Abridged Post-Classic Simpsons - REDUX

CousinMerl

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I actually like Sums more than my score or comments would suggest. Like you, I like the premise.

Oh, I figured you thought it was just average due to the review and score. Why didn't you keep the 3.5/5 rating? Just curious.

Also, I was reading your edit comments and truth be told, I'd totally have kept 'Seven Beer Snitch' over 'Kill Gil' (despite the fact that there'd be a lack of Christmas episodes in these Jean seasons, unless I'd just put 'Tis The Fifteenth Season' in there instead. Heck, I'd probably just do that). I'm probably one of few who really like that one ('Snitch') and find it underrated and the premise of Homer as a prison snitch pretty entertaining and fun, though I understand why some wouldn't like it so much (though even if I wouldn't be a big fan, I'm thinking I'd rather easily keep it over 'Kill Gil'. At least 'Snitch' has some excitement and likeability to it).
 
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B-Boy

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@CousinMerl I just can't overlook the flaws of Sums, all of which become a little more obvious each time I watch it. I still enjoy the episode, but I don't think a score higher than 3 would be an honest one from my point of view. Just a few too many issues.

With regards to Seven-Beer Snitch. I have problems with how sloppy that episode is. Homer gets incarcerated, but the rest of the family don't react at all. There's no sign that the prison is actually all that cruel. There's also no conclusion whatsoever to the subplot. And that's just off the top of my head. I swing back and forth with episodes like these. Y'know, the ones I don't think are awful but aren't good either, hovering around a score of 2.5 to 3. When I first started this project and decided on four SD Jean seasons, I short-listed a handful of these episodes out of necessity so I could fill them. Kill Gil was one that missed out the first time in favour of Seven-Beer Snitch (I also had stuff like Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes and See Homer Run among several others that were in the running). As I mentioned yesterday, after going through these again, I decided on a whim to swap Snitch with Kill Gil because I thought the latter at least tried to do something interesting (even if it flopped) whereas I find the latter extremely pedestrian in every way to say the least. Not sure if I've explained myself very well here. Happy to answer any questions about my selection and sequencing process!
 
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Szyslak100

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Maybe I am going against the tide but I absolutely LOVE Girls Just Want to Have Sums. It'd be in my TOP10 of the entire SD Jean era with no doubt. I'd need to write one of my full reviews to go in-depth on the reasons why this episode is one of my favorites, but I will try to keep things concise so I don't derail the thread.

The episode starts fantastically with the aesthetic and exquisite musical of Itchy & Scratchy. I'd go as far as saying it is the second-best stage show ever delivered by this show, only below the Planet of the Apes parody featured in A Fish Called Selma, and only because Phil Hartman was phenomenal in that one. It was very creative, amusing, and even touching for moments. Besides, it's the only prominent use of Itchy & Scratchy in the show since The Terror of Tiny Toon, back in season 10, until Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy, just 20 years later. I love the cartoon so its inclusion is a huge plus. Sure, I get it if someone who thought the episode had pacing problems feels it was excessively long. I think the episode is solidly structured, mainly because the episode doesn't need anything but an improper quote from Skinner to introduce its conflict so they could try a different and more relaxed opening, due to the extra time for not needing an introduction. And, geez, even if it meant the rest of the episode was injured by the musical, I'd still think it was worthy. It was beautiful.

The episode is amazing on all fronts for me. In terms of satire is excellent and I expect we all agree on it. I liked that they never take an in-depth of the real problems of machismo, sexism, misogyny, or feminism. There are some keen observations like the exposition of the call-out culture, it's true. But as a whole, the episode stayed at the edge of any polemic and just wanted to entertain The satire is played for laughs in an intentionally sloppy way, making fun of stereotypes as if Springfield was in a battle of the sexes. Males are violent and destructive, females are sensitive and delicate – It's inoffensive (unlike it might be Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy for some people) but it is still edgy.

In terms of humor, this episode has an unusual amount and effectiveness of jokes for post-classic Simpsons standards. The intentionally grotesque generalizations of how men and women are, the hilarious disagreements between Homer and Marge, the witty and satirical commentaries scattered through the episode (I love the one when Skinner receives critics for saying both genders are the same, and then for saying they are not the same), and many other moments. Man, even the kind of jokes that I don't like works here, like the extremely dumb joke of Bart Junior or Homer sleeping in the doghouse. The only joke I thought really failed was Skinner being poisoned by the squirrels. Everything else worked.

In terms of the story, it is quite creative and interesting. And also it's original, because The Simpsons rarely treats this topic, and relevant, even more now than it was in the 2000s, I daresay. But the idea of a segregated school is interesting to reexplore the subuniverse of kids, something they did kinda well (even though it overlooks the girl's side, a problem of the show in general and not of this episode in particular, to be fair). Lisa being an infiltrate in the boy's school is actually interesting to see how he deals with them and how she slowly changes her personality. Lisa as Jake Boyman was memorable and sweet, and I loved how the ending surprisingly let her conserve that violent side she developed here, even though her speech said the opposite – it's probably the best way they could have closed this story.

In terms of characterizations, it was quite flawless. Lisa is really well portrayed because she fights for her rights and tries to progress, holding one of her brighter and more special facets, but she does it all in silence, without being moralistic and sermonic, and so the writers avoided the hateful counterpart of that facet of her characterization. Bart is in top form here, representing boys and supportively and attentively helping Lisa to turn into a boy. Homer is a source of comedy in the exact doses we need from him when he is not the protagonist. Marge plays useful side roles with Homer (fighting with him) and Lisa (supporting her). Characters like Martin, Milhouse, Martin, Nelson, or Chalmers have all great lines. The only issue I could get is Skinner's characterization, but his pathetic facet is in line with the entire post-classic era so not much to blame in this episode. This episode at least misuses him for the benefit of the story and not for the sake of laughing at him – same reason I am not in conflict with the ending: Skinner's role is serviceable for the actual story (Lisa's story) and there was no necessity to recall on it in my opinion, especially when it is clearly implied that everything will turn to normality after Lisa reveals she is Jake Boyman. I can see why someone could get problems with this, but I find Skinner's role very peripherical so I don't think it's really necessary to explicitly return to the status quo.

Animation is also quite solid, courtesy of the sometimes underrated and forgotten director Nancy Kruse. They did a nice job idealizing the girl's school and deteriorating the boy's side.

Oh, well, what can I say. It took way longer than expected. I adore this episode and the only negative thing I have to say is a nitpick for a joke that didn't work and well, two problems that are generic of the show this episode is a victim and not guilty of: underdevelopment of female characters and degradation of the character of Skinner. Everything else was excellent and I'd give it a high 5/5, to be honest. By the way, I don't want to convince anyone or anything, just that after reading some criticism towards it, I wanted to share my two cents of it as well. I will comment about the rest of the abridged season tomorrow, and sorry for this overlong commentary (I swear I deleted a lot of stuff to make it shorter, haha!)
 
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B-Boy

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You never have to apologise for overlong commentary dude! Certainly not to me. I welcome your thoughts and feedback no matter what they are or how long they turn out to be. Your enthusiasm for the episode is infectious and it's making me regret lowering the grade! 😆 I'd actually forgotten a few of the quality character moments sprinkled throughout the episode which you reminded me of (I also think the disagreements between Homer and Marge are funny along with Homer sleeping in the dog house). Screw it, I'll put it back to a 3.5. I'm still not sold on the musical and I still have issues with some of the pacing/execution, but it's definitely a tad better than just a plain old 3.

