Archive for the ‘The Simpsons Season 8 Episodes 1 – 9’ Category

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #9: El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer

February 24, 2010

The final show of this group is The Simpsons season eight, episode nine, entitled El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer (The Mysterious Voyage of Our Homer). It originally aired on January 5th 1997, the first episode of 1997. I watched this episode by myself on Monday afternoon February twenty-second at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. This episode’s couch gag was a repeat.

This show begins with Homer discovering that Marge has been trying to hide from him that it is time for the big annual chili cook-off. She tells him that she did this because the previous year Homer embarrassed her by getting drunk and acting like a fool. She makes Homer promise that he won’t drink and reluctantly he does. When he arrives Homer intimidates everyone by brandishing his own homemade chili spoon which co-worker Lenny observes, “They say he carved it himself … from a bigger spoon.” He stands before the crowd like an old west gun fighter to music that is a clear take-off on the Ennio Moricone composed theme from  Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (1966) better known in America as The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly which is one of my favorite films (www.imdb.com).

Homer goes from booth to booth sampling the chili and insulting the cooks because none of it is spicy enough for him. However, Police Chief Wiggum has a secret weapon. His special ingredient is “the merciless peppers of Quetzlzacatenango, grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum.” Homer tries eating one of the peppers which is so spicy that it causes him to freak out and look for any way to cool his mouth. He grabs an armload of pitchers full of beer. Just before quenching the fire on his tongue Marge appears and accuses him of breaking his promise. She storms off.

After Homer recovers Ralph Wiggum gives him the idea to coat the inside of his mouth with candle wax so that he won’t feel the heat of the pepper. He returns to Wiggum’s booth and in the face of ridicule from the crowd he promptly swallows half a dozen of the peppers. The crowd cheers and Homer regains his fame. However moments later Homer’s stomach begins to ache and he starts to hallucinate. The sights are so freakish that he runs from the cook-off in terror. His hallucinations continue and grow progressively more disturbing. They end up leading him on a trek through an imaginary desert. Marge returns to the cook-off and when she discovers that he made a fool of himself and ran off she becomes angry.

Homer hallucinates a message that instructs him to follow a tortoise. It leads him to a pyramid which he must climb. At the top he discovers a representation of Marge. When he tries to talk to her he discovers that she has no front and no matter where he moves in relation to it her back is always turned on him. The image blows away like desert sand and a dejected Homer sits down. He rants about his circumstance and screams “Why am I here?!” He is answered by a voice that tells him that he’s on a quest for knowledge. When Homer looks for the source of the voice two planets in the sky come together to form eyes. They are set in the floating head of a coyote which melts from the heavens and onto the top of the pyramid in the form of a full-bodied coyote, voiced by legendary musician Johnny Cash, one of my all time favorites.

He reveals that he is Homer’s spirit guide. Homer’s quest is to find his soul-mate, the person with whom he shares a profound mystical understanding. Homer insists that his soul-mate is Marge to which the coyote replies, “Is it?” He dashes off into the desert and leaves Homer in the path of an oncoming train. When it hits him he wakes up in a sand trap on a golf course. He rationalizes that the entire experience was a crazy dream. When he gets home Marge is still furious with him for breaking his promise and humiliating her. He tells her she’s his soul-mate too which she angrily yells, “Don’t soul-mate me!” With his bedding set up on the couch and unable to sleep Homer realizes that Marge doesn’t understand him and must not be his soul-mate. He goes out in search of his soul-mate but everyone he tries explains that they are something else: a friend, a chum, a contemporary. Moe the bartender says that he’s “a well-wisher in that I don’t wish you any specific harm.”

After failing all night he hears the Coyote say “Find your soul-mate, Homer. Find your Soul-mate.” When Homer asks “where?” the voice replies, “This is just your memory. I can’t give you any new information.” This begins a montage of Homer walking aimlessly at night against black with signs fading in and out over the top, all of which suggest solitude or a blocked path. This is a reference to a similar montage in The Lost Weekend (1945). (www.imdb.com) Finally Homer sees a lighthouse in the distance and he believes that the lighthouse keeper must be lonely and will understand him. When he gets there he discovers that the lighthouse is automated and empty.

Homer loses it and after spotting an approaching ship he smashes the light hoping to draw the ship to him so that he can make friends with whoever’s on board. Marge shows up after looking for Homer because she was worried. She managed to deduce that along with other clues Homer’s love of shiny things would lead him to the light house. Homer realizes that Marge does love him and that their differences are only skin deep. Marge says that they have “a profound mystical understanding.” Homer loudly celebrates, “We’re number one! We’re number one! In your face, Space Coyote!” To which Marge confusedly replies, “Space Coyote?” They are interrupted by the impending ship crash but Marge replaces the light bulb for the spotlight. The ship sees it and turns but runs aground anyway. The show ends with the silhouette of Marge and Homer kissing projected onto the night sky by the lighthouse beacon.

This episode makes me glad I chose this season. This is the second consecutive show that is among my favorites. The dialogue is smart and wickedly funny, the situations comically absurd, and the hallucinations inspired. The stranger the visions get the more incredible the animation becomes to meet the task. There is no subplot and while this is the second “Marge & Homer versus their relationship” episode it easily trumps A Milhouse Divided. While you know all along that in the end Homer and Marge will find each other, the way they get there is fantastic. The film references are excellent and fitting. But the icing on the cake is the deep, gravelly voice of Johnny Cash. If I ever go on a spiritual vision quest I want The Space Coyote to be my spirit guide.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #9: El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer

Rating: 5 out of 5

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The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #8: Hurricane Neddy

February 24, 2010

Next in line is The Simpsons season eight, episode eight, entitled Hurricane Neddy. It originally aired on December 29th 1996 making it the final episode of ’96. I watched this episode by myself on Monday afternoon February twenty-second at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. This episode features a couch gag where the family runs into the room but on the wall where the couch was is a sign reading “Vend-a-couch” with a coin slot below it. Homer inserts a coin. When nothing happens he bangs on the machine and a couch falls from above, landing on top of him.

