Saturday, July 31, 2010

Soundtracks For Summer: Margaritaville

Part 18 in my ongoing "Soundtracks For Summer" series

For the last day of July, why don't we continue my series of songs that remind you of summer with Jimmy Buffet's classic "Margaritaville?"

Like the previous entry "Red Red Wine," this is a classic summer song recorded for the sole purpose of slumming in a hammock while drinking a nice cold beer on a Sunday evening in July. It's simply a nice, mellow song for all the relaxed folk out there.

For others, its about finding your true love on a summer vacation and remembering the good times you had. For some, like Jimmy Buffet himself, it's a chain of mediocre restaurants to capitalize on the success of the song. Speaking of summer love, here's one of Jimmy's more direct songs about getting drunk and the repercussions of such:

BTW, I'm also taking reader submissions for future "Soundtracks For Summer" entries. If you've got an idea, pop me an email at OR comment on this entry OR at the Facebook Fan Page OR at my Twitter with the name of the song, and a reason or two why it defines "Summer" for you. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Beaming For Bunnies in 140 Characters or Less!

Well, if you haven't heard by now from the sidebar (or from my excessive attention whoring), Beaming For Bunnies is now on Twitter! The Social Revolution shall commence momentarily, and I'll send for the rest of you later.

Until then, follow me at to get all the latest info on Beaming For Bunnies, In 10 Words, and random crap about my daily life.

Let's see what I'm up to right now:

God damn it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Soundtracks For Summer: Red, Red Wine

Part 17 in my ongoing "Soundtracks For Summer" series

For today's entry of songs that define "summer," how come no one reminded me about this great song?!

UB40's "Red, Red Wine" is one of those ubiquitous Summer Songs. Slow tempo, mellow guitar strumming, and red wine, the most mellow of the classy alcoholic liquids. The song is just perfect for lounging around some crystal-clear pool in Jamaica while smoking an enormous joint in front of all the tourists pissed off by the horrid smell.

But screw them, you've got this song, the munchies, and the mellow vibes! By the way, I can't talk about this song, without talking about their OTHER mellow tribute to summer blunts, "The Way You Do The Things You Do."

This song in general inspired the entry itself, as it's one of the many songs that plays on constant rotation on the CVS muzak. "Wasn't this by UB40," I asked. Thanks to the related videos tab on Youtube, it turns out I was right.

BTW, I'm also taking reader submissions for future "Soundtracks For Summer" entries. If you've got an idea, pop me an email at OR comment on this entry OR at the Facebook Fan Page with the name of the song, and a reason or two why it defines "Summer" for you. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Least Favorite Simpsons Episodes

Now that you know what my Favorite Simpsons Episodes are, it's time for you time to find out which ones I like the least. While I'm not like Comic Book Guy and call these the WORST. EPISODES. EVER., these are pretty terrible in my eyes.

And unlike the Favorite Episodes entry, this list is my TOP (or rather, BOTTOM) 10 LEAST FAVORITE EPISODES and while it was an enormous bitch to whittle my favorites down to 11, it was MUCH easier getting to ten, and the order of which has been pretty solid in my mind.

If any of you out there had stopped watching the show because of any of the episodes on this list, I won't hold it against you.

#10. All Singing, All Dancing (Season 9)

Sure, it's a clip show, which automatically lowers the overall grade of the episode by a letter. But this is a clip show of the best musical moments of the series so far, and each clip shown were absolute winners. Hell, we even get a new entry in the "Great Simpsons Songs" series with the Paint Your Wagon parody at the beginning of the episode. I just lose it when Dan Castellaneta just starts singing as Lee Marvin. Thanks to the Weird Al Effect in full swing, I was quite saddened to find out that Paint Your Wagon is nothing like the thing we saw in the episode. Plus, Lee Marvin's song in the actual movie is completely different!

None of that bothers me as much as the wraparounds in the episode. Because it's a clip show about songs, the cast decides to sing everything. Yes, EVERYTHING. Sure, the whole cast have fantastic singing voices, but what they're singing about is really...about nothing. There's little to no plot with clip shows, and the only thing that actually happens in this one is that Snake randomly jumps through the window to rob them, and even their singing scares them off. Of course, he comes back to sing, but he leaves just as awkwardly as he arrived.

#9: Lard of The Dance (Season 10)

This is what I truly believe is the first dud of the series. It's the first episode that I know of that is a complete rehash of an older episode, in this case Season 6's "Lisa's Rival." Oh hey, there's a new girl in Lisa's class! Oh hey, she's voiced by a guest-star! Oh hey, she completely outclasses Lisa! Oh hey, she isn't mentioned again after this episode, either!

Instead of the younger genius girl Allison Taylor (voiced by Winona Ryder), we get spunky yuppie transfer girl Alex Whitney (voiced by Lisa Kudrow). She's unlike any other eight year old that attends Springfield Elementary: She wears perfume, wears trendy clothes, speaks in current slang, and owns both a cell phone and a credit card. I know what you're thinking: How is she different from kids today? That's the thing. Because the Simpsons began in the Late Eighties/Early Nineties, all of the characters dressed and behaved from that time period, only to conform to the times when needed. And even then, they were notoriously behind, like for the fact that the earliest we see the Simpsons with a computer is Season 11's "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?"...which aired in 1999.

Since then, girls like Alex have become the norm, and not the exception, as shown in this episode. Watch any episode that was made in the last three years that involved the school: Notice how EVERY SINGLE KID now acts like Alex? By the way, watch them and you just might find Alex and Alison in crowd scenes. And unlike "Lisa's Rival," Lisa doesn't really learn the lesson here, especially since we see Allison in the episode as well, and I found it a missed opportunity to not reference her adventure in any way. This show is usually awesome with continuity, but pointing out how some background characters used to have some significance has unfortunately not been their strong suit.

