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.”


Round 116: Simpson Tide vs. Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk

Round 116: 3G04 vs. 8F09.

3G04: “Simpson Tide” (Season 9 / March 29, 1998)
Written by Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia
Directed by Milton Gray
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Ten Minutes Later - the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in flames

In every other context I’d say this is a great, immensely funny half-hour of television, but the tournament demands a bit more scrutiny, I’m afraid.

Pop culture references and non-sequiter asides have been a part of what made The Simpsons great from the very start, but by the time this episode aired the amount of seemingly random cutaways had reached an almost inflationary level. Homer’s Planet of the Apes-inspired doughnut nightmare, Moe hosting Russian roulette straight out of The Deer Hunter, the ship’s crew (including, rather improbably, the Village People and Mr. Smithers) performing “In the Navy,” “Spanish Fly” playing over the submarine’s speakers, the whole thing with the Soviet Union, including the raising of both the Berlin Wall and the animated corpse of Vladimir Lenin. They’re all funny gags, but it’s starting to get a bit overwhelming. (And I haven’t even mentioned that the whole plot and most of the scenes or set pieces are direct homages to the movie Crimson Tide.)

The DVD commentaries for episodes of this era sometimes mention that the show turned away from this style after Family Guy came along and ripped off– I mean, happened to heavily rely on it, as well. “Simpson Tide” very much felt like an episode of Family Guy, to me, which I don’t mean in a bad way, at all. It’s enjoyable. It’s funny. It makes some smart observations and commentary, like the references to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or the rapid spread of Starbuckses.

But still it’s missing something. Heart, maybe? Or that certain, indefinable spark?

  • Love the Rocky & Bullwinkle couch gag.
  • -“I’m a man of few words.      Any questions?”

8F09: “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” (Season 3 / December 5, 1991)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Smithers and Mr. Burns outside of Moe's Tavern

Ooh, the Germans.

That “The Land of Chocolate” has lost none of its appeal in the two decades since this episode aired is of course primarily owed to David Silverman’s gorgeous drawings and Alf Clausen’s infectious music. But, to go back to what I was saying about “Simpson Tide,” it certainly helped that the segment wasn’t buried amid half a dozen similarly crazy things.

It’s a stand-out moment, for sure, but it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the episode, either. For me, this one’s an easy decision. See you next round, Hans und Fritz!

  • -Homer: “Lisa, your father needs your help. Do you know anything about Germany?”
    -Lisa: “Well, it’s a country in Europe.”
    -Homer: “Good, good. I’m learning.”

The winner: 8F09, “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk.”

Round 111: El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer) vs. Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily

Round 101: 3F24 vs. 3F01.

3F24: “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)
(Season 8 / January 5, 1997)
Written by Ken Keeler
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Homer Simpson, sunset, sunrise

An exceptional episode, no doubt. Maybe too exceptional for me to consider it “my favorite”? It’s a bit like “The Springfield Files” in that regard, an episode I love very much but that is so unlike everything else that it’s hard to compare it to “regular” great ones. I don’t know. I’ll go with my gut when deciding this, anyway, and at the time I’m writing these words I haven’t watched “Home Sweet Homediddly…,” yet.

“El Viaje Misterioso” is of course famous for its surreal, beautiful, hand-drawn sequences and Johnny Cash’s wonderful turn as Homer’s chili-induced space coyote hallucination. That alone takes the episode into sacred ground territory. So even if it won’t win this tournament, I’ll always come back to it, and think of it fondly whenever I’m drinking a nice glass of hot wax or following a tortoise around the desert.

3F01: “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily” (Season 7 /October 1, 1995)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Susie Dietter
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Principal Skinner and Bart Simpson watch as Groundskeeper Willie burns Bart's lice-infested underwear.

No space coyotes in this one, but I enjoyed it even more than “The Mysterious Voyage of Homer.” It’s got a brilliant script, from the way it sets up the story to that fantastic climax at the Springfield River, and it’s beautifully directed by Susie Dietter.

  • -“Stupid babies need the most attention.”

The winner: 3F01, “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily.”


Round 108: Stark Raving Dad vs. Black Widower

Weblog, it’s your birthday!
Happy birthday, weblog!

Round 108: 7F24 vs. 8F20.

7F24: “Stark Raving Dad” (Season 3 / September 19, 1991)
Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Maggie celebrating Lisa Simpson's birthday

Such an odd and quirky and wonderful episode. Having Michael Jackson as a guest star could have so easily been nothing more than an empty cameo, a gimmicky publicity stunt. Instead, he actually gets to act as a genuine character who is bridging the A plot of Lisa feeling sad and alone on her birthday to the B storyline of Homer, through equal faults Bart’s and his own, being committed to a mental hospital.

