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 91: Krusty Gets Kancelled vs. Treehouse of Horror

Round 91: 9F19 vs. 7F04.

9F19: “Krusty Gets Kancelled” (Season 4 / May 13, 1993)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Worker and Parasite

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Johnny Carson fan, so naturally I got a huge kick out of his appearance here. (It may, in fact, have been this very episode that spawned my fascination with Carson.)

The many other celebrity voices worked very well, too. The episode is filled with funny moments and observations and just a great joy to watch.

7F04: “Treehouse of Horror” (Season 2 /October 25, 1990)
Written by John Swartzwelder / Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky / Sam Simon, Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by Rich Moore / Wes Archer / David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Homer Simpson firing up the grill in a Halloween special.

The first Simpsons Halloween Special is still one of my favorites. All three segments are fun, but of course “The Raven” takes the cake, with James Earl Jones and Dan Castellaneta’s readings and the beautiful staging and animation by David Silverman.

The winner: 9F19, “Krusty Gets Kancelled.”

Round 88: Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes? vs. Blood Feud

Round 88: 8F23 vs. 7F22.

8F23: “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?” (Season 3 / August 27, 1992)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Rich Moore
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

The Flanders family sings farewell to Herbert Powell

Danny DeVito reprises his role as Unky Herb from “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?“ and again his voice effortlessly blends in with the rest of the cast. This is late into Al and Mike’s first season, so things start to get a little bit more outlandish (Smither’s sperm!?, the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence), but at the core there’s a solid, grounded story.

And, again, I couldn’t help but notice how beautifully animated the show is. The angles! The shadows!

  • -“This is one of our many light switches. It functions in both the on and off mode. On. Off. On. Off.”
  • Totally forgot about the fantastic “2001: A Space Odyssey” scene.

7F22: “Blood Feud” (Season 2 / July 11, 1991)
Written by George Meyer
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Smithers offering Dr. Hibbert his blood to save Mr. Burns' life

A lot of memorable moments in this one, from Lisa teaching Maggie new words, Homer’s twisted telling of the story of Hercules and the Lion (-“Is it a Bible story?” -“Probably.”) to his angry letter to Mr. Burns and of course the introduction of future basement-dweller Xtapolapocetl.

  • -“‘Senile,’ eh? ‘Buck-toothed,’ am I? ‘Bony arms,’ are they? ‘Liver spots,’ did I? ‘Chinless,’ will you?”

The winner: 7F22, “Blood Feud.”

Round 84: Old Money vs. The President Wore Pearls

Round 84: 7F17 vs. EABF20.

7F17: “Old Money” (Season 2 / March 28, 1991)
Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky
Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Grandpa Abe Simpson in Edward Hopper's Nighthawks diner

Another very good episode from the second season. You can tell that David Silverman directed it, as again we get some beautiful, inventive angles and shadows. Great story, too, with a real emotional depth to it.

EABF20: “The President Wore Pearls” (Season 15 / November 16, 2003)
Written by Dana Gould
Directed by Mike B. Anderson
Showrunners: Al Jean

Vote Lisa Simpson

One marking of a Zombie Simpsons episode (that I hadn’t really thought about until Dead Homer Society pointed it out but now can’t stop noticing) is that characters just appear out of thin air in places they have no reason to be in, just for the sake of a throwaway joke or as a lazy way to move the plot forward. This happens at least three times in this episode, with Chalmers, Skinner’s mother, and Homer and Marge walking into frame without even the attempt of an explanation as to why they would be anywhere near the school.

The winner: 7F17, “Old Money.”

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 76: The PTA Disbands vs. Principal Charming

Round 76: 2F19 vs. 7F15.

2F19: “The PTA Disbands” (Season 6 / April 16, 1995)
Written by Jennifer Crittenden
Directed by Swinton O. Scott III
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Girl left alone hanging from the rings in gymnastics class

“Mrs. Pommelhorst?”

Very good story with a lot of Mirken-esque touches. I am again reminded how important Marcia Wallace and Maggie Roswell are to the show. These school-centered episodes gain so much from their performances.

  • -“Sorry, Bart. I’m deeply immersed in the Teapot Dome scandal.”
    -“However, it might be feasible in a fortnight.”
    -“I can play in two weeks.”

7F15: “Principal Charming” (Season 2 / February 14, 1991)
Written by David Stern
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Principal Skinner shaking his fist all Gone With the Wind like

“After all, tomorrow is another school day!”

What I love about the early seasons is that there is so much effort put into making the movie references, in this case to Vertigo, The Terminator and Gone With the Wind, not only funny but also beautiful to look at.

Looking back you notice the characters behaving in ways slightly off from what they would become, but I don’t mind that. I like the way Homer and Bart are integral to Skinner and Patty and Selma’s stories but don’t feel shoehorned in.

The winner: 2F19, “The PTA Disbands.”

And a sad addendum: After I wrote this round I heard the news that Marcia Wallace passed away. I have praised her performance as Ms. Krabappel on many occasions and I’m sure there will be more of that as the tournament goes on. Along with other frequent guest actors like Maggie Roswell, Phil Hartman, Albert Brooks and Kelsey Grammer, Wallace was integral to giving life to the secondary citizens of Springfield, and whenever Krabappel was made center of an episode she made her as real and deep as any life-action performer would have. Springfield Elementary won’t be the same without her.

Round 70: Brother from Another Series vs. One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish

Round 70: 4F14 vs. 7F11.

4F14: “Brother from Another Series” (Season 8 / February 23, 1997)
Written by Ken Keeler
Directed by Pete Michels
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Bart Simpson falling to his doom

Kelsey Grammer’s performances as Sideshow Bob are always a delight, and giving him David Hyde Pierce to play off of is a great idea. I’ve only seen one or two episodes of Frasier, so I bet there are a lot of references I don’t get, but there are a ton of other funny things to enjoy here, plus beautiful, dramatic animation and scoring.

If you like the occasional glimpse behind the scenes of The Simpsons, you could do worse than to follow David Silverman on Twitter, where he, a while ago, shared a page from this episode’s storyboards, with notes by Brad Bird:

4F14 storyboard with notes by Brad Bird

7F11: “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish” (Season 2 / January 24, 1991)
Written by Nell Scovell
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Dumb Things I Gotta Do Today

I still do this every time I make a list.

What can I say? A pivotal episode for the series, one that announced to the world that this wasn’t just some cartoon, but a show that has something to say, stories to tell, make you think, and make you laugh.

  • -“What are you in for?”

The winner: 7F11, “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.”