Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Greatest B-Stories from The Simpsons

Y'all should know by now that The Simpsons is my all-time favorite anything, and I've told you several times that I've seen every episode, 469 as of this writing (and hopefully the next 46 that are coming our way in the next two years). 469+ episodes that are full of comedy, satire, tragedy, or even meh-ness that have all reached some level of infamy one way or another. But out of all those stories, we rarely hear about the B-Stories.

Yes, the B-Stories, those little side-plots that are there to fill time when the writers couldn't find ways to stretch the main plot to fit the 22 minute runtime (and believe me, there have been some pretty creative ways of doing that over the last twenty-two some-odd years). Some B-Stories tell a story about what the other members of the Simpsons family are up to that may or may not connect with the main story at the end, others are about some other plot that was too thin to support an episode by itself. And some are just about Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel doing his thing.

In recent years with the average episode length becoming shorter and shorter, the B-Stories are becoming rarer and for the ones that do show up, I think their quality suffers for it. Sure, you could argue that anything the show produced in the last 10-15 years is absolute garbage (depending on how much of a curmudgeon you are), but with so little time to tell a second story on top of the limited time to tell the main story, you can tell when some plot details are unfortunately left out. For the record, some of the B-plots from the last year have been some of the worst dreck I've ever seen from this show. I mean, Lisa can't win a debate because she's a blonde and then she dyes her hair? What the hell, writers? What the hell.

But anyway, some B-Stories, however, become memorable on their own. They have the wit, humor, and satire that the show does so well, but with a shorter runtime. Most of them support their parent story quite well, and a few have actually become more well-known than the stories they were supporting.

With that in mind, I have compiled this list of what I think are The Eleven Greatest B-Stories in the history of the show. Of course, this was a rather hellish task to stack these stories in any coherent order, but I think you'll be satisfied. Or not, I still get the view-count raised every time you look at this.

#11: CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet (Das Bus)

"Ooh, they have the internet on computers now!"

That above quote pretty much sums up Homer's latest get-rich-quick scheme. While the kids are on their Model U.N. Field Trip/Lord of The Flies Parody, Homer discovers that Flanders is making money on the side from his Internet company Flancrest Enterprises. So of course to try to one-up Ned yet again, Homer decides to grab his piece of the Dot Com Bubble Pie.

What I love about this is that unlike the dozens of second-jobs that he's taken over the years, Homer has absolutely no idea about what the hell he's supposed to be doing. While Homer usually has a tenuous grasp at best at whatever job the writers assign him to that week, his idea of "The Internet" is sitting at his dining room table that's adorned with knickknacks like a Drinking Bird and stick of butter to serve as a pencil holder while coming up with a snappy name like "Flancrest Enterprises" (which was sadly taken), and the people are expected to just show up to his house and give him money.

Despite Homer's lack of computer skills, or skills in general (gotta love how he somehow made a pop-up ad that conveniently covered up a sexy picture of Captain Janeway), Homer's bubble bursts like several net businesses did back then: Being bought out by Bill Gates. Of course, being "bought out" means that Bill Gates's hired goons trash your house for seemingly no reason. But hey, Homer got a check, and Moe somehow saved the kids from The Island. Everyone wins!

#10: The Ribwich (I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can)

Authentic letter-graded meat!

I'm not just putting this B-Plot here because the McRib is currently back in the hearts and stomachs of America. Okay, maybe I am, but that's besides the point. The plot can be summed up thusly: Homer becomes addicted to Krusty Burger's equivalent to the McRib, the Ribwich, to the point where he and other junkies follow it around the country like Deadheads. It's just a sandwich made from "Authentic, letter-graded meat," so what's so addictive about it?