Then we have the B-Story, where Homer decides to get rich by selling grease. Seems awfully familiar with Homer's little escapade with his sugar pile, doesn't it? There's really no point in going into great detail as is really isn't as good as the Sugar plot, but I must point out the scenes with Willy (he's from North Kilt-Town!) and the really, really disgusting shot of Homer's eye after getting stuck in a hose.

#8: Bonfire of The Manatees (Season 17)

When characters mention in-episode that it wasn't one of their better adventures, you know you've got a problem. This is one of those episodes that I felt would've been better as two separate entries. For both stories, the first half where Homer is forced to have a porno movie filmed in his house by the mob and he sends the family away so they won't find out, and the second half where Marge is fed up with Homer yet again and becomes a volunteer to help manatees seemed like the writers had nowhere else to go with them, so they just mashed the two together to save time and money. The episode's saving grace comes to us via Alec Baldwin, playing the Manatee researcher that becomes friends with Marge. As we all know, this isn't the first time he's been on the show, but it's the first time where he isn't playing himself. At the very least, he manages to avoid a very common trap set by several episodes made around this time by outright stating that he only likes Marge as a friend and colleague, with no romantic intentions whatsoever. I was kind of impressed by that.

The concept of helping manatees just seemed like one of those "Moe Gets a Cellphone" episodes. It's a term that was coined by the fandom after one of the potential stories suggested at the end of Season 13's "Gump Roast" was Moe getting a Cellphone. It symbolizes the epitome of desperation, suggesting that the writers have truly run out of ideas. Thus, any seemingly random plot to any episode made afterward gains the moniker. And believe me, in the eight-plus seasons since "Gump Roast's" airing, we saw quite a bunch of them, some episodes having a better execution than others.

#7: Bart to The Future (Season 12)

It's bad enough that the show did a "look into the future" episode after Lisa's Wedding, but to utterly fail at being amusing? Seeing Bart's life as a moocher who lives with Ralph thirty years into the future was more sad than anything. Yes, it's even sadder than the fact that the titular wedding in Lisa's Wedding takes place on August First of this year!

Since Lisa's Wedding came first, and was an overall better episode, it was pretty disappointing to see that a thirty year flash-forward had anachronisms to the fifteen year flash-forward. Then again, five years had passed between the episodes, so you could argue that flash-forwards took place in "present day" and the thirty year flash-forward occurs after the fifteen year one, yet the one thing that causes the anachronisms to occur in the first place is the fact that Lisa's Wedding had a set date of 2010. Yike. It seems like the one constant in both episodes is that Future Krusty looks exactly the same.

We see Lisa as the President-elect of the US, Bart is her Billy Carter, "Smell ya later" replaces "good-bye," and there's a B-story with Homer and Marge searching for Lincoln's gold for some reason. What DO I like about this episode? Hmm...lemme think...That's a good question. I know: The callbacks to both Gabbo and Marge's gambling problem, a reference to the chicken-wire bar from The Blues Brothers, confirmation that Rod and Todd are gay, but they haven't been outed yet, and Homer saying "Hi, how are ya, Hi, how are ya?" to various patrons of the Native American Casino.

#6: Homer vs Dignity (Season 12)

You'd think that I'll just say "Panda Rape" and leave it at that, but this episode has an interesting backstory to it. The episode's plot was based off an obscure movie where some rich guy (not unlike Burns) decided to pay some guy (Homer) to do a variety of really embarrassing things for his own amusement. But when it came down to the ending, the original script for the episode called for something different: Instead of Homer trading places with Burns on the Santa float to throw fish guts on people, Homer stayed on the float and threw blood on everyone, crying as he did it. We then have a flash-forward with Homer ending a story with "...and that's how Thanksgiving became known as Splatterfest."

Naturally, this resulted in one of the worst script readings in the entire history of the show (up to that point) and everyone demanded it be changed. So it just goes to show you haters: it could have been worse. Overall, the story itself is pretty mean, with Homer going through all these dumb stunts, including getting raped by a panda, all because he wants to support his family. Of course he finally changes his course when he realizes when the Panda Rape is the point where he, and the show itself, officially hit rock bottom. Panda Rape. I'm going to keep writing that in bold italics not because it's proving a point, but it's because it'll get me lots of Google hits.

The reason why this is only my 6th least favorite episode is because there are a few great moments in the episode: the appearances of the Frank Nelson "eeeYesssssss?" character and the Wealthy Dowager, the lame balloons at the Thanksgiving parade (hey look, it's Funky Winkerbean!), the Malibu Stacy musical which I would've loved to have seen more of, and the beginning of the running gag of Lenny's eye getting hurt (which is quickly subverted when Carl gets hit with pudding and Burns walks him to a giant Eye Wash Station). This episode also contains one of my favorite visual gags in the entire series: After Carl uses the word "concur" in a sentence, he pulls out his Word-a-Day calendar...which reads "Conquer." It's the subtle details that make the English nerd in me chuckle.

#5: The Great Money Caper (Season 12)

Two words that fuel this plot: Jerkass Homer. He leaves Bart at the South Street Squidport after his crappy magic act doesn't get people to throw money at him. That's pretty damn cold, and the town patrons agree by giving money to Bart out of sympathy. This leads to yet another one of Homer's get rich schemes: Grifting. At first they only grifted enough money to repair the car, but then Homer continues doing it out of pure jerkassery. It's a pretty mean-spirited way to make money, as none of their "victims" really had it coming. I thought the "Blind boy with the cake" scam was quite clever, though.

