Category Archives: Season 1

Simpsons – S1E9 – Life on the Fast Lane

Excuse me for just one moment.

OH MY GOD A MARGE EPISODE! IT’S LIKE THE PAST LISTENED TO MY BITCHING! WOOOOOOOOO!

That said, damn is this an unflattering episode. It’s one I remember fairly well – in ye olden days of endless Simpson repeats, this one was on quite a bit. It was just as uncomfortable to watch then as it is now. It’s yet another one I thought came later, but I do think I understand why this is the first Marge episode viewers are exposed to. We’ve seen the antics of the rest of the family, especially Homer and Bart. Saying the Simpson life is chaos is being fairly generous. Lisa doesn’t have a choice but to live with it, it’s the life she was born into. Bart’s stuck, and all things considered Homer has it pretty good. That only leaves the question: why does Marge choose to stay amid the maelstrom that is her home life? It’s a good question, and one I’m not entirely certain is answered by today’s episode, but here we go regardless!

The Simpsons, Season One Episode Nine – Life on the Fast Lane.

Sorry Eagles, wrong type of fast lane.

We open with a rare scene of Bart and Lisa working together. The occasion? Breakfast in bed for their mother’s birthday! Naturally, Homer forgot to get her a present and rushes out to find the perfect gift. Unfortunately, with the handicap of being himself, he gets the perfect gift for himself: a shiny new bowling ball, engraved with his name. Enraged by her husband’s unique combination of thoughtlessness and selfishness, Marge resolves to spite him by actually using the ball so he can’t claim it as his own. Her spite-induced plan leads her to Barney’s Bowl-o-Rama, where having never bowled a game in her life, she’s predictably terrible. However, she catches the eye of local bowling instructor and implied womanizer Jaques.

I could have gone with the one where it looks like she's eyeing his package, but his face looks so stupid in those frames.

Jaques woos Marge into pursuing bowling lessons, and suddenly she’s going to the Bowl-o-Rama every night. Student and instructor continue to get closer, as the rest of the family deals with the impending implosion: Homer feels he can only watch silently as his wife slips away from him, while Lisa and Bart work their way through the stages of grief at different speeds (side note – I thought there were five stages of grief? Lisa says there are eight, but maybe she’s referring to different stages. Oh well!). Jaques finally makes his romantic intentions clear, and though the Simpson matriarch is conflicted, she doesn’t exactly shy away. Lessons lead to brunch, and brunch leads to an invitation to his apartment. One dream sequence later, Marge accepts. Homer tries one last time to tell his wife how he feels about her, but all he can muster is a monologue about how she makes fantastic sandwiches. Resigned to his fate, Homer goes to work and at a literal intersection of her life, Marge faces a choice: her husband, or Jaques? One movie parody later (and I’m sorry, I have no idea what flick/famous scene this is parodying), Homer is carrying off Marge with my favorite quote of the episode: “Tell him I’m going to the backseat of my car with the woman I love, and I won’t be back for ten minutes!”

This series is not shy about these two getting their freak on.

I… have mixed feelings about this episode, and I know exactly why. Infidelity is always a very awkward issue for me to approach. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a ‘trigger’ issue – it’s not something I avoid at all costs, and I don’t have some tragic past that deals with it or anything like that – it’s just hard for me to handle. Admittedly I’m better about it than I used to be, and while I don’t think I could ever, ever condone cheating on someone you’re in a relationship with, I can at least understand the emotional reasons that might drive someone to cheat. That said, this episode really rubs me the wrong way, far more than other “Marge/Homer is tempted to cheat on their spouse with another person” episodes we’ll run into (and if I recall, there’s quite a few of them). I get what they were trying to do with this one, but I don’t feel like they really accomplish it. In fact, if anything I think they do some serious damage to Marge’s character. And that makes me sad.

Pictured: Sadness. Also Lenny, a sandwich, and some guy.

For those who remember them, think to two of the most memorable ‘Homer is tempted’ episodes – there’s the one with Lurleen Lumpkin, and the one with his new co-worker who’s essentially a hot female version of Homer. In both of these episodes there’s plenty of sexual tension between Homer and the ladies, but when they actually state their romantic intentions, he runs – sometimes literally. And herein lies my biggest gripe with the episode. Jaques clearly states his romantic intentions to Marge, and she doesn’t run. At all. She accepts his invitation to brunch, and then eagerly accepts his invitation to the apartment. Even if she ultimately doesn’t go, it really does a good job of painting her character as fairly unfaithful, especially in the long run compared to Homer. I get what they were trying to do – they were trying to show that Marge was so upset with her husband that even the incredibly faithful wife was tempted to leave – but the problem is we haven’t had much time to build up just how devoted Marge is to her family. We’ll have plenty of that later, but right now, nine episodes into Season 1, it seems like she’s liable to bail on the family on a moment’s notice.

Later, suckers!

Which brings me to my other big gripe with this episode. I’ve watched it probably dozens of times in my life, and I still don’t entirely get her reasons for going back. On her trip towards the apartment she sees several romantic symbols; a newlywed couple exiting a church, a couple pushing a baby carriage, an old couple walking down the street, even a couple buried together. Then she gets to the fork in the road, and her choice. In theory, I think the signs on the road were supposed to remind her of her love for Homer, as well as their life together and the commitment they made. I get that in theory, but I don’t see it in practice. Her expressions aren’t that telling, and it could have just as easily been representative of a potential new life she could make together with Jaques. I just don’t feel her dilemma gets a well-shown resolution, which really puts a damper on an otherwise emotional reunion with Homer at the end.

"Yeah, I flipped a coin and it came up heads. You got lucky."

But, my complaining aside, it’s not all bad. There’s plenty to like in this episode, I swear! In particular, I like the subplot that shows Bart and Lisa dealing with their parents’ impending split. Lisa, the ever observant one, starts going through it first. Bart is slower to catch up, and when he finally does, Lisa’s too far into grief to give assistance. I know it doesn’t exactly sound like hilarity, but Bart’s reaction to being in denial (“I am not!”) and Lisa’s apathy to his later worry lend some comedic elements to an episode that sorely needed them. They’re dark comedic elements, admittedly, but they’re still present. Beyond that, it also shows (for once) how Homer and Marge’s problems affect their kids, in a time before these problems become so commonplace that you can practically hear the writers saying “Yep, just another Tuesday in the Simpson household!” and the kids hardly seem to care anymore.

