128th-Final, Round 14: The Day the Violence Died vs. The Call of the Simpsons

128th-final, round 14: 3F16 vs. 7G09.

3F16: “The Day the Violence Died” (Season 7 / March 17, 1996)
Written by John Swartzwelder. Directed by Wesley Archer
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Bart and Lisa Simpson watching Itchy and Scratchy on TV

vs.

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

Marge and Lisa Simpson at a camp fire in the woods

Two great Swartzwelder/Archer episodes in this round. While there are certainly many differences in the look and feel and even the characters between seasons 1 and 7, the writer and director have undeniably put their stamp on either episode. Swartwelder’s crazy one-liners and out-there references are present in both of these, as is Archer’s lovingly detailed and beautifully drawn animation.

Albert Brooks“The Day the Violence Died” has great voice performances from guests Kirk Douglas, Alex Rocco, and Phil Hartman (and singing from Jack Sheldon!), while in “The Call of the Simpsons” we get a wonderful scene with Albert Brooks as the sleazy RV-salesman, who kinda reminded me of Walton Goggins’ character in “The Hateful Eight” this time around.

I always think that Season 1 doesn’t really stand much of a chance in this tournament because it can be so different from what the show would become later, but watching these two back-to-back I have to say that I enjoyed 7G09 a lot more than I would have expected. So, in what might be considered kind of an upset, …

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

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.”

Round 97: A Milhouse Divided vs. King of the Hill

Round 97: 4F04 vs. 5F16.

4F04: “A Milhouse Divided” (Season 8 / December 1, 1996)
Written by Steve Tompkins
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Luann Van Houten burning a box of Kirk's belongings

A great script, beautifully animated. I tend to enjoy episodes that focus on the family more than those heavily featuring secondary characters, but having Milhouse’s parents get a divorce is a great idea and I love the way it’s handled. Most other sitcoms would have restored the status quo at the end, and probably while teaching us some valuable lesson, too.

  • -Marge: “A punch bowl like that just screams good taste. Wouldn’t it be perfect for the dinner party?”
    -Homer: “We can’t afford that. Who do you think I am, Liz Taylor?”
    -Marge: “Well, maybe we can use it once and then return it.”
    -Homer: “Marge, we’re not talking about a toothbrush here.”
  • -Homer: “You can’t keep blaming yourself. Just blame yourself once and move on.”

5F16: “King of the Hill” (Season 9 / May 3, 1998)
Written by John Swartzwelder
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Showrunners: Mike Scully

Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, helping Homer Simpson climb the Murderhorn

An interesting side-effect of this tournament, and one that I didn’t expect to happen, is that I look at episodes much more critically than I ever did in the past. I always enjoyed “King of the Hill,” and I still did, for the most part, on this viewing. But compared to not only the episode above but also to the kinds of episode I expect to make it to the last rounds of the bracket, a few things stood out to me. Homer is once again a tad too much of a jerk, he’s victim of too much physical abuse, and the (always lose) fabric of the show’s plausibility is  stretched too thin a few times.

These are, of cause, all symptoms of a Zombie Simpsons episode, yet “King of the Hill” is far from that. The difference, and the thing that saves the episode from falling into that dreaded category, are the effort, love, and care of the people involved in the making of it that is clearly on display.

The winner: 4F04, “A Milhouse Divided.”

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 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 95: Girly Edition vs. Treehouse of Horror VII

Round 95: 5F15 vs. 4F02.

5F15: “Girly Edition” (Season 9 / April 19, 1998)
Written by Larry Doyle
Directed by Mark Kirkland
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Lindsey Naegle and Krusty the Clown

Homer gets a monkey while Bart and Lisa become famous TV newscasters. This episode is awful, and surprisingly so when you consider it happened in Mike Scully’s first season as showrunner.

I didn’t even make it all the way through this thing.


4F02: “Treehouse of Horror VII” (Season 8 / October 27, 1996)
Written by Ken Keeler / Dan Greaney / David S. Cohen
Directed by Mike B. Anderson
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Homer and Marge entering through the door as lightning strikes.

Back in Round 16 I wrote that “we all know that no ‘Treehouse of Horror’ will win this thing in the end,” but, wow, this one? It’s the one to beat. All three segments are awesome, the second and third are downright masterful.

  • The whole “waffle” run in Lisa’s story is just perfect:
    -“Hey, these aren’t waffles. These are just square pancakes.”
    -“I’m sorry, honey, the waffle iron’s in the shop.”
    -“The waffle iron’s been in the shop forever.”

The winner: 4F02, “Treehouse of Horror VII.”

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.”