The Simpsons S4
For season four the Simpsons made some major animation changes, going from Klasky Csupo to Film Roman. Csupo would be responsible for a string of low budget animated successes like Rugrats, Duckman and basically everything on Nicklodeon in the 1990s. They weren’t a bad studio but the Simpsons weren’t happy with the production values and switched to a new studio. Film Roman were best known for their world on Garfield and Friends. Bringing a consistent look to the Simpsons animation, Film Roman would oversee production until season 27. While some of the wacky background characters, and indeed main characters, were fun to see in earlier episodes the uniformity of Film Roman made the show look better…until it became so boring and sanitised that people just stopped watching but that’s another issue altogether. The majority of good Simpsons episodes come from Film Roman.
While there was radical change in the animation department the writer’s table remained largely the same. The Simpsons S1-4 were the brainchild of a group of people. Season 4 would be the final year for a lot of them including Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Sam Simon and David M. Stern. Season four also saw many new additions start including Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein and Conan O’Brien. Yes, that Conan. He would be part of the writing team for two years before the starting on the late show in 1993. The change in writers and the establishment of existing characters would allow greater than ever creativity in the years to come.
To kick-start S4 we have a holdover from S3 so the animation hasn’t quite gotten perfect. The episode starts out in school where Bart hasn’t had a great year and Lisa is tense as she only got a B+ for conduct. The scenes of triumph (“I haven’t seen such unfettered hurly burly since the fall of Saigon”) is a great start. Kamp Krusty is the kids summer target because Krusty himself is going to be there. The family and school relationships are nailed on here and the stream of gags are very impressive.
The Kamp is a disaster, as all things Krusty branded are, with the counsellors being the school bullies Jimbo, Kerney and Dolph. Krusty also has a fat camp, which is just a military installation. The animation issues are apparent when Krusty is at Wimbledon and during the “Hail to thee Kamp Krusty” song. Bart patiently waits for Krusty to turn up but Mr Black, the camp’s supervisor, tries to present Barney in a clown costume as Krusty causing a rebellion. “My chunky brothers, gorge yourself at the trough of freedom”.
“They drove a dump truck full of money up to my house” sums up Krusty’s attitude towards endorsements. It’s one I regularly use when people make dubious decisions for financial gain. Kamp Krusty is a great episode with the string of gags and merriment at the start being especially good. Kamp Krusty itself is a little one-note and the animation lets it down just a touch. ****
A STREETCAR NAMED MARGE
This is also a holdover from S3 that opens with a beauty queen competition so we can get in gags from Troy McClure and take shots at pageants. Which is a little weird as there’s another pageant episode coming up. Homer’s terrible attention span and disregard for Marge’s feelings would again come to the forefront. Marge auditions for “Oh Streetcar!” a musical version of a Streetcar Named Desire and he’s not very supportive. The play is directed by Llewelyn Sinclair (Jon Lovitz). “I’ve directed three plays and I’ve had three heart attacks…I’m planning for a fourth”. Lovitz is so good, as he has been in previous guest appearances, that he was on his way to his own prime time animated comedy “The Critic”, which would also take a group of the Simpson’s writing team with him.
This is the first time Ned Flanders is revealed to have a hard bod. It’s not quite as pronounced as in later seasons but he’s cut. In a subplot Maggie is sent to a day-care (“Ayn Rand: School for Tots”) and plots an escape with the other babies. There’s a lot of Great Escape stuff in here and it fills out what is essentially another lengthy argument between Homer and Marge. Mostly Marge rightfully feeling abused by Homer’s ignorance. There’s a lovely bit near the end where Homer can’t even bring to look at the stage at the conclusion and realises the play is a bit about him and how he should be nicer to Marge. The gags pretty much dry up in the second half of this one though. ***¾
HOMER THE HERETIC
This is the first actual S4 episode and it’s a fucking beauty. When I asked my older brother what his favourite Simpsons episode was he didn’t even hesitate and even started quoting the end of this. He’s a big Homer the Heretic fan and rightly so. It’s one of the best Simpsons episodes of all time. This is the episode where Homer gets fed up with going to church on Sundays and simply stays at home, creating his own religion. This episode comes from the pen of George Meyer, the guy responsible for the group re-write sessions that turned the Simpsons from a good show to a great show.