I've been trying not to spoil the endings to most of these episodes, but there's really no ending to this one at all. Sure, Homer & Bart get caught and we find out that the entire town was grifting them as revenge, but as we're about to get some resolution, Otto storms in and everyone (yes, everyone) goes surfing. And that's it, roll credits. Talk about unsatisfying, this marked the beginning of the age where the writers stopped being able to actually end their stories, merely ending the episode with "Surf's Up!" or "Dance party!"

#4: Bart Mangled Banner (Season 15)

At the time, it was a pretty dead-on take on Post 9-11/Pre-Iraq War fear-mongering. But that's my problem: It was too good of a satire. While the subject matter seems dated today, the entire town becoming Libertyville and deporting the Simpsons after something so minor as accidentally mooning the American flag was something that I honestly feared that the Republicans in charge wished they were able to do, but with the notion that they'll be blamed for ripping off the show if they ever did it.

Like my feelings toward Bart to The Future, the family's predicament seemed more sad than funny, especially when they're thrown in prison with fellow liberty criminals like Elmo and The Last Registered Democrat. The family has been arrested and thrown out of countries for better reasons than the crap they get into in this episode.

#3: Please Homer, Don't Hammer 'Em (Season 18)

This is a definite "Moe Gets a Cellphone" episode. The A-plot simply feels like the writers were at a dartboard: "Marge." "Gets A New Job." "Carpenter." "Homer and Marge's Marriage is in trouble." "Jerkass Homer." Yes, it turns out that Marge has another hidden talent: Carpenter, but since this is Springfield, there's rampant sexism in the industry. Enter Homer, who stands on the sidelines to take credit for Marge's handy work...which eventually goes to his head. Then Jerkass Homer takes over to whine about how the credit for his non-work is justified, going so far as to wear an awesome T-shirt that reads "I DO ALL THE WORK." Then for some reason, the entire story hinges upon the two of them repairing a roller coaster. Yeah, dartboard at its finest.

The B-story is equally as terrible. The elementary school decides to ban all peanut products when someone develops an allergy to them. Is it Milhouse? No. Ralph? Not him, either. Some new kid voiced by a guest star? I wish. It turns out to be Principal Skinner. I hate how the writers give terrible retcons to this character. First they wait nine seasons to tell us that he's not the real Seymour Skinner, and now they waited nine more seasons to develop a peanut allergy. Of course, Bart takes full advantage of this by tying a peanut to a stick and waving it in front of Skinner to do some really embarrassing things.

One one hand, if you look at this episode as part of the series as a whole, Bart's finally getting back at his authority figure nemesis. But really, Bart's just being a total dick to Skinner, pretty much tempting death in the face of petty revenge. Speaking of retcons, Skinner finally fights back by engaging in a Star Wars-inspired duel with one of Bart's allergies: Shrimp.

Now that's total bullcrap, as Bart has several other allergies that the writers could've taken full advantage of: Butterscotch, Imitation Butterscotch, Cauliflower, and glow-in-the-dark monster makeup.
If Skinner had a stick with Imitation Butterscotch tied to the end of it, I would've thought that was awesome, but no, we get an allergy that contradicts all the times we caught Bart eating shrimp with absolutely no problem. Aye carumba.

And another thing: When Bart thinks he's about to die, he confesses to being El Barto. Now that's on the long list of things that the show shouldn't ever do, like Maggie speaking more than one sentence, aging up the characters to teens, or killing off a pretty popular supporting character because the Voice Actor wanted more money. Good thing they'll never let any of those happen.

#2: Million Dollar Abie (Season 17)

There's that dartboard again! "New Job." "Grampa." "Bullfighter." Yeah, here's something that the show has done much better before and since: The town blows its chance to get a football team for its newly-built stadium thanks to Grampa, and they struggle to find a new inhabitant. Unlike Season 20's "The Burns and The Bees," the basketball stadium becomes a giant beehive. In Season 10's "The Old Man and the C Student," Springfield merely loses out on the Olympics thanks to Bart insulting the Olympic Committee. But here? Someone gets the bright idea to make the stadium into a bullfighting arena, and Grampa becomes its star matador for some reason.

Now I've discussed before that Grampa has been the center of some pretty good episodes, but this is probably his lowest moment in the series so far. Even his random marriage to Selma was funnier and more believable than this. I've also spoken of missed opportunities on this list, and this episode hits a major one where we have a scene with all the owners of the various NFL teams. But they never acknowledge that Homer once owned the Denver Broncos?! For shame.

And which episode has the honor of sorts to being my Least. Favorite. Episode. Ever?

#1: The Fat and The Furriest (Season 15)

Homer fights a bear. That's all you need to know about the episode. Homer gets frightened by a bear, and becomes the town's laughingstock after the news calls him a coward. Out of his own jerkassery, he decides to build a suit of armor and fight it. It ends kind of how you think: Lisa, Marge, along with guest star Charles Napier, calls out how incredibly pointless it is, and Homer decides to not finish it off. Instead, they lead the bear to a nature preserve...where he's attacked by Stampy.

And that's it. Why was this one made? Why a bear? It just takes advantage of Homer's stupidity in the worst way, and just about everything about the episode just doesn't seem funny at all. One of the only redeeming qualities of this episode is the scene where Homer is frightened by the many bears of pop culture like The Snuggle Bear, Gummi Bears, Teddy Grahams, Care Bears, Winnie The Pooh, Paddington Bear, Sugar Bear the Super Sugar Crisp Bear, Banjo, even bears wearing Chicago Bears jerseys. But we've seen this gag done better before...and since.

