The Simpsons S5
After the success of S4 the Simpsons launched into a new era with season five. David Mirkin took over as showrunner with the show losing a lot of its better writers and would soon lose Conan O’Brien as well. Al Jean and Mike Reiss left here to make the Critic, which itself is a good show but not on the level of the Simpsons. The writing team had been getting a little sloppy and the final episode they wrote, Cape Feare, was too short to air. The result would be a comedy padding sequence that remains one of the Simpsons all-time greatest gags. Despite the writer churn Season Five has some incredible highs. Let’s take a walk back through them as we look at the Simpsons S5.
HOMER’S BARBERSHOP QUARTET
Apparently, there was an argument as to whether this or Homer Goes to College should open the season. Honestly, they’re both strong episodes but the guest appearance of George Harrison here is what swayed the team to choose this. We kick things off at the Springfield Swap Meet. “A Methuselah rookie card!” The Simpsons kids find a Be Sharps album and Homer tells the tale of when he was moderately famous in 1985.
The Be Sharps, which is witty at first but sounds less funny every time you hear it, are initially Homer, Apu, Skinner and Wiggum until Homer sets Wiggum free in the forest at night. The replacement is Barney in the first example of how useful he can be when he’s not drunk. The whole episode is based on the Beatles. Being initially successful as a pop group with screaming girls, the agent wanting to make them marketable, hiding the star’s marriage and eventually the most creative voice going off on a weird tangent that destroys the group.
“Baby on Board, something, something, Burt Ward”. This review just writes itself. The episode is littered with throwback gags to the 80s without making it obnoxious and over the top. Lisa quizzes Homer on all the holes in his story, which makes it seem like the whole thing is made up until the reunion show on the roof. “It’s been done”. This is a great episode, close to an all-timer. The arcs for Wiggum and Barney are particularly good. ****¾
Cape Feare, a parody of the film of the same name (minus the E), is one of the Simpson’s finest episodes. Everything is so on point. It was an old writing team going out with a bang but leaving enough space for a reoccurring gag (the rakes), which would go down as one of the Simpson’s best gags of all time. The combination of the classic Cape Fear sound cues and Kelsey Grammer’s perfectly evil Sideshow Bob is what makes the episode so great. This is the absolute peak of Bob as a bad guy.
Sideshow Bob has been stewing in prison and is determined to get out so he can kill Bart Simpson. There’s a spell at the start of the episode where Bart suspects everyone of wanting to murder him before Bob arrives. When Bob arrives everything is so perfect. The “use a pen Sideshow Bob” bit, the parole board (“no one who speaks German can be an evil man”), the Bobby DeNiro imitations, the working out, “the following neighbourhood residents will not be killed”.
Homer gets shunted into the background a little bit until the Witness Protection. “Oh, I want to be John Elway”. The whole “Hello, Mr Thompson” bit is priceless and then we get a re-done entrance at Terror Lake with the “Thompsons” rushing into a houseboat. Homer wearing a “Witness Relocation Program” t-shirt is an exceptional little touch. It precedes the rake gag, only created because the episode was running short. The Gilbert and Sullivan conclusion with Wiggum’s whorehouse issues is also perfect. Before I started this project, I debated mentally what my favourite Simpson’s episode might be. I’m pretty sure this is it. Bake him away toys! *****
HOMER GOES TO COLLEGE
How do you follow up two all-time great episodes to kick off the season? Another all-time great episode! The nuclear plant is visited by regularity body, and they discover Homer is useless. This is the “a bee bit my bottom” episode where Homer accidentally causes a meltdown in a nuclear inspection van. Burns is on incredible form here. Every line is a zinger. Especially the “you must find the jade monkey by the next full moon” and “I’m giving you the beating of your life” DeNiro homage from the Untouchables. Homer needs to go to college to get nuclear physics 101.
Homer’s knowledge of college comes from Animal House style movies, and he automatically hates crusty old Deans. I’m also reminded, watching this, that this is the “I am so smart. S-M-R-T” episode. Also; “NEEEEEERD”. Homer’s low brow humour and natural dislike for authority makes it hard for him to fit in. It doesn’t help that his Dean is a young, hip friendly guy who used to play bass for the Pretenders. Homer gets tutored by nerds and manages to get them expelled by kidnapping rival college’s mascot Sir Oinks-a-Lot.
