Tuesday, February 16, 2010

13 Underrated Simpsons Episodes

It's been roughly a week and a half since I posted the first entry for Simpsons Month, so It's about damn time I post another. As you're all probably aware of, I've seen every episode of the show (453 as of this writing!) and in a show that runs for 21 seasons, there's bound to be episodes that are excellent, some are bad, and some are just plain "meh."

But this entry is not about any of those. No, these episodes in question are GOOD, but simply lie between that plane of "meh" and "excellent." These episodes rarely, if ever, show up on people's "Best ___ Ever" lists, and it's usually for a multitude of reasons.

Perhaps they were good episodes, but they were lost among the soup of other, more awesome episodes that aired around it? Maybe that there was greatness to be found in the episode, but is marred by one major inconsequential detail, like a lousy ending? Or they aired so early in the show's run that we've forgotten about how great they were during that first go-around? Or perhaps it aired so recently that it hasn't had the chance to repeat ad nauseum in syndication to enter our unconsciousness?

My theory on when a episode becomes underrated? When I see an episode and think "ehh, it was okay," and then several years down the line, the DVD for the season it aired in comes out, and you realize "Hmm...it's actually pretty good!" It's primarily this reason why this list does NOT contain any episodes made after 2004 (aka, after Season 15). I just don't think that enough time has passed for any episode made within the last six years to become underrated.

Either way, I've scoured the internet, and I haven't found a single list of "Most Underrated Episodes" for this show! That changes now, since I found 13 good ones. By the way, this list is in no specific order.

Simpson Tide (Season 9)

If you love to obsessively parrot all of the hilarious, witty, and humorous-in-the-right-context quotes that this show loves to offer as much as I do, good news! It's an overlooked episode simply for airing past the eight season, and I just feel like this is one of the most quotable episodes in the entire series; it's simply 22 minutes of one great line after another. Some of my favorites:

"Damn you, Rock'em Sock'em Robots! Can't we all just get along?"

"You can't spell 'dishonorable' without 'honorable!"

"Hey everyone: Sparkle, Sparkle!"

"My ear hurts and my neck hurts. I have two owies!"

"The Soviet Union? I thought you guys broke up!"
"Yes, that's what we WANTED you to think! Hahahaha!"

"Simpson, you're like the son you never had."
"And you're like the father I never visit."

"That is SO 1991."~Ralph, after Bart tries to sing "Do The Bartman"

"My Homer is not a Communist. He may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, a communist. But he is NOT a porn star!"

And so on. The entire transcript of the episode can be found here. Who could imagine that such a great episode could come out of a plot where Homer (and later Apu, Barney, and Moe) join the Naval Reserves and later pilot a nuclear sub? It's pure Homer in which he has absolutely no interest in the military...until he watches a recruiting ad for the Naval Reserves that boasted serving only one weekend a month and partying for the rest of the time. I also love that Homer's response to any major gaffe in the episode was "It's my first day," and his ability to speak it in four languages (including Penguin!). It's a testament to the character himself that the episode serves as another example of him "failing upwards," where he just acts like his lovable, oafish self and keeps getting promoted. And when he finally gets caught at the end? He gets off the hook as each Admiral that was on the board to court-martial him were themselves being indicted for various scandals: the topical-at-the-time Tailhook Scandal, accepting bribes. torpedoing a Carnival Cruise ship, and, my favorite, impersonating Hillary Clinton.

There's just something great about the traditional song to play whenever an American ship leaves harbor is "In The Navy," complete with over-the-top dance sequence! Hell, even Smithers joins in the act. The rest of the involved characters are a hoot, too. Apu joins the gang regardless of it being discouraged in Hinduism, Barney's response to a drill instructor telling him that his mom won't be around to help him is to point out that she was working on the base not ten feet away from where he was staying, and Moe's thoughts of his "loved one" was a cat that he secretly loved to cuddle.

