128th-Final, Round 8: Homie the Clown vs. Bart’s Girlfriend

128th-final, round 8: 2F12 vs. 2F04.

2F12: “Homie the Clown” (Season 6 / February 12, 1995)
Written by John Swartzwelder. Directed by David Silverman
Showrunner: David Mirkin

I love Homer's expression here so, so much.

I love Homer’s expression here so, so much.

vs.

2F04: “Bart’s Girlfriend” (Season 6 / November 6, 1994)
Written by John Collier. Directed by Susie Dietter
Showrunner: David Mirkin

The Simpsons 2F04 Bart’s Girlfriend

I watched these two back to back on the projector the other day. Usually I watch ’em on my computer but a friend was over for a movie and afterwards we put in the good old Simpsons DVDs. So my main observation for both of these season 6 episodes is how great they look on the big screen. I know I say this every week but back in its prime the show was so cinematic! You’ve got low angles and elaborate action scenes and dramatic close-ups and all that kind of stuff. Sitcoms are usually not the most sophisticated, visually speaking. They all look kinda… flat. These don’t.

I laughed way more during “Homie the Clown” than the other one. I think under David Mirkin they had figured out the sweet spot between Homer being a lovable goof you want to root for and him causing trouble and injury to those around him and himself, not through malice but kinda just by being there. There’s a moment here where he beats up the guy in the Hamburglar costume half to death that I wish they had toned down a bit, or even taken out completely. I get why it’s funny and maybe it’s so out there with its violence that it becomes okay again? I don’t know.

(I’m extra rambly today for reasons. Sorry if none of this is coherent.)

2F12 is like a mini masterclass in comedic timing, too. Three fantastic moments rely entirely on pauses: when Homer falls into the burger props outside the Krusty Burger, when he is ejected out of his car after crashing it in front of the Van Houten place, and when Flanders repeatedly gets shot. They all involve silences or a few seconds of nothing happening, and they’re made exponentially funnier because of that.

“Bart’s Girlfriend” is a very different kind of episode. It doesn’t rely on the loud, funny moments as much, but instead focuses on what Bart’s going through, giving his story enough room to resonate with us and feel more true to life. (I guess “falling in love with a troublemaker and having your heart broken” IS more relatable than “enrolling in clown college and getting kidnapped by the mafia”?)

You know what? Up until a minute ago I was gonna let 2F04 win this one but now that I’ve written all this and looked through the episodes again I’m going with “Homie the Clown.” They’re pretty much equally great and last night I would have picked “Bart’s Girlfriend.” But this isn’t last night. Sorry, Meryl Streep. You were great, though.

The winner: 2F12, “Homie the Clown.”

128th-Final, Round 7: Flaming Moe’s vs. My Sister, My Sitter

128th-final, round 7: 8F08 vs. 4F13.

8F08: “Flaming Moe’s” (Season 3 / November 21, 1991)
Written by Robert Cohen. Directed by Rich Moore, Alan Smart
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpsons 8F08 Flaming Moe's

vs.

4F13: “My Sister, My Sitter” (Season 8 / March 2, 1997)
Written by Dan Greaney. Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

The Simpsons 4F13 My Sister, My Sitter

The winner: 8F08: “Flaming Moe’s.”

I like “My Sister, My Sitter” a lot, and especially Lisa’s story. Her struggle to prove herself a responsible and reliable babysitter feels very true to her character, and Bart makes the perfect foe. Homer and Marge’s visit to the Springfield waterfront promenade offers some fun sight gags, but this really is Lisa’s episode to carry, and she does it well. The way the episode wraps up is a tiny bit clunky, but that can be said of “Flaming Moe’s” as well, I suppose.

It’s easy to overlook (or even embrace) the lack of a perfect resolution in “Flaming Moe’s,” because everything leading up to it is just so masterfully constructed. I love that you really don’t need to know anything about the characters and their relationships going in – the episode flawlessly sets up Homer and Moe’s friendship and then rivalry. And of course the acting and animation is on a level that is so much higher than anything else on television then. Or now.

128th-Final, Round 6: Itchy & Scratchy Land vs. Bart Sells His Soul

128th-final, round 6: 2F01 vs. 3F02.

Itchy & Scratchy Land vs. Bart Sells His Soul

2F01: “Itchy & Scratchy Land” (Season 6 / October 2, 1994)
Written by John Swartzwelder. Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunner: David Mirkin

vs.

3F02: “Bart Sells His Soul” (Season 7 / October 8, 1995)
Written by Greg Daniels. Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Both episodes belong in the Simpsons pantheon, but I can only choose one right now, and I’m going with “Itchy & Scratchy Land.”

If I had to come up with a reason I’d argue that 2F01 works better as a whole, while “Bart Sells His Soul,” with the B-plot about Moe’s family restaurant, feels more like two separate stories stitched together. Which is not not a bad thing, at all, but these two episodes are of such a high quality that directly pitting them against each other means coming up with even the tiniest “flaws,” as it were.

So long, 3F02. We’ll always have I. Ron Butterfly.

The winner: 2F01, ” Itchy & Scratchy Land.”

128th-Final, Round 5: The Homer They Fall vs. Lady Bouvier’s Lover

128th-final, round 5: 4F03 vs. 1F21.

4F03: “The Homer They Fall” (Season 8 / November 10, 1996)
Written by Jonathan Collier. Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

"No running!"

“No running!”

