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.”

128th-Final, Round 1: Treehouse of Horror II vs. Lisa’s Date with Density

128th-final, round 1: 8F02 vs. 4F01.

8F02: “Treehouse of Horror II” (Season 3 / October 31, 1991)
Written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss,
Jeff Martin, George Meyer, Sam Simon and John Swartzwelder
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpsons 8F02 Treehouse of Horror II

vs.

4F01: “Lisa’s Date with Density” (Season 8, December 15, 1996)
Written by Mike Scully
Directed by Susie Dietter
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

The Simpsons 4F01 Lisa’s Date with Density

It’s Halloween, and Phase 2 starts of with one of the greatest Treehouses of Horror that will promptly exit the tournament because it doesn’t stand a chance against the 22 minutes of pure perfection that is “Lisa’s Date with Density.”

The winner: 4F01, “Lisa’s Date with Density.”

Round 128: Bart on the Road vs. Bart’s Friend Falls in Love

Round 128: 3F17 vs. 8F22.

3F17: “Bart on the Road” (Season 7 / March 31, 1996)
Written by Richard Appel
Directed by Swinton Scott
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Homer and Lisa Simpsons roasting marshmallows over a bucket fire in the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

Been a while since the last round, sorry. I actually watched these episodes last month but then I got super busy, and later when I wasn’t busy I kinda forgot about it, and then maybe subconsciously I didn’t want to write this entry because it means that after 128 rounds the first phase of the tournament is over, which in turn means that I am old, and so are you. We’re all old, people. No way around it.

“Bart on the Road” is pretty much perfect. We’ve got an immensely fun main-plot (“Grammar Rodeo? We’re going to a Grammar Rodeo?”), and a sweet Homer-and-Lisa subplot to boot. I’m not a huge fan of the Bart-as-a-courier-shipping-eyeballs-to-Hong-Kong ending, but that’s a minor gripe.

  • Lisa: “I knew it! Because why would they have our National Rodeo in another nation?”

8F22: “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love” (Season 3 / May 7, 1992)
Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Sad Milhouse

Fantastic. My favorite bits:

  • That whole Raiders of the Lost Ark opening sequence. Great work from the animation and sound departments.
  • Skinner’s Vietnam stories. Again, it’s the dramatic animation that makes this so powerful. (Well, that and Harry’s performance.)
  • “Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide to You-Know-What”
  • -Lisa: “According to Eternity magazine you can lose weight through subliminal learning. That’s where an idea is subtly implanted in your head without you even knowing it.”
    -Homer: “Oh, Lisa, that’s a load of rich creamery butter.”
  • Great Itchy & Scratchy. Short and to the point.
  • -Milhouse: “How could this happen? We started out like Romeo and Juliet but it ended up in tragedy.”

The winner: 8F22, “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love.” Tough decision, though. “Bart on the Road” is one of my favorite episodes, as well.