I also loved Bart visiting a mall where every store is, or is in the process of becoming, a Starbucks in a sharp piece of satire that I'm completely surprised that is still relevant, Barney recognizing water as a "clear, non-alcoholic liquid", and the hilarious way that the episode does away with Captain Tenille by accidentally shooting him out of a torpedo tube at an enemy sub. Finally, there's an honest to God example of a "Big Lipped Alligator Moment" in a sequence where Russia reverts back into the Soviet Union, which culminates in Lenin rising from the grave, growling "Must! Crush! Capitalism!"

In Marge We Trust (Season 8)

Ahh, the episode that's more commonly known as "The Episode with Mr. Sparkle." What puts this episode on the list, then? Well, for one thing, the classic Mr. Sparkle commercial only takes up two minutes of screen-time, with the rest of the episode revolves around Marge and Reverend Lovejoy over their respective crises of faith.

Marge is concerned with her faith because the rest of the family treats Church as a one-hour chore ("If God wanted to devote an hour a week to him, he'd make the week an hour longer!" quips Homer), while Reverend Lovejoy has gradually become disillusioned with love thanks to a 20 year long pestering by Flanders, proving once and for all that Homer isn't the only person in Springfield who hates his guts. This quickly changes as Marge actually takes the time to care about people and help them as the "Listen Lady," while Lovejoy gets envious of her until he actually saves after Flanders gets chased into a Baboon exhibit at the zoo thanks to Marge advising him to shoo away some bullies. If anything, the perfect capper to the A-Story is Lovejoy's rather animated sermon of his battle with the Baboons.

But let's not leave out the fantastic Mr. Sparkle B-Story out of this, either. After a Sunday afternoon of landfill rummaging, Homer, Bart & Lisa come across a box of dish soap written entirely in Japanese with Homer's face on it. It turns out, through the now infamously hilarious commercial, that "Mr. Sparkle" was merely the result of a conglomeration of Matsumura Fishworks (a Fish Mascot) and Tamaribuchi Heavy Manufacturing Concern (A Light Bulb mascot). Thus, the term "Fishbulb" was born.

A special shout-out needs to be given to the voicework in the episode as well. Not only do we get the usual great performances out of the regular family, but especially Julie Kavner as Marge, but also Harry Shearer as both Ned Flanders and Rev. Lovejoy, as well as Gedde Wantanabe (Long Duck Dong from "Sixteen Candles") as the Mr. Sparkle Employee that speaks Engrish at Homer and the fat businessman at the beginning of the Mr. Sparkle video, and Sab Shimono (who you usually hear in many cartoons as Asian Males) as Mr. Sparkle himself.

Treehouse of Horror XI (Season 12)

If I had to choose one Treehouse of Horror episode for the list, it would have to be the 11th outing way back in Season 12. What truly makes this one overlooked is that it was one of those episodes that seemed "meh" or "crap" back when it aired, but I'll admit...it grew on me.

You can thank the final segment, "Night of The Dolphin" for that sentiment. At first, it seems (and was) the zaniest THoH story yet: Lisa resents a dolphin being cooped up in an aquarium and decides to set it free. Said dolphin, Snorky, turns out to be the leader of the dolphins and soon hatches his plan to take the land back from the humans. I was one of those people who thought "what the hell did I just see? Did the Simpsons actually do that?" and brushed it off as another clunker. It was years later when I realized this was pretty inspired. They set the story up as one of those "heavy-handed anti-animal cruelty" stories for Lisa...and then have it utterly backfire on her in the worst way imaginable. You just gotta love the dolphin's first victim being Lenny, who dies in a similar manner to the naked girl in the opening scene of "Jaws" after tempting fate with the winning combination of "alcohol AND night swimming" as the dolphins actually stand up on their flippers to go march towards the town.

And the deaths get progressively violent from there, with Grampa being eaten whole like a snake, the Squeaky-Voiced Teen's head causally falling into Homer's lap when he gets his Krusty Burger, and Kent Brockman being beaten to death off screen by a beach ball. Then there's the great climax of Snorky invading a town meeting to explain his master plan with the voice of Harry Shearer. Just when you think that's it for the humans, Homer rallies the citizens of Springfield with a list of mankind's greatest inventions: computers, leg warmers, bendy straws, peel-and-eat shrimp (my favorite one!), the glory hole AND the pudding cup. I just love that whole list because the pudding cup and peel-and-eat-shrimp would definitely be on Homer's list of best inventions ever.

