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 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.”

Round 119: Bart vs. Thanksgiving vs. Marge Gets a Job

Round 119: 7F07 vs. 9F05.

7F07: “Bart vs. Thanksgiving” (Season 2 / November 22, 1990)
Written by George Meyer
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart Simpson and his dog Santa's Little Helper outside the Simpsons' house

Written by George Meyer. Directed by David Silverman. Is there a more promising combination of words to ever appear in the opening credits of a TV show?

My notes for this episode are filled with the usual superlatives, about the story, the cinematic visuals, the jokes, the performances. These episodes from season 2 are just such a joy to watch, and so full of great stuff that they never seem to get old.

  • -Announcer: “And the Silverdome now ablaze with flashbulbs as Hooray For Everything leaves the field! Of course, the stadium’s much too big for flash pictures to work, but nobody seems to care!”

9F05: “Marge Gets a Job” (Season 4 / November 5, 1992)
Written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpsons 9F05 Marge Gets a Job

Another great episode. Comparing it to the one from the second season you notice that there are a lot more crazy, non-sequitur gags and cutaways. The rubber-band reality is being stretched a bit further, but it’s all still grounded within a pretty straight-forward sitcom setup (wife gets job at husband’s place of work).

  • I think this was the first time I had heard the “Imperial March” outside of Star Wars.
  • The shot-for-shot “Citizen Kane” reference went way over my head even after I had seen the movie a couple of times. I just never thought to connect the two.
  • -Mr. Smithers: “Oh, I thought Muddy Waters wrote that song.”

The winner: 7F07, “Bart vs. Thanksgiving.”

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.

Rough sketches from David Silverman (Part 4)

The tournament will continue as soon as this pesky World Cup stops distracting me, but until then let’s take a look at some of the awesome doodles and sketches from David Silverman’s multi-decade tenure as animation director for “The Simpsons.” You can find all these and a lot more on his Twitter feed, @tubatron. Click on the images to see them full size.

For El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer,  Space Coyote went through a few designs before settling on #4 --

David Silverman (@tubatron), Feb 1 2014:
For El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer, Space Coyote went through a few designs before settling on #4 —

Eastern Europe's favorite cat & mouse team Worker & Parasite. In '93, xeroxing was the ticket. Hoch Hech!

David Silverman (@tubatron), Jan 31 2014:
Eastern Europe’s favorite cat & mouse team Worker & Parasite. In ’93, xeroxing was the ticket. Hoch Hech!

And here's the rough layout from rough doodle posted earlier - Bart, Lisa & Maggie, and cards.

David Silverman (@tubatron), Feb 5 2014:
And here’s the rough layout from rough doodle posted earlier – Bart, Lisa & Maggie, and cards.

Practice page, early Simpsons shorts, c.1987

David Silverman (@tubatron), Feb 4 2014:
Practice page, early Simpsons shorts, c.1987

Hold the tel-e-o-rola, THIS is probably my 1st sketch for Simpsons title seq., warts n all --

David Silverman (@tubatron), Jan 30 2014:
Hold the tel-e-o-rola, THIS is probably my 1st sketch for Simpsons title seq., warts n all —

Roughs from Black Widower - studies for Krusty Telethon seq & Bart protecting Selma.

David Silverman (@tubatron), Feb 4 2014:
Roughs from Black Widower – studies for Krusty Telethon seq & Bart protecting Selma.

Found these rough thumbnail doodles in prep for Homer's Triple Bypass - 1992.

David Silverman (@tubatron), Jan 27 2014:
Found these rough thumbnail doodles in prep for Homer’s Triple Bypass – 1992.

Bart made weird faces back in the TU shorts days -- I mean, I was just drawing from life --

David Silverman (@tubatron), Feb 8 2014:
Bart made weird faces back in the TU shorts days — I mean, I was just drawing from life —

Homer roughs as the Magical Man from Happy Land.

David Silverman (@tubatron), Feb 6 2014:
Homer roughs as the Magical Man from Happy Land.

My 2 Al Hirschfeld-esque Krustys for Black Widower. Based on Al's Jerry Lewis - used #2, clean-up has "Nina."

