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 6: Itchy & Scratchy Land vs. Bart Sells His Soul

128th-final, round 6: 2F01 vs. 3F02.

Itchy & Scratchy Land vs. Bart Sells His Soul

2F01: “Itchy & Scratchy Land” (Season 6 / October 2, 1994)
Written by John Swartzwelder. Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunner: David Mirkin

vs.

3F02: “Bart Sells His Soul” (Season 7 / October 8, 1995)
Written by Greg Daniels. Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Both episodes belong in the Simpsons pantheon, but I can only choose one right now, and I’m going with “Itchy & Scratchy Land.”

If I had to come up with a reason I’d argue that 2F01 works better as a whole, while “Bart Sells His Soul,” with the B-plot about Moe’s family restaurant, feels more like two separate stories stitched together. Which is not not a bad thing, at all, but these two episodes are of such a high quality that directly pitting them against each other means coming up with even the tiniest “flaws,” as it were.

So long, 3F02. We’ll always have I. Ron Butterfly.

The winner: 2F01, ” Itchy & Scratchy Land.”

128th-Final, Round 4: Homer and Apu vs. Sideshow Bob Roberts

128th-final, round 4: 1F10 vs. 2F02.

1F10: “Homer and Apu” (Season 5 / February 10, 1994)
Written by Greg Daniels. Directed by Mark Kirkland.
Showrunner: David Mirkin

1F10 Homer and Apu

Recorded in 2004, the DVD audio commentary for this episode holds a lot of wisdom from David Mirkin, who talks about how “The Simpsons” is able to stay fresh by changing showrunners every few years, because they bring in new ideas, and new approaches to the familiar characters and relationships. Mirkin made those comments some three years after Al Jean had taken over the show, and it clearly wasn’t a stab at him, but one can’t help but wonder how he feels now that Jean has been running “The Simpsons” for 13 years – more than half of its time on the air.

Another thing Mirkin goes into (as have I on here) is the “flexible reality” that allows the writers to stretch plausibility for a few moments here and there, while still maintaining a solid foundation to keep the stories grounded in the show’s established reality. Writer Greg Daniels originally was reluctant to have Homer travel to India with Apu because he couldn’t rationalize how Homer could afford the flight with his meager power plant salary. Mirkin fought to keep the trip in the show (it makes for a handful of great jokes, after all) arguing that the rubber-band reality of the show would snap right back to where it was before.

And it probably did back then, or very nearly so, anyway. But to see what happens to a rubber band after you’ve been stretching it for two decades you’ll only need to turn on Fox on any given Sunday night – or whatever day of the week “The Simpsons” is on these days.


2F02: “Sideshow Bob Roberts” (Season 6 / October 9, 1994)
Written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein. Directed by Mark Kirkland.
Showrunner: David Mirkin

2F02 Sideshow Bob Roberts

I try to be as critical as I can when watching these episodes for the tournament, but I honestly couldn’t tell you a thing wrong with this one. Not the masterfully constructed plot, not the many great jokes and references, certainly not Kelsey Grammer’s fantastic performance.

The winner: 2F02, “Sideshow Bob Roberts.”

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.”

A Hypothetical Aside and Round 113: Homer Badman vs. The Wandering Juvie

Before we get to Round 113, a thought experiment.

Imagine The Simpsons had ended in 1998, with nine seasons aired. After Oakley & Weinstein finished their production run with “Lisa the Simpson,” the network decided not to order any more episodes. Maybe the actors wanted too much money or something. Stranger things have happened.

So the show’s cancelled and the fans are upset, naturally. Yes, there are already many who claim The Simpsons have jumped the shark and haven’t been up to the high standards set by its early seasons in years. And that whole Armin Tamzarian debacle? Let’s not even talk about it. But surely the show could have had a few more decent years if given the chance!

Alas, it’s not meant to be. The Simpsons are history. Fox is already developing a new cartoon to take up the time slot. Another family sitcom. But this time there’s a talking dog. Great.

Even with the show off the air, there’s still money to be made with the Simpsons brand, though. The next decade will see the release of all nine seasons on DVD and old episodes repeated ad nauseam in syndication. You can buy Bart’s face on a pair of shorts and Homer’s on a box of donuts.

And then the same thing will happen to The Simpsons that has happened to every single marketable franchise in the history of popular culture. They will come back. Just like The Muppets and the Looney Tunes and the Star Trek.

If you told Simpsons fans from my hypothetical 1998 that 15 years later they could turn on the television and watch a show called “The Simpsons,” with characters that look almost exactly as the ones they know, only slightly more polished (The animation’s digital now!) and with voices that, while recognizable, sound ever so slightly off (Did they get all the original voice actors back? Are they all still alive? Maybe they forgot how to do the voices?), and credits that feature some familiar names but also a lot of new ones — they wouldn’t be surprised. They brought back “Lost in Space,” for Pete’s sake! Of course they’d bring back “The Simpsons.”

Would they like the reboot? Who knows. Probably not, but they wouldn’t really care, either way. They would recognize that it’s a different show, for a different audience. For a different time. A different mindset.