"Sorry Bart, I'd love to help you, but I'm mired in Stage Five - self pity."

I guess in the end I’m happy we got a Marge episode at all, even if it’s one that I think hurts her character. Still, it’s not a bad episode, and it has plenty of bright spots within. My mileage clearly varied, but I’d still call this one of the better episodes of Season 1. Thus far, at any rate. Anyway, Happy New Year everyone, and I’ll see you in 2012!

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The Simpsons – S1E8 – The Telltale Head

Oh man, this is it. I might have my wires crossed on this one, but if memory serves me correctly, this is one of the Simpsons’ episodes regarded as truly legendary among the fan base. If nothing else, though I’ve got five more to go in Season One, it might be safe to say that this one sticks out as the Season One episode, and for good reason. There’s a lot to love about this particular episode: it has one of the best openings I remember, there’s a lot of great gags, and though the plot takes it’s time to get rolling it’s one of the better ones of the season, especially when compared to the last episode that I had some major plot problems with. My only real complaint is one we’ll probably keep hearing for a long time – we’ve had how many episodes now that focus on Homer or Bart? Lisa’s had all of one, Maggie’s had one subplot (though episodes where she’s the driving force are admittedly few and far between), and Marge is at a grand total of zero. A little character development for your last principal character might’ve been a good idea, writers. Just saying.

Time to dive into The Simpsons, Season One Episode Eight – The Telltale Head.

Why can't they all caption themselves for me? ... can I get them to screencap themselves too?

We open with what I truly believe is one of the best scenes in Simpsons’ history – Homer and Bart are walking around the town at night, and suddenly they’re being chased by a lynch mob. Cornered at the statue of town fonder Jebidiah Springfield, Bart begs for a chance to tell his side of the story before the mob claims justice. One flashback later, and we’re at the Simpson house on a Sunday, with Marge corralling the clan for church. Shenanigans ensue (we’ll come back to this later, since there’s amazing stuff here), and eventually we run into the episode’s main plot. Bart falls in with a trio of bullies who we’ll see recur throughout the series, and he’s desperate to impress them, especially after being teased and laughed away from their circle for expressing admiration for their town’s founder. Distraught but determined, Bart decides to go the extra mile for popularity and acceptance. The extra mile?

Why, cutting off the head of Jebidiah Springfield’s statue, of course.

Cut through a statue with that? Consider my disbelief suspended!

Bart’s plan backfires, as it turns out that cutting off the head of the town’s beloved founder makes him public enemy number one in the eyes of everyone, including the bully trio. Feeling the pressure mounting on him and unsure of what to do, he begins to hallucinate that the head is speaking to him, driving him slowly mad – shades of The Telltale Heart, the story from which this episode takes its name. Eventually, he cracks under the pressure and confesses to his family. Homer reveals that he put the ‘popularity is super important’ idea into Bart’s head, and the two are tasked with making things right, leading straight back to our opening. After explaining himself and replacing the head atop the statue, the mob is placated and the two are free to go, with Homer offering the life lesson that not all lynch mobs are this forgiving.

Quite frankly, it's a lesson we all should learn.

There’s so much to love in this episode, so I’ll start at the top. The introductory scenes? They work fantastically well. Flashback-framed episodes are something I don’t really remember seeing done often outside of this one, but the image of Bart and Homer being chased by a big unruly mob does a damn good job of sucking you into the story. Sometimes stories done in flashback can seem contrived and annoying, but I don’t get that from this one. Admittedly this is one of the first big exposures to flashback as a mode of storytelling that I can remember, so it might be getting a pass from that. Still, I think it’s awesome, and I stick by that.

Maybe I just love angry mobs.

Also awesome? Everything after the opening scene. I know, I’m not always the biggest fan of an episode that takes a while to get rolling, but this one gets a pass. Why? It’s goddamn hilarious, that’s why! The Simpsons’ can get into some of their funniest shenanigans doing something as simple as going to church. First, there’s Bart having to get what we can only assume is a weekly frisking to catch the crap he tries to bring in with him. From there we go to the entire Sunday school class pestering their teacher with hypotheticals about who and who won’t get into heaven, driving her to the brink of madness. Meanwhile, Homer’s stolen Bart’s portable radio to listen to the football game in church, and the dubbing of the game commentary over Reverend Lovejoy’s sermon is hysterical, culminating in Homer screaming in joy when his team wins at the last second. It’s absolutely brilliant.

It's good! It's good! It's all good!

The rest of the episode is more heart than hilarity, but it’s not without funny moments. That said, something just occurred to me. We’re less than a season in and we’ve already had two episodes that revolve around Bart interacting with the bullies of the show – and I know there’s a lot more where this came from. I get that bullying’s a big issue now – if this episode or Bart the General were made today, they’d seem pretty topical. I’m not trying to say that bullying wasn’t an issue then either – I’m only surprised because I don’t remember it being such a big issue. From a kid’s standpoint, it sure as hell didn’t seem like it was all over the news like it is today. So were they really just trying to make the episodes true to life? Bullying is an everyday occurrence in schools. I suppose a drive for realism is possible, if we overlook trips into the surreal like Call of the Simpsons. Then again, the focus is more on the peer pressure exerted on Bart, and less on the fact that these kids are technically bullies. Either way, I suppose it’s just interesting that we’ll see this pop up time and time again but I suspect it won’t feel played out for quite some time.

I could spend more time talking about everything I love from this episode, but the fact of the matter is that I love this episode from start to finish. So since I’m over my word count already, I’ll close by talking about something with this episode that isn’t bad, but that absolutely baffles me – the conflict between church and football. The first Sunday football games start at what, 1:00 EST? Is it really common for churches to have services that start so late? None of the ones I’ve ever been to had their main services that late in the day. Is it a denominational thing? There’s also the issue of time zones – 1:00 PM EST is what, 10:00 AM PST? It’s not that unusual for a service to be starting then, but then again, the game is close to ending as the Simpsons set out for church. That would put the time closer to at least 3:00 PM EST, which translates to noon PST. I guess it’s still not that unusual for a service to start around 12:00 or 12:30, but it still strikes me as somewhat uncommon. Is it? I don’t know, maybe I’m just nuts. Also, before I forget, FIRST APPEARANCE OF SIDESHOW BOB!