My memory of Homer Goes to College exceeds the actual quality. While the episode is excellent it’s not a five-star classic. The end credits posit a bunch of stuff Homer could have got up to during his college experience and I can’t help thinking they could have leaned heavier into the Animal House influence. The episode starts so strongly though, and the Burns stuff is phenomenal. ****½
From the title you can imagine this is heavily influenced by Citizen Kane and season five has already seen a lot of film references. In Citizen Kane “Rosebud” refers to a sled. In this episode Burns wants his childhood teddy bear “Bobo”. Mr Burns’ birthday party is a lively affair with no one-term presidents allowed, the Ramones play (“go to hell you old bastard”) and Homer Simpson gets to do stand up. The party ends with Burns sending in riot police in a shockingly violent conclusion.
The episode is a mixture of perversion (Smithers dressing as Bobo, Hitler owning Bobo for 15 years, Professor Frink’s robotic bear) and heart. The bear represents Burns’ lost youth. A symbol of what could have been had Burns followed his heart and not his wallet. In the end Maggie loves Bobo so much Homer can’t bare (haha) to part with it and it costs him $1M. Burns’ attempt to recapture the bear by dressing as ninjas sees Ned gassed before Burns and Smithers get stuck on the ceiling while Homer sits eating 64 slices of American cheese all night.
Burns becomes unreasonable and takes over television and diverts all the beer supplies. It doesn’t take much for Springfield to become an angry, gun-toting mob. Maggie eventually gives Burns the bear because she feels bad for him. The chance to turn the Simpsons into millionaires here could have given the show an interesting twist but instead we’re back to square one. Rosebud is a great episode and it’s clear at this point that the writers are just in love with Mr Burns and are falling over each other to write for him. The somewhat messy conclusion aside this is a cracking three-act story. ****¾
TREEHOUSE OF HORROR IV
Finally, the Treehouse series has found its level. One of the good things about a fresh writing crew is realising the Simpsons existing boundaries are all self-imposed and anything is possible in animation. While I don’t want the series to go wildly off the rails the Halloween specials are a fine opportunity to go nuts.
The Devil and Homer Simpson
In the opening segment Homer sells his soul for a donut. The devil, Ned Flanders of all people, agrees to purchase Homer’s soul. The episode has two great bits. The Simpsons family demanding a trial and Homer having to spend the day in hell. The former allows a cameo for Lionel Hutz. “I watched Matlock in the bar last night. The sound wasn’t on, but I think I got the gist of it”. The devil’s jury of the damned includes Richard Nixon, who at the time wasn’t dead but the devil picked him off the following year, and Blackbeard (“this chair be high, says I”). This is a fantastic edition to the Treehouse of Horror lore and the best Halloween segment to this point. ****½
Terror at 5 ½ Feet
Bart has a vision of his own death aboard the school bus and it comes to fruition when a demon attacks the bus. It’s a take of the “there’s something on the wing” from the Twilight Zone movie. In wholesale theft of the Twilight Zone episode, it gives the segment great structure in the horror stakes, and it transports well into the Springfield universe. ****¼
Bart Simpson’s Dracula
This somewhat generic vampire take rounds out the best Treehouse of Horror to this point. However, Mr Burns fills in as Count Dracula and they play off the 1992 Francis Ford Coppolla version of Dracula to a tee. As with a lot of good episodes in this season the more they use films as source material the better it seems to get. Not only do they play off Dracula here but also the Lost Boys. The segment has a lot of fine gags including Homer driving a stake through Mr Burns’ crotch. The conclusion is a little weird as it’s revealed everyone’s a vampire and then they do the Peanuts ending out of nowhere. It’s almost like they didn’t know how to get out of the corner they’d painted themselves into. The weakest of the three from this year’s selection but still a good Halloween themed episode. ***¾
MARGE ON THE LAM
Marge wins two tickets to the ballet, which Homer thinks is a bear driving a clown car. Instead, Marge goes with her neighbour Ruth Powers as Homer gets stuck in two vending machines. This an attempt to give Marge a little depth as she has no friends whatsoever. It’s a little sad that the writer’s room can’t nail one single supporting character to help Marge out in the funny stakes. Ruth’s sole character trait seems to be ‘mad at ex-husband’. The night out is almost there. Shotkickers is particularly fun, along with shooting antique cans. Lionel Hutz does a fine job as the babysitter.