I don’t think they’d give it much thought. They have their Simpsons, this decade has theirs. General consensus would probably be that Classic Simpsons is better than New Simpsons. There’d be debates online, of course. But in general everybody would understand that none if it really matters. Certainly no one would devise an elaborate tournament that includes individual episodes of both distinctive shows.

That would be like a tournament set up to find one person’s “favorite episode of Cheers or Family Ties.”

I’ll get further into all of this and what it means for the tournament in a few weeks, after round 128 (and the 256th-finale). Until then, let’s compare some apples and oranges.

 

Round 113: 2F06 vs. FABF11.

2F06: “Homer Badman” (Season 6 / November 27, 1994)
Written by Greg Daniels
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer Simpson curled up in bed watching The Late Show with David Letterman

I’m not a huge fan of this episode’s first act, but once the media satire kicks in I’m fully on board. The portrayal of 24 hour news coverage, wild speculation and valuing entertainment over information may seem tame today, but when this aired 20 years ago the dramatic escalation of events was considered more a cautionary tale than an accurate depiction. If only they’d listened.

  • – ” ♫ There’ll be no accusations, just friendly crustaceans — under the sea! ♫ “

FABF11: “The Wandering Juvie” (Season 15 / March 28, 2004)
Written by John Frink & Don Payne
Directed by Lauren MacMullan
Showrunner: Al Jean

Blacksmith

Not even a minute in and Homer gets trampled on by a horde of shoppers. Heels in the eyes and everything. I’ve covered before how I hate that physically abusing Homer got to be more and more a go to for cheap laughs as the seasons reached double digits. Only I’m not laughing.

The rest of the episode’s not any funnier, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen or anything. Charles Napier and Sarah Michelle Gellar do a good job as guest actors and there are a couple of nice-looking shots here and there.

The winner: 2F06, “Homer Badman.”

Round 109: Lisa’s Wedding vs. Treehouse of Horror XIV

Round 109: 2F15 vs. EABF21.

2F15: “Lisa’s Wedding” (Season 6 / March 19, 1995)
Written by Greg Daniels
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Future Lisa and Hugh enjoy the sunset

Mandy Patinkin!


EABF21: “Treehouse of Horror XIV” (Season 15 /November 2, 2003)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Showrunner: Al Jean

Dr. Dudley Herschbach and Jennifer Garner

-Jennifer Garner: “You know, Dr. Herschbach, our jobs are actually not that different.”
Dr. Dudley Herschbach: “I disagree.”

Pretty fun Halloween special. I wouldn’t consider any of the segments “classic,” but I laughed a few times.

The winner: 2F15, “Lisa’s Wedding.”

(Sorry for the long absence and now this super short entry. Was kinda preoccupied there for a while. Regular scheduling should resume any day now.)

Round 18: Treehouse of Horror IV vs. Marge on the Lam

Round 18: 1F04 vs. 1F03.

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 devil and Homer Simpson

The talent behind this Halloween episode is amazing, and it shows. (If you don’t have time to listen to every single audio commentary, you should definitely listen to this one: Jim Brooks, Davids Mirkin and Silverman, Conan, Bill and Josh, and Greg Daniels!) Just like ToH V from Mirkin’s second season this one belongs up there in the pantheon.

  • The Devil and Homer Simpson is my favorite segment, and features one of the all-time great Lionel Hutz performances by Phil Hartman.
  • The whole episode is like a big long list of thing’s I have not read or seen: Night Gallery, The Twilight Zone, Fantasia, War of the Worlds (well, I’ve seen the Spielberg movie and loved it, actually, but I never read the book or listened to the radio play), (Francis Ford Coppola’s) Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Lost Boys…

1F03: “Marge on the Lam” (Season 5 / November 4, 1993)
Written by Bill Canterbury
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Lionel Hutz watching TV on the Simpsons' couch.

“Oh, sure. Like lawyers work in big skyscrapers and have secretaries. Look at him. He’s wearing a belt! That’s Hollywood for you.”

And again we have two episodes produced in a row, which makes it harder for me to decide, because they’re about equal, quality wise. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen “Thelma & Louise,” which is heavily referenced, but some of the more outlandish plot and character twists don’t really do it for me. Homer’s a bit too dumb for my taste. As much as I love Lionel Hutz, his stint as babysitter seems a bit forced. And the third act, while beautifully animated, stretches the rubber-band reality of “The Simpsons” too far for my liking.

  • Great animation moment: When Ruth returns the power tool to Marge and she’s immediately pulled to the floor by it.
  • Mention ballet in my circle of friends and you’ll get to hear “Entrance of the Gladiators.”
  • Springfield is very much Los Angeles in this episode. As it is in many episodes.
  • Love Hank’s line reading as Wiggum, giving the dispatcher his current location:
    “I’m on a road. Looks to be asphalt. Trees, shrubs. I’m directly under the Earth’s sun… now.”
  • Commentary trivia: Matt mentions they’re recording on June 17, 2004, so right during production of the 16th season, which will be the next to come out on DVD.

The winner: 1F04: “Treehouse of Horror IV,” by a hair.