Our story begins with a hurricane approaching Springfield. Of course the Simpsons are woefully unprepared. However, their next door neighbor, ultra right wing, super Christian, milquetoast doormat Ned Flanders has his entire house secured and ready for the storm. Despite almost being killed by Homer’s stupidity the Simpsons and their house survive the storm without a scratch. The Flanders family, in spite of their preparation and faith, has their house leveled. To make matters worse theirs is the only house in the neighborhood damaged and they have no insurance because Ned considers it a form of gambling.

The Flanders’s are forced to move into the Church shelter. It seems as though everything has gone wrong for the family. Their one remaining hope, the store Ned owns in the Springfield Mall, is destroyed by rioters. While he tries to keep his family in good spirits he is falling apart. The Reverend Lovejoy offers no solace and even the Bible offers no comfort, only a nasty paper cut. The next morning Marge arrives and tells them to come home because something incredible has happened to which Ned replies, “Oh what happened, did the rubble burn down?” However, they arrive home to find that the townspeople had rebuilt their destroyed home.

While initially overjoyed Ned becomes more and more disenfranchised as he tours the house and discovers the shoddy job that his neighbors have done rebuilding the home. In fact upon exiting the house after the tour Homer shuts the front door causing the entire structure to collapse. Ned tries to calm himself but begins talking in a stream of gibberish. While Ned frequently adds –iddily or –diddily or –doodely to his words at this point he has descended into near total incoherence. After a moment of rambling he snaps back to reality and begins berating everyone around him for their stupidity. The town is taken aback by the hateful display by the most mild-mannered person in Springfield.

He jumps in his car alone and drives himself through the front gate of Calmwood Mental Hospital. At the front desk he describes what he’s done and tells the woman that he’d like to commit himself. She says “Very well. Would you like me to show you to your room or would you prefer to be dragged off kicking and screaming?” Ned replies, “Ooo, kicking and screaming, please.” He is seized by orderlies who drag him away as he yells. When a nurse delivering medication discovers that Flanders is in the hospital she immediately calls a Dr. Foster. He declares that he’ll be right there and “May God have mercy on us all.” When he arrives Ned recognizes the Doctor from his childhood.

Dr. Foster asks Ned if he remembers what he was like as a child to which Ned says that he was a good little boy. Dr. Foster shows him an old film of Ned as a child behaving hyperactively and abusing all the other children around him. Ned is shocked. In a flashback we see in a meeting with Dr. Foster that Ned’s parents are beatniks who are incapable of controlling him or his anger issues. As Ned’s mother put it, “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas.” Dr. Foster implements the University of Minnesota Spankological protocol where he gently spanks Ned continuously for eight months. When finished Ned feels fine but has begun to repress his anger and express it only as a “string of non-sensical jabbering” (His doodalies and diddilies).

As the person who makes Ned the angriest, Homer is enlisted to help him. The family comes along to the mental hospital and sets off for a tour of the grounds while Homer helps. On their way down the hall they pass a room with an open door. Inside the room is Ms. Botz, the “Babysitter Bandit” who robbed the Simpsons in Season One Episode Thirteen, Some Enchanted Evening (1990). In a room further down the hall is “The Critic” Jay Sherman who is berating a doctor by repeatedly saying “It stinks. It stinks. It stinks.” Jay is the main character of a cartoon called “The Critic” about a film critic who rates most of his movies by saying “It stinks.” Jay has also appeared on the Simpsons before (A Star is Burns Season Six Episode Eighteen) and is voiced by Jon Lovitz who has been on The Simpsons numerous times as several different characters. [Episode information available at www.imdb.com]

Meanwhile Homer is tasked to provoke anger in Ned by insulting him. However the pre-scripted note cards from which Homer is reading are not doing the trick. Homer goes off script and tries to get Ned to admit that he’s human and that he hates certain things. Finally Ned admits that he hates the service at the Post office … and his parents. This unexpected statement surprises even Ned and makes him feel good. Dr. Foster says that because Ned has stated that he hates his parents it means that he’s cured. When Ned walks out the front door of the hospital he is greeted by the town. He promises that he won’t bottle up his anger anymore and that “if you irritate me you’re gonna hear about it” which garners a cheer from the crowd.  After a moment he says happily “And if you really tick me off, I’ll run you down with my car” causing murmurs to spread through the crowd.

This is one of my all time favorite episodes. Ned Flanders is a character that, because of his close physical proximity as the Simpsons next door neighbor, straddles the line between second tier character and main character. This story finally gives us some explanation as to why Ned is the way he is. He is moral, kind, self-sacrificing, loving, and would give anyone the shirt off his back. However he is also self-righteous, judgmental, presumptuous, and holier than thou. His qualities, both good and bad, represent an ideal Christianity and a power-structure/business model Christianity that seem to be in direct conflict yet somehow are embodied in this one man. We finally get a look into his past and we are shown how he became this strange contradiction.

