Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 1: "The City of New York Vs. Homer Simpson"

Airdate: September 21st, 1997.

Synopsis: Barney Gumble, after being forced to stay sober for one night, goes insane and manages to land Homer’s car between the Twin Towers of the New York World Trade Center. Yes. Those towers. He has to choose between picking the car up or having it towed away (i.e. trashed). Homer is skeptical about going to the city, as he had a bad experience there in the 1970s. The family go to New York, with Homer going to the World Trade Center to get a cop to unboot his car, while the rest of the clan tour NY.

The family overall has a good experience in New York, experiencing the good side of things (the top of the Statue of Liberty, a Broadway play, a carriage ride in the park, MAD Magazine). Homer, however, magnifies every single fault he has, and after missing the cop because he had to go to the bathroom at the top of the World Trade Center, he decides to drive away with the boot on the car. He manages to get said boot loose, picks up the family and speeds away from New York, with no intent to return.

Review: This episode is known for three things, two of which that would dominate the show in future episodes, and all of which could be seen as a detriment against the episode.

  • An early apperance of Jerkass Homer.
  • One of the many “The Simpsons Go To…” episodes.
  • The episode with Homer’s car is parked at the twin towers. Yes. Those Twin Towers.

It’s partially because of the latter reason why this episode was never aired in syndication in the New York Tri-State area after 9/11. Being that I live in the tri-state area, that means it was not until 2007 when I caught the episode on DVD.

This episode was produced for the 8th season, although it aired during the 9th. So, the only reason this is included is because it contains traces of the flaws that would dominate the episode later. The main plot is a bit thin and random, Homer is loud and quite obnoxious, he gets off with little comeuppance (although his car is trashed), and the subplot is quite meager (although, seeing how the subplots would fall later on, this is actually rather good).

Still, this episode is actually quite funny. For those of you who do not know what New York City was like in the 70s…. think of what Detroit is like now. It was pretty bad. I could see where Homer was getting at with his refusal to go to New York. Therefore, you expect him to amplify every single negative point about New York City and his trip. I actually do enjoy the contrast between Homer’s view of New York vs. the family’s experience of NY. Also, you can not deny the fact that “I’m Checking In” is a pretty catchy song.

This episode is, overall, not the best episode of The Simpsons ever made. But it could be worse. In fact, the next episode is going to be quite worse.

Favorite Scene: “I’m Checking In!”

Score: 7.5

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Scullyfied Simpsons: The Fall of a TV Giant.

There is no denying it; The Simpsons has shaped American culture. It broke rules on what can be in a cartoon, it mocked everybody, it managed to merge both cynicism and sweetness within mere moments of each other (if not simultaneously), it had likable characters, intelligent humor, and a wonderful setting. It was the very first prime-time program I EVER watched, and I still quote various episodes to this very day.

Now, the show gets ready to enter its historic season 25. With this, we must take some time out to reflect on a show that is still shaking up norms, slashing-and-burning, making us think, and overall, bringing us strong belly laughs and warming our hearts.

I only wish that the second sentence in the previous paragraph was true.

Indeed, there is no doubt about it; at some point, The Simpsons slipped in quality. How badly it has fallen and when it slipped is up to every viewer. It is the opinion of this blogger that the show began slipping in season 9, entered freefall in season 10, and finally burned out completely in the middle of season 20.

There are various factors in the crash: running out of plausible plots, mischaracterization, trying too hard to say relevant, etc… There are also many people to blame for this crash in quality: the less talented writers, Matt Groening, FOX, the cast, etc. etc. However, most of the hatred from the fandom is laid at the feet of one man.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the distinct honor of introducing you to Mike Scully.

Scully took over the show in season 9. Coincidentally, that is also when the show started to slip in quality. Now, it’s hard to list every problem in minute detail, but let’s go over the problems in quick succession.