Can I just say, too, that your English and writing has improved dramatically over your time here. I really enjoyed reading that. Nice work @Szyslak100!
 
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CousinMerl

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With regards to Seven-Beer Snitch. I have problems with how sloppy that episode is. Homer gets incarcerated, but the rest of the family don't react at all. There's no sign that the prison is actually all that cruel. There's also no conclusion whatsoever to the subplot. And that's just off the top of my head.

I do agree about it being kinda sloppy at times. It has a lot of problems indeed and is a contrived episode both in content and structure, but I never really minded that. To me it remains a decently good episode and I'll stand by that, despite it not being one of the better SD Jean era episodes out there. It has a nice entertainment factor overall, but again, it does certainly have some issues that can turn some viewers away. Still like it just fine though and this is your list so you're free to pick 'Kill Gil' instead.

I swing back and forth with episodes like these. Y'know, the ones I don't think are awful but aren't good either, hovering around a score of 2.5 to 3. When I first started this project and decided on four SD Jean seasons, I short-listed a handful of these episodes out of necessity so I could fill them. Kill Gil was one that missed out the first time in favour of Seven-Beer Snitch (I also had stuff like Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes and See Homer Run among several others that were in the running). As I mentioned yesterday, after going through these again, I decided on a whim to swap Snitch with Kill Gil because I thought the latter at least tried to do something interesting (even if it flopped) whereas I find the latter extremely pedestrian in every way to say the least. Not sure if I've explained myself very well here. Happy to answer any questions about my selection and sequencing process!

Oh, I certainly see your point of why you chose 'Kill Gil' there (I'd too say it tried something new) while 'Seven-Beer Snitch' (the former) was a little more "safe" and normal. You explained it well, even in regards to the way you are not all to decided around these weak-to-middle grade episodes (and 'See Homer Run' & 'Sex, Pies & Idiot Scrapes' are decent enough alternatives, but don't stand out as much as something like just 'Kill Gil', which is quite memorable, for the wrong reasons but still).

That said, in regards of wanting to have a Christmas episode, I'm curious of didn't you pick 'Tis The Fifteenth Season' instead of 'Kill Gil' in the end? I know that the former might not be as fitting to the theme of the season, but it certainly the better Christmas episode and would probably have been my first choice (or I could have substituted it with 'Simpsons Christmas Stories' which I have a soft spot for and is a silly but nice romp) but these are your seasons so I respect your decision with 'Kill Gil'.

And finally, @Szyslak100, I must say that was a great, if very unexpected, lengthy review and defense of 'Girls Just Want To Have Sums' and I can see why it made @B-Boy increase his grade. For me, I still like it for most of what it did (ranging from the themes and social commentary) and consider it above average, but still feel the kinda sudden ending with the loose threads ruin some of its good will. This was certainly an episode that needed the 'Thanksgiving Of Horror' treatment (meaning three extra minutes to give it enough time to wrap everything up satisfactionary).
 

Wile E. the Brain

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@Wile E. the Brain Just to clarify my modus operandi, I don't pick a theme first and then select episodes second. I shortlist all the episodes I want to include first and then work out interesting ways to sequence them. So most of these episodes would have been included one way or the other.
Yeah I suppose I miswrote what I wanted to say but I have no doubt you chose the episodes before the theme (I'm pretty sure it's harder to find the theme first and then to pick 24 episodes that match it than the other way around), either way my point was that I truly appreciate how you make those seasons interesting, instead of just picking the good post-classic episodes.

And Girls Just Want to Have Sums is indeed a nice episode. I have trouble with a couple of characters like Homer and Skinner becoming chauvinists all of sudden for the sake of the plot (even though I like how Skinner is unable to help his case the more he tries to), but I do like the satire. It just works into a crapsack world such as Springfield, it's exaggerated in one of the best ways possible. No sappy lesson at the end, the battle of the sexes remains (each of them being the caricature you would expect and it works for such a story - a school for each sex, each of them having its own way to teach, and even Upfoot adds more fuel to the conflict and stereotypes than she might think, plus she does fall for Chalmers' chauvinism) but Lisa is just glad to be a girl who likes and is good at maths. And you know, the fact this episode was written by a man and directed by a woman makes the thing funnier to me. Easily one of the most memorable episodes from season 17.
 

CousinMerl

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I've got 'Tis the Fifteenth Season for next season.

Oh, I see. Almost would've been better with it being a surprise, but still nice it found its way on there. In that case, lets just say that I'd have preferred 'Simpsons Christmas Stories' instead of 'Kill Gil' in my own seasons :D. Carry on with the great job.!

And I agree with @Wile E. the Brain on 'Sums'. Regarding how the likes of Skinner and Homer are exaggerated chauvinists, it is certainly one of the problems (I dislike it when characters are suddenly being straw misogynists, misandrists, etc. to serve the plot and usually it is to do some lame "battle of the sexes" plot), but I guess it has been done worse (such as Martin Prince Jr. of all characters in 'The Girl Code' later on in the show, which was just bizarre and awful).
 

Szyslak100

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@B-Boy @CousinMerl thanks a lot for your kind words guys, especially for it:
Can I just say, too, that your English and writing has improved dramatically over your time here. I really enjoyed reading that. Nice work @Szyslak100!
I really appreciate it, although I admit Google and Grammarly still assist me more than I'd like, haha. I am glad that you guys enjoyed reading it!
 

Szyslak100

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Okay, double-post to share my thoughts of the first half of the thirteenth season because why not?

First off, I actually adore this thematic season. If the parent and child topic from the previous season was charming and compelling, the Simpsons as "heroes" or helpful people is even better for me, because it assures neat characterizations. I especially love the subdivisions in the season and I can't wait to discover what is coming.

We start now the era of mediocre-to-awful Treehouse of Horror so I don't envy your function of separating the wheat from the chaff. I am especially looking forward to the HD seasons, just for morbid curiosity. The Ned Zone must be present but everything else is expendable (aside from It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse, which I enjoy a lot but I remember you find it forgettable). The other two were just all right but there is not much to pick, so it's fine.

I have "objections" to the same episodes as @Wile E. the Brain and @CousinMerl. Yokel Chords is a pretty mediocre episode that falls into all the pitfalls of a Cletus-centric episode and its resemblance to My Fair Laddy makes it a confusing selection, but I understand the reasoning for including it due to its subplot and partially agree with it as well. Papa Don't Leech and Kill Gil Volumes I & II are among the least favorites of the pre-HD era and let's just say I'd rather get a season of 20 episodes rather than a season of 22 with them included.

Every other choice was great. I like this thematic season starts strongly with Simple Simpson, and I am really happy to see Thank God It's Doomsday in the list. It's definitely one of the best episodes of the season and I think it is often underrated due to its wackiness and fantasy but the diffuse ending and the fact they delivered an ending that is opened to our interpretation is amazing.
 

B-Boy

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I'm curious about the reasons for the dislike of Papa Don't Leech. Definitely nothing remotely special about that episode, but the criticisms seem quite strong to me based on your responses.

