Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 25: "Natural Born Kissers"

Nothing like your 11th anniversary to realize you have old cake in the fridge.

Airdate: May 17, 1998

Synopsis: It’s Marge and Homer’s 11th anniversary. However, recent events (such as having their anniversary dinner at a family restaurant) have them fear that the zest in their marriage has run out. While trying to get a motor for their freezer, the two get stuck in a muddy driveway in the middle of farm country. Hiding out in a farmhouse, the risk of the farmer catching them inside reignites the fire in their relationship, and the two realize that their relationship reignites when the risk of being caught in compromising situations increases.

Meanwhile, Bart and Lisa find Abe’s old metal detector. After finding tons of junk, the two eventually locate a copy of an alternate ending to Casablanca. Let’s just say, the ending isn’t what one would consider a classic.

Review: Shorter review than normal here, because there isn’t too much to dissect. Earlier episodes did the “zest in love life” plot better, added more pathos, more character development, and were funnier. It seems like this episode was just done to appeal to fanservice, as well as see how far the writers could “push the envelope”, and didn’t really bother to make that many other benchmarks in terms of quality.

It’s amazing that, by the standards of the show, this was one considered one of the more “risqué” episodes. Remember- around this time, “South Park” was stretching the boundaries of what a cartoon could show. It seems like this episode was constructed as a response- a more risqué, envelope pushing episode. Nowadays, it’s a relatively tame episode. Strip away the more “edgy” content, and what you have is a rather pedestrian episode- Marge and Homer have a marriage crisis, a plot point which would be a cliche of the Al Jean years. If you want to be “edgy”, at least have substance.

I don’t know- maybe 12-year-old me might have liked it because it was “edgy”, but with years gone by, I just feel like it’s a typical Scully-era episode- decent situation, zany buildup, zany ending. It’s far from the worst offender- it’s still a bit funny, and characterization was pretty decent, if milquetoast – but it’s not the most outstanding thing I’ve seen this show do.

The message of the A-plot? Don’t break the law. It’s too much trouble for everybody involved.

Strangely enough, I found the B-plot a bit more interesting than the A-plot. Bart and Lisa finding an old movie actually could’ve made for a decent A-plot in and of itself- sort of a remake of “Three Men and a Comic Book” meets “Lisa on Ice” meets “Day the Violence Died”. We could’ve seen some great character interaction between the two- something we really haven’t seen all season. Here, finding an alternate ending to Casablanca only allows for enough material for a B-plot, and with what little time it’s given, it’s executed very well.

In fact, that plot showcases the satire aspect of The Simpsons more than the original. In trying to find treasure, Bart and Lisa come across an ending to Casablanca that is far, far happier than the one in the movie. It’s pretty clear that the ending is a spoof on the strict standards set for movies well into the 70s- movies like All that Heaven Allows, for example, had to slip their depressing messages under a thin cover of “happiness”. Casablanca is well remembered because it’s ending wasn’t happy, and it’s characters didn’t just stick themselves within archetypes, and the movie was more than just a simple romantic drama.

This episode also reveals, rather ironically, that a bad ending can erase a lot of goodwill that a piece of media built up prior to the climax. If there actually was an ending like that, and it got slipped in, I doubt Casablanca would be as popular as it is now. Hear me, Simpsons writers? Finish strong- otherwise, you will encounter the wrath of geeks! (Ah, who am I kidding- they stopped caring years ago.)

The moral of that story? Metal detectors are time sinks, and cliches are awful. (Al Jean musn’t have paid too much attention to that last point.)

Game, set, match for season 9. Next up for our trashing? Season 10.

