128th-Final, Round 14: The Day the Violence Died vs. The Call of the Simpsons

128th-final, round 14: 3F16 vs. 7G09.

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

Bart and Lisa Simpson watching Itchy and Scratchy on TV


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

Marge and Lisa Simpson at a camp fire in the woods

Two great Swartzwelder/Archer episodes in this round. While there are certainly many differences in the look and feel and even the characters between seasons 1 and 7, the writer and director have undeniably put their stamp on either episode. Swartwelder’s crazy one-liners and out-there references are present in both of these, as is Archer’s lovingly detailed and beautifully drawn animation.

Albert Brooks“The Day the Violence Died” has great voice performances from guests Kirk Douglas, Alex Rocco, and Phil Hartman (and singing from Jack Sheldon!), while in “The Call of the Simpsons” we get a wonderful scene with Albert Brooks as the sleazy RV-salesman, who kinda reminded me of Walton Goggins’ character in “The Hateful Eight” this time around.

I always think that Season 1 doesn’t really stand much of a chance in this tournament because it can be so different from what the show would become later, but watching these two back-to-back I have to say that I enjoyed 7G09 a lot more than I would have expected. So, in what might be considered kind of an upset, …

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


Round 117: Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire vs. Bart vs. Australia

Round 117: 7G08 vs. 2F13.

7G08: “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (Season 1 / December 17, 1989)
Written by Mimi Pond
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Homer Simpson in the snow

What I love most about The Simpsons Christmas Special is how on its surface it looks like a pretty typical family-sitcom holiday episode – the family’s in dire straits, the father doesn’t get his bonus, Christmas is ruined! – but then goes on to completely subvert any lesson or resolution the audience (especially one from that time, when not everything on TV was subversion) might have expected to happen.

2F13: “Bart vs. Australia” (Season 6 / February 19, 1995)
Written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunner: David Mirkin

A man on the roof of a house floating in lava answering a payphone

While the few minor complaints I have about this episode (mostly Homer’s a bit too aggressively jerky behavior) could hurt its chances in upcoming rounds of the tournament, and even though I do like “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” quite a bit …

… the winner is 2F13, “Bart vs. Australia.” For Lava Guy alone.

Round 101: Homer’s Odyssey vs. Some Enchanted Evening

Round 101: 7G03 vs. 7G01.

7G03: “Homer’s Odyssey” (Season 1 / January 21, 1990)
Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Homer sneaking into Bart's room at night

The first season can be a very strange beast. To take your main character (or at least his father) to the brink of actual suicide is a daring thing to do in any sitcom, but even more so in an animated one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work here. Both the way there and especially the ‘resolution,’ if you can call it that, are weak, at best, at times even downright messy.

  • I remember having this episode (or a version thereof) on an audio cassette tape (triple redundancy for any readers under 30) that I would listen to before going to bed. Because, you know, children love hearing about fathers wanting to throw themselves off a bridge last thing before they go to sleep. That would never, in no way, mess with their heads, right?
  • Right?

7G01: “Some Enchanted Evening” (Season 1 / May 13, 1990)
Written by Matt Groening & Sam Simon
Directed by David Silverman, Kent Butterworth
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Homer Simpson, one red rose in hand, standing in the rain in front of his house

This one’s a lot more coherent than “Homer’s Odyssey,” plot-wise, but the main reason it’s an easy decision for me to have “Some Enchanted Evening” advance to the 128th-final is evidenced by the torrent of screenshots I took while watching it. It’s a beautiful show, as all of Silverman’s episodes are, and I’ll be glad to visit it again in the next phase of this tournament.

The winner: 7G01, “Some Enchanted Evening.”

Round 5: Bart the Genius vs. Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment

First season! Second season! Fight!

Round 5: 7G02 vs. 7F13 (Bracket)

7G02: “Bart the Genius” (Season 1 / January 14, 1990)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart and Homer Simpson playing Scrabble.

“KWYJIBO: A big, dumb, balding, North American ape with no chin.”

To be honest, when I whittled down the number of episodes to the 256 I needed for the bracket to work, I thought twice about whether to include all or even any of the thirteen episodes from the show’s first season. They are not ones I go back to all that often, because while I do remember them with a certain fondness, I also recall that they are very slowly paced, kinda crudely animated and just on a different level, quality-wise, than even the ones from the season that followed. Watching “Bart the Genius” again last night, a few things struck me:

  • The very first chalkboard gag of “The Simpsons” to appear on television is Bart writing “I will not waste chalk.” over and over. Ha!
  • As a Scrabble fan, I enjoy the scene of the family playing it very much. A lot of great gags here, from Homer’s inability to recognize “OXIDIZE” as a word to, of course, Bart’s definition of “KWYJIBO.”
  • Loved Bart’s fantasy sequence: “At 7:30 a.m., an express train traveling 60 miles an hour leaves Santa Fe bound for Phoenix, 520 miles away…
  • The visit to the Opera (“Carmen,” in Russian, because the producers didn’t have to pay for that) is full of nice touches. I like that Lisa, being a kid after all, is joining in on Bart and Homer’s fun.
  • And in general, as much as the early years stress the Bart vs. Homer-dynamic, the scenes that did the most for me were of the two actually bonding. (Still, it’s weird hearing Bart call Homer “Dad.”)

