Round 106: Trash of the Titans vs. Lisa the Simpson

Round 106: 5F09 vs. 4F24.

5F09: “Trash of the Titans” (Season 9 / April 26, 1998)
Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham
Directed by Jim Reardon
Showrunner: Mike Scully

Homer Simpson and the Garbage Men Can

Well.

I always loved this episode. It’s funny. It’s got Steve Martin in a great guest spot that’s an actual character and not just a pointless cameo. There’s the song, of course.

So it’s a good episode. But it’s not a good Simpsons episode. If anything, it’s that rare beast, a good Zombie Simpsons episode. It’s a fun idea, but you could swap out Homer Simpson for Peter Griffin and nothing would be lost. Actually, I think this story would have made more sense on Family Guy.

Steve Martin’s character is molded in the Frank Grimes fashion, a “real life” person visiting the cartoon world. To get maximum contrast they had to amp up the wackiness, of course. Homer is in peak jerk-mode, which can be fun, for a short while. But it leaves an aftertaste.


4F24: “Lisa the Simpson” (Season 9 / March 8, 1998)
Written by Ned Goldreyer
Directed by Susie Dietter
Showrunners: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein

Lisa Simpson alone in her classroom

This episode aired just a few weeks before “Trash of the Titans,” but it feels very different. That’s because “Lisa the Simpson” was one of the last shows produced under Oakley & Weinstein, before Mike Scully took over as showrunner. I like some of Scully’s episodes, but there really is a tangible shift in how The Simpsons look and feel between these episodes.

Sorry, Bono, but the winner is: 4F24, “Lisa the Simpson.”

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 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 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 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.”