Thursday, December 28, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Eighteen - “Homer S. – Portrait of an Assgrabber”

Season 6, Episode 9
“Homer Badman”
First Broadcast: November 27, 1994

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

Homer scores tickets to the Candy Trade Show, and opts to take Marge as his date to enable the carriage of the maximum amount of free candy.  This necessitates the hiring of a babysitter, who due to a mix-up involving a priceless Gummi Venus De Milo becoming stuck to her behind, believes (quite properly, given the apparent evidence) that she has been groped.  Homer doesn’t really have a leg to stand on given the obscure and seemingly unprovable nature of his defence, coupled with his immediate consumption of the Gummi.

The media smells blood and has a field day, flooding the local news with half-truths about Homer’s sex life and sleeping arrangements.  In desperation after being stitched up on an investigative news programme, the family fights fire with fire by purchasing screen time on an obscure television channel, but Homer’s protestations of innocence are met with nought but a kick in the face from a man riding a Penny Farthing.

Luckily Groundskeeper Willie is able to save the day, revealing that in the manner of “every single Scottish person”, he illicitly taped Homer’s Gummi removal, giving them the proof needed to clear his name.  Homer then settles down to watch his saviour, now rechristened “Rowdy Roddy Peeper”, take a shellacking on the same investigative news programme, revealing that he has learned nothing from his ordeal.


The protestors’ catchy chant: “2, 4, 6, 8, Homer’s crime was very great!”

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
“Simpson scandal update: Homer sleeps nude in an oxygen tent which he believes gives him sexual powers!”  “HEY!  That’s a half-truth!”

Homer's description of sexual harassment to the children, including the grey area that is the dog in the Coppertone advert - which I just looked up and oh dear God what were they thinking?

This is next level stuff - this episode has the fantastic parody of “Under The Sea” from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”:


Kent Brockman, hacky local news anchor and current affairs frontman, first appeared back in Season One's "Krusty Gets Busted".  Despite winning a fortune on the lottery in Season Three's "Dog Of Death" and his many on-screen meltdowns, tantrums and walk-outs, plus his affair with Stephanie the Weather Girl being the talk of the town, he continues to work at Channel 6.

He eventually got his standard 'side character focus' episode in Season Eighteen's "You Kent Always Say What You Want", which was also the series' 400th episode.  He was fired from Channel 6 for on-air swearing in that episode, and rebuilt his career from the ground up via the Internet, none of which matters as I am mentioning him only so I can publish my favourite Simpsons screengrab, from "Deep Space Homer":

Meme Hail Ants
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via memes.
As for Rowdy Roddy Peeper himself, Groundskeeper Willie…  Let’s put it this way: Edna Krabappel herself tells Bart “I'm not even gonna tell you what that guy's into” in "Bart The Lover", so I will be doing no further digging.  Besides, he’s a pervert who tapes people!  Rock Bottom said so…  He shares a shame with Kent though, in having an episode focused on him that is a pretty rubbish later season affair - Season Seventeen's "My Fair Laddy".


First up: sexual assault is NOT funny.  As someone who’s suffered more than one uninvited groping from busy-handed pederasts and lecherous peers, I did have reservations about writing this one up, opting for inclusion on the argument of the incident itself being framed well enough to just about absolve Homer of any deliberate wrongdoing.

The comedy in this episode comes from the media circus and their decent upon the family, Homer’s shell-shocked crawl through the wreckage of his long held values as television – the one constant in his life – seemingly turns on him, and most pointedly, his immediate literal re-embracing of television, showing that he has not, and essentially will never, change his ingrained ways.

So we have an on-point skewering of local and national news media, journalistic bias, an explosion at a candy convention AND an improv comedian imaging the offspring of Mr. T and E.T. - and who can turn all that down?

Join us next time for steamed hams…  You thought we were having steamed clams?  Oh no, I said, “steamed hams.”  That what I call hamburgers.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Extra Credit 3 - Merry Christmas!

Chestnuts roasting on an open fiiiire...  Hang on, I don't have an open fire...

Oh dear.