I say the sauce. Much like all of fast food, the meat is nothing special, but the sauce that drenches the McRib (and most likely the Ribwich) has a flavor that borders on orgasmic. It's really no surprise that each bite has Homer re-enact a certain scene from "Requiem for a Dream"

This is pretty much all I can think of whenever I see someone bite into a sandwich these days. But for all the fast food pimping it does, Homer slowly realizes that he cares more for a sandwich than for Lisa, who just happens to be a finalist in the Spellympics (not affiliated with the National Spelling Bee portion of The Olympics). But when he finds himself nowhere near the contest, he trades The Last Ribwich Ever Produced for someone's new sports car to cheer her on in time as quickly as he can. Oh by the way, it turns out that the reason why the Ribwich was discontinued was because the animal they made it from became extinct. No, not the cow or the pig. Think smaller, think more legs...

I think I'll stick to the Krusty Partially-Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverage next time.

#9: Grampa Works at Krusty Burger (Lisa vs Malibu Stacy)

"Come in. Come in! Mayday! I’m losing your transmission!”

We go from one Fast Food plot to another when Grampa decides to get a job to feel young. Of course, Wal-Mart wasn't mainstream yet in season 5, so ol' Abe resorts to working at Krusty Burger and pretty much becomes a hilarious burden to the staff. In a few short minutes, we learn just how much it sucks to work at Krusty Burger: People hate you if you can't understand them, old people complain at you, your manager is a teenager, and the secret sauce is just mayonnaise left out in the sun. We also got Grampa thinking the drive-thru is a WWII-era radio, and that completely great moment where he sticks his dentures between a bun...which is then wrapped and eaten. "Damn sandwich took a bite outta me," exclaims the offscreen angry guy.

I personally think that this plot gives us one of Grampa's finest moments when he finally tells off the Squeaky Voiced Teen after realizing that his time is better spent complaining: "Mr. Peterson, you can take this job and...fill it. And one more thing: I never once washed my hands. That's your policy, not mine!" So awesome.

#8: Pray. For. Mojo. (Girly Edition)

Maybe I'll get a few more Google hits if I type the quote again...

Well, this was a weird one, but pretty memorable nonetheless. While the kids get their own news show, Homer decides to get a helper monkey of his own after seeing an injured Apu use a helper monkey to aid him in his job. Sure, having a little monkey do everything for you to further your own laziness sounds awesome on paper, but we eventually learn that Mojo is no Laddie. While The World's Best Dog could take care of himself, Homer's oafishness begins to rub off on poor Mojo after he commands the poor monkey to do nothing but fetch donuts, drink beer, and dance around for his own amusement.

Eventually he becomes a fat, beer-swilling monkey in a diaper, and Mojo gets into some pretty sad shape as well. This all leads to the most infamous portion of the story when Homer unceremoniously drops Mojo back where he got him from, and can only type out three of the most infamous words in the entire series: "Pray. For. Mojo."

Does Homer learn anything from this? Not really, but at least he practices what he preaches about weaseling out of things. If we don't remember that it's what separates man from the animals...except the weasels, why even bother?!

#7: Uniforms (Team Homer)

"Ah, these uniforms are a godsend. Horseplay is down 40%, youthful exuberance has been cut in half, high spirits are at an all-time low."

When you're a kid, you absolutely dread the possibility of your school implementing uniforms. And if you went to a school that did, you were pretty much screwed from the get-go. I'm pretty sure that the modern disdain for this practice comes from this very episode, as the uniforms literally strip the children of all personality and free will to the point where they blink in unison.

As a kid I thought that this was one of the creepiest things the show ever did outside of a Treehouse of Horror episode, especially when Nelson forgot his catchphrase. Luckily, my public school system never gave us uniforms, possibly because there was zero room in the budget for them or maybe that soulless children were thankfully too creepy for any teachers to deal with, which made it completely satisfying to me that the uniforms's effects wore off in the rain. To think this all started with Bart being influenced by MAD Magazine. Marge warned us that it was producing a dangerous amount of laughter...

#6: Adil The Sparrow (The Crepes of Wrath)

Now with its own caption!

Now this one is a little overlooked, since it appeared at the tail end of the very first season. When Bart is sent to France for the Student Exchange Program after flushing a cherry bomb down a school toilet (damn, he's gotten softer punishments for more than this in later years, hasn't he?), the family gets an Albanian boy named Adil Hoxha to live with them. Despite not being "all white with pink eyes," Adil is the complete opposite of Bart: Clean, respectful. and intelligent enough to hold his own in an argument with Lisa. So much is Adil superior to Bart that Homer and Marge actually have the gall to hang a portrait of Adil over their bed.

