Archive | July, 2014

S1, E9: “Life on the Fast Lane”

“It’s not quite breakfast, not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end. ” – Jacques.

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Written by: John Swartzwelder.

See the full moon? The classic symbol of romance? It’s a bowling ball.

That’s you all you need to know about the level of detail that went into this hilarious and beautiful temptation episode, and the first to concentrate on what it must be like to be Marge Simpson. 

In the future, of course, we’ll get to the backstory of Homer & Marge’s marriage, but for now, all we need to know is that while Homer can be an uncaring, insensitive lout, she still loves him. And vice versa.

So while she’s tempted – so very tempted – by the smooth-talking, brunch-loving bowling instructor voiced by the incomparable Albert Brooks, of course she’s going to back out of actually having an affair.

That that Marge didn’t have an affair, and was reminded by the entire universe how much she treasured her family, her marriage, and yes, even Homer, went a long way towards telling us what kind of show The Simpsons was going to be when it was running on all cylinders. 

And in brilliant fashion, the episode distracted us from its otherwise rote-seeming happy ending by making it a parody of another well-known happy ending, topped by Homer’s triumphant “Tell him I’m going to the backseat of my car with the woman I love … and I won’t be back for 10 minutes!!”

S1, E8: “The Tell-Tale Head”

“Being popular is the most important thing in the world.” – Homer

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Written by: Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Sam Simon & Matt Groening.

While the first seven episodes were episodes of television featuring The Simpsons, “The Tell-Tale Head” is really kind of the first episode of The Simpsons. Everybody acts like who they are, and the plot balances equal amount of absurdity, pathos and satire.

It’s ambitious: it starts in medias res, with Bart & Homer fleeing an angry mob.

It has classic Simpsons tropes: Bart addressing the angry mob. Homer finding a parking spot right in front of the church.

It adds new characters: Jimbo, Dolph and Kearny – cool older dudes who Bart tries to impress by stealing the head of Springfield founder Jebadiah Springfield.

It has mythology: some of the origin of Springfield itself!

All that, plus Apu!

S1, E7: “Call of The Simpsons”

“The Simpsons have entered the forest.” – Lisa.

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Written by: John Swartzwelder.

Never liked this episode, never will. Really, the only redeeming quality is the whole plot of Maggie ingratiating herself into the family of bears. Which, I think, is the first instance of yet another of my favorite long-running Simpsons tropes: the animals are smarter than the humans.

The rest, though? Oy. Yes, it makes sense for Homer to buy an RV cos Flanders has one. And yes, it makes sense that it’s going to be awful, cos he couldn’t afford a nice one due to his credit.

But the second they hit the forest, the RV plotline falls off a cliff, replaced forever by a series of unfunny camping jokes, climaxing with yet another “Homer is an ape” joke, as he gets covered in mud and mistaken for Bigfoot.  

During all of this – including Bart and Homer nearly freezing to death –it’s neither funny nor tragic, because none of the characters acts as if anything going on really means anything to anybody.  Homer & Bart don’t worry about Maggie; Marge & Lisa don’t worry about Homer & Bart & Maggie, and the entire Bigfoot sequence makes no damn sense whatsoever.

That there is a certain manic escalation to the Bigfoot sequence doesn’t really matter if you didn’t accept the premise, which I didn’t. It was too cartoony.

S1, E6: “Moaning Lisa”

“Lisa! Get away from that Jazz man!” – Marge.

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Written by: Al Jean & Mike Reiss.

I think I finally realized what bugs me about this episode: there is no edge whatsoever to “Bleeding Gums” Murphy. He exists entirely to validate Lisa’s need to express her blues through music. And while he does (gently) call her on her privilege during their jam session, he then turns it into a blues song anyway, which I guess is supposed to show the transformative power of music, or something.

Anyways, while there is some nice character development here for Lisa, it’s all a bit too magical and treacly for me.

I much prefer the B-story, where Bart kicks Homer’s ass in the video boxing so consistently, Homer goes to the arcade to seek help, only to have the plug pulled at his moment of triumph. Bart’s “I’d like to take this moment to announce my retirement from video boxing” was a perfect button to the whole plotline.

And should note that while Bart & Homer’s boxing avatars looking like them was a joke in 1990, I’m sure now it reads as a touch of realism.

S1, E5: “Bart The General”

“I’d rather they say ‘Death from Above’, but I guess we’re stuck” – Herman.

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Written by: John Swartzwelder

Long-time Simpsons fans recognize “Bart The General” as the introductory episode for the beloved character, Herman, the one-armed military antiques dealer, who would go on to have many wacky adventures.

Or not: as Herman has only made a handful of speaking roles over the long years.

Nope: it was the bully, the initially very broadly-drawn Nelson, who would go on to be one of the most beloved characters. And we know what Nelson would say to Herman about that.

But even if neither character never made another appearance, it wouldn’t matter, as the John Swartzwelder-penned “Bart The General” is another early classic. Not only do the Simpsons act the way they’re supposed to – Marge encouraging discussion, Homer recognizing the code of the schoolyard – the story of Bart organizing an army to get Nelson to stop bullying him just keeps escalating both the war film references and plausible absurdity.

The topper, of course, is – as they’re writing up a peace treaty – Marge asking if “you boys are through playing war?” cos she has cupcakes!