While the focus of the entire plot is Ned this is carried off in a way that does not minimize the more popular and funnier characters of the Simpson family itself. It also does an excellent job of giving very brief moments in the spotlight to various other characters from around Springfield in the reconstruction scene. This is a hilarious, touching, interesting, surprising and well crafted episode that tells a great story and achieves its humor without the use of a subplot whose only purpose is as a vehicle for jokes that won’t fit in the main story. This episode is without question a five.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #8: Hurricane Neddy

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #7: Lisa’s Date with Density

February 24, 2010

Episode seven of The Simpsons season 8, Lisa’s Date with Density, originally aired on December 15th 1996. I viewed this episode by myself on Friday afternoon February nineteenth at the Brooklyn College campus on my lap-top. The couch gag for this show has the Simpsons living room furniture on the ceiling. They run in, on the ceiling, and sit on the couch. A moment later they all fall to the floor. This episode begins with the hood ornament being stolen from school Superintendent Chalmers new Honda and Homer retrieving a discarded auto-dialer from a dumpster following a police raid. Principle Skinner quickly discovers that school bully Nelson Muntz was responsible for steeling the hood ornament and sentences him to do janitorial work as punishment.

When Marge discovers Homer’s plan to use the auto-dialer she is concerned that Homer will be arrested or will swindle all their friends and neighbors. She turns out to be right as Homer programs the device to call everyone in town and insists that “happy dude” can provide them with eternal happiness if they mail one dollar to the Simpsons’ address. Meanwhile at school Lisa, bored of band class, watches out the window as Nelson sprays Groundskeeper Willie with a garden hose. For disrupting class she is sent to detention where she continues to watch Nelson from the window. She soon discovers that she can’t stop thinking about him and realizes she’s developed a crush on the bully.

Lisa confesses to Nelson that she has a crush on him and invites him over to her house. Nelson reluctantly agrees. Despite his apparent boredom with Lisa he invites her to his house. She goes and discovers the ramshackle existence that Nelson lives. He behaves inconsiderately toward her and on the way home she feels foolish to think she could be with or change Nelson. Marge tells Lisa that she can change a man, citing Homer as an example. When she points out the Homer is the same as he ever was Marge insists that you can change a man. Lisa decides to try to change Nelson.

While on a date at the Springfield bluff overlooking the town she probes Nelson to find if there’s anything beneath the surface. Bored with her questions Nelson kisses her and they discover they like it. Nelson’s bully friends Dolph, Jimbo, and Kearney show up and make fun of him for hanging out with a girl. Lisa insists that Nelson has changed and wants nothing to do with them. Nelson takes them aside and tells them he hasn’t changed at all. They tell him to prove it by coming to play a prank with them. Nelson decides to stay with Lisa.

While the bullies are in the midst of egging Principle Skinner’s house Nelson arrives without Lisa and joins in. When the police arrive Nelson runs to the Simpson home and asks Lisa to hide him, insisting that he was set up. She agrees. The police arrive and break down the Simpsons’ front door. “I thought I’d find you here,” says Chief Wiggum. He fires his gun several times alarming the other officers. A cut reveals that Wiggum didn’t shoot Nelson but instead destroyed Homer’s auto-dialer. Homer comes downstairs and Wiggum says, “See you in court Simpson. And don’t forget to bring that auto-dialer with you or we have no case.” The inept police leave. Nelson accidently slips up and reveals to Lisa that he lied to her about being a part of the prank. She realizes that she was foolish to try to change him. Lisa decides that she can’t be with him and though they part ways it is rather amicable.

In this episode the focus of character development is on Lisa and secondary character Nelson. This is the main plot of the episode and while it isn’t very funny in and of itself (with the exception of Milhouse degrading himself in order to win Lisa’s affections), it is touching and deals with an important part of childhood: the crush. The decision to explore this subject by pairing two opposites in good girl Lisa and bully Nelson was a good one as their confusion as to why they’re together is shared by the audience. We are able to explore this confusion at the same time as the characters.

While the main plot isn’t terribly funny the subplot makes up for it. Homer’s auto-dialer scam is woven through the episode as a series of brief interludes that show Homer’s lack of consideration on a macro scale by annoying the whole town. When an argument about the auto-dialer’s incessant calls between neighbor Ned Flanders and his wife Maude keeps waking Homer up he yells for them to shut up. This hilariously illustrates that not only is Homer a jerk he’s completely unaware of it. Finally the main plotline and the subplot are wrapped up almost simultaneously with a wonderful misdirecting of the viewer to believe that the police are after Nelson, rather than there to foil Homer’s scheme. Between good character development and a hilarious subplot, this is a solid episode.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #7: Lisa’s Date with Density

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #6: A Milhouse Divided

February 24, 2010

Episode six of The Simpsons season 8, A Milhouse Divided, originally aired on December 1st 1996. I viewed this episode by myself on Friday afternoon February nineteenth at the Brooklyn College campus on my lap-top. This time the couch gag sees the family sit at the couch with Bart glowing green. Homer gets up and adjusts the TV set which causes Bart to glow red. Homer sits back down and smacks Bart on the head which returns him to normal.

When Marge becomes upset by the family’s usual disconnected, anti-social dinner routine she decides to throw a dinner party. Among the guests are Kirk and Luanne Van Houten, parents of Bart’s best friend Milhouse. They argue all night. The couple’s bickering progressively becomes more and more petty and vicious. When a game of Pictionary turns into an all-out verbal brawl Luanne silences the room with a demand for a divorce. After a long, awkward pause Kirk agrees and whole-heartedly endorses the idea.

While Luanne relishes her new found freedom Kirk has moved into an apartment complex for sad, lonely bachelors. Though he tries to put a good face on things he can’t keep up the charade once he is fired as manager of the local cracker factory. Meanwhile their son Milhouse begins acting out, his behavior going unchecked by either parent. Both of the adults are so wrapped up in their own lives they ignore their son’s behavior. Luanne even begins dating an “American Gladiator” named Pyro.

