128th-Final, Round 9: Lisa’s Pony vs. Treehouse of Horror IV

128th-final, round 9: 8F06 vs. 1F04.

8F06: “Lisa’s Pony” (Season 3 / November 7, 1991)
Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss. Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpsons 8F06 Lisa’s Pony

vs.

1F04: “Treehouse of Horror IV” (Season 5 / October 28, 1993)
Written by Conan O’Brien, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Greg Daniels, Dan McGrath, Bill Canterbury
Directed by David Silverman. Showrunner: David Mirkin

The Simpsons 1F04 Treehouse of Horror IV

(Every time I come on here and apologize for not posting anything for so long and then vowing to do a better job from now on it only gets worse, so I’m not even gonna do that today.)

Whenever a Halloween special comes up on the tournament I go in thinking, well, even if it’s good I’m not gonna pick it over a decent regular episode, right?

Right. But this was a close one. “Treehouse of Horror IV” really is that good, and if I’m ever to rank the Treehouses o. H. I’m sure it will be near the very top. But I’m not doing that today.

The winner: “Lisa’s Pony,” of course.

128th-Final, Round 2: Secrets of a Successful Marriage vs. 22 Short Films About Springfield

128th-final, round 2: 1F20 vs. 3F18.

1F20: “Secrets of a Successful Marriage” (Season 5 / May 19, 1994)
Written by Greg Daniels
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Barney Gumble playing poker

vs.

3F18: “22 Short Films About Springfield” (Season 7 / April 14, 1996)
Written by Richard Appel, David S. Cohen, Jonathan Collier, Jennifer Crittenden, Greg Daniels, Brent Forrester, Rachel Pulido, Steve Tompkins, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein and Matt Groening
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Cletus the slack jawed yokel

Oh, wow. So, after trying to go the “I’m gonna really get into why I like one episode more than the other” route resulted in me not writing anything for almost two months, I decided to just go with my gut, announce the winner here, move on, and hope that I’ll have more to say in the future.

The winner: 3F18, “22 Short Films About Springfield.”

Round 124: Whacking Day vs. Treehouse of Horror III

Round 124: 9F18 vs. 9F04.

9F18: “Whacking Day” (Season 4 / April 29, 1993)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpson 9F18 Whacking Day

The way they’re cropping the old episodes for widescreen TVs these days is really getting out of hand.

This episode is so incredibly weird that it’s close to a miracle that it is also so enjoyably good.

It’s not a miracle, though. It’s talent, and hard work. From the writing to the acting, the directing and animation. Every frame, every beat, every joke tells a story about how the people behind the show poured everything they had into making it as great as they possibly could.


9F04: “Treehouse of Horror III” (Season 4 / October 29, 1992)
Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss (Part 1), Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky (Part 2), Sam Simon & Jon Vitti (Part 3)
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpsons 9F04 Treehouse of Horror III

The great thing about the Treehouses of Horror is that odds are, whenever you revisit one of them you’ll have seen an old horror movie, or an episode of The Twilight Zone, or read something by Asimov that will let you appreciate the references, homages, and sometimes even shot-for-shot recreations in a whole new light.

For me, this time, it’s “King Kong.” I hadn’t seen the 1933 movie until a few years ago, when I finally deemed my home theater setup good enough for it. It’s a fantastic movie. And this is a fantastic Halloween episode.

  • Al Jean, on the commentary track, about the 1976 King Kong remake: “It is amazing how a version made forty years after the original is so much worse and less believable.”

The winner: 9F18, “Whacking Day.”

Round 59: Goo Goo Gai Pan vs. Selma’s Choice

Round 59: GABF06 vs. 9F11.

GABF06: “Goo Goo Gai Pan” (Season 16 / March 13, 2005)
Written by Dana Gould
Directed by Lance Kramer
Showrunner: Al Jean

Chinese dragons

I wasn’t a big fan of this episode, but listening to the DVD’s audio commentary made me look at it a bit more favorably, I have to say. Writer Dana Gould based the story on his own experiences of traveling to China to adopt a baby girl, and many of the episode’s beats were directly inspired by real life, including a lesbian woman who had another man pretend to be her husband for the Chinese authorities.

Other highlights of the commentary include anecdotes about guest stars Robert Wagner (slept with Marilyn Monroe) and Lucy Liu (gave a huge basket of cupcakes to the writers).