It's really nice to see Homer still having some kind of light on in that fishbulb of his when he breaks up Adil and Lisa's argument with stuff like "Maybe Lisa's right about America being the land of opportunity, and maybe Adil's got a point about the machinery of capitalism being oiled with the blood of the workers." It's a real nice gem that doesn't get mentioned often, and who else but Homer can say that America has its faults like that.

But what I find the most amusing about this plot is that Homer (and the rest of the family) are completely oblivious to Adil's true nature of being a communist spy known only as "The Sparrow." Yep, the reason WHY he was so inquisitive about Homer's job at the power plant wasn't much out of genuine respect as much as needing to gather nuclear secrets for his comrades back home to use against us, and I really love that. Hell, Homer is only happy to oblige Adil's every request, even promising to send him civil defense plans as he's being carted away by the FBI. It was one of the more ambitious plots in one of the first ambitious episodes so far, and it only gave us a small taste of the greatness that was to come.

#5: Lionel Hutz: Babysitter (Marge on The Lam)

"Oh sure, like lawyers work in big skyscrapers and have secretaries, and look at him, he’s wearing a belt. That’s Hollywood for you!"

See, this plot is more of a C-Story to this episode (Marge/Ruth Powers and Homer seemed to be dueling A and B stories before they dovetailed at the end), but a pretty damn funny one nonetheless. When Marge and Homer go on their respective Girl's Night Out, Homer's forced to get a babysitter for the kids ("Blast that infernal card!") and finds Lionel Hutz at their door. Of course when the shenanigans ensue, Hutz stays with the kids for a grand total of thirty-two hours to earn eight bucks, two popsicles, and an old birdcage. The number of scenes this subplot lasts for? FIVE, with each scene lasting no longer than forty-five seconds.

In just those five scenes, we learn the following details about Mr. Hutz's life: He digs around in garbage, he sleeps at the YMCA, it's implied that he's been paranoid enough to knife someone there, refers to lawyers that work in an office building as "Hollywood," and I'm pretty sure that the suit and the ratty clothes he's wearing in the episode is his entire wardrobe. But my favorite bit of the entire episode is when he burns all of his personal papers and happily declares himself as "Miguel Sanchez." Just HOW pathetic is Hutz's life when he has to resort to that? Pathetic enough to be hilarious, that's what.

In short, every single bit of this is hilarious, no moment is wasted as each scene is woven perfectly into the narrative of the main story, and each line gives us insight to one of the show's greatest side characters. It's also great to see that Homer's suggestive personality has been taken advantage of so many times that he needs to carry around a card that says "Always do the opposite of what Bart says."

#4: All You Can Eat (New Kid on The Block)

"That man ate all our shrimp, and two plastic lobsters!"

Since Homer and Gluttony go together like pie and, well, more pie, it was only natural for a writer like Conan O'Brien to sic him on the American institution that is the all-you-can-eat buffet. It's no surprise that after several hours he eats everything the Frying Dutchman could throw at him and he's kicked out before he could truly have all he could eat. Trust me, this is America. We've all been there.

"'Tis no man, 'tis a remorseless eating machine" is the only thing Capt. McAllister can say before Homer takes the Dutchman to court. Sure, it might seem silly and outlandish for some fat bastard to sue a buffet for kicking him out, but you gotta remember that this was when frivolous lawsuits were becoming the norm. And who else is there to take Homer's case but our good friend Lionel Hutz? He DID take a false advertising case against "The Neverending Story" after all, and even calls Homer "The Greatest Hero in American History" for even suggesting such a case.

There's lots of gems in the trial itself like the fake-out of dozens of bags dragged into the courtroom actually being full of letters to Santa, The Sea Captain admitting under oath that he's not a real sea captain, and of course Marge's great testimony where she collapses in tears after admitting that she and Homer went fishing at 3am after driving around all night to find another all-you-can-eat fish restaurant.

