The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #16: Brother From Another Series

March 2, 2010

   The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #16 entitled Brother from Another Series. This episode first aired February 23rd 1997. I viewed this episode at home on DVD, Saturday February 27th 2010 by myself. This episode features a repeat of the upside down couch gag. This is the eighth season’s obligatory Sideshow Bob episode, where Bart’s aforementioned archenemy returns to terrorize and kill him. This is one of the most interesting of the “Bob” episodes.

The Brothers Terwilliger

We begin with Sideshow Bob’s genuine good behavior leading to his participation in a work release program. With Reverend Lovejoy’s recommendation and employment by his brother Cecil (David Hyde Pierce), Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) is set free. While everyone else believes in Bob’s reform Bart cannot accept it and vows to expose the con’s nefarious schemes. Over dinner with his brother Bob reveals to us that he once crushed Cecil’s dreams. Years ago Cecil auditioned to be Krusty the Klown’s sidekick but lost the job to Bob who wasn’t even there for the job. This was the cause of a falling out between the two but Cecil assures Bob that it is water under the bridge. Soon Bob is put to work as the construction foreman at the hydroelectric dam that his Cecil is building for Springfield.

People of Quality

Bart starts stalking Bob for clues, ruining his date with Edna Krabappel. Bob becomes more and more frustrated as his construction crew is a bunch of slack-jawed yokels and Bart will not stop hounding him. Bart and Lisa head to the dam one night and break into the construction trailer. They find a briefcase with millions of dollars in it. Bob arrives and breaks down the door. When Bob spots them he chases the siblings into the interior of the dam. He corners them and they accuse him of stealing the money. When a shoddily built wall collapses nearby Bob realizes that Cecil had been in charge of the money. His brother appears, armed with a gun, and explains that he embezzled the money and intends to blow up the dam with them in it, framing Sideshow Bob.

Cecil claims that off-the-record this is because he lost out on being Krusty’s sidekick but officially he did it for the money. Bart, Lisa and Bob work together to escape the dam and foil Cecil. In the process Bart and Bob end up saving one another’s lives. After defusing Cecil’s bomb and capturing him the police arrive and take him into custody. Chief Wiggum shows up and over the protests of Bart, Lisa, and his fellow officers he takes Sideshow Bob into custody along with Cecil. Due to the shoddy construction work the dam bursts anyway and floods Springfield. Our story ends with Bob and Cecil sharing a prison cell.

"Officially, I did it for the money."

This is a unique episode even for the Simpsons. It connects the show to another series through a common actor and adds a twist. Series villain Sideshow Bob is voiced by Kelsey Grammer who also plays Dr. Frasier Crane on the series Frasier. In this episode they introduce Bob’s brother Cecil, voiced by David Hyde Pierce who plays Frasier’s brother Niles on Frasier. The interactions between Bob and Cecil mirror the relationship between Frasier and Niles. This episode works apart from the cross-series joke but I imagine not nearly as well. I had the benefit of having seen Frasier prior to viewing.

For the viewer familiar with The Simpsons series and Sideshow Bob’s place in it this story provides an additional new wrinkle in that unlike any time prior to this episode, we are introduced to a truly reformed Sideshow Bob. While the ending is very funny it unfortunately sets up future Sideshow Bob episodes that are dreadful. This makes me question whether or not I enjoy this episode more in retrospect than on its own merits. Taking these doubts into account I have to rate this one as average.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #16: Brother from Another Series

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #15: Homer’s Phobia

March 2, 2010

   Next is The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #15 entitled Homer’s Phobia. This episode first aired February 16th 1997. I viewed this episode at home on DVD, Saturday February 27th 2010 by myself. The couch gag for this episode features a computer screen with the Simpsons’ couch framed in an internet video box belonging to “America Onlink.” A cursor appears and clicks a button that says “Load Family.” It takes forever to load and the cursor repeatedly clicks the “Exit” button to no avail.

Homer Simpson & John Waters

When Bart causes a freak clothes drier accident that results in a nine hundred dollar gas bill the family is forced to sell one of Marge’s grandmother’s heirlooms, an old Confederate civil war doll. They take the heirloom to a store in the mall called Cockamamies that buys and sells collectibles and antiques. The store is full of campy and kitschy items from the past. They meet the proprietor, John, who happens to look just like film director John Waters (who in fact voices the character). He is sorry to inform them that the figurine isn’t an antique at all. As a matter of fact it is a whiskey bottle from the mid-seventies. The family takes an immediate liking to John and Homer invites him over for dinner. They have a fun evening together and all is well until the next morning.