Even with the example set by the Van Houten’s divorce Homer learns nothing and continues to ignore Marge and behave in an inconsiderate manner. Kirk tries to continue to be upbeat while pursuing a singing career but he admits that he wishes he was still married to Luanne. He says to Homer, “One day your wife’s preparing your favorite meal, the next you’re thawing a hot dog in the sink of a gas station bathroom.” Homer tells Kirk that such a thing can’t happen to him because he and Marge have a marriage built on a strong foundation of routine. After returning home Homer finds that Marge has left him hot dogs thawing in the sink.

A depressed Homer turns to Lisa for help to save his marriage. He reminisces about their wedding at a crappy casino chapel called “Shotgun Pete’s.” Lisa replies, “You’re very lucky to have Mom.” The next morning Homer surprises Marge with theater tickets. She is grateful but wants to go back to sleep. He begins to over-compensate for his selfishness by doing things that he thinks are considerate but in reality are annoying like trying to give Marge a haircut. When he realizes that his attempts are not working Homer files for divorce without telling Marge. When she and the kids return from the dentist office Homer calls her into the living room in a serious and melancholy voice.

When she walks in and flips on the lights she sees the room full of her friends and family who all yell surprise. Homer asks her to marry him. She is overjoyed but says that it’s not necessary. Homer replies, “Oh yes it is, I got us a divorce this afternoon.” He explains that he wanted to make up for their lack-luster wedding and he wanted a chance for their marriage to be perfect from the very beginning. During the reception after the ceremony Kirk is inspired by Homer’s gesture to Marge and he gets on the microphone being used by the band that Homer hired. He begins performing his song, “Can I borrow a feeling.” Not only is he a terrible singer, the lyrics are awful. After finishing the first verse he asks Luanne to remarry him. Taken-aback she says, “Oh God, no.” At which point her new boyfriend kicks Kirk out of the party.

The situation with my laptop is pretty much the same as before, though I did manage to find a quiet, out of the way spot in the West End Building to watch which helped with the lack of volume. This episode is another of the standard requirements that appear at least once a season on this show which I call the “Homer and Marge work on their marriage” episode. This doesn’t necessarily hurt the episode on its own as there are many, many funny episodes revolving around the couple trying to fix/improve/save their marriage, this particular one is not quite as funny and compared to the other episodes of season 8 it would have to be considered to be at the bottom of the pile.

While it reinforces the basic reason that the Simpsons are so beloved – the love between Marge and Homer – it is lacking in some ways. For example it lacks a sub-plot of any kind. The viewer assumes that one is being introduced when they see Milhouse behaving badly. Considering that Milhouse’s name is in the title of the episode this is not unreasonable. However all we get is one scene and nothing more. Another key flaw is the episodes reliance on gags not integral to the storyline. While most of them are funny they do nothing to further the story or even echo the depth of the characters involved. While enjoyable I have to rate this episode a two. A two for the Simpsons is as a good as a four for most shows but a two never the less.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #6: A Milhouse Divided

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #5: Bart After Dark

February 24, 2010

Episode five of The Simpsons season 8, Bart After Dark, originally aired on November 24th 1996. I viewed this episode by myself on Friday afternoon February nineteenth at the Brooklyn College campus on my lap-top. This time the couch gag is a parody of the Beatles album cover for “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967) featuring the Simpsons standing in front of their couch wearing the same outfits as the Beatles with dozens of minor characters behind them in an outdoor setting.  This is especially fitting since every season of The Simpsons has at least one musical episode and Bart After Dark fits that description and its plot is a parody of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” 1982. (www.imdb.com)

This episode begins with a news report of a tanker crash spilling millions of gallons of oil. Marge and Lisa volunteer to help clean up the spill, taking Maggie with them and leaving Homer and Bart alone. At the clean up Marge and Lisa find nothing to clean but rocks. Homer and Bart turn the house into a pig sty. When Bart goes to the park with Milhouse to fly a remote control airplane the town bully Nelson Muntz takes over and ends up crashing the plane into the grounds of a house that the children believe to be haunted/a Frankenstein factory/a zombie brain transplant lab. Bart climbs the gate and retrieves the model plane from the roof, breaking a stone gargoyle in the process, but when caught by the “witch” his friends flee.

She takes Bart home and insists that he be punished. When Homer resists the idea she threatens to come back and speak with his mother. Homer forces Bart to work off his debt at the “witch’s” house.  When he gets there Bart discovers a house full of scantily clad beautiful women. The “witch,” Belle explains to him that it is a house of Burlesque. He immediately takes to the job working his way up from handyman to doorman. Meanwhile, when Marge and Lisa realize that they have nothing meaningful to do in the clean-up effort they head for home. At the Burlesque house a performer is sick and Bart takes his place on stage to warm up the audience with bad jokes. He kills.

Homer barges in to take Bart back, but he’s so enamored with the girls that he stays. From there, in his role as the doorman, Bart deals with his own school principal. Homer is confronted by the church council, leading to an argument in the middle of which Marge and Lisa return home. When Marge finds that Homer’s letting Bart work in a Burlesque house she freaks and confronts Belle, demanding she shut down her house of ill repute. Belle refuses. Marge goes before the town council to have the Burlesque house shut down and reveals all its patrons.

