128th-Final, Round 8: Homie the Clown vs. Bart’s Girlfriend

128th-final, round 8: 2F12 vs. 2F04.

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

I love Homer's expression here so, so much.

I love Homer’s expression here so, so much.

vs.

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

The Simpsons 2F04 Bart’s Girlfriend

I watched these two back to back on the projector the other day. Usually I watch ’em on my computer but a friend was over for a movie and afterwards we put in the good old Simpsons DVDs. So my main observation for both of these season 6 episodes is how great they look on the big screen. I know I say this every week but back in its prime the show was so cinematic! You’ve got low angles and elaborate action scenes and dramatic close-ups and all that kind of stuff. Sitcoms are usually not the most sophisticated, visually speaking. They all look kinda… flat. These don’t.

I laughed way more during “Homie the Clown” than the other one. I think under David Mirkin they had figured out the sweet spot between Homer being a lovable goof you want to root for and him causing trouble and injury to those around him and himself, not through malice but kinda just by being there. There’s a moment here where he beats up the guy in the Hamburglar costume half to death that I wish they had toned down a bit, or even taken out completely. I get why it’s funny and maybe it’s so out there with its violence that it becomes okay again? I don’t know.

(I’m extra rambly today for reasons. Sorry if none of this is coherent.)

2F12 is like a mini masterclass in comedic timing, too. Three fantastic moments rely entirely on pauses: when Homer falls into the burger props outside the Krusty Burger, when he is ejected out of his car after crashing it in front of the Van Houten place, and when Flanders repeatedly gets shot. They all involve silences or a few seconds of nothing happening, and they’re made exponentially funnier because of that.

“Bart’s Girlfriend” is a very different kind of episode. It doesn’t rely on the loud, funny moments as much, but instead focuses on what Bart’s going through, giving his story enough room to resonate with us and feel more true to life. (I guess “falling in love with a troublemaker and having your heart broken” IS more relatable than “enrolling in clown college and getting kidnapped by the mafia”?)

You know what? Up until a minute ago I was gonna let 2F04 win this one but now that I’ve written all this and looked through the episodes again I’m going with “Homie the Clown.” They’re pretty much equally great and last night I would have picked “Bart’s Girlfriend.” But this isn’t last night. Sorry, Meryl Streep. You were great, though.

The winner: 2F12, “Homie the Clown.”

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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 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.”

Round 123: Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 1 vs. New Kids on the Blecch

Round 123: 2F16 vs. CABF12.

2F16: “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part One” (Season 6 / May 21, 1995)
Written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunner: David Mirkin

2F16 Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part One

I like it.


CABF12: “New Kids on the Blecch” (Season 12 / February 25, 2001)
Written by Tim Long
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Showrunner: Mike Scully

CABF12 New Kids on the Blecch

Funniest part of the episode. I think it’s the first act break. Maybe it’s the second? They were both pretty great.

I don’t like it.

The winner: 2F16, “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part One.” Sorry, again, for being so short on words these days. But right now it’s either moving the tournament along without writing a lot, or not posting any new rounds at all.

Round 120: Brush with Greatness vs. Homer the Great

Round 120: 7F18 vs. 2F09.

7F18: “Brush with Greatness” (Season 2 / April 11, 1991)
Written by Brian K. Roberts
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart and Lisa Simpson pestering Homer, asleep on the couch.

“Will you take us to Mt. Splashmore?”

Season 2 just keeps on delivering fantastic episodes. And I shouldn’t be surprised by that at this point, but for some reason I’m not quite as familiar with the Brooks/Groening/Simon years than, say the Mirkin ones. So they feel a bit fresher, maybe? Because I’ve only seen them ten times before, and not 50?

In any case, “Brush With Greatness” is just wonderful, from Mt. Splashmore to all the references to classic movies that I can only now fully appreciate, to Ringo Starr and Mr. Burns’ genitals. I think that even when I watched this at 10 years-old I knew that it was great and special, even though I didn’t really know why or had the right words to describe it. Not that I have today.

  • From the commentary, during Krusty’s “I Want to Go to Mt. Splasmore” song:
    -Brian Roberts: “I think this [segment] was a Jeff Martin special, wasn’t it?”
    -Al Jean: “The dialogue, I think, we wrote– a bunch of us. I think George [Meyer] wrote ‘Now! Now! Now! Now! Now!‘”

2F09: “Homer the Great” (Season 6 / January 8, 1995)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Lisa and Homer Simpson

I used to love this episode. I don’t really, anymore. Sure, there’s a lot of funny stuff, but not much else, really. And it’s all stretched so far and so off-the-wall crazy that it no longer feels like it’s grounded in anything “The Simpsons” used to be. So my complaints about this episode from season 6 are basically the same ones I have with episodes from season 20. “It was better back in my day,” with both “better” and “my day” being completely arbitrary and wholly subjective matters.

