Round 124: Whacking Day vs. Treehouse of Horror III

Round 124: 9F18 vs. 9F04.

9F18: “Whacking Day” (Season 4 / April 29, 1993)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpson 9F18 Whacking Day

The way they’re cropping the old episodes for widescreen TVs these days is really getting out of hand.

This episode is so incredibly weird that it’s close to a miracle that it is also so enjoyably good.

It’s not a miracle, though. It’s talent, and hard work. From the writing to the acting, the directing and animation. Every frame, every beat, every joke tells a story about how the people behind the show poured everything they had into making it as great as they possibly could.


9F04: “Treehouse of Horror III” (Season 4 / October 29, 1992)
Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss (Part 1), Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky (Part 2), Sam Simon & Jon Vitti (Part 3)
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Simpsons 9F04 Treehouse of Horror III

The great thing about the Treehouses of Horror is that odds are, whenever you revisit one of them you’ll have seen an old horror movie, or an episode of The Twilight Zone, or read something by Asimov that will let you appreciate the references, homages, and sometimes even shot-for-shot recreations in a whole new light.

For me, this time, it’s “King Kong.” I hadn’t seen the 1933 movie until a few years ago, when I finally deemed my home theater setup good enough for it. It’s a fantastic movie. And this is a fantastic Halloween episode.

  • Al Jean, on the commentary track, about the 1976 King Kong remake: “It is amazing how a version made forty years after the original is so much worse and less believable.”

The winner: 9F18, “Whacking Day.”

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Round 123: Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 1 vs. New Kids on the Blecch

Round 123: 2F16 vs. CABF12.

2F16: “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part One” (Season 6 / May 21, 1995)
Written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunner: David Mirkin

2F16 Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part One

I like it.


CABF12: “New Kids on the Blecch” (Season 12 / February 25, 2001)
Written by Tim Long
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Showrunner: Mike Scully

CABF12 New Kids on the Blecch

Funniest part of the episode. I think it’s the first act break. Maybe it’s the second? They were both pretty great.

I don’t like it.

The winner: 2F16, “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part One.” Sorry, again, for being so short on words these days. But right now it’s either moving the tournament along without writing a lot, or not posting any new rounds at all.

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.”

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 105: I Married Marge vs. New Kid on the Block

Round 105: 8F10 vs. 9F06.

8F10: “I Married Marge” (Season 3 / December 26, 1991)
Written by Jeff Martin
Directed by Jeffrey Lynch
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Springfield at night, nuclear power plant, grid, car, headlights

Love this one. It’s an episode that I haven’t seen many time for some reason, so it felt kinda new and exciting. These flashback shows (origin stories?) are a lot of fun when done right, as this one certainly is.

  • -Homer: “I bet the guy she was singing that about was real happy.”
    -Marge: “Mh, actually, she was singing about God.”
    -Homer: “Oh, well, he’s always happy. … No, wait, he’s always mad.”

9F06: “New Kid on the Block” (Season 4 / November 12, 1992)
Written by Conan O’Brien
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Bart Simpson's heart getting ripped out

I hate to say this about an episode written by my hero Conan O’Brien, but, man, this one’s all over the place, plot-wise. There are a few good elements, but as a whole I’m not a big fan. It feels rather unfinished, like it needed a few more rewrites. Or maybe it had too many. Who knows.

  • -Bart: “Dad, I have some questions about women.”
    -Homer: “Uh, can’t you see I’m reading the, uh, cultural calendar? … Ooh! ‘Mostly Mozart‘ is in town.”

The winner: 8F10: “I Married Marge.”

Round 102: When You Dish Upon a Star vs. Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood

Round 102: 5F19 vs. 1F06.

5F19: “When You Dish Upon a Star” (Season 10 / November 8, 1998)
Written by Richard Appel
Directed by Pete Michels
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin with her Academy Award

-Alec Baldwin: “Honey, why don’t you give that thing a rest? You’re taking the finish off.”
-Kim Basinger: “When you win one, you can take care of it however you want.”

Alec Baldwin’s in the news right now because he wrote something or said something that somebody then wrote about or maybe he tweeted something that the New Yorker then blogged about. Look, I’m not here to talk about Alec Baldwin, but you know, if people happen to search for his name in combination with the term “gay slur” (as Google’s auto-complete suggests many do) and in turn find this website that has nothing to say about Alec Baldwin’s shocking (I guess?) behavior, well, that’s unfortunate. Bad Google!

Anyway, I was in a bit of a bad mood when I watched this episode and I’m still in a bad mood now, so that might tell us something. It’s not panda rape bad, but it’s pretty bad. There are a few funny things I can see making the writers laugh when they came up with it but maybe after the third draft they should have said, You know what? Let’s just not make this episode, after all.


1F06: “Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood” (Season 5 / November 18, 1993)
Written by Dan McGrath
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Barney Gumble, and Bart and Milhouse high on an all-syrup squishee

One of the most memorable Simpsons episodes, no doubt. And it’s only in the context of the tournament that I find flaws with it, but I’ll go into them (hint: it starts with an “H” and ends with “omer is too much of a jerk”) when we see 1F06 again, because…

… the winner is: 1F06, “Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood.”

Round 100: Separate Vocations vs. Das Bus

Round 100: 8F15 vs. 5F11.

8F15: “Separate Vocations” (Season 3 / February 27, 1992)
Written by George Meyer
Directed by Jeffrey Lynch
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Mayor Quimby polling the electorate.

I enjoyed how dynamic this episode was. Jeff Lynch does some fantastic action-directing, especially in the police car chase and later in the Bart-as-hall-monitor montage, which featured a terrific score, as well. And of course the episode is drawn and animated beautifully – this is the third season, after all.

The story, centered on Bart and Lisa, exploring their characters by putting them in unusual positions, still feels fresh and relevant 22 years after it first aired. It’s always fun to see the kids behave like kids in situations that, while exciting, are not some of the crazy, outlandish things people on TV are thrown into at times.

(Like, I dunno, being stranded on a deserted island or something like that.)


5F11: “Das Bus” (Season 9 / February 15, 1998)
Written by David S. Cohen
Directed by Pete Michels
Showrunners: Mike Scully

The children sit around a camp fire on the deserted island

It’s a very funny episode, but also a very gimmicky one that doesn’t quite hold up to repeat viewings like “Separate Vocations” does.

Homer’s Internet business is a nice little time capsule, and Dan’s reading of “It’s Patty” as he hands Marge the phone is among my favorite things he’s ever done.

The winner: 8F15, “Separate Vocations.”