Thursday, December 07, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty-One - “Then grease me up, woman!”

Season 5, Episode 19
"Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song"
First Broadcast: April 28, 1994

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Bart, desperate to stand out in a ‘show and tell’ exercise awash with geodes, makes the flawed but understandable decision to take his pet dog, Santa’s Little Helper, into school.  Whilst initially dismissed as some form of walking clock, the dog is a huge hit with pupils and staff alike, until SLH escapes into the school’s ventilation system in search of Grade F Meat,  leading Groundskeeper Willie to grease up and pursue him.

When that situation spirals inevitably out of control, Principal Skinner is left carrying the can with an enraged Superintendent Chalmers, who fires Skinner after bearing the impact of a falling, greasy Scotsman.  Ned Flanders steps into the breach as principal, but his soft touch leads to absolute anarchy, whilst Bart, shocked to be craving structure and rules, starts an unlikely friendship with Skinner, who soon rejoins the US Army.

Bart decides enough is enough, and with Homer on board – simply to take any chance to ruin Flanders – he gets Skinner out of the army and brings Chalmers to the school to view its fall from grace first hand.  Initially unconcerned, Chalmers is moved to fire Flanders when he hears him offer a prayer over the PA system, and Skinner is rehired.  No longer able to be friends, Skinner and Bart have one last chat and depart to be kicked and taught, respectively.

MAGIC MOMENTS

One of the greatest scenes in Simpsons history, period: Skinner’s synopsis of his great American novel, “Billy And The Cloneasaurus”, and his subsequent castigation by Apu.

A debut appearance by one Luigi Risotto:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
The chase scene in the ventilation system, a loving tribute to “Alien”.

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

Baadasssss songs we do NOT have, here.

(*sigh*)

No; instead, it is my solemn duty to report that our main musical moment this time is Joe Cocker’s absolutely excruciating version of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends”, better known as the opening to the equally execrable coming-of-age-very-very-slowly snorefest “The Wonder Years”.

I’m bloody not putting that up though, so here’s the aria “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre“ from Bizet’s “Carmen”, more popularly known as “The Toreador Song”, which is briefly hummed by Martin Prince for, like, five seconds or something later in the episode.  It is performed here by everybody's Siberian baritone, Mr Dmitri Hvorostovsky:



HISTORY/LEGACY

Armin Tamzarian… (ducks many, many thrown items) Hey!  It’s canon, don’t blame me!...  Was a Green Beret in the US Army, who saw action and imprisonment in the Vietnam War, before moving to Springfield to take over his missing Sergeant’s life in his absence, becoming Seymour Skinner.  This was revealed in Season Nine’s “The Principal And The Pauper”, an episode which is itself called out in Season Eleven’s “Behind The Laughter” as a point where the show’s golden reputation started to tarnish.

(Or maybe not, as the episode “Boy Meets Curl” – which isn’t that bad, despite having a curling gimmick and being in Season Twenty-One – depicts Seymour in Agnes’ womb…  Maybe this is one of those ones where continuity simply doesn’t work, and I need to dial back the urge to nerd a little.)

Skinner was there from the start and has appeared a great deal of times, given he works at Springfield Elementary and very few episodes don't include at least one scene there.  His classics include a turn as the funny one in "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", his Terminator-esque chase down of Bart in "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" and his surprisingly tender romance with Edna Krabappel, as first kindled in "Grade School Confidential".

WHY I LIKE IT

Deliberately picked to be the show’s 100th episode to be broadcast due to its focus on Bart rather than Homer, thus harking back to the show’s early days as a family-targetted Bart vehicle, this seems like a distillation of the early years - Bart prank, consequences, resolution, status quo - albeit one informed by the extra experience the show had picked up along the way.

The central conflict/friendship between Bart and Seymour imbues this episode with a similar core dynamic to “Homer Loves Flanders”, but it is further enlivened here by the fringe characters – Ned just being Ned and applying Nedlike logic to a role he is utterly unqualified for, and Skinner and Chalmers’ fantastic interplay, which would become a must-see dynamic in later episodes, particularly where steamed hams were involved.

This is an excellent romp that earns its more sentimental ending by keeping me rolling in the aisles throughout, and much like "Homer And Apu", gives us enough of a glimpse at a side character's life to develop them to full comedic potential - a potential that has been mined to great effect since.  Just don't mention Armin Tamzarian again....

Join us next time when we hand you a stark choice: Mountain Dew or Crab Juice?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty-Two (Hooray!) - "I'm better than okay. I'm Homer Simpson."

Season 8, Episode 23
Homer’s Enemy”
First Broadcast: May 4, 1997



Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Frank Grimes is a clever, hard-working man who has pulled himself up by his fingernails and suffered adversity after adversity in his life.  Homer Simpson is an idiot who has repeatedly landed on his feet. 

Conflict between this chalk-and-cheese pairing ensues quickly when Mr Burns sees an inspiring soft news story about Grimes and decides to hire him to a board position.  By the time he arrives at the power plant, Mr Burns has seen a subsequent inspiring soft news story about a heroic dog, and awards the board position to the canine, sending Frank to Sector 7-G with Homer.

Meanwhile, Bart sneaks into an auction and buys a warehouse downtown.  He gives Milhouse a fantastic opportunity in overnight security facilitation, and returns the next day to find the warehouse has collapsed.  (That’s the whole B-plot by the way – it’s actually better than it sounds.)