Just goes to show how much a design can change.

At any rate, I hope everyone reading this has a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, a… uh… Festive Festivus? If you celebrate a holiday, enjoy it! If you don’t, have a great weekend, and hopefully I’ll have something for everyone one more time before the new year!

Simpsons – S1E7 – The Call of the Simpsons

First of all, an apology for the lack of regular updates! I realize I never set a specific schedule, but I had always planned to at least get one of these done every week. As it turns out, life isn’t always that agreeable, and a combination of general holiday busy-ness and unpleasant work shenanigans has kept me from this fantastic hobby. But, the stars have aligned and here we are once more! You can’t keep a good guy with tons of free time down.

I have some fantastically mixed feelings about this episode. It’s another one that I thought came later (I would have bet Season 2), but one that I remembered really enjoying when I was younger. Watching it now though, it had trouble holding my interest. There were parts I absolutely loved, and a side plot that I feel sets the bar for the series’ absurdness so far, but something about it just wasn’t clicking for me. I know, I know, Blasphemy, right? But bear with me as we dive into this one.

The Simpsons, Season 1 Episode 7 – The Call of the Simpsons.

Looks like someone didn't call collect.

It’s an ordinary day at The Simpson household until Ned Flanders pulls up in a fantastic RV. Desperate to compete with his neighbor, Homer takes the family to a local sleazy car dealership and demands to see their finest, best RV. He’s all set to buy, but surprise surprise, something that nice is out of his price range. Conned into a cheaper, crappier, on-it’s-last-legs model, Homer triumphantly takes the family out camping to justify his new purchase. In what I can only describe as the flimsiest scene in the entire episode (though I’ll talk about that later), the family loses their RV and all their possessions over a cliff, leaving them trapped in the wilderness. The boys, trailed by Maggie, go to forage for food while the ladies tend to their makeshift camp.

"Makeshift" may be slightly generous.

The boys get separated from Maggie and end up falling into a ravine and down a cliff. Maggie takes refuge with a group of bears, the girls manage to set up a fire and shelter, and Homer and Bart are left to fend for themselves in the wilderness. Several mishaps later, a mud-covered Homer is mistaken for the legendary Bigfoot, leading to local Bigfoot mania as hunters and scientists try to track down the ‘beast.’ During the hunt, Marge and Lisa are rescued, while Maggie rescues the boys from the wrath of the bears. When the three emerge from the woods, ‘Bigfoot’ Homer is tranq’d and captured, with scientists unable to determine if he’s actually a man or not. Homer grumbles, but Marge affirms her love for him and we end on a happy scene of the two presumably about to get their freak on.

You can just see him thinking "Well, if being Bigfoot gets me laid..."

There’s a lot to like in this episode, and we’ll start with the Maggie subplot, which is honestly my favorite part of the episode by far. For all you haters crying “OMG LATER SIMPSONS EPISODES ARE SO MUCH MORE RANDOM AND ABSURD THAN THE EARLIER ONES”, let me direct your attention to this particular series of events. Maggie befriends bears through sharing a pacifier with one.

I'd be lying if I said this wasn't stupidly adorable.

The bear tribe – or is it pack? Whatever a group of bears is – takes her in and starts stealing things for her from local campers, until she’s amassed a pile of loot.

Realism at its finest, folks!

Then, when it’s time for her to go, her new-found bear-family shares a forlorn goodbye with their young friend.

Those center bears might need therapy.

So, to recap: Maggie befriends bears with a pacifier. There is nothing I have put in the above sentences that is really any more absurd than Homer coordinating the Super Bowl halftime show, which is one of the crazier later plots I can think of off the top of my head. Face the facts, guys – later plots like that one may be way grander in scale, but they’ve been doing over the top shenanigans since season one. The proof is in the pacifier.

Another bit that I absolutely love are the spinning newspaper headlines that result while Marge is talking to the media about being married to ‘Bigfoot’. I know, it’s a gag that’s been done to death a thousand times over, but I think they really nail it with this one. It’s not just spinning papers with throwaway gag lines – they use each one to emphasize how whatever Marge says in her interview gets taken completely out of context by the story-craving media and the local tabloids. They ask her what Bigfoot likes to eat, and a confused Marge answers that pork chops are his favorite. Then this happens:

Done well? This gag is still awesome.

It’s beautiful.

That said, for all the things I like about this episode, I have one major complaint about it – I just don’t feel like the main plot of the episode really knows what it wants to do. It’s unfocused, directionless, and all over the place. At first it seems like it wants to be about Homer dealing with his issues with and jealousy of The Flanders. But nope, we change gears from that and suddenly it’s about The Simpsons having an outdoor adventure, and even that I think is being generous. It’s not like anything resembling equal time is given to the ladies (Maggie notwithstanding) so it’s more of Bart and Homer’s outdoor adventure versus the comparative competence of the ladies. But then we switch gears again and suddenly it’s about Homer being confused for Bigfoot, and then I look back at the episode and I honestly can’t be sure what the hell they were going for here.

I mean, let’s look at the scene where The Simpsons’ RV plunges over the cliff side to it’s doom (see? I said we’d come back to it). I know I’ll get ragged on for picking on what’s ultimately cartoon logic (especially after defending the absurdity of the series), but bear with me for a moment. The scene asks us to believe that 1) no one in the family noticed they were driving towards a cliff and 2) Once the front is empty of passengers, the weight in the back isn’t enough to keep the RV secured. I know it’s easy to just say “Look, in the end the RV is just the plot device to get the Simpsons into the wilderness”, but then what? Is them being in the wilderness just the plot device to get Homer confused for Bigfoot? If that’s what the entire episode is setting up for, it just feels like the punchline, funny as it is, doesn’t deliver for that convoluted a setup. We needed a setup (Homer’s jealousy) for a setup (the RV) for a setup (the wilderness) for the punchline (Bigfoot). It’s too much.

It's funny, just not three setup funny.

But problems aside, it’s not a bad episode and I the parts I liked, I loved. So take my bitching for what you will, and I’ll see you next time!

