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.”


Round 75: Homer’s Night Out vs. A Star is Burns

Round 75: 7G10 vs. 2F31.

7G10: “Homer’s Night Out” (Season 1 / March 25, 1990)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Developed by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Halfway through this episode I scribbled in my notes something about how prudish it seemed that Marge would kick Homer out of the house just for dancing with an ecdysiast (that’s the fancy word for stripper). Talk about sex-negativity!

But then Marge explained to Homer (and me) why she was so angry: because he was being a bad role-model for Bart by letting him see his father treat a woman like an object and not a human being. The third act, with Homer taking Bart to see and talk to Princess Kashmir, was what really sold me on this episode. She is portrayed neither as a saint nor a whore, just a person doing a job. Not bad for a cartoon from over twenty years ago.

2F31: “A Star is Burns” (Season 6 / March 5, 1995)
Written by Ken Keeler
Directed by Susie Dietter
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Developed by James L. Brooks, Sam Simon

I’m not exactly siding with Matt Groening here – a crossover to promote another show is fine, especially considering the things he didn’t pull his name from – but Jim Brooks gleefully rubbing it in (the absent and unmentioned) Matt’s face on the commentary doesn’t make him look all that great, either.

The episode itself is fine. A few memorable lines, and the movie parodies and references are very well done. But nothing extraordinary.

The winner: 7G10, “Homer’s Night Out.”

Round 53: The Otto Show vs. Life on the Fast Lane

I’m back home, but it’s just too hot to think or write or even watch cartoons. I’ll try to do five this week, but don’t hold me to it. You’ve probably got better things to do, as well.

Round 53: 8F21 vs. 7G11.

8F21: “The Otto Show” (Season 3 / April 23, 1992)
Written by Jeff Martin
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Spinal Tap kick Muammar Gaddafi‎'s butt

Gotta love Spinal Tap. Otto’s not one of my favorite characters, but this episode is a good spotlight for him.

  • – Marge: “Doesn’t the Bible say, Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me?”
    – Homer: “Yes, but doesn’t the Bible also say, Thou shalt not take… moochers into thy… hut?”
  • Commentary trivia: Apparently, a certain guest star was quite the pain in the neck.

7G11: “Life on the Fast Lane” (Season 1 / March 8, 1990)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Marge Simpson and Jacques

Gotta love A. Brooks. His Jacques isn’t my favorite character of his, but it’s still a good one, and the episode is full of great, emotional moments.

I enjoyed both episodes, but they’re not quite at that level, yet. This could go either way, depending on the time of day. Right now, I’d say…

The winner: 8F21, “The Otto Show.”

Round 40: Moaning Lisa vs. Dead Putting Society

Round 40: 7G06 vs. 7F08.

7G06: “Moaning Lisa” (Season 1 / February 11, 1990)
Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss
Directed by Wesley Archer
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Drunkards and barflies in Moe's Tavern.

“Today’s fire raced through downtown Springfield, gutting Symphony Hall, the Springfield Museum of Natural History, the Springfield Arts Center and Barney’s Bowl-a-rama.”

An important episode, for both the show as a whole and for the development of some of the characters, especially Lisa. “Moaning Lisa” was a clear statement that The Simpsons wouldn’t just be a silly cartoon show, but one that could have real emotional impact, and a story to tell.

  • I want to play that boxing game. I hate boxing and I never play video games, but that one looks like fun. Also I love that 8-bit music.

7F08: “Dead Putting Society” (Season 2 / November 15, 1990)
Written by Jeff Martin
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart and Lisa Simpson overlooking Springfield

“What’s the sound of one hand clapping?”

Lovely little episode. Still rough around the edges, especially Homer and Flanders are not entirely who they’d later become, yet, but it’s an entertaining show, quite funny, and with a great resolution at the end.

  • Gotta love that couch (non-)gag.
  • “It’s times like this that I’m thankful Dad has little to no interest in almost everything I do.”
  • “Newsflash, Lisa! Bart is not a horse.”
  • “I can’t believe it. You actually found a practical use for geometry.”
  • “Forgive an old Brit for crying, but this is the most stirring display of gallantry and sportsmanship since Mountbatten gave India back to the Punjabs.”

The winner: 7F08, “Dead Putting Society.”

Round 36: Make Room for Lisa vs. Krusty Gets Busted

Round 36: AABF12 vs. 7G2.

AABF12: “Make Room for Lisa” (Season 10 / February 28, 1999)
Written by Brian Scully
Directed by Matthew Nastuk
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Lisa and Homer Simpson in an esoteric new age store.

“Other cultures are fine. I’m just saying I can get along in life without a… ‘toothbrush.'”