At breakfast when Homer suggests that they invite John and his wife over sometime Marge informs him that John is gay. Despite all the clues (obvious, obvious clues) Homer is taken aback by John’s homosexuality. When Marge points out that Homer had no problem before he knew John was gay, he claims that he’s upset because John’s a sneak for not making it clear that he was homosexual. As Homer put it, “I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals flaming.” That afternoon he refuses to join the family on a ride around town with John. While at lunch they run into Waylon Smithers, also gay, whom John clearly knows. In fact Smithers says, referring to the Simpsons in an accusatory tone, “So John, this is your sick Mother?” When they return Homer is concerned that John “got them gay.”

He becomes particularly concerned about Bart’s sexuality and decides that it’s his fatherly duty to make sure that Bart turns out to be straight. The next morning when he finds John having coffee with Marge Homer is furious. When John asks what he’s got against gays Homer can’t present a cogent argument but insists on “taking back his son.” First Homer sits Bart in a lawn chair on the median strip of the highway facing a billboard for Laramie Slims cigarettes that features two beautiful women in their underwear having a pillow fight. Homer leaves Bart to stare at the advertisement for two hours and when he returns he asks how Bart feels. The boy says that he feels like a cigarette and when Homer asks what brand he wants Bart replies “Anything slim.”

His first attempt having failed Homer takes Bart to the local steel mill to see real men at work. However, all of the mill workers turn out to be gay. Homer drags Bart out, hands over his eyes as the steel mill is transformed into a dance club called The Anvil. When Homer recounts the story to his friends Moe and Barney at the bar, Moe is shocked that he’s unaware that the entire steel industry, as well as Aerospace and the railroads, are gay. They devise a plan to take Bart deer hunting which they believe will make him a “real” man. On the drive to the countryside Moe asks Bart if he’s ever been hunting. Bart responds, “Nope. Something about a bunch of guys alone together in the woods. Seems kinda gay.” Homer scolds him for his very immature attitude.

Oh, be nice!

They spend hours sitting around drinking beer without any sign of a deer. When they pack it in and head back Homer is dejected that he couldn’t fix Bart. Just when all seems lost Moe spots a Santa’s Village ahead. They break in with the intention of shooting one of the reindeer thus fixing Bart. Back in Springfield the family is getting worried. John reasons that because the “deer all migrated north when the state park converted to Astroturf” the only thing even resembling a deer would be found at Santa’s Village. They arrive in time to see the reindeer attacking Homer and his party. Homer sacrifices his own well being to protect Bart. John sends a remote control Santa Claus robot from his store into the middle of the herd. The annoying automaton drives away the reindeer. John drives the family home. Much to Bart’s confusion Homer tells him that any way he wants to live his life is okay. Lisa informs Bart that Homer thinks he’s gay and the episode ends on a surprised look from Bart.

Annual Gift Man Robot

            This episode is not merely a successful piece of art but for a cartoon show to do something so socially relevant, controversial and in prime time is a real cultural achievement. While the viewers have known for years that the character Waylon Smithers is gay, no one in Springfield does, and his homosexuality is dealt with primarily through innuendo. This is the first episode of the show that dealt directly and openly with homophobia and while in the years since Marge’s sister has come out as a lesbian, nothing compares before or since to this episode on this particular issue.

            Homer’s empty headed representation of the homophobic American male is unsubtle and completely brilliant. It is clear from the first moment he appears on screen that John is gay but Homer can’t see it. Once he’s told he’s so shaken up that he’s even concerned about the property value of his house going down because now they can’t say that only straight people have been in the house. While his reaction isn’t hateful or violent it is extremely ignorant and fearful which is the most common form that any sort of prejudice takes.

Thankfully while Homer is an idiot he does have a good heart. However, even when John saves Homer and company from the reindeer and Homer comes to accept John he still has misconceptions and preconceived notions. Referring to John Homer says “Queer? That’s what you like to be called right?” He replies, “Well that or John.” Thankfully most of us aren’t like Homer. Let’s just hope that most of those who are as ignorant as he is also share Homer’s good qualities.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #15: Homer’s Phobia

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #14: The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show

March 2, 2010
   The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #14 entitled The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show is next in line. This episode first aired February 7th 1997. I viewed this episode at home on DVD, Saturday February 27th 2010 by myself. The couch gag for this episode features the Simpsons running for their couch only to find the Flintstones sitting in their spots.