They form an angry mob to take down the house but when they arrive and begin the demolition Homer breaks into song, convincing them not to. Belle and her girls join in. They sing about how ubiquitous the services of the Burlesque House are and its tradition in Springfield. However, Marge shows up late and though she gives pause, she accidentally runs a bulldozer into the house, destroying part of it. Marge works off the damages with a ventriloquist act.

This is the first episode that I’ve viewed on my laptop. While the picture is not nearly as nice as on a decent sized television it does have a few advantages. As long as you can overcome the distractions provided by the various applications on your computer it narrows your focus in a way. With the smaller screen you are able to take in the entire picture. However, the speakers on my laptop are of inferior quality so there were several situations where I had to rewind and review in order to hear things.

This is one of the more interesting episodes so far but it features little character development and while it’s clear that the house survives Marge’s onslaught, it is never seen or heard from again. This episode attempts to deal with sex in both frank and minimally titillating fashion but it falls a bit flat and while the musical number is catchy as always, it somehow falls short. The animation is great but while the cartoon Burlesque house is convincing most of the humor occurs early in the show and it comes up a bit short of the rest of the episodes.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #5: Bart After Dark

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #4: Burns Baby Burns

February 24, 2010

Episode four of The Simpsons season 8, Burns Baby Burns, originally aired on November 17th 1996. I viewed this episode by myself on Thursday night February eighteenth at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. The couch gag we’re led in with sees the Simpson family represented as life sized and shaped clear bluish balloons that all drift toward their spots on the couch but when they get there, they all pop. This episode centers around Homer’s boss, nuclear power plant owner and local tyrant, C. Montgomery Burns and his unexpected reunion with the illegitimate son that he never knew he had.

While on his return from his alma mater Yale, Mr. Burns’ train is temporarily delayed by an abandoned couch left on the track. A local man sees the stopped train from his souvenir stand and rushes over to hawk his wares. He moves window to window until he sees Mr. Burns whom he recognizes from an old photograph he keeps in his wallet. The man runs after the train but cannot keep up. He yells to the attendant on the rear of the caboose to ask where the train is headed. The attendant replies “Springfield.” The man says “Yeah, but what state?” The attendant’s response is drowned out by the train’s whistle as part of a series-long running joke about the uncertainty over which state the Simpsons live in.

On the way home from a trip to the cider mill the Simpsons see the man from the souvenir stand on the side of the road hitchhiking with a sign reading “Springfield.” They debate whether or not to pick him up so long that they arrive at their house. Homer turns around without letting anyone out of the car and picks up the hitchhiker. When he shows the family the picture of Mr. Burns and asks if anyone knows who he is they each respond with an example of how Burns had wronged them in the past. Without a word they drop the man off at Mr. Burns’s mansion. When Mr. Burns comes to the door the man introduces himself as his son, Larry (played by Rodney Dangerfield).

Mr. Burns reveals that in 1939 at his 25th Yale reunion he spied his college sweetheart and promptly courted her twenty-one year old daughter and after a brief fling Larry was conceived, born and sent to an orphanage. Larry stays with his newly discovered father and goes to work at the power plant alongside Homer. After a disastrous cocktail party where Larry’s boorish manners cause trouble amongst Mr. Burns’ high-society friends, the old man tries to get his son into Yale. The recruiters for the school made it clear that admitting Larry would require the donation of an international airport.

When it becomes clear that Mr. Burns is fed up with Larry, Homer suggests that they fake Larry’s kidnapping. When they go through with it, though Mr. Burns wants nothing to do with Larry, he demands that they get Larry back as a matter of principle. No one steals from Montgomery Burns. Homer stashes Larry in the Simpsons’ basement until the ransom call, during which he tries to get Mr. Burns to say he loves Larry, goes awry. Marge discovers the fake kidnapping and forces Homer to take Larry back to Mr. Burns. The second they walk out of the house they are spotted by Kent Brockman, local news anchor, in the channel 6 news chopper.

Homer and Larry flee. After several unsuccessful attempts at hiding they hole-up in a movie theater. When their rudeness disturbs the only other person in the theater, local creature Hans Moleman, he reports their location to the police. The police corner Homer on the roof and are about to fire when Larry jumps between Homer and the cops. He explains that the kidnapping is a hoax. Larry asks if Mr. Burns can love him. The old man tries but just can’t do it. He apologizes for not being able to be the family that Larry needs. This reminds Larry that he has a wife and kids whom he told that he was going for coffee a week ago. Larry declares the entire scene a party and from nowhere come drinks and party favors. “Anyway You Want It” by Journey starts playing and the entire crowd responds by dancing to end the episode.

This scene is a takeoff on the ending to Caddyshack, where Rodney Dangerfield’s character, Al Czervik, does almost exactly the same thing (www.imdb.com). This episode is very similar in many ways to the previous one. However it differs in a principal way and that is that in this episode the character development is divided in half between Mr. Burns and the one time character Larry. Even though the character development is, in terms of screen time because of the split, less than with Moe in The Homer They Fall, Mr. Burns is a less malleable character and therefore the growth has a somewhat bigger impact. Among the show’s second tier characters Moe Syzslak and CM Burns are probably my favorites. While the dialogue is not quite as rapid-fire funny in this episode the star power of Rodney Dangerfield and his performance balances the scales.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #4: Burns Baby Burns

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #3: The Homer They Fall

February 24, 2010

Season eight, episode three of The Simpsons, titled The Homer They Fall and originally aired on November 10th 1996. I viewed this episode alone on Thursday night February eighteenth at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. The opening title sequence to this episode is the long version which starts with Bart writing something obnoxious on the detention blackboard, in this case “I am not my long lost twin.” The couch gag features the family in cowboy attire jump on a couch in a desert scene at which point the couch gallops away and whinnies like a horse. This episode is one of the myriad stories where Homer temporarily switches professions. In The Homer They Fall he becomes a professional boxer.