The episode switches gears as Ruth’s car is stolen and Wiggum is in pursuit with Homer along for the ride. As with a lot of episodes this season it stems from a movie; Thelma & Louise. The issues stem from there not being a lot of laughs in Thelma & Louise nor in Marge or Ruth’s characters. The best bits stem from supporting characters. “It’s a ghost car”. “It’s in Revelations people!” The Dragnet conclusion is also solid but overall, the episode doesn’t work because it’s not funny. It’s salvaged to the level that it is by established supporting characters like Wiggum, Kent Brockman and Lionel Hutz. ***¼
BART’S INNER CHILD
This episode starts out with Homer spotting a free trampoline in the newspaper. “TRAMBAMPOLINE!” This leads to Homer’s concept amusement park, based on free shit he got from the paper, called “Homerland”. The trampoline leads to a series of injuries for the kids in the neighbourhood who Homer charges to use it. Homer’s attempts to dispose of the trampoline are very Looney Toons and it’s probably over the line. The realism aspects have started to go out of the window. It even devolves into a clip show when Marge asks if she’s no fun.
Troy McClure (“get confident, stupid”) is drafted in to host Brad Goodman’s tapes. Goodman, voiced by Albert Brooks, is a self-help guru. The self-help guru thing was a big deal in the early 90s after Deepak Chopra was on Oprah. It’s clearly a product of a time and place and it feels badly aged. The way the Springfielders react to it is the funny part. Goodman’s self-help nonsense encourages everyone to find their inner child, which is epitomised by Bart Simpson. So, everyone starts doing what they feel like doing.
As everyone starts behaving like Bart, he finds he’s not special anymore. Apu and his family are on skateboards. Skinner dings Bart with a catapult. The town throws a “Do What You Feel” festival, which collapses because nobody can be bothered to do their job properly and the town has a gigantic punch-up akin to an Asterix book. While I don’t like the plot here there is a string of jokes underlying the episode and the character work is superb. ***½
BOY SCOUTZ N THE HOOD
In this episode Bart and Millhouse find $20, lost by Homer (“money can be exchanged for goods and services”), and go on a sugar bender. While smashed on high sugar beverages Bart joins the junior campers. At first Bart is horrified at how nerdy the concept is but then finds out they get knifes and can set traps for wild animals. Bart finds himself strongly invested in the junior camper way of life and Homer bullies him for it. “Egghead likes his booky wook”.
The campers plan a father-son river trip. The one kid hasn’t got a dad, so celebrity dad Ernest Borgnine is brought in. Homer loses the map and they get washed out to sea. Homer is absolutely useless. He tries to drink sea water and tries to wash his socks with their drinking water and eats all the rations and shoots down a spotter plane with the flare gun. Even by Homer’s standards he’s unbelievably stupid. Irritatingly so. Tonally the episode goes off the rails and doesn’t come back.
“Godspeed little doodle” is about as good as being lost at sea gets. Eventually they’re saved because Homer’s nose takes them to an offshore oil rig that has a Krusty Burger on it. It’s a weird conclusion and the episode takes all manner of strange directions to get where its going. Where is it going? Ernest Borgnine being hunted by Jason from Friday 13th. I’m beginning to think these guys watch too many movies. Bonus points for the syrup inspired madness but the episode is not one of the best. ***
THE LAST TEMPTATION OF HOMER
Bart pulls a great prank here, making all the parking spaces at work smaller and trapping all the teachers in their cars. It’s through that they discover Bart can’t see. At the power plant Mr Burns is forced to hire a woman when his recruitment is shown to be sexist. He has hired a Brazilian football team (“that plane crashed on my property”) and a duck called Stewart. Burns’ new employee is Mindy Simmons, voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer. Homer is infatuated and starts hallucinating. The singing trout is a special touch.
This is the episode with Joey Joe-Joe Junior Shabadoo in. Homer claims the name as an alias. Moe says “that’s the worst name I ever heard” and a guy runs out of the bar. “Joey Joe-Joe” Barney yells after the poor guy. Mindy is basically the female version of Homer; into beer, donuts and TV. Mindy feels the same way and Homer is faced with a major problem. Does he stay faithful to his wife Marge, who’s stayed at his side through thick and thin or abandon his family for the dream woman. Homer’s guardian angel appears to give him advice. It’s Colonel Klink!