Enter: Poochie

We begin with Krusty the Klown discovering that the ratings for the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon segment have tanked. In order to combat this problem they hold a focus group whose members include Bart, Lisa, Nelson, Milhouse, Ralph and a few other classmates. The focus group doesn’t work as the kids opinions and tastes are inconsistent and make no sense. Lisa boils it down for the head of the studio, Roger Myers Jr.,  by telling him that the characters just don’t have the same impact they once did after so many years (A clear reference to The Simpsons itself and the repetitive themes within the episodes).

Myers misreads Lisa’s intentions and while in a meeting with the show’s writers, gets the idea that the way to save Itchy and Scratchy is to add a new character that today’s kids can relate to. They decide that a dog named Poochie will join mouse Itchy and cat scratchy. At breakfast the headline on Homer’s newspaper reads “Funny Dog to Make Life Worthwhile” prompting Lisa to comment that adding a new character to a series is often a desperate attempt to boost low ratings. The second she is finished uttering the words, a never before seen character named Roy enters the kitchen and joins the family for breakfast.

The family encourages Homer to audition to do the voice of Poochie. He gets the part over such notables as Otto the pothead bus driver and actor/spokesman Troy McClure (Phil Hartman). The publicity begins and Homer settles into his roles in the recording studio and public forums where he eagerly mocks the show’s fans, hardcore dorks all. Soon thereafter the family gathers their friends together to watch the debut of Poochie on The Itchy & Scratchy Show. Lacking any of the violent charms of the old format this episode is nothing but Poochie spouting cliché’s and basically existing as a conglomeration of bad ideas and youth oriented stereotypes. Some try to spare Homer’s feelings but it is clear even to him that the episode was terrible.

The TV reviews are even worse and The Itchy & Scratchy Show appears on the verge of cancellation. Homer tries to help improve the situation but his ideas are ignored. While eaves dropping on a meeting he discovers that the writers are planning to kill off Poochie. During the recording session Homer refuses to read his lines. When the woman who voices Itchy & Scratchy goes to bat for Homer he’s allowed to read the lines he’s written himself. Homer’s impassioned reading of his lines is very moving and seems to change the minds of all involved.

The Simpsons sit down to watch the new episode of Itchy & Scratchy only to discover that Homer has been double crossed and that his lines were cut and Poochie has been written out of the show. Much to Homer’s chagrin this makes Bart and Lisa very happy. Feeling bad for cheering Poochie’s demise, Bart tells Homer that he’s sorry and “People just weren’t ready for Poochie. Maybe in a few years.” Just then Roy walks in and announces that he’s gotten his own place. Marge wishes him well and says “maybe we’ll see you in a few years.” The show ends with Bart and Lisa enjoying an episode of Itchy & Scratchy. They appreciate a return to the basics but becoming bored with it they change the channel. The screen goes to static.

Here we find another episode that doesn’t come up particularly strong in any one technical area but saves itself thematically through its subject matter. On a macro scale this is one of the most self-referential TV episodes that you will ever see. It takes pot shots not only at itself but animation and the television industry in general. The only thing missing is a thorough mocking of the Fox network which at this point is standard fare for The Simpsons.

Committee Thinking

During the episode when the family is at breakfast lamenting Poochie’s lack of popularity Lisa tries to reassure Homer: “It’s not your fault Dad. You did fine. It’s just that Poochie was a soulless byproduct of committee thinking. You can’t be cool just by spouting a bunch of worn out buzzwords.” To which Bart replies, “Don’t have a cow Lis’.” While “Don’t have a cow, man” and “Ay, Carumba” generally disappeared after the first few seasons they do occasionally come back for the sole purpose of mocking their own existence as in the previous example. The Roy character that shows up and is never seen again is also pure gold. He exists only to suggest that someday The Simpsons will be hurting for viewers and flailing to stay afloat and relevant. I wonder if the writers and performers for this episode had any idea that thirteen seasons and one movie later there would still be no sign of Roy.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #14: The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #13: Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala -Annoyed-Grunt-cious

March 2, 2010

Go Fly a Kite

    The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #13 is entitled Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala-Annoyed-Grunt-cious. This episode first aired February 7th 1997. I viewed this episode at home on DVD, Thursday February 25th 2010 by myself. This time the couch gag takes place outside. First we see the empty couch in the Simpsons’ living room then cut to the front yard where the rest of the family stands around while Homer furiously tries to open the locked door with no success.