When Bart is harassed by bullies at school Homer decides to try to reason with their fathers. In an attempt to make peace at Moe’s Tavern Homer ends up being beaten by the three men with repeated punches and even has a pool cue broken over his head but nothing they do can even knock Homer down. When Moe chases the men out of the bar with a shotgun he convinces Homer that his ability to take a beating is a sure fire path to a career in pro-boxing. Moe, a former boxer himself, albeit a terrible one, becomes Homer’s manager.

When Marge learns of their scheme she insists that Homer be examined by a doctor. The family physician Dr. Hibbert reveals that Homer’s brain is “cushioned by a layer of fluid 1/8 of an inch thicker than normal” when in fact the X-Ray shows us that Homer’s brain is merely that much smaller than everyone else. Cleared to box, his training begins. Because he can’t punch well they formulate the strategy that Homer will stand there until his opponent becomes exhausted from beating him at which time Homer will simply push him over. Using this technique he wins his first fight against a boxcar tramp.

            Following a montage showing Homer defeat a number of tramps, hobos, and bums and highlights his meager monetary gains Moe is paid a visit by Lucious Sweets. Lucious is a clear parody of boxing promoter Don King just as his protégé Heavyweight Champion of the World Drederick Tatum is a parody of Mike Tyson. Moe and Sweets have a past relationship leading the promoter to ask Moe to have Homer challenge Tatum for the title. Lucious believes Homer can last three rounds against the champ, just enough for everyone to make a big payday. When Tatum is released on parole the newspaper headline reads “Champ to Whale on Local Man.”

A concerned Marge makes Moe promise to throw in the towel if Homer is in danger but when she leaves he tosses the towel in the garbage. In a typical Simpsons display of irreverence for anything considered sacred, before the fight famous ring announcer Michael Buffer declares to the crowd, “Due to popular demand we will forgo our National Anthem.” Tatum beats Homer so badly that he takes a mid-round breather to converse with Charlie Sheen at ringside yet Homer still remains on his feet. Just when it seems that Tatum will deliver the knockout blow Moe swoops in wearing the “Fan Man’s” fan powered flying contraption to scoop Homer up and deliver him safely from the ring and into the parking lot.

While Moe still takes Lucious’s check for $100,000 everyone is grateful that he saved Homer. To close out the show Moe flies away with the “Fan Man” running after him demanding the return of his flying machine. Over the closing credits are still shots of Moe using the fan contraption to do various good deeds: he saves people from floods and quicksand, puts out a forest fire and air drops relief aid to a group of starving people.

As usual this episode echoes art and pop-culture relating to the subject matter. Homer’s training and victory montages are references to Rocky and Raging Bull, respectively (www.imdb.com). The topical element of this episode was aimed at Mike Tyson’s outrageous behavior in and out of the boxing ring, in this case with reference to his doppelganger Drederick Tatum being incarcerated for pushing his mother down the stairs.

While this episode is no less funny, the dialogue and sight gags are incredible, than others it is a Moe story. The only character who develops during this show is Moe who, as a secondary character and a scumbag, is not as compelling as the core characters of the Simpson family or even several of the other secondary characters. Even though Moe is given some depth and shows he’s not just an opportunistic malcontent it does not have the same far reaching dynamic as when the principals gain new depth.

While this is a hysterical episode overall, compared to many of the other season 8 shows it is left wanting for greater canon wide influence and character development.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #3: The Homer They Fall

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode#2: You Only Move Twice

February 24, 2010

Next in line is The Simpsons season eight, episode two, entitled You Only Move Twice and originally aired on November 3rd 1996. I watched this episode by myself on Thursday night February eighteenth at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. Unlike the previous episode this one takes place in the “normal” continuity of the Simpsons universe. While for this show normal is a relative term, the standard format of a main storyline with subplot(s) is in play here. After the clipped version of the opening credits (which shows Homer arrive home, nearly get hit by Bart and Lisa with their bikes, then chased into the garage by Marge behind the wheel of her car) we get the couch gag. In this case we see Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie parachute safely onto the couch. Seconds later Homer hits the floor, his parachute having failed to open.

The story begins with Waylon Smithers, boot-lick to Homer’s boss, being offered a job with the Globex Corporation from the window of a slow moving limo. He refuses all the financial enticements from the beautiful woman inside. She even informs him that they’ll provide full benefits for him and his life-partner. Smithers is a closeted homosexual and the fact that the representative knows this is foreshadowing that Globex is powerful indeed. When he refuses the job flatly they are forced to offer the job to the next senior man at the Nuclear power plant: Homer Simpson.

After accepting the job Homer is able to convince the family that moving to follow the new career is the right choice, with a little help from a PR video provided by Globex. After several unsuccessful attempts to sell their house in Springfield, the Simpsons nail a sign labeled “ABANDONED” across the front door and leave for Cyprus Creek. What they find waiting for them is a huge home with high-tech mod-cons to rival Bill Gates house. Problems begin quickly though as Marge finishes her housework by nine-thirty in the morning and is left with nothing to do but “go upstairs and make sure the beds are still made.”

At work Homer meets his friendly, progressive new boss Hank Scorpio, who takes an interest in Homer. When Scorpio asks what his dream is Homer tells him it is to own the Dallas Cowboys. Scorpio tells Homer to pursue his dream no matter what anyone says. After being introduced to his team Homer settles comfortably into his new management position. Unfortunately, Bart’s day is not going so well. When the teacher finds that he can’t read or write in cursive he is placed in the remedial class with a Canadian who has been mistake for slow, a girl with a head injury, and a pyromaniac.