9F11: “Selma’s Choice” (Season 4 / January 21, 1993)
Written by David M. Stern
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Homer Simpson and a potato chip shaped like the soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima

Selma realizes that time is ticking away and desperately wants to have a child? I’ve heard that before.

The actual plot of this episode is kinda all over the place without really going anywhere. In that aspect, “Goo Goo Gai Pan” handles Selma’s dilemma better – she actually gets a baby in the end, not just an iguana.

Still, “Selma’s Choice” is the better episode. It’s funnier, the animation is more beautiful, Homer gets to eat both potato chips shaped like famous people and a rotten sandwich.

Plus, of course, Lisa’s bad acid trip in Duff Gargens.

  • -“Well, to cheer you up, I rented a couple of videos. ‘Boxing’s Greatest Weigh-Ins‘ and Yentl.'”
    -“Yentl? What’s that?”
    -“It deals with a bookish young woman’s efforts to enter rabbinical school.”
    -“Sounds great!”
    -“Oh my God! You’re delirious.”

The winner: 9F11: “Selma’s Choice.”

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 57: The Last Temptation of Homer vs. Itchy & Scratchy & Marge

Round 57: 1F07 vs. 7F09.

1F07: “The Last Temptation of Homer” (Season 5 / December 9, 1993)
Written by Frank Mula
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Your infatuation is based on a physical attraction. Talk to the woman and you'll realize you have nothing in common.

This is an example of sitcom writing at its very best. The script is perfectly structured, from a first act full of crazy, one-off jokes and situations that still manages to set up all the necessary plot complications, followed by a true, emotionally invested arc for Homer and the final conclusion that is not the least bit forced but absolutely organic to the character we know and love. And a whole lot of funny along the way.

  • -“Pick me, teacher, I’m ever so smart!”
  • -“Get back to work, Stewart!”
  • Even if he just shows up for one line, Phil Hartman makes everything better.
  • Wonderful work by the animators and actors. Particularly Dan Castellaneta and guest star Michelle Pfeiffer get to shine.

7F09: “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” (Season 2 / December 20, 1990)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Homer and Marge Simpson admiring Michelangelo's Statue David

Michelangelo’s “Dave”

Solid, smart episode. The shot-for-shot “Psycho” recreation is incredible, especially given that you couldn’t just pull a clip off of YouTube for reference back then. Alex Rocco is one of my favorite recurring Simpsons guest actors. And that the children discover nature-montage? Amazing.

  • -“Well, I always knew you’d change the world… for the better.”

The winner: 1F07, “The Last Temptation of Homer.”

Round 47: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? vs. Bart the Lover

Round 47: 7F16 vs. 8F16.

7F16: “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” (Season 2 / February 21, 1991)
Written by Jeff Martin
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Herb and Homer Simpson

That’s not how mirrors work!

A solid, funny, clever early episode, featuring national treasure Danny DeVito as Homer’s long lost brother Herb. It inspired both a TED Talk and an actual car.

  • Abe: “She did things your mother would never do, like have sex for money.”
  • Love that Homer calls Herb “Unky Herb” near the end.
  • – Herb: “Do you understand?”
    – Homer: “Sort of.”
    – Herb: “Homer! Answer me again with self-confidence.”
    – Homer: “SORT OF!”
  • Per the commentary, pretty much every single great line in this episode was pitched by James L. Brooks.
  • Mike Reiss named the company that took over Powell Motors, Kumatsu, after a character from the Japanese movie “Skinny and Fatty.” Skip to 21:10 on the DVD commentary to hear him tell the story, and enjoy his excellent, heart-felt “D’oh!” when he learns the character’s name was actually Komatsu.)

8F16: “Bart the Lover” (Season 3 / February 13, 1992)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Homer's postcard to Marge: Maybe it's the beer talking Marge but you've got a butt that won't quit. They got those big pretzels here... five dollars??!!!? get outta here

Even better with Dan Castellaneta reading it out loud.

This episode is not as laugh-out-loud funny as the one above – although it does have very good jokes in it, too – but I still like it better, for the story it tells, for the emotional impact (on both me and the characters) and for how it is all resolved in the end.

I enjoyed Homer’s doghouse subplot, as well – “Marge, you’re a tool of the doghouse makers.” – and the swear jar sequence was fun.

  • How great is Marcia Wallace?

The winner: 8F16, “Bart the Lover.” This marks the first time in the tournament that an episode written (or co-written) by Jon Vitti has won, which really does not reflect his immense talent, at all. It just shows that in a bracket like this one good episodes will inevitably lose against slightly better episodes.