Simpsons – S1E6 – Moaning Lisa

There was something that bothered me about this episode, and it took me a while to figure it out. Normally when I’m watching episodes for this blog it’s one and done (excluding the time it takes to get screen caps). This one got the first ever second watch, because I just couldn’t figure out what wasn’t sitting right.

Today’s episode is our first Lisa-centric episode, and that sure as hell wasn’t what threw me – if my bias towards the Simpson women hasn’t stood out already, I might as well make it clear now. Re-watching these episodes has shown me that I have a total bias towards Lisa and Marge. I’m not sure why it is (though a good friend suggested it might be that their characters are the most consistent throughout the show) but for whatever reason, their episodes are generally the ones I remember more. Not that I don’t love my fair share of Bart and Homer episodes, but the one I’ll remember forever – the episode where Lisa becomes a vegetarian – is just that, a Lisa episode. That one is my favorite and I grin like an idiot when I watch it every time, but I’m getting way, way ahead of myself. That’s seasons away, this episode is now.

I thought it might be that I didn’t consider this episode a ‘true’ Lisa episode – after the first watch, I thought it was more an episode about the family dynamic than one truly focused on her. The second run through dispelled that notion. It IS about the family dynamic, but it’s about how Lisa fits into and relates to that dynamic. Then I realized the problem. Six episodes in is our first Lisa episode, but it’s also our first episode with a running sub-plot featuring Homer and Bart. Our first episode that doesn’t focus on those two, and it still can’t be completely about anyone or anything else. They still step into the spotlight. It bothered me, but the more I thought about it, I realized that’s the point of this episode. But, I’ve wasted enough time. We need to dive in!

The Simpsons, Season 1 Episode 6 – Moaning Lisa.

Moaning in the blues sense.

We open our episode on Lisa in the bathroom, depressed as hell without a clear reason why. She goes through her day and can’t seem to catch a break: the cupcake that should have been hers goes to Homer, she’s berated in music for inserting a soulful, jazzy solo into My Country Tis of Thee, and she’s sent home with a disciplinary note after having been ‘too sad’ for Dodgeball. It’s at home that we see the subplot for this episode – Homer and Bart playing a boxing video game. Homer sucks, and he wants to get good enough to beat Bart. That’s the entire subplot. But like I said earlier, the subplot’s existence itself, along with one line said by Bart, illustrate this episode perfectly. When Marge tells Homer a note’s come home from school, the Simpson son’s immediate reaction is “I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. There’s no way they can prove anything.” And right there is the crux of the episode. Even when it’s about Lisa, it’s not – it’s about Bart, it’s about Homer, it’s about something else. She’s the middle child, she’s feeling both a lack of attention and a lack of nurturing, and damn does it show.

Would it kill you guys to look at her? ... well, I guess so. I don't see a pause button on those things.

Things come to a head after Homer yells at Lisa for playing her sax (his scapegoat for yet another Boxing loss to Bart). A despondent Lisa hears music in the distance and goes to investigate, leading to an impromptu jam session with local artist “Bleeding Gums” Murphy. The two connect before a worried Marge comes to collect Lisa. Things continue with no real improvement from Lisa, even after Bart makes the series second prank phone call (Jacques Strap this time) in an attempt to cheer her up. Marge gives Lisa terrible advice, telling her daughter to just smile, since it’s what’s on the outside that matters. Thankfully, almost immediately after, the family matriarch sees just how terrible this advice is and recants, validating Lisa’s feelings and telling her it’s okay to feel however she wants, her family will be there for her. Feeling loved and happy after some much needed attention, Lisa’s mood improves and the family takes an outing to see Bleeding Gums play (after interrupting and ruining Homer’s one chance at victory over Bart).

Man, that's some nice bonding.

As depressing and serious as this episode gets at times, there are some fantastically funny bits sprinkled throughout, like the part where Bart and Lisa compete for Maggie’s love. Each tries to get the youngest Simpson to come to the one she loves the most – and Maggie’s ultimate choice is both fantastic and fitting for a household like The Simpsons.

What? He said to go to the one she loves best.

There’s also a few visual gags I’m really a fan of. One I’m mad at myself for never noticing before is in the opening scene in the bathroom. Further adding to Lisa’s depression and the general downer atmosphere of the scene is the family toothpaste brand – the aptly named ‘Glum’. But even better than that is one of the things I truly enjoy about the video game subplot: the appearance of the boxers. I know it’s not exactly subtle, but sometimes it’s the little things in life that make you smile the most.

Look familiar?

After mentioning that I thought the episode was mainly about the family dynamic at first, I’d be in the wrong not to at least talk about it here. If there’s one thing this episode did brilliantly from a storytelling perspective, it’s get across the general dynamic of The Simpsons. More than ever in this episode, we see that Homer just doesn’t get it. He means well, he really does! He tries to talk Lisa through her problems, but it’s just not a task he’s cut out for, and even when Marge tries to explain it, he mis-interprets it as “underwear problems”. With Bart, we see that caring side show it’s head again. Sure, he’s a trouble making hellion, but at the end of the day he does love his family (even if he staunchly refuses to say aloud that he loves his sister). Marge does her best to keep it all together, but she’s not perfect either: she doesn’t always have the right answer the first time around. And poor little Maggie, hugging the TV close, is turning out to be the product of this amazingly dysfunctional environment. It’s all Lisa can do to not get lost in the mix of this crazy family, and she struggles to make her mark on the world as the artistic middle child she is, even if it gets disheartening when it seems like no one cares. Still, at the end of the day they’re a family, and they do act like it. Sometimes.

I could go on and on, but I feel like it’s time to cut it here. I will, however, leave you with the lyrics of the song Lisa improvises for Bleeding Gums Murphy.

I got a bratty brother
He bugs me everyday
And this morning my own mother
She gave my last cupcake away

My dad acts like he belongs
He belongs in the zoo
I’m the saddest kid
In grade number two.

Simpsons – S1E5 – Bart the General

Holy crap. I love this episode. I really do. I mean it has it’s flaws – probably I’m too happy right now to really think about them – but this is legit one of my favorite episodes ever. Maybe because it’s one of the first ones I saw in it’s entirety or maybe because it’s just effing awesome. I don’t know and I don’t care a hell of a lot either. This one’s amazing and there’s so much I could talk about I’m just hoping I can keep this under two thousand words (and to think once upon a time the prospect of writing a two thousand word anything seemed like torture). But okay, enough stalling. Let’s transform and roll out on this sucker.