Using his newly acquired disposable income Homer buys great Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry’s hat from a souvenir store in hopes that it will help him motivate his team. When this doesn’t have the desired effect and his team claims he’s working them too hard Homer has another brilliant idea. He’ll get his entire team “business hammocks.” To find out where to get one he heads directly to his boss’s office at which point Mr. Scorpio goes through an absurdly long list of hammock related stores in Cyprus Creek. Midway through the conversation Scorpio is interrupted by a satellite uplink in which, via enormous TV screen, he threatens the U.N. with a Doomsday Device if they “do not deliver the gold.”

Homer is naturally oblivious to the fact that his boss has just been revealed as a super-villain and Scorpio seems none-too-bothered by it either. Nor does Homer seem to notice that he’s working on the nuclear reactor that powers the aforementioned Doomsday Device. Meanwhile, Lisa doesn’t fare much better than Marge or Bart. Though an avowed vegetarian and “tree hugger” a nature walk reveals that she is allergic to nearly all the nature in Cypress Creek. Back at Globex, in a parody of Goldfinger (1964), Scorpio is in the process of using an industrial cutting laser to execute a secret agent named “Mr. Bont” who has infiltrated the facility. He looks, talks, and dresses like the 60’s era James Bond played by Sean Connery. In fact the title is a spoof of the Bond film You Only Live Twice. (www.imdb.com)

Bont asks “Scorpio, do you expect me to talk?” He replies, “No, I expect you to die and be a very cheap funeral.” Bont escapes but on his way out is tackled by Homer. Scorpio is effusive in his praise for Homer as four of his goons surround the prone spy and shoot him with their sub-machineguns (Bont is off-screen). Despite his success, the first of his life, the rest of the family is miserable. While the family is willing to stay for him Homer decides that he has to put their happiness first and returns to Globex to quit.

When he arrives he walks solemnly and completely clueless through an escalating battle between a breaching force of U.S. Army Rangers and Scorpio’s henchmen, scalding oil traps, and bikini clad ninja babes. The lethal ladies are another reference to far too many James Bond films to count and one of their victims who has his neck broken bears a striking resemblance to General Norman Schwarzkopf. Only five years after Operation Desert Storm this would be a timely reference if intentional.

Homer meets up with Scorpio in the middle of the battle to discuss his decision to return to Springfield. Despite the firefight Scorpio is engaged in conversation, killing all the while. He wants Homer to stay but understands that he can’t. Scorpio straps on a flamethrower and as he turns to flee he tells Homer, “On your way out if you want to kill somebody it would really help me a lot.” The last we see of the super-villain he’s chasing off dozens of soldiers with a blast from his flamethrower while laughing an evil laugh.

Upon returning to Springfield the Simpsons reclaim their now dilapidated house outside of which is a newspaper with a picture of Scorpio on it and a headline reading “Super Villain Seizes East Coast.” After clearing out the pot-smoking, guitar playing elementary school bus driver Otto and his girlfriend who’d been squatting in their house, Homer receives a thank you note from Hank Scorpio. It thanks Homer for helping accomplish “Project Arcturus” and as a thank you gives Homer the Denver Broncos. When Homer is disappointed Marge says she thinks it’s pretty good and he responds, “Marge you don’t know anything about football.” Right before fading to the credits one of the Broncos wide receivers has a pass bounce off the back of his head, thus neatly summing up what was, for a while anyway, a very hard luck franchise. Playing over the credits is a James Bond-esque song about Scorpio and all his corporate enticements.

This is one of the most well done Simpsons episodes ever and certainly one of my favorites. It illustrates wonderfully the masterful use of characters that had been developed over the seven previous seasons that was the hallmark of the Simpsons golden age which I place from about Season 3 to Season 9. When the Simpsons leave Springfield for Cyprus Creek secondary and tertiary characters, far too many to list, come out and give them a send off each with their own catchphrase. This illustrates the numerical depth of the Simpsons universe and the friendly, generous, and smoothly evil Super Villain Hank Scorpio (played by series semi-regular and producer Albert Brooks) is one of the funniest one-time characters in the series canon.

What makes this episode truly wonderful is that it reinforces the best reason to love Homer Simpson. In Cyprus Creek he is successful, well-to-do, and respected but he is willing to sacrifice all of that for the happiness of his family. He’s funny for a million reasons but we love him because no matter how inconsiderate he usually is in the end Homer would do anything for his family. All this and the verbal and visual nuances that can only be expressed by reading the entire script verbatim or watching the episode are the reasons that is one of my all time favorites.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #2: You Only Move Twice

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #1: Treehouse of Horror VII

February 24, 2010

   This semester I will be reviewing season eight of The Simpsons. Episode one is entitled Treehouse of Horror VII and originally aired on October 27th 1996. I sat down and watched this episode alone on Thursday night February eighteenth at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. The lead in for this season is the yearly (since season two) Halloween episode called Treehouse of Horror. These episodes follow a consistent format of three approximately seven minute stories revolving around an adaptation of classic horror stories, myths, and scary movies featuring the Simpson family.

As with the previous (and subsequent) Halloween specials this one began with a unique introduction. Father of the Simpson family, the fat, stupid, lazy, alcoholic Homer attempts to light a jack-o-lantern but sets himself on fire which sends him screaming around the kitchen fully ablaze. After the bloody title card we are led into the couch gag (each Simpsons episode begins with the family running toward their couch where something strange happens to them) which in this case leads them to find the Grim Reaper sitting on their couch. They each drop dead leaving a pile of corpses for Death to prop his feet on like an ottoman.

