr Burns is losing his fortune and appeals to Lisa to help him get it back by building a recycling plant. 

Discussion: This episode tackles two main points: What would happen if Mr Burns was a regular pleb without his fortune and what happens if he tried to build another business. Lisa is caught up as partner when Burns decides he wants to get into recycling. There’s no actual evil plan by Burns for the fish slurry, that’s just the way he thinks: every business activity must produce a profit. 

The best bits are definitely Mr Burns in the supermarket and the Code Blue at the end when Lisa tells Homer what 10% of $120,000,000 really is (I’d probably have a heart attack as well if my daughter tore that cheque up…)

What works about this ep is Lisa standing to her convictions not only as a vegetarian but also as an environmentalist and not accepting Mr Burns’ cheque (which would change the dynamic of the show: look at the final season of Roseanne where the working class family won the lottery. It just doesn’t work.) Mr Burns is doing what he does best- turning a simple idea into profit. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, it just happens to clash with Lisa’s ideals. 

It’s also a little bit different in that the ep focuses on Mr Burns and Lisa, two characters who have not really had a relationship before. 

He unholied the holy water

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The Canine Mutiny

A fire drill does not demand a fire

Couch gag: Grampa is sleeping on the sofa bed and the family fold him up into the couch.

Director: Dominic Polcino

Synopsis: Bart scams his way into getting a credit card and buys the world’s best dog, giving up Santa’s Little Helper. 

Discussion: The moral of the story is, no matter how dumb your dog is, you’re going to love him anyway. Santa’s Little Helper may be one of the dumbest animals on the planet, but he and Bart share a special bond that can’t be broken even by the world’s greatest dog. 

Laddie is an obvious parody of Lassie, purchased by Bart with a real credit card in a fake name. Anyhoo, he can’t pay the bills so instead of giving up the dog who uses the toilet, waters the garden and gathers fruit, Bart gives away Santa’s Little Helper. SLH winds up as the only companion to a blind man whose parrot doesn’t speak to him anymore (another obvious parody of Monty Python and the dead parrot sequence). Bart endeavours to get SLH back and the blind man ends up with Laddie. Aww. 

It’s a good episode. It’s nice to feature something different, even at the expense of sentimental favourite Santa’s Little Helper. Bart shows his true colours as a loyal person and having a conscience as well. 

I’ve been calling her Krandel!

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Grade School Confidential

Couch gag: Bubbles, shaped like the family, pop as soon as they touch the couch.

Director: Susie Dietter

Synopsis: At Martin’s ill-fated birthday party, Mrs Krabappel and Principal Skinner fall in love and Bart is the only person who knows. 

Discussion: Thus begins one of the show’s longest-running story arcs: the relationship between Edna Krabappel and Seymour Skinner. Aww! 

The way in which this burgeoning relationship is portrayed is cute, romantic and utterly annoying to one Bart Simpson. He’s the only person who knows and he’s blackmailed into keeping their secret. After being forced to say he loves Mrs K and (rightfully) being teased for it, Bart takes revenge by showing the whole school the hiding place where Mrs K and Skinner are making out. They were not, as Ralph Wiggum put it, “making babies”. However, Chinese whispers conceded there was at least some nudity happening in the janitor’s closet and to protect their jobs, Skinner is forced to admit he’s a 44 year old virgin. 

Aside from the delicious gossip that two school employees are gettin’ it on, there’s not really a lot to say about this episode. Imagine being in fourth grade and seeing your teacher and principal having a smooch in a pink playhouse. Oooh! The most excitement I had in fourth grade was learning the teachers’ first names (I remember you, Storme!) 

Edna and Seymour hey. There’s a treasure trove of good stuff to explore there, and the series certainly delivers. 

 

If we don’t come back, avenge our deaths

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Homer vs the Eighteenth Amendment

couch gag: The couch whinnies and gallops away with the family sitting on it

Director: Bob Anderson

Guest voices: 
Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony
Dave Thomas as Rex Banner

Synopsis: When Bart gets drunk at a St Patrick’s Day parade, the town enforces an old law prohibiting alcohol. Homer becomes a bootlegger, supplying Moe’s speakeasy with booze. 