"Do these sound like the actions of a man who had ALL he can eat?" A bold statement, Mr. Hutz, and it sums up just about every red-blooded American Fatass out there (especially the ones in the jury). Did I mention that this was one of the few cases that Lionel Hutz actually WON? Granted, it settled out of court to have Homer eat at the Dutchman again as a tourist attraction, but I count it as a win.

#3: Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag (Bart Sells His Soul)

"Ah geez, and ya got the stink lines and everything."
This story is really interesting in which it's one of those "Simpsons Takes on a Topical Issue" plots, but surprisingly became more relevant as time moved on. In the FIFTEEN YEARS since the episode's debut, these dumb "family restaurants" have spread like wildfire and the show managed to satirize the whole system when the landscape only consisted of such places like Applebee's, Fuddrucker's and Bennigan's. Trust me, I'm really glad that Bennigan's is gone for good. You really weren't missing anything from that place, as it was the poor man's Applebee's...not to mention Applebee's itself being the poor man's Actual Restaurant.

Crazy crap on the walls? Bland, mass produced food? Said food having corny names? Uncle Moe skewers them all as he threw away his bar's trademark dank to attract customers who aren't Homer and Barney. It starts to go well, he's making money, getting the customers he wants, he even buys a giant fryer that can deep-fry a buffalo in 40 seconds to handle the traffic. But this is Springfield, and Moe is tossed out of his comfort zone by dealing with crap like friendly customers, bright colors, and little kids. Especially after the 80th time someone ordered Million Dollar Birthday Fries in a day.

Yes, it's impossible to talk about Uncle Moe without bringing up the Million Dollar Birthday Fries.
Whoever had done the research for this episode completely nailed that stupid song that the wait staff is forced to sing whenever someone says it's their birthday.

"Uncle Moe -- thank you, ma'am! This'll be a treat: Uncle Moe! Here I am, while you eat!"

My best pal Steve and I have been highly tempted to pull off that "We're twins" thing whenever we're at an Uncle Moe's-type establishment, but so far it hasn't happened yet. Maybe it's because of that respect for waiter dignity that I've heard so much about.

But with all this, it's no wonder that Moe eventually blows his top all over an innocent little girl and her cold teef. But what I especially love about this plot is after everyone leaves after this ONE outburst, he dismantles the restaurant to return to the status quo as quickly as possible. You'd think he'd just let it blow over, but come on, he's Moe and it's bound that he'd freak out more often and more vulgar after that. This was also the time when the show would start putting all of its recurring characters into group scenes instead of generic drawings, so pretty much every important person in Springfield saw him freak out, and would most likely blab to everyone else.

But maybe I'm just thinking too deep into this. While my brain recovers for the next entry, here are some really great quotes from this B-Plot:

Homer: "Bart, you didn't finish your Spaghetti and Moe-balls!"
Homer's Brain: "Silence, you fool. It can be ours!"
Homer: (while eating) "Run, boy! Run! Run for your life, boy!"

Moe: "So, come on: I need a name that says friendly, all-American cooking."
Homer: "How about, Chairman Moe's Magic Wok?"
Barney: "I like it!"
Moe: "Mmm, nah. I want something that says people can have a nice relaxing time."
Homer: "I got it! Madman Moe's Pressure Cooker!"
Barney: "I like it!"
Moe: "Hey! How about, Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag?"
Barney: "I hate it."

Moe: "Now that's Moe like it! So bring the whole family. Mom, Dad, kids -- er, no old people. They're not covered by our insurance."

Moe: "Ooh, sorry, kid, sorry. I'm not used to the laughter of children. It cuts through me like a dentist drill. But no, no, that was funny, that was funny taking away my dignity like that, ha ha ha."

Todd: "Ow, my freaking ears!"
Maude: "Oh, let's go, dear."
Ned: "Well, I expect that type of language at Denny's, but not here!"
(everyone leaves en masse)
Moe: "Aw, come on, folks. Wait, please come back! Please, I got a new offer: whenever Uncle Moe threatens you, you get a free"

#2: Homer's Sugar Pile (Lisa's Rival)

Read your town charter, boy. "If foodstuffs should touch the ground, said foodstuffs shall be turned over to the village idiot." Since I don't see him around, start shoveling!