Frank is stretched to breaking point by Homer’s incompetence and his community’s acceptance thereof, and particularly angered by his list of achievements, including but not limited to space travel.  The self-made man eventually snaps after Homer wins a model making contest for children and is lauded for it, leading to Frank’s death by misadventure in a rare on-screen slaying.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Frank's incredible meltdown, one of the single greatest speeches in Simpsons history:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac,
Homer’s formula for winning the model contest: "Well, basically, I just copied the plant we have now... Then I added some fins to lower wind resistance.  And this racing stripe here, I feel is pretty sharp."

The rats' exodus into Moe's Tavern, to enjoy the dank.

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

OK, so the best I can do here is that Homer sings "Take Me Out To The Ball Game".  So, yeah...  They can't ALL have showstoppers, y'know.


HISTORY/LEGACY

Despite his decisive death at the end of this episode, Frank Grimes is mentioned a few times in the following seasons.   Whilst usually restricted to shots of his gravestone, Season Fourteen’s superior offering “The Great Louse Detective” centred on a plot to kill Homer, with Sideshow Bob brought in is a Lecter-like expert to track down the would-be murderer...

...Who, in one of the better crazy twists in Simpsons history, is revealed to be Frank Grimes Jr!  Turns out Frank Snr had a taste for sex workers, one of whom bore his progeny.  Homer's reaction to the reveal - “How is ol’ Grimey?” - actually had me hooting with laughter.

Man, that was a good episode.  See?  It's not all been bad since Season Ten.

WHY I LIKE IT

This is one of those more “meta” episodes, as The Simpsons was getting to a stage where it was enough of an ongoing institution to turn the gun on itself and its own ridiculousness.

Shows have to be careful not to go to that well too many times – indeed, many see this episode as The Simpsons’ shark jump moment – and whilst it’s arguable that The Simpsons has gone beyond with it in later years, this episode and “Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie” had the benefit of novelty and were therefore serving up a target we hadn’t seen lampooned before, and indeed that we wouldn’t have believed lampoonable within the context of the show.

The structure is tight, too, with a B-plot that provides laughs but, with little potential for dovetailing with the main story, is dispensed with decisively in short order to avoid pulling focus from Grimey’s eventual breakdown.

By pointing the finger at Springfield's residents' enabling of Homer Simpson, the show allows the real world, which it has so often mirrored, inside its bubble just a little - and the results were revolutionary, and never repeated to the same effect.

Join us next time as we solve a riddle that has plagued mankind for centuries: what has four legs and ticks?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty-Three - “Let's all get drunk & play ping-pong!”

Season 6, Episode 12
Homer The Great”
First Broadcast: January 8, 1995

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Frustrated with his lot in life, Homer realises that his friends’ lifestyles are significantly better than his, leading him to stalk Lenny and Carl to a mysterious clubhouse, where he discovers they are members of the Freemaso…  I mean, Stonecutters – a secret society that runs the world from the shadows.

He eventually passes the various ass-paddling-related initiation ceremonies and joins the society himself, but after a predictable faux pas on Rib Night, he seems set to be cast out – until a mysterious birthmark reveals that he is the Chosen One, for whom the Stonecutters have waited to lead them to unspecified greatness.

Homer enjoys his status as a god among men, but grows bored of the deference in short order.  At a crossroads, he makes the oft-erroneous decision to consult Lisa, who convinces him that the Stonecutters could be a great source of charity volunteers and general do-gooders.  The rest of the group do not agree, and after narrowly escaping death, or something being done to his voice box, at the hands of the Stonecutter World Council, he is forced into exile as the Stonecutters evolve into the Ancient Mystic Society of No-Homers.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Grandpa Simpson’s membership cards: 


Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

The Egg Council Guy.

The appearance of the Stonecutter World Council, consisting of Jack Nicholson, Orville Redenbacher,  Mr. T and George H.W. Bush.

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

“We Do” is right up there with “Monorail”, “They’ll Never Stop The Simpsons” and “Who Needs The Kwik-E-Mart?” in the Mount Rushmore of great Simpsons original musical numbers:




HISTORY/LEGACY

Patrick Stewart is both the world’s greatest classical actor and its most famous fan of Huddersfield Town FC.   At this stage he was about seven months removed from “All Good Things…”, his televisual swansong as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Talking to BBC News in the year 2000, Mr Stewart opined: "I think my appearance in The Simpsons and an appearance that I did on "Sesame Street" - in praise of the letter B - were perhaps the two most distinguished bits of work that I've done in the US."  He would later go on to play a pivotal role in American Dad and various recurring roles in Family Guy, so I imagine that assessment hasn’t changed.

This would not be the last time Lisa would accidentally ruin Homer’s fun by giving him a social conscience – a similar scenario plays out in “Today I Am A Clown”, where Homer’s talk show for average joes serves as a great replacement for Krusty’s show, until he tries to use it as a platform to confront societal issues.

WHY I LIKE IT

Aside from giving us an easy target for all the things in life we hate, there’s something fascinating about the idea of a shadowy cabal of exclusively male social elitists having parties in their man-cave whilst greasing the wheels for their members as they ride the easy train toward superior lifestyles.

But enough about the executive team of every company I’ve ever worked for!...  Aw, I just made myself sad.

The bleak, but somewhat realistic, message from all of this is that we could all be doing more to help our wider communities, rather than lining our own pockets and seeing to our own comforts – and that, as human beings, we’re not really likely to accept that notion or do anything constructive about it.

It is a testament to the quality of the show that, even when holding a mirror up to this ugliest aspect of humanity’s foibles, it manages to sugar coat it with enough comedy, variety and entertainment that the bitter pill can be swallowed once more.