Tidbits:

  • I’ll admit right now- the setup to the A-plot is pretty funny. Marriage in a rut, plus old cake, plus forgetting to close the freezer? Brilliant. (Just wondering- why was the fridge also open? Ah, never mind.)
  • Gil’s back! Remember- he used to sell shoes? Now he sells cars… and can’t do that well at all. Methinks that’s going to be Gil’s character- an utter failure at everything he does. He probably wouldn’t have been used as much in later seasons if Phil Hartman hadn’t been shot. What a shame.
  • I just love the look on Maude’s face when she notes Ned’s obvious golf advice. It’s the face that shows, as happy as their marriage is, there’s still some small differences between the two of them, rather than Maude just being a female Ned. I love those subtle moments of character… when I catch them.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5- even with the ending, the episode is still relatively grounded.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 1. In fact, I think Homer is a bit milquetoast here. Calm before the storm? I hope not. (Hint: it probably is.)
Favorite Scene: Nothing too outstanding in this episode, but I found the “Casablanca Alternate Ending” brilliant enough to get this award.
Least Favorite Scene: Let’s face it- the second half of the A-plot was just an excuse to push the envelope. Oh, and Homer gets hurt a lot during that.
Score: 7. Barely. 
Now, to end the season (and other seasons of Scully’s era of The Simpsons), I’m not going to do a traditional “wrap-up”. Rather, I’m going to include that in a “Not Another Top (X) List” post. That post? The 9 worst episodes from Season 9.

Gravity Falls Review: "Not What He Seems" (Season 2, Episode 11)

Who sits at the center of this screengrab: Lapis Lazuli, or Heisenberg?

Airdate: March 9th, 2015

Synopsis: The FBI is coming! It’s the apocalypse! We’re all gonna die!!!

Oh… you want a real synopsis. Fine, whatever.

Stan’s wacky underground device is activated overnight… just hours before the FBI finally moves in and nicks him. The kids are taken to Child Services, yet they manage to escape the Humvee transporting them. As they run back to the Mystery Shack, they realize that Stan wasn’t what he seemed, but rather, may have lied across the nation. Now, they have to question: do they continue trusting this man who formed a strong bond with them all summer?

Review: Alright, I think it’s time you got a quick look at my reaction to this episode.

Note: image here so I can do some shameless self-promotion of my Futurama blog.

Indeed. The shock was incredible. I hope it lasts.

OK, you want a real review? I’ll give you one. Spoilers from here on out. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 24: "Lost Our Lisa"

Worst. Bus ride. Ever.

Airdate: May 10th, 1998

Synopsis: Lisa’s attempts to go to a museum exhibit crash when Bart does something stupid with props and glue. (Surprise, surprise.) Marge is not a fan of Lisa’s proposal to take the bus… so she gets approval from Homer. However, Lisa didn’t look at the bus schedule and winds up in the middle of nowhere. It’s up to Captain Wacky to rescue her!

Review: This episode, in my opinion, is just a weaker version of “My Sister, My Sitter”- Lisa tries to get out of potential trouble with her parents. However, whereas that episode had damn good pacing, a great setup, and believable characterization… this episode has Homer hijack the plot so that a drawbridge can close on his head.

Elaboration? Fine.

Yes, the first part of this episode is Lisa… TAKING THE PUBLIC BUS! THE HORROR!! THE HORROR!!!

Actually, the bus system in the United States is actually a tad bit more confusing if you’re not inside a major city. I mean, have you seen the Suffolk County Transit bus system out here on Long Island? Not exactly straightforward… nor is it as point-by-point as it is in New York City. Marge’s concern is pretty damn realistic… and guess what, she was right!

Lisa winds up in the middle of freaking nowhere!

Actually, this is somewhat believable characterization for Lisa. Sure, she’s a brilliant intellectual who might be the sanest in the family. However, when you think about it, she makes decisions that can be utterly brash and insane. There was no need for her to look at a bus schedule, and it came back to bite her.

I actually felt like this episode could’ve been a decent, if well-trudged through, character analysis for Lisa. Is she really as mature as she appears to be? We’ve seen her go to cruel lengths in “Girly Edition”, and here, she seems hell-bent on going to the museum, no planning, no consideration of the consequences.

Still, it’s a Scully-era episode. This, of course, means that they have to stuff Captain Wacky into the plot somewhere.

That’s the problem that seems to dominate the second half of the second act, as well as the first half of the third. Homer leaves work, tries to find Lisa, and proceeds to suffer only minor injuries from otherwise mortal wounds. He drives through a bunch of planks. A drawbridge crashes on his head. Cars run over his skull.

On one hand, he appears to suffer no damage, barring some tire tracks on the top of his head.