The episode is so strong it doesn’t need little throwaway sides or subplots. It’s a pure A to B storyline centred around Homer’s decision to stop going to church. His dreams about meeting God are especially good. “Excuse me, I have to appear in a tortilla in Mexico”. Homer starts out with good intentions then bullshits his way into smoking cigars, nude magazines and skiving work with made up holidays. Ned’s attempts to save Homer turn from singing to literally dragging his body out of a burning building.
There are so many good bits in this. My favourite is probably Homer’s attempts to describe someone with “long hair and wacky ideas”. “You know who I mean Marge, he used to drive that blue car”. Also; “I’m collecting for the brotherhood of Jewish clowns”. The Lubbock, Texas bit gets me every time. Reverend Lovejoy has one of his best lines in this episode too. “Whether they be Christian, Jew or miscellaneous”. “Hindu! There are 700 million of us!” “Well, that’s just super”. Outstanding episode. All-timer. *****
LISA THE BEAUTY QUEEN
Lisa has self-esteem problems. This, sadly, doesn’t lead to a guest appearance from 90s punk rockers the Offspring. Instead, Homer decides to enrol her in Little Miss Springfield, sponsored by Laramie Cigarettes. In order to pay the entry fee he sells a blimp ride on the Duff Blimp that he won at the school’s carnival (“the happiest place on Earth”). “Hey there blimpy boy. Flying through the sky so fancy free”.
Bart seems to have a lot of inside knowledge of the pageant circuit. Marge has a crush on Jack Nicklaus. Lisa gets a makeover, which includes an array of new hairstyles including Marge, Vanilla Ice and Princess Leia. This is a weird episode with Lisa taking the pageant world by storm. It doesn’t really make any sense. Krusty makes for a good host of the actual show and Barney crashing the Duff Blimp (“oh, the humanity”) is a solid gag. Bob Hope at the USO show is also fun. Lisa eventually gets sick of being used as a corporate tool, alongside Menthol Moose, for Laramie Cigarettes. The “Lisa Kicks Butt” newspaper headline is great, as is the nerds attacking football players when they find out money is being diverted from the arts.
It’s an episode with a load of good gags but a flimsy central plot. As such it’s a hard one to rate. I laughed a lot but I didn’t find the plot believable. ***¾
TREEHOUSE OF HORROR III
Treehouse of Horror has been a decent yearly Simpsons tradition to this point but it needs a show to be a proper home run to truly establish it. Treehouse of Horror II was solid, and an improvement over the first one.
Clown Without Pity is the opener. Bart gets a Krusty doll that’s evil, thanks to Homer being an idiot. The evil Krusty doll wants to kill Homer. Having a sentient doll turns out to be no problem once he’s been switched from evil to good. Krusty is especially fun here even if the plot is derivative. ***½
King Homer is a King Kong knock-off with a giant Homer Simpson replacing Kong. Burns takes the place of Carl Denham while Marge is Ann Darrow. They get into the swing of anything being possible here as multiple side characters get eaten including Lenny and Smithers. It’s also shot entirely in black and white as a tribute to the original Kong. ***¾
Dial Z for Zombies is the Simpsons zombies crossover you never knew you wanted. In an attempt to bring Snowball I back to life Bart and Lisa inadvertently raise the town’s dead. The best gag here is the zombies not attacking Homer because he has no brains. “Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?” ***½
This is a really consistent group of Halloween stories with no real home run but no duds either. King Homer is my favourite of the three as the other two don’t quite deliver on decent premises. As a result it’s again a weak episode compared to those around it.