There's also the great continuity nods to both Stampy and Starland Vocal Band, along with the aforementioned appearance by Charles Napier. He really needs to be in more shows, I really miss him as Duke Phillips in The Critic.

We've had better episodes of Homer conquering his fears and enemies before and since this episode aired, and it holds its place as my LEAST FAVORITE EPISODE.

So, which episode do you think holds the honor of being your least favorite? Share below in the comments!

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Favorite Simpsons Episodes

This is an entry that I've been wanting to do for a while. After 464 episodes, there have been bound to be dozens upon dozens of great episodes of The Simpsons. And there are, but I'm not specifically focusing on "The Good" this time. No, these are my favorite episodes of the series. Sure, the overall quality of the episode is a huge factor towards this, but it isn't the most important.

My criterion seems to fall on the lines of memorability. All of these episodes are ones I've seen well over 20 times, mostly thanks to syndication and the DVDs. These episodes have great stories, hilarious gags, and lines that I can quote both out of context and simultaneously with the episode itself. All in all, a solid half-hour of laughs pretty much confirms an episode for a spot on this list. Also, be well aware that "Favorite" and "Best" are two completely different terms. Some of these episodes will probably remain nowhere near any "Best Episodes of All Time" lists, but they have a special place in my heart nonetheless.

Now, since, like I mentioned, there are 464 Episodes as of this writing, I have a metric crapload of favorite episodes, but I engaged in that horrible task of narrowing those down into my Top 11 Favorite Episodes. I've TRIED to get them all in some kind of order, but I've been changing the placements of most of the entries several times throughout writing this. Granted, this list could've easily been a Top 25, but I just don’t have that kind of time right now.

I tried to have as little overlap as possible with my 13 Underrated Simpsons Episodes list, as only one episode from THAT list shows up here. If you read that, and I know you have, I'm pretty sure you've got a pretty good spoiler for the #1 spot in my book.

#11: Homer: Bad Man (Season 6)

You're going to be reading this statement from me a number of times from this point on, but this is such a great episode from start to finish. The episode itself starts off with Homer attending a candy trade convention, thanks to scoring two free tickets which were hidden in every millionth Krusty Krunch Bar. I just love the absolute glee Homer has by just being there, feeling "like a kid in some kind of store," to the point of outfitting Marge with a trench coat with over-sized pockets to hold all of the free samples of candy he takes from every single vendor he passes. Of course, the whole adventure comes to an apex when the entire convention chases after Homer when steals a valuable Gummi Venus deMilo. There's something utterly classic about Homer and the show itself when his reaction to warding off the mob is to toss a bomb made from a can of Buzz Cola and Pop Rocks...and having it explode like something out of an action movie.

This, in turn, sets up the rest of the story. After Homer finds his Precious Venus™ attached to the pants of the feminist babysitter he hired, she immediately accuses him of sexual harassment. What follows is perhaps the greatest satire of the then-emerging sensationalism of mainstream media. Sure, the first thing Homer does is explain exactly what happened. Of course, no one believes him, and it’s downhill from there: Ignorant protestors follow him to work to harass him, every TV show in town is demonizing him, and the news is recording his every movement, taking a page from the then-topical OJ, Joey Buttafuco and Michael Jackson scandals, complete with an infrared camera assuming a turkey roasting in the oven is Homer stewing in his own juices, and assuming that a candid shot of Homer tripping in the shower is him in an oxygen tent that gives him sexual powers. You can’t make this stuff up…

And there’s nothing about this media circus that can’t be difficult to replicate today, like Sally Jesse Raphael assuring a crying woman claiming to have been harassed by Homer that “your tears say more than real evidence ever could.” That one sentence seems to sum up people like Nancy Grace, doesn’t it? The protestors, the late night jokes, even the talk show hosted by Gentle Ben are simply hilarious, timeless references. Hell, Homer even takes solace in “Evening at The Improv,” which could be remedied today by watching the 15 hours of Comedy Central programming that ISN’T the Daily Show or the Colbert Report.

His crudely-edited interview on Rock Bottom didn’t help, either. Back then, it was a parody of shows like “Hard Copy,” but today? TMZ and Fox News have you covered for your generous helpings of SWEET CAN. Of course, when Homer clears his name, the show gives us the single greatest freeze-frame joke in the history of the series: The Rock Bottom List of Corrections, featuring such gems as “The People’s Choice Awards is America’s Highest honor,” “Cats Do Not Eventually Turn into Dogs,” and the perennial favorite “The Nerds on The Internet Are Not Geeks."

All of this, along with Homer’s song about living under the sea, his hatred of Old-Timey bikes, Grampa not recognizing Missoura’, and “Homer S.: Portrait of an Ass-Grabber” (starring Dennis Franz!), and you’ve got yourself one hell of a great episode.

#10: Lemon of Troy (Season 6)

After a history lesson on the town’s origins by Grampa, and a nagging town pride speech by Marge (a part of us all… a part of us all… a part of us all…Hey, that does work!), Bart, along with a bunch of other neighborhood kids, decide to rage war against Shelbyville after their equivalents steal the town’s historic lemon tree.

I just love this story because this was not just a story about Bart, but one about Springfield itself. After six seasons of the implied rivalry between Springfield and Shelbyville, Grampa finally explains the cause: Jebediah Springfield had a disagreement with his partner Shelbyville Manhattan, who had assumed that the entire point of their pioneer journey was to build a town that would allow people to marry their cousins. “But they’re so attractive,” he said. Nonetheless, Manhattan and his followers decided to create their own town, and the rivalry was born. Considering that the educational film at the beginning of “Lisa the Iconoclast” taught us that Springfield was originally going to be named New Sodom after misinterpreting a passage in the Bible, Shelbyville’s complaints seem completely justified in retrospect.

