Round 18: Treehouse of Horror IV vs. Marge on the Lam

Round 18: 1F04 vs. 1F03.

1F04: “Treehouse of Horror IV” (Season 5 / October 28, 1993)
Written by Conan O’Brien, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Greg Daniels, Dan McGrath, Bill Canterbury
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunner: David Mirkin

The devil and Homer Simpson

The talent behind this Halloween episode is amazing, and it shows. (If you don’t have time to listen to every single audio commentary, you should definitely listen to this one: Jim Brooks, Davids Mirkin and Silverman, Conan, Bill and Josh, and Greg Daniels!) Just like ToH V from Mirkin’s second season this one belongs up there in the pantheon.

  • The Devil and Homer Simpson is my favorite segment, and features one of the all-time great Lionel Hutz performances by Phil Hartman.
  • The whole episode is like a big long list of thing’s I have not read or seen: Night Gallery, The Twilight Zone, Fantasia, War of the Worlds (well, I’ve seen the Spielberg movie and loved it, actually, but I never read the book or listened to the radio play), (Francis Ford Coppola’s) Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Lost Boys…

1F03: “Marge on the Lam” (Season 5 / November 4, 1993)
Written by Bill Canterbury
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Lionel Hutz watching TV on the Simpsons' couch.

“Oh, sure. Like lawyers work in big skyscrapers and have secretaries. Look at him. He’s wearing a belt! That’s Hollywood for you.”

And again we have two episodes produced in a row, which makes it harder for me to decide, because they’re about equal, quality wise. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen “Thelma & Louise,” which is heavily referenced, but some of the more outlandish plot and character twists don’t really do it for me. Homer’s a bit too dumb for my taste. As much as I love Lionel Hutz, his stint as babysitter seems a bit forced. And the third act, while beautifully animated, stretches the rubber-band reality of “The Simpsons” too far for my liking.

  • Great animation moment: When Ruth returns the power tool to Marge and she’s immediately pulled to the floor by it.
  • Mention ballet in my circle of friends and you’ll get to hear “Entrance of the Gladiators.”
  • Springfield is very much Los Angeles in this episode. As it is in many episodes.
  • Love Hank’s line reading as Wiggum, giving the dispatcher his current location:
    “I’m on a road. Looks to be asphalt. Trees, shrubs. I’m directly under the Earth’s sun… now.”
  • Commentary trivia: Matt mentions they’re recording on June 17, 2004, so right during production of the 16th season, which will be the next to come out on DVD.

The winner: 1F04: “Treehouse of Horror IV,” by a hair.


Round 17: Like Father, Like Clown vs. Lisa’s Pony

Round 17: 8F05 vs. 8F06.

8F05: “Like Father, Like Clown” (Season 3 / October 24, 1991)
Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky
Directed by Jeffrey Lynch & Brad Bird
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpson family waiting for Krusty the Clown

The weird thing watching this episode again was that I barely remembered any of it. I must have seen it when it was first on TV and then again when the DVDs came out, but for some reason it just didn’t make an impression. I was also surprised at how dated it looks and feels, especially compared to “Flaming Moe’s” from the same year. The third season is the one where the show really found its footing, I think, and this episode shows just enough second season residue to stand out as an “old” episode.

  • This has nothing to do with this episode, but on the DVD commentary Jay Kogen talks about the time he went to Germany to oversee the casting of the local voice actors, and how the Germans “tried to convince us that this really angry, horrible sounding Homer was really the same thing as our goofy Homer here, that in Germany the most lovable German screams and yells and is horrible and mean and angry all the time.” So that explains that.

8F06: “Lisa’s Pony” (Season 3 / November 7, 1991)
Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Lisa Simpson playing the saxophone for her horse.

For the second time in a row we have to episodes that were produced back-to-back competing against each other. (Will this trend continue into next round? Yes. Yes, it will.) This is happening purely by chance: I put all the episodes in random order before I entered them into the bracket to avoid just that. But here we are.

There are things in “Lisa’s Pony” that place it unmistakably in the third season, but there are also a lot of signs of the great timelessness the show would achieve just a year later. I love the elaborate references to “2001,” “The Godfather” and “Little Nemo,” and of course I’m a sucker for Homer and Lisa stories.