...Then they encounter every dolphin imaginable overlooking the town a la The Birds and the humans are forcibly pushed into the ocean. If there's one great thing about the DVDs, it's that there was a LOT of fight scenes that were cut out, like Hibbert taking down a few porpoises with syringes and one dolphin being fed gasoline and exploding to reveal an unharmed Grampa.

It was just a funky over-the-top coda to an episode that escalated in weirdess. The first segment, "G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad" has Homer dying by choking on Broccoli (twice!) and must perform one good deed for St. Peter to let him into Heaven. Of course, Homer being Homer, he fails spectacularly when his ONE good deed after several evil ones (like accidentally dropping Agnes Skinner to her death and covering his ass by saying she would've become the next Hitler) gets unnoticed and he's sent to hell. Then the next segment, "Scary Tales Can Come True," is one of those "let's notice just how creepy old Grimm Fairy Tales are" stories when Homer casts Bart & Lisa to forage for themselves after being fired from his job of being an oaf. We get to see trolls, the three bears mauling Goldilocks to death, and an actual witch in a Gingerbread House.

Now, I know from experience that truly classic Simpsons moments are ones that are permanently burned into your head the moment you see it. In this case, it wasn't Homer's ghost choking on the same stalk of Broccoli killing him. It wasn't Bart and Lisa finding the skeletal remains of their older counterparts, nor was it the ending to "Night of The Dolphin," with various floating corpses spelling out "The End?"

No. It was where we see a rather graphic image of Homer laying an egg. If seeing Homer do the deed was bad enough, they actually have Homer grunting, implying that it was painful. And then the image freezes right there to become a woodcut drawing. Yeah, that'll replace the whale in my nightmares.

The Old Man and The Key (Season 13)

Despite what anyone else says, I love Abe "Grampa" Simpson, and consider him a definitely underrated character. There are people out there that complain about the rather slow pace that episodes centering around him travel at due to Abe being much funnier in smaller doses to tell some kind of rambling story. But I like that change. It's fairly uncommon to see anything involving old people at all in media, and things like "The Simpsons" and "Up" tend to show that interesting stories can be had from the elderly. Now, ol' Abe has been a cornerstone of some great episodes ("Old Money," "The Front," "Lisa vs Malibu Stacy," "Mother Simpson," "Lady Bouvier's Lover," "Curse of The Flying Hellfish"), and some ones that weren't so great (I'll get to one particular one in a later entry), but this episode in particular has that great "under-appreciated" feel to it.

It's, of course, another story where Grampa falls in love, this time to a woman named Zelda who has quite an affinity for seniors who can still drive. Of course, Grampa is one of those seniors who can only drive into things, like into an Orca tank at the aquarium. But since the DMV is headed by Marge's sisters, who can't stand the sight of Abe, he gets his license renewed, wins over Zelda and proceed to go on a roadtrip to Branson, Missouri (Or as Bart put it, "Las Vegas run by Ned Flanders") to see a stage show starring 80's has-beens like Charo, Mr. T, Charlie Callas, Adrien Zmed, Bonnie Franklin, Yakov Smirnof and Ray Jay Johnson (voicing himself, I might add). The song itself, I might add, is also what I consider underrated. You have all these washed up stars, who have all gathered to perform a stage show stating about how washed up they are. In Branson, Missouri. Which they describe as being "Nick @ Nite, and made it a town." Along with a catchy melody, it just adds up to pure brilliance.

There's just so many other great moments in this episode, like Abe's drag race with the old man wearing a jacket plastered with logos, who would rather be burned alive than not have people know what stores he's been to; Homer being told by Marge that the XFL went under (who herself was told by the XFL's MVP, who was a hair sweeper at her Beauty Parlor); Bart & Homer's game of Scrabbleship; and my favorite moment of the episode: the Family's detour to Bronson, Missouri, where everyone looks and talks like Charles Bronson.