Join us next time, at the blog that works hard everyday of its life - and what does it have to show for it?  This briefcase and this haircut!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty-Four - “Three weeks?! This has got to be some kind of record!"


Season 20, Episode 19
Waverly Hills, 9-0-2-1-D'oh”
First Broadcast:
May 3, 2009


Image result for Waverly Hills, 9-0-2-1-D'oh quotes
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Simpsons Wikia.



A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Marge finally realises what the audience have taken for granted for twenty seasons – Springfield Elementary School is a complete dump, and her children will be forever damaged by their time there.  In an attempt to get them a better education, Homer and Marge rent a tiny, overpriced apartment in Waverly Hills, to give them a foothold in a much better school district.

Bart establishes his reputation as a bad boy early on, whilst Lisa makes friends only through lying about a connection to singer Alaska Nebraska – but you can ignore all that for a bit, as the impending arrival of a school inspector forces Homer to move into the apartment, reverting instantly to a bachelor lifestyle with his college-aged friends.

His new set-up unexpectedly rekindles his relationship with Marge, as both act like newly-dating singles – until Marge moves in, harshing Homer’s buzz.  Having survived the visit of the apparently homicidal school inspector, it’s all rendered redundant as Bart and Lisa both have issues at their new school and the family returns to their old home, albeit with Homer and Marge annexing Bart’s treehouse to act as their new love nest.

MAGIC MOMENTS

The school inspector, apparently based on a hitman from “No Country For Old Men”, and his hope to kill Homer and Marge and make it look like suicide.  I bet Channel 4 cut that one out.


Image result for Waverly Hills, 9-0-2-1-D'oh quotes
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Simpsons Wikia.
Chief Wiggum’s adapted Miranda reading.

The college boys’ disastrous hook-up with Patty and Selma.

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

Weezer revisit their peppy hit “Beverly Hills” here, replete with obvious re-lyricing.  But here’s the original, which unfortunately doesn’t include the killer line “get education fraudulently”:



HISTORY/LEGACY

Hm…  Not a lot to play with here.  Bart and Lisa have switched schools before, notably in "You Only Move Twice" and the military school in "The Secret War Of Lisa Simpson" plus in later seasons we have Bart's move to a Catholic school in Season Sixteen's "The Father, The Son And The Holy Guest Star", and Lisa's move to a school for the "academically gifted and troublesome" at the end of "The President Wore Pearls"...  Yep, I'm out.  That's one of the troubles with later episodes - they're yet to have a legacy.

WHY I LIKE IT

Let me open with a negative: in revisiting this I’ve noticed that the Hannah Montana references are going to age this episode horrendously – not only is it a reference to a flash in the pan, but Miley Cyrus doesn’t even do the voice, it’s Ellen Page.  The whole thing risks being utterly impenetrable in a few years’ time, and does sum up a problem with later offerings: as with anything that moves to closely chronicle a moment in time, it risks a lack of timelessness.

I stand by its position in my countdown and my heart, though.  It's full of gags, with only Lisa's side of the story sagging, and even then only slightly, otherwise being a relatively on-point skewering of celebrity worship.  Bart's travails in trying to avoid a birthday party he doesn't want to go to are...  Well, they're a lot better than what I just typed makes it sound, anyway.

But the heart and soul of this episode is Marge and Homer's playful rekindling of their romance.  Their shotgun marriage, after a short romance ended in a semi-wanted pregnancy, has endured season after season of adversity; they've made it work for the greater good, and it's always nice when they get a break from that and remember why they loved each other in the first place.

It makes this deeply cynical soul feel warm inside, at a time when I am closer than ever to believing in love eternal, and as cool as it is to be stony-hearted, I need that every so often.

Join us next time as we hit number twenty-three, and to celebrate: we’re having ribs.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty-Five - “Ultrasuede is a miracle. This is just good timing."

Season 8, Episode 15
“Homer’s Phobia”
First Broadcast: February 16, 1997

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

After one of Bart’s pranks (frankly I forget which – the one with the dryer race, maybe?) adds to the family’s perpetual money troubles, Marge volunteers to sell a Bouvier family heirloom, and the family heads to Cockamamie’s, a store full of kitsch collectables at the mall, leading them to make friends with the store’s proprietor, John – who also discovers that Marge’s heirloom, perceived to be a Civil War-era statuette, is actually a whisky bottle.

John is fascinated with the Simpsons’ sense of style (“pearls on a little girl!”) and the family enjoys his company.  However, Homer shuns John after Marge reveals he is homosexual, and begins to worry about John’s influence on Bart, prompting Homer’s emergency half-assed over-parenting to kick in.

After exposing Bart to as many ‘manly’ activities as possible, including a trip to a steel mill that does not turn out to be as heterosexual as Homer hoped, he takes Bart hunting with Moe and Barney, and having left empty handed, drops by Santa’s Village to bag a reindeer.  This plan backfires when the reindeer attack and encircle Bart and Homer, leaving John to save the day with his robotic Japanese Santa Claus, which in turn re-endears John to Homer.

MAGIC MOMENTS

The introduction of Japanese Robo-Santa:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
The various doo-dads in Cockamamie’s, including Pogo Stilts and a sci-fi robot replete with the bones of its dead operator.