I just love that because of this one difference, the entire town of Shelbyville is the Bizarro version of Springfield: Their version of Bart is a bully, the people drink Fudd Beer instead of Duff, their school groundskeeper is a woman, their historical crop is the turnip, and worst of all: their fire hydrants are YELLOW.

I absolutely adore the entire scene with Bart in the tiger cage, where he must choose which Roman Numerical door DOESN’T have a man-eating tiger behind it. He simply solves the puzzle by using Sequel Math: Rocky V + Rocky II = Rocky VII: Adrian’s Revenge! We’re one movie away from this being reality, people!

Other stuff I love: Milhouse’s antics in the episode (meeting the Shelbyville Milhouse, wearing camouflage everywhere, save for his red shoes, and his insistence that he always says “Radical,” something that hasn’t been mentioned before or since), the great interaction between Martin and Nelson, aka “Team Discovery Channel,” Bart finding a lemon behind a lemon-shaped rock, and Homer hindering the gang’s escape in the RV by draining the battery by randomly cooking chickens.

The Shelbyville Homer’s reaction to the gang’s daring escape? Encouraging his son to shake his fist harder. Stay classy, Shelbyville.

#9: You Only Move Twice (Season 8)

You might know this episode better as “The One with Hank Scorpio,” and you would be right. Albert Brooks is just plain awesome as Hank Scorpio, and the fact that he appears in an episode written by the great John Swartzwelder simply makes this episode a 1-2 Punch of excellence.

It’s pretty easy to say that Scorpio is the sole reason why this episode is so great. Sure, it’s an episode where Homer gets a job in Silicon Valley-esque Cypress Creek, has an awesome boss, but is forced to move back when the rest of the family hates the town, but it’s the awesome boss that makes Homer want to stay. Hank is the complete antithesis of Mr. Burns: Friendly, engaging, respectful, actually listens to his employee’s ideas, and gives gifts for those helping him in his plot to seize the East Coast. Oh yeah, did I mention that he’s evil, too? While Mr. Burns is a cartoonishly old robber baron, Scorpio is a Bond-level Supervillian, going so far as killing the secret agent himself (kinda. It’s the lawyer-safe James BONT, but it still counts!). While Mr. Burns’ most evil plot was to build a sundial to block out the sun to monopolize all power in Springfield, Scorpio engaged in a plot to take over the East Coast, complete with threatening the U.N., killing the aforementioned Bont, and blowing up the 59th St. Bridge. The thing that sets Scorpio apart? HE SUCCEEDS. All while saying goodbye to his shoes, and giving good advice about finding hammocks.

You know what’s awesome about that whole discussion about the Hammock District? It was completely ad-libbed. You don’t see talent like that every day, you know.

I also like the concept of Cypress Creek itself, which, like Shelbyville in the previous entry, is completely different from Springfield. But while Shelbyville is the Tails to Springfield’s Heads, Cypress Creek is Springfield’s polar opposite: Clean, a beautiful ecosystem, efficient to the point where the house does all the housework, and excellent schools. These differences are what drive the rest of the family to become homesick. The lush forest sets off Lisa’s crippling allergies, Marge becomes so bored that she becomes a depressed wino, and because Cypress Creek’s school standards are so far beyond Springfield’s, Bart’s put in the remedial program with kids like a Canadian and a kid who starts fires. Hell, the elementary school is so advanced, it has its own website! But that was the joke at the time. You might wonder why it has a url of instead of something else.

You can’t also forget about Homer’s Tom Landry Hat, Bart meeting Cypress Creek’s Milhouse (I love that running gag. Wherever the Simpsons go, you’ll always find a version of Milhouse), the classic Swartzwelder joke of showing that Cypress Creek is so clean that hobos have been converted into mailboxes, Scorpio having sugar in his pockets for no discernable reason, and Homer being given the Denver Broncos for helping out his former boss. Sure, they’re not the Dallas Cowboys, but hey, the Broncos started winning after this episode aired…so I guess having Homer as team owner has its silver lining after all.

#8: Last Exit to Springfield (Season 4)

Okay “Best Episode Ever” as ranked by Entertainment Weekly, what do ya got for me? Well, to be honest, it’s an episode that certainly lives up to its hype.

You got the “Dental Plan/Lisa Needs Braces” sequence, Homer demanding a burrito, Lisa’s hallucination that reaches Yellow Submarine levels of surrealism, the monkeys at the typewriters who manage to type “It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times,” Grampa's famous "Onion tied to my belt" story, and of course, THE BIG BOOK OF BRITISH SMILES.

There’s also the protest song that Lisa leads with her new-fangled talent of playing the acoustic guitar. The song, as a whole, is actually moving. You really feel that Lisa’s morose for her monstrous braces is fueling the energy for the song, and as all the picketers join her, Burns himself reacts in the exact same manner the Grinch did when he saw all the Whos in Whoville singing their Christmas song even with all traces of Christmas gone from the village. I mean it! They intentionally animated the sequence to look exactly like the sequence in the Grinch. And Lenny requesting for “Classical Gas” afterward is just the perfect cap for that.

There’s also the great sequence where Burns and Smithers decide to run the plant themselves, which leads to this:

This is by far my favorite piece of animation in the entire history of the series. I just love it that much, and the music that plays over this whole sequence is simply hilarious to boot.

While this episode certainly earns its place in “Best Episode Ever” territory, here are seven more episodes that I love more than this one.