David Silverman (@tubatron), Jan 22 2014:
My 2 Al Hirschfeld-esque Krustys for Black Widower. Based on Al’s Jerry Lewis – used #2, clean-up has “Nina.”

Round 108: Stark Raving Dad vs. Black Widower

Weblog, it’s your birthday!
Happy birthday, weblog!

Round 108: 7F24 vs. 8F20.

7F24: “Stark Raving Dad” (Season 3 / September 19, 1991)
Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Maggie celebrating Lisa Simpson's birthday

Such an odd and quirky and wonderful episode. Having Michael Jackson as a guest star could have so easily been nothing more than an empty cameo, a gimmicky publicity stunt. Instead, he actually gets to act as a genuine character who is bridging the A plot of Lisa feeling sad and alone on her birthday to the B storyline of Homer, through equal faults Bart’s and his own, being committed to a mental hospital.

“Stark Raving Dad” came at the very tail end of the Brooks/Groening/Simon tenure, and it shows how much the show has grown in just two years, both in style – the beautiful animation by Rich Moore – and content – a brilliant, funny, and emotionally rich script by showrunners-to-be Jean and Reiss.

  • -Homer: “Pink?! Marge, I can’t wear a pink shirt to work. Everybody wears white shirts. I’m not popular enough to be different.”

8F20: “Black Widower” (Season 3 /April 9, 1992)
Written by Jon Vitti and Sam Simon & Thomas Chastain
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Reverend Lovejoy marrying Selma Bouvier and Sideshow Bob

Sideshow Bob is always fun. I like that there are clues throughout the episode as to his murderous scheme, so the attentive viewer can actually solve the case as it unfolds. And, being directed by David Silverman, of course we are treated gorgeous, cinematic visuals.

But, while I liked “Black Widower,” I enjoyed the other episode even more. So:

The winner: 7F24, “Stark Raving Dad.”

Round 103: Grade School Confidential vs. Lisa’s Rival

Round 103: 4F09 vs. 1F17.

4F09: “Grade School Confidential” (Season 8 / April 6, 1997)
Written by Rachel Pulido
Directed by Susie Dietter
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Homer Simpson driving Bart and Milhouse around in a makeshift lawnmower space shuttle

One of the rare Simpsons episodes that’s both directed and written by a woman, and both did an excellent job. It reminded me of “Bart the Lover,” another strong Bart and Krabappel episode. “Grade School Confidential” tells a great, timeless story that still has room for plenty of funny stuff, and it showcases the wonderful work of the animators and voice actors, too. I find no faults with this one, and I love Homer’s little moments, like his Richard Nixon impression or the legendary “Krabappel? I’ve been calling her Crandall.” run.

  • -Principal Skinner: “Bart, if life has taught me one lesson repeatedly it’s to know when I’m beaten.”
  • Perfect moment between Superintendent Chalmers and Bart in the movie theater:
    -Chalmers: “You think they actually filmed this in Atlanta?”
    -Bart: “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s important.”

1F17: “Lisa’s Rival” (Season 6 / September 11, 1994)
Written by Mike Scully
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer Simpson yelling Never! in front of his mountain of sugar

I must have seen this episode a hundred times, yet I always forget that this is the one with my all-time favorite crazy Homer B-plot: sugar mountain. That scene, and particularity that rant, are where three of the most gifted people in their respective fields come together to create something magical. George Meyer wrote the words, Dan Castellaneta recorded them, and David Silverman animated. Beautiful.

I like Lisa’s story a lot, too. It’s so true to her character, and it gives Bart the nice opportunity of being mischievous while still standing with his sister.

So. This is a wonderful episode, but my gut says I like 4F09 better. And I’ve gotta go with my gut, even if it means losing Homer’s sugar plot.

  • In the dubbed German version, Lisa’s anagram for “Jeremy Irons” is not “Jeremy’s Iron” but… “Jeremy Irons.” Maybe the only time I prefer a dubbed joke to the original.
  • This has one of my favorite DVD audio commentaries, with lots of anecdotes about the Northridge earthquake and David Mirkin making inappropriate jokes at full steam.

The winner: 4F09, “Grade School Confidential.”