“Stark Raving Dad” came at the very tail end of the Brooks/Groening/Simon tenure, and it shows how much the show has grown in just two years, both in style – the beautiful animation by Rich Moore – and content – a brilliant, funny, and emotionally rich script by showrunners-to-be Jean and Reiss.

  • -Homer: “Pink?! Marge, I can’t wear a pink shirt to work. Everybody wears white shirts. I’m not popular enough to be different.”

8F20: “Black Widower” (Season 3 /April 9, 1992)
Written by Jon Vitti and Sam Simon & Thomas Chastain
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Reverend Lovejoy marrying Selma Bouvier and Sideshow Bob

Sideshow Bob is always fun. I like that there are clues throughout the episode as to his murderous scheme, so the attentive viewer can actually solve the case as it unfolds. And, being directed by David Silverman, of course we are treated gorgeous, cinematic visuals.

But, while I liked “Black Widower,” I enjoyed the other episode even more. So:

The winner: 7F24, “Stark Raving Dad.”


Round 107: Bart’s Dog Gets an “F” vs. Homer Simpson in: “Kidney Trouble”

Round 107: 7F14 vs. AABF04.

7F14: “Bart’s Dog Gets an ‘F’” (Season 2 / March 7, 1991)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Santa's Little Helper burying a potted plant

It’s no “Dog of Death,” and a few of the first season remnants, like Homer’s jealousy of Flanders’ prosperity, do stick out. But it’s a nice story with a couple of good jokes here and there. And I think it was this episode that ignited my love for an enthusiastic “Aloha!” greeting every once and a while.

AABF04: “Homer Simpson in: ‘Kidney Trouble’” (Season 10 / December 6, 1998)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Mike B. Anderson
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Call Me Delish-Mael Taffy Shop

I hate this episode. It’s not very funny, the characters (especially Homer) are erratically jumping from one emotion to another, and the “resolution” at the end is appalling. I don’t mind kicking this one out of the tournament, at all.

The winner: 7F14, “Bart’s Dog Gets an ‘F’.”


Round 92: When Flanders Failed vs. The War of the Simpsons

Round 92: 7F23 vs. 7F20.

7F23: “When Flanders Failed” (Season 3 / October 3, 1991)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Bart Simpson hanging by his underwear on a basketball hoop.

Whenever Homer has some change-of-heart or learning experience at the end of an episode they have to go out of their way to make him as obnoxious and mean as they can in the rest of the episodes, and that’s not the Homer Simpson I like to see. Bart’s story is more fun, especially when Lisa gets involved, as well.

  • -“Remember last month when I paid back that loan? Well, now I need you to do a favor for me.”

7F20: “The War of the Simpsons” (Season 2 / May 2, 1991)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

These episodes were produced very close to each other and so they feel somewhat similar. Again Homer is insufferable throughout, only this time he doesn’t really learn anything. In fact the resolution of the main plot is kind of unsatisfying. Bart and Lisa’s story is more enjoyable in this episode, as well, although even their mischief goes a little too far for my taste. At least Grandpa wins out in the end, I was beginning to feel bad for him for a while there.

Homer Simpsons opening the trunk of his car. The shot of Homer opening the trunk of his car is interesting. It reads as an homage to Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” which had been out for a few months when the episode aired, but in fact it was conceived before the writers and the director had seen the film. In the commentary track, Mike Reiss even remarks that they “did that shot before Scorsese, or Quentin Tarantino.” Before Kevin Smith, too.

The winner: 7F20: “The War of the Simpsons.” I didn’t really like either story, but 7F20 has a few great moments of animation I enjoyed.


Round 87: The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular vs. Bart the General

Round 87: 3F31 vs. 7G05.

3F31: “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular” (Season 7 / December 3, 1995)
Written by Penny Wise
Directed by Pound Foolish
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Dog Santas Little Helper with a gun in his mouth

Clip shows are usually terrible, but this one manages to be quite entertaining, thanks in large part to Phil Hartman as Troy McLure. They’re not just showing clips from old episodes but ones from the Tracey Ullman Show shorts, as well, which is neat, and some deleted scenes and alternate takes, too. So while this episode certainly won’t win the tournament, I was happy to revisit it, anyway.

7G05: “Bart the General” (Season 1 / February 4, 1990)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart Simpson vs the blow dryer

The first season is such a peculiar beast. The way the Simpsons look and sound today is so ingrained into my conscience that, watching it now, I can’t help but feel there’s something off about the first season. Yet I also remember seeing this for the first time, as a child. I didn’t get all of the jokes, certainly any movie references went way over my head, but even then I knew that this cartoon wasn’t like other cartoons. The Simpsons didn’t hold back, it dared to be crude, but it had heart, and it had something to say.

  • -“The following is a list of words I never want to hear on television again. Number one: bra. Number two: horny. Number three: family jewels.”

The winner: 7G05, “Bart the General.”