Round 122: Bart the Fink vs. Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?

Round 122: 3F12 vs. AABF21.

3F12: “Bart the Fink” (Season 7 / February 11, 1996)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Krusty the Clown down in the gutters

Very funny episode. From that great haunted house fake-out, to bankers in gorilla suits, to Sydney Greenstreet, and, my favorite, Bob Newhart’s speech at Krusty’s funeral.

No complaints about this one, but not too much that makes me think it will be a stand-out performer in this here tournament. Seeing Bart and Lisa go off on one of their little investigations is always fun, but there are better examples of that in other episodes, I think. We’ll see.

  • Are you missing Mad About You right now?

AABF21: “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?” (Season 11 / October 24, 1999)
Written by Al Jean
Directed by Nancy Kruse
Showrunner: Mike Scully

AABF21 Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?

It’s so interesting to me that I react so positively to episodes penned by the duo of Al Jean and Mike Reiss, like “Stark Raving Dad,” “Lisa’s Pony,” “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala-D’oh!-cious,” but have a much harder time with those by Jean alone. It would be tempting to attest this solely to Reiss’ writing, or even to the balance he brings to their scripts, but I can’t know if that’s true. After all, it’s not just Jean’s solo work in the later seasons I don’t respond to the same way I do with episodes from the first seven or eight years, and the qualities I love are present in most, if not all of the earlier episodes, not just the ones Reiss was involved in.

My main issue with the episode is, once again, that there is not much that makes it distinctly The Simpsons: “Peter Griffin becomes a food critic; Brian helps him write reviews.” That’s about it.

The winner: 3F12, “Bart the Fink.”


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


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 64: There’s Something About Marrying vs. Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment

Round 64: GABF04 vs. 4F15.

GABF04: “There’s Something About Marrying” (Season 16 / February 20, 2005)
Written by J. Stewart Burns
Directed by Nancy Kruse
Showrunner: Al Jean

Death Before Gay Marriage sign

One thing that bothers me so much about Zombie Simpsons is that things just happen. People walk in and out of frame willy-nilly – What, was Disco Stu just hanging around the Simpson house, waiting for his name to come up in conversation somewhere? – character traits are adjusted to the plot, not the other way around.

The word “zombie” doesn’t really apply, now that I think about it. Life- and brainless, yes, but at least zombies have some agenda and consistency. These Simpsons are more like string-puppets, dragged around and contorted into whichever shape this week’s episode’s crazy story needs them to be in.

On a less bitter note, I like how this episode treats marriage. Not “gay marriage” (such an antiquated term), but marriage, the concept. It’s a silly thing, if you think about it, and it’s mostly about money, anyway. Good on them for pointing that out. I just wish they had done it in an episode of “The Simpsons,” not “Family Guy.”

4F15: “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment” (Season 8 / March 16, 1997)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Bob Anderson
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Alcohol Prohibited in Springfield

I will have plenty of time talking about this episode in future rounds, so for now just a matter of contrast:

There is a scene where Homer and Marge are talking in their kitchen when a disheveled Chief Wiggum happens to walk past their window and begins talking to them. It’s important for the plot because it both gives Homer the idea to start his Beer Baron business and it sets up Wiggum’s involvement in the story later.

The writers had to come up with a feasible way to have Homer and Wiggum meet, and that’s why they had Homer and Marge hold their conversation in the kitchen, where there is a window overlooking the street. It’s still a convenient coincidence that Wiggum happened to stagger by just that minute, but not an inconceivable one.

As opposed to, say, Disco Stu walking into Marge’s bedroom.

  • -“Remember, honey, we’re disobeying an unjust law here. We’re patriots. Like… all those people in jail.”

The winner: 4F15, “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.”

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 55: Natural Born Kissers vs. Mr. Plow

Round 55: 5F18 vs. 9F07.

5F18: “Natural Born Kissers” (Season 9 / May 17, 1998)
Written by Matt Selman
Directed by Klay Hall
Showrunners: Mike Scully

Lenny, Carl, Homer and Marge.

-“How do you do, ma’am?”
-“I hope this evening finds you well.”
-“Oh, knock it off you perverts.”

Some funny lines, but overall I’m not a big fan of this episode. It’s very Matt Selman-y. His kind of jokes, from what I gathered from his episodes and commentary appearances, are much more suited to something like Family Guy. It’s not that they’re not funny, just that they aren’t anything that stands out.

Also, hearing Homer and Marge (attempting to) have sex is just not something I needed in my life.

  • “Folks, is your marriage stuck in a rut? Can you even remember the last time you felt the thrill of romance? Well, maybe you need… a divorce!”

9F07: “Mr. Plow” (Season 4 / November 19, 1992)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Homer Simpson buying a car from a sleazy salesman.

-“What country is this car from?”
-“It no longer exists.”

Like “Kamp Krusty” this is a beloved episode that is beloved for a reason: it’s really good.

Maybe it’s the direct contrast to later episodes, but both “Kamp” and “Mr. Plow” felt very slowly paced to me. Not in a bad way, but it is something that kinda dates them.

  • -“Now, before I give you the check, one more question. Uh, this place, Moe’s, you left just before the accident, this is a business of some kind?”
    -“Don’t tell him you were at a bar. But what else is open at night? — It’s a pornography store. I was buying pornography. — Heh-heh-heh. I would have never thought of that.

The winner: 9F07, “Mr. Plow.”

Round 27: Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder vs. The Day the Violence Died

Round 27: BABF02 vs. 3F16.

BABF02: “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder” (Season 11 / November 14, 1999)
Written by Al Jean
Directed by Mike B. Anderson
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Maggie Simpson pointing out a butterfly to Homer.

Maggie foreshadowing her Oscar nominated turn in “The Longest Daycare.”

When I was 18 years old, I thought this was a great episode. Now, this is most likely due to two things. First, I didn’t know any better. Second, this was a pretty funny episode. Was. As mentioned before, I used to watch Family Guy. I enjoyed the obscure pop culture references and crass humor. For 22 minutes, once a week, 24 weeks a year, I was more or less entertained by it. But aside from a few, rare exceptions, I never felt the urge to revisit an episode of Family Guy. It’s the same with much (not all!) of Mike Scully’s seasons of The Simpsons. It’s not terrible, but a) it can’t compete with earlier episodes, and b) there’s really no reason to re-watch any of it.

  • I caught this episode on German TV once. When Teller says “I’m not the first Teller,” the people translating the dialogue apparently didn’t know that was his name (or maybe they did and just didn’t care) and made him say, in German, “I’m not the first to tell you this.” Because of course they did.

3F16: “The Day the Violence Died” (Season 7 / March 17, 1996)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Wesley Archer
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Lionel Hutz talking to Bart Simpson and Chester J. Lampwick.

Another high-quality Oakley and Weinstein outing with three perfect guest voices from Alex Rocco, Phil Hartman and Kirk Douglas. The ending certainly is… something else. But not in a bad way.

  • Lisa: “It’s one of those campy ’70s throwback that appeals to Generation Xers.”
    Bart: “We need another Vietnam to thin out their ranks a little.”
    (This certainly reads in a whole new light now.)

The winner: 3F16: “The Day the Violence Died.”

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.”