128th-Final, Round 13: Lost Our Lisa vs. The Front

128th-final, round 13: 5F17 vs. 9F16.

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

5F17 Lost Our Lisa

Didn’t like it quite as much as last time.

-Lisa: “Can I take the bus to the museum?”
-Homer: “Museum? I don’t like the sound of that.”


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

9F16 The Front

Don’t know what I was going on about last time. Brilliant episode.

The winner: 9F16, “The Front.”

128th-Final, Round 3: Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment vs. The Trouble with Trillions

128th-final, round 3: 7F13 vs. 5F14
Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment vs. The Trouble with Trillions

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

The Simpsons 7F13 Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment

vs.

5F14: “The Trouble with Trillions” (Season 9 / April 5, 1998)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham. Directed by Swinton O. Scott III
Showrunner: Mike Scully

5F14

So, two big questions: First: which of these episodes do I like more? Second: will it take me another two months to write another 50 word blog post?

I really do like both of these, and it’s kinda hard to even compare them because they are so different in style and Simpsons-ness. But in the end I just gotta go with 7F13, even though 5F14 has some of my favorite jokes ever.

  • Fantastic touch of having Ned look directly at the viewer when talking about “the folks who just don’t feel like working, God bless ‘em.”
  • -Moe: “So, Lenny, let’s say you pull a thorn out of the pope’s butt and he grants you one wish. What’ll it be?” -Lenny: “Hm. Only one, huh? Well, I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to wear something that’s been ironed.”

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

And as for that second question… we’ll see.

Round 116: Simpson Tide vs. Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk

Round 116: 3G04 vs. 8F09.

3G04: “Simpson Tide” (Season 9 / March 29, 1998)
Written by Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia
Directed by Milton Gray
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Ten Minutes Later - the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in flames

In every other context I’d say this is a great, immensely funny half-hour of television, but the tournament demands a bit more scrutiny, I’m afraid.

Pop culture references and non-sequiter asides have been a part of what made The Simpsons great from the very start, but by the time this episode aired the amount of seemingly random cutaways had reached an almost inflationary level. Homer’s Planet of the Apes-inspired doughnut nightmare, Moe hosting Russian roulette straight out of The Deer Hunter, the ship’s crew (including, rather improbably, the Village People and Mr. Smithers) performing “In the Navy,” “Spanish Fly” playing over the submarine’s speakers, the whole thing with the Soviet Union, including the raising of both the Berlin Wall and the animated corpse of Vladimir Lenin. They’re all funny gags, but it’s starting to get a bit overwhelming. (And I haven’t even mentioned that the whole plot and most of the scenes or set pieces are direct homages to the movie Crimson Tide.)

The DVD commentaries for episodes of this era sometimes mention that the show turned away from this style after Family Guy came along and ripped off– I mean, happened to heavily rely on it, as well. “Simpson Tide” very much felt like an episode of Family Guy, to me, which I don’t mean in a bad way, at all. It’s enjoyable. It’s funny. It makes some smart observations and commentary, like the references to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or the rapid spread of Starbuckses.

But still it’s missing something. Heart, maybe? Or that certain, indefinable spark?

  • Love the Rocky & Bullwinkle couch gag.
  • -“I’m a man of few words.      Any questions?”

8F09: “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” (Season 3 / December 5, 1991)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Smithers and Mr. Burns outside of Moe's Tavern

Ooh, the Germans.

That “The Land of Chocolate” has lost none of its appeal in the two decades since this episode aired is of course primarily owed to David Silverman’s gorgeous drawings and Alf Clausen’s infectious music. But, to go back to what I was saying about “Simpson Tide,” it certainly helped that the segment wasn’t buried amid half a dozen similarly crazy things.

It’s a stand-out moment, for sure, but it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the episode, either. For me, this one’s an easy decision. See you next round, Hans und Fritz!

  • -Homer: “Lisa, your father needs your help. Do you know anything about Germany?”
    -Lisa: “Well, it’s a country in Europe.”
    -Homer: “Good, good. I’m learning.”

The winner: 8F09, “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk.”

Round 106: Trash of the Titans vs. Lisa the Simpson

Round 106: 5F09 vs. 4F24.

5F09: “Trash of the Titans” (Season 9 / April 26, 1998)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Homer Simpson and the Garbage Men Can

Well.

I always loved this episode. It’s funny. It’s got Steve Martin in a great guest spot that’s an actual character and not just a pointless cameo. There’s the song, of course.

So it’s a good episode. But it’s not a good Simpsons episode. If anything, it’s that rare beast, a good Zombie Simpsons episode. It’s a fun idea, but you could swap out Homer Simpson for Peter Griffin and nothing would be lost. Actually, I think this story would have made more sense on Family Guy.

Steve Martin’s character is molded in the Frank Grimes fashion, a “real life” person visiting the cartoon world. To get maximum contrast they had to amp up the wackiness, of course. Homer is in peak jerk-mode, which can be fun, for a short while. But it leaves an aftertaste.


4F24: “Lisa the Simpson” (Season 9 / March 8, 1998)
Written by Ned Goldreyer
Directed by Susie Dietter
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Lisa Simpson alone in her classroom

This episode aired just a few weeks before “Trash of the Titans,” but it feels very different. That’s because “Lisa the Simpson” was one of the last shows produced under Oakley & Weinstein, before Mike Scully took over as showrunner. I like some of Scully’s episodes, but there really is a tangible shift in how The Simpsons look and feel between these episodes.

Sorry, Bono, but the winner is: 4F24, “Lisa the Simpson.”

