128th-Final, Round 12: Bart Gets an “F” vs. Homer the Vigilante

128th-final, round 12: 7F03 vs. 1F09.

7F03: “Bart Gets an F” (Season 2 / October 11, 1990)
Written by David M. Stern. Directed by David Silverman
Showrunners: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

7F03 Bart Gets an F

vs.

1F09: “Homer the Vigilante” (Season 5 / January 6, 1994)
Written by John Swartzwelder. Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: David Mirkin

1F09 Homer the Vigilante

Another close one. As many second season episodes do, “Bart Gets an F” starts out as a rather conventional family sitcom plot, but of course even back then The Simpsons couldn’t help but elevate the material. I am again and again impressed by the sophisticated and artful animation of the early seasons, and this one is just full of beautiful shots.

“Homer the Vigilante” is obviously a much more polished product, and I like the episode a lot, but “Bart Gets an F” has a certain charm that, at least for me, puts it ahead in this contest.

The winner: 7F03, “Bart Gets an F.”

Round 94: Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy vs. Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy

Round 94: 2F07 vs. 1F12.

It’s vs. vs. vs.! Bill & Josh vs. Oakley & Weinstein! 1994 vs. 1994!

2F07: “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy” (Season 6 / December 4, 1994)
Written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Marge and Homer Simpson share a bathtub.

I’m a bit distracted right now as I’m travelling and mostly occupied with other things, but I still want to move this thing along, so I crammed in this episode last night and will watch the second one in a minute.

Not much to say about this one, anyway. It’s a great episode. The Homer and Grandpa plot is fun and comes to a nice little emotional conclusion, but I liked the kids’ story of paranoid conspiracy theories even better.

  • Stock Footage Festival!

1F12: “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” (Season 5 / February 17, 1994)
Written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
Directed by Jeff Lynch
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Lisa Simpson and Stacy Lovell

Kathleen Turner!

Fantastic episode. Too much good stuff to get into now; I have a train to catch!

The winner: 1F12, “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy.”

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.”

Round 90: Homer vs. Patty and Selma vs. Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words

Round 90: 2F14 vs. KABF19.

2F14: “Homer vs. Patty and Selma” (Season 6 / February 26, 1995)
Written by Brent Forrester
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer and Marge Simpson with Patty and Selma Bouvier

Love Homer’s forced smile.

Homer verges a bit on the too mean/too dumb side for my taste in this episode, and it’s not as flat-out funny as some of the season’s other episodes, but overall I like it. Bart’s ballet subplot is fun, as is the resolution to the Patty and Selma story (“And you, sir, are worse than Hitler.”).

  • I’m a bit disappointed by the Mel Brooks and Susan Sarandon appearances. I like both of them and wish they had been giving something better to do.
  • -“Rat Boy? I resent that.”

KABF19: “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words” (Season 20 / November 16, 2008)
Written by Tim Long
Directed by Michael Polcino
Showrunner: Al Jean

Homer Simpson having a revelation in bed

Here’s something I didn’t expect: this episode isn’t terrible. Parts of it are quite funny (the In Memoriam segment especially) and there were almost none of the cringe-worthy moments that define other episodes from later seasons.

So, it’s not bad, but is it better than “Homer vs. Patty and Selma”?

Not quite. But it’s not that far off, really.

The winner: 2F14, “Homer vs. Patty and Selma.”

Round 89: Lisa the Beauty Queen vs. Bart Gets Famous

Round 89: 9F02 vs. 1F11.

9F02: “Lisa the Beauty Queen” (Season 4 / October 15, 1992)
Written by Jeff Martin
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss

Krusty the Klown heartily endorsing an even or product on television

-“I heartily endorse this event or product.”

One look at the names above and you know you’re in for a great episode. Of course I like the moments between Homer and Lisa, but what I caught watching it this time was how much of the episode is made up of almost skit-like little scenes that serve mostly for delivering setups and punchlines. From the moment Lisa is crowned beauty queen it’s one set piece after another, the wax museum, the deportation, the USO show, the football game. When “Family Guy” first ripped off “The Simpsons,” this is one of the things they were… inspired by, for sure.

  • A good Simpsons episode knows that when the main focus is on Lisa or Marge, Bart and Homer are allowed to act a bit wackier than usual, and we certainly get some of that here. (Bart channeling Tex Avery, Homer daydreaming about Marge mowing the lawn.)