After years of being stressed out by her overly needy family Marge begins to lose her hair. A montage shows her problem become progressively more serious forcing her to go see the doctor. Dr. Hibbert diagnoses her hair loss as stress related. In order to help Marge the family decides to get a nanny. Homer chases off a number of applicants because he believes them to be men in drag ala Mrs. Doubtfire. The search goes poorly and to help Bart and Lisa sing a song about their ideal nanny. Unfortunately they are quite picky. Just as Marge expresses her doubts as to being able to find a nanny like the one the kids described, we cut to the sky above Springfield where we see a Mary Poppins type character descend from above with a flying umbrella.

She lands at the Simpson residence, introduces herself as Shari Bobbins, and essentially announces that she’s their new nanny. But first the family insists on an interview. After fielding all of their questions with ease she is given the job. Going to work right away she takes the kids upstairs to clean their rooms. She leads the children in a song about the virtues of doing a half-assed job (It’s the American way!) and gives examples from all over Springfield. Afterwards she takes the kids for a walk in the park where she is greeted by everyone they come across because, like Mary Poppins, somehow everyone knows Shari Bobbins. She even manages to bring some joy to evil old miser Mr. Burns. Later that night she tucks the children into bed and sings them a lullaby about local drunkard, Barney Gumble.

A short time thereafter we see the new and improved Simpson family, complete with good manners and basic hygiene. Shari Bobbins announces that her work is finished and bids a fond farewell. However, she doesn’t even make it as far as the curb when Homer and Bart crash through the front window. She goes back inside to find that the family has reverted back to its old ways in a matter of seconds. Before long the Simpsons start to drive Shari Bobbins crazy and put her through so much stress that she takes to getting drunk with Barney. When they see what they’ve done to her they decide to let Shari Bobbins move on. They sing her a goodbye song letting her know that they haven’t changed, won’t change and like it that way. Shari Bobbins flies away on her umbrella as the family wave’s goodbye. Lisa asks “Do you think we’ll ever see her again?” Homer replies “I’m sure we will, honey.” As he responds we see in the background the airborne Shari Bobbins sucked into the turbine of a passing jumbo jet leaving only a small trail of debris shooting out the other side.

This is yet another musical episode and steeped in satire, parody and pop-culture. It also drives home what seems to be one of the constant themes of the show: life stinks but we’ll deal with it. This episode is a direct parody of Mary Poppins of course; though Shari Bobbins is quick to discourage any likeness between the two. She says that she’s an original creation like Ricky Rouse or Monald Muck. There are a number of references that this episode makes that can be found at (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0757021/trivia) and (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0757021/movieconnections). My personal favorite is the clip of Charles Bronson filling in for Andy Griffith on the Andy Griffith show. It shows Bronson, having just killed town drunk Otis, preparing to “head down to Emits fix-it shop, to fix Emit.”

While the “Marge is stressed out” plotline is overdone it leads to something wonderful in this episode. Not even Shari Bobbins can handle the Simpsons. When it all boils down to it they’re the quintessential screwed up American nuclear family that is too apathetic to change and too ignorant to know when they should for their own benefit. While this episode lacks complex plot, deep character development, or a major guest star I just cannot give anything less than a three to a show that ends with me getting to see Mary Poppins sucked into a jet engine.

Shari Bobbins seconds before tragedy strikes

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #13: Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala-Annoyed-Grunt-cious

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #12: Mountain of Madness

March 2, 2010

            The next episode is The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #12: Mountain of Madness. This episode first aired February 2nd 1997. I viewed this episode at home on DVD, Thursday February 25th 2010 by myself. The couch gag for this episode features the Simpsons entering the living room to find the couch folded out into a bed with Grampa asleep on it. They fold the bed back into a couch with Grampa still on it and sit down to watch TV.

            The story starts out with Mr. Burns running a fire drill at the nuclear power plant. Homer is the first man outside to safety and it takes him fifteen minutes. In response to the dismal reaction time of his workers Mr. Burns decides to hold a corporate retreat in the mountains to teach them about teamwork. The plant’s employees are split into teams of two and tasked to use maps to find their way to a cabin somewhere on the mountain with the last team to arrive being fired. Homer ends up paired with Mr. Burns, guaranteeing him success. In fact the two cheat by using a snowmobile to take them straight to the cabin.

