Round 29: This Little Wiggy vs. Fear of Flying

Round 29: 5F13 vs. 2F08.

5F13: “This Little Wiggy” (Season 9 / March 22, 1998)
Written by Dan Greaney
Directed by Neil Affleck
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Homer Simpson wohooing.

“Wohoo! Beer, beer, beer, bed, bed, bed…”

I kinda remember that there was some “controversy” with this episode and German television, where they wouldn’t show it in its usual kid-friendly time-slot (the channel never got the memo that The Simpsons isn’t a kids’ show) but instead could only be aired after 10 pm in front of that X-Files episode where they bury the baby alive… or something like that. I could look it up but why bother. Oh, and the thing they didn’t want to show was when Quimby gets nearly executed at the end, which I guess us not the most violent thing the show has done but I certainly didn’t need to see it.

  • I like over-stimulated Homer, and Bart cleaning his toys was great, too.
  • A total non-sequitur, but Homer and Marge recording a new outgoing phone message had me in stitches.
  • “The world is our toy store!” (I didn’t get that the first few times. Very funny.)

2F08: “Fear of Flying” (Season 6 / December 18, 1994)
Written by David Sacks
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Marge Simpson repairing the roof in the middle of the night.

“Marge, it’s 3 a.m. Shouldn’t you be baking?”

Fun fact: I’m writing this on the train! On my phone, too, not on one of your fancy tablet computers! I’m on my way to a friend’s wedding,  but I watched the episode right before I left for the station.

A great episode, very Mirkin-esque. It’s heavy on the jokes, sometimes going into the absurd, especially in the first act. But once the Marge plot kicks in we get some nice emotional content, as well. Marge’s fear of flying rings very true to her character, and I love Homer’s obsessive worrying about the therapist blaming him for Marge’s problems. In fact we get a lot of hilarious Homer moments in this episode, with Dan firing on all cylinders. (“I wanna live, Marge! Why won’t you let me live!”)

Other favorite bits:
Homer’s search for a new bar.
The whole Lost in Space thing, especially Homer as Dr. Smith.
The flashbacks to Marge’s childhood. (The toy plane catching fire, the North by Northwest reference.)

The winner: 2F08, “Fear of Flying.”


Round 28: I Am Furious (Yellow) vs. The Call of the Simpsons

Round 28: DABF13 vs. 7G09.

DABF13: “I Am Furious (Yellow)” (Season 13 / April 28, 2002)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Chuck Sheetz
Showrunner: Al Jean

The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

Least unfunny frame I could find.

So sad.

Even before the episode really started, when Homer suffered through another violent couch gag, I wondered, Do they know they don’t have to torture Homer in every one of these?

And then it got so much worse. They have literally taken the two things I hate most about later-day Simpsons and built this episode around it. Homer is angry. Homer is subjected to gruesome violence. They even found time to slip in some of my third least favorite thing, Homer having back-and-forth, one-second-to-the-next mood swings. An all around winner, this one.

7G09: “The Call of the Simpsons” (Season 1 / February 18, 1990)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Wesley Archer
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

The Simpsons camping in the woods.

“There. Finished.”
“You are?”
“Well, it’s a quick job, but it’s shelter.”
“It is?”

Interestingly enough, when they recorded the commentary for this and the other first season episodes, they were in production of season 13, and they even point out that after all these years, John Swartzwelder was still cranking out scripts for the show.

But credited writer aside, these two episodes couldn’t be more different. “The Call of the Simpsons” already shows signs of the greatness that was to come while “I Am Furious (Yellow)” has only the slightest residue of it left.

More about this episode, which I quite liked, in the next phase of the tournament.

The winner: 7G09, “The Call of the Simpsons.”

Round 27: Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder vs. The Day the Violence Died

Round 27: BABF02 vs. 3F16.

BABF02: “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder” (Season 11 / November 14, 1999)
Written by Al Jean
Directed by Mike B. Anderson
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Maggie Simpson pointing out a butterfly to Homer.

Maggie foreshadowing her Oscar nominated turn in “The Longest Daycare.”

