128th-Final, Round 11: Bart the Mother vs. A Fish Called Selma

128th-final, round 11: 5F22 vs. 3F15.

5F22: “Bart the Mother” (Season 10 / September 27, 1998)
Written by David S. Cohen. Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Showrunner: Mike Scully

5F22 "Bart the Mother"

Hey, look, it’s Homer getting violently hit in the groin with a baseball. That’s not even three minutes into this episode – which, if past me is to be believed does get better as it goes on – and that’s when I turned it off and declared “A Fish Called Selma” the winner of this round. Not that that outcome was ever in doubt, anyway.


3F15: “A Fish Called Selma” (Season 7 / March 24, 1996)
Written by Jack Barth. Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

3F15 "A Fish Called Selma"

-Lovejoy: “And do you, Selma Bouvier Terwilliger Bouvier, take the fabulous Troy McClure to be your lawful wedded husband?”
-Selma: “I already told you, yes.”

That is such a subtle little joke and such a perfect line reading from Julie Kavner. (Have I mentioned the word perfect, yet?)

The winner: 3F15, “A Fish Called Selma.”

128th-Final, Round 5: The Homer They Fall vs. Lady Bouvier’s Lover

128th-final, round 5: 4F03 vs. 1F21.

4F03: “The Homer They Fall” (Season 8 / November 10, 1996)
Written by Jonathan Collier. Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

"No running!"

“No running!”

I think if I had never started this tournament I’d happily file this one under “masterpiece” and move on, but since I’m comparing episodes I can’t help but note small things that, for lack of a better rationale, would seem out of place in what I’d picture as a “perfect” Simpsons episode. Tiny moments like Homer dragging Marge into the gadget store against her will (“Homer, please, you’re hurting my arm.”) just don’t sit right with me. And I already got into my problems with Homer being a human punching bag for most of the episode last time I watched it.

  • Janie saying “No running!” in the hallways is one of those things I probably missed the first 20 times I watched the episode but now think is one of the funniest things ever.
  • -Michael Buffer: “Due to popular demand, we will forego our national anthem.”

1F21: “Lady Bouvier’s Lover” (Season 5 / May 12, 1994)
Written by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein
Directed by Wes Archer. Showrunner: David Mirkin

Grandpa Abe Simpson in 1F21 Lady Bouvier’s Lover

How good is this episode? I was so enthralled watching it that I completely forgot that I was supposed to take down notes or think about it critically in any capacity. I was just enjoying it from start to finish. And while I do like “The Homer They Fall” very much, the choice here is clear:

The winner: 1F21, “Lady Bouvier’s Lover.”

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.”

My Favorite Frames from Homer Defined

The Simpsons 8F04 Homer Defined

If you’re following me on Twitter you know that, in concert with FXX’s Simpsons marathon, I’ve been posting my favorite shot from each episode.

I’ve been limiting myself to one frame per episode, and in most cases it was an easy pick. But then I got to Mark Kirkland’s “Homer Defined” from season 3. I knew one image wouldn’t be enough to demonstrate just how beautiful this episode is. So here’s just a little sample:

8F04b

8F04c

8F04d

The Simpsons 8F04 Homer Defined

8F04h

8F04g

8F04i

8F04j

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 114: Three Men and a Comic Book vs. Homer Defined

Round 114: 7F21 vs. 8F04.

7F21: “Three Men and a Comic Book” (Season 2 / May 9, 1991)
Written by Jeff Martin
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Black and white still of the planet blowing up in an old Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy film strip

Good stuff. It takes a while to get going, the pacing of the plot and the jokes clearly mark this as a second season episode, but the climactic moments in Bart’s treehouse are every bit as awesome and beautiful as you remember.

  • Love how Bart basically turns into an old-timey gangster at the end. “Real friendly-like.”
  • -Bart: “We ended up with nothing because the three of us can’t share.”
    -Milhouse: “What’s your point?”
    -Bart: “Nothin’. Just kind of ticks me off.”

8F04 “Homer Defined” (Season 3 / October 17, 1991)
Written by Howard Gewirtz
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

-Homer: "What? What is it? What are you doing?" -Lisa: "Looking at you with quit awe." -Homer: "Well, as long as it's quiet."

-Homer: “What? What is it? What are you doing?”
-Lisa: “Looking at you with quiet awe.”
-Homer: “Well, as long as it’s quiet.”

Wonderful. Mark Kirkland brings such a good eye to his direction. The angles, the lighting, the shadows, the staging. I am again sadly reminded of the time the guys from Robot Chicken did the show’s couch gag, and in the making of they describe the look of (today’s) Simpsons as “two-dimensional,” “flat,” and “even lit.” It wasn’t always like that, as episodes like “Homer Defined” demonstrate masterfully.

The winner: 8F04, “Homer Defined.”

Round 110: Homer at the Bat vs. Team Homer

Round 110: 8F13 vs. 3F10.

8F13: “Homer at the Bat” (Season 3 / February 20, 1992)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Smithers and Mr. Burns

Love this episode, even though I don’t know anything about baseball and the plot is straight-up stolen from that Michael Jordon/Bugs Bunny classic, “Space Jam.”

Guest stars can be a tricky thing, and having a whole bunch of them in one episode can easily turn into a gimmick or a distraction. But it works here, because the heart of the story is still with Homer, the baseball celebrities just enhance it. And they’re really funny in it, too. I can only imagine how this plays for someone who actually knows the sport and these players. Maybe it’s like what I felt when I watched the “Futurama” episode with all the cast members of the original “Star Trek” in it? Or that “Family Guy” with all the cast members of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Well, maybe not so much that last one.

Anyway, if you have the DVD I recommend checking out the commentary for this one. It’s pretty fun, there are a lot of stories about recording the baseball people and you get to hear which one of them was kind of a dick and also which two Simpsons cast members kinda hated the script and didn’t want to do it.

  • -“Mattingly! I thought I told you to trim those sideburns.”

3F10: “Team Homer” (Season 7 / January 7, 1996)
Written by Mike Scully
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer and Marge Simpson in bed at night

-“No, I will not pay you $500 for sex.”

As much as I love “Homer at the Bat,” I’m going to have to let “Team Homer” win this one. They’re both very good episodes. But watching them back to back, I just enjoyed this one a bit more.

The winner: 3F10, “Team Homer.”