            While waiting for the others to arrive Homer and his boss eat and drink and celebrate their ill-gotten victory. They bond for a while but clinking their champagne flutes together in toast causes an avalanche that buries the entire cabin and trapping them inside. Homer is able to tunnel to the surface but when he and Burns celebrate they once again cause an avalanche trapping them right back in the cabin. Lenny and Carl find another cabin and are soon joined by their co-workers. Meanwhile, to keep busy Homer and Burns build snowmen inside their cabin.

            The two strip down to their underwear and use their clothes to dress the snowmen. Soon they begin to lose their minds and hallucinate. They begin to suspect one another of plotting. When the confrontation turns physical Mr. Burns attacks Homer with a fireplace poker. An errant swing misses Homer and strikes the cabin’s propane tank causing it to rupture. The subsequent explosion forces the cabin out from under the snow and hurtling down the mountain at high speed. The cabin comes to a stop and the two emerge safe and sound. Mr. Burns reminds everyone of the competition and they all hustle to get inside. When Lenny is that last inside Burns fires him.

When Burns asks if they all learned something about teamwork an unenthusiastic “Yes” suggests that that learned nothing. However, Burns takes the statement at face value and announces that no one will be fired after all. Of course he neglects to inform Lenny of this. Mr. Burns and Homer come to the conclusion that after going through something like that with someone you never want to see that person again. They share a long laugh interspersed with dirty looks and sideways glances to end the episode.

It had to happen eventually. As I pointed out in a previous review a low rating for an episode of The Simpsons is better than a high rating for most shows. However, I still have to give this episode a rating of one. The reason I believe it deserves a one is simple. While this episode is funny it is not funny enough to counter-balance its complete lack of heart. The plot while unconventional is simplistic. There is no real character development, nor is there really any reinforcing of character traits that we’re already familiar with except in the most cursory of ways. The almost non-existent sub-plot featuring Smithers and the Simpson kids is a go-nowhere affair that provides a few chuckles at best. Also lacking is any sort of lampooning of popular culture or any connection to the events of the time which are features that most great Simpsons episodes have in spades.

While on its own this episode is funny and entertaining it does not live up to the other episodes of this season or those that came before it. Though memorable because of its bizarre plot it offers little in that department. One point of interest is that we do briefly get to see Homer and Burns in a position of sympathy toward one another rather than their usual adversarial, frightened drone versus god-like boss relationship. This gives an interesting minute or so of dialogue between the two very different characters but this quickly vanishes into hallucination.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #12: Mountain of Madness

Rating: 1 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #11: The Twisted World of Marge Simpson

March 2, 2010

            Next up is The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #11 entitled The Twisted World of Marge Simpson. This episode first aired January 19th 1997. I viewed this episode at home on DVD, Thursday February 25th 2010 by myself. This is only the second episode so far with a full-length opening. On Bart’s detention room chalk board he is writing “I am not licensed to do anything.” This episode’s couch gag shows the Simpson living room with three large holes in the couch and two on the floor. A different character pops out of each hole ala “whack-a-mole.” A mallet tries to hit them but misses until it finally strikes Homer.

            The show begins with a meeting of the “Investor-ettes” club. They overwhelmingly decide to invest in a business with Marge being the only one to have concerns. The group isn’t happy with Marge’s hesitance and expels her from the group. At dinner that night Lisa encourages Marge to reconsider her doubts and invest in a franchise on her own. She goes to a franchise convention and after sitting through a few lame presentations she decides that owning a business is not for her. However, after a run in with the members of her former club she recommits to the idea of investing.

            When she discovers that the Investor-ettes are about to invest in the franchise she had her eye on Marge is about to give up when a man selling pretzel franchises (Jack Lemmon) convinces her to buy in. After watching her instructional video and learning to make pretzels Marge goes to Homer’s workplace, the nuclear power plant, to sell her wares. Just when she seems destined for success the Investor-ettes arrive in their Fleet-A-Pita van, taking away Marge’s business.

Whitey Whackers

            Marge decides to quit when a free pretzel giveaway at a minor league baseball game results in the injury of hall of fame Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford and no one even tries the pretzels. Homer seeks out Mr. Ormand, the man who sold Marge the franchise but discovers that he was killed in a car accident. In his hour of need Homer answers an ad in the church bulletin posted by the local mafia. Suddenly, Marge’s business takes off. This leads us into a montage of mafia boss Fat Tony and his goons Louie and Legs intimidating snack food proprietors and destroying their property. When the montage finishes we catch up with the local police who will not allow the Fleet-A-Pita ingredients to be unloaded from a cargo ship. While the Police Chief tries to explain this to the Investor-ettes several shadowy figures plant a bomb and destroy their Fleet-A-Pita van.

