128th-Final, Round 3: Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment vs. The Trouble with Trillions

128th-final, round 3: 7F13 vs. 5F14
Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment vs. The Trouble with Trillions

7F13: “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” (Season 2 / February 7, 1991)
Written by Steve Pepoon. Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

The Simpsons 7F13 Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment

vs.

5F14: “The Trouble with Trillions” (Season 9 / April 5, 1998)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham. Directed by Swinton O. Scott III
Showrunner: Mike Scully

5F14

So, two big questions: First: which of these episodes do I like more? Second: will it take me another two months to write another 50 word blog post?

I really do like both of these, and it’s kinda hard to even compare them because they are so different in style and Simpsons-ness. But in the end I just gotta go with 7F13, even though 5F14 has some of my favorite jokes ever.

  • Fantastic touch of having Ned look directly at the viewer when talking about “the folks who just don’t feel like working, God bless ‘em.”
  • -Moe: “So, Lenny, let’s say you pull a thorn out of the pope’s butt and he grants you one wish. What’ll it be?” -Lenny: “Hm. Only one, huh? Well, I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to wear something that’s been ironed.”

The winner: 7F13, “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment.”

And as for that second question… we’ll see.

Round 118: 24 Minutes vs. Bart the Murderer

Round 118: JABF14 vs. 8F03.

JABF14: “24 Minutes” (Season 18 / May 20, 2007)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham & Billy Kimball
Directed by Raymond Persi
Showrunners: Al Jean

Goat sucking on a bottle.

Yeah, I’m not gonna lie. I haven’t seen this one in seven years, and since it’s not out on DVD or streaming anywhere, yet, I can’t really tell you anything about it. It’s season 18, so there’s probably a lot of Homer falling down or hitting his head or having his crotch punched by Jack Bauer. Maybe Lisa uses her one line in the show to sarcastically praise the writers for having the great idea of cross-promoting another FOX series.


8F03: “Bart the Murderer” (Season 3 / October 10, 1991)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpsons 8F03 Bart the Murderer 8F03d

They don’t do those kinds of contrasting shots anymore, do they? They don’t do a lot of the things on display in this episode anymore, I guess.

Even if “24 Minutes” (which I’ll revisit as soon as it shows up on DVD or online) turns out to be some kind of season 18 masterpiece, I doubt that I’ll like it better than “Bart the Murderer,” which is just so damn great and funny and beautiful.

  • -Marge: “Bart, your father and I don’t want you doing that. Homer, say something.”
    -Homer: “How much does it pay?”
    -Bart: “Thirty bucks a week.”
    -Homer, scoffing: “I make more than that.”

The winner: 8F03, “Bart the Murderer.”

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

Well.

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 79: Bart of Darkness vs. The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson

Round 79: 1F22 vs. 4F22. Whoa.

1F22: “Bart of Darkness” (Season 6 / September 4, 1994)
Written by Dan McGrath
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Bart Simpson reading MAD Magazine (NYPD Blecch)

I have probably written about this before (I mean, I guess? No way to be sure.), but the thing that I love most about The Simpsons is that there are so many levels to it, so many different ways to enjoy it. And this episode is the perfect embodiment of that. You can watch this without ever having seen “Rear Window” or anything by Hitchcock – as I did when I first saw the episode – and get a great deal of joy from it. And once you know the movie – as I do now – you have this whole new layer of references and homages to appreciate. And then you listen to the commentary and you learn even more things that enrich your experience of watching the episode. But the beauty of it is that you don’t need to know anything to enjoy it.

This episode is perfect. Not one wrong note.


4F22: “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” (Season 9 / September 21, 1997)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Alfred E. Neuman in the MAD Magazine offices

This has got to be one of the toughest rounds in the tournament. I love both episodes a great deal, and it sucks to see one of them leave so early. “Bart of Darkness” really does hit all high notes, while there are some (minor, but still) things in “The City of New York” that I don’t like that much. Homer gets his dose of physical punishment here, and while it’s miles away from the awful things he’d have to endure in later seasons, it’s still something I don’t like to see.

But then again, the high notes it does have hit higher than the ones in 1F22. “Kickin’ It,” written by Ken Keeler, is my favorite musical number of the whole series, Homer’s New York-flashback is a truly beautiful bit of animation, and the ending with Homer driving out of the city makes me smile just thinking about it.

So, once again, I have to ask myself the question: If I could only see one of these two episodes again, with the other one being forever lost, which would I pick?

The winner, after much hemming and hawing: 4F22, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson.” This really could’ve gone either way. Maybe if I saw “Bart of Darkness” last I would have picked it. This one’s gonna haunt me.

Round 77: The Seemingly Never-Ending Story vs. Dancin’ Homer

Round 77: HABF06 vs. 7F05.