A small piece of dialogue between John and one Waylon Smithers.  We have no idea what that could possibly signify…

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

“Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” by C+C Music Factory receives a couple of choice airings, as the anthem of anybody who works hard and plays hard:



HISTORY/LEGACY

Homosexuality has generally been depicted with repect in The Simpsons, though stereotyping does persist for assumedly harmless comic effect.  Outside of John here and Karl in “Simpson and Delilah”, the most high-profile homosexual character in The Simpsons is Marge’s sister Patty Bouvier, who eventually came out of the closet to marry her girlfriend in “There’s Something About Marrying” – although her girlfriend was later revealed as a man, so…  Yeah.  Season Sixteen, folks.

At this stage, and for no apparent reason, I feel compelled to mention one Waylon Smithers Jr., the real deal with whom is that he is Mr. Burns' assistant.  He's in his early forties, is unmarried, and currently resides in Springfield.  Thanks for writing!

John Waters, who voices – perhaps shockingly – John, is one of America’s most celebrated outsider filmmakers.  Responsible for triumphs of bad taste such as “Pink Flamingos”, “Multiple Maniacs” and “Female Trouble”, he worked for the most part with close friend Divine on a body of work that has to be seen to be believed.

It’s also worth noting that John is first seen wearing Homer’s ‘Pin Pals’ bowling shirt from “Team Homer”, as bought for him by replacement fourth member Mr Burns.  It is heavily implied that Marge gave the shirt to a charity shop without Homer’s prior knowledge.  Homer, of course, barely notices.

WHY I LIKE IT

This episode does receive a lot of flak from some quarters for Homer’s characterisation; we’re still some years from Jerk-Ass Homer’s wave of inconsideration, but here he is undeniably in an indefensible position – he is, as the title very strongly suggests, homophobic, and the decision to make him so outwardly vile is a controversial one, though one that undeniably keeps the focus of the episode front and centre by involving its primary character.

His redemption of sorts here underpins a message episode, but one that was largely in keeping with social thinking and the progression thereof at the time.  The Simpsons is ostensibly a left wing, inclusive show - aside from the influence of creator Matt Groening, whose NRA membership and many right-wing references are well documented elsewhere - although one that is not afraid to poke fun at the foibles of the left, so the eventual confrontation of this issue was inevitable.

The episode is fun, and the people with the outmoded ideals get the short end of the stick, though not to any horrendous extent – and you can’t argue with the double header of John Waters and C+C Music Factory.  Now ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky…



Join us next time as we get education fraudulently-hee-hee.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty-Six - “Ken Griffey's grotesquely swollen jaw...”

Season 3, Episode 17
“Homer At The Bat”
First Broadcast: February 20, 1992
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

The power plant enters a team in the local softball league, and racks up a series of wins thanks to Homer and his “Wonderbat”, carved from a tree that was struck by lightning.  When rival businessman Aristotle Amadopoulos makes a million-dollar wager with Mr Burns, the latter decides to stuff the team with ringers from Major League Baseball by temporarily employing its top stars at the plant.
On the eve of battle, Mr Burns opines that it would take nine separate misfortunes to fell his team of ringers, seven of which actually do occur in the following ways:
  • Wade Boggs - punched by Barney after a disagreement on the relatively legacies of Lord Palmerston and Pitt the Elder;
  • Ken Griffey, Jr. - gigantism, including a grotesquely swollen jaw, brought on by an overdose of nerve tonic;
  • Jose Canseco - put to work emptying a burning house of seemingly every item within;
  • Ozzie Smith - consumed by Springfield's uncanny Mystery Spot;
  • Roger Clemens - believed he was a chicken due to faulty hypnotism;
  • Steve Sax - arrested for multiple murders due to Springfield police laziness and incompetence;
  • Mike Scioscia - develops radiation poisoning after really taking to his fake job at the power plant.
Burns then sacks Don Mattingly for good measure, citing possession of an unacceptable pair of sideburns, which seemingly only Burns himself can see.  That puts most of the original team back in the starting line-up – but unfortunately for Homer, the ringer that plays his position, one Darryl Strawberry, is unscathed, handing Homer a long afternoon on the bench.
 
Luckily Mr Burns shows his lack of technical nous by subbing him in for Strawberry for the final pitch of the game, which Homer promptly wins by being struck in the head and knocked out, thus missing his own victory party.
MAGIC MOMENTS
“Daaaaaa-rryl!  Daaaaaa-rryl!”
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Giphy.
Homer’s lightning survival plan, which involves clinging to a sheet of metal under a tall tree.
The team's dismissal of the always-irksome phrase "giving 110%", despite the employment of hypnotism.
ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING
Terry Cashman retools his 1981 release "Talkin' Baseball" for the episode as “Talkin’ Softball”:

It remains one of the best pieces of music used in the show, period.
HISTORY/LEGACY
Before "Homer At The Bat", The Simpsons had used celebrities sparingly, and usually as in-universe characters, notably Dustin Hoffmann as Mr Bergstrom in "Lisa's Substitute" and Ringo Starr in "Brush With Greatness".  Since, however...  Well that's another story.
Celebrity involvement quickly ramped up to a ridiculous extent, with just about everyone getting shoehorned in there at the drop of a hat.  This writer's low point came when Blink-182 and Tony Hawk were featured in "Barting Over" to, respectively, no narrative effect and to have an automated skateboard duel with Homer, which is just as stupid as it sounds.
From here on The Simpsons would also serve up a veritable smorgasbord of sporting episodes, though the general consensus is that they never bested this one.  Everything from soccer to golf, professional wrestling to curling has had its own feature episode.  High points included "Team Homer", an affectionate portrait of ten-pin bowling, whilst the lows number amongst them the execrable "Tennis The Menace", existing only to cram four more celebrities into the show.
WHY I LIKE IT
This is the earliest episode in my top 30 – apologies to fans of those episodes that preceded it, though note that “Bart The Murderer” and “Homer the Heretic” were incredibly close to scraping in – from a time where The Simpsons was just starting to look, sound and feel like the product that would be consistently delivered in seeming perpetuity from season 4, at least until the HD-necessitated redesign.
It’s certainly not the first good episode, but it is the first star-studded one (albeit stars that a British boy had no chance of recognising, playing a game that was entirely unfamiliar), and set the bar for the show’s effective use of celebrities as themselves going forward – although much like “The Simpsons Are Going To…”, this has become an albatross in more recent seasons, as appearing on The Simpsons has become a part of any flavour of the month’s journey through fame.
But the episode doesn’t rely on its expanded cast for thrills; the script and pacing are next-level, and the sequence where Mr Burns’ seven deserved comeuppances are meted out is just hilarious.  So it’s not just the template for successful deployment of guest stars that is established here, but arguably also that for a high-quality episode.
Join us next time for more from the blog that works hard and plays hard.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Extra Credit 2 - Treehouse of Horror (2)

Blade-ies and blend-lemen, welcome back to GORE-RETH F. HORRORONS' look at the best of Treehouse of Horror!  Or as I call it, TERROR-house of...  Well... 

...

...

Horror, I guess.

...

...

*cough*

Let's get straight on with the fearsome five!

NUMBER 5: "The Day The Earth Looked Stupid"
Season 18, Episode 4
“Treehouse of Horror XVII”
First Broadcast: November 5, 2006

EERIE EVENTS: When a small town in the 1930s hears the news of an alien invasion, everybody goes APE CRAZY!!!

...But it's a hoax.  Fooled once, they resolve never to be fooled again - making them the perfect target for an actual invasion!  Can Orson Welles bring them to their senses?  And will Operation Enduring Occupation ever end?

PLOT 9 FROM OUTER SPACE: Not so much an outright plot nick this, as a reference to a real world happening.  Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of "War of The Worlds", despite being presented as drama, was infamously taken seriously by some, though the scale of the panic is disputed by boring spoilsports.
(BLOOD) MAGIC MOMENT: "Now they're playing the xylophone while bowling near an airport!"
TERROR RATING: 8 deus ex machina foilings of extraterrestrial threats via the common cold out of 10.

NUMBER 4: "The Shinning"
Season 6, Episode 6
“Treehouse of Horror V”
First Broadcast: October 30, 1994
EERIE EVENTS: On leaving The Simpsons as winter caretakers at one of his properties, Mr Burns disconnects the television cable and removes all beer – but no TV and no beer make Homer SOMETHING SOMETHING!!!
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Their only hope is Groundskeeper Willie, summoned to their aid by Bart’s, erm, “shinn”.  Will the family escape their psychotic patriarch?  Or will Homer stop eating and stay focused long enough to seal the deal?
PLOT 9 FROM OUTER SPACE: Erm…  “The Shining”, obvs.  Every second of this is a love letter to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel.
(BLOOD) MAGIC MOMENT: Quite literally.  “Hmmmm... that's odd.  Usually the blood gets off on the second floor."
TERROR RATING: Another Coke, of course.

NUMBER 3: "Time and Punishment"
Season 6, Episode 6
“Treehouse of Horror V”
First Broadcast: October 30, 1994
EERIE EVENTS: When Homer Simpson tries to repair his family’s toaster, he unwittingly falls into TIME ITSELF!!!
Our hapless hero can’t stop making crazy changes to the space-time continuum, landing him in a grotesque alternate timeline where Flanders is the ruler of all creation!  Can Homer solve the problem with extreme violence, or will he find himself forcibly re-Ned-ucated?
PLOT 9 FROM OUTER SPACE: Finally, I get to make my mother proud, after years of shaming her – I recognise this story from the science fiction short “A Sound of Thunder”, a Ray Bradbury short story from the collection "The Stars And Under".
The protagonist is sent back in time to see dinosaurs in person, but winds up straying from the path and killing an insect, which causes reality to be different when he returns to his present day.  It’s been referenced by many a time travel story, but this is a particularly precise call-out.
(BLOOD) MAGIC MOMENT: Oh, there’s a few; but an enraged Homer killing everything in his path in prehistoric times having finally snapped just pips his time in the Re-Ned-ucation Centre and him narrowly missing out on his perfect reality, where breakfast foods fall from the sky:
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
TERROR RATING: 15 Doctors out of (a theoretical) 26.

NUMBER 2: "Citizen Kang"
Season 8, Episode 1
“Treehouse of Horror VII”
First Broadcast: October 27, 1996

EERIE EVENTS: Space aliens!  Naked conspiracies!  And the harsh reality of a two-party system!  Yes, there’s nothing more terrifying than AMERICAN POLITICS!!!

When Kang and Kodos replace Bill Clinton and Bob Dole on the eve of the 1996 election, Homer is the only witness!  Can he stop them from exchanging long protein strings, or will they move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

PLOT 9 FROM OUTER SPACE: In all seriousness, this might be an original concept - well, body-swap horror and sci-fi isn't, but this exact application is pretty unique.  And as far I can tell there's no "Twilight Zone" episode with the same plot, so...

(BLOOD) MAGIC MOMENT: “Don’t blame me.  *I* voted for Kodos!” – bringing, as it inevitably does, no relief from the grind of eternal slavery to horrific space monsters/another Tory government (delete as satirically correct).  Either that or an enraged Ross Perot punching his hat.

