128th-Final, Round 12: Bart Gets an “F” vs. Homer the Vigilante

128th-final, round 12: 7F03 vs. 1F09.

7F03: “Bart Gets an F” (Season 2 / October 11, 1990)
Written by David M. Stern. Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

7F03 Bart Gets an F

vs.

1F09: “Homer the Vigilante” (Season 5 / January 6, 1994)
Written by John Swartzwelder. Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: David Mirkin

1F09 Homer the Vigilante

Another close one. As many second season episodes do, “Bart Gets an F” starts out as a rather conventional family sitcom plot, but of course even back then The Simpsons couldn’t help but elevate the material. I am again and again impressed by the sophisticated and artful animation of the early seasons, and this one is just full of beautiful shots.

“Homer the Vigilante” is obviously a much more polished product, and I like the episode a lot, but “Bart Gets an F” has a certain charm that, at least for me, puts it ahead in this contest.

The winner: 7F03, “Bart Gets an F.”

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 82: Homer to the Max vs. Duffless

Round 82: AABF09 vs. 9F14.

AABF09: “Homer to the Max” (Season 10 / February 7, 1999)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Pete Michels
Showrunners: Mike Scully

The Simpson family watching television

Me, watching this episode.

You know how that show, “Breaking Bad,” took one character and over many years turned him from good to bad so gradually that you can’t really pinpoint any specific incidences that put him over the edge? “The Simpsons” is like that. It was good, now it’s bad. This episode is somewhere in between, although I’d say it leans more towards the bad side. (Not coincidentally, this is another one that feels an awful lot like a “Family Guy” episode.)

  • -“Wow, look at this place. The house number is spelled out with letters.
    -“Get used to it, honey. From now on, we’ll be spelling everything with letters.”

9F14: “Duffless” (Season 4 / February 18, 1993)
Written by David M. Stern
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss Homer Simpson screams, Bart has a giant tomato

A funny episode with a sweet ending and an incredibly cool “A Clockwork Orange” reference thrown in. It’s not my favorite season 4 outing, but obviously it’s the better episode here.

The winner: 9F14, “Duffless.”

Round 76: The PTA Disbands vs. Principal Charming

Round 76: 2F19 vs. 7F15.

2F19: “The PTA Disbands” (Season 6 / April 16, 1995)
Written by Jennifer Crittenden
Directed by Swinton O. Scott III
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Girl left alone hanging from the rings in gymnastics class

“Mrs. Pommelhorst?”

Very good story with a lot of Mirken-esque touches. I am again reminded how important Marcia Wallace and Maggie Roswell are to the show. These school-centered episodes gain so much from their performances.

  • -“Sorry, Bart. I’m deeply immersed in the Teapot Dome scandal.”
    -“Huh?”
    -“However, it might be feasible in a fortnight.”
    -“Wha?”
    -“I can play in two weeks.”
    -“Juh?”

7F15: “Principal Charming” (Season 2 / February 14, 1991)
Written by David Stern
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Principal Skinner shaking his fist all Gone With the Wind like

“After all, tomorrow is another school day!”

What I love about the early seasons is that there is so much effort put into making the movie references, in this case to Vertigo, The Terminator and Gone With the Wind, not only funny but also beautiful to look at.

Looking back you notice the characters behaving in ways slightly off from what they would become, but I don’t mind that. I like the way Homer and Bart are integral to Skinner and Patty and Selma’s stories but don’t feel shoehorned in.

The winner: 2F19, “The PTA Disbands.”

And a sad addendum: After I wrote this round I heard the news that Marcia Wallace passed away. I have praised her performance as Ms. Krabappel on many occasions and I’m sure there will be more of that as the tournament goes on. Along with other frequent guest actors like Maggie Roswell, Phil Hartman, Albert Brooks and Kelsey Grammer, Wallace was integral to giving life to the secondary citizens of Springfield, and whenever Krabappel was made center of an episode she made her as real and deep as any life-action performer would have. Springfield Elementary won’t be the same without her.

Round 54: Mountain of Madness vs. Kamp Krusty

Round 54: 4F10 vs. 8F24.

4F10: “Mountain of Madness” (Season 8 / February 2, 1997)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Lenny and Carl, Homer and Mr. Burns in a snowed in cabin

“Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.”

I always loved that line, quoted it many times, but I never thought about how ridiculous and out-of-place it is. Talk about a non-sequitur. And the things Bart says just before are equally weird and fantastic.

Great episode, hilarious from start to finish. Love the SNPP fire drill, love Lenny and Karl’s bickering, Smither and the kids (Bart’s run with his watch is priceless) and especially Harry and Dan playing off each other as Burns and Homer.