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

Homer Simpson on the couch, watching TV at night

“They must think people will watch anything.”

Here’s a secret: I’m a pretty big “Simpsons” fan. Always have been. And not just because it’s a funny sitcom. Because it’s important. Because it can make a difference.

I’m not saying this episode, which I first saw when I was Bart’s age, taught me that it’s wrong to steal, but I’m not not saying it, either. What stood out to me the most about watching it again was how emotional it is. I’ve actually got a little misty-eyed when Homer joined Lisa’s protest in the end. I think this tournament will show that this is something that identifies my favorite “Simpsons” episodes: the flawless combination of humor and heart.

  • Phil Hartman is all over this one, as Moses, the cable guy and, in his first appearance, Troy McClure.
  • I’ll get into this more as the tournament goes on, as well, but another thing that makes “The Simpsons” stand out is on how many levels it can be appreciated. As a child I didn’t notice the direct reference to “North by Northwest,” (or the ones to “The Ten Commandments,” for that matter) but I still thought it was a funny scene.
  • The scene in Sunday school was, I believe, the first time I encountered the word “thou” in my life.
  • “Bart! You’re no longer in Sunday school. Don’t swear!”
  • Beautiful animation all around. The lighting of the night scenes (see above), Lisa’s fantasy of the family in hell and Homer’s fear of going to jail especially stood out.

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

Round 2: Lisa’s Date with Density vs. The Crepes of Wrath

Second Round! 4F01 vs. 7G13 (128th-final 2 of 128)

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

Milhouse making eyes at Nelson

“Guess who likes you!”

What a wonderful episode! The “Lisa loves Nelson” storyline explores a new side to Lisa without corrupting her established character (like a more recent episode might) and Homer’s tele-panhandling adventures (which I forgot were in this episode) are among The Simpsons‘ finest moments.

  • Great performances by Yeardley and Nancy. One thing the show has always excelled at is making the kids do, say and feel things kids might actually do, say and feel.
  • Remember how I hate Angry Homer? Well, I love Happy Homer, and we get a lot of him in the autodialer B-story. Sure, his plan to call every number in town and ask for a Dollar is misguided, but it comes from a loving place, not a mean one. Mean Homer is the biggest turn-off for me (as in, turn off the TV, not what you perv were thinking), but there’s no sign of him here.
  • We do get Homer yelling at the Flanderses (“Will you two shut up? People are trying to sleep!“), but it, too, doesn’t come from a mean or cruel place. And Dan‘s staccato screaming makes it one of the most enjoyable things in this episode.

I’d quote some of the many great lines, but I was too enthralled to take notes, which is always a good sign.

7G13: “The Crepes of Wrath” (Season 1, April 15, 1990)
Written by George Meyer, Sam Simon, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti
Directed by Wes Archer, Milton Gray
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart Simpson, wearing a beret, coming home from France

Yep, he’s been to France alright.

This episode feels like a childhood memory to me, which, given that I first saw it when I was around ten years old, I guess it is. To this day I use what it taught me about Albania (the flag is a two-headed eagle on red ground) and France (cops wear funny hats) on a daily basis.

  • The first season’s opening titles are 90 seconds long! If you’d send me a link to a YouTube clip this long I’d think twice on whether I want to waste my precious time on that.
  • Homer’s voice is still very much Walter Matthau’s. And the big thing is still that Bart is Homer’s nemesis. And Skinner’s nemesis. (Bart is nemesis to a lot of people.)
  • – “Ah, the life of a frog. That’s the life for me.”
    – “Bart, how would you like to spend the next three months living in France?”
  • Many crazy character designs that would look very off in the show just two years later, but also very beautiful animation, especially with light and shadows.
  • My very favorite thing: Bart and César driving through lovingly rendered versions of famous paintings:
    7G13 PaintingsClaude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Rousseau, Édouard Manet (Click to enlarge. From top-left, clockwise: Monet, van Gogh, Rousseau, Manet.)

I give it 3.5 stars. It’s nice, but it’s not quite the show that I love, yet.

Winner: 4F01. And, again, here’s the bracket. Have you picked your Sweet 32, yet?