  • I was amazed when I found out that “My Ding-a-Ling” was a real thing.
  • So Apu dated Princess Kashmir?
  • Wikipedia says that Matt Groening, Sam Simon and Jim Brooks showran this episode, which could be kinda plausible because Al and Mike wrote it, but on the commentaries (both the regular one and the hidden one) Al and Mike both identify themselves as writer and showrunner for this episode. So I’m going with that. (In your face, Wikipedia!)

The winner: 8F06: “Lisa’s Pony.”

Round 16: Bart’s Girlfriend vs. Treehouse of Horror V

Round 16: 2F04 vs. 2F03.

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

Bart Simpson, in his blue suit, getting ready to strut.

There’s only one thing to do at a moment like this: Strut.

So far in this tournament, showrunner David Mirkin is something like the most valuable player. The only times episodes from his seasons have lost is when they were up against other episodes from his seasons. And so it is again in this round, with two episodes that aired back-to-back in 1994.

“Bart’s Girlfriend” features one of the best guest stars “The Simpsons” ever had in Meryl Streep, who totally disappears into the role of Jessica Lovejoy. I can think of only one other guest actor whose performance comes close to this, but we’ll get there when we get there. Nancy Cartwright does a great job, as well, as do the animators. It’s always a treat to see the characters in their Sunday clothes, and I thought Bart’s wardrobe was especially inspired.

2F03: “Treehouse of Horror V” (Season 6 / October 30, 1994)
Written by Greg Daniels, Dan McGrath, David S. Cohen, Bob Kushell
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer Simpsons travelling through time via toaster.

We all know that no “Treehouse of Horror” will win this thing in the end. Even a great Halloween special like this one will sooner or later have to face a great non-Halloween episode and leave the tournament. Might as well be now.

The winner: 2F04: “Bart’s Girlfriend.”


Round 15: Homie the Clown vs. Treehouse of Horror VIII

Round 15: 2F12 vs. 5F02.

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

Marge Simpson tucking in Homer's shirt.

“Hold still, Homer. Don’t squirm.”
“I am holding still. I am squirming.”

On paper, “Homie the Clown” has all the traits of a typical, and typically bad, recent episode of the show. Homer gets a new job! Homer is subjected to and doles out brutal violence! A celebrity voices themselves. But in reality, this is far from bad. I laughed as much if not more than at any other episode in this tournament so far. The gags, absurd and outlandish as they may be, land just right. Comedy is timing, and maybe that’s what the show has lost over the years. Here, the timing is perfect, from the animation to the voice acting and even in little details like the sound work (like the thuds of the clown college billboard pushing its way into Homer’s thought bubble).

  • Happy Homer!
  • Dick Cavett is one of my favorite people, ever.
  • Too many memorable quotes to list here.

5F02: “Treehouse of Horror VIII” (Season 9 / October 26, 1997)
Written by Mike Scully, David S. Cohen, Ned Goldreyer
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Homer Simpson thinking of Maggie, Santa's Little Helper, Snowball II and his TV set.

“Little Bart! Little Lisa! Little Marge! And the rest!”

Entertaining Halloween episode, couple of good jokes, not bad, but nothing special.

The winner: 2F12: “Homie the Clown.”


Round 14: My Sister, My Sitter vs. Homer the Smithers

Round 14: 4F13 vs. 3F14.

4F13: “My Sister, My Sitter” (Season 8 / March 2, 1997)
Written by Dan Greaney
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
Doctor Hibbert accusing Lisa Simpson
Not the most quotable episode, but I still laughed a lot watching it, mostly at the animation. So much great acting in this one, from Maggie’s caffeine induced hyperactivity to Homer’s finger-twirling and monocle wearing in his rented tux, and another beautifully done fantasy sequence. And, as you know by now, I love it when the kids behave like kids, and we get a lot of that here, too. I can definitely sympathize with Lisa’s frustration over Bart acting up.

  • “Gee, I’d really love to wanna help you, Flanders… but… Marge was… taken prisoner… in the… Holy Land.” (Perfect marriage of voice work and animation.)
  • Bart running past Homer in his tux and stopping mid-jog – another great touch.
  • I can see some people not liking some of the more outrageous things happening near the end, or the lack of any consequences from them, but I don’t really mind that.