I think if I had never started this tournament I’d happily file this one under “masterpiece” and move on, but since I’m comparing episodes I can’t help but note small things that, for lack of a better rationale, would seem out of place in what I’d picture as a “perfect” Simpsons episode. Tiny moments like Homer dragging Marge into the gadget store against her will (“Homer, please, you’re hurting my arm.”) just don’t sit right with me. And I already got into my problems with Homer being a human punching bag for most of the episode last time I watched it.

  • Janie saying “No running!” in the hallways is one of those things I probably missed the first 20 times I watched the episode but now think is one of the funniest things ever.
  • -Michael Buffer: “Due to popular demand, we will forego our national anthem.”

1F21: “Lady Bouvier’s Lover” (Season 5 / May 12, 1994)
Written by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein
Directed by Wes Archer. Showrunner: David Mirkin

Grandpa Abe Simpson in 1F21 Lady Bouvier’s Lover

How good is this episode? I was so enthralled watching it that I completely forgot that I was supposed to take down notes or think about it critically in any capacity. I was just enjoying it from start to finish. And while I do like “The Homer They Fall” very much, the choice here is clear:

The winner: 1F21, “Lady Bouvier’s Lover.”

128th-Final, Round 4: Homer and Apu vs. Sideshow Bob Roberts

128th-final, round 4: 1F10 vs. 2F02.

1F10: “Homer and Apu” (Season 5 / February 10, 1994)
Written by Greg Daniels. Directed by Mark Kirkland.
Showrunner: David Mirkin

1F10 Homer and Apu

Recorded in 2004, the DVD audio commentary for this episode holds a lot of wisdom from David Mirkin, who talks about how “The Simpsons” is able to stay fresh by changing showrunners every few years, because they bring in new ideas, and new approaches to the familiar characters and relationships. Mirkin made those comments some three years after Al Jean had taken over the show, and it clearly wasn’t a stab at him, but one can’t help but wonder how he feels now that Jean has been running “The Simpsons” for 13 years – more than half of its time on the air.

Another thing Mirkin goes into (as have I on here) is the “flexible reality” that allows the writers to stretch plausibility for a few moments here and there, while still maintaining a solid foundation to keep the stories grounded in the show’s established reality. Writer Greg Daniels originally was reluctant to have Homer travel to India with Apu because he couldn’t rationalize how Homer could afford the flight with his meager power plant salary. Mirkin fought to keep the trip in the show (it makes for a handful of great jokes, after all) arguing that the rubber-band reality of the show would snap right back to where it was before.

And it probably did back then, or very nearly so, anyway. But to see what happens to a rubber band after you’ve been stretching it for two decades you’ll only need to turn on Fox on any given Sunday night – or whatever day of the week “The Simpsons” is on these days.


2F02: “Sideshow Bob Roberts” (Season 6 / October 9, 1994)
Written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein. Directed by Mark Kirkland.
Showrunner: David Mirkin

2F02 Sideshow Bob Roberts

I try to be as critical as I can when watching these episodes for the tournament, but I honestly couldn’t tell you a thing wrong with this one. Not the masterfully constructed plot, not the many great jokes and references, certainly not Kelsey Grammer’s fantastic performance.

The winner: 2F02, “Sideshow Bob Roberts.”

128th-Final, Round 3: Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment vs. The Trouble with Trillions

128th-final, round 3: 7F13 vs. 5F14
Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment vs. The Trouble with Trillions

7F13: “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” (Season 2 / February 7, 1991)
Written by Steve Pepoon. Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

The Simpsons 7F13 Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment

vs.

5F14: “The Trouble with Trillions” (Season 9 / April 5, 1998)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham. Directed by Swinton O. Scott III
Showrunner: Mike Scully

5F14

So, two big questions: First: which of these episodes do I like more? Second: will it take me another two months to write another 50 word blog post?

I really do like both of these, and it’s kinda hard to even compare them because they are so different in style and Simpsons-ness. But in the end I just gotta go with 7F13, even though 5F14 has some of my favorite jokes ever.

  • Fantastic touch of having Ned look directly at the viewer when talking about “the folks who just don’t feel like working, God bless ‘em.”
  • -Moe: “So, Lenny, let’s say you pull a thorn out of the pope’s butt and he grants you one wish. What’ll it be?” -Lenny: “Hm. Only one, huh? Well, I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to wear something that’s been ironed.”

The winner: 7F13, “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment.”

And as for that second question… we’ll see.

128th-Final, Round 2: Secrets of a Successful Marriage vs. 22 Short Films About Springfield

128th-final, round 2: 1F20 vs. 3F18.

1F20: “Secrets of a Successful Marriage” (Season 5 / May 19, 1994)
Written by Greg Daniels
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Barney Gumble playing poker

vs.

3F18: “22 Short Films About Springfield” (Season 7 / April 14, 1996)
Written by Richard Appel, David S. Cohen, Jonathan Collier, Jennifer Crittenden, Greg Daniels, Brent Forrester, Rachel Pulido, Steve Tompkins, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein and Matt Groening
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Cletus the slack jawed yokel

Oh, wow. So, after trying to go the “I’m gonna really get into why I like one episode more than the other” route resulted in me not writing anything for almost two months, I decided to just go with my gut, announce the winner here, move on, and hope that I’ll have more to say in the future.

The winner: 3F18, “22 Short Films About Springfield.”