ITCHY & SCRATCHY: THE MOVIE
Bart has been particularly bad at school, as Marge finds out on parent-teacher evening. After a string of atrocities (replacing Ms Krabappel’s birth control with tic tacs, breaking grandpa’s dentures) he needs to be punished. Bart’s misbehaviour includes hitting packets of mustard with a hammer and pulling up the carpet. Just random destruction. Eventually Homer has to punish Bart after he lets Maggie drive off in the Simpson’s car.
There are some sly digs at Korean animation studios and Disney’s history in here as the debut of the Itchy & Scratchy Movie approaches. Steamboat Itchy, Al Capone doing the Charleston, Itchy & Scratchy vs. Hitler. Possibly the debut of Bumblebee Man. There’s also a great flashback of Homer missing the moon landing because he’s listening to “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” by the Ohio Express.
Homer’s punishment is to stop Bart from seeing the Itchy & Scratchy Movie and for once he sticks to it. Homer is a fantastically erratic here. He’s all over the place but the punishment sticks. Due to the sluggish nature of the episode, it allows the characters to breathe in a way they don’t normally get. It helps that there are plenty of gags along the way. I love the futuristic glance at the end with Soylent Green and Bart finally getting to see the movie because he’s a chief justice of the supreme court. ****
MARGE GETS A JOB
The Simpson’s have subsidence and need $8500 to pay for repairs to Surly Joe, the only foundations guy in town. Bart attempts to sell tickets to the “Slanty Shanty” but Marge ends up getting a job to replace the retiring Jack Marley. His retirement party is grim with Smithers singing a tribute song to Mr Burns and Jack being forcefully ejected in mid-speech. Marge soon becomes the target of Mr Burns amore.
There are some nice side gags like the “I am the angel of death” guy when Marge has concerns about morale in the plant. Waylon Smithers is terrific here, day-dreaming of Mr Burns flying in through his bedroom window and then abducting Tom Jones so Mr Burns can woo Marge Simpson over dinner. There’s a subplot where Bart keeps faking illness to avoid a test but ends up being attacked by an Alaskan timber wolf (yes, really) that’s escaped from Krusty’s show. “Loud? That’s our word of the day!” There’s solid cameos from Krusty, Chief Wiggum, Groundskeeper Willie and Edna here. The background established characters are really coming into play.
The central storyline isn’t particularly good but all the background stuff just smashes it. The main story does hit a higher gear when Lionel Hutz turns up, from his offices at “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm!” to enjoy a belt of scotch at 9am. “I haven’t slept for days”. However, the resolution feels rushed and Burns’ womanising has never come up before, or since. ***3/4
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
The Simpsons’ other neighbours, the Winfields, are leaving. Mrs Winfield’s wonky animation will not be missed. They’d not used her for a while. The attempts to sell the house are ruined by the Simpson’s being the Simpsons. In particular Homer. The realtor deadpanning the word “sigh” is a particular highlight. The Simpsons new neighbours are Ruth Powers and her daughter Laura. Ruth is very plain and Laura, voiced by Sara Gilbert, is a love interest for Bart.
Homer wants a babysitter so they can go to the Frying Dutchman, although Marge is allergic to seafood. This is a chance to see more of the Sea Captain, who owns the restaurant. He seems fairly insane. Bart’s first love story isn’t on a par with Millhouse’s in the previous season but they both end roughly the same way; with Bart ruining everything. Lionel Hutz is back again, when Homer can’t get the ‘all you can eat seafood’. “I don’t use the word hero very often…but you are the greatest hero in American history”. Oh, Phil Hartman. There are a string of gags outside of the main story, to the point where the storylines are getting in the way of all the jokes.