Discussion: This episode is an homage to the Prohibition laws of the 1920s, and as such, has a distinct 1920s feel to it in many scenes. 

After Bart gets drunk accidentally at a St Pat’s parade, Homer becomes the town’s Beer Baron, supplying alcohol to Moe’s speakeasy, which is newly designed to look like a pet shop… even though it’s open at 1am. Marge doesn’t exactly approve of Homer’s activities but she does admit it’s one of the smartest things he’s ever done in the years she’s known him. Sometimes Marge says things the viewer doesn’t expect, and it makes it extra hilarious. 

This is a great episode. It gave us the line: “To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems” as well as Rex Banner, a parody of Elliot Ness who is perfect for Wiggum’s replacement and the Beer Baron’s enemy. It’s also the first depiction of a St Patrick’s Day celebration although I believe there’s another one in season 22 (but we’ll get to that one later… much later!) 

 

You said, go to bread

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My Sister, My Sitter

couch gag: The Simpsons are on a boat, wearing raincoats. A large wave comes up and the family disappear. 

Director: Jim Reardon

Synopsis: Inspired by pre-teen babysitting novels, Lisa forms her own babysitting business and winds up babysitting Bart and Maggie while Homer and Marge are at a waterfront party. 

Discussion: This is a well-crafted episode which features moments of clear realism along with Simpsons-esque weirdness. What happens when you let a child babysit your other children? When the other kid is Bart, you know you’re in for a night of trouble. Bart, being a jerk, injures himself and Lisa, fearing her position as a responsible babysitter, takes Bart to a confidential clinic but things go awry and they end up at the very same squid port where Marge and Homer are celebrating the new revamp. 

In terms of plot, this is a strong episode. It focuses on the relationship between Bart and Lisa, while also cementing Bart’s aversion to authority (previously seen in other babysitting episodes, such as Ms Botz from season 1 and grad student Ashley from season 6). Lisa does exactly what one expects Lisa to do, and Bart goes above and beyond what is expected of him as the babysittee. 

Two things about this episode: 1) It features Eye on Springfield, which is a great little “local” show, quite often serving as a narrative point. In this case, it’s how Marge and Homer find out the squid port is now a revamped tourist area. 2) In the scene where Lisa takes Bart to Dr Nick’s clinic, she asks Smithers if he would mind if they went ahead of him. He replies he’d really rather get “this” taken care of. It’s only just occurred to me why Smithers is standing… Eww. 

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Shake it, madam. Capital knockers.

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The Brother From Another Series

Couch gag: The living room and couch are upside down, and when the family sit on it, they fall down. 

Director: Pete Michels

Guest voices:
Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob
David Hyde Pierce as Cecil

Synopsis: Sideshow Bob is released from prison on a work-for-parole scheme and is taken under the supervision of his brother, a noted hydro engineer. 

Discussion: Cue the obligatory Sideshow Bob episode for the season. We all know who Sideshow Bob is by now; he’s been featured in every season since season one. This time, we discover he has a brother who is also a homicidal maniac but really just wants to frame Bob for taking the coveted position of Krusty’s sidekick. In a twist, Bob actually ends up saving Bart’s life instead of trying to kill him. Don’t worry, I’m sure it won’t last long… 

As far as Bob episodes go, this one is OK. Cecil is played by David Hyde Pierce, who, at the time, was also playing Kelsey Grammer’s brother on Frasier. Admittedly, I’ve never seen  Frasier but I’m aware of the relationship of the characters. Hence the cute title of the episode. 

It must be hard coming up with ideas for Bob episodes, so this one contains a twist. However, like practically all other Bob episodes, it takes a long time to get to the point. When it does, well, personally I find it a bit anticlimactic but it is refreshing to see the change in homicidal characters.  

For me, the highlight of the ep is Krusty’s appearance at the Springfield State Prison a la Johnny Cash’s Folsom appearance. 

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