HABF06: “The Seemingly Never-Ending Story” (Season 17 / March 12, 2006)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Raymond Persi
Showrunner: Al Jean

Cowboy Duffman entering Moe's Tavern

Episodes like this one, “Eternal Moonshine” or “Moe Letter Blues” are to be lauded, I guess, for trying something new, for breaking out of standard narrative structures.

It’s just… well… sigh. Zombie Simpsons can’t help being what it is. If they made the monorail episode today it’d probably have a scene of Homer being violently bitten in the scrotum by an opossum. Like I said the other day: restraint and focus are long gone.

And it’s too bad. I kept thinking this script could have made a really great episode of Futurama. But here, it’s just another wasted opportunity.


7F05: “Dancin’ Homer” (Season 2 / November 8, 1990)
Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Mysterious stranger in silhouette

Nice little proto-Simpsons outing. Tony Bennett!

The winner: 7F05, “Dancin’ Homer.”

Round 62: Lisa the Iconoclast vs. Catch ‘Em if You Can

Round 62: 3F13 vs. FABF14.

3F13: “Lisa the Iconoclast” (Season 7 / February 18, 1996)
Written by Jonathan Collier
Directed by Mike B. Anderson
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Homer and Lisa ringing the bell as town criers.

Love this one. It was one of the episodes on that imported VHS tape that was my first foray into the world of not-dubbed-into-German Simpsons, so it holds a special place for me, anyway. But even without that, how could I not just love it? I wrote about my fondness of Lisa and Homer bonding before, and this episode is full of that. And Homer’s not reduced to being a big, loud jerk (well, maybe towards Flanders, but c’mon) but instead pursues the town-crier position with as noble a spirit as he would a mountain of sugar.

  • It’s an exciting story, too. Feels very much like a movie, especially with the parade at the end.
  • -“I’ve got nothing but respect for the office of town crier but this is well outside your jurisdiction.”
  • (Donald Sutherland!)

FABF14: “Catch ‘Em if You Can” (Season 15 / April 25, 2004)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Matthew Nastuk
Showrunner: Al Jean

Homer and Marge Simpson

Eh.

It’s not that this episode is particularly bad – although it isn’t particularly good, either – but at this point in the series everything’s just… eh. Everything’s been done, so everything feels old. The “Catch Me If You Can” credits parody is well done, I guess, but you kinda wonder why it’s even here.

You wonder why this show is even still here.

The winner: 3F13, “Lisa the Iconoclast.”

Round 6: The Trouble with Trillions vs. Simpsons Bible Stories

Round 6: 5F14 vs. AABF14.

5F14: “The Trouble with Trillions” (Season 9 / April 5, 1998)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Swinton O. Scott III
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Homer Simpson filling out his tax returns.

“Marge, if anyone asks, you require 24-hour nursing care, Lisa’s a clergyman, Maggie is seven people, and Bart was wounded in Vietnam.”

Did you file your taxes yet? The idea of starting the episode on New Year’s Eve, have Ned file his returns the next morning (“8:45? Here I am yapping away like it’s 8:35!”) and then fast-forwarding to April 15 is a great one. From there it’s a long way to Burns, Smithers and Homer on a raft returning from Cuba, but the episode gets there in a semi-believable way, so that’s okay.

  • This episode marks the first time in this tournament (but not in the series) that the Charles Nelson Reilly noise is employed (without the collar yank, though). Last month I asked Simpsons writer Matt Selman how they represent the Charles Nelson Reilly noise in the scripts. Answer: “[Charles Nelson Reilly noise].” Those crazy writers and their technical terms!
  • – “Daddy, what do taxes pay for?”
    – “Oh, why, everything! Policeman, trees, sunshine. And let’s not forget the folks who just don’t feel like working, God bless ’em.”
  • I would have never noticed it without Ian Maxtone-Graham pointing it out in the commentary, but ever since then Homer’s package magically turning into a ball of string makes me laugh every time I see it.
  • When Homer asks the guys in the bar to talk about crimes being committed, they specifically reference things he did in past episodes: running moonshine out of his basement, a telemarketing scam, and the time he beat up George Bush.

AABF14: “Simpsons Bible Stories” (Season 10 / April 4, 1999)
Written by Tim Long, Larry Doyle, Matt Selman
Directed by Nancy Kruse
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Reverend Lovejoy and a melting, chocolate Easter bunny.

Huh. I kinda remember at the very least not actively disliking this episode, and maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood today, but the thing is: watching it again, I didn’t laugh once. In fact, all that my notes say about “Bible Stories” is “didn’t laugh once” and “oh, look, it’s the Orb of Isis from ‘Lost Our Lisa.’ That was great episode.”

The winner: 5F14: “The Trouble with Trillions.”