            While drinking at Moe’s Homer is approached by Fat Tony who wants his cut of Marge’s profits. Homer is shocked that the mob would only do him a favor to get one in return. He shames Fat Tony who leaves and then instantly realizes that as a mobster he has no shame. Instead of confronting Homer again he lures Marge into the desert where they have a discussion in which Fat Tony informs her that his crime syndicate is responsible for her success and that he wants all of the profits by six a.m. the next morning. Marge returns home and angrily asks her husband, “Homer, did you tell the mafia they could eliminate my competitors through savage beatings and attempted murder?” To which Homer replies, “In those words? … Yes.”

            Marge forgives Homer but insists that not only will they not pay off the mob but that they will continue to make pretzels. Fat Tony and his goons arrive at the appointed hour. The Simpsons refuse to pay and it appears as if all is lost when suddenly the Investor-ettes arrive with their own muscle, members of the Yakuza (Japanese equivalent of the mafia). The two sides engage in all out battle as Marge and Homer return to the kitchen. Homer is afraid that Marge hates him for failing but she tells him that she loves him for trying. Meanwhile the gang warfare continues in the background. The episode ends with a Yakuza member crashing through the kitchen window, begging forgiveness and returning to the outside and the fray.

"That little guy hasn't done anything yet and when he does you know it's gonna be good!"

            While this episode does not have a particularly complex or brilliant plot, no subplot to speak of, and minimal character development I unequivocally give it a rating of five. There is a very simple reason for this. It fulfills the basic mission of The Simpsons or for that matter any television show. It is funny. It is entertaining. We see that Homer is willing to do anything to make Marge happy. We see that Marge loves Homer for trying in spite of his failure. These are things that we already know. There is nothing new there. It does not rely heavily on guest stars as Jack Lemmon’s appearance is brief and Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony is a semi-regular as opposed to a true guest star. There is no great link to pop-culture and no underlying thematic satire that makes it a genius piece of storytelling. It is simply twenty-one minutes of laugh after laugh after laugh. It is that funny and sometimes that is enough.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #11: The Twisted World of Marge Simpson

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #10: The Springfield Files

March 2, 2010

   To begin the second group of episodes we come to The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #10: The Springfield Files. This episode first aired January 12th 1997. I viewed this episode at home on DVD, Thursday February 25th 2010 by myself. In this episode the couch gag features the family flying into the room on jetpacks and taking their seats on the couch. Maggie is the last in line and does several loops around the room before landing in Marge’s lap.

“Hello, I’m Leonard Nimoy. The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true I mean false. It’s all lies. But they’re entertaining lies. And in the end isn’t that the real truth? The answer is no.” This is how The Springfield Files begins. Leonard Nimoy sits behind a desk in a study and preparing to tell our story gives us the previous speech. This sums up the attitude of The Simpsons. Nothing is sacred and nothing is serious. Not really.

It’s Friday afternoon and Homer, Lenny and Carl sneak out of work early and off to Moe’s Tavern. Homer drinks until the wee hours of the morning and after failing a breathalyzer administered by Moe the bartender he is forced to walk home. During the walk Homer is constantly besieged by frightening stimuli that turn out to be non-threatening until finally he encounters a glowing alien that tells him “Don’t be afraid.” Homer responds by screaming in terror and fleeing for his life.

When he arrives home and tries to relay his experience to his family they don’t believe him and attribute his story to drunkenness. He fares no better when passing his story along to co-workers and the local police. However, Agents Mulder and Scully of the FBI take notice of his story as printed in the local paper, and decide to investigate. After he is unable to pick the alien he saw out of an FBI line-up, and is put through a battery of tests, the agents observe Homer as he retraces his exact steps from the night he saw the alien. When Agent Mulder identifies himself as an FBI agent, Moe goes into the back room and interrupts two men who are hosing down a Killer Whale. Moe tells them, “They’re onto us. Get him back to Sea World!”

The investigation of the site of Homer’s encounter leads nowhere but Agent Mulder vows to keep searching for the proof of alien life. After swearing this oath Moe and his cronies can be seen in the background carrying the Killer Whale. When they notice that Mulder has spotted them Moe yells, “Cheese it! The feds!” and the men run off with the whale. Homer is dejected until he discovers that Bart believes his story. They resolve to return to the clearing on Friday night and wait to see if the alien returns. After spending all night waiting, finally the alien appears. Unfortunately Homer accidentally scares the alien off but Bart recorded the entire scene on video.