We start now the era of mediocre-to-awful Treehouse of Horror so I don't envy your function of separating the wheat from the chaff. I am especially looking forward to the HD seasons, just for morbid curiosity. The Ned Zone must be present but everything else is expendable (aside from It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse, which I enjoy a lot but I remember you find it forgettable). The other two were just all right but there is not much to pick, so it's fine.
Now that I'm compiling six rather than four HD seasons, that means I have to select 18 goddamn HD segments. May God have mercy on us all.

Actually, I want to do something a tad different ahead of my next Treehouse of Horror. Of the following segments, which two would you guys select and why?
  • Four Beheadings with a Funeral
  • In the Belly of the Boss
  • Survival of the Fattest
  • You Gotta Know When to Golem
  • Mr. & Mrs. Simpson
  • Heck House
  • How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising
  • It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse
 

Alura

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survival of the fattest and how to get ahead in dead-vertising. the former has a plot which i think is actually an interesting situation to place springfield characters in and the latter is easily one of the funniest and most outrageous segments of its time.

as for the rest: four beheadings is boring and not funny, same with belly of the boss, golem is just weird, mr. & mrs. simpson is a ridiculous source to parody, heck house is awful in every sense of the word, and grand pumpkin has good animation but is kind of lacking in jokes.
 
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Financial Panther

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I’d select ”In the Belly of the Boss”; it’s a fun little “Fantastic Voyage“ parody. Not scary, but I like the idea of their being shrunk and exploring a body. I remember “The Magic School Bus” doing this as well, and I enjoyed that as a kid. It probably gets propped up a little because the human body interests me.

I’d also pick “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse.” I watched a lot of “Peanuts” specials as a kid because my dad loves it, and while the parody does occasionally come a little too close to the actual video, I think it still works very well. It could also have some extra points because it’s one of the few segments of the show I’ve actually seen the original source of.

Finally, my favorite segment of these: “Mr. and Mrs. Simpson.” I know ”Mr. and Mrs. Smith” isn’t a horror movie, but I love the idea of Homer and Marge being killers for hire and eventually finding each other out, leading to a massive fight. It’s not like the fights in modern THOHs either; it’s only between two people, it’s in a familiar location (the Simpson house), and it has some actual decent quips in it. But my favorite part is when they eventually make up and decide to work together as killers. I usually don’t like these having happy endings, but this one feels sweet and earned. I’d love to see what they would do killing people together.

EDIT: Oh, you said two. I’d remove “In the Belly of the Boss” then.
 

Szyslak100

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I'm curious about the reasons for the dislike of Papa Don't Leech. Definitely nothing remotely special about that episode, but the criticisms seem quite strong to me based on your responses.
I don't even know how to express my hate towards Papa Don't Leech. Maybe from the start?
  • It already starts with one of the most horrible moments of the show, with Homer happily dreaming he kills Grampa. It's rare that a single scene has such an impact on me, but it's repulsive, unpleasant, and awfully out-of-character. I don't have any idea why they started the episode like this.
  • A second problem is the inconsistencies with Colonel Homer: Lurleen ended that episode being a star and here they bring her back ruined with the lazy excuse that country music is not popular anymore, they insinuate she hates men because his father left her alone decades ago but she loved Homer which is incoherent, she felt in love with Homer because he was really kind with her and was very attentive and sympathetic, not due to his physical aspect, so the ending is absolutely disrespectful to the classic episode, which is the only thing I ask sequels to avoid.
  • A third problem is that the dynamics between the characters are hard to believe. I can't buy Marge feels so pitiful for Lurleen, I can't buy Lurleen forgives his father as if nothing happens, I can't buy Homer wants his parent to be dead, I can't buy Bart assists Homer with his suicidal ax. What the hell dude, why is everyone so mean-spirited here?
  • A fourth problem is that the father of Lurleen is completely annoying and I just can not tolerate him (maybe that's intentionally and thereby merit of the writer, but I just hate hating him, if that makes sense – I mean, he is not like, say, Manacek, who is unlikable but I still like the character despite him being unlikable).
  • And, yeah, a fifth problem is that comparisons are inevitable. Songs are worse and way less memorable they were in Colonel Homer, Lurleen was less sympathetic, Homer is less likable, and even Marge is worse here (that last line when she threatened Lurleen throws away any possible evolution of her character).
And the worst is that I can't find anything to enjoy here. It's just a lame sequel that apports nothing and ruins everything. I pass.

Now that I'm compiling six rather than four HD seasons, that means I have to select 18 goddamn HD segments. May God have mercy on us all.

Well, since you have been opened to experiments you could compile 15 segments and make one season without a Treehouse of Horror but with Thanksgiving of Horror and Halloween of Horror replacing it. That could lighten your workload, actually, even though a season without its traditional special would feel weird. I wouldn't like to be in your shoes, haha.


Actually, I want to do something a tad different ahead of my next Treehouse of Horror. Of the following segments, which two would you guys select and why?
  • Four Beheadings with a Funeral
  • In the Belly of the Boss
  • Survival of the Fattest
  • You Gotta Know When to Golem
  • Mr. & Mrs. Simpson
  • Heck House
  • How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising
  • It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse
Regarding your question about the segments, there is one that stands out to me: It's the Grand Pumpkin Milhouse (oh surprise!). This segment is visually stunning – The artwork is superlative and the backgrounds are amazing. But its merits are beyond the visuals. It makes great use of the kids of Springfield, which is always a plus for me (Milhouse is terrific here), it tells an engaging story with some nice twists (I love it how Milhouse repeats his error with the turkey), and it had some funny moments (the racist pumpkin always makes me chuckle and I don't know why). Also, both the pumpkin and the turkey are quite memorable and Hank Azaria did a neat job performing them. My only complaint is that some references to Peanuts and Charlie Brown are a bit unnatural, like Marge playing the trombone. But all in all, I think it is a great segment. I can see why you hesitate to include it and why some people are reluctant to this segment, but I have a soft spot for child-like segments like this one or Oh! The Places You'll D'oh, because they are refreshing and I think they suit in these special despite their lack of horror.

The second segment I'd pick is Survival of the Fastest. Not a fan of this one but easily my favorite of the remaining on the list. I quite like its disturbing atmosphere and many characters had their moments to shine through their deaths. Mr. Burns is also in good form here. The segment is admittedly flawed, especially for the forced inclusion of the journalists and it sets a dangerous precedent of horror means killing characters. And I am still unsure what to feel with this ending with Homer and Marge making love. But omitting that, it's a solid segment all-around.
 

CousinMerl

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Regarding on why I don't like 'Papa Don't Leech', I'm inclined to agree with the points @Szyslak100 made on why it is not a good episode (those reasons explain it rather well without me having to add anything). It is made worse by how 'Colonel Homer' is one of my top episodes of the show and that doesn't make this very lackluster and flawed sequel look any better at all.

And on the question regarding which two of those 'Treehouse Of Horror' segments to choose, I think I'd say 'Survival Of The Fattest' and 'It's The Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse' (and if there was a third pick, I'd say 'In The Belly Of The Boss'). Fun segments overall.

