Round 79: Bart of Darkness vs. The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson

Round 79: 1F22 vs. 4F22. Whoa.

1F22: “Bart of Darkness” (Season 6 / September 4, 1994)
Written by Dan McGrath
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Bart Simpson reading MAD Magazine (NYPD Blecch)

I have probably written about this before (I mean, I guess? No way to be sure.), but the thing that I love most about The Simpsons is that there are so many levels to it, so many different ways to enjoy it. And this episode is the perfect embodiment of that. You can watch this without ever having seen “Rear Window” or anything by Hitchcock – as I did when I first saw the episode – and get a great deal of joy from it. And once you know the movie – as I do now – you have this whole new layer of references and homages to appreciate. And then you listen to the commentary and you learn even more things that enrich your experience of watching the episode. But the beauty of it is that you don’t need to know anything to enjoy it.

This episode is perfect. Not one wrong note.

4F22: “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” (Season 9 / September 21, 1997)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Alfred E. Neuman in the MAD Magazine offices

This has got to be one of the toughest rounds in the tournament. I love both episodes a great deal, and it sucks to see one of them leave so early. “Bart of Darkness” really does hit all high notes, while there are some (minor, but still) things in “The City of New York” that I don’t like that much. Homer gets his dose of physical punishment here, and while it’s miles away from the awful things he’d have to endure in later seasons, it’s still something I don’t like to see.

But then again, the high notes it does have hit higher than the ones in 1F22. “Kickin’ It,” written by Ken Keeler, is my favorite musical number of the whole series, Homer’s New York-flashback is a truly beautiful bit of animation, and the ending with Homer driving out of the city makes me smile just thinking about it.

So, once again, I have to ask myself the question: If I could only see one of these two episodes again, with the other one being forever lost, which would I pick?

The winner, after much hemming and hawing: 4F22, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson.” This really could’ve gone either way. Maybe if I saw “Bart of Darkness” last I would have picked it. This one’s gonna haunt me.


Round 78: D’oh-in’ in the Wind vs. And Maggie Makes Three

Round 78: AABF02 vs. 2F10.

AABF02: “D’oh-in’ in the Wind” (Season 10 / November 15, 1998)
Written by Donick Cary
Directed by Mark Kirkland & Matthew Nastuk
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Grandpa Abe Simpson at Woodstock

Original here.

An okay episode. Homer’s not very likable here, which bothers me a bit, but it’s got some good stuff, too. Look, the less I write here the sooner I get to watch “And Maggie Makes Three.”

2F10: “And Maggie Makes Three” (Season 6 / January 22, 1995)
Written by Jennifer Crittenden
Directed by Swinton O. Scott III
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer and Marge Simpson taking a walk on the moonlit beach

Crittenden and Mirkin just go perfect with each other. She brings heart, he brings… whatever organ of his it is that comes up with the funny stuff.

  • “I’m gonna march right up to Al and say: Steve. I mean, Al, I think I deserve a raise.”

The winner: 2F10, “And Maggie Makes Three.”

Round 77: The Seemingly Never-Ending Story vs. Dancin’ Homer

Round 77: HABF06 vs. 7F05.

HABF06: “The Seemingly Never-Ending Story” (Season 17 / March 12, 2006)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Raymond Persi
Showrunner: Al Jean

Cowboy Duffman entering Moe's Tavern

Episodes like this one, “Eternal Moonshine” or “Moe Letter Blues” are to be lauded, I guess, for trying something new, for breaking out of standard narrative structures.

It’s just… well… sigh. Zombie Simpsons can’t help being what it is. If they made the monorail episode today it’d probably have a scene of Homer being violently bitten in the scrotum by an opossum. Like I said the other day: restraint and focus are long gone.

And it’s too bad. I kept thinking this script could have made a really great episode of Futurama. But here, it’s just another wasted opportunity.

7F05: “Dancin’ Homer” (Season 2 / November 8, 1990)
Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Mysterious stranger in silhouette

Nice little proto-Simpsons outing. Tony Bennett!

The winner: 7F05, “Dancin’ Homer.”


Round 76: The PTA Disbands vs. Principal Charming

Round 76: 2F19 vs. 7F15.

2F19: “The PTA Disbands” (Season 6 / April 16, 1995)
Written by Jennifer Crittenden
Directed by Swinton O. Scott III
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Girl left alone hanging from the rings in gymnastics class

“Mrs. Pommelhorst?”

Very good story with a lot of Mirken-esque touches. I am again reminded how important Marcia Wallace and Maggie Roswell are to the show. These school-centered episodes gain so much from their performances.

  • -“Sorry, Bart. I’m deeply immersed in the Teapot Dome scandal.”
    -“However, it might be feasible in a fortnight.”
    -“I can play in two weeks.”