            At this point we return to Leonard Nimoy who ends the story. However, he is informed that there is still ten minutes left in the program. Nimoy goes to “get something from his car” and drives off. After Homer’s video appears on the local news, the town becomes convinced that the alien is real. The following Friday night the entire populace turns out at the clearing to get a glimpse of the alien. It does appear and just when the townspeople are about to lynch it, Mr. Smithers arrives and reveals that it is not an alien at all but Mr. Burns. According to Smithers, Mr. Burns goes through a series of medical procedures to cheat death each week that leaves him disoriented and alien in appearance. After Burns briefly reverts back to normal Dr. Nick gives him another injection of morphine. Delirious and jovial the old man leads the town in song.

This episode has plenty of what The Simpsons is famous for. It features three guest stars of note which are David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (as their X Files characters Agents Mulder and Scully) and Star Trek and science fiction legend Leonard Nimoy as himself. In addition several fictional characters from other series appear in the alien line up scene including, Kang or Kodos (Simpsons characters), Alf of the show of the same name, Chewbacca of Star Wars fame, and Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0701263/trivia)

While there are dozens of references to movies, television and other popular culture the most directly referenced show would be The X Files. When this episode aired The X Files were in their fourth season and near the height of their popularity. This cross-over exhibits the advantages of being a cartoon show on a major network with access to its other hit shows and the stars thereof. Gillian Anderson as Scully is generally identical to the character from the live action show. She is smart, skeptical, and infinitely patient with Mulder and his out-there theories. David Duchovny as Agent Mulder on the other hand plays an exaggerated version of his X Files character that is ready to leap at anything that could suggest that we are not alone in the universe.

            This episode actually features many more references than those I’ve focused on. Several more can be found at (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0701263/movieconnections). While very entertaining this episode offers very little in terms of solid plot or character development. It is mostly a vehicle for its guest stars and their characters. This is a very funny but very average episode of The Simpsons.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #10: The Springfield Files

Rating: 3 out of 5

Getting the Fear

February 28, 2010

 

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta; Las Vegas; 1971

 “He who makes a beast of himself

gets rid of the pain of

being a man.”

                                  – Dr. Johnson

   I was very excited when I found this reading in my inbox. Thompson is one of my favorite authors, Steadman one of my favorite artists and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas one of my favorite books. It is in many ways one of the defining books of its generation and the selection we just read was easily among its most iconic and well known passages. Of course Thompson’s probably most famous today because of the film version of this book. It was once considered common Hollywood knowledge that Fear & Loathing could not be made into a film. This was a belief that was held for most, if not all of his work.

This is partly because, while funny, entertaining, and well acted, the first attempt at bringing the good doctor’s work to the big screen Where the Buffalo Roam was, as a film, a colossal failure. It was a hodge- podge of Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, The Great Shark Hunt (Various), and The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat (Oscar Acosta/Dr. Gonzo’s postmortem tribute). Of course nearly twenty years later Terry Gilliam (Director), Johnny Depp (Duke/Thompson), and Benicio Del Toro (Dr. Gonzo/Acosta) came along and gave lie to the common wisdom. Strangely enough that is what Thompson did his entire career.

 

While the film version paid great tribute to the opening of the book it was naturally unable to capture everything. The frantic, hilarious, and frightening nature of the two men on their way to Vegas sets the frenetic pace for the rest of the book, a pace that Thompson was never really able to recapture in his work or in his life. Ending this reading with the “reptile zoo” scene was an excellent choice. The reptiles represent many things not the least of which is the attitudes and lifestyle of Vegas (and possibly America) circa 1971.

 

The Mint Hotel

More specifically the reptiles represent a theme common throughout Thompson’s work. One might even say that it was the underlying premise for everything he wrote. Thompson was a wordsmith in the vein of Mark Twain who said that “the difference between the right word and the exactly right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” For Thompson the word was Atavistic.

at·a·vism (āt’ə-vĭz’əm)  
n.  

  1. The reappearance of a characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence, usually caused by the chance recombination of genes.
  2. An individual or a part that exhibits atavism. Also called throwback.
  3. The return of a trait or recurrence of previous behavior after a period of absence.