I guess I'll add my thoughts on the others: 'Heck House', 'Mr. & Mrs. Simpson' and 'How To Get Ahead In Dead-Vertising' are all some of my least favorites (especially the former which I find a mess), 'Four Beheadings And A Funeral' isn't especially good but still a fine enough Sherlock Holmes spoof & 'You Gotta Know When To Golem' is kinda weak (great premise but not great execution).
 
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B-Boy

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I have to disagree on a couple of points regarding Papa Don't Leech @Szyslak100.
  • I absolutely understand why people don't like Homer's dream. I hated it for years as well, but when I think about other instances of characters imagining themselves doing awful things, the offensiveness of it starts to ebb away. As I said in my comments, does anyone get really angry when Homer imagines himself lying in a hammock laughing at Ned trapped inside a burning house? Does anyone find it repulsive when Lisa happily daydreams about impaling her brother on her Nobel Peace Prize? I mean, maybe you do and fair enough, but my point is that Homer's dream isn't an anomaly and I don't think it should be taken as some serious indication that he wants to murder his father.
  • I'm not sure I see the same inconsistencies. For one, Lurleen was shown to be financially ruined as far back as Marge vs. the Monorail. Secondly, you're right, she fell in love with Homer because he was kind and sympathetic and wasn't interested in taking advantage of her. That doesn't preclude her from hating most if not all other men though. Especially if her experience with men other than Homer has been universally negative. I mean, as seen in Colonel Homer, she was constantly harassed and dismissed by the men around her. Homer was an outlier, an anomaly, and I can see why she'd find it difficult to move on. Hence why she seeks out other men who look like him - it's less about his physical appearance and more about wanting to find someone just like him. If it were only about his looks, she wouldn't have divorced a bunch of them.
  • To my recollection, Marge has never been cruel and vindictive before. Why wouldn't she help Lurleen after dropping her off and seeing with her own eyes how destitute and unsafe she is? It would actually be out-of-character for Marge to drive away from a scene like that with a clear conscience. As for Lurleen quickly forgiving her father, yeah that's definitely a contrivance, but a necessary one to push the story forward. There's not a whole lot of time to spend on a slow reconciliation. Won't disagree with you on the suicide axe 'joke' though - that was awful.
Your other points are all reasonable and I agree with most if not all of them. As I indicated in the comments, it's not a good episode by any means, but I don't think it's a complete write-off either. Anyway! Will happily agree to disagree on these things! I'm really glad you shared these counter-arguments.
 

Szyslak100

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As I said in my comments, does anyone get really angry when Homer imagines himself lying in a hammock laughing at Ned trapped inside a burning house? Does anyone find it repulsive when Lisa happily daydreams about impaling her brother on her Nobel Peace Prize? I mean, maybe you do and fair enough, but my point is that Homer's dream isn't an anomaly and I don't think it should be taken as some serious indication that he wants to murder his father.
Yeah, you got me here. I don't have a logical answer, it's a matter of sentiments for me. Homer and Grampa's scene pisses me off. The others you mention are not good by any means for me, but I can move forward after watching them. Maybe it's that we don't know it was a dream until after Homer kills Grampa so it feels real, but we do know beforehand that Lisa and Homer were imagining it so it is easier to watch? I don't know, probably I am not being fair one scene disgusted me and the others are tolerable (even though I insist, I don't like them either).

Secondly, you're right, she fell in love with Homer because he was kind and sympathetic and wasn't interested in taking advantage of her. That doesn't preclude her from hating most if not all other men though. Especially if her experience with men other than Homer has been universally negative. I mean, as seen in Colonel Homer, she was constantly harassed and dismissed by the men around her.
Exactly! My point is that this new optic of "Lurleen hates every man" makes it hard to believe his connection with Homer back in Colonel Homer. I can't believe that a woman who tries to stay away from men and despise them would be disposed to talk to a random person in the tavern and meet him again and again (even though Homer started with a nice compliment that could put her guard off, so maybe I am complaining more than I should).

Homer was an outlier, an anomaly, and I can see why she'd find it difficult to move on. Hence why she seeks out other men who look like him - it's less about his physical appearance and more about wanting to find someone just like him. If it were only about his looks, she wouldn't have divorced a bunch of them.
Well, it's still quite dumb from her to expect to find someone with the personality of Homer in someone of the body of Homer, and it's still perturbing that so many people look exactly like Homer (another kind of joke that was done before but this time annoyed me more than usual).

Why wouldn't she help Lurleen after dropping her off and seeing with her own eyes how destitute and unsafe she is? It would actually be out-of-character for Marge to drive away from a scene like that with a clear conscience.
I am not saying Marge shouldn't have helped Lurleen. She should, indeed. But inviting her at home and letting her live in there, solving her life problems, and dressing as "Major Marge" to cheer her up seems like an exaggeration. She is supposed to be jealous of her but that is almost forgotten in this episode so they can come up with the story they wanted to tell. The worst is that final line yells something like "hey, we didn't forget Marge was jealous, it's just we didn't care for it". If they showed how Marge gradually leaves her insecurities behind I wouldn't be complaining, but there is no character growth here, she is never jealous for the sake of the story and, in the end, she is jealous for the sake of the joke. That was a problem for me.

But yeah, it's not bad to disagree and it's great we can discuss our different opinions, for sure.
 

B-Boy

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Season 13

Part 2

12. Diatribe of a Mad Housewife

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Original Season: Season 15

Director: Mark Kirkland

Writer: Robin J. Stein

IMDB Score: 7.2/10

Personal Score: 3.5/5

Comments:
Marge feels frustrated and dissatisfied with her marriage, prompting her to find a creative outlet through which to express those sentiments. Where have we heard this before? Diatribe of a Mad Housewife is basically a less inspired iteration of the story told way back in A Streetcar Named Marge, but it holds up okay on its own terms. Homer’s characterisation is all over the place though, wildly fluctuating between lovable and insufferable. One moment we get Homer recklessly driving with impunity (don’t ask me how he crashes into the upper level of the Power Plant) and the next he’s making a genuine effort to read Marge’s book. I like the end twist of a seemingly murderous Homer pursuing Ned only to ask for advice on becoming a better husband (illustrating how he differs from the tyrant depicted in Marge’s book), but it just makes his characterisation even more confusing given his manic behaviour throughout the episode. Marge deciding to write a book in the first place sorta comes out of nowhere, but it ties back into her well-established artistic side so I’ll let it slide.

13. Midnight Rx

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Original Season: Season 16

Director: Nancy Kruse

Writer: Marc Wilmore

IMDB Score: 7.1/10

Personal Score: 4/5

Comments:
Midnight Rx was the last of the FAB episodes to air and closes out what I think remains the best post-classic production cycle by a fairly significant margin. Homer and Grampa team up to smuggle prescription drugs in an episode that broadly satirises the price of and dependence on pharmaceuticals in the United States. It's mostly a gag fest, but it works well enough as an entertaining romp supported by decent characterisations and set-pieces. I don’t have anything else to add really.