#7: 22 Short Films about Springfield (Season 7)

Like “Trilogy of Error” on my Underrated Episodes List, I simply love this episode for its story structure. Instead of the main focus being on the Simpson family, we instead watch the stories of just about everyone else in Springfield. Burns and Smithers? Here. Comic Book Guy? Here. Milhouse? Definitely. Cletus The Slack-Jawed Yokel? You bet, complete with his own theme music! You’ll also see Uter, Hans Moleman, and The Capital City Goofball have the spotlight, and it’s the only episode that I can think of that includes Dr. Nick and Grampa in the same scene.

There are some fantastic scenes in here: Cletus’ aforementioned sequence (whose theme song makes up 90% of his total screen-time in the episode), Apu’s scene where he goes to a party for five minutes, the McDonalds/Krusty Burger discussion with Lou, Eddie, and Chief Wiggum, Barney paying $2000 of his $14 billion bar tab, Nelson’s epic comeuppance by the Very Tall Man, and the one that everyone remembers: Steamed Hams.

Yes, the scene with Skinner & Superintendent Chalmers that starts out with the blandest of old sitcom tropes “I burnt the roast, and the boss is coming for dinner!” but quickly descends into absurdity. It’s just a wonderful example of a hilariously awkward conversation. It starts out that Skinner’s cooking “steamed clams” in a burning oven…which descends into calling it “Steamed Hams”…which leads to a claim that it’s “an Albany expression”…then Chalmers finds out that his “steamed hams” are obviously grilled. Then we see the kitchen on fire, and in the most randomly brilliant moves of all, Skinner claims it’s the Aurora Borealis. Thankfully, Chalmers is convinced, even after hearing Agnes’s screams of terror in her burning house. Awesome.

BTW, the “22 Short Films” title is a reference to an obscure indie film called “22 Short Films about Glen Gould.” There are actually 19 stories in the episode if we count every segment of Lisa’s gum plot as separate stories, as well as Prof. Frink’s little segment at the end of the episode. That monkey is going to pay.

#6: Marge vs The Monorail (Season 4)

I. Love. This. Episode. I’m saying it now to prevent further redundancies down the line. But seriously…where to start with this one? It’s just a hilarious episode from beginning to end: From Homer re-enacting the opening to the Flintstones (complete with hitting a chestnut tree), to Burns shoving nuclear waste in trees, to the town meeting that decides how to spend Burns’ money on the monorail, to the SONG that excites the town into building said monorail, to the actual maiden voyage of the monorail itself. It’s also the episode that gave us the immortal quote “I call the big one Bitey.”

Leave it to Conan O’Brien to write a Simpsons episode that begins as The Music Man, and have it disintegrate into a parody of 70’s disaster movies. Not only is Phil Hartman completely amazing as Lyle Lanley (his best one-shot character ever in my mind), we also have Leonard Nimoy himself being hilariously awkward on the doomed monorail ride. You can really blame the show’s descent into zaniness purely on this episode alone. Up until this point in the series, the show was simply an animated grounded-in-reality satire of sitcoms and Middle-class American life. But in this episode alone we have a squirrel with laser eyes, a solar-powered monorail that travels at over 100 mph, a fantasy involving giant remote-controlled mechanical ants, a pair of Siamese twins being bloodlessly town in half by a giant M, Leonard Nimoy teleporting away from the crowd a la Star Trek, and let’s not forget the Popsicle Stick Skyscraper, the 50ft Magnifying Glass, and the Escalator to Nowhere. The show was never the same again, and I applaud Mr. O’Brien for it.

True Fact: Whenever I’m feeling down or suffering from writer’s block, I like to pop in the DVD for this episode and listen to the commentary tracks for it to cheer me up. There’s the regular crew commentary, but if you press the “Audio” button while on the commentary track, you’ll discover a SECOND track with Conan himself providing some hilarious insight. It works every time.

#5: Treehouse of Horror V (Season 6)

It was tough to pick my favorite Treehouse of Horror episode, but the fifth installment from Season 6 currently stands as my favorite. Truth be told, the Halloween episodes are usually the high point of the season, and the first eight or nine are absolute gold, but it was really a dead heat between IV & V. But IV has “Terror at 5 ½ Feet,” which legitimately scared the bejeebus outta me when I was a kid, so V is the entry you’re reading now!

The first segment, The Shinning, is an absolutely hilarious parody of The Shining, right down to the Kubrick Stare. No matter how many times I watch it, I always give great, big laughs at the blood getting off the wrong floor, all the failed “Heeeere’s Johnny” attempts, and Homer’s reaction to Marge finishing “No Beer and No TV Make Homer Something Something.”

The second segment, Time & Punishment, is just as great. Homer breaks the toaster after getting his hand stuck in it (twice!) and repairs it to the point where it causes him to become the first non-Brazilian man to travel back in time. Despite Grampa’s wedding day advice, Homer keeps screwing it up for the dinosaurs, which in turns alters the future in several horrific ways. I’m pretty sure that a world with Ned Flanders as Big Brother is far scarier than one where Bart & Lisa are giants, or a world where everyone has snake tongues, or even a world where the house is built out of squirrels. And how can you not love the world where Homer’s family is rich and perfect in every way, but no one knows what a doughnut is, yet they rain from the sky? I thought so.

Kang and Kodos make their annual cameo in this segment, where one of Homer’s butterfly effects change them into Mr. Peabody & Sherman in a hilarious call-back from earlier in the segment. I will never watch that old cartoon again without waiting for Peabody to say “Quiet, you!” at Sherman. Speaking of running gags, this year's edition featured Groundskeeper Willie being killed via an axe the back in all three segments. My favorite one is pictured above, where Maggie says "This is indeed a disturbing universe" in James Earl Jones's sultry voice.