Sure, it's another of Homer's Get Rich Quick Schemes, but I view this as the quintessential version of the story. Homer, ever the seeker of id, finds a sugar truck damaged on the highway and decides to take its contents for himself. It's just classic Homer for him to answer the question of "What can you do with a pile of sugar?" with "What CAN'T I do with a pile of sugar?"

It's only natural that first thing he does with his bounty is try to sell it. It's too bad that he sells his bags of sugar for three times the supermarket price (I long for the days of 35 cent/lb of sugar), not to mention said sugar is filled with "prizes" like blasting caps. And because he's out selling sugar and finding moldy dollar bills at bus stops, he lost out on a day's pay, which all leads to one of the greatest exchanges in the show's history:

Marge: The plant called and said if you don't come in tomorrow, don't bother coming in Monday.
Homer: Woo-hoo! A four-day weekend!

Homer's cluelessness knows no bounds. Seriously, that one scene must've been running in syndication ads for like 10 years. We also learned here that Homer only makes $40 a day. That's it? Even in 1995, that's a pittance for the only breadwinner to raise a family of five.

And just when things couldn't get worse, Homer's sugar pile gets raided not only by bees, but also by a random British Gent who pinched some of the stuff for his tea the second Homer lets his guard down. I just love that guy, and any of the other times the show brings in an over-the-top stereotypical character for a single gag (the Old Irish Guy comes to mind, too). Of course, just when the bees' keepers offer Homer money for the pile and the bees, the rain comes to wash the pile away and it somehow ruins the gent's tea. I love how Homer reacts to his sugar melting much like the Wicked Witch of The West, then suddenly reverts back to classic "I'm done now" mode. Only this show...

But what I find amazing about this bit is that through the magic of DVD commentaries, we learn that the entire plot was pitched beat-for-beat and nearly word-for-word in one shot by George Meyer. He's probably the second greatest writer the show's ever had, right behind the legendary John Swartwelder. Most of the cynical, depressing bits that have come from the show's great seasons can be traced back to Mr. Meyer's amazing way with words. He's the only person who could imagine Homer treating his mountain of sugar like Scarface to his precious cocaine, the British Gent I mentioned earlier, the bees "defending themselves somehow," and this awesome, awesome speech:

"Never, Marge! Never. I can't live the button-down life like you. I want it all: the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles. Sure, I might offend a few of the bluenoses with my cocky stride and musky odors -- oh, I'll never be the darling of the so-called 'City Fathers' who cluck their tongues, stroke their beards, and talk about 'What's to be done with this Homer Simpson?'"

Combine this pinnacle of greatness with the equally solid A-Plot (written by Mike Scully and originally pitched by CONAN O'BRIEN), and you have one hell of a classic episode.

But what get's the #1 spot?

#1: Mr. Sparkle (In Marge We Trust)

"Hello? Why am I Mr. Sparkle?"

Yes, Mr. Sparkle is #1 for a very specific reason: It has become more remembered than its A-Story. I'm pretty sure most of you refer to this one as "The Mr. Sparkle Episode" rather than calling it by its actual title. Seriously, if you mention "Japan" and "The Simpsons" in the same breath, "Mr. Sparkle" will most likely appear in your mind. Hell, I was even surprised that this was the B-story when I looked up the episode when I picked up "The Complete Guide" all those years ago.

If you remember back in my Underrated Episodes entry
, the main plot was about Marge becoming the Listen Lady at the church and how she deals with the crisis of faith in herself, Rev. Lovejoy, and good ol' Ned Flanders. The rest of the episode deals with Homer finding a weird box in a landfill that somehow has his face on it. After a trip to The Happy Sumo, we find out that it's a brand of dishwashing soap from Japan and it's off to the library to call up the main factory in Hokkaido. I really love that sequence where Homer is awkwardly dialing that insanely long number for the factory because he's also glancing at the librarian the entire time because Homer "promised" him that he was only making a local call.