When I was 18 years old, I thought this was a great episode. Now, this is most likely due to two things. First, I didn’t know any better. Second, this was a pretty funny episode. Was. As mentioned before, I used to watch Family Guy. I enjoyed the obscure pop culture references and crass humor. For 22 minutes, once a week, 24 weeks a year, I was more or less entertained by it. But aside from a few, rare exceptions, I never felt the urge to revisit an episode of Family Guy. It’s the same with much (not all!) of Mike Scully’s seasons of The Simpsons. It’s not terrible, but a) it can’t compete with earlier episodes, and b) there’s really no reason to re-watch any of it.

  • I caught this episode on German TV once. When Teller says “I’m not the first Teller,” the people translating the dialogue apparently didn’t know that was his name (or maybe they did and just didn’t care) and made him say, in German, “I’m not the first to tell you this.” Because of course they did.

3F16: “The Day the Violence Died” (Season 7 / March 17, 1996)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Wesley Archer
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Lionel Hutz talking to Bart Simpson and Chester J. Lampwick.

Another high-quality Oakley and Weinstein outing with three perfect guest voices from Alex Rocco, Phil Hartman and Kirk Douglas. The ending certainly is… something else. But not in a bad way.

  • Lisa: “It’s one of those campy ’70s throwback that appeals to Generation Xers.”
    Bart: “We need another Vietnam to thin out their ranks a little.”
    (This certainly reads in a whole new light now.)

The winner: 3F16: “The Day the Violence Died.”

Round 26: The Twisted World of Marge Simpson vs. The Front

Round 26: 4F08 vs. 9F16.

4F08: “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson” (Season 8 / January 19, 1997)
Written by Jennifer Crittenden
Directed by Chuck Sheetz
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Homer Simpson, Official Pretzel Inspector

The best thing about this episode is obviously the guest appearance by Jack Lemmon. Thank God the show got to him early enough (in two ways: before his death and also before the time most celebrities doing the Simpsons just get to play themselves in a cameo that serves little to no story purposes).

Other favorite moments here are Marge setting up her business with the family happily helping her (the ticker tape parade!) and pretty much every single scene between Homer and Fat Tony. The ending is pretty absurd, but that’s okay.

  • – “Homer, did you tell the Mafia they could eliminate my competitors with savage beatings and attempted murder?”
    – “In those words? Yes.”

9F16: “The Front” (Season 4 / April 15, 1993)
Written by Adam I. Lapidus
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Itchy and Scratchy Show writers room.

Left to right: John Swartzwelder, George Meyer, Jeff Martin, Al Jean, Mike Reiss

A weird thing is happening as I watch episodes of season 4, which I always named the show’s best, as part of this tournament. I know they are great. I have watched them countless times, listened to the commentaries repeatedly. Yet, somehow, when it comes to comparing them to other episodes, they underwhelm.

A lot of it has to do with the non-sequitur cut-aways and one-off jokes. Long before Seth MacFarlane made a living with these they were a welcome addition to “The Simpsons,” and most of them are still very funny and memorable, but they are not (in my opinion) the show at its best.

  • All that said, there are still many great moments here. The Itchy & Scratchy cartoons are all very good, Roger Meyers, Jr. (sadly not voiced by Alex Rocco in this episode) is fun, as are the jabs at the Simpsons’ writers, which of course get enhanced a thousand-fold when you “know” them through the commentaries.
  • – “Cartoons have writers?”
    – “Eh, sort of.”

The winner: 9F16: “The Front.”

Round 25: Homer the Heretic vs. Lost Our Lisa

Round 25: 9F01 vs. 5F17.

9F01: “Homer the Heretic” (Season 4 / October 8, 1992)
Written by George Meyer
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Homer Simpson having a little talk with five-fingered God.

A beautiful, smart episode, featuring a happy, relatable Homer, great jokes, just the right amount of absurd humor, and a “lesson” that is fun, ambiguous and never preachy.

  • Similar to what happened in “Weekend at Burnsie’s,” Homer has animals land on his shoulders and treat him as their master. But here it is actually funny. And no one gets their eyes pecked out.
  • Nice car chase scene, animation and music are just right.
  • All-time great “Itchy & Scratchy.”
  • “Coming up next: Make Your Own Ladder.”