Bart’s dreams are shattered by Laura dating Jimbo Jones. “Now my pants are chafing me”. Bart frames Jimbo for making the prank phone calls to Moe’s and Moe turns up with a rusty knife and murderous intent. This is the “Amanda Huggenkiss” call. The resolution is that Bart is too young for Laura and Homer gets to eat seafood every night as “Bottomless Pete”, a freakshow attraction at the Frying Dutchman. The gag ratio in S4 is really high so even this relatively weak episode with bland central characters is still good. Just a step below other, similar, episodes about infatuation. Lisa’s Substitute (S2), Bart’s Friend Falls in Love (S3) and Bart the Lover (S3). It turns out Bart isn’t that likeable as a love interest. ***½
The season to this point has been very solid but a marked decrease in top end bangers on S3. Cue Mr Plow. That name again is Mr Plow. Any episode that starts with a Troy McClure clip is usually a winner but this has one of my favourite “you may recognise me from” lines….”The Erotic Adventures of Hercules”. This goes straight into Krusty taming Siberian tigers and Bumblebee Man being chased by a cop with a huge flyswatter. “Aye, aye, aye, La Policia”.
Once we get underway snow causes Homer to rear end his own car and he needs to buy a new one from Crazy Vaclav’s. “Put it in H”. There’s also a motor show with Fourth Reich Motors and the Batmobile. Homer ends up buying a $20K plow*. This episode is a string of gags and most of them relate to the main storyline. Homer’s “I guess I’ll never do another stupid thing again” walking into the car door is awesome. As is the old man winter Mr Plow commercial at 3am on channel 98. “You are fully licenced and bonded by the city aren’t you Mr Plow?”
*I’m using the American spelling here as it’s the title of the episode, even though it cuts me deep.
Things are going great for Homer until Barney gets into the plowing business and becomes the Plow King. Jealous of Barney’s sudden success Homer gives him a phoney address to plow at unforgiving Widow’s Peak. The episode has a lot of good throwaway gags. The “sure footed as a mountain goat” one is something that regularly springs to mind. Homer once again provokes God at the end of the episode creating a record breaking heatwave and putting their plow business to an end. Sad times. This is an excellent episode with memorable gags but it’s not quite on my ‘all-timer’ list. ****½
LISA’S FIRST WORD
The flashback episodes have been amongst those with the most heart so far and Lisa’s First Word is no exception. With the Simpson’s trying to get Maggie to speak Marge recalls 1983 (“Ms Pacman struck a blow for women’s rights”) and Lisa’s first word. Bart is a mischievous attention seeking only child when Lisa was on the way. There are some nice 80s nostalgia bits including Homer singing “Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun”. They also slide into other people’s lives from the time including Flanders (“iron helps us play”) and Krusty. The latter has a Krusty Burger giveaway for the 1984 Olympics, which have been boycotted by the Communist nations. “You personally stand to lose $44M”.
Bart is initially frosty towards Lisa as he’s forced out of the crib and into a scary clown bed. He’s overlooked by relatives as he’s no longer considered cute. His attempts to get attention include cutting Lisa’s hair off and putting her in a post box covered in stamps. That is until Lisa’s first word; “Bart”. Lisa is able to say “David Hasselhoff” but fails on “Daddy”. This is all a set up for Maggie’s first word; “Daddy” uttered by Liz Taylor in a delightful one-word cameo. ****
HOMER’S TRIPLE BYPASS
In my head, this happened in a much later season. This starts off with Cops: Springfield, part of Homer’s love of TV. Chief Wiggum’s “blue car” description kills me. “Suspect is hatless, repeat, hatless”. Homer has some anger issues and that, combined with his terrible diet, has caused undue stress on his heart. Homer’s heart condition is expected as he loafs around all day and does nothing at work. He drops dead in Mr Burns’ office. He’s brought back to life with the promise of a ham being sent to the widow. The hospital is a field day for comical injuries including Wiggum getting his jaw locked open trying to eat a monster sandwich and Sideshow Mel getting stuck in a cannon.
The good hospital stuff continues with Homer’s body fat analysis and Dr Hibbert having to dumb down his technical language. Homer has a second heart attack upon learning they need $30k for an operation. America’s health care system at work. They even joke about it here. “Thank your lucky stars we don’t live in Paraguay”. Struggling to raise the money Homer hires Dr Nick Riviera, who does any operation for $129.95. Call 1-600-DOCTORB. The B is for bargain! Dr Nick has been a background character up to this point and this is a chance for him to shine and he does! There’s also a great Krusty cameo (“this ain’t makeup”) and the background characters are so well developed at this point.