After a hilariously awkward engrish conversation with a Mr. Sparkle representative, Homer gets a video tape where, well, I'll let it speak for itself:

The writers took every stereotype and trope of Japanese advertising and mashed it all together into a minute-long clusterfuck of imagery that's rarely been matched by anything western animation has offered in the last 25 years. And it's very, very awesome. Crap like a toy monkey helping Mr. Sparkle transform sexy women into sumos with a breeze (while underwater, I might add), a reporter asking a two-headed cow about its plans for summer...then the cow shatters into glass after looking at Mr. Sparkle, and dialogue like "I'M DISRESPECTFUL TO DIRT! CAN YOU SEE THAT I AM SERIOUS?" and "OUT OF MY WAY, ALL OF YOU. THIS IS NO PLACE FOR LOAFERS. JOIN ME OR DIE. CAN YOU DO ANY LESS?"

All being screamed at us by the great Sab Shimono. (Fans of Jackie Chan Adventures might recognize his voice as Uncle, and he's shown up in Avatar: The Last Airbender, too.)

Before I digress, it turns out that it's all a coincidence that the brave corporate logo looks like Homer, as Mr. Sparkle is simply an amalgamation of the mascots of Matsumura Fishworks (a googly-eyed fish) and Tamaribuchi Heavy Manufacturing Concern (a light bulb). In one fell swoop, America was given the word "Fishbulb" and we got a good meta joke about the shape of Homer's head.

Believe me, crap like this leaves a lasting imprint on your mind, because Mr. Sparkle's face can be found on stuff like T-shirts (which I own), posters, skateboards, boy shorts, action figures, Farmville, blinged-out race cars, a band name, a big part in The Simpsons Game, a spot in the HD Intro:

And in the minds and hearts of all who love The Simpsons.

Honorable Mentions: Happy Dude, Bart owning a factory, Homer & Lisa bonding at the Power plant, Maggie at the Ayn Rand School for Tots, Homer trying to beat Bart at Super Slugfest, Senor Ding Dong's Doorbell Fiesta, the kids thinking their parents are reverse vampires, Frostillicus and The Freak-E-Mart, Homer trying to pass Remedial Science 1-A.

Got any I missed? Comment below!

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Anonymous said...

Excellent post!

the_pope_of_chilitown said...

The one that immediately pops to mind that isn't mentioned in this excellent write-up is Homer's 6 ft hoagie in Selma's Choice.

We get the set-up out of nowhere--Bart: great, dad's dead... Marge: have you been eating that sandwich again?--and then the whole story--I'll give it a good home; 3 more feet and I'll be able to fit it in the fridge!--and culminating in one of the classic Homerisms I still fit into casual conversation on a semi-regular basis--oh, how I can stay mad at you?

AND of course we also get "Homercles cares not for beans."

But again, truly an inspired post. Thanks!

Steffanio said...

Best. Blog. EVER!

alexanderdl said...

A little late to the party, but I had to add this one.

Pinchy the lobster from "Lisa Gets an A."

Homer buys a baby lobster on the cheap, saving money in the long run. But as the crustacean matures, so does Homer's attachment. And, much to the dismay of Marge, "Pinchy" becomes a household pet.

Every scene from this b-story has a big laugh, imo. From Pinchy's bacon and eggs breakfast in an aquarium, to Horatio McCallister's "small lobster academy" ("No, we're not sending the lobster away to some snobby boarding school"), to Pinchy at the dinner table, Pinchy's walk on the beach...

But it all culminates with, I think, one of the funniest scenes in the whole series. Marge complains of little muddy lobster tracks in the house ("He's been chasing cats in the yard"). But then Bart comes home and smells something cooking. "Where's Pinchy?" asks Bart...

"Oh, he's taking a nice hot bath." Homer replies, and, well...

I won't ruin it for those who haven't seen it. But it's laugh out loud hilarious.

alexanderdl said...

I got a couple details wrong, but that's the gist of it.