"Hey ma, how about a cookie?"
"No dice."
"This ain't over."

The President Wore Pearls (Season 15)

Now the show has done some musical episodes before ("SimpsoncalifragailisticexpialiD'ohcious," which parodied Mary Poppins, "All Singing, All Dancing," a musical Clip Show) and after this one ("My Fair Laddy," obviously My Fair Lady), but I feel that this parody of "Evita" does not get the credit it deserves.

At this point in the series, the episode trod upon the story of a grade-school election, but the twist here being that it was Serious Business on the level of a musical starring Madonna that was based on the life of Eva Peron. You'd think a grade-school class president would have no power, yet Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers simply use her classy, nerdish image to soften the blow to put their budget-cutting schemes into power by bribing her with Madonna outfits and popularity. Of course, Lisa catches on and resigns from her post to lead a student-wide strike that is later joined by the police, unions of goat milkers, cue card holders and theme-park zombies, and special guest star Michael Moore. Just when things look grim for Lisa as she's forcibly transferred for a school of the gifted, she sings an excellent parody of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" and is later saved by Homer...who refuses to get up early to drive her 45 minutes each morning.

The best part? It all started with a failed Casino night where attendees once again break out into an angry mob once they realize their winnings won't be redeemed for money. Then there's Nelson's attempt to show up Lisa's inspiring campaign song with this: "I am Iron Man DO DO DO DO DO DO DO vote for me!"

Trilogy of Error (Season 12)

This episode just amazes me simply with its story structure. It's a tale of a single day, but told in the perspectives of Homer, Lisa, and Bart, respectively. The story as a whole is this: Lisa has built Linguo, a robot that corrects people's grammar (except its own) for the school's science fair. After a kitchen mishap that gets Homer's thumb chopped off, Marge races him to the hospital...only for Lisa to miss her bus and thus, have no ride in which to get to class. Lisa, in a parody of "Run, Lola, Run" finds Krusty and Mr. Teeny who give her a ride...to WEST Springfield Elementary, putting her off schedule. After several detours, like spouting how much the Blue Man Group ripped off the Smurfs and getting rides from other people as Marge had disappeared when Homer took his time at Moe's, Homer is nowhere near a hospital and discovers Linguo had exploded in town.

This, in turn, leads to Bart's side of the story: Milhouse leads Bart to a cave filled with Fireworks, which had been smuggled by Fat Tony's Mob. A final confrontation occurs in an alleyway between Linguo and the mob, (Marge and Lisa run into Bart, who in turn run into the mobsters chasing him and Milhouse), where an overload of horrible grammar causes Linguo to spark and set off the fireworks that caused him to explode. Obviously, I'm not going to spoil the ending, but I will admit, it was a pretty neat bow that wrapped the whole package together.

Whew. Because the story is essentially one story told three times, we get to see some great scenes from different angles. Case in point: Each segment begins with Flanders' mailbox being ripped out of the ground by the garbage truck; For the first two segments, Bart leaves the house via Milhouse probably having something important to say, which we see in the third segment; We wonder where all the characters go with their cars, and the details are filled in with each segment (Homer hitchhikes, Marge steals Ranier Wolfcastle's car). Finally, with such an intricate story, continuity errors are nonexistent. If one segment had to be snipped for time, than so did every callback to it. All in all, at tail end of what is considered one of the worst seasons of the show...so far, we get a great, solid story this side of 123 Fake Street. Right, Mr. Teeny?

"This story doesn't make sense! Tell the people!"

...Shut up, Mr. Teeny.

New Kids on The Blecch (Season 12)

First and foremost, this episode contained stunt-casting at its absolute finest: N*Sync appearing at the height of the Boy Band craze. Back then, the consensus was "What the hell, Simpsons?" One would think that the show had lowered itself into producing a story so topical that no one would find it funny in ten years time.