It’s a beautiful episode as well with Homer failing to find words for his kids so Bart and Lisa both provide words for each other, via the bedridden Homer. Also, the minute’s silence in the bar. Pulling at the heart strings. Literally as Dr Nick operates. “These gloves came free with my toilet brush”. “The red thing’s connected to my wristwatch. Uh oh”. “Well, if it isn’t my old friend Mr McGregg with leg for an arm and an arm for a leg”. This is an all round great episode and I thought it came later because it’s so polished and complete. ****½
MARGE VS THE MONORAIL
Conan O’Brien wrote this episode and part of me is sad he didn’t get a longer run as a Simpson’s writer but obviously he had his own fame to chase on late night TV. It opens with the Flintstone’s theme. “He’s about to hit a chestnut tree”. Mr Burns is in trouble for hiding nuclear waste in the park. The irradiated squirrel is wonderful. Burns is forced to pay a fine of $3M and the townsfolk have a meeting to discuss what to do with the money. Marge wants to repair Main Street, which is riddled with potholes.
Cue Lyle Lanley and his Monorail. Voiced by Phil Hartman and including a catchy tune the wheels are soon in motion. Springfield clearly doesn’t need a Monorail, as Lisa points out. Marlon Brando (well, not really) debuts here as John Truckasaurus in a lovely little throwaway. Homer joins the Lanley Institute to learn to become a Monorail Conductor. This is the latest in a string of “lifelong dreams” he has. Bart is actually impressed with him for once. “You can change your name to Homer Jr. The kids can call you HoJu”.
The Monorail is clearly a scam but only Marge sees through it and goes to explore Brockway, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook, the other towns Lanley has sold monorails to. North Haverbrook is a ghost town. The celebrity at the launch is Leonard Nimoy, voiced by Leonard Nimoy. “A solar eclipse, the cosmic ballet goes on”. It’s one of the better celebrity cameos with Nimoy happy to send himself up in the name of comedy. The episode is definitely an all-timer although the gag quota is a little lower than I remember but they make good use of the characters and as a storyline it’s highly memorable. Although Springfield clearly didn’t learn the lessons from the Monorail as they also invested in a popsicle skyscraper, a 50-foot magnifying glass and an elevator to nowhere. *****
This is the introduction of Duff Gardens, the brewery owned theme park with drunk fish and half-finished rides. After great aunt Gladys dies alone Selma becomes broody. Selma starts hitting on anyone and everyone including the bag packing teen in the supermarket and Hans Moleman. When that fails Selma skips straight over to the baby part and artificial insemination. Homer gets sick because he’s been slowly eating a hoagie from the company picnic and can’t take the kids to Duff Gardens. This is Selma’s chance to see what actual parenting is like.
The expansion of the Duff World is a nice backbone to this episode. The best part is the beer goggles. Selma’s parenting results in Lisa drinking river water that makes her hallucinate. Bart sneaks onto a ride he’s too short for. Meanwhile Selma is arguing with Surly, one of the beer mascots. “Sorry Surly”. It turns out Selma is completely incapable of being a parent so has to settle for Gladys’ iguana Jub Jub. Selma, as a character, struggles to carry the episode even though everything else lands. It would be the worst episode in the season if it wasn’t for the clipshow. ***¼
BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET
Homer forgets to pick up Bart after a soccer try-out (for a week at a Pele inspired academy). This episode features the woman that looks like Homer driving past. “I am woman, hear me roar”. Bart ends up angry, and wet, after Homer leaves him there for hours. Bart recovers by watching Krusty host SNL when an advert for “Bigger Brothers” comes on. Bart applies for a replacement dad. Phil Hartman voices his replacement dad “Tom”. In a secondary, and somewhat cuter storyline, Lisa has run up a $300 phone bill by ringing the Corey Hotline.