The Simpsons, season one episode five – Bart the General.

Shit's about to get real.

Lisa bakes cupcakes for her teacher’s birthday (interesting tidbit – here she’s Mrs. Hoover. I know for a fact that later she’s Ms. Does that ever get explained? I can’t remember). Her batch gets stolen by a bully crony, and after Bart literally launches himself into battle to defend his sister he winds up tangled up with head bully Nelson Muntz, in his first of many Bart-bullying episodes. Bart ends up getting beaten up day in and day out, worrying his family. Homer un-successfully tries to teach Bart to defend himself, and at the end of his rope, the oldest Simpson child reaches out to the oldest Simpson, Grandpa. The two of them together reach out to local lunatic and army surplus store owner Herman, who schools the Simpsons in the art of warfare. What follows is an amazing montage where Bart recruits, trains, and readies his army to lead against Nelson. I love everything about this montage. Especially their weapons of choice.

"I'd rather they say Death From Above, but... I guess we're stuck."

An epic battle commences, and the rallied children of Springfield manage to defeat Nelson and his cronies. There’s just one problem – the second they release Nelson his retribution will be swift, his wrath terrible. A peace treaty is ultimately drawn up, and with all parties satisfied, celebratory cupcakes are had by all.

Though really, anytime's a good time for a cupcake.

There’s so much of this bad boy I want to talk about, and I don’t really know where to start, so I guess I’ll go chronologically, which brings us to the relationship between Bart and Lisa. And man, I am LOVING how they present it in this episode. The two are brother and sister, and they have a ‘regular’ brother and sister dynamic in that they’re at each other’s throats a lot. Bart tries his damndest to steal a cupcake, Lisa ends up giving him one that fell on the floor, and the sibling rivalry moves ever forward. But they’re still family that cares about each other, and I will admit the one thing I always seem to forget about this episode is how Bart literally launches himself into a fight the second someone starts messing with his sister. It’s one thing for the two of them to mess with each other, but as soon as a bully comes into the picture and starts, all bets are off.

Just look at that brotherly love!

What I probably love the best about it? He never seems to regret it for a second. Days of beatings later and he never blames Lisa, never gets angry at her for any of it. It’s a sweeter side of their relationship that I’m not sure ever really shows up again like it does here, but it works so damn well in this spot.

Which reminds me of something else – Nelson’s cronies in this episode, and a few other odds and ends. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the cronies that to my knowledge never ever appear again!

I'm sure they'll have long and fruitful Simpsons careers. Right?

Aren’t they so memorable? Beyond that I feel like the animation’s improved in this episode. I mean it’s still not quite the quality of later episodes, but there are little things. Homer’s design, for example, doesn’t look so… well, here’s a picture from an earlier episode.

Before

Here’s one from this episode.

After

See what I mean?

On the subject of Homer, I wanted to touch on the advice he gives Bart in this episode. This may be a bit of a disclaimer, but there’s no doubt that the advice he gives his son is absolutely, 100% terrible. That said, it’s also 100% hilarious, especially this little nugget: “And if you get the chance, get him right in the family jewels. That little doozy’s been a Simpson trademark for generations!” But beyond the advice being terrible, there’s also a certain amount of sincerity behind it. Homer really does think he’s looking out for his son, and that’s largely because he understands the pressures of being a kid, the ‘Code of the Schoolyard’ they call it. He gets the pressures on a kid to not be a tattle-tale and not bring authority figures into the mix, even for bullying, so he tries to get his son to solve the situation without pressuring him to step outside of the social confines that kids find themselves in. Like I said, it’s not good advice, but it comes from a well-meaning place, so that’s something at least.

And now, the training montage. There is so damn much in this I want to talk about, but I’ll try to stick to the high points. Except everything in this montage is such a high point! Curse this quality storytelling! For starters, I love that it’s a montage without it being a straight 80’s montage complete with, for lack of better term, ‘montage music’. It’s still a montage because there’s a lot going on here being condensed into a small space, but it doesn’t have quite that Rocky training montage feel, which I think works in it’s favor (not that I don’t love the Rocky movies, I do). Beyond that, the bits and pieces that make it up are absolutely wonderful. The marching chant that it keeps cutting between is fantastic…

We are happy, we are merry / We got a rhyming dictionary!

Not to mention the physical training we see the kids doing…

Straight out of a war movie.

And the part where Bart slaps one of his soldiers, which leads to what I think is the line of the episode from Grandpa Simpson: “You can push them out of a plane, you can march them off a cliff, you can send ‘em off to die on some God forsaken rock, but for some reason… you can’t slap ‘em. Now apologize to that boy right now.”

"Sorry, man." "It's cool."

Alright, I could go on forever, so I better cap it here while I’m still around my usual word count. See y’all next time!

Simpsons – S1E4 – There’s No Disgrace Like Home

Guys, I love this episode. I really do. The main plot takes a while to really get rolling, but once it does it keeps you watching and builds you up for the ending, which is absolutely hysterical and amazing. But first, RACE UPDATE!

Smithers has lost his tan and is yellow once more.

ALT TEXT START WORKING OR ELSE!

And all was right with the world?

Strangely enough, Lou of the police force is flipped from black to yellow this episode.

I spoke too soon.

Again, I’m not sure if it was just the early series finding it’s footing or an animation mistake, but either way it’s just surreal.

Now, with that out of the way, we’re tackling Season 1 Episode 4 – There’s No Disgrace Like Home.

Off to a great start here!

We start off with the family getting ready to go to a company picnic at plant owner Mr. Burns’ house. Despite urgings that they be on their best behavior, the Simpsons are at their dysfunctional best: Lisa allows herself to show her wilder side and causes general shenanigans, Marge gets un-intentionally plastered on spiked punch, and Bart nearly gets Homer in trouble by attempting to beat Burns in the annual sack race. Dismayed at how much his family seems to suck – especially when compared to several unnamed but sickeningly sacchrine families – Homer resolves to make them change for the better. Horrifying the rest of the family, he empties the kids’ college fund and pawns the TV to get the money for family therapy. Dr. Marvin Monroe (in his first series appearance) tries his best to create familial harmony, culminating in a hilarious sequence where the entire family is hooked into electroshock therapy chairs. The treatment ultimately fails, and the good doctor is forced to live up to his advertised promise of “Family bliss or double your money back!” Thrilled with the sudden influx of money, the now-happy family resolved to buy an even better TV and the day is… saved? Well, it ends on a happy enough note.