Well, ten years have passed, and I beg to differ. As enough time has passed by that fad, we entered that "Why the HELL did we like that?" phase of looking back on childhood music tastes. In my case, my adolescent years were dominated by Boy Bands and pop stars which I can no longer stand to listen to, let alone admit I liked. The episode serves as an excellent time capsule to the late 90's and we can finally see the episode for what it is: An incredibly biting satire on corporate boy band music.

Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, and Ralph are recruited by producer LT Smash to become The Party Posse and become overnight singing sensations thanks to the magic of auto-tuning. While their first music video "Drop Da Bomb" was pretty catchy, we find out the truth: The entire band, along with the music videos, was just a front to subliminally recruit people into the Navy. LT Smash is also revealed to be Lt. LT Smash, who apparently put the whole plan together due to hallucinations about hippies killing soldiers with flowers and mellow vibes. N*Sync basically shows up to offer wisdom of being popstars and showing off unecessary dance moves. The beauty about them is that their own role in the episode is an over-the-top portrayal of themselves. The writers pretty much wrote random things for them to say, like having Joey Fatone saying "old school" as a catchphrase, and enlisting JC in the Navy at the end of the episode. After seeing Joey Fatone make fun of himself on Robot Chicken and Justin Timberlake sticking his dick in a box on SNL, it became pretty clear that these guys had an awesome sense of humor.

There are so many great moments in this episode, beginning with the opening story of Bart cheating to win the Springfield Marathon by posing as a Stereotypical Italian. There's some great entrants in that race as well, like Comic Book Guy dressing up as The Flash, Mr. Burns being carted by Smithers, and what looks to be like Abe running the race turns out to be a dehydrated Homer. Later in the story we have Homer thinking that "Yvan Eth Nioj" is a nonsense phrase like "Shamma Lama Ding Dong" and "Give Peace a Chance," the difference between Subliminal, Liminal, and Superliminal ("Hey you, Join the Navy!" "...Okay."), Ralph saying "I'm a pop sensation!," and LT Smash's biggest fear that would bring down the Party Posse: a spoofing in Mad Magazine. This, of course, leads LT to hijack the airship carrier that the PP was performing a concert on to travel to Manhattan to destroy MAD Headquarters: The Chrysler Building with Alfred E. Neuman's head on the top. He, of course, succeeds in a manner that completely freaked out Post-9/11 America when said event occurred seven months after it aired.

Then there's this final dialogue from N*Sync:

Justin: You know, we've had a lot of fun tonight, at the expense
of the U. S. Navy.
Lance: But they're out there every day protecting us from
Chris: And don't forget pirates!
JC: And jellyfish.
Joey: Those whack invertebrates will sting you, old-school!
Justin: So check out the Navy for a two, or four-year hitch.
Lance: We signed JC up yesterday.
JC: What? (shore policemen drag away JC) Noooo!

A Star is Burns (Season 6)

I might be admitting a bias on this entry because it's my favorite episode of the entire series. I'll get into more specifics as to why this is in a later entry.

I'll admit, I'm a big sucker for cross-overs, especially in this episode where the show intersects with The Critic, which had moved to Fox from ABC around the same time. The Critic just happens to be one of my favorite animated shows of all time (it was #2 on my list at the time of its airing), and I feel it was one of those great shows that was just left us too soon (only 23 episodes!). On the whole, it was a show where Film Critic Jay Sherman, voiced by John Lovitz, reviews horrible movies while dealing with his soul-crushing life. In short, this episode was basically a half-hour advertisement for the show, which happened to be created by former-at-the-time Simpsons showrunners Al Jean & Mike Reiss (they've since returned to the show).

It's because of the whole "1/2 hour ad" thing that caused fans to decry the episode, and caused Matt Groening to remove his name from the episode, the only time in the entire history of the show where this happened. At the time, I may have agreed with the sentiment, but now...I simply love everything about it. I love Jon Lovitz, I love the Critic, and I love how Marge suggests that the town hold a Film Festival to improve tourism...and works.