It’s a rare straying from the straight and narrow from Lisa and her fighting to beat it is a better storyline than Bart’s scam. It only gets good when Homer goes to become a bigger brother himself to get back at his own son. Homer’s internal monologue is great and him eliminating potential little brothers based on appearance is pure Homer. Pepe is Homer’s new kid and Homer tries to teach him things. The constellations scene where he calls the kid Pepsi has me in bits every time. It’s a prime example of how easy it has become to write for Homer compared to everybody else. ***½
I LOVE LISA
This is a famous Valentine’s Day episode of the Simpson’s. Specifically, Lisa who, out of sympathy, gives a Valentine’s Card (“I Choo, Choo, Choose You”) to Ralph Wiggum. Skinner gets another flashback to Da Nang regarding Valentine’s Day. He’s got some serious Vietnam trauma issues. Lunchlady Doris gets a slightly bigger role here and her lack of sanitary prep area is worrying. Valentine’s Day had been untouched so there’s a string of gags here. Chief Wiggum’s “let that be a lesson to the rest of you nuts” is a nice look into the Wiggum home life.
I feel bad for Ralph because he’s so completely pathetic. The episode heads towards Krusty’s Anniversary Show, which Ralph has tickets for and takes a desperate Lisa with him. The classic Krusty clips are a wonderful mixture of history and TV. Including a drunk Sideshow Mel and Krusty crooning to Jimi Hendrix. That’s not the finale though, despite it being the most memorable scene, with the school play ending the episode. Bart plays John Wilkes Booth in fantastic fashion. “Unhand me Yankee”. Ralph’s stunning portrayal as George Washington steals the show and he learns to move on. The central story is propped up by loads of gags from supporting characters and it’s a great episode. ****¼
The central story of Duffless is Homer having to give up beer for a month to appease an angry Marge after he’s pulled over for drink driving. Also in this episode Lisa runs a science experience comparing Bart to a hamster. Various other science experiments include Bart’s Go Go Ray and studying the effects of smoking in dogs. The Duff Brewery is also explored. The vintage Duff commercials are clever. Duff, Duff Lite and Duff Dry all being exactly the same beer makes me chuckle and reminds me of mass-produced American lagers of the time.
The sarcastic pet shop owner is a nice touch. “This little fella writes murder mysteries under the name JD McGregor”. Bart is surprisingly stupid and is easily out-done mentally by a hamster. Homer has to go to AA and there are a large number of alcoholics in Springfield including Ned Flanders, Otto and Hans Moleman (“I’m only 31”). I love that Lisa’s internal monologue is a hick, which plays into Homer’s internal monologue being smarter than him. Without alcohol Homer discovers a lot of his activities are not fun. Specifically baseball but also the barflies look dreadful without booze. The episode tails off a bit but there’s a lot of good jokes on the way. ****
LAST EXIT TO SPRINGFIELD
This episode kicks off with McBain busting out of an ice sculpture before moving on to the evil of Mr Burns and a sensational flashback to 1909 and old man Burns smashing atoms with hammers. “Atoms! Five of them!” From there we have the dentist’s and the “Big Book of British Smiles”. Next it’s Homer watching wrestling. “I hope they kill that Iron Yuppie”. As if that wasn’t a home run start this is the “Lisa needs braces”/“Dental Plan” episode.
This leads to Homer becoming union president and going into mental battle with Mr Burns, who still doesn’t remember him. Which leads to Smithers reminding Burns of the number of times their paths have crossed. As a union head Homer imagines what his power will be like as “Don Homer”. When Homer does sit down to chat with Burns he thinks the plant’s owner is coming on to him. Lisa needs braces and when she’s gassed to put her at ease she floats through the Beatles Yellow Submarine and then does the Joker mirror smash from Batman. There are so many gags in this episode. “Who is it?” “Goons”.
When Burns shows Homer around his house he’s got 1000 monkeys at a 1000 typewriters trying to create the greatest novel of all time. The gag rate here is insane. Like Marge getting the top of her hair cut off by Burns’ helicopter. “First thing tomorrow morning I’m going to punch Lenny in the back of the head”. Homer accidentally causes a strike and Lisa sings “They Have the Plant but we have the Power”. Burns brings in some strike breakers and Abe Simpson goes off on a rambling story. “Give me five bees for a quarter you’d say”. “Homer Simpson is cock of nothing!” Burns and Smithers try to run the plant themselves in a fantastic montage before they’re turned on by 100% loyal robot workers.