Best get this finished quickly then - it's G.F. Ho-Ho-Ho-rons' guide to The Simpsons at Christmas!  First up: this won't be anywhere near as good as the Halloween ones.  I make no apologies - there's simply not as much material to choose from, and for the most part it's simply not as good.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
However, I *love* me some Christmas.  It's my favourite time of year, so if I've got an ongoing regular series, you bet your sweet...  ASS that I'll be marking it with a quick post.  So let's have a good old look at my top five, eh?  Come on, it's Christmas Eve.  You've got bollocks all else to do.

NUMBER 5: "The Fight Before Christmas"
Season 22, Episode 8
First Broadcast: December 5, 2010

A CHRISTMAS STORY: We kick off with a "Treehouse of Horror" style anthology, with Bart getting a job at the North Pole to take his revenge on Santa for...  Er, something (see?  I told you this wasn't as good as the Halloween ones!), Marge fighting the Nazis in World War II and something to do with Martha Stewart - none of which matters as there's a section at the end with a Henson-style puppet Simpsons interacting with Katy Perry, so no-one remembers all the other bits.  Yay?

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: By default, the bit with Katy Perry, but to be honest I can't even remember that properly.  NEXT!!!


NUMBER 4: "'Tis The Fifteeth Season"
Season 15, Episode 7
First Broadcast: December 14, 2003

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Right, this is definitely better - Homer's selfish streak is very much in evidence as he forgets to get first Lenny, then his family, any presents, whist treating himself to a lavish talking astrolabe.  But after watching a rip-off of "A Christmas Carol", he decides to mend his ways and become the nicest, most generous man he can be - until bloody Lisa ruins it all by passing on her Buddhist tendencies.

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: "Star Trek"'s (fictional) take on "A Christmas Carol":

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

NUMBER 3: "Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire"
Season 1, Episode 1
First Broadcast: December 17, 1989

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Quite a lot happens in this, the first full-length episode of The Simpsons after their introduction in short form on Tracy Ullman's show, but to get to the heart of the matter: when Marge's hard-saved Christmas budget gets spent on tattoo removal for Bart, Homer works as an in-store Santa Claus to try to give the family the presents they want - but winds up with something even better...

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: Erm...  It's a bit rough if I'm honest, but I do enjoy Marge's Christmas letter - "Maggie is walking by herself, Lisa got straight A's and Bart...  Well, we love Bart."

SWEET LITTLE BABY JESUS RATING: Baby Jesus, making his debut.

NUMBER 2: "Holidays Of Future Passed"
Season 23, Episode 9
First Broadcast: December 11, 2011

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Quoted by many as a possible planned final ever episode should the actors' pay dispute not have been ironed out, this is the 'canon' future of The Simpsons, and is a very family-focused episode, as Bart and Lisa are struggling to connect with their own children and Maggie is in labour.  Luckily Homer is there to act as a bad example as usual, and there's all kind of future gubbins, including clones of Ralph Wiggum and a mind-swapped Lenny and Karl.

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: Homer's surprisingly touching talk about being a son, and being a father: "...everyone thinks their dad's a jerk.  And everyone's right.  But, when you get older, you realize how much you love them.  Your dad may be a little bit immature, but I know he loves you.  So, you ought to give him a chance."


NUMBER 1: "Marge Be Not Proud"
Season 7, Episode 11
First Broadcast: December 17, 1995

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Yes, this was a Christmas episode!  And thank Godzilla for that, as we get to talk briefly about a non-gimmicky episode which is simply good on its own merit.

Bart will stoop to any low to get "Bonestorm", the hot new beat-'em-up videogame, but when he tries to shoplift it and is caught by the store detective, Marge begins to feel she has failed as a mother, and that Bart has grown up too much to need her.  But the seasonal spirit brings reconciliation, and Bart gets to "enjoy" a videogame for Christmas - "Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge".

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: Anything to do with "Bonestorm" itself is pure, post-"Mortal Kombat" moral panic gold - but come on, it has to be this one shot...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

Join us next Thursday when we'll be back in our usual routine.  But until then, have a merry Christmas, everybody - and enjoy the rock 'n' roll stylings of Wild Billy Childish and The Buff Medways!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Nineteen - “Five days? But I’m mad now!”