14. Pranksta Rap

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Original Season: Season 16

Director: Mike B. Anderson

Writer: Matt Selman

IMDB Score: 6.5/10

Personal Score: 3/5

Comments:
Disclaimer: I hate most hip-hop music so from the get go I’m not disposed towards Pranksta Rap or the subculture it lampoons. It bothers me that a bunch of white men made this episode, but I’m not qualified to comment on any racist insinuations and implications so I’ll stick to what I know (and that ain’t much). To his credit, Selman keeps things accessible and palatable for the most part and there are a few interesting elements tumbling around in the washing machine (Bart disobeying his parents for understandable reasons, Wiggum trying to be competent for once and restore his reputation, and the attempt to cover up Bart’s deceit to maintain the good it's done for multiple people), but everything starts to crumble after Lisa discovers the sweater. She’s at her most sanctimonious and I can’t make heads or tails of her running to Skinner for help (whose reverence for Alcatraz at the end is extremely bizarre btw). Why did Lisa not go to her mother? Where even is Marge in the back half of this story? It makes no sense whatsoever and I can't overlook it. Homer’s presence at the back end (which is unnecessary and distracting) only serves to accentuate her absence even more. The ending is also strange – it closes in on making a final philosophical or moral point only to evade it with an interjection that gives The Great Money Caper a run for its money. It does this twice which suggests they were going for…something…but I can’t for the life of me determine what it is. It’s unsatisfying not because it’s inconclusive, but because it’s confusing. I’d probably give the first half a score of four and the second half a two so that balances out at a three.

15. Crook and Ladder

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Original Season: Season 18

Director: Lance Kramer

Writer: Bill Odenkirk

IMDB Score: 6.9/10

Personal Score: 4/5

Comments:
Yes, yes, I know, Crook and Ladder is another ‘Homer gets a job’ episode. Don’t lynch me. Maybe I’m too easy on the show (scratch that, I know I am), but this one isn’t too bad right? Come on, it has the “no kids and three money” line! Actually, the concentration of quality jokes in this is relatively high for its time (freaking lover the mood swings gag). Sure, it’s little more than a firefighter-themed gag fest, but it works and gives me more than a few laughs. True, Homer does some shady things that would normally turn me off, but he’s not the mastermind or sole offender. He even repents when his family confronts him. Surprisingly strong, funny and entertaining!

16. I Don't Wanna Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Original Season: Season 19

Director: Bob Anderson

Writer: Dana Gould

IMDB Score: 6.8/10

Personal Score: 4/5

Comments:
In his last credited script for The Simpsons, Dana Gould delivers an enjoyable character story that turns out to be a better version of Pokey Mom. There are many things to like about I Don’t Wanna Know Why the Caged Birds ranging from the realism of Marge's reactions after a harrowing experience and the tension of an aggrieved Dwight breaking out of prison to confront her broken promise to Steve Buscemi voicing an atypically memorable one-time character. Loved Homer arriving at an important event early for once and then acting smug to Marge on the phone with absolutely zero self-awareness. The resolution is a bit rushed, but the final scene at the prison is lovely. It’s a shame Gould hasn’t written anything for the show since this episode because he always did a respectable job approximating the show’s earlier years.

17. Moe'N'a Lisa

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Original Season: Season 18

Director: Mark Kirkland

Writer: Matt Warburton

IMDB Score: 6.7/10

Personal Score: 3/5

Comments:
I’ve little to say about Moe’N’a Lisa. The episode is very by the numbers, playing out as predictably and mawkishly as you expect. The broad strokes of the story draw obvious comparisons to Flaming Moe’s, but I admit it doesn’t bother me. The specific beats and details diverge even if superficially, creating a veneer that shrouds the lack of originality. The esoteric poetry jokes do hardly anything for me, some of the characterisations are simplistic and Moe moved on from Homer forgetting his birthday too quickly, but I find nothing else disagreeable about the episode on the whole. Moe is reliably amusing and the Senior Olympics offers a bunch of laughs. Nothing special, but watchable. Not the most convincing endorsement, I know, but cut me some slack, I’ve got four seasons to fill.

18. Please Homer, Don't Hammer 'Em

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Original Season: Season 18

Director: Mike B. Anderson & Ralph Sosa

Writer: Matt Warburton

IMDB Score: 6.7/10

Personal Score: 4/5

Comments:
Please Homer, Don’t Hammer ‘Em is another episode that examines gender roles and expectations. Sexism in our society manifests in many different overt and subtle ways, some of which are placed under the microscope in this. Marge establishes a carpentry business, but her competency is mocked and dismissed by men who are products of a culture predicated on toxic masculinity. This forces her to use Homer as a front while she does all the actual work in secret. When Homer takes all the credit and pressures Marge to maintain the charade for the sake of his reputation, the ensuing conflict is one that feels natural and effectively highlights how sexism adversely affects both men and women. The quarrel also has nothing to do with their marriage which is a plus and offers some great laughs.

I don’t agree with the criticism that Marge is hypocritical and unreasonable in her anger. People in real life are often fine with an idea initially, but feel differently when the reality turns out to be less than satisfying. Marge was okay with Homer getting the credit to begin with because that arrangement allowed her to do what she wanted. However, the lack of recognition and the disparaging remarks she receives from Helen and Lindsay (which are representative of internalised sexism) coupled with Homer’s egotistical flaunting strike a chord. Her about-face rings completely true to me and I have absolutely no issues with it. Homer’s conduct crosses into Jerkass territory at times, but there’s no lasting damage, it serves a thematic purpose, and he gets his comeuppance.

Some comments on the subplot: it’s tolerable entertainment. I know, Bart is cruel and sadistic, but there are some funny gags dammit! “You’ve been waving your nuts in my face for too long” is riotous and a few others are quite snappy, cutting away at just the right moment and not lingering on them longer than necessary. It crosses the line with the cringe worthy Star Wars parody though which is too long and cartoony, but I was happy to see Skinner fighting back at least and not being a complete pushover. So, yeah, fun episode all in all. It certainly has snappier comedic timing and less act one meandering than other HAB episodes. Plus, it’s a fresh take on the marital dynamic and ‘Homer gets a job’ trope. For all these reasons, the episode gets a thumbs up from me.

19. Homerazzi

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Original Season: Season 18

Director: Matthew Nastuk

Writer: J. Stewart Burns

IMDB Score: 7.1/10

Personal Score: 4/5

Comments:
‘Homer gets a job’ episodes tend to induce a yawn or a grown, but Homerazzi is well above average especially for its time. The story is nothing to write home about, but the jokes are atypically strong and I like that it mercilessly mocks celebrity culture in a way that’s more in line with the cynicism and contempt of the classic era. The intro with the family losing and then restaging their lost photos is the ‘slice-of-life’ comedy that the show still does well on occasion. Homer himself is pretty good too, showing a more subdued temperament. He disrespects and antagonises celebrities, but that’s okay because they’re celebrities and it’s offset by him getting a taste of his own medicine. His retaliation is surprisingly measured, ending the episode on a respectable note. In many ways, it succeeds where When You Dish Upon a Star failed miserably. The cameo from Jon Lovitz is icing on the cake. Awesome couch gag too.