Just look at that unity!

As much as I want to dive straight into the beautiful (and frankly, iconic I think) ending to this episode, the first thing I need to address is the characterization present in this one, especially pertaining to Lisa and Marge. It’s something I’ve been forgetting in my last few posts, and it needs to be rectified. I feel like fans – not all, but at least a good chunk of them – generally view Lisa as a sort of ‘straight man’ to the family. She’s the smart one, the pragmatic one, and for all intents and purposes the ‘normal’ one. To a certain extent, I think that’s an absolutely true sentiment – but only to a certain point. There are some fantastic Lisa episodes that reinforce that belief, like the episode where she becomes Buddhist. But with those episodes are tons and tons of moments where she shows her true nature as a Simpson. Moments like ones in this episode, where she gets in a fight with Bart over who loves Homer more (each one claiming to love him less). Or this awesome image of her horsing around in a fountain.

Pictured: shenanigans.

Priceless stuff.

Marge I feel shares sort of the same problem. Much like Lisa, I think she gets enshrined in fans’ minds as the conscience of the family, the person who can be counted on to know right from wrong and who keeps the family from descending into total madness. And again, to a certain extent there’s truth in that. Some of Marge’s best episodes have her trying to get just one day of normalcy from her family – hell, just think of any episode where they go on vacation and she begs everyone not to ruin it. But again, we have to remember that in some ways Marge is part of the madness too. She certainly isn’t eager to give up both the TV and the kids’ meager college fund for a chance at making their family normal. If nothing else, I think this image of her participating in the madness of their typical family dinner speaks volumes.

Reminds me of home - but only when NCIS is on. My parents love them some NCIS.

But now, what I’ve been dying to talk about – the final few minutes of the episode. This sequence is absolutely amazing and I’m not even sure where to start.

How about this? A baby in an electric chair.

No comment I can make can enhance this image.

If you don’t think the idea of them including Maggie as part of their therapy and strapping her into a makeshift electric chair is hilarious, then we may never see eye to eye. But beyond that, the sequence is absolutely perfect. It starts with the predictable (Bart shocking Homer, Homer getting a revenge shock), and slowly descends into complete and total chaos with the entire family shocking each other left and right, with Marvin Monroe looking on helplessly the entire time. Their shocking becomes so fast paced and madcap that it literally starts draining the power of the entire city.

Suck it, power grid!

All the while Maggie is just flailing happily at the buttons, and the entire thing is closed by Marge giving what I think is the line of the episode with all of her usual sincerity: “Gee, and I thought we were making real progress.” It’s absolutely classic. I was a little surprised to see this episode in season 1 (yet another one that I thought came later), but it’s a perfect introduction to the beloved insanity this family can bring. I think it’s because it shows their family dynamic in all its dysfunctional glory that I can forgive this episode for being yet another Homer episode – and by my count, that makes three of the first four.

This may be my obvious bias for the ladies showing, but can we get a Lisa or Marge episode sometime this century? Please?

I just thought I’d ask.

Simpsons – S1E3 – Homer’s Odyssey

I knew this day would come eventually, but I didn’t think it’d be so soon. The thing is, this episode is actually fairly important in the grand scheme of Simpsons lore, with more than one important ‘first’ in the episode. But despite that, I just don’t feel very strongly about this episode. It’s not a BAD episode by any stretch – it at the very least holds up to the standard of quality set by the other episodes I’ve seen so far, it just never grabbed me by the balls like so many other episodes have.

So, without further delay, let’s dive into The Simpsons season 1 episode 3 – Homer’s Odyssey.

Power wheels!

Not pictured: the odyssey

The plot on this one takes a while to get rolling, but it’s as straightforward as the last few. On a field trip to the nuclear power plant, Bart distracts Homer long enough for the latter to break something and get himself fired. Feeling like he’s reached the end of his rope, Homer decides to kill himself and end it all. His family, in an attempt to stop him, is nearly run over by a car, sparking a change in Homer and starting his crusade to improve Springfield’s safety. Homer’s final target in his quest for safety is the power plant itself. Fearful of his growing power and influence, Mr. Burns offers Homer a new job to occupy his time, and after some bargaining, the Simpson patriarch accepts.

Yaaaaaaaaay

And there was much rejoicing!

Like I said, this episode is notable for a few firsts. It has the first of many eventual prank calls to Moe’s Tavern  this one for I. P. Freely. It also establishes the job that Homer has for most of the series (barring the tens of episodes where he has whatever new job is convenient for that week’s shenanigans) – Nuclear Safety Inspector. Also, before I go any further, there’s one thing that jumped out at me this episode.

What the...

Waylan Smithers

HOLY CRAP SMITHERS USED TO BE BLACK! Or at least brown!

I know they were still changing things around and finding their rhythm for this first season, but damn. I didn’t think they sent so far as to change characters’ races. I almost half wonder what sparked the decision, or if it was never really a decision but an afterthought. Or maybe an animation mistake, where Smithers was never meant to be black at all? I guess at the end of the day it’s just one of the many things I wish I knew their thought process on.

But like I said earlier, this episode’s never really grabbed me any of the many times I’ve seen it, and I can’t help but wonder why. Is it because it (kinda sorta) deals with suicide, which is always a very touchy topic? Well, I guess it’s possible, but that just doesn’t really seem like it. After all, there are shows that deal with subjects as sensitive as, if not more sensitive than suicide, and I love my fair share of those (I’m looking at you, South Park). So no, that’s probably not it. I could blame the episode’s placement in the season, and that sure as hell came to mind. After all, it’s only episode three and this is our second Homer-centric episode. I know he and Bart tend to get the majority of the storylines, but part of me had hoped they’d at least take the time to keep fleshing out Marge and Lisa with their own episodes first.

Gdit Homer, stop hogging. We know you're awesome.

Sorry ladies, this episode is mine!