Round 104: Last Exit to Springfield vs. The Cartridge Family

Round 104: 9F15 vs. 5F01.

9F15: “Last Exit to Springfield” (Season 4 / March 11, 1993)
Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Homer Simpson in Mr. Burns' office, polar bear and dramatic shadows and all

Two things tangentially related to this episode (which is perfect, by the way):

  • Not only would I demand “Now do Classical Gas.” from anyone who had just finished a song on the guitar in my vicinity for many years (although not as much recently), I also credit the mention of Mason Williams‘ song in this episode for leading me, via Google – or whatever it was we used to google things back then (AltaVista?) – to another Mason Williams, and, more specifically, his groundbreaking, exceptional, 1,000-days web comic project 1/0, which remains one of my all-time favorite pieces of literature and which you should go and read, like, right now.
  • I saw Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” the other day, and as the credits rolled I noticed the name Wally Wolodarsky, who, with Jay Kogen, wrote this and many other classic Simpsons episodes. He appeared in a couple of Anderson’s films, mostly in small roles but also more prominently in “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” which is something I always forget about so it’s a surprise each time a new one comes around.

5F01: “The Cartridge Family” (Season 9 / November 2, 1997)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Pete Michels
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Homer Simpson gunning down a plate

Well. This is a rather problematic episode. I kinda remembered at least respecting it for its anti-gun stance, and Homer buying the gun (Five days? But I’m mad now!) does make for a good clip.

But the episode’s actual message, if it has any, is pretty murky. Homer’s jerk-mode is dialed up to 11, making even the NRA look sane and rational in comparison, and the last scene not only conveys that guns can be useful if in the hands of the right people (which is quite troublesome in itself) but then tags along the even more disturbing message that, hey, guns are pretty cool.

Anyway, none of it really matters. 9F15 clearly is the superior episode. So:

The winner: 9F15, “Last Exit to Springfield.”

Round 100: Separate Vocations vs. Das Bus

Round 100: 8F15 vs. 5F11.

8F15: “Separate Vocations” (Season 3 / February 27, 1992)
Written by George Meyer
Directed by Jeffrey Lynch
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Mayor Quimby polling the electorate.

I enjoyed how dynamic this episode was. Jeff Lynch does some fantastic action-directing, especially in the police car chase and later in the Bart-as-hall-monitor montage, which featured a terrific score, as well. And of course the episode is drawn and animated beautifully – this is the third season, after all.

The story, centered on Bart and Lisa, exploring their characters by putting them in unusual positions, still feels fresh and relevant 22 years after it first aired. It’s always fun to see the kids behave like kids in situations that, while exciting, are not some of the crazy, outlandish things people on TV are thrown into at times.

(Like, I dunno, being stranded on a deserted island or something like that.)


5F11: “Das Bus” (Season 9 / February 15, 1998)
Written by David S. Cohen
Directed by Pete Michels
Showrunners: Mike Scully

The children sit around a camp fire on the deserted island

It’s a very funny episode, but also a very gimmicky one that doesn’t quite hold up to repeat viewings like “Separate Vocations” does.

Homer’s Internet business is a nice little time capsule, and Dan’s reading of “It’s Patty” as he hands Marge the phone is among my favorite things he’s ever done.

The winner: 8F15, “Separate Vocations.”

Round 6: The Trouble with Trillions vs. Simpsons Bible Stories

Round 6: 5F14 vs. AABF14.

5F14: “The Trouble with Trillions” (Season 9 / April 5, 1998)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Swinton O. Scott III
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Homer Simpson filling out his tax returns.

“Marge, if anyone asks, you require 24-hour nursing care, Lisa’s a clergyman, Maggie is seven people, and Bart was wounded in Vietnam.”

Did you file your taxes yet? The idea of starting the episode on New Year’s Eve, have Ned file his returns the next morning (“8:45? Here I am yapping away like it’s 8:35!”) and then fast-forwarding to April 15 is a great one. From there it’s a long way to Burns, Smithers and Homer on a raft returning from Cuba, but the episode gets there in a semi-believable way, so that’s okay.

  • This episode marks the first time in this tournament (but not in the series) that the Charles Nelson Reilly noise is employed (without the collar yank, though). Last month I asked Simpsons writer Matt Selman how they represent the Charles Nelson Reilly noise in the scripts. Answer: “[Charles Nelson Reilly noise].” Those crazy writers and their technical terms!
  • – “Daddy, what do taxes pay for?”
    – “Oh, why, everything! Policeman, trees, sunshine. And let’s not forget the folks who just don’t feel like working, God bless ’em.”
  • I would have never noticed it without Ian Maxtone-Graham pointing it out in the commentary, but ever since then Homer’s package magically turning into a ball of string makes me laugh every time I see it.
  • When Homer asks the guys in the bar to talk about crimes being committed, they specifically reference things he did in past episodes: running moonshine out of his basement, a telemarketing scam, and the time he beat up George Bush.

AABF14: “Simpsons Bible Stories” (Season 10 / April 4, 1999)
Written by Tim Long, Larry Doyle, Matt Selman
Directed by Nancy Kruse
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Reverend Lovejoy and a melting, chocolate Easter bunny.

Huh. I kinda remember at the very least not actively disliking this episode, and maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood today, but the thing is: watching it again, I didn’t laugh once. In fact, all that my notes say about “Bible Stories” is “didn’t laugh once” and “oh, look, it’s the Orb of Isis from ‘Lost Our Lisa.’ That was great episode.”

The winner: 5F14: “The Trouble with Trillions.”