This is also the ‘writing on hand’ episode. “I’m tired of these jokes about my giant hand, the first of these incidents happened in…” Homer and Mindy are sent to Capital City together to represent nuclear power at an energy convention. “Free shower curtain”. This is also the episode where Burns has developed flying monkeys to stop people ordering room service on the company account. “Did anyone pray for giant shoes?” is also this episode. I was shocked to find how many classic zingers are in this episode. It’s clearly remembered for Pfeiffer’s turn but the whole episode is really well written. “Open up the stick with your wife barrel”. It’s an all-timer. *****
“Oh Margey, you came and found me a turkey on my vacation away from worky”
$PRINGFIELD (OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE LEGALISED GAMBLING)
We start with Pathe news footage of Springfield being a city on the grow, watched by Abe and Jasper in the 1930s, only to flash forward to modern Springfield, which is a dump since the closing of Fort Springfield (ruining the liquor and prostitution businesses). Springfield, desperate for cash, legalise gambling and Burns builds a casino. This is another Burns gem. He goes from laughing hysterically about crippling an Irishman as a child to becoming a germaphobe in a Howard Hughes-style penthouse he hides in.
Homer randomly gets a job as a blackjack dealer at the casino. Apparently, it’s been his lifelong dream (one of many, many lifelong dreams). He’s naturally incompetent. The episode gives the writers a chance to take shots at Las Vegas culture and the German animal trainers look very familiar. Bart opens his own treehouse casino and Marge gets hooked on gambling. There are loads of great bits here including Rainman, Milhouse’s magic act, Barney “paying off” after chugging three cups of quarters, Krusty’s dreadful stand up, Lisa’s Florida costume, “I call him Gamblor and it’s time to snatch your mother from his neon claws” and “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” sung by Robert Goulet!
I had honestly forgotten what a classic this is. The Marge gambling aspect is at the forefront of the episode but it’s so strong on top of that. The casino was ripe for mockery and having Mr Burns turn into a Howard Hughes type recluse was a touch of genius too. *****
HOMER THE VIGILANTE
Springfield has a cat burglar! He steals Lisa’s saxophone and even nabs Marge’s pearls and Bart’s stamp collection (“stamp collection? HAHA”). The police are baffled, because Wiggum is completely incompetent, and the experts suggest it’s time to start panicking. The town wildly overreacts and buys high-tech security systems. Lisa is the most effected by the loss of her sax and the jug Homer replaces it with doesn’t cut it. “Never stop in the middle of a hoedown!” The community comes together to form a Neighbourhood Watch, headed up by Homer, and get tooled up.
This leads to a lot of gun-toting and Homer riding a tactical nuke designed to kill beatniks. Mob justice is quickly and ruthlessly enforced by Homer and his goons. “Who will police the police?” “I dunno. Coastguard?” The cat burglar decides to take on Homer directly and steal the world’s largest cubic zirconia. Homer goes on around the clock watch but gets drunk and the burglar escapes, again! Malloy, the burglar, is voiced by Sam Neill and he is a charming villain. I’m only sad the big It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World conclusion isn’t a stand-alone episode because it looks like a right laugh. A great episode with all the supporting characters meshing into the central plot. “Dig up stupid” is a line I use almost daily. ****¾
BART GETS FAMOUS
It’s field trip day and Skinner takes the kids to a box factory (the “not again” from Ms Krapabbel suggests this is a regular thing). Bart escapes into the neighbouring Channel 6 studio and provides Krusty with a Danish. “YOINK!” Krusty, like Burns, has trouble remembering the Simpson family but still hires Bart as his assistant. Placing Homer in support allows him to fire off dumb one-liners while Bart enjoys his new career. It turns out Krusty is a terrible boss forcing Bart to clean his toilet while everyone involved shouts at him. Bart ends up being in a sketch but accidentally knocks the set down. His iconic “I didn’t do it” line turns him into an overnight comedy sensation.