8F24: “Kamp Krusty” (Season 4 / September 24, 1992)
Written by David M. Stern
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Homer Simpson doing one-handed push-ups with Maggie on his back.

Well, shit.

I really, really like “Mountain of Madness.” It’s such a funny episode. Why couldn’t it have squared off against some double-digit season piece of dreck? Why did it have to be “Kamp Krusty”?

Sorry, 4F10. You’re great. But you’re not that great.

The winner: 8F24, “Kamp Krusty.”

Round 35: Lard of the Dance vs. Homer Alone

Round 35: AABF15 vs. LABF02.

5F20: “Lard of the Dance” (Season 10 / August 23, 1998)
Written by Jane O’Brien
Directed by Dominic Polcino
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Lisa Simpson admitting students to the school dance. In last round‘s “How the Test Was Won” there’s a montage of scenes of Homer getting hurt, which is all kinds of terrible, and the most terrible part of it, as far as I’m concerned, is the bit where his swollen, bloodshot eye is sticking out of its socket. I always hated that, and it was with that dreadful image in mind that I came to “Lard of the Dance.” And we get it not once but twice in this episode, because, as the commentary tells us, it got a huge laugh from the writers and animators. I, meanwhile, just cringe every time I see it. But tastes differ, I guess. Luckily, there’s more to the episode than gross-out humor, and it’s actually pretty good! I liked Lisa’s story, Lisa Kudrow did a fine job as Alex, and Homer’s grease scheme had a few nice moments, too.

  • Lisa struggles with popularity issues after befriending a new student at her school while Homer tries to get rich by selling a food substance? The Simpsons did it.

8F14: “Homer Alone” (Season 3 / February 6, 1992)
Written by David Stern
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Homer and Maggie Simpson saying goodbye to Marge at the train station.

“Where’s my clean underwear? How often should I change Maggie? Marge! Marge! How do I use the pressure cooker?”

This is not only The Simpsons but TV in general at its very best. The script tells a truly engaging story while still being incredibly funny and the animation is just beautiful. Naturally I loved all the Homer and Maggie stuff (I get very emotional at the sight of fathers bonding with their daughters, remember?) and then there’s Bart and Lisa staying at Patty and Selma’s and there’s Phil Hartman and there’s… there’s simply not one wrong note here.

  • Very entertaining and informative DVD commentary. (Brad Bird!)

The winner: 8F14: “Homer Alone.”

Round 23: Bart Gets an F vs. Weekend at Burnsie’s

Round 23: 7F03 vs. DABF11.

7F03: “Bart Gets an F” (Season 2 / October 11, 1990)
Written by David M. Stern
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart and Homer Simpson watching TV.

The guys from Robot Chicken did a Simpsons couch gag for the current season, and there’s a two part making-of video on YouTube. In it, they talk about recreating the look of The Simpsons, which they describe as “two-dimensional,” “flat,” and “even lit.”

And I guess that is what the show looks like these days. But it didn’t use to be that way. In the early years, The Simpsons was beautifully animated, full of cinematic angles, elegant lighting and shadows.

And so it is in “Bart Gets an F,” a sweet and funny episode from a point in the series where they were still figuring out a few of the characters, but all the great stuff is clearly there.

  • How great is Marcia Wallace?
  • I asked David Silverman if the step-dancing giant gorilla Homer watched on TV would eve make a return to the show. Here’s his response.
  • Commentary trivia: Matt reveals why the Simpsons are called the Simpsons: Because they are “Simpletons.” Now you know.

DABF11: “Weekend at Burnsie’s” (Season 13 / April 7, 2002)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Michael Marcantel
Showrunner: Al Jean

Homer Simpson all high from the marijuana cigarettes.

Sigh. Another episode of Family Guy disguised as The Simpsons.

When early Simpsons writers like Conan O’Brien started to introduce more one-off jokes and sight gags that were less and less grounded in reality, Mattt Groening coined the term “rubber-band reality.” Yes, things could get wacky, but the show would always land back on firm ground.

By the point “Weekend at Burnsie’s” aired, that rubber band had snapped. Here Homer is ordering crows around to bring him beer and food, characters and props appear out of thin air when they’re needed, Smithers makes an unconscious Burns dance as a marionette.

The script is all over the place yet goes nowhere. Characters are strung around like lifeless puppets for the sake of a few cheap laughs – and I’m not even talking about Burns. It’s lazy. It’s lifeless. It’s out of this tournament.

The winner: 7F03: “Bart Gets an F.”