TERROR RATING: 10 Kangs out of Kodos.


NUMBER 1: "The Raven"
Season 2, Episode 3
“Treehouse of Horror”
First Broadcast: October 25, 1990

EERIE EVENTS: Homer Simpson IS The Narrator!  Marge Simpson IS Lenore!  And introducing Bart Simpson as the titular Raven, in this, an adaptation of an OLD POEM!!!

Seeking distraction from the death of his beloved, our narrator is unnerved by the presence of a raven in his house.  Can he chase the sinister presence back to the Plutonian shore, or shall his soul be lifted nevermore?

PLOT 9 FROM OUTER SPACE: In stark contrast to the homages we’ve seen in the previous entries, this simply *is* the 1845 poem “The Raven” by the king of the goths, Edgar Allen Poe.
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Whilst he would appear in "South Park", Poe would not make a return appearance in Springfield, although his gravestone is used by Dr Nick to demonstrate Spiffy! cleaner in "Saturdays of Thunder".
(BLOOD) MAGIC MOMENT: Whilst this is a surprisingly faithful adaptation, there is one conceit to early Simpsons - the line "eat my shorts", which bizarrely has never been funnier than when presented this far out of context.
TERROR RATING: 13 copies of “Disintegration” out of 10 - a macabre masterpiece.
And that concludes our look at Treehouse of Horror!  Join us tomorrow when we'll return to our normal schedule - until then, keep watching the skis!  I mean: skies.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Extra Credit 1 - Treehouse of Horror (1)

Flay-dies and rend-lemen, welcome to your nightmares!  Yes, it is I, GORERETH F. HORRORONS, back from the pits of terror to be your guide to the ghastliest, most soul-scorchingly terrifying tales of...

(What do you mean, we're doing The Simpsons?  I was talking about "Zombie Flesh Eaters: Extreme Version!!" last time, isn't this a bit of a step down?  Sigh...  Yes, contractual obligations...  Yes, yes, massive financial penalty...  OK.  OK, let's carry on.)

Well if I'm here, it must be time for a Halloween special - and with The Simpsons, that can only mean Treehouse of Horror!

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Halloween is still catching on over here in the UK, but it's huge, huge news in the US.  I credit The Simpsons with at least some of the holiday's increased momentum in this country; aside from the odd Blue Peter about pumpkin carving, our eyes had usually been on Guy Fawkes' Night a week later, until these horror compendia started raising awareness on these shores.

Presented in three segments, traditionally with different writers (but increasingly these days just having the one), Treehouse of Horror episodes are non-canon, horror-themed segments, generally more violent than the show's usual fare - and therefore cut to shit by Channel 4, cheers guys - and often in homage to a classic horror or sci-fi show or movie.

Freed of the need for maintaining even the thin sheath of continuity the series exists in, the writers tend to revel in their liberation and pull out moments that are right up there with the show's best.  So, since 'tis the season, let me take you through the Scary Door and be your guide through the much-lampooned Twilight Zone that is Atomic Sourpuss' ten favourite Treehouse of Horror segments!

NUMBER 10: "If I Only Had A Brain"
Season 3, Episode 7
“Treehouse of Horror II”
First Broadcast: October 31, 1991

GHOULISH GOINGS-ON: Mr Burns and Smithers have a terrifying singular vision – improve the American worker…  By putting his brain into a ROBOT BODY!!!

When Homer is sacked from the power plant and takes a job as a gravedigger, he is accidentally ensnared in their plan!  Can he get safely back into his human body, or will Mr Burns win a can of Coke?

INVASION OF THE PLOT-SNATCHERS: Mary Shelley’s classic “Frankenstein” is the first thing that springs to mind when considering brain-in-a-golem life after death, though “Robocop” and “Robocop 2” would have been more contemporary examples.

(BLACK) MAGIC MOMENT: "You're right, Smithers - I guess owe you a Coke” - Mr Burns, betting a single can of soda on life and death.  (I’m not sure if this is related to OSW Review’s “can of Coke for you!” catchphrase, but I’d say the chances are good.)

HORROR RATING: A Coke, of course.

NUMBER 9: "Clown Without Pity"
Season 4, Episode 5
“Treehouse of Horror III”
First Broadcast: October 29, 1992
GHOULISH GOINGS-ON: A father under pressure.  A mysterious shop full of cursed items.  An impending birthday...  It all adds up to a doll that's PURE EVIL!!!
But when the doll gets Homer in his sight, it's kill or be killed - and Homer's in a whole host of trouble!  Can Marge save the day?  And will Grandpa ever get the attention he so sorely craves?
INVASION OF THE PLOT-SNATCHERS: "Child's Play" will echo uncomfortably for our UK readers, but like many ToH segments, this also has its roots in a "Twilight Zone" episode called, surprisingly enough, "Living Doll".
(BLACK) MAGIC MOMENT: "The froghurt is also cursed!"

Courtesy 20th Century Fix, via Frinkiac.
HORROR RATING: 8 out of 10 toppings (that contain potassium benzoate).