5F17: “Lost Our Lisa” (Season 9 / May 10, 1998)
Written by Brian Scully
Directed by Pete Michels
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Homer and Lisa Simpson watching the Orb of Isis.

I don’t know why exactly this is, but I enjoy few things more in life than the sight of fathers spending quality time with their daughters. I don’t have a daughter nor am I one, but it just stirs something up inside me and I get all emotional. Many of the Simpsons moments I hold most dear are ones between Homer and Lisa, and we get a handful of beautiful examples in this episode.

Another reason to love “Lost Our Lisa” are the many great observations of being a kid, from super glue accidents to riding the city bus for the first time. Nancy and especially Yeardley are perfect as Bart and Lisa, they bring so much emotion to their performances.

And there’s Homer, of course, happy, adventurous, wise (in his own way) and most of all proud of (and concerned for) his daughter. It’s just wonderful, and a far cry from the angry, careless Homer we get to see these days.

But it’s not all emotion, the episode is actually very funny, too. I imagine I’ll get into some of my favorite quotes when we see “Lost Our Lisa” again in the next phase of the tournament, because…

The winner is: 5F17: “Lost Our Lisa.”

Round 24: Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish vs. Homer the Vigilante

Round 24: 7F01 vs. 1F09.

7F01: “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish
(Season 2 / November 1, 1990)
Written by Sam Simon & John Swartzwelder
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Mr. Burns' political campaign, channeling Citizen Kane.

It is, in fact, not true than you can recreate the movie Citizen Kane entirely from clips of The Simpsons, but you can get pretty close, and this episode will certainly get you part of the way there.

Not much to say about this one. The voices and character models make it look a bit dated, which can be expected from a 23 year old cartoon. That episodes from just a year later don’t look dated at all – now that’s amazing.

1F09: “Homer the Vigilante” (Season 5 / January 6, 1994)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer Simpson riding an atomic bomb like in Dr. Strangelove.

I love all the references and absurd jokes, but they kinda get in the way of the story, which is very thin. As with anything from the Mirkin years it’s a high quality production, the animation and the score are beautiful. But it’s just not an episode I hold particularly dear.

The winner: 1F09: “Homer the Vigilante.”

Round 23: Bart Gets an F vs. Weekend at Burnsie’s

Round 23: 7F03 vs. DABF11.

7F03: “Bart Gets an F” (Season 2 / October 11, 1990)
Written by David M. Stern
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart and Homer Simpson watching TV.

The guys from Robot Chicken did a Simpsons couch gag for the current season, and there’s a two part making-of video on YouTube. In it, they talk about recreating the look of The Simpsons, which they describe as “two-dimensional,” “flat,” and “even lit.”

And I guess that is what the show looks like these days. But it didn’t use to be that way. In the early years, The Simpsons was beautifully animated, full of cinematic angles, elegant lighting and shadows.

And so it is in “Bart Gets an F,” a sweet and funny episode from a point in the series where they were still figuring out a few of the characters, but all the great stuff is clearly there.

  • How great is Marcia Wallace?
  • I asked David Silverman if the step-dancing giant gorilla Homer watched on TV would eve make a return to the show. Here’s his response.
  • Commentary trivia: Matt reveals why the Simpsons are called the Simpsons: Because they are “Simpletons.” Now you know.

DABF11: “Weekend at Burnsie’s” (Season 13 / April 7, 2002)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Michael Marcantel
Showrunner: Al Jean

Homer Simpson all high from the marijuana cigarettes.

Sigh. Another episode of Family Guy disguised as The Simpsons.

When early Simpsons writers like Conan O’Brien started to introduce more one-off jokes and sight gags that were less and less grounded in reality, Mattt Groening coined the term “rubber-band reality.” Yes, things could get wacky, but the show would always land back on firm ground.

By the point “Weekend at Burnsie’s” aired, that rubber band had snapped. Here Homer is ordering crows around to bring him beer and food, characters and props appear out of thin air when they’re needed, Smithers makes an unconscious Burns dance as a marionette.

The script is all over the place yet goes nowhere. Characters are strung around like lifeless puppets for the sake of a few cheap laughs – and I’m not even talking about Burns. It’s lazy. It’s lifeless. It’s out of this tournament.

The winner: 7F03: “Bart Gets an F.”