Then there’s the final segment, Nightmare Cafeteria, which, like “Terror at 5 ½ Feet,” is genuinely terrifying. While many of the segments spoof on the fears of adults, or just fears itself, this segment revolves around the nightmares of a child: The teachers at your school want to eat you. Watching THIS episode when it aired, I’ll admit that it didn’t phaze my seven-year-old self, watching it a few more times led this segment to give me the chills. Legal issues aside, it seems like a very realistic fear in the minds of a kid: Due to budget cutbacks on the cafeteria food, the teachers find out the children are delicious, and focus their efforts into eating each and every student until Bart, Lisa, and Milhouse are left. Not only were Lunchlady Doris covered in blood and the Hamilton Beech Student Chopper creepy enough, but the parents were completely unhelpful. All Marge did was giving Bart & Lisa some bad advice, and a deleted scene for the episode showed that Homer is the author of “The Joy of Cooking Milhouse.” It doesn't exactly help that Skinner wants to literally eat Bart's shorts, either.

Sure, you might have predicted that the entire segment was a nightmare by Bart, but then they throw in the fog that turns everyone inside-out. THEN the inside-out family gets up to sing “One” from “A Chorus Line” to close out the episode. I want you to think back to when you watched the episode for the first time and give me a Show of Hands: Who honestly saw that coming? I thought so.

#4: Cape Feare (Season 5)

It was a dead heat between this and Season 6’s “Sideshow Bob Roberts” for my favorite Sideshow Bob episode, but I chose this one because of its overall story. Unlike the two previous Sideshow Bob outings, “Krusty Gets Busted” and “Black Widower,” this episode is a straight-out thriller, rather than a mystery. It’s also the first episode where Sideshow Bob is actually set on murdering Bart, rather than trying to murder Selma, or to frame Krusty for robbery. It also helps that, like the title says, the plot is taken heavily from the two “Cape Fear” movies, with a little more influence from the then-recent remake with Robert DeNiro.

I’ll assume you’ve seen this episode about two-dozen times like I have, so I’ll just sum it up thusly: Sideshow Bob gets parole, finds Bart to murder him, the family goes into the Witness Relocation Program, Sideshow Bob follows them there, and is defeated when Bart distracts him by making him sing the entire score to Gilbert & Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore.” The entire execution of this episode is simply fantastic, giving an equal dosage of drama and comedy…but really, it’s mostly comedy.

You can thank many of this episode’s finest moments not from credited writer Jon Vitti, but by Conan O’Brien. “The Bart, The,” the entire “Hello, Mr. Thompson” sequence, and “BARTDOYOUWANNASEEMYNEWCHANSAWANDHOCKEYMASK?!” can all be attributed to him.

The completely awesome stuff that he wasn’t behind, yet would probably love to take credit for, includes the family’s drive through the cactus patch (with Bob underneath the car), Moe letting loose about a dozen pandas from crates for some reason, “Up Late with McBain,” Bob in the ice cream truck declaring who he WASN’T going to kill, Bob getting stomped on the head by a marching band and a parade of elephants (I love the one wearing the “The” sign), the letter reading I KILL YOU SCUM, what Grampa looks like without taking his pills, and of course: The Rake Gag.

Yes, the infamous Rake Gag is in the episode, and stands as one of my favorite bits in the entire series. It’s the epitome of the Overly Long Gag: Bob steps on a total of 9 rakes and lasting at a staggering 26 seconds, along with another rake on the houseboat and a lifetime of callbacks to this one scene. Hell, eleven seasons after this episode aired, we have his son step on a mini-rake! If there’s something I miss about the shortened running time of newer episodes, is the fact that many of the show’s most infamous moments came from filler material. A joke like THAT would never be able to come to be today, and it’s a damn shame.

Did I mention the “BARTDOYOUWANNASEEMYNEWCHANSAWANDHOCKEYMASK?!” scene? Because I manage to bust out laughing every time I see it. Hell, I went quite a few years without watching it before getting the season 5 DVD and I laughed for probably five minutes after this part showed up.

#3: The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson (Season 9)

It might be the New Yorker in me, but I absolutely love this travel episode. For a cartoon show, it got many aspects of Manhattan completely nailed down like the various storefronts around the city, the bus to Flushing Meadows, the bus station itself, and roaming Khav Khalash salesmen. By the way, whenever I’m driving over a bridge that passes the city, I always mention that “Governor’s Island looks so insignificant from up here,” and I always point out that various news tickers around the city have “Crime up 8 Million Percent” as a headline when I’m walking around Manhattan itself.

I should also mention that this is the infamous episode that involves Homer rescuing his car from the clutches of the World Trade Center…which was still intact. Hey, Homer didn’t do it this time! Barney drove it there after surviving a night of being a designated driver! Yes, Homer spends a majority at 1 World Trade Plaza trying to get a boot off his car. Yes, there’s lots of jokes that seem mean in retrospect, like when someone says “They stick all the jerks in Tower One.” Yes, they made a musical about the Betty Ford Clinic. Yes, the MAD Magazine office contains the real-life Alfred E. Neuman. Yes, Crab Juice seems like a more reasonable choice over Mountain Dew. But YOU thought this was all funny, and it remains hilarious to this day.

Also worthy of note is that this is the first appearance of Duffman, the rambunctious spokesman who thrusts awareness of Duff to the masses. I also adore Homer’s flashback to his first experience in Manhattan where everything he owns gets stolen and gets chased into a sewer by a pimp after tossing garbage that Woody Allen had dumped on him. I just love any story that ends in the phrase “And that’s when the CHUDs came at me.”