20. There's Something About Marrying

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Original Season: Season 16

Director: Nancy Kruse

Writer: J. Stewart Burns

IMDB Score: 6.8/10

Personal Score: 2/5

Comments:
It should be obvious to any Simpsons aficionado that the writing credits for an episode mean very little in the grand scheme of things. Over the years, it has been well documented that little of an original script remains intact once everyone at a table read gets their hands on it and contributes. The annual Treehouse of Horror specials seem especially prone to this ‘writing by committee’ approach as are episodes that are designed to attract media attention such as this one. It’s not a supposition I can verify, but I get the distinct impression that J. Stewart Burns had much of There’s Something About Marrying taken out of his hands. It seems to me that lots of different fingerprints are all over this episode and, as the old proverb goes, too many cooks spoil the broth.

This is an episode that could and should have been much better than it is (not the first time I’ve said that and won’t be the last). It’s not surprising, but still disappointing because it contains a few nuggets of value. Most of the best material is compressed into the third act and revolves around Marge struggling to reconcile her public yet dissociated advocacy for same sex marriage with her more private traditional and conservative sensibilities. This creates a rift between her and Patty which contains fragments of quality social commentary. The hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance that Marge exhibits is very true to life, exemplifying the human tendency to hold beliefs and convictions insofar as they remain directly unaffected by them. It also reflects her long-established tendency to repress or deny uncomfortable realities. All of this results in a more complex characterisation for Marge which gives the ending (and her blessing) some emotional weight.

That’s pretty much where the positives end. The story of Patty coming out and getting married starts over halfway through the episode which is far too late, rushing through and diluting her conflict with Marge as a consequence. Don’t even get me started on her fiancée. No, I’m not going there. Seriously, I mean it. Ugh, what a sickening character. I realise this aired in 2005, but that doesn’t excuse the deeply uncomfortable and harmful transphobic implications of the character. Not to mention the questions it raises about how Veronica maintains the façade and why Patty never got suspicious (it seems to indicate the relationship is relatively fresh and they haven’t been intimate). The satire is cheap for the most part although I don’t mind the observation about people like Homer supporting same-sex marriage because they see an opportunity to exploit it for financial gain. Also, the episode wastes too much time on a long intro (how many more times am I going to repeat this point, I wonder).

It’s just aged really badly. LGBTQI+ issues remain tricky to navigate in a society whose structures discriminate and assault the marginalised in both subtle and obvious ways. This episode does little to support them. At least it ends with Patty proudly proclaiming her orientation and Marge choosing to accept her? I don’t know why I feel compelled to keep this in. It sorta has a lasting effect on the continuity of the show going forward, I guess, but that’s admittedly a weak reason for something so problematic. I suppose, to use an old chestnut, it’s something that starts an important conversation about how we should tackle (or, more accurately, how we shouldn’t tackle) these issues in our media. Sometimes, we need to see how we get things wrong so that we can learn how to get them right.

21. E Pluribus Wiggum

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Original Season: Season 19

Director: Michael Polcino

Writer: Michael Price

IMDB Score: 6.8/10

Personal Score: 3/5

Comments:
The Simpsons almost totally lost its once inimitable ability to produce sharp, subtle and scintillating political satires in its post-classic era. As a matter of fact, E Pluribus Wiggum might be the only one I’d classify as watchable in over 15 years and even then it doesn’t rise above mediocre. I think what goes in its favour is that it’s really just a bunch of loosely connected election-themed skits. There’s barely any story and the characters (including the Simpsons) are little more than spectators to the farce unfolding around them. Fortunately, some of these skits are funny especially the campaign ads and media debates. If not for the intro with Homer destroying a whole street with no repercussions, I’d be tempted to give the episode a slightly higher score. What I really like is how it inadvertently predicts the climate of the 2016 presidential election including public sentiment of the candidates. The people of Springfield are disillusioned with their political leaders and democratic institutions, compelling them to forsake career politicians and choose a ridiculous alternative who turns out to be woefully unqualified and inexperienced yet somehow seduces the masses with his juvenile behaviour. It’s shockingly prescient especially given the episodes predates the Trump presidency by nearly a full decade. It’s another one of those eerie predictions the show has developed a weird reputation for.

22. Fraudcast News

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Original Season: Season 15

Director: Bob Anderson

Writer: Don Payne

IMDB Score: 7.3/10

Personal Score: 5/5

Comments:
We finish off the season with an episode that takes aim at the media. Fraudcast News boasts a well-developed story, two excellent character arcs, and above average satire for its time. Mr. Burns buys every media outlet in Springfield to control the narrative and improve his image while Lisa struggles to preserve and protect independent media. It’s a genuinely engaging conflict, depicting a great tug-of-war between the two characters and their diametrically opposed ideologies. Mr. Burns allegorises Rupert Murdoch and the monopolisation of media extremely well, representing the best use of his character in the last 20 years. Unlike Monty Can’t Buy Me Love, Mr. Burns is more interested in being aggrandised than liked and acts nefariously to achieve his goals which is much more in line with the villainous and Machiavellian person he was in the early years of the show. The ending is also very clever and sweet. Homer does something really nice for Lisa (his article is equally funny and heartwarming) and, in doing so, motivates all the townspeople to create their own newspaper. It’s great because it not only resolves the episode in an elegant way, but also celebrates and mocks the implications of media democratisation (in many ways, it eerily anticipates the future of social media with everyone having their own soap box). Yup, Don Payne kicked this one out of the park.

Addendum (18/10/21): The following changes have been made:
  • Modified the sequence of episodes, grouping some episodes into smaller thematic groups:
    • Episodes 13 - 16 feature characters being dishonest, deceitful and/or unscrupulous in the process of helping or serving others.
    • Episodes 17 & 18 are stories about a character taking credit for someone else's work.
    • Episodes 19 - 22 feature characters going up against media, political and religious institutions.
  • Removed 'The President Wore Pearls' and 'The Debarted', both of which will be held back for the next season.
  • Added 'Moe'N'a Lisa' and 'Pranksta Rap'.
  • Lowered the score of 'There's Something About Marrying' from a 3.5 to a 2. What was I thinking...
  • Increased the score of 'Crook and Ladder' from a 3.5 to a 4.
  • Minor and major edits and fixes to the comments for every pre-existing episode.
 
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CousinMerl

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Part 2 of your season 13 feels more balanced than part 1 for sure. There's more good ones, some middling ones & a few weak ones.

'Diatribe Of A Mad Housewife', 'Midnight RX' & Fraudcast News' would probably be some of my picks too as they stand out well as good, entertaining ones. The latter is a great pick for season finale (like in the original season, which was one of Jeans finest seasons in the SD era of the bunch) but the other two are fine as well (I do think I like 'Diatribe' better than some. It has many problems, but I still find it quite enjoyable and funny. The ending joke, for one thing, I still remember as hilarious).

The majority of season 18 & 19 episodes are chosen well for the most part: 'I Don't Wanna Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' is a pretty decent Marge story', 'Crook And Ladder' has an amusing story, 'Please Homer, Don't Hammer Em' & 'Homerazzi' are good ones as well. 'Moe'N'a Lisa' (what a lame pun title that one has) is forgettable but not bad (I guess) & 'E Pluribus Wiggum' I remember as average (but it probably aged well with that satire with how much it mirrors the 2016 US election, yes).

Too bad you have to include 'There's Something About Marrying' (mostly for continuity with Patty, I guess) which I don't remember as being that terrible last time I watched it, which oughta have been a while by now (but now I'd definitely not be as kind to it as it do seem to have aged terribly), but I don't see any episode that I truly hate here so I guess that is a good thing.
 