I guess I could blast it for not exactly being a ‘hilarious’ episode, but I didn’t exactly praise the first two for their non-stop comedy. Like those two, this one has it’s moments of hilarity but the episode seems more focused on telling it’s story, which I can’t fault it for. And in reviewing those first two episodes, if anything I was more focused on the heartwarming moments and little nuances here and there than the hilarity. Which I suppose I should rectify now – guys, those two episodes had some damn hilarious moments in them, no lie.

I think at the end of the day, this episode has two flaws that murder it for me. First, even the moments that are supposed to feel big and emotional fall a little flat. Homer sneaks into Bart’s room to steal his piggy bank for beer money. We’re supposed to see a crazed father, someone so depressed and at the end of their rope that they’re willing to stoop to any low just try to make their life hurt a fraction less for only a moment. Thing is, it just doesn’t come off that way. I think in that respect, it hurts that the episode never shows Homer feeling remorse for his actions while in that sorry state. It just sort of brushes past them and moves on, which really detracts from the emotional weight that moment COULD have had.

Not pictured: The Rock Bottom

The light means we can just forget about those 'suicide' and 'rock bottom' things.

The other flaw likely isn’t a ‘fair’ complaint to level at this show, but screw it, I’m not here to be fair and unbiased. At the end of the day, this episode just doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot to stick out in my head. I can’t really blame it for that, since I doubt the creative team thought back then that this little show would turn into a generation-spanning behemoth. That said, while I was watching this episode, I got it confused with at least a handful of others where Bart goes on a field trip, or where Homer ends up leaving his job at the plant one way or another. It just doesn’t leave any sort of mark on you, and that is what hurts it more than anything else it could possibly do wrong.

Sorry to end it on a downer note, but hopefully episode 4 picks things back up a bit.

Simpsons Season 1 Episode 2 – Bart the Genius

Let’s take a minute to talk about The Simpsons’ opening.

It makes it’s first appearance of the series here, and I’ve gotta say – I had no damn idea it’s changed so much. Honestly, I blame my years watching re-runs on this one. I know for a fact that re-runs changed the run times on the episodes, by cutting and snipping pieces here and there. There’s a bit in a season 7 episode that I swore I remembered but was never in the re-runs, and if I hadn’t seen the episode again in it’s un-edited entirety I might have believed I imagined the whole thing. So, if networks cut bits and pieces of the episode to fit in their time slots with their advertisements, it makes sense that the opening was the first thing on the cutting room floor. I almost never saw the extended version of the opening (with the scenes of Marge driving and all that), and more often than not episodes had the same exact couch gag. So thinking back, I’m pretty sure the network had one opening they cut and pasted to the start of nearly every single Simpsons episode.

Why do I even bring this up? Well, this episode threw me completely off guard. Picture the opening to The Simpsons in your head. Now, do you remember this…

Oh that prankster

Huh?

or this…

Witty comment here

Wha?

… in the opening? I didn’t think so. Man, we’ve come a long way.

So, without further ado, here’s Season 1 Episode 2 – Bart the Genius.

I’m really thankful for these early single-storyline episodes. They make writing these summaries so damn easy, and I know I’ll miss it when I get into more complex and convoluted episodes/series/etc.

This episode, the first Bart-centric one, is another one I swore came later on in the show’s life. I get the feeling I’ll be saying that a lot. Facing the pressure of an aptitude test and angry at the know-it-all Martin Price, Bart switches his test with Martin’s and is subsequently labeled a genius. Moved from Springfield Elementary to a school for the gifted, Bart tries his damndest to get by in a school he’s not qualified for as his inability to survive in this new place wages a war against his happiness at the attention he’s suddenly receiving from his family, especially Homer. Bart finally comes clean with a confession, and despite giving his father a heart-felt speech about how close together his lie has brought them, Homer becomes enraged and everything goes back to normal.

I'd make a Homer-as-Hulk joke, but The Simpsons already did it.

Good old status quo!

When I started Season 1, I thought the voices were going to be what drove me to madness. Now that I’m two episodes into it, I can see I was completely, 100% wrong. The voices I can deal with. There were even some clever moments with the voice work, like Bart’s old teacher and his new one sharing the same voice! Now, Season 1’s war on backgrounds that don’t hurt to look at?

Korean animation at its finest, folks

Remember when The Simpsons' walls were a weird gradient of pink? Those were crazy times.

Much, much harder.

Now, I’m going to lay down some truth here for all the later season haters. I know the later episodes get as much flack as the later Family Guy episodes for one particular reason: it’s characters getting dumber and dumber with every season that passes. But right here, in episode two – TWO – of season one, we see that at least a few of the Simpsons are dumb right from the start. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have two exhibits to place into evidence. Exhibit A: The dictionary. In a hilarious bit at the beginning of the show, the family is playing Scrabble. When Bart plays “Qwyjibo” to score some points and early freedom from the game, his shenanigans are called and the family attempts to look up the word in the dictionary. The dictionary Homer is surprised they even have. He’s never seen a dictionary around!

Well, that’s because it’s what they’re using to hold their couch up.

I guess the dictionary does make sense. This was back when phone books were still relevant.

Then again, it's a fairly clever solution.

Now, I know. Saying that ‘using their dictionary to hold up their couch proves character idiocy’ is a bit of a stretch, but it leads me to Exhibit B and quite possibly my favorite line of the episode. As he drops him off for his first day of genius school, Homer gives Bart some fatherly encouragement: “Now go on, boy! And pay attention, because if you do, one day you may achieve something that we Simpsons have dreamed about for generations: you may outsmart someone!”

It's actually kind of a touching moment.

The face of sincere fatherly advice, folks. No lie.

See? Smart, The Simpsons ain’t.

I know I’ve already commented on the genuine warmth you feel between characters, but as long as it keeps showing up, I’ll keep talking about it. This episode uses the exact same trick as the first – a character has a secret, they know they should confess said secret but they don’t want to risk hurting someone they care about – but it works just as well here as it did in the first one. The animation might be (comparatively) crude at times, but you can see in his expressions that Bart truly feels pained, that he KNOWS this lie will cause a rift between him and Homer and that he regrets losing the bond they’ve forged. And that kind of stuff gets to me every single time.

Who here -hasn't- been green, naked and in an outside washbin?

EMPATHIZE! DO IT NOW!