But this is, after all, about what I like, not what’s good, or what I used to like. And right now, given the choice to watch either “Brush With Greatness” or “Homer the Great” again, I’d very much like to pick the former.

The winner: 7F18, “Brush with Greatness.”

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.

A Hypothetical Aside and Round 113: Homer Badman vs. The Wandering Juvie

Before we get to Round 113, a thought experiment.

Imagine The Simpsons had ended in 1998, with nine seasons aired. After Oakley & Weinstein finished their production run with “Lisa the Simpson,” the network decided not to order any more episodes. Maybe the actors wanted too much money or something. Stranger things have happened.

So the show’s cancelled and the fans are upset, naturally. Yes, there are already many who claim The Simpsons have jumped the shark and haven’t been up to the high standards set by its early seasons in years. And that whole Armin Tamzarian debacle? Let’s not even talk about it. But surely the show could have had a few more decent years if given the chance!

Alas, it’s not meant to be. The Simpsons are history. Fox is already developing a new cartoon to take up the time slot. Another family sitcom. But this time there’s a talking dog. Great.

Even with the show off the air, there’s still money to be made with the Simpsons brand, though. The next decade will see the release of all nine seasons on DVD and old episodes repeated ad nauseam in syndication. You can buy Bart’s face on a pair of shorts and Homer’s on a box of donuts.

And then the same thing will happen to The Simpsons that has happened to every single marketable franchise in the history of popular culture. They will come back. Just like The Muppets and the Looney Tunes and the Star Trek.

If you told Simpsons fans from my hypothetical 1998 that 15 years later they could turn on the television and watch a show called “The Simpsons,” with characters that look almost exactly as the ones they know, only slightly more polished (The animation’s digital now!) and with voices that, while recognizable, sound ever so slightly off (Did they get all the original voice actors back? Are they all still alive? Maybe they forgot how to do the voices?), and credits that feature some familiar names but also a lot of new ones — they wouldn’t be surprised. They brought back “Lost in Space,” for Pete’s sake! Of course they’d bring back “The Simpsons.”

Would they like the reboot? Who knows. Probably not, but they wouldn’t really care, either way. They would recognize that it’s a different show, for a different audience. For a different time. A different mindset.

I don’t think they’d give it much thought. They have their Simpsons, this decade has theirs. General consensus would probably be that Classic Simpsons is better than New Simpsons. There’d be debates online, of course. But in general everybody would understand that none if it really matters. Certainly no one would devise an elaborate tournament that includes individual episodes of both distinctive shows.

That would be like a tournament set up to find one person’s “favorite episode of Cheers or Family Ties.”

I’ll get further into all of this and what it means for the tournament in a few weeks, after round 128 (and the 256th-finale). Until then, let’s compare some apples and oranges.

 

Round 113: 2F06 vs. FABF11.

2F06: “Homer Badman” (Season 6 / November 27, 1994)
Written by Greg Daniels
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer Simpson curled up in bed watching The Late Show with David Letterman

I’m not a huge fan of this episode’s first act, but once the media satire kicks in I’m fully on board. The portrayal of 24 hour news coverage, wild speculation and valuing entertainment over information may seem tame today, but when this aired 20 years ago the dramatic escalation of events was considered more a cautionary tale than an accurate depiction. If only they’d listened.

  • – ” ♫ There’ll be no accusations, just friendly crustaceans — under the sea! ♫ “

FABF11: “The Wandering Juvie” (Season 15 / March 28, 2004)
Written by John Frink & Don Payne
Directed by Lauren MacMullan
Showrunner: Al Jean

Blacksmith

Not even a minute in and Homer gets trampled on by a horde of shoppers. Heels in the eyes and everything. I’ve covered before how I hate that physically abusing Homer got to be more and more a go to for cheap laughs as the seasons reached double digits. Only I’m not laughing.

The rest of the episode’s not any funnier, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen or anything. Charles Napier and Sarah Michelle Gellar do a good job as guest actors and there are a couple of nice-looking shots here and there.

The winner: 2F06, “Homer Badman.”