This is an all-time great episode. It might be the best Simpson’s episode, ever. It’s a phenomenal string of jokes and storytelling with a killer script. The storyline never lets up and concludes with the “Homer Simpson was not the brilliant tactician I thought he was” with Homer running in circles whooping on the carpet. A scene so good I’ve made it the header for this article. Easy *****
SO, IT’S COME TO THIS: A SIMPSONS CLIPSHOW
Following on from perhaps the best episode in the show’s history in this bizarre choice; a clip show episode. You’d expect it from a show that was running on creative fumes but this season is one of the strongest in the show’s history. It’s April Fools Day and Homer is playing pranks on Bart like taping over his eyes so he thinks he’s blind. We also get the “now who’s laughing” flashback to the origins of April Fools and an assortment of April Fools Day gags. This culminates in Bart shaking up Homer’s beer so it explodes, sending him into a coma. The police response to the beer explosion at the old Simpson place: “We need pretzels, repeat pretzels”.
The wraparound for all the clips is a solid story but the sheer barrage of rehashed footage is extremely disappointing, borderline unforgiveable. What a waste of time this whole thing is. It is a nice reminder of the show’s running gags to this point and some of their more imaginative moments but even so, this is way too early for a clip show. **½
This episode is about Itchy & Scratchy and how dull and repetitive it’s become. The Simpson’s writing room is already taking shots at itself, even with the show at the peak of its powers. It’s pretty staggering. Lisa and Bart attempt to write their own cartoon but get rejected for being kids. They put Grandpa’s name on it and he’s hired. This episode has a lot of rich background and the writers are in their element, essentially writing about their own process. The book Lisa reads is “how to get rich writing cartoons” by John Swartzwelder, a Simpson’s writer.
The writers all appear in caricature form and we get a better look at Roger Meyers, the Itchy & Scratchy head honcho. “You sir, have the boorish manners of a Yaley”. The sub plot is Homer not being invited to the high school reunion because he failed remedial science 1A. Marge is somewhat shocked as he’s a nuclear technician. The Simpson adults graduated in 1974. This episode gives us a chance to see what happened to Artie Ziff and Principal Dondelinger.
The Front is a good episode with lots of throwaway gags and everyone’s imagination is running wild. The writing gags especially. This is the one where Grandpa writes to the President. “There are too many states. Please eliminate three”. Grandpa has had an interesting life. He once took a shot at Teddy Roosevelt! He also spent 40 years as a night watchman at a cranberry silo. The show ends with Grandpa being horrified by the violence on display. ****
PS: There’s a bonus Ned Flanders short at the end of this.
Whacking Day feels like an older episode. In my head this is in S2 or maybe S3 at a push but here it is; three episodes from the end of S4. Whacking Day is famous for the song “Oh Whacking Day” and the vocal stylings of Barry White. The episode kicks off with a Superintendent Chalmers (his first name is Gary) visit to the school. Skinner’s excuses are sensational. The “I’ve had a cold” one where he hears R’s instead of B’s is amazing. Chalmers buying it is the cherry on the cake. After Bart hits Chalmers in the arse with a tractor he’s expelled. As no other school will take him Marge decides to home school Bart. In his history lesson Grandpa reveals he was in WWII and was a cross dressing cabaret singer behind enemy lines.