Season 9, Episode 5
“The Cartridge Family”
First Broadcast: November 2, 1997

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

When association football (‘soccer’, to our American friends) fever comes to Springfield, in the form of the bitter rivalry of Mexico and Portugal, a riot breaks out when no goals are scored in seemingly only two minutes of action, underlining the fundamental difference between American and European team spectator sports.  After a good old fashioned football riot, naturally led by the British contingent, anarchy temporarily rules, and Homer uses his family’s perceived lack of safety as a lever to buy a firearm.

Unconvinced by a National Rifle Association meeting, and livid after Homer promises to get rid of the gun but actually just leaves it in the refrigerator, Marge is moved to take the children and go to a sleazy motel in an attempt to escape Homer’s wanton gunplay.  When his behaviour even brings the scorn of the NRA, Homer knows he must make amends.

Following Marge to the motel, he apologises and asserts that he has got rid of the gun.  However, Snake’s appearance and attempted robbery leads him to reveal he has lied again, and when Snake snatches Homer’s gun, it’s up to the quick reactions of other NRA members to save them.  Fearing the power the gun has over him, Homer empowers Marge to throw it away…  But seeing her reflection in the garbage can, decides to keep it for herself.


Homer's imagining of what life would be like if he robbed the Kwik E Mart:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Homer shopping for a gun, which includes him being categorised as "Potentially Dangerous", limiting him to a mere three handguns.

The contrast between Kent Brockman’s commentary, and the commentary of his Mexican, non-union equivalent.


Oh, that’s weird: the main featured song in this episode – other than the theme to “The Avengers” – is “The Waiting” by Tom Petty, who as I write this has just died, a mere four days ago (but when this gets published, about two and a half months ago).  It plays as Homer runs down the agonising five-day wait for his gun:


Guns had been featured prominently in The Simpsons before, including in “Homer The Vigilante”, where the drunken mob (some of whom are pictured in the NRA in this episode) are shown to be unable to safely handle firearms, and the actual showing of an oft-quoted Apu shooting in “Homer and Apu” - and that’s before we even get to the hyperviolence  of “McBain”.  And Sky1 didn’t ban any of those.  Just saying.  (Although I bet Channel 4 have cut them to shit.)

Oh yeah, and there’s an episode where Mr Burns got shot – that’s a bit of an obscure one though, you might not have heard about it.

The National Rifle Association – “cold, dead hands” and all that – are of course regularly mentioned on The Simpsons.  As revealed in “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular”, when Maggie is scanned in the opening title sequence, the cash register shows the legend “NRA4EVER” – just one of many right-wing references Matt Groening has peppered throughout his creation.


The Simpsons rarely turns its focus to huge societal and political issues, “Much Apu About Nothing”’s Cliff Notes of immigration aside, so the novelty of the show weighing in on something wider than Captain Wacky’s family adventures is pretty damn cool – I’d go as far as to say that this is “South Park” territory in terms of subject matter, and as such an intriguing proposition from the get-go.

It seems a relatively even-handed discussion of that huge issue, one which remains non-judgemental about gun ownership and use, not blind to the perceived advantages in home security and even the allure of firearm ownership, but critical of any lack of gun safety and the ease with which they can be purchased – a realistic view in keeping with a broadly left-wing American perspective on gun control.

And yeah, the banning worked.  This was a holy grail for a fair while due to Sky 1’s reluctance to show it and the lack of streaming or home DVR at that time, meaning a bootleg VHS was the only way to get hold of it – and get hold of it I did not.  Luckily the good old BBC was more than happy to have an episode of The Simpsons it could legitimately debut in the UK, and I still remember my excitement on seeing it for the first time.  For that one move alone, they’ll get my licence fee until the Tories succeed in dismantling it, in about four months’ time.

Join us next time for more from the blog that can’t even say “titmouse” without giggling like a girl.  (Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee!)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty - “…And that's when the C.H.U.D.s came at me.”

Season 9, Episode 1
“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”
First Broadcast: September 21, 1997

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

When Moe cracks down on his patrons’ drink driving, Barney finds himself in the unfamiliar realm of sobriety as the designated driver, on a night that will never be forgotten, except by everyone except Barney due to their excessive drunkenness – as DUFFMAN! and the Duff Party Bus pull up for a night of debauchery.

