Airdate: April 4th, 1999
Holy Macaroni, another anthology episode! Twice in a season, this is the start of a decade-long trend that would have the show producing at least one extra “three-part anthology” episode every year or so… at least, it felt like it. This certainly isn’t the first one – that went to “The Simpsons Spinoff Showcase” in Season 8 – but is the first one to keep the fourth wall intact.
Between Season 10 and 19, and discounting the Treehouse of Horror there were nine “three-story” episodes – averaging out to nine per year. The trend was broken with the bizarre decision to split the third act in half – there was a “four-story” anthology in “Four Great Women and a Manicure”, but that was the last one. (Side note – I swear to god that the four-act structure was sabotage on somebody’s part to try and kill the show faster.)
With that in mind… “Simpsons Bible Stories”. As revenge for the rather inattentive behavior of the parishioners during a particularly hot Easter Sunday, Reverend Lovejoy reads the bible. From the beginning. Our protagonists pass out and begin dreaming about the various tales from the Old Testament…
(Before I continue, full disclosure – I consider myself more or less agnostic. So, yeah, I’m looking at these as stories, as well as a possible satire on the text itself.)
Adam and Eve – Marge
The first story is, well, the first story. God (Ned Flanders) puts Adam (Homer) and Eve (Marge) on Earth as the first humans, and places them in the utopian Garden of Eden. Adam then gets tempted to eat a forbidden fruit by a snake (Snake), Eve gets chucked out after she’s tempted to eat the apple, and when Adam tries to slip her back in, he gets the banhammer. Nice going.
While Ned Flanders as God might be a bit on the nose, consider the fact that he disabled the fans in the wraparound. Subconscious revenge? I think so. That said, not a whole lot is done to deconstruct the story. Remember “Terror at 5(1/2) Feet” from Treehouse of Horror IV– the deconstruction of the classic Twilight Zone story? Well, this feels more like a direct retelling, albeit with Simpsons characters in place and some comedy mixed in. Not that the jokes aren’t funny, but compared to the great character pieces and brilliant depth of the aforementioned story (amongst others), it feels limp. The writers could’ve analyzed the logistical errors, the awkward sexual politics of Eve being punished for eating the fruit first, etc. But, they didn’t. Shame.
About the only thing I can say is that, well, Adam is a complete jackass here, throwing Eve under the bus. And while he does regret it, his actions in trying to get her back into paradise only serve to damn them even further. Draw your own conclusions.
Moses and the River Nile – Lisa
The story of the escape to the promised land is reimagined somewhat as a bunch of kids being enslaved to a callous Pharoh (Principal Skinner). Moses (Milhouse) and his friend (Lisa) wind up as the lynchpin for the Hebrews’ escape from tyranny across the Nile River.
Well, give this one credit – it’s more than just a retelling of the book of Exodus. It actually takes the source material and adds some interesting twists to it. Instead of this superheroic figure, the decision to cast Milhouse as Moses works for the comedic aspect that the writers were going for – portraying this great prophet as the dorkiest kid in Springfield is one interesting subversion.
Having Lisa as the real brains of the operation fits her role as the show’s intellectual center. Thus, if you’re wondering why Lisa is dreaming of a story where Milhouse is the hero, consider that Lisa is the actual center of the rebellion – Milhouse is just the voice. It also fits her status as one of the more exasperated of the townspeople – something that the writers would overdo in later episodes, but still have some moderation over right now. (Compare to certain… other characters.)
Overall, I think this segment works better than the first one. The comedy connects, the writing is decent, and the twists to the source material are interesting. It’s certainly not a complete home run – the jokes tend more to the lowbrow end of the spectrum – but it’s alright for a viewing or two.
The Judgement of Solomon – Homer
Homer imagines that he’s King Solomon, and has to pass judgment as to who gets a pie – Lenny, or Carl. He decides to split the pie and half… and have the duo executed before scarfing it down and moving on to his next case.
Much like “Grunkle Stan Wins The Football Bowl” in “Bottomless Pit”, this “half-story” serves as a brief vignette looking into the mindset of the show’s most recognizable character. And, honestly, this works. I mean, having Lenny and Carl killed over a pie is a bit weird, but taking the haunting morality of the Judgement of Solomon and twisting it into a story about pie is totally something I could imagine Homer dreaming about. Oh, and the ending… Jesus vs. Checker Chariot. “My Accident.” That is all.
David V. Goliath 2: Stone Cold – Bart
Goliath’s son (Nelson) comes back to exact revenge on David (Bart). Despite David’s insistence that he can take out Goliath II, he gets his butt kicked and deposed as the monarch. After a shepherd (Ralph) vows (and fails) to avenge him, David is forced to train, Rocky-style, to take out the giant that dethroned him.
The decision to frame this story as a direct sequel to the original story works – partially because it’s still something of a retelling of David vs. Goliath while still taking advantage of the wide creative license. Spinning this as an action flick akin to Rocky or Die Hard is something I could absolutely imagine Bart doing – as well as putting his on-again-off-again antagonist Nelson as the giant that he needs to take down. Strange that his victory proves pyrrhic – not only does he not deliver the final blow, but he’s jailed for regicide, given the efficiency of Goliath’s tenure. Doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work – I could argue that it is a reflection of his insecurity that has popped up in some earlier episodes (“Bart Gets an F”, for one), but it does conflict with his more bombastic side. But that’s just one small complaint – “David v. Goliath 2″ is probably the most fun of all of the segments, partially because it takes advantage of the “repeat sequel” trope and of the various twists and turns.
A rather pedestrian wrap-around, although (somewhat predictably) not as strong as the ones used for Treehouse of Horror I-III. (IV had a relatively loose wraparound, and V on dispatched with it.) The ending, though, is something downright bizarre – the rapture begins, and the Simpsons are left below. (Lisa almost ascends, but take a lucky guess who keeps her out of nirvana.) They have to take the stairway to hell, where Homer faces his worst fear… the food is insufficient. Lousy karmic retribution! I’d say this is the zaniest that the show has ever gone, but… well, we have two seasons left here.
Overall: I was pleasantly surprised with my reaction to these stories – in that they didn’t completely irritate me. I mean, sure, they ain’t gonna compete with the early Treehouse of Horror episodes, but three of them do hold their own. The first segment and the wraparound could’ve been better, the comedy (much like most of the Scully era, it seems) tends somewhat more lowbrow for my tastes, and the segments overall seem more like retellings with little satire about the stories themselves. Still, a few quirky twists do keep this episode firmly in the “decent” category.
Or maybe it’s just good compared to the utter disaster that was “Make Room for Lisa”. Eh… whatever. “Bible Stories” is alright, but this show has done better jokes about religion and the bible in earlier episodes. More creativity would’ve made this episode better than decent, unfortunately.
Oh, and Happy Easter.
Sorta Average Score: 6.75.