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Alura

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technically patty's sexuality is revealed in "jaws wired shut", much more subtly but her voice can be heard in the "in the closet" gag - again, i doubt the casual person would pick up on that, but i think that's enough reason to leave out "there's something about marrying" for a project as picky as this (no offense intended, it's just true lol) especially cuz it's an awful, awful episode. one of my least favorites of the show due to its brazen transphobia and cringe gay jokes while still advertising itself as "progressive". every adult show around this time had a transphobic ep but this one especially hurts cuz i hold the simpsons to a higher standard than like, south park in terms of it's social satire, even by this point when the classic era is very long gone.

oh well. nice to see "crook and ladder" here, i always thought that ep was rly funny.
 

CousinMerl

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I forgot to mention 'Pranksta Rap' in my last comment so I guess I'll do so now. That I too think is average, but it is still somewhat memorable and has its moments (and having Bart in a rap-themed episode makes sense), though still, I feel pretty sure it could have been replaced with another episode (maybe as you don't like the music genre, @B-Boy).

Also, it kinda is true what the above poster said about 'There's Something About Marrying' being one that could be left out (especially with the 'Jaws Wired Shut' thing). I'm not saying you should swap it out (and I like your reasoning for leaving it in), but I do still find its inclusion at least a little interesting (as it really is one of the more offensive episodes).
 
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B-Boy

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technically patty's sexuality is revealed in "jaws wired shut", much more subtly but her voice can be heard in the "in the closet" gag - again, i doubt the casual person would pick up on that, but i think that's enough reason to leave out "there's something about marrying" for a project as picky as this (no offense intended, it's just true lol) especially cuz it's an awful, awful episode.
Her sexuality was revealed, sure, but she hadn't come out and that's a major development that occurs in Marrying.

I forgot to mention 'Pranksta Rap' in my last comment so I guess I'll do so now. That I too think is average, but it is still somewhat memorable and has its moments (and having Bart in a rap-themed episode makes sense), though still, I feel pretty sure it could have been replaced with another episode (maybe as you don't like the music genre, @B-Boy).
The season needed another Bart episode. I have a few saved for the next season which left next to nothing good to choose for this season. This is what was left:
  • Pranksta Rap
  • On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister
  • The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star
  • Jazzy and the Pussycats
  • Little Big Girl
  • The Boys of Bummer
  • Apocalypse Cow
  • Double, Double Boy in Trouble
Pranksta Rap popped out at me as the best of a bad bunch.
 
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CousinMerl

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Oh yeah, that is not the best bunch of Bart episodes (especially not that dreadful 'On A Clear Day' that pretty much takes a steaming s**t on Lisa's usual portrayal), though I still see some there I enjoy somewhat well.

Personally, I'd have picked 'Apocalypse Cow' instead. That one I have a soft spot for and enjoyed as one of the better from season 19. I like the plot of Bart bonding with that cow (him showing so much empathy for an animal, enough to be determined to avoid it going to the "killing floor", is admirable), it has a lot of good scenes and nice jokes & it is notable for being the only Mary Spuckler episodes I'd call worthwhile. Not great, but a good one. I might be one of its few fans, but I stand by that.

I still respect your choice of 'Pranksta Rap', just saying how I would have chosen ;).
 
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Szyslak100

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Hmm, this part of the season is very peculiar for me. Except for Fraudcast News (my favorite of the bunch), Midnight RX, I Don't Wanna Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Homerazzi, I am doubtful about the others. I am not saying they don't deserve inclusion, or that they are bad. Not at all. But after 15 years and easily above 5 rewatches of each (surely more) I still can not define how much I like or dislike the episodes. I mean, my perceptions of them are still changing after I revisit them.

I am quite sure I could definitely add Diatribe of a Mad Housewife and Pranksta Rap to my personal list of good episodes, although Homer and Lisa/Skinner can bring them down sometimes depending on my mood, respectively. Homer gives me headaches in the former, and Lisa and Skinner are quite annoying in the latter. But, overall, I guess I like them.

Crook and Ladder is an episode I wish I could like more, especially after seeing everyone seems to enjoy it. I can not, lamentably. I know Homer has a process of self-recovery and a proper comeuppance but his actions are behind the limits. He is not only a criminal (which is already too much for me) – he also plays with the anguish of people and manipulates them, and I can not pass over it. Anyway, I am glad it was included – I surely don't love it but it has a good reputation and there must be a reason.

Moe'N'a Lisa is one I tend to forget but I remember it being a decent episode, although overshadowed by many better and more memorable Moe-centric episodes. I actually liked Moe bonding with Lisa but overall, as you said, it's by the numbers, a very standard episode.

Please, Homer, Don't Hammer 'Em is probably the most curious of the cases for me. The subplot might be among the greatest moments of the season and also among the worst. I could describe it as distinctive, inventive, and exciting and I think I would be right. I also could describe it as outplaced, silly, and recycled from Family Guy and I wouldn't be wrong either. It's similar to the subplot of Rome-old and Juli-eh that, once again, depending on my mood, can deliver a great time or an outrageous one. I really don't mind about its A-plot. All I am going to say is that, ugh, again, Homer is almost insufferable.

I used to dislike E. Pluribus Wiggum as a kid because Ralph as a president was absolutely unrealistic and unreasonable and I didn't find any sense of it... But the older I am the more I can see a sharp satire on it. It was one of my least favorite episodes and now it's an obligatory rewatch before each important election. It's an episode that aged well... Unlike There's Something About Marrying which is on the other side. I used to love this one but, conversely, the more I deconstruct myself the more I think it's an unfortunate episode.

So yeah, it's a real mixed bag and even though it's not among my favorites, I am honestly looking forward to the moment I give a shot to this abridged season to take a verdict on these episodes. There's some succulent material for season 14 so I am feeling a top-notch season as well. Great job as usual, @B-Boy
 

B-Boy

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Season 14

Part 1

This final season for the SD era of The Simpsons doesn’t really have a theme, but includes a higher concentration of experimental and conceptually ambitious episodes. My goal is to create the impression that the show is trying new things and tying up some loose ends before winding down and going on a temporary hiatus ahead of the transition to HD. This season consists of six episodes from season 15, three from season 16, three from season 17, two from season 18, seven from season 19, and one from season 20 plus a Halloween special.

1. The Seemingly Never-Ending Story

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Original Season: Season 17

Director: Raymond S. Persi

Writer: Ian Maxtone-Graham

IMDB Score: 7.7/10

Personal Score: 5/5

Comments:
We kick things off with a highly inventive episode. The Seemingly Never-Ending Story is unabashedly confident, meticulously constructed, and immensely entertaining. The nested storytelling approach is reminiscent of the similarly experimental Trilogy of Error but even more conceptually ambitious, weaving together multiple narrative vignettes to create a compelling tapestry full of neat little twists, details and moments. There are a few contrivances and absurdities along the way (indeed, some of the details may not stand up to scrutiny upon very close inspection), but the overall strength of the plotting, character work and humour offsets most if not all of these minor niggles.