 

The savage traits exhibited by the “lizards” are not all that dissimilar from the ones present in Raoul Duke and (especially) Dr. Gonzo themselves. There is a key distinction. The lizard/people are behaving this way because they are convinced that in Vegas this behavior is acceptable. They fall into a prescribed and allowed societal hypocrisy. By contrast Duke and Gonzo know that they cross the line and do so consistently. They do not require the permissive environment of Vegas to live as they please; it is simply a place that they can turn up the volume and be less likely to run afoul of the authorities.

For Thompson it is the difference between a criminal (the lizards) and an outlaw (Duke). It is not that Thompson or his character (the two are somewhat interchangeable but when, where, and how are impossible to pinpoint) suffer from a total lack of morality, quite the contrary. For Duke there is no pretense that he is anything but a thinking animal.

The lizards represent a lust for power and pleasure that manifests itself in an orgy of violent reptilian decadence. Unlike the lizards that are slaves to their baser instincts, Duke is a master of his, more or less. We find out later however, that Gonzo is a slave to instinct albeit a fascinating one, also lacking hypocrisy.

Harder to nail down is Thompson’s notion of the American Dream. By turns one can define the dream as being the outlaw freedom exhibited by Duke or the savage, fat-cat hypocrisy of the lounge lizards of Las Vegas. Perhaps that’s how he intended it to be taken. I will likely puzzle over this story for the rest of my days. However, I am certain of one thing: Raoul Duke found the American Dream in Las Vegas in 1971. The American Dream is dead! Long live the American Dream!

 

Dr. Thompson somewhere in Valhalla

Debbie Almontaser: Sad but True

February 28, 2010

   In my experience the people who believe in the absolute objectivity of their actions, words, thoughts, and opinions are ideologues, zealots, and raving lunatics. However, while no news source, paper or otherwise, can be entirely objective, it can also be said that no news source should strive to be partisan without openly identifying itself as such. Unfortunately reporters like this can sometimes give cover to those who would do us harm. How can I trust the stories in the New York Post when they make such blatant rookie mistakes and tell seemingly outright lies about the subjects they don’t like? It is like the boy who cried wolf. Fortunately if they ever do come across someone truly dangerous I’m sure that I’ll hear about it from more legitimate news sources.

            “Is there a nuanced answer to 9/11?” First of all 9/11 is not a question. It is a date on which an event occurred. If the question is: Was 9/11 bad or wrong or tragic? Then there is no nuanced answer. The rationalization of the purposeful mass killing of civilians of any religion/nationality/other is not nuanced, it is insane. As far as whether or not our action precipitated the 9/11 attacks I believe it is foolish to deal with it in anything but a nuanced fashion. There is a big difference between understanding mistakes made by the U.S. that gave madmen what they believe to be justification to attack us and arguing that 9/11 was in fact justified. We are also put in greater danger when we dismiss out of hand the possibility (or certainty) that our actions have repercussions.

            I personally feel that in this case an intelligent woman such as Almontaser should have done a better job making sure she was in the clear and not associated with anything that could be construed as lending credence to doubts over the wrongness of 9/11. While it is unfortunate, it is the way of the world. She should have known what dangers could be out there for a Muslim in public life following 9/11. It is one thing to work toward a world free of bigotry but it’s another to pretend that you’re already there. She especially should have been aware that given any chance The New York Post would run her into the ground.

            It seems to me that someone as valuable to the city of New York as Almontaser should not have been fired but in a world of post-9/11 emotion sometimes perception can be more important than reality, for everyone. I believe she was smeared and dearly wish she hadn’t but again in today’s world you have to watch every word you say and sometimes every word you don’t say.

Political Cartoon 2

February 28, 2010

Nick Anderson by Nick Anderson February 24th 2010

Nick Anderson by Nick Anderson February 24th 2010

Slant: Middle

   This is about as straight forward as it gets. It’s not exceptionally insightful. Every political cartoonist has their own Toyota comic and regardless of their political slant they all tend to be pretty similar. I decided to post this one because it made me laugh. The absurdity of the juxtaposition between the top-fuel funny car dragster and the old lady getting into the Toyota and the defeatist attitude of the pit crew chief caught me off guard. Clearly this cartoon is a simple reference to the sticking accelerators in some Toyotas that has recently cropped up.

  While this cartoon does not offend me or make any particular statement that is any different than what anyone else is saying about the issue it does make me curious. Has anyone bothered to figure out how many people have been killed by this malfunction? I can’t find any numbers that seem to have any corroboration. Now I’ll have to dig a little deeper and see what I can find. But then that’s the point. Even if this cartoon or any like it doesn’t offer any real insight into the issue it got me thinking about it.