  • The tight control on the storylines got loosened. Suddenly, plots were seemingly made up on the spot.
  • The more intellectual humor was cut down significantly.
  • A decline in touching moments. We went from endings such as “You Are Lisa Simpson” and “Do It For Her” to “Jockey Elves trapped in Garbage Bags” (Not kidding about the elves) and “Pirates Rob a Yacht”.
  • Mischaracterization. Often, characters would change from episode to episode. The most infamous example? Homer went from “selfish and moronic, yet lovable and somewhat down to earth”, all the way to “Captain Wacky callous egomaniac”. Others were changed, but Homer is the one most remembered.
    • Adding on to the Homer example, he also became the center of the universe, and met all these celebrities, had zillions of jobs, etc. You know, your average joe!
  • Speaking of celebrities, the purpose of guest stars changed from having them voice characters created by the writers, to having them voice idealized versions of themselves.
  • Storylines that were not shifting rapidly from second to second were repeated from earlier episodes.
  • Stuff that would have been played for laughs in earlier episodes was played seriously, and vice-versa.
  • Not a single care toward the audience, if not outright insulting them.

Now, I know what you are thinking: Mike Scully is not the one man responsible for the decline of a once brilliant TV show! And you are right. In Scully’s defense, many factors involving the staff caused a slip in quality. Also, Mike Scully wrote some of the best scripts in the history of the show (Lisa’s Rival, Lisa on Ice, Two Dozen and One Greyhounds, Lisa’s Date with Destiny).

However, Scully was the man at the top of the food chain (Matt Groening had backed off the show and was developing some office comedy that was not well liked by FOX.)

Mike could have kept a tight control on the staff and their writing/animation. He did not. And that’s why Mike Scully gets so much blame. He had so much responsibility, and he did not utilize it well. That’s why he gets a chunk of the blame for the show’s slip in quality.

Now, here’s the deal with the episodes that I will be watching. We are going to span from the first episode of season 9 all the way to Mike Scully’s last episode as executive producer in season 13. This will mean that we will cover a couple of episodes directed by Bill Oakley and Joel Weinstein (who are responsible for season’s 7 and 8, but also had a few holdovers). One of those episodes from season 9 under Oakley/Weinstein is considered the beginning of the show’s collapse.

Will we cover any more episodes? Maybe. We might go back to season 1 to analyze the beginning of the show, season 7 to try and rebut a claim by the popular “Kill the Simpsons and Do It 15 Years Ago” blog “Dead Homer Society” that the episode “Marge Be Not Proud” marked the very first signs of decline. We might even take a look at season 25, just to see how stupid and boring it is.

But the point is, we are going to analyze the collapse of what was once the de facto king of comedy.

Gravity Falls Review: Season 1, Episode 14: “Bottomless Pit!”

Airdate: March 1st, 2013

Special Note about this review: This episode is split into a few segments, sort of like the “Treehouse of Horror” specials from The Simpsons or the “Anthology of Interest” episodes from Futurama. It’s a controversial practice that many shows do, and this episode has received mixed reviews from the fandom because of it.

Due to this structure, each segment will be graded separately, and all grades will be averaged out. So this is going to be a bit of a longer review.

As always, beware of SPOILERS!

Wrap-around: While dumping stuff in a bottomless pit, Stan, Dipper, Mabel, and Soos wind up falling into said pit. To pass the time, they each tell stories.

The wrap around segment is brilliant. It ties into the science-fiction aspect of the show, and the resolution to this shows just how brilliant this show is.

“Voice Over” (Dipper’s Story)

Hey, at least it isn’t introduced by Mr. Freeze… as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Dipper realizes that his voice is godawful and scratchy after hearing it on tape. He winds up buying a voice-changing serum from Old Man McGucket, making his voice far deeper. However, he manages to scare off many people (up to and including his own sister), and wants his voice changed back. McGucket tells him that not only did he get the wrong serum, but also, said serum expires at sundown. After he relistens to the tape, he learns that others loved his unique voice. He goes back to his old voice, although Grunkle Stan gets another version of the Serum.

“Voice Over”, if analyzed correctly, shows one overlooked aspect of Dipper’s character. Dipper has this desire to mature in every aspect of his personality and body. Gravity Falls is partially a coming-of-age story for Dipper. Granted, the message “you’re fine just the way you are” is a tad bit cliche, but the humor in this segment helps mitigate that problem. And the ending… oh, god the ending.