NUMBER 8: "Homer3"
Season 7, Episode 6
“Treehouse of Horror VI”
First Broadcast: October 29, 1995
GHOULISH GOINGS-ON: Whilst trying to escape an interminable afternoon with his sisters-in-law, Homer falls into a rift, and finds himself rendered in a mysterious THIRD DIMENSION!!!
Things get a little hairy when the universe collapses in on itself.  Can Homer escape this confusing place and become flat again?  Or will his idiocy cause a further dimensional rift cause him to experience – shudder – real life?
INVASION OF THE PLOT-SNATCHERS: This could be taken as an inversion of “Flatland”, but it's actually - surprise! - thought to be based on a "Twilight Zone" episode.  So that's, er, unexpected.
(BLACK) MAGIC MOMENT: “I’m somewhere where I don’t know where I am!”
HORROR RATING: 69 erotic cakes.

NUMBER 7: "The Genesis Tub"
Season 8, Episode 1
“Treehouse of Horror VIII”
First Broadcast: October 27, 1996

GHOULISH GOINGS-ON: A meeting of school science projects turns into something so much more, when Lisa and Bart’s experiments combine to create LIFE ITSELF!!!

When Bart unwittingly commits genocide, the people of this strange new land decide to turn to their God: Lisa herself!  Can she escape the life she created, or will she be trapped forever, sockless in the Genesis Tub?

INVASION OF THE PLOT-SNATCHERS: ANOTHER "Twilight Zone" episode - but what's odd about this is that I know that from the "South Park" episode "Simpsons Already Did It"!

(BLACK) MAGIC MOMENT: The sight of poor, unfortunate Martin, whose milk carton ukulele is the stiffest competition the science fair can offer against Bart's entire race of self-created miniature people.

HORROR RATING: 6 baby teeth out of a mouth full of cola.


NUMBER 6: "The Devil And Homer Simpson"
Season 5, Episode 5
“Treehouse of Horror IV”
First Broadcast: October 28, 1993

GHOULISH GOINGS-ON: What price the human soul?  Meet Homer Simpson, who sold his for a single doughnut – and when hunger strikes, he gets DRAGGED TO HELL!!!

Forced into a bizarre trial for his very mortal existence with only Lionel Hutz for his defence, he’s going to need all the help he can get!  Can Marge prove a wife owns her husband’s soul?  And did we mention the Devil is Ned Flanders?

INVASION OF THE PLOT-SNATCHERS: Not necessarily any particular lift here, but the concept of selling one's soul to the devil goes right back to Theophilus, Faust, Robert Johnson and most famously, Vic Reeves in the final episode of "Vic Reeves' Big Night Out".
(BLACK) MAGIC MOMENT: Actually, Mr Engine Blood here likes a deleted scene the best - where Bart is vexing Devil Flanders by offering to sell his soul for a number of items, including...
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
HORROR RATING: 5 pentagrams out of 666.

Join us tomorrow - if you daaaaaaare! - for the top frightening five of this terrifying ten.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty-Seven - "Of all the crazy ideas you've had, this one ranks somewhere in the middle."

Season 8, Episode 3
“The Homer They Fall”
First Broadcast: November 10, 1996


Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

In a great example of an almost unrelated opening, Bart winds up in possession of a quote-unquote Ultimate Belt, thanks to Comic Book Guy’s corpulence.  The belt proves utterly ineffective in stopping its own theft by The Bullies, leading to Homer getting repeatedly punched when he attempts to reason with their fathers at Moe’s Tavern – but he appears to be invulnerable, and his terrified assailants flee.
Moe, as luck would have it, has previous in the boxing game, and when Homer discovers he has a unique condition that gives him greater brain protection, the two team up to get Homer to the very peak of the Springfield Amateur Boxing Association (ASSBOX), dispatching many hobos along the way by not fighting back and pushing them over when they tire.
When Don King approaches Moe to have Homer be the sacrificial first opponent for a just-paroled Mike Tyson – sorry, I mean Lucius Sweet and Drederick Tatum, of course – Moe’s conscience eventually trumps his lust for cash, and he flies in thanks to a giant fan to save Homer from probable death, before disappearing to perform various humanitarian acts worldwide.
MAGIC MOMENTS
Tatum’s performance at his circus of a parole hearing, in which he compliments Homer’s skill and integrity but states that he “will definitely make orphans of his children”.


Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
The advert for the pay-per-view spectacular "Tatum vs. Simpson: PAYBACK", featuring Tatum stalking out of a prison cell and punching Homer so hard that his head explodes.
Moe’s speech about his boxing career: “…They called me Kid Gorgeous.  Later on, it was Kid Presentable.  Then Kid Gruesome.  And finally, Kid Moe."  We can all relate.
ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

“Why Can’t We Be Friends?” by War is used to great effect here to play up Homer’s seeming lack of understanding about the ordeal he is about to suffer...

...whilst Tatum has the more demonstrative, but clearly not as good.  "Time 4 Sum Aksion" by Redman.  Remember kids: it's not cool to spell things wrong for the sake of it.  I blame Slade.

The show also features the rootin', tootin' theme from Bonanza, and a version of "People" from the Streisand-fronted musical "Funny Girl", though I'm not sure if it is that version or not.

Worth noting that by popular demand, we forwent the national anthem.  Ooh, topical!  (NOTE: was topical at time of writing.  Future topicality may vary.)
HISTORY/LEGACY

Drederick Tatum is the most bare-faced parody of Mike Tyson this side of the Street Fighter series' M. Bison.  First seen in "Homer vs Lisa and The 8th Commandment" as one half of the greatest heavyweight boxing bout in (fictional) history, Tatum has appeared sporadically since, usually to highlight Tyson's antisocial behaviour, as seen in this episode after his incarceration for pushing his mother down the stairs, or to poke fun at boxing or sports in general.