Krusty successfully exploits him in a series of repetitive skits. “And now, the I didn’t do it dancers”. This is the episode where the entire class wants Bart to say the line. It’s a lasting meme. Unlike Bart’s career, which quickly implodes because he’s a one-note catchphrase. Bart’s fifteen minutes of fame are fairly undeserved in the big scheme of things. Krusty is mainly to blame for failing to see the potential and just going all in. This starts out great but fades quickly. The finale with all the catchphrases is an assault on comedy. ****
HOMER AND APU
Apu sells Homer expired meat and ends up in hospital. Apu apologises with defrosted shrimp in a bucket and Homer ends up in hospital again. McGriff the crime dog gets Homer interested in exposing the Kwik-E-Mart. Kent Brockman’s expose sees Apu fired by the Kwik-E-Mart and he ends up living with the Simpsons doing chores to apologise to Homer. Apu is replaced at the Kwik-E-Mart by James Woods, eager to research convenience stores for a role. The Woods and Apu sections are both very effective. Apu’s song about the Kwik-E-Mart is a classic. “Let’s chuck a brick-e-mart”.
Homer and Apu trek to the first Kwik-E-Mart on top of a mountain in the Himalayas. “Thank you, come again”. “Is he really the head of the Kwik-E-Mart?” Homer’s speech about how life is one crushing defeat after another “until you wish Flanders was dead” is superb. Apu eventually gets re-hired after taking a bullet for James Woods. In spite of Homer basically ruining a trip to India the relationships are strengthened here and a supporting member of the Springfield community was successfully thrust into the limelight. ****¼
LISA VS. MALIBU STACEY
There’s a rare appearance here by Matlock, the much spoken about TV detective who puts young people in jail. Grandpa realises he’s old and will die soon so he gives his money to the Simpsons to enjoy now. Lisa comes to the forefront after buying a new talking Malibu Stacey from the Valley of the Dolls. Only she becomes disillusioned with the messages they have Stacey saying.
In the subplot Grandpa is frustrated with being old and goes to get a job at a burger joint. “Do we sell….French…fries?” Every Lisa episode usually has a comedy subplot but this one is very slight. Lisa tracks down the inventor of Malibu Stacey (Kathleen Turner, who’s voice is audio velvet). Stacey’s ex-husbands include GI Joe and Dr Colossus. Lisa and Stacey combine to make a new doll called Lisa Lionheart. It doesn’t sell because there’s a new Malibu Stacey WITH A NEW HAT! Like all Lisa-centric episodes this has heart but is seriously lacking a comedy core. ***
DEEP SPACE HOMER
This episode caused a big kerfuffle. The feeling among some of the writers were that it left the Simpsons with nowhere to go. If you overlook the far-reaching premise the episode is a classic. There are so many great gags. Homer gets mad because he’s overlooked for ‘employee of the week’ again, this time losing to a carbon rod. Homer’s stupidity here includes being identified as a chimp on the x-ray machine and desperately trying to read something written on the back of his head. The episode deals with NASA struggling with their TV ratings as Americans find space exploration boring.
NASA desperate to find a new blue-collar astronaut recruit Homer and Barney after Homer calls NASA to complain about their boring space launches. The presentation doesn’t go well as Homer figures out the Planet of the Apes is actually Earth and Barney passes out drunk. Homer and Barney go through a rigorous training routine and naturally Homer loses but Barney gets drunk on non-alcoholic champagne to celebrate. Homer is the winner on default. “The two sweetest words in the English language”. The episode features a stunning Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, perhaps the best. It’s also littered with film references, something season five did well.
There are also a lot of other gags like Homer not understanding how to use a touch tone phone. He’s a nuclear scientist! Homer’s balletic consumption of potato chips in zero G is a major highlight (“careful, they’re ruffled”) and leads to the destruction of the ant colony and the episode’s dramatic finale. One that Kent Brockman mistakes for an alien invasion. “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords”. “I could be useful at rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves”. James Taylor’s story about how he created a complete vacuum outside his house is wonderfully off the wall. The astronauts end up being saved by an inanimate carbon rod, which gets a parade. “IN ROD WE TRUST” There is so much excellent content in this and it’s a jam-packed full episode with no need for a subplot. In spite of the concerns about the corner this episode painted the writers into it remains an outstanding example of what the Simpsons could be without limitations. The beginning of the end for the original concept though? Probably. *****
HOMER LOVES FLANDERS
Homer has always had issues with Ned Flanders but they’re swept aside when Ned invites him to the Springfield vs. Shelbyville football game. The local rivalry with Shelbyville is explained a little here and would lead to episodes putting the towns against each other, like Lemon of Troy in S6. Due to Flanders’ being so nice to Homer and giving him the game ball (“I’ll call you Stich-face”), Homer decides he likes Ned and starts spending an inordinate amount of time with him.