Before I go, a few words about characterization: mainly, how consistent these early episodes are about how they portray the family. It’s surprisingly good, especially when you consider that in many series, there’s usually a character or two that changes drastically between the ‘pilot’ episode and the series proper, if not a character or two that vanish outright. I haven’t really seen that in this show, and it’s a testament (I think) to the strength of the early writers. Marge is still a supportive mother, Lisa is still a strangely intelligent eight year old girl, Bart is still a troublemaker, and Homer is still a well-meaning dimwit. Consistency! It rocks.

And here I thought I wouldn’t have much to say on episode two! There’s plenty of things I didn’t mention, but I feel like this is a good place to let it rest. Next time, Episode 3! I’ll see y’all there.

Simpsons – S1E1 – Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

First things first – man is it weird for me to watch the season one episodes.

Admittedly, I knew this was coming. Back when it was a big deal that The Simpsons seasons were finally getting DVD releases, my family snatched up Season 1 – which has somehow come into my possession. Once in a blue moon in college when I’d feel the Simpsons bug strike me, I’d throw in what I had, which was Season 1. There’s more than a few of these early episodes that I have fond memories of, and plenty of things I forget about in each episode until I go back and watch them again, but one of the first things that strikes me is how wrong everything seems compared to later episodes.

The animation? Just slightly off. The backgrounds? Not what they should be. And oh god, the voices. The voices. Homer sounds just off enough to make me notice it the entire time, and I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than the voices that are just plain wrong. Admittedly, aside from Homer all of the voice issues are from the supporting cast – and with these episodes being so early in the show’s life, it’s easy to see that the actors are still trying to find the voices that fit these supporting players. That said, the following is a list of voices that are wrong: Ralph Wiggum (completely wrong), Milhouse van Houten (not completely wrong, but wrong enough), Todd Flanders (at least, I think it’s Todd), Principal Skinner (just wrong enough), ‘Grandpa’ Abe Simpson (again, just wrong enough), and Ned Flanders (ever so slightly wrong).

Now, with that out of the way, let’s dive into Episode 1: Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire. It’s a Christmas Special, folks!

The opening shot. Isn't it... plain?

Here we go!

The story arc itself is fairly basic. It’s Christmastime (established by Springfield Elementary’s holiday extravaganza), and The Simpson family is getting into the holiday season. When it comes time for gift shopping, Bart decides his ‘gift’ will be a tatoo that says Mother. The family is forced to spend the remaining Christmas money on expensive tattoo removal surgery, and to complicate matters, Homer doesn’t receive his yearly holiday bonus. Too ashamed to admit it to the family, Homer takes to becoming a mall Santa after plant hours are over in an attempt to save the day, but ends up being paid a paltry thirteen dollars. In one last ditch effort to save Christmas, he wagers all of it on a dog race and comes up short. Things turn around when the angry owner of the losing dog abandons him, and the greyhound Santa’s Little Helper becomes the family’s Christmas present, as well as the newest member of the Simpson household.

I wish greyhounds really had that 'derp' face.

Who could say no to that?

The story mainly focuses on Homer, but I gotta admit – I was pleasantly surprised on how well this first episode establishes the main personality traits of the core family members. Marge is ever the prepared, loving mother and devoted wife. Homer bumbles and isn’t exactly the perfect anything, but he means well and his heart is in the right place. Bart from the get-go is a troublemaker. He’s not yet the force of nature we’ll see later in the series, but he’s far from an angel. Lisa… well, Lisa almost gets the shaft to be quite honest. Her dialog and presence in this episode is limited, but her personality really shines through when, after Aunt Patty makes a crack at Homer’s expense, Lisa politely, intelligently and completely shuts her bitch ass DOWN! BOOM! And I quote:

“Aside from the fact that he has the same frailties as all human beings, he’s the only father I have, therefore he is my model of manhood and my estimation of him will govern the prospects of my adult relationships. So I hope you bear in mind that any knock at him is a knock at me, and I am far too young to defend myself against such onslaughts.”

Suck it! ... or not. *shudder*

You just got Lisowned.

… it’s beautiful.

After not watching these early episodes for so long, I had forgotten there are actually a few things here that were staples of my childhood. Two moments stick out in my mind: the first, when Homer answers the phone and is greeted with a chorus of “Marge please. Is Marge there? Marge.” My oldest brother used to do that shit to me all the damn time, but replace “Marge” with “Mom”. In retrospect, it’s actually pretty cool. My oldest brother and I have a 15 year gap between us, and so as I was growing up he was hardly ever around. By the time I was 3 he was already in college, and when he finished he didn’t move home (that I can remember anyway). Stupid little references and jokes like that were one small way we could have something in common and connect, despite the years and differences between us.

The other moment that jumped out at me was one that I never really ‘quoted’ in my everyday life, but always stuck in my head. As the youngest of five, I was teased. A lot. It happens, you know? You have older siblings, and they tease you. It’s a fact of life. Among all that teasing in my younger years were pokes, prods, ear flicks, and indian burns. Of course after every one I’d yelp out “Ow, quit it!” and my brain would go to Bart with his bandage. Unfortunately – or fortunately I guess – my family never really kept at it long enough for me to have the repeating chorus of “Ow, quit it!”’s. Lucky me?

What stuck out the most for me with this episode is how much warmth there is in it. There are just these genuinely sweet scenes that make you feel all warm and fuzzy and I don’t know how to handle it. Not that later episodes don’t have their sweet moments, but I sure as hell don’t think they exist later on to the degree they do now. When Homer and Marge are talking in bed, she knows there’s something wrong, and she suspects it’s about his Christmas bonus. He wants to tell her the truth, but as he looks at her you can see and feel how much he loves that woman, and how much it would break his heart to upset her with the bad news. He just can’t do it, and I adore how much it makes you feel for Homer’s plight.

Best TV couple ever?

His heart. It is breaking.

Later on, when Bart catches Homer in the act as Santa, he tells his old man “You must really love us, to sink so low.” While it’s meant to be a joke (of course, and it makes me smile every time), there’s also a certain sincerity to Bart’s words in this scene. He really does respect that his father would go so far as to make himself a mall Santa, just for the sake of the rest of the family. It’s a touching scene from a character who will get progressively fewer and fewer as the show goes on.

Honestly, the animation and voices aren’t as painful as I remembered them, and all things considered, this episode is a great introduction to the family. Now, to see where they go from here! I’m excited. Are you?

You damn well better be.