Moe Szyzlak, on the other hand, has had a plethora of appearances and a ton of character development since this episode...  Though little of the latter is pleasant.  A career criminal and a suicidal pervert who is more than happy to sell his friends out for any price (see "Flaming Homer"), he was briefly socialised by the love of a good woman in "Dumbbell Indemnity", and more recently redeemed by his bond with Maggie in "Moe Baby Blues".

WHY I LIKE IT

I see this episode as a great inversion of the standard sporting underdog story, swapping as it does the standard poor, plucky scrapper for a talentless yet unbeatable hack, who is instantly found out on the big stage.  It does include the usual redemption angle though, as Moe eventually just about chooses friendship over a fortune, making for narrative satisfaction.
This is also a great lampooning of the woeful heavyweight boxing scene of the time, notable for its lack of classic bouts; nobody is in any doubt about the result to come, which for legal reasons I’m told doesn’t remind me of any recent multi-trillion-dollar one-sided fights between boxers and mixed martial artists that everyone wasted their money on a few weeks back. *cough*

Add in the pomp and circumstance of the fight, including Michael Buffer's great introduction of Homer, and episode MVP Moe's struggle with himself and his exchanges with a bewildered Homer, and we have a fantastic 'event' episode that remains watchable long after the irrelevance of the public figures being skewered here.
Join us next time for more sporting action, as we as we settle, once and for all, the burning question: who was England's greatest prime minister?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty-Eight - “We’re gonna grease ourselves up *real good*, and trash that place with a baseball bat!”

Season 7, Episode 16
“Lisa The Iconoclast”
First
Broadcast: February 18, 1996
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

As Springfield's perfectly cromulent bicentennial approaches, Lisa attempts to embiggen an essay on Springfield’s founder by learning more about him at Springfield Historical Society.  In the course of her research she discovers that the character of Jebediah was merely an alias for murderous pirate Hans Sprungfeld, and decides to reveal this in her essay.

Labelled a “greasy thug” by the townsfolk for her besmirching of their hero, Lisa is aided in her quest for the truth by Homer, who has taking the ceremonial position of town crier in the related celebratory parade by sheer volume and obnoxiousness.  He uses his clout to have Jebediah’s coffin exhumed; when the skull inside does not contain the silver tongue Sprungfeld used after his own was bitten off in a bar fight, Lisa is discredited and Homer loses his criership.

Lisa eventually discovers that Hollis Hurlbut, the chairman of the Historical Society, saw the tongue at the disinterment and snatched it while the dust was clearing.  He has an epiphany and rushes Lisa to the parade to present the evidence.  On viewing the crowds she decides that the idea of Jebediah is of utmost importance to the town, opts not to shatter their happy illusion, and reunites with Homer, who has assaulted and replaced his successor as town crier, the hapless Ned Flanders.

MAGIC MOMENTS

A throwaway conversation between Miss Hoover and Mrs Krabappel that actually embiggens the English language.  They gift us not only “embiggen” (a verb meaning to grow or expand), but also “croumulent” (an adjective meaning valid or acceptable).
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A classic slice of Jerk-Ass Homer (before that was even properly a thing), as he wrests the position of crier from Ned Flanders not once but twice, including damaging the antique hat that Ned actually owns.  Ned, of course, takes it like a champ.
Hans Sprungfeld’s brutal brawl with George Washington, including the most painful employment of wooden dentures imaginable.
ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

"The Ballad of Jebediah Springfield" is played over the closing credits.  This country-fried style seems to suit The Simpsons' songsmiths, as the same basic template would later be used for the classic "Canyonero" and had previously powered Lurleen Lumpkin to what passes for fame for a country singer.


HISTORY/LEGACY

Jebediah Springfield sort-of first appears back in Season One's "The Telltale Head", albeit in statue form.  The founder of Springfield, a town stemming from a disagreement over cousin marriage between Springfield and his good friend Shelbyville Manhattan (as revealed in "Lemon Of Troy"), he was either a buffalo-taming, bear-killing inspiration or a murderous pirate killed by said bear - or, more complicatedly, both.
Some legacy opportunities seem to have been passed by, however: I don’t recall “embiggen”, “cromulent” or the character of Hollis Hurlbut ever making repeat appearances.  That means this bit will be shorter than usual, so...  Er.  Yeah.
WHY I LIKE IT

“Lisa episodes” have a bad rap with the world in general.  Whereas Bart or Homer’s name in an episode title usually means a mischievous romp is ahead, and Marge’s often alerts us to genuine emotion and adult issues, Lisa’s is usually shorthand for an episode dealing heavy-handedly with an issue around the environment or political and social issues, which is a hard sell for a half-hour comedy.

This one is an exception though.  It deals very deftly with the notion that the idea of a person and the stories around them can be more important than the truth around the person themselves, and that the inspiration taken from these stories can be positive even if the person themselves was no angel, which was recently tackled in a much more on-the-nose fashion by "Rick and Morty", via a paedophilic anthropomorphic jellybean.  As you do.

It’s also a rare episode where we’re entirely on Lisa’s side; she’s not nagging or hectoring, not smug or superior, and the issue at hand is one that is genuinely of a lot of importance, both historically and for her present community.  This time it’s nice to be rooting for the little guy – and she’s the littlest guy we know.
Atomic Sourpuss would like to apologise for the brevity of the "History/Legacy" section in this post.  The author is believed to be too drunk to properly complete his research.  In compensation, we present this picture of a weasel:




Join us next time for part one of a sporting double header, at the blog where I dispense the insults, rather than receive them.