The saddest part of this episode is the writer’s need to point out everything will go back to normal next week. A fourth wall shattering monologue from Lisa that would become increasingly common and unwelcome. There’s also a bizarre conclusion where the family has to spend the night in a haunted castle, which is unrelated to the entire episode.
Homer’s boorish behaviour and Simpsons general terribleness drives Flanders to nightmarish visions of him killing innocent civilians with a sniper rifle. Homer is creepy and overly possessive. This is the episode where he fades back into the hedgerow. Homer is becoming really obnoxious by this point in the show and you can’t blame Ned for being mad at him. The episode has highs and lows with the general premise being ok but the execution is all over the place and this sadly quite a bad episode. **½
BART GETS AN ELEPHANT
This starts out fine with Marge getting mad about how dirty the house is and forcing everyone to clean it. There’s another issue though as Bill Clinton is out jamming with the town’s schoolchildren. The realism has gone. Bart wins KBBL’s radio call in and wants the gag prize, an elephant, instead of $10,000. This is like the Lisa’s pony episode but worse. Bart’s elephant, dubbed Stampy, has a habit of eating people and everything else. Not even Mr Burns is funny in this episode. It’s an epic misfire.
They try and force an emotional attachment but it doesn’t work at all. Bart had to give away his dog and that was an episode that was built up to. Stampy? Fuck off. The stupidity continues with Patty and Selma being carried away by a tornado. It’s like I’ve flashed forward 20 years into a shitty future. The episode is almost salvaged by a sensational sight gag where Homer drives into a deer statue. “D’oh”. “A deer”. “A female deer”. **¼
Mr Burns almost dies when the weight of a sponge drowns him. As a result, he realises he has no heir and no one to carry on his legacy. Not even Smithers, who is destined to be buried alive with Burns. “Goody” – Smithers. So, Burns holds auditions for the heir position. “Oh he card reads good”. Bart fails initially but wins over Burns by smashing his windows. “Oh, look Smithers, a bird has become petrified and lost its way”. Marge fucks up here and tells Bart to spend time with Burns. If she’d just left it all well alone Bart would have remained Burns’ heir. Meddling!
As soon as Bart is used to being rich he starts loving it. Burns’ mansion is pretty fun. The sequence where he shows Bart he has cameras hidden in every house in Springfield is great. Moe doing the Taxi Driver bit direct into the mirror and Homer being exposed for eating tulips. Bart soon finds being rich isn’t the answer to all of life’s problems. He can’t even get Milhouse to hang out with him. “Wow, a Bob Mackie”. The Simpsons do what they can to win Bart back, including hiring a de-programmer who’s worked with cults. “I did get Paul McCartney out of Wings”. “You idiot, he was the most talented one!”
There’s another cracking sequence using the CCTV system where Burns spies on Simpsons but he’s hired actors to take their place. Homer is Michael Caine. Marge is Candice Bergen! Bart ends up getting painted into a corner, having to choose between Burns and firing Homer. He can’t fire his biological dad and there goes the billions of dollars. ****¼
SWEET SEYMOUR SKINNER’S BAADASSSS SONG
Bart takes Santa’s Little Helper to Show + Tell and he’s a hit with the kids and Edna but he ruins a visit from Superintendent Chambers and Principal Skinner gets fired because of it. I’d forgotten how Santa’s Little Helper caused the problem; sneaking into the ventilation system because of the smell of “Assorted Horse Parts”. Now with more testicles! “More testicles means more iron”. Then Groundskeeper Willie goes in after him. “There’s nary an animal alive that outrun a greased Scotsman!”
Skinner is replaced by chairman of the PTA; Ned Flanders. Skinner, on the other hand, is off to write the great American novel; “Billy and the Clonasaurus” leading to Apu ranting at him about Jurassic Park for quite some time. With Skinner unemployed he becomes unlikely friends with Bart outside of school. Flanders as a principal is a disaster but we do see a flashback to his Beatnik parents for the first time. There’s a very good subplot where Skinner reenlists in the army (and sort of, accidentally, blows up the Kwik-E-Mart).
