Round 98: The Old Man and the Lisa vs. ‘Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky

Round 98: 4F17 vs. EABF11.

4F17: “The Old Man and the Lisa” (Season 8 / April 20, 1997)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Lenny in charge of the Springfield nuclear power plant Charles Montgomery Burns all alone in Mr. Smithers' kitchen

Such a wonderful episode. A terrific Burns and Lisa story with emotional heft and a clever twist at the end. And the animation’s just beautiful, full of cinematic angles and lighting. I especially enjoyed the “Night of the Living Dead” thing at the end.

Also: bonus points for Burns’ usage of “Egad!,” my favorite minced oath.

  • -Bart: “Oh, recycling is useless, Lis. Once the sun burns out, this planet is doomed. You’re just making sure we spend our last days using inferior products.”

EABF11: “‘Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky” (Season 14 / March 30, 2003)
Written by Dan Greaney, Allen Grazier
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Showrunner: Al Jean

Bart Simpson and Milhouse van Houten stealing Fat Tony's Emmy hood ornament wearing fake mustaches

I remember liking this episode when it first aired, but it really doesn’t hold up. Compared to “The Old Man and the Lisa” the script’s flaws and gaping plot holes become obvious, and the few jokes and gimmicks that might have made you chuckle at first don’t offer anything worth revisiting.

The winner: 4F17, “The Old Man and the Lisa.”

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Round 96: The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace vs. My Mother the Carjacker

Round 96: 5F21 vs. EABF18.

5F21: “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” (Season 10 / September 20, 1998)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Dogs gnawing on burried Homer Simpson's legs

A fun, memorable episode. Homer verges on the edge of likability at times – his motivation here seems to be spite more than anything else – but it’s okay because the plot works, the jokes are funny and the animation and acting are quite beautiful.

  • -Lisa: “Dad, women won’t like being shot in the face.”
    -Homer: “Women will like what I tell them to like.”
  • -Kent Brockman: “Authorities say the phony pope can be recognized by his high-top sneakers and incredibly foul mouth.”

EABF18: “My Mother the Carjacker” (Season 15 / November 9, 2003)
Written by Michael Price
Directed by Nancy Kruse
Showrunner: Al Jean

Homer Simpson looking for a hidden message in the Springfield Shopper newspaper

Not a fan. I’m willing to forgive outlandish plots, and abandoning all logic and character traits, if an episode at least manages to make me laugh, or if it has something to say.

This one didn’t, and it hasn’t.

The winner: 5F21, “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace.”

Round 64: There’s Something About Marrying vs. Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment

Round 64: GABF04 vs. 4F15.

GABF04: “There’s Something About Marrying” (Season 16 / February 20, 2005)
Written by J. Stewart Burns
Directed by Nancy Kruse
Showrunner: Al Jean

Death Before Gay Marriage sign

One thing that bothers me so much about Zombie Simpsons is that things just happen. People walk in and out of frame willy-nilly – What, was Disco Stu just hanging around the Simpson house, waiting for his name to come up in conversation somewhere? – character traits are adjusted to the plot, not the other way around.

The word “zombie” doesn’t really apply, now that I think about it. Life- and brainless, yes, but at least zombies have some agenda and consistency. These Simpsons are more like string-puppets, dragged around and contorted into whichever shape this week’s episode’s crazy story needs them to be in.

On a less bitter note, I like how this episode treats marriage. Not “gay marriage” (such an antiquated term), but marriage, the concept. It’s a silly thing, if you think about it, and it’s mostly about money, anyway. Good on them for pointing that out. I just wish they had done it in an episode of “The Simpsons,” not “Family Guy.”


4F15: “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment” (Season 8 / March 16, 1997)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Bob Anderson
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Alcohol Prohibited in Springfield

I will have plenty of time talking about this episode in future rounds, so for now just a matter of contrast:

There is a scene where Homer and Marge are talking in their kitchen when a disheveled Chief Wiggum happens to walk past their window and begins talking to them. It’s important for the plot because it both gives Homer the idea to start his Beer Baron business and it sets up Wiggum’s involvement in the story later.