Plus, it's the episode where we learn that the most handsome film critic on TV is Leonard Maltin, Chief Wiggum finally found an excuse to wear makeup, that a man getting hit in the groin with a football is funny on so many levels (my personal favorite is the Oscar-winning version with George C. Scott), and finally, the only Pulitzer Prize winners who have over-the-top belching powers are Jay Sherman and Eudora Welty.

Homie The Clown (Season 6)

In my mind, a John Swartzwelder classic that simply got lost within the mix of the rest of the excellent episodes that made up the sixth season. Now, Swartzwelder was the most prolific of the Simpsons writers, with 58 other episodes under his belt besides this one. A few specific trademarks of his are the following: Old-Timey references like Hobos, Irish Cops and dialogue that sounds like it came out of a 1940s gangster movie; really obscure references like "Wagon Train"; getting away with really random background gags by inserting the phrase "for some reason" into the scripts; and his personal style to writing Homer is to imagine him as a talking dog. It's really no surprise that episodes that he pens are very quotable.

A few of my favorites:

"I'm seeing double here! Four Krusties!"

"Stop! Stop! He's already dead!"

"My dad's a pretty big wheel down at the cracker factory!"

"Who am I clowning? I have no business being a clown! I'm leaving the clowning business to all the other clowns in the clowning business!"

Krusty: "Yeah?...Lawsuit?  Oh, come on. My Seven Words You Can't Say on TV" bit was entirely different from your Seven Words You Can't Say on TV bit...So I'm a thief, am I? Well, excuuuse me!  (to his accountant) Give him ten grand."
Woman: "Steve Martin on four."
Krusty: "Ten grand."

Krusty: "All right, now there can only be one Krusty in each territory, so I hope this works out. Tell me where you're from."
Man 1: "Georgia."
Texan 1: "Texas."
Texan 2: "Uh, Brooklyn."
Man 2: "Russia."
Man 3: "New Hampshire."
Homer: "Homer."

Also, you'd be surprised how often "Clown College? You can't eat that!" pops up in my conversations.

Thanks to him, I'd like to say that this episode contains one of my most favorite First Acts in the entire series. It's just a great beginning to a crazy story: Homer stops for every new billboard he sees while causing massive pileups behind him, and proceeds to buy EVERYTHING from the billboards, except for the one for Krusty's Klown Kollege (which Krusty had to start because he was broke and ran out of things to license). His subsequent obsession with clowns, like dreaming the billboard invading his dream of the dream of another sleeping Homer, imagining co-workers on fire as dancing clowns, and finally snapping when he constructs a circus tent out of mashed potatoes a la "Close Encounters" while imagining his whole family as clowns who, for some reason, were humming the classic "Circus Clown Song" (aka "Enter The Gladiators") that leads to this gem of a dialogue:

Homer: "You people have stood in my way long enough! I'm going to clown college!" (storms out)
Bart: "...I don't think anyone expected him to say that."

All of this just perfectly plays into the "Homer as a Talking Dog" theory.

Then comes the rest of the episode where Homer actually enrolls into the college. We learn funny place names (Walla Walla, Keokuk, Cucamonga, and Seattle), to kill the Wealthy Dowanger, and that baggy clown pants fit perfectly on Homer. After he becomes a full-fledged Krusty, his life stinks (like killing the Krusty Burgular), he finds out that Krusty gets free stuff due to a tuft of hair being the only thing that differentiates Homer from the real Krusty. This is bad news for him, as the Fat Tony's mob has once again gone after Krusty, this time after losing an enormous bet AGAINST the Harlem Globetrotters (hey, he thought the Generals were due!!).

In true Simpsons fashion, this leads to the concept of "Speed Holes" in cars, while Flanders himself gets shot twice. I might be a bad person, but it just seemed hilariously satisfying to not only see Flanders get shot, but to see him survive and get shot again. These, along with the visuals of Krusty riding a tiny bicycle through a loop and eating it and an incredibly self-deprecating appearance by Dick Cavett makes for a great episode.

Bart on The Road (Season 7)

Season seven has quite a few excellent episodes, but sadly, this great one just doesn't get mentioned that often.