The episode gets things rolling immediately, wasting no time before delving into the first of several tangents which is an excellent change of pace from the meandering first acts that many other contemporary episodes are guilty of. The rest of the story unfolds at an equally brisk pace, never spending too much time on any one embedded story before moving onto the next and gradually revealing how each forms one part of a bigger picture. This could have turned into a hot mess, but the writing holds up well and things make sense for the most part because some degree of planning has been applied for once. The competency and fluency is quite rare for the post-classic era and the episode is enhanced even further by the assortment of secondary characters that are used.

Edna and Snake are the biggest beneficiaries, both of whom receive some belated backstory that shows how they became who they are. The young Edna is a fresh, positive and idealistic woman who still has a passion for teaching and hasn’t yet been weighed down by the disappointments and defeats that life has continually thrown at her. We get to see how dating Moe (a neat pairing, by the way) and being hoodwinked by Bart on her first day of teaching are formative experiences, seeding the bitterness and apathy that we know so well. It’s nothing revelatory, but it’s insightful and adds dimensions to the character which is exactly what a flashback should be doing at the bare minimum.

The same is true for Snake who is revealed to have been a fledgling archaeologist before his hopes were crushed and his ideals corrupted by the cruelties of the universe in which Springfield exists. This is an unexpected yet inspired touch, humorously explaining why a ruthless criminal displays a touch of geniality from time to time. The Indiana Jones parallels are also insightful, serving as a metaphor for his resourcefulness and aptitude for felonious escapades. Not to mention the genesis of his recidivism links back to his “goodbye student loan payments” line from 22 Short Films About Springfield, a similarly unconventional classic episode. There’s an undercurrent of sadness to the fates of Edna and Snake, both of whom become trapped in a cycle from which they never break free.

We also get good use of Mr. Burns. There have been many attempts to humanise Burns over the years, some more successful than others. The best (Rosebud) never lose sight of who Burns really is even when making him sympathetic or pitiable – a vain, vindictive and vulnerable old man driven be a ceaseless pursuit of self-aggrandisement that is underpinned by a powerful contempt for the common man. The worst (Monty Can’t Buy Me Love and others) violate one or more of these basic tenets, neutering the character in the process. This doesn’t rank among the best (or come close), but it does a slightly better job than other post-classic episodes at tapping into his latent humanity.

Burns’ uncharacteristic altruism occurs at the precise moment he resigns himself to the fact that his power is irretrievable. He realises that no amount of grovelling, conniving, manipulating or terrorising will help him get a photo with a smiling child to reclaim ownership of the Power Plant. A lifetime of cruelty and scorn has rendered so simple a task impossible. I find this mildly interesting and affecting because a Burns who tacitly accepts that he’ll never be able to harness or exert power over others with disdain is a Burns who has a sudden capacity for goodness. That feels earned, believable and consistent to me without compromising any of the character’s fundamental attitudes or attributes.

However, this breakthrough is fleeting. Lisa expresses her gratitude for his heroism by giving him the photo he needs which is ironic because Burns can now get everything back, effectively extinguishing that spark of decency. This is still a Burns who seeks greater wealth at every opportunity, who still wants to be feared and to succeed at the expense of everyone else, and who isn’t concerned with being liked or finding someone to love. Rather than reward and reinforce his better nature, Lisa’s act allows his callousness to reassert itself. Like Edna, Snake and everyone else in the static world of Springfield, Burns cannot escape his fate. The need to maintain the status quo forces everything to snap back into original place, precluding lasting change or development.

The insights gleaned from the stories and pairings in this episode is very much in the spirit of the revelatory character studies from the Oakley and Weinstein era of the show. Of course, this episode falls well short of their venerated work, but the effort to do something – anything – new with these characters does not go unnoticed or unappreciated as far as I’m concerned. I should also mention that there are some great gags sprinkled throughout including Moe continually throwing Barney out of the bar which ranks among the best drunk Barney gags of the series for me (and one of the few Jean-era gags to become a popular source for memes).

Plaudits aside, I think the episode missed a trick with the coda. We’re briefly led to believe that Bart has made up the story as an elaborate excuse for failing to study for a test (which could explain the various absurdities in the story such as how everyone knows where the gold has been stashed and what the chances are they all arrive to retrieve it at the exact same time). That would have been the perfect capstone, ending on a note of ambiguity about whether the whole thing actually happened. Unfortunately, it doubles down on the veracity of the tale by showing Edna with Moe and the Rich Texan. Even the best of post-classic Simpsons can rarely leave well enough alone.

Suffice to say, after writing more than 1,000 words, this is a tremendous outing. It would be in the running for my all-time favourite post-classic episodes.

2. The President Wore Pearls

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Original Season: Season 15

Director: Mike B. Anderson

Writer: Dana Gould

IMDB Score: 6.9/10

Personal Score: 5/5

Comments:
Our very own @Brad Lascelle deems The President Wore Pearls the best musical The Simpsons has ever produced (well, up until The Star of Backstage at least) and I can certainly see why. Personally, my favourite remains the Sherry Bobbins episode, but this episode has several things that go in its favour. Firstly, Yeardley Smith gives a truly stunning performance – one of her very best, I dare say. Secondly, the Don’t Cry for Me spoofs are absolutely terrific and the original songs are also top notch. This is a substantive episode that tells an excellent character story, all the elements of which cohere into a fantastic package. I still think it’s the show’s best post-classic musical episode.

3. The Debarted

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Original Season: Season 19

Director: Matthew Nastuk

Writer: Joel H. Cohen

IMDB Score: 7.7/10

Personal Score: 3.5/5

Comments:
The Debarted is a fascinating episode. I enjoy it quite a bit on the surface, but I’m not sure it’s actually all that good. The broad strokes (Bart discovering that one of his friends is a rat secretly feeding information to Skinner and sabotaging his pranks) are solid, but I’m less convinced by or enamoured with the finer details. My issues are principally with the parody of The Departed which has always rubbed me the wrong way. Admittedly, I haven’t watched the film so I’m lacking context and can’t comment on the quality of the pastiche, but something is off about it and I’m starting to understand why.

This episode aired in March 2008 so it would have been written and produced in early to mid-2007, mere months after the release of The Departed. Immediately I sense that someone saw or heard about the film and said “let’s capitalise on the success of this film and base an entire episode on it”. This topical approach to conceptualising new episodes doesn’t sit well with me, screaming of a show that’s desperate to stay relevant. I mean, the film hadn’t found its place in the pantheon of other mob films yet let alone been out long enough to gestate in the collective consciousness. How do you even start evaluating or subverting it properly without the perspective that only the passage of time provides? Back in the day, The Simpsons retrofitted clever and carefully considered parodies into an episode rather than just lift story ideas wholesale from the most recent and popular sources.

Look, I’ll give Joel H. Cohen credit for not going down the most obvious route. Can you imagine if he just threw together a vapid story about Homer infiltrating Fat Tony’s organisation to spy on him for the feds? Oh wait, I’m three seasons too early. Anyway, the choice to focus on Bart and Springfield Elementary is good for the same reason (well, one of many reasons) 24 Minutes was enormously successful - it underplays and trivialises the serious life-or-death drama of the source material which is...something. Yet, despite taking such a huge liberty in translating the film, Cohen still plays the parody too straight especially with regards to Donny with whom I have problems. For one, he sounds absolutely nothing like a ten year old and has little characterisation. Worse, it’s impossible