Score: 8.5

“Soos’ Really Great Pinball Story (Is That a Good Title? Do They Have To Be Puns, or Whatever?) (Soos’s Story)

No. No, they don’t.

Soos, Dipper, and Mabel are playing Pinball in the Shack’s recreation room. As Soos is about to beat his high score, the three wind up entering the pinball game. The game threatens to kill the gang with various pinballs. Soos manages to go into the core of the game, and faces the reset button. Soos is now faced with a dilemma, save his friends, or his high score? He chooses his friends, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

This segment is also pretty darn great. The ending is a bit predictable, but it presents quite a bit of development for Soos. This segment represents a central part of his character: despite his childish attachment to something with little sentimental value (his high score), when faced with an ultimate decision, he will choose his friends over anything else. The fact that he takes a decent while to make his decision shows that, despite being noble at the end, he is still a child at heart, whether for good or for bad.

Score: 9.

“Grunkle Stan Wins the Football Bowl” (Stan’s Story)

Only in your dreams, Stanford!

It’s exactly what it says on the tin. Stan scores the winning touchdown at the Football Bowl, gets a trophy presented by a beautiful lady, football players learn that old guys are valuable, and Stan’s robot thanks him.

This one is my favorite of them all. Despite being a mere 30 seconds, it reveals that, alongside his greed and callousness, Stan also has a bit of a problem with his ego, and can’t write for beans. This scene managed to leave me in stitches the first time I saw it, and not a whole lot more needs to be said.

Score: 9.5 (Although those falling down the hole with him think otherwise).

“Trooth Ache” (Mabel’s Story)

The title card of this segment is way too creepy. Instead, here’s a screenshot.

Mabel is upset that Stan is a consummate liar. especially after he lies to Police. Mabel consults Dipper’s journal to get some help for Stan’s lying problem and manages to land some truth-telling teeth. They work too well, causing Stan to tell the truth too much, such as on his taxes (he committed fraud) and reveal a ton more truths… most of them illegal. As the cops come to arrest Stan, Mabel has to lie to save her uncle.

One part of this segment manages to land it right along Soos’ Great Pinball Story. It shows that Mabel, despite being quite loopy, is probably the most moral of the main cast. Think about it: Dipper will do anything to date Wendy, Soos still has childish tendencies, Wendy is a slob, and Stan’s list of flaws rivals that of Bender from Futurama. The fact that she has to lie is taken as a great disservice to her morals, and she only does so in defense of her family. Also, this segment also provides some brilliant lines! “Stan is sick and needs a bear”, anybody? And the ending of this one is just brilliant all around!

Score: 9.

Overall Review and Semi-pointless Tangent/Plea: Certainly, this episode is one of my favorite episodes of the show, partially because it reminds me of the Treehouse of Horror episodes from The Simpsons which to me, were always mandatory viewing. The idea of doing a trilogy of shorts is nothing new, but this time especially, it was done very, very well. Characterization was perfect, development was wonderful, the humor was brilliant, and overall, it was just a joy to watch.

It also supports what I like about trilogy-based episodes: despite being shorter, you have more liberties taken with the characters and the setting. Therefore, creativity is not looked down upon. You can do something like a parody of the Mary Sue, satirize TV cliches, or set the characters in situations which, while not full enough to take up an entire episode, work well in 7-minute clips.

I do have to go on a bit of a tangent and make a plea/warning to the writers of Gravity Falls, however. This also concerns the connection between “Treehouse of Horror” and “Bottomless Pit”. During the Mike Scully and early-to-middle Al Jean years of The Simpsons (In layman’s terms, seasons 10-20), more effort was put into the Treehouse of Horror episodes of those seasons compared to the rest of the episodes. That, alongside numerous other factors (such as characterisation and plot ideas), caused quite the decline in overall quality for the show. Therefore, Gravity Falls writers, remember that if you make this an annual tradition, every episode in the season deserves a large amount of effort, and not just the annual trilogy episodes.