It's Spring Break in Springfield and the kids have nothing to do. After Bart takes advantage of being bored at the DMV for "Go to Work With Your Parents Day," he creates a fake ID and rents a car to take Milhouse, Martin, and Nelson for a cross-country joyride ending in Knoxville, Tennessee to see the long-defunct World's Fair (or "Wo d F ir" as the sign reads). To this day, I can't think of Knoxville without my mind going to The Sunsphere (now Wigsphere) and Martin's Talking Al Gore Doll ("You. Are. Hearing. Me. Talk."). Ultimately, the Wigshpere crushes their car, the gang is broke, and no one knows that they're not enjoying the national grammar rodeo in the vast cornfields of Canada.

At the same time at SNPP, Homer and Lisa share some genuinely sweet bonding time that we don't get to see too often. It's there we learn of Lisa's crush on Langdon Alger, what Homer actually does at work, and that purple is a fruit. In the end, it's up to them to get Bart out of the mess he got himself in to by suggesting that he delivers a console to the power plant through a courier service.

Other stuff that's absolutely perfect about this: Bart's idea of what "Cruise Control" is, the gang picking up a hitchhiker, the detour through Branson, Missouri ("Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders"), the two lies in the title for "Naked Lunch," and the ending where Marge gets progressively crazier phone calls while Homer slowly slinks under the covers.

A Tale of Two Springfields (Season 12)

Another tale from John Swartzwelder that has yet to get the credit it deserves. As the title can attest, Springfield is divided in two based on the area codes 636 (Old Springfield, The Rich Part of town) and 939 (New Springfield, Everyone Else). Of course, a wall is later built to keep the unhappy citizens of New Springfield from crossing over the Old Springfield. If Berlin had taught them anything, walls just do not work, even if the townspeople are bribed with daily Who concerts on top of said wall.

Like many Swartzwelder episodes, there's just so many great, zany moments in this episode: Homer never remembering to dial the right area code to the point where he's convinced that hearing the "wrong number" dial tone means that the phone is ringing, the propaganda film starring Phony McRing-Ring that people actually ask questions to, Homer assuming a badger in the doghouse is "probably just Milhouse," the concept of "Area Code Camp," and Kent Brockman getting away with "golden showers" on network television. Speaking of Kent Brockman, there's a great testament to the logic of Swartzwelder where the defining characteristic of people from New Springfield is their usage of "Oh yeah" and "come here a minute."

The Principal & The Pauper (Season 9)

I admit it: I love this episode. But at the time when it aired, I hated it just like everyone else due to the whole "massive retcon of Principal Skinner's life" plot. For those of you in the dark or were trying to forget this episode: It turns out that the Principal Skinner that we all know in love is just an impostor, who was just a street punk named Armin Tamzarian before joining the military and accidentally convincing Agnes Skinner that he was her son. The REAL Seymour Skinner was Armin's Sargent in Vietnam who was supposedly killed, but turns out to have been a POW the entire time. Once the real Skinner comes back in the picture, no one likes him and decides to get rid of him, never to be heard again.

While I now appreciate the gamble that the writers took with the episode, I still don't like the resolution of having the reset button forcibly pressed. Usually when a plot like this comes about, the reset occurs in that ambiguous space of time between the end of this episode and the beginning of the next one. Not this one. Judge Snyder orders everyone to never speak of this again under penalty of torture. If that one line had been omitted, I would've thought that the episode was fantastic. With it intact...it's just a story that will probably never get full kudos for quite a while.

There ARE some great moments to be had, though. The Skinner-Formerly-Known-as-Armin saying "Up yours, children!"; Ralph wanting to become either "a principal or a caterpillar" when he grows up; Homer wanting to read "Armin's copy of Swank"; Marge not wanting to receive crapweeds for Valentine's Day; Homer's reaction to the impostor revelation being his brain telling him to "keep looking shocked and move slowly towards the cake" (one of my favorite Homer lines of all time); and this great dialogue:

Homer: Okay, once more.  Where are we going?
Edna: To Capital City.
Homer: And why are you and the old lady in the car?
Agnes: We're gonna talk Armin Tanzarian into coming back.
Homer: And why is Marge here?
Marge: I came up with the idea.
Homer: And why am I here?
Marge: Because the streets of Capital City are no place for three unescorted ladies.
Homer: Why are the kids here?
Marge: Because we couldn't find Grandpa to sit for them.
Homer: Why is Grandpa here?
Abe: Because Jasper didn't want to come by himself!
Homer: Huh, fair enough.