While I went into last round‘s “Lard of the Dance” with one specific, dreaded image in mind but then was pleasantly surprised by the whole of the episode, this time it was the other way around. “Make Room for Lisa” ends with a touching moment of bonding between Homer and Lisa, and that’s what I fondly remembered about it. But the way there? Boy, it gets rough.

I guess the writers decided that in order to give the final reconciliation between father and daughter more of an impact they had to crank up Homer’s lack of fatherly skills and basically make him World’s Greatest Asshole. And in the end he doesn’t grow or learn anything, it’s only Lisa who has the questionably epiphany of realizing that she really is a pain in the neck sometimes.

  • We do get, as is illustrated above, one of the two all-time great toothbrush jokes of The Simpsons. (The other one will come up in round 97. So any day now.)

7G12: “Krusty Gets Busted” (Season 1 / April 29, 1990)
Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky
Directed by Brad Bird
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart Simpson with a Krusty the Clown doll.

I’m a huge Brad Bird fan (“The Iron Giant” is one of my favorite movies) and it’s great fun to watch this episode and listen to the commentary with him, Matt, Jay & Wallace. The first season can be a bit rough at times, but this is a masterfully written and animated episode.

Full of jokes, both high and low brow, but also there’s real drama going on, and a crime mystery, too! Plus Kelsey Grammer, perfect as Sideshow Bob in this and the many follow-up episodes to come.

The winner: 7G12, “Krusty Gets Busted.”

Round 28: I Am Furious (Yellow) vs. The Call of the Simpsons

Round 28: DABF13 vs. 7G09.

DABF13: “I Am Furious (Yellow)” (Season 13 / April 28, 2002)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Chuck Sheetz
Showrunner: Al Jean

The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

Least unfunny frame I could find.

So sad.

Even before the episode really started, when Homer suffered through another violent couch gag, I wondered, Do they know they don’t have to torture Homer in every one of these?

And then it got so much worse. They have literally taken the two things I hate most about later-day Simpsons and built this episode around it. Homer is angry. Homer is subjected to gruesome violence. They even found time to slip in some of my third least favorite thing, Homer having back-and-forth, one-second-to-the-next mood swings. An all around winner, this one.

7G09: “The Call of the Simpsons” (Season 1 / February 18, 1990)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Wesley Archer
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

The Simpsons camping in the woods.

“There. Finished.”
“You are?”
“Well, it’s a quick job, but it’s shelter.”
“It is?”

Interestingly enough, when they recorded the commentary for this and the other first season episodes, they were in production of season 13, and they even point out that after all these years, John Swartzwelder was still cranking out scripts for the show.

But credited writer aside, these two episodes couldn’t be more different. “The Call of the Simpsons” already shows signs of the greatness that was to come while “I Am Furious (Yellow)” has only the slightest residue of it left.

More about this episode, which I quite liked, in the next phase of the tournament.

The winner: 7G09, “The Call of the Simpsons.”

Round 13: The Telltale Head vs. Flaming Moe’s

Round 132: 7G07 vs. 8F08.

7G07: “The Telltale Head” (Season 1 / February 25, 1990)
Written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Sam Simon, Matt Groening
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Bart Simpson sneaking out of the house.

I’m pretty sure this was the first episode of “The Simpsons” I ever saw. And I would have been Bart’s age, too, although there wasn’t much about him and his life I could identify with. I was no misfit (at least not intentionally), my family didn’t go to church nor I to Sunday school. Back then I had never seen or experienced the kind of bullying and peer pressure that seems so prevalent in American schools, and I haven’t, since.

Still, even then, I knew this was not like anything else on TV. When Bart goes to Homer for advice and asks “How important is it to be popular?” we don’t get the answer that TV dads have been giving since the dawn of time but instead this: “I’m glad you asked, son. Being popular is the most important thing in the world.”

Of course in the end they both learn their lesson, but the way there is paved with jabs at religion (“Is a little blind faith too much to ask?”), nationalism (at least that’s how I read the instant mob mentality) and other sacred (TV) cows.

8F08: “Flaming Moe’s” (Season 3 / November 21, 1991)
Written by Robert Cohen
Directed by Rich Moore, Alan Smart
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Aerosmith drinking beer at Moe's Tavern.

Look, it’s John Kalodner and Aerosmith!

This episode has always been very special to me. I was, after all, the biggest Aerosmith fan in my class, my school, my town, and possibly the whole country. And I still enjoy their music today. So seeing them on “The Simpsons” is a lot of fun.

But even apart from all that this is a great one. Compared to the first season episode above the show has come a long way. The animation is downright cinematic (just look at the scenes with Lisa and her friends chasing after Bart, or Homer’s “Phantom of the Opera”-inspired entrance at the end) and full of lovingly done references (the “Cheers” opening credits bit is beautiful). And there’s so much more, but we’ll have time to get into that in the next phase of the tournament, because…

The winner is: 8F08, “Flaming Moe’s.”