(Even the writers of The Simpsons figured this out, however, and decided to make all of their episodes have an equal amount of effort put into them. That is to say, they now decide what not-so-relevant celebrity to put in an episode, write their episodes in two shots at best, send every single one of them off to animation studios without care for quality, collect their cheques, and let the episodes air to a frustrated and ever-shrinking fanbase.)

TL;DR: This episode is brilliant, the trilogy-type structure in cartoons works when done right, and they should’ve canceled The Simpsons 10 years ago.

Overall Score: 9

Another pointless note: As of this episode, the cipher used in the end credits is A1Z26.

Gravity Falls Review: Season 1, Episode 13: "Boss Mabel"

Airdate: February 15th, 2013

I believe Mabel’s prior experience was in the Department of Redundancy Department.

Synopsis (SPOILERS!): Grunkle Stan has been a callous and largely ineffective boss over the summer. From scamming people, to rejecting ideas for the shack, to overall being a smeghead, the crew are fed up with him. Mabel tries to add a positive aura to the establishment, but Stan refuses. Therefore, they come to a bet: whoever can make more money in 3 days wins control of the shack. If Stan loses, he has to perform an embarrassing song conceding defeat. If Mabel Loses, she has to replace her flamboyant sweaters with a t-shirt saying “Loser”. Stan tries his hand by going on a show called “Cash Wheel”. Mabel is in total control of the Shack, and rules on some new-age management that she picked up from a book from 1983.

Stan manages to rack up dollar after dollar on Cash Wheel, largely by being a complete and utter obnoxious jerk. Mabel, however, has to deal with Wendy’s laziness, Soos’s costume, Dipper’s decision to bring in supernatural aspects into the shack, and the end result of mass property damage. The stress eventually breaks her spirit, and she turns into a cynical, hard boss. Ergo, she turns into Stan. They manage to make $1 (after repairs and fees). Stan comes home, and admits that during his tenure on Cash Wheel, he went overboard and lost it all. Mabel, however, concedes that Stan should run the shack over the summer.

Review: This episode aired after months of waiting. Fans were expecting something sort-of awesome as a return to the show we all loved. I was excited…. and then a tad bit disappointed at the end result.

This episode overall was a slightly dry entry back into the show. Granted, it was in the middle of the season, and it was still a good episode, but still, it wasn’t my favorite by far. The plot line was somewhat clichĂ©, with a rather predictable ending. The idea behind Dipper’s capture of the monster could have made for an episode in itself, but it is regulated to an extension of a plot. Wendy’s character is made into more of a callous, insensitive jerk compared to previous episodes. Granted, that fits into her characterisation of a snarky, lazy teenager, but I would not really expect that behavior from her to her best friend. Soos does not really get any overtly funny lines, but the scene with him wearing the question mark suit is good for a visual pun.

However, this episode does have a great philosophical question, which picks up the episode’s score. Is there a fine line between being a light boss and being a bad boss? Do we need stern-ness, and how much before it goes into abuse of employees? Stan toes the latter line, while Mabel goes over the former. We all know Stan is not the best boss, but maybe he knows that his employees are lazy and need more control. Therefore, he thinks he is being strict. Does he go over the line? Quite often, but still.

Speaking of Stan, he gets brilliant lines during his Cash Wheel plot, and manages to be so audacious in his behavior, you feel bad for laughing. The ending is a bit cliche, but it is perfectly in character for Stan. The subplot, otherwise, is just a laugh riot all around!

Still, this show works better when the Paranormal aspects of the show are brought into light. This episode contains very little in the way of paranormal, and is more of a slice-of-life episode. That is this episode’s biggest letdown. Granted, from the next episode out, this show goes back into science fiction/paranormal territory.

Overall, a bit of a weaker-than-expected way back into a brilliant show, but still good.

Favorite Scene: Let’s just go ahead and give the award to the entire Cash Wheel subplot, as picking one scene from that subplot is quite an affront to every other scene from that subplot.

Least Favorite Scene: Wendy’s manipulation of one of her best friends. Makes you wonder what Dipper sees in her. Then again, Dipper is quite manipulative himself, so that makes two.

Score: 7.25.