On the other hand, this leads into a part of the episode that is criticized by some Simpsons fans. For example, Simpsons fan Mike Amato, in his “watch them all” blog “Me Blog Write Good”, dissected Homer’s speech at the end of the episode– one where he encourages Lisa to take risks. Here’s his interpretation:

When Lisa vows she’ll never take a stupid risk ever again, Homer slams the brakes and informs her otherwise, claiming that stupid risks make life worth living, and that’s why he has so many crazy adventures. So yeah, instead of being an average American man who has dramatic and absurd scenarios befall him (which is part of the reason why they’re funny), now he’s Captain Wacky, actively doing stupid things on impulse. It’s astounding how jarring this scene is; even Lisa in-universe seems kind of perturbed by her father’s statements. Homer loves the thrill of adventure? […] His whole diatribe is almost like his new mission statement, as from this point on he’s pretty much always up to some wacky hijinks, a fractured caricature of his former self.

Mike Amato is pretty spot-on with his assessment, so I’ll just build on it a tad bit.

Now, in the writers’ defense, Homer has a point. Sometimes, you do have to take certain risks- you shouldn’t be milquetoast. I also think he might have been coming off the “rush” he got from almost dying- thus, having a slightly different outlook on life.

The problem here is that besides coming at a time when the character was “evolving”, we have to remember that this speech was given by Homer. There was no reason for it other than the writers found that Homer was available. To me, this is the moment when Homer began charging full-steam to Jerkass Homer-ville – one where he did whatever impulses or fantasies the writers had because they’re awesome.

Now that I’m done railing against that, I must admit that Homer is actually relatively sweet here. He goes to rescue Lisa, and despite almost dying, he and Lisa get to spend some quality father-daughter time together. It’s actually a pretty sweet ending.

It’s a cute episode, indeed, but one with a flaw that just seems too much like a bad omen of Jerkassery and Zaniness.

Tidbits:

  • Uh… Lisa wants to go see a bunch of artifacts from Egypt. The title of the program? “Treasures of Isis.” That might come off as a tad bit awkward to those that don’t read up on their history.
  • Personal note: I never encountered a “split weekday schedule” bus – Suffolk Transit only does Weekdays and Weekends.
  • One more note: the “Not What He Seems” review won’t be up until probably the end of the weekend.
Favorite Scene: There’s something particularly heartwarming about Lisa and Homer at the end of the episode. This show still has a bit of heart left.

Least Favorite Scene: Homer getting a drawbridge closed on his head… not so much.

Zaniness Factor: 3. Homer getting all those injuries and surviving? This is a cartoon now.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2.5, only and only for his “risk” rant. It isn’t so much “callous” as it is “out of character”.

Score: 6.5.

Sam Simon: 1955-2015

Great- another death in the Geek-o-sphere.

Sam Simon, one of the three creators of The Simpsons, went to the great beyond today. He had been battling cancer for about two years, and beat his doctor’s predictions by… about 18 months. All while donating much of his fortune to charity. THAT, my friends, is impressive.

Honestly… it’s hard to imagine what American TV would be like without the work of Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Mr Simon. What that trio did with the creation of The Simpsons is nothing short of groundbreaking. Simon helped create a show that might have been one of the smartest on TV. That show not only helped create a media empire (for good or for bad), but tapped into the attitudes of a generation unimpressed with a relatively milquetoast slate of American sitcoms.

Without Sam, who knows if The Simpsons would’ve succeeded? Who knows if we’d have shows like Futurama, Gravity Falls, etc?

So, what to do now? I guess a Sam Simon marathon is in order. For your Sam Simon viewing pleasure, please watch these episodes.

  • Season 1
    • “The Telltale Head”
    • “The Crepes of Wrath”
    • “Some Enchanted Evening”
  • Season 2
    • “Treehouse of Horror” (“The Raven”)
    • “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”
    • “The Way We Was” (Try not to choke up at the ending of this.)
  • Season 3
    • “Treehouse of Horror II”
    • “Black Widower”
  • Season 4
    • “Treehouse of Horror III” (“Dial Z For Zombies”)
Godspeed, Mr. Simon.