3F14: “Homer the Smithers” (Season 7 / February 25, 1996)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Steve Moore
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Homer Simpson's bowl of corn flakes and milk going up in flames

It’s interesting that “My Sister, My Sitter” should face off against this episode. Before rewatching them tonight, I fondly recalled both shows, but remembered “Homer the Smithers” as the funnier one. And there are a couple of good jokes (“Lousy two-legged pants.”), but overall I had a lot more fun with the first episode. It has exactly what I seek in a great Simpsons episode: a story that can entertain and even move me when I’m watching it for the twelfth time and not just a bunch of jokes without any heart to them.

  • Love the run about Burns’ car, then cube.
  • “Imagine how youd feel, Marge, if you got fired from the… those… things… that… you do.”
  • Not a fan of the violent fight in the last act.
  • Nice “A Clockwork Orange” reference near the end.

The winner: 4F13: “My Sister, My Sitter.”


Round 13: The Telltale Head vs. Flaming Moe’s

Round 132: 7G07 vs. 8F08.

7G07: “The Telltale Head” (Season 1 / February 25, 1990)
Written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Sam Simon, Matt Groening
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart Simpson sneaking out of the house.

I’m pretty sure this was the first episode of “The Simpsons” I ever saw. And I would have been Bart’s age, too, although there wasn’t much about him and his life I could identify with. I was no misfit (at least not intentionally), my family didn’t go to church nor I to Sunday school. Back then I had never seen or experienced the kind of bullying and peer pressure that seems so prevalent in American schools, and I haven’t, since.

Still, even then, I knew this was not like anything else on TV. When Bart goes to Homer for advice and asks “How important is it to be popular?” we don’t get the answer that TV dads have been giving since the dawn of time but instead this: “I’m glad you asked, son. Being popular is the most important thing in the world.”

Of course in the end they both learn their lesson, but the way there is paved with jabs at religion (“Is a little blind faith too much to ask?”), nationalism (at least that’s how I read the instant mob mentality) and other sacred (TV) cows.

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

Aerosmith drinking beer at Moe's Tavern.

Look, it’s John Kalodner and Aerosmith!

This episode has always been very special to me. I was, after all, the biggest Aerosmith fan in my class, my school, my town, and possibly the whole country. And I still enjoy their music today. So seeing them on “The Simpsons” is a lot of fun.

But even apart from all that this is a great one. Compared to the first season episode above the show has come a long way. The animation is downright cinematic (just look at the scenes with Lisa and her friends chasing after Bart, or Homer’s “Phantom of the Opera”-inspired entrance at the end) and full of lovingly done references (the “Cheers” opening credits bit is beautiful). And there’s so much more, but we’ll have time to get into that in the next phase of the tournament, because…

The winner is: 8F08, “Flaming Moe’s.”


Round 12: Bart Sells His Soul vs. Wedding for Disaster

Round 12: 3F02 vs. LABF05.

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

Reverend Lovejoy counting the collection money

Milhouse: “But every religion says there’s a soul, Bart. Why would they lie? What would they have to gain?”

Another episode where I don’t really know what to write here. I didn’t take any notes, because even on the umpteenth viewing, I was too enthralled in the jokes, the story, the observations  the animation, the voice acting (“Hitchcock stole every idea I ever had!“), and of course the music (“In the Garden of Eden”).

  • The B-plot with Moe’s Family Restaurant was fun, too, even if it didn’t have any connection to Bart’s story. (I like when the stories come together organically in the end, but here they’d have had to force it, so I’m glad they didn’t.)
  • Again, the kids behave like kids, not small version of adults. (Lisa: “Where’d you get five bucks? I want five bucks!”)
  • Love the Itchy & Scratchy. (“Skinless in Seattle”)

LABF05: “Wedding for Disaster” (Season 20 / March 29, 2009)
Written by Joel H. Cohen
Directed by Chuck Sheetz
Showrunner: Al Jean

Homer with Marge in chains.


The winner: Take a wild guess.