There's No Disgrace Like Home (Season 1)

This episode is one that I feel has been lost to the grim specter of time. It was only the FOURTH episode of the series, where admittedly, the specific traits for each character had yet to be nailed down, and later exaggerated for comic effect. It's this episode out of any other that every main Simpson aside from Bart acts nothing like the people that they would eventually become. Case in point:

Lisa: Actually acts like an eight year-old girl without any of the "granola girl in training" bookworm qualities that she would get in later episodes.

Marge: Actually drinks in this episode, to the point where she's leading other people at Mr. Burns' picnic in a rather elaborate drinking song.

But the most interesting case is Homer: He's actually concerned about the well-being of his family. First of all, he's incredibly concerned about looking good in front of Mr. Burns for the company picnic (he was, after all, promoted to his now-familiar position of Safety Inspector in the previous episode), and after watching the antics of his family compared to people like the Flanders and another peaceful family that rides their car up to Heaven, it's time for therapy.

Therapy via Dr. Marvin Monroe is one thing, but how he pays for the session is unthinkable nowadays: HE PAWNS THE TV! I really had to emphasize that one. It's the most beloved of all of Homer's possessions, and he simply pawns it for the good of the family. Hell, even Marge was begging Homer not to do it! But this all leads to one of the first truly Classic moments in the show: The Electroshock Scene.

This is simply a groundbreaking moment in not only cartoons, but in TV itself. In 1990, it was the first time that we not only see a cartoon family in therapy, but that a show in prime time actually had a family, animated or otherwise, willfully participate in electro-shocking the rest of their family. Homer shocks for fun, Bart would obviously shock her sister, Lisa would shock back, Marge would shock her own children for shocking each other, and Maggie just likes pushing the buttons.

When not even this gets the family to be "normal," Homer gets double the money he paid back, as per Dr. Monroe's guarantee, he doesn't use the money to get the TV back. No, he uses the money to get a better TV, the one that would stay on the show until it finally crapped out in Season 7. I just find all of this incredibly interesting as I'm looking back at this episode. It's truly a classic episode in the rocky first season whose greatness had unfortunately been surpassed by more superior episodes down the line.

Do you agree with this list? Are there any do you think I missed? Which episodes do YOU think are criminally underrated?


Anonymous said...

Isn't the concur-conquer part from Homer vs Dignity. While I disagree with the Tanzarian episode (minus the Homer in the car part)that's a pretty solid list. I love the shock therapy one of my favourite scenes from any episode

Galileo said...

I just looked into it, and Holy Crap, you're right!

I've been a terrible Simpsons fan. I've corrected my error!

cuteordeath said...

I've always thought The Principal and the Pauper was great; if you're going to get cranky about plot holes and continuity errors, you probably shouldn't be watching The Simpsons. The "crap weeds" discussion is one of my favorites.

Trilogy of Error is one of the best episodes they've ever done; totally brilliant.

dohopoki said...

I think history will look more and more favorably at A Star is Burns. In my most recent viewing of the episode it occurred to me that if you ignore the show The Critic was ever made, there's very little in the episode that couldn't have conceivably been just another episode guest starring Jon Lovitz (an underrated actor, there I said it).

Ignoring Jay Sherman's part of the episode and you're still left with some of the best quick gags the show has ever produced. You already touched on a few but one I personally like to dig out in moderation for pure sake of obscurity and lack of context: The ever classic, Boo-urns!

Mike Lisieski said...

My opinion of "A Tale of Two Springfields" (which I just watched today, incidentally) is that's it is, overall, a rather poor episode. The first half of it is wonderful, though. The badger, area code camp, etc. The Who just killed it for me - it felt too gimmicky.