#2: Homer the Great (Season 6)

This is a simply fantastic episode, brought to us once again by the great John Swartzwelder. It’s a story that’s held near and dear to my heart, as it pretty much sums up my experience in College. Sure, I’m not at liberty to discuss what exactly happened with me, as is the case with all secret societies, but my time pledging a fraternity followed an eerily similar manner as Homer’s escapades with the Stonecutters: Crappy parking space at school/work, stumbling upon said society by accident, the initiation ceremony that includes trust falls, blindfolds, and paddling (dear god, the paddling), and getting some sweet, sweet benefits upon joining. Hell, even the montage of the Stonecutters’ charity work is stuff my fraternity would have done, right down to paining a building so blue that a helicopter could crash into it. I’ve mentioned this before, but this episode is also the origin of the “908” in my username, which just happens to be the number that Homer receives when he finally joins the Stonecutters.

I’ve been going on about great performances, and Patrick Stewart does a flat-out great job as Number 1, the leader of the Springfield chapter of the Stonecutters. He brings class and dignity to stuff like “Let’s all get drunk and play ping-pong!” and “And now, the final ordeal: the Paddling of the Swollen Ass...With Paddles.” And you can’t forget the great singing talent of the cast as they perform “We Do,” a drinking song about all the conspiracies that the Stonecutters are behind, like making Steve Guttenburg a star, holding back the electric car, and robbing cave fish of their sight.

Other stuff that I love about this episode: Homer’s plan to dress up monkeys to re-enact the civil war, Bart and Lisa’s whistle rings, Homer’s parking space being right next to his house, The Egg Council Guy, “912” being the real emergency number, the quick joke of Homer proclaiming to Marge that he’s a chicken, both versions of the No Homers Club, and Grampa being the card-carrying president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance for some reason.

After all of these winners, which episode has the dignity of being my Favorite Simpsons Episode of All Time?

#1: A Star is Burns (Season 6)

If you read my Underrated Simpsons Episodes entry, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. I love just about each and every gag, quote, and plot twist that the episode has to offer. In an effort to boost tourism in Springfield after it’s revealed that the citizens are so uneducated that they burn Principal Skinner at the stake for believing in heliocentricity and claim that cameras steal their souls, Marge suggests that the town holds a film festival. After Chief Wiggum discovers that he found an excuse to wear makeup, the town begins to film their own films, and Marge picks timeslot neighbor Jay Sherman to join the festival’s jury board. Despite Burns bribing two of the judges, Barney’s film wins and after he swears off beer, he’s awarded a lifetime supply of Duff, which he promptly hooks up to his veins.

I simply love each and every movie that we end up seeing in the festival itself, like Moe’s musical number that ends with him falling off the bar, Bart’s film of Homer trying to pull up his pants, Burns’ “autobiographical film” that’s directed by Senor Spielbergo, the requisite Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, and especially Barney’s “Pukahontas,” which somehow landed him on the cover of Etertainment Weekly. It’s interesting to note that in the film that Wiggum DOES appear in, Apu’s “Bright Lights, Beef Jerky,” he isn’t wearing makeup at all. Well, the entire short is composed of security camera footage, so it’s really hard to tell if he is, but I still say no.

For the longest time, I agreed with Homer on the aspect of a man getting hit by a football: it just worked on so many levels. Hey, I was seven when the episode aired, stuff like George C. Scott getting nailed in the groin with a football left a very powerful imprint on my childish mind. Speaking of which, my absolute favorite gag in the entire episode is “I was saying Boo-urns.” I absolutely LOVE that, despite everyone actually boos Burns’s movie, Hans Moleman was the sole member of the audience that actually SAID “Boo-urns.”

In the past few months where I was trying to work up the energy to write this entry, I kept thinking about WHY “A Star is Burns” is at the top, and not a better quality episode like “Homer The Great” or “Marge vs. The Monorail.” Besides the hilarious quality of the episode itself, I really chalk it all up to childhood nostalgia. It was my favorite as a kid, and it remains my favorite today.

Honorable Mentions: Dear lord, where do I start?! If there are any favorites that you agree with, or if you can think of a good one I left out (believe me, there are plenty), feel free to leave a comment below!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Soundtracks For Summer: Wanderlust King

Part 16 in my ongoing "Soundtracks For Summer" series.

I hope everyone had a fun and safe 4th of July. In America™, we celebrate by getting plastered, having barbecues, then blasting off some fireworks, usually not in that order. For everywhere else in the world, I believe you guys call it Sunday.

But since this was the most "Summer" day of the year, let's check out this little ditty called "Wanderlust King":

You might not have heard of Gogol Bordello until just now, but I don't really blame you for it. Hell, I didn't even know that these guys existed until two months ago. The time-stamp on the video is from 2007, and according to their Wikipedia page, they formed in 1999! Finally, the blog earns some indie cred! According to said wiki page, they're inspired by Gypsy music, not to mention that they're one of the few Non-Weird Al bands to incorporate an accordion in their main lineup, which itself is made up of an international brotherhood of sex bandits. But then they realized that they made awesome music together, and decided to do that instead.

The overall feel of the song itself is simply traveling the world, having as much fun and mayhem as possibly, destination be damned. The point is more exemplified in the video: Eugene Hütz, the lead singer guy, is literally traveling the world, singing about what he sees with his odd Ukranian self. Hell, at the 1:50 mark, someone is playing the spoons. You can't get more "summer" than that!

If you want another taste of Gogol Bordello with a similar "Summer" feel of Wanderlust King, I give you "Lela Pala Tute"

BTW, I'm also taking reader submissions for future "Soundtracks For Summer" entries. If you've got an idea, pop me an email at OR comment on this entry OR at the Facebook Fan Page with the name of the song, and a reason or two why it defines "Summer" for you. You'll be glad you did.