The writers had to come up with a feasible way to have Homer and Wiggum meet, and that’s why they had Homer and Marge hold their conversation in the kitchen, where there is a window overlooking the street. It’s still a convenient coincidence that Wiggum happened to stagger by just that minute, but not an inconceivable one.

As opposed to, say, Disco Stu walking into Marge’s bedroom.

  • -“Remember, honey, we’re disobeying an unjust law here. We’re patriots. Like… all those people in jail.”

The winner: 4F15, “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.”

Round 59: Goo Goo Gai Pan vs. Selma’s Choice

Round 59: GABF06 vs. 9F11.

GABF06: “Goo Goo Gai Pan” (Season 16 / March 13, 2005)
Written by Dana Gould
Directed by Lance Kramer
Showrunner: Al Jean

Chinese dragons

I wasn’t a big fan of this episode, but listening to the DVD’s audio commentary made me look at it a bit more favorably, I have to say. Writer Dana Gould based the story on his own experiences of traveling to China to adopt a baby girl, and many of the episode’s beats were directly inspired by real life, including a lesbian woman who had another man pretend to be her husband for the Chinese authorities.

Other highlights of the commentary include anecdotes about guest stars Robert Wagner (slept with Marilyn Monroe) and Lucy Liu (gave a huge basket of cupcakes to the writers).


9F11: “Selma’s Choice” (Season 4 / January 21, 1993)
Written by David M. Stern
Directed by Carlos Baeza
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Homer Simpson and a potato chip shaped like the soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima

Selma realizes that time is ticking away and desperately wants to have a child? I’ve heard that before.

The actual plot of this episode is kinda all over the place without really going anywhere. In that aspect, “Goo Goo Gai Pan” handles Selma’s dilemma better – she actually gets a baby in the end, not just an iguana.

Still, “Selma’s Choice” is the better episode. It’s funnier, the animation is more beautiful, Homer gets to eat both potato chips shaped like famous people and a rotten sandwich.

Plus, of course, Lisa’s bad acid trip in Duff Gargens.

  • -“Well, to cheer you up, I rented a couple of videos. ‘Boxing’s Greatest Weigh-Ins‘ and Yentl.'”
    -“Yentl? What’s that?”
    -“It deals with a bookish young woman’s efforts to enter rabbinical school.”
    -“Sounds great!”
    -“Oh my God! You’re delirious.”

The winner: 9F11: “Selma’s Choice.”

Round 48: Homer’s Phobia vs. Future-Drama

Now that the Season 16 DVD box set has arrived, I can finally do the rounds I skipped, starting with…

Round 48: 4F11 vs. GABF12.

4F11: “Homer’s Phobia” (Season 8 / February 16, 1997)
Written by Ron Hauge
Directed by Mike B. Anderson
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Homer, Barney, Bart, and Moe going hunting

Nice touch that their clothes are modeled after those from “The Deer Hunter.”

I like the idea behind this episode better than I like the actual episode. Similar to Frank Grimes, John, brilliantly voiced by John Waters, comes upon the Simpsons as somebody from “the real world” (Baltimore, presumably), and the ensuing culture clash is a fun and interesting one.

For a season 8 episode, “Homer’s Phobia” feels strangely season 14-ish at times. (A better way of saying that is that certain moments feels more like they’re from an Al Jean episode than from an Oakley & Weinstein episode.) Especially Homer’s behavior is annoying to me – although I do recognize that they had to amp up his lesser qualities to make the final redemption work.

  • “Force majeure!”

GABF12: “Future-Drama” (Season 16 / April 17, 2005)
Written by Matt Selman
Directed by Mike B. Anderson
Showrunner: Al Jean

Slightly older Mrs. Krabappel, Ms. Hoover, Homer and Bart Simpson

Where did Ms. Hoover go? Where did her glass go? Where did Homer go?