1F11: “Bart Gets Famous” (Season 5 / February 3, 1994)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Susie Dietter
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer Simpson answering the phone wearing nothing but a towel

-“You’ll have to speak up. I’m wearing a towel.”

Going into this round I of course knew that “Bart Gets Famous” is a great episode, but I wondered if it was still funny even after all the countless times I’ve seen it. The answer: Yes. It is. I laughed out loud more than I’d expected, both at jokes I anticipated and others I had forgotten about.

The observation I made above is true here, as well. With Bart center Homer gets away with a lot of crazy things, one of my favorites being his rant about poor people – and the ensuing blank stares from his family.

  • Another perfect Dan Castellaneta performance as the box factory guide.

The winner: 1F11, “Bart Gets Famous.”

Round 81: Rosebud vs. Waverly Hills 9-0-2-1-D’oh

Round 81: 1F01 vs. LABF10.

1F01: “Rosebud” (Season 5 / October 21, 1993)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Wes Archer
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Homer Simpson discovering Mr. Burns' teddy bear Bobo

Looking at this frame, and the whole episode for that matter, I had a thought. You could show “Rosebud” (and other great Simpsons episodes) to someone who has never seen it, without the sound, and not only would they be fully able to follow the story, they’d enjoy it, too.  Not to take anything away from the words written by the writers and spoken by the actors, the images drawn and animated by the director and his countless helpers stand as works of art by themselves.

I don’t believe that the digital animation process the show has employed since season 14 prohibits the animators from coming up with equally beautiful imagery. I do believe, however, that it’s a lot harder to do so, and unfortunately the areas that most benefit from a certain human touch are the very same digital ink and paint  take the human element away from.


LABF10: “Waverly Hills 9-0-2-1-D’oh” (Season 20 / May 3, 2009)
Written by J. Stewart Burns
Directed by Michael Polcino
Showrunner: Al Jean

Simpsons dog Santas Little Helper scratching on the paved lawn

Hey, if they can be lazy in writing them, I can be lazy in reviewing them.

The winner: 1F01 “Rosebud.”

A quick note regarding the bracket: Since I cheated and gave Round 80‘s win to the runner-up from Round 79, I had to fidget with the way that episode advanced into the 128th-final. (If I hadn’t, Round 79 would just be repeated in the next phase.) So what I did is place 1F22 where the winner from this round would have gone, and 1F01 will take the place where Round 80’s winner would be. Exciting, I know.

Round 79: Bart of Darkness vs. The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson

Round 79: 1F22 vs. 4F22. Whoa.

1F22: “Bart of Darkness” (Season 6 / September 4, 1994)
Written by Dan McGrath
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: David Mirkin

Bart Simpson reading MAD Magazine (NYPD Blecch)

I have probably written about this before (I mean, I guess? No way to be sure.), but the thing that I love most about The Simpsons is that there are so many levels to it, so many different ways to enjoy it. And this episode is the perfect embodiment of that. You can watch this without ever having seen “Rear Window” or anything by Hitchcock – as I did when I first saw the episode – and get a great deal of joy from it. And once you know the movie – as I do now – you have this whole new layer of references and homages to appreciate. And then you listen to the commentary and you learn even more things that enrich your experience of watching the episode. But the beauty of it is that you don’t need to know anything to enjoy it.

This episode is perfect. Not one wrong note.


4F22: “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” (Season 9 / September 21, 1997)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Alfred E. Neuman in the MAD Magazine offices

This has got to be one of the toughest rounds in the tournament. I love both episodes a great deal, and it sucks to see one of them leave so early. “Bart of Darkness” really does hit all high notes, while there are some (minor, but still) things in “The City of New York” that I don’t like that much. Homer gets his dose of physical punishment here, and while it’s miles away from the awful things he’d have to endure in later seasons, it’s still something I don’t like to see.

But then again, the high notes it does have hit higher than the ones in 1F22. “Kickin’ It,” written by Ken Keeler, is my favorite musical number of the whole series, Homer’s New York-flashback is a truly beautiful bit of animation, and the ending with Homer driving out of the city makes me smile just thinking about it.

So, once again, I have to ask myself the question: If I could only see one of these two episodes again, with the other one being forever lost, which would I pick?

The winner, after much hemming and hawing: 4F22, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson.” This really could’ve gone either way. Maybe if I saw “Bart of Darkness” last I would have picked it. This one’s gonna haunt me.