The first story is called “The Thing and I.”  After hearing noises coming from the attic at night Bart, the misanthropic ten year old punk, and Lisa, the genius middle child, question their parents about it at breakfast. They unconvincingly deny that anything is wrong but the kids spy Homer taking a bucket of fish heads to the attic. While eavesdropping they hear a gruesome feeding frenzy. When finally left alone Bart and Lisa, along with mute baby sister Maggie, sneak into the attic. During this misadventure they accidentally release a monstrous, unseen creature.

When Homer and Marge, the family’s devoted and over-stressed Mother, return home they find the kids hiding. Upon being confronted they are forced to reveal the horrible truth. With a little help from the family physician, Dr. Hibbert, who conveniently appears, they relay the story of how Bart and his evil conjoined-twin Hugo were physically separated at birth. Years living in the attic, eating only fish heads have left Hugo twisted and insane. The family goes to search for Hugo, leaving Bart behind. Bart is waylaid by Hugo who had remained in the house all along.

After taking him to the attic the demented twin reveals his plan two sow the two back together. Just in the nick of time the family returns and Dr. Hibbert knocks Hugo unconscious at which point he discovers that based on the placement of the boys scars he had made a mistake. As it turns out Bart was and always had been the evil twin, to which Bart replies, “Oh, don’t look so shocked.” The solution they settle on is to let Hugo move downstairs with the family leaving Bart in the attic to subsist primarily on a diet of fish heads.

After viewing the first story I had a nagging feeling that it referenced something, possibly an episode of the Twilight Zone but I was unable to confirm this. However, the second story, “The Genesis Tub,” was in fact a spoof of the Twilight Zone episode entitled The Little People (#3.28) (www.imdb.com ). Lisa prepares a science-fair project by dissolving a tooth in a Petri-dish of soda but a static electric discharge caused by one of Bart’s obnoxious pranks sets evolution in motion. When Lisa wakes up the next morning she discovers an ecosystem complete with tiny cave people living in small cavities in the tooth.

After breakfast Lisa discovers that her little world has progressed to the Renaissance. She spies one of the people nailing theses to a door leading into the tooth (now a cathedral). Lisa happily observes, “I’ve created Lutherans!” The next morning she discovers that the tiny society is ultra-advanced at which point Bart pokes his finger into the tub crushing parts of the civilization. That night space-ship like fighters rise from the tub and attack Bart prompting him to seek revenge. Lisa stops him but is shrunken down and brought into the world she created where she finds that the people worship her as a god. She soon discovers that her followers are unable to return her to normal. With Lisa gone Bart, instead of destroying the tiny world, claims it as his own and wins the science-fair.

The third and final story is called “Citizen Kang”, a clear reference to Citizen Kane, though not a parody. While night fishing Homer is abducted by two hideous green aliens, series semi-regulars Kang and Kodos. Homer assumes they will want to perform a rectal probe so, wanting to get it over with, he pulls down his pants and presents his rear. Kang recoils in horror and replies, “Stop, we have reached the limits of what rectal probing can teach us.” Kang and Kodos actually want to be taken to America’s leaders. Homer leads them to Washington DC where the aliens kidnap President Bill Clinton and his challenger in the upcoming election, Senator Bob Dole.

Kang and Kodos disguise themselves as Clinton and Dole in an attempt to seize control of Earth’s most powerful nation. Before returning Homer to Earth they spray him with rum so that no one will believe his story. He tries to enlist the help of the real President and Senator but accidentally blows them into the void of space. Despite the strange behavior of “Clinton” and “Dole” the American voter is suckered, refusing to vote for a third party candidate (Ross Perot), even after the candidates are revealed as monsters from space. This leads to the election of Kang and the enslavement of Earth.

While I enjoyed this episode thoroughly it is quite difficult to review. The humor of the individual segments rely so heavily on dialogue and sight-gags, which lose their luster when simply read from a screen, that it is difficult to do more than convey the sense of the humorous overtones and hope that they come across. The first two stories are funny but somewhat weak compared to the third. This positioning was wise as the episode finishes strong.

Much of the humor in Citizen Kang is rooted in the politics of the time. When this episode first aired the 1996 Presidential election was a mere nine days away. In typical Simpsons fashion the political criticism was sharp and double-edged. When the aliens abduct President Clinton from the White House at dawn they take his entire bed with him in it. This leads the groggy President to ask, “Hillary, is it noon already?” When Kodos impersonates Bob Dole she tries several takes on the abortion issue. When “Abortions for no one” and “Abortions for everyone” are met with resounding boos she settles on a policy of “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others” which placates the crowd nicely. As President Clinton, Kang expresses how he “is looking forward to an orderly election tomorrow, which will eliminate the need for a violent bloodbath.” Of course even this receives enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.

In the end we are done in by our (de facto, not constitutionally mandated) two party electoral system. While this nicely jabbed at the political foibles and nuances of 1996 America, it feels more relevant today than it did then. Even though Clinton, Dole, Kang, and Kodos are no longer running for office, sometimes politicians of today seem just as odd. It is surprising that the irrational, gullible American public portrayed fifteen years ago in a cartoon seem much wiser than the American public of the real world, circa 2010, even if they did elect a space alien to the Presidency. Despite the somewhat awkward nature of the structure used for Treehouse of Horror, I give this episode a rating of four. The first two stories are both entertaining and funny but it is the final story that makes this episode, structurally problematic or not, truly hilarious.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #1: Treehouse of Horror VII

Rating: 4 out of 5