7F15: “Principal Charming” (Season 2 / February 14, 1991)
Written by David Stern
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Principal Skinner shaking his fist all Gone With the Wind like

“After all, tomorrow is another school day!”

What I love about the early seasons is that there is so much effort put into making the movie references, in this case to Vertigo, The Terminator and Gone With the Wind, not only funny but also beautiful to look at.

Looking back you notice the characters behaving in ways slightly off from what they would become, but I don’t mind that. I like the way Homer and Bart are integral to Skinner and Patty and Selma’s stories but don’t feel shoehorned in.

The winner: 2F19, “The PTA Disbands.”

And a sad addendum: After I wrote this round I heard the news that Marcia Wallace passed away. I have praised her performance as Ms. Krabappel on many occasions and I’m sure there will be more of that as the tournament goes on. Along with other frequent guest actors like Maggie Roswell, Phil Hartman, Albert Brooks and Kelsey Grammer, Wallace was integral to giving life to the secondary citizens of Springfield, and whenever Krabappel was made center of an episode she made her as real and deep as any life-action performer would have. Springfield Elementary won’t be the same without her.


Round 75: Homer’s Night Out vs. A Star is Burns

Round 75: 7G10 vs. 2F31.

7G10: “Homer’s Night Out” (Season 1 / March 25, 1990)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Developed by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Halfway through this episode I scribbled in my notes something about how prudish it seemed that Marge would kick Homer out of the house just for dancing with an ecdysiast (that’s the fancy word for stripper). Talk about sex-negativity!

But then Marge explained to Homer (and me) why she was so angry: because he was being a bad role-model for Bart by letting him see his father treat a woman like an object and not a human being. The third act, with Homer taking Bart to see and talk to Princess Kashmir, was what really sold me on this episode. She is portrayed neither as a saint nor a whore, just a person doing a job. Not bad for a cartoon from over twenty years ago.

2F31: “A Star is Burns” (Season 6 / March 5, 1995)
Written by Ken Keeler
Directed by Susie Dietter
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Developed by James L. Brooks, Sam Simon

I’m not exactly siding with Matt Groening here – a crossover to promote another show is fine, especially considering the things he didn’t pull his name from – but Jim Brooks gleefully rubbing it in (the absent and unmentioned) Matt’s face on the commentary doesn’t make him look all that great, either.

The episode itself is fine. A few memorable lines, and the movie parodies and references are very well done. But nothing extraordinary.

The winner: 7G10, “Homer’s Night Out.”


Round 74: Lisa’s First Word vs. Deep Space Homer

Round 74: 9F08 vs. 1F13.

9F08: “Lisa’s First Word” (Season 4 / December 3, 1992)
Written by Jeff Martin
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Marge Simpson with Baby Bart on the steps

A sequel of sorts to “The Way We Was,” this is a fantastic flashback episode. The slightly younger designs are inspired, the jokes and references to mid-eighties pop culture are a lot of fun, and of course I always fall for well-told stories centered around the family.

1F13: “Deep Space Homer” (Season 5 / February 24, 1994)
Written by David Mirkin
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer Simpson casting a long shadow

“I’ll show him inanimate!”

This episode has David Mirkin written all over it. Like, literally, he wrote it and he’s the showrunner. And you can tell by all the craziness and non sequiturs, especially in contrast to the Al & Jean episode above. They are both very good, and in a way, they’re both winners. But in another, more accurate way, “Deep Space Homer” is the winner.

  • No SNPP crow?
  • Dan Castellaneta doing Charlton Heston’s “lament” from The Planet of the Apes (the movie, not the planet) is one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard.

The winner: 1F13, “Deep Space Homer.”


Round 73: E. Pluribus Wiggum vs. Homer Loves Flanders

Round 73: KABF03 vs. 1F14.

KABF03: “E. Pluribus Wiggum” (Season 19 / January 6, 2008)
Written by Michael Price
Directed by Michael Polcino
Showrunner: Al Jean

Ralph Wiggum surrounded by cameras and microphones

You know how when George Lucas first wrote Star Wars it was pretty terrible but as he started showing the script to people he got all sorts of input and made changes to it and it go better but then when he became super rich and successful he decided he didn’t want anybody else’s opinion on anything ever again so he wrote and directed Episode I pretty much in a vacuum, only surrounded by a bunch of yea-sayers who only encouraged him and all his dumb ideas?

You know?

1F14: “Homer Loves Flanders” (Season 5 / March 17, 1994)
Written by David Richardson
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer Simpson chasing after Rod and Todd Flanders with golf clubs, Terminator 2 style

Huh. Not really feeling this one, either. Some clever jokes and references, but overall I just don’t like this episode very much.

The winner: 1F14, “Homer Loves Flanders.”