Bart realises he needs rules and boundaries and letting everyone run riot is pointless. Ned eventually gets removed for thanking the lord over the school’s Tanoy system. “Take it outside, God Boy”. This is a good episode giving us a bigger glimpse at several major characters history. Skinner is the focus but we also see more from Flanders, Chambers, Willie and Lunchlady Doris. In a season that doesn’t have many major heartfelt moments it’s also a pleasing third act of friendship between two unlikely buddies. ****
THE BOY WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Bart is having a particularly lousy day at school (the new Posturepedic chairs have given Milhouse a stroke) and they must stay two hours extra due to a timing problem on the school’s clocks. So, Bart does the Bart thing and fakes a dental emergency to bunk off. This is the “am I so out of touch. No, it’s the children who are wrong” Skinner meme episode. Skinner tracks Bart down in terrifying fashion (the walking through the stream in particular) but Bart escapes by sneaking a ride with Freddy Quimby.
Young Freddy has an issue with a clumsy French waiter and how he pronounces “chowder”. Bart is the only witness to the waiter’s horrific beating in the kitchen, but he can’t reveal he’s seen it because it will reveal he played truant. Freddy Quimby is a complete sociopath and threatens to kill the jury when called to the stand. Homer pulls a 12 Angry Men because he wants to stay in a hotel and preserves Quimby’s freedom while Bart mentally debates whether he should come forward.
There’s a lot of good little gags in here like McGarnagle (this universe’s Clint Eastwood) and Bart being volunteered by Lisa (“more chicks on the bench”) and Homer’s fake glasses that make him look like he’s awake. This episode feels like a one trick pony with the revelation of the waiter’s clumsiness being the big selling point but it’s actually a strong episode from start to finish with more depth than my memory was giving it credit. ****
LADY BOUVIER’S LOVER
It’s Maggie’s birthday so all the relatives come over to hang out. The concept here is that Abe Simpson and Jacqueline Bouvier are both lonely so they go on a few dates. Old age romance is quite delightful with Grandpa confusing love with a stroke and doing the Charlie Chaplin deal with two baked potatoes dancing. “I’m gonna smooch her like a mule eating an apple”. Abe’s love rival is a young enigmatic Monty Burns.
Jacqueline agrees to marry Mr Burns because he’s rich as fuck. The marriage is weird with Burns having no family or friends barring a guy in German military uniform. Burns’ family feels like a missed opportunity at this point but they have done a whole episode on him having no one and being so lonely. Jacqueline doesn’t go through with the wedding and they do a Graduate ending. This is a lesser episode in a good season but it’s not bad and Grandpa is funny throughout. ***½
SECRETS OF A SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE
It’s suggested at the start of this episode that Homer is “a little slow”.
Wait, something was said.
How dare you? Oh wait.
So yeah, Homer is a little slow and he tries to prove he’s not by teaching a class at community college. Homer’s attempts at relationship advice are terrible until he starts giving away bits about his love life. This feels like old ground as Marge has thrown Homer out before. This doesn’t even have a pleasing resolution with Homer telling Marge the thing that keeps them together is how hopelessly dependent he is on her. This is not a good conclusion to S5 and ideally this would have been hidden away in the middle of the season somewhere. **¾
Season Five is a clearly defined point in the Simpsons where all the background characters had been properly established but the universe hadn’t been mined for all the potential gold. Season five saw the showrunners strike out in new directions and at times that was hugely successful. It’s season where Homer goes into space, Bart gets an elephant, Homer almost has an affair, Burns almost gets married, Springfield builds a casino and films like Cape Fear, Citizen Kane and Animal House gets the Simpsons treatment.
A lot of the Simpsons problems as a family are still grounded in reality but this is the first time they start going off that traditional Simpsons episode path. Bart Gets an Elephant is the first really poor episode from the Simpsons since Season One. Discounting Halloween specials and clip shows. While the quality levels remained insanely high for most of S5 it’s a little worrying the signs of decline are already appearing. However it’s still the season with Homer’s Barbershop Quartet, Rosebud, Homer the Vigilante, Deep Space Homer and three all-time great episodes that are in the conversation for the GOAT Simpsons episode; Cape Feare, Last Temptation of Homer and $pringfield.
Best Episode: I honestly can’t pick. Cape Feare is probably my favourite Simpsons episode ever and Last Temptation of Homer and $pringfield are in that conversation.
Worst Episode: Bart Gets an Elephant