I laughed a few times.

Not during the actual episode, unfortunately, but during the DVD commentary.

Oh, well.

The winner: 4F11, “Homer’s Phobia.”

Round 46, Part 2: The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star

Back in July I declared Season 7’s “Lisa the Vegetarian” the winner over Season 16’s “The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star” despite never having seen the latter episode.

I promised to revisit Round 46 as soon as the Season 16 DVD box set would come my way, though. And it did, on Christmas! So…

The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star” (Season 16 / May 15, 2005)
Written by Matt Warburton
Directed by Michael Polcino
Showrunner: Al Jean

Homer Simpson confesses to Father Sean (Liam Neeson)

Okay, so I hated the opening set piece (the school is holding some medieval fair for some reason?) and not just because it was basically just a setup for cheap, rat-based gross-out humor, but also because it reminded me that, at this point in the series, the characters on screen might look like the ones I love and remember from the show’s golden years, but they’re not behaving like them. When Matthew Pury wrote about “Lisa’s Substitue” for his tournament, he noted how Lisa used to be vulnerable and shy, but lost those qualities as time went on. In this episode, Lisa revels in being named Queen of the Fair (or something like that) not because it fits her character but simply because it gives Bart something to play off of. Sherry or Terry would have worked just as well, and actually made more sense.

Anyway, the episode got better after the main plot kicked in. Liam Neeson and Tress MacNeille are fun, and there are some nice jokes to be had at the expense of religion – easy target, I know, but still.

Sadly, though, there are too many moments that, I suspect, wouldn’t have made it into the final draft of a pre-Al-Jean-as-sole-showrunner-episode. I’ve said it about Season 15, I’ve said it about Season 17, and now I’ll say it about Season 16: restraint and focus are long gone. Too bad.

Verdict: “The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star” is a decent enough episode with some regrettable flaws. “Lisa the Vegetarian” still wins Round 46.

Round 93: The Boy Who Knew Too Much vs. Treehouse of Horror XVII

Round 93: 1F19 vs. HABF17.

1F19: “The Boy Who Knew Too Much” (Season 5 / May 5, 1995)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Bart Simpson looking out of a window at a rainbow.

I had this whole big speech prepared about why something like the “Westworld“-inspired chase sequence between Skinner and Bart works here, in season five, but if a similar thing would happen in season 25 (is that where they’re at?) it would feel cheap and out of place, but then my browser just closed the tab I was writing in and I had to start from scratch:

Part of the reason is the execution – today’s animation just can’t compare to what the show used to look like – part is the reference – it wouldn’t be some mildly obscure 70s sci-fi flick but something painfully obvious like, I dunno, “The Hunger Games” – but mostly it would come down to the oft-cited ‘rubber-band reality‘ of “The Simpsons.”

We can accept (and laugh off) Skinner walking through the river like some sort of…non…giving up…school guy, because it’s clearly done with a winking eye in an otherwise grounded episode. Bart’s dilemma of whether to tell the truth to save Freddy Quimby from trouble while getting himself into trouble is real, so it’s okay if the reality that’s getting him there is stretched a bit.

Today, not only has the rubber-band long been snapped and broken into fragments; the plots are so far off the ground that it can hardly be seen anymore.

  • One of Phil Hartman’s most perfect performances:
    -Lionel Hutz: “I rest my case.”
    -Judge: “You rest your case?”
    -Lionel Hutz: “What? Oh no I thought that was just a figure of speech. … Case closed.”

HABF17: “Treehouse of Horror XVII” (Season 18 / November 5, 2006)
Written by Peter Gaffney
Directed by David Silverman, Matthew C. Faughnan
Showrunner: Al Jean

Orson Welles performing H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds

Not a particularly good Halloween special. The first segment (Blob) is awful, the second (Golem) slightly better but still pretty bad and the third (War of the World) has some nice things going for it – I especially liked the 1930’s design of the people of Springfield – but ultimately disappoints, as well.

The winner: 1F19, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much.”