The Whacking Day aspect is barely touched on and basically exists in the background so Lisa can get mad about it. Homer’s Whacking Day training regime, straight out of a Bruce Lee film, is good stuff. I also love his $10 parking scheme. The guy rolling up in ATV saying “hooray” just cracks me up for some reason. Bart becomes so interested in history he discovers Whacking Day is a crock and they get Barry White to draw the snakes to their house with his bass filled voice. The snake animations are nice, and the song is memorable. It’s weird that most of the episode is about Bart’s failed education. ***¾
MARGE IN CHAINS
I Can’t Believe They Invented It is back here and hosted by Troy McClure. You may have seen him in the President’s Neck is Missing. Dr Nick is here to sell the Juice Loosener. “It’s whisper quiet!” Sun n’ Run, the suntan lotion that also a laxative, is the free gift. When everyone in town orders one they get Osaka flu, coughed into the boxes in Japan. Everyone gets sick, including Bart who orders his body to get sick. Burns thinks he’ll avoid it with his germ-free chamber that Homer has somehow infiltrated.
Marge is increasingly under pressure. “Flintstone’s chewable morphine”. This causes her to accidentally steal a bottle of Colonel Kwik-E-Mart’s Kentucky bourbon. Lionel Hutz is hired and they get a free smoking monkey. “Look, he’s taking another puff!” This is peak Hutz as we go to trial. “Brownest of the brown liquors. You want me to drink you?” His rival lawyer, the nasal one, wastes the court’s time by rating the superhunks. Hutz’s tie removal bit is pure Phil Hartman, as is his “can you imagine a world without lawyers” imagination. “I move for a bad court thingy”.
The third act is the weakest of the three and were it better this would be an all-timer. Marge in jail has potential but comes up short. Marge is missed in society and they end up building a statue of Jimmy Carter because of her cakes not being at the bake sale. “He’s history’s greatest monster”. ****¾
KRUSTY GETS KANCELLED
This is the final episode of S4 and it’s the “Gabbo” episode where Krusty gets forced off the air by a ventriloquist’s dummy on a rival channel pulling in more viewers. They delve into TV a bit more here with Springfield Squares and Channel Ocho. Krusty’s attempts at ventriloquism end badly with his dummies face falling off. The focus is firmly on Krusty, which is a nice change of pace but it’s unfathomable he loses in the ratings to Gabbo.
Gabbo isn’t even fired after calling the kids of Springfield “SOB’s”. There’s a great “crazy old man” 15 minutes of fame bit in this episode. Krusty’s celebrity friends turn up to help him back on the air including Bette Midler, Hugh Hefner, Johnny Carson, Barry White, Luke Perry and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Sideshow Mel is working at the Gulp n Blow and refuses to come back only to make a dramatic return during the singing of “Send in the Clowns”. Luke Perry getting shot through a display of acid is comedy gold. “My face, my valuable face”. As a season ender it’s a bit on the weak side and nothing really happens with Gabbo. He just disappears. ***½
Season 4 is an excellent season. Homer the Heretic is the first new episode with the new animation and it’s brilliant. The standard of animation throughout the series is high. It’s clearly an improvement over Klasky Csupo. The writing in S3 was so good it’s hard to believe it got better here but S4 is more consistently good. I’ve rated 12 episodes at **** or higher compared to 10 episodes in S3. The highs are fairly similar. The best episodes in S4 are as good as anything the Simpson’s have ever produced. Homer the Heretic, Marge vs the Monorail, Marge in Chains and especially Last Exit to Springfield are killers. Marge in Chains used to be on a Simpsons tape that I bought circa 1994 and I’ve seen it more than any other episode. It still holds up.
This season also has some great bits in less great episodes like Bart being Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the flash forward at the end of Itchy & Scratchy the Movie or Lisa getting stoned at the amusement park or the advert in Mr Plow. A lot of the writing staff bailed at this point to make the Critic (which is also a very good show if you’ve not seen it) but fear not, the quality of the show did not drop off. In S5 we have Cape Feare and Homer Goes to College, which are two of my all time top ten Simpson’s episodes plus the Barbershop Quartet, Mr Burns’ search for his teddy bear Bobo, Marge develops a gambling problem, Homer falls for co-worker Mindy Simmons and we get closer to the show jumping the shark. S5 is the one where Bart gets an elephant and Homer goes into space. That episode is fantastic though so I can’t be too critical. Looking forward to season 5 already!