Barney drops the guys at their homes and disappears with Homer’s car, which is eventually traced to New York City.  Homer is reluctant to go due to a bad experience changing buses there when he was seventeen years old, but the family are keen to sample the Big Apple – and sample they do, taking in the sights and sounds, some shopping and a show on Broadway, whilst Homer spends an infuriating afternoon trying to get his car unclamped.

When crab juice causes nature to call and the World Trade Center bathroom is the only one around, Homer misses Officer Steve Grabowski’s arrival, and in frustration wrecks his own car attempting to remove the clamp, leading to a long, windscreen-free drive home for the hapless patriarch, further compounded by his family’s eagerness to revisit New York…


No pizza.  Only Khlab Kalash.  And to drink...?

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Bart’s visit to Mad Magazine, featuring Spy vs. Spy and Alfred E. Neumann.  One assumes he has yet to wash his eyes.

Homer’s flashback to the old, nasty New York of the late seventies/early eighties, full of pimps and C.H.U.D.s, all of which is wonderfully set to “The Entertainer”…


…which is a popular ragtime piece written by Scott Joplin in 1902.  More recently it was popularised by its use in the film “The Sting”, released in 1973:

Oh, thank Godzilla!  There’s also a whole bunch of songs this week, as opposed to last week’s Joe Cocker-fest.  So we also have a version of “Theme From New York, New York”, as popularised by the chairman of the board, you know his name. 

The episode also features “Oh Yeah” by Yello, arguably best known from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, as the theme of the Duff Party Bus, and a snatch of an original song, “You’re Checking In”, from a fictional Broadway show about celebrity addiction that the family attend, sans Homer.


DUFFMAN! is a character (or characters) with a history even foggier than that of Armin Tamzarian.  Ostensibly a gentleman named Barry Duffman (though this may be an illusion kept up by the brewery as at least three Duffmen are present in a later episode), or perhaps Barry Huffman, or Larry, or Sid…  You know what?  I’m going to leave it there and just state that I honestly think they’re using this character to deliberately needle their own approach to continuity.

Barney Gumble though – now that’s a man with coherent characterisation, right from his appearance in the first full length episode, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”.  A friend of Homer’s since high school, driven to drink by combination of Homer (in general) and the rejection of his high school sweetheart, Barney is clearly a clever and creative man – see his turn as John Lennon in “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”, or his delightful short film “Pukeahontas” – but he is constantly stymied by his need to drink, a thirst not helped by Moe’s enabling.

Barney has cleaned up his act on a number of occasions, and seemingly permanently in Season Eleven’s “Days of Wine and Doh’ses”.  Unfortunately this robbed him of his main character trait/flaw, and he has largely disappeared from the show since, only reappearing during his now-more-frequent relapses.


This is an episode from when “The Simpsons Are Going To…” was still big news, and this is one of the few episodes where the entirely cartoon America they inhabit is contrasted by a cartoon representation of the real America, as opposed to simply dumping them in another country and letting them deal with the ker-azy culture and wildlife. 

This episode shows, in microcosm, the full potential of taking the family to a different locale and letting them loose, with the added bonus of it being (largely) free of negative stereotyping and imbued with an increased accuracy that suggests the writers are more familiar with the location they’re writing about, rather than just saying Africa has big spiders or that the cultural value of female life is embarrassingly tiny in China.

As such it has a feel largely unlike other episodes that put the family out of their comfort zone – caricatured, but firmly rooted in reality; whimsical, but with a sliver of truth.  I think it also helps that it’s a place I’ve actually been – yes, yes, there’s “The Regina Monologues”, but I didn’t recognise the UK from that episode – which gives me a cultural proximity I don’t get from the rest of their travels. 

In fact the episode is so good that I've managed to go through this whole piece without mentioning the ridiculous theory that it predicted 9/11.

Join us next time when you’ll see all your favourite soccer stars!  Like Ariaga!  Ariaga II!  Bariaga!  Aruglia!  And Pizzoza!

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.

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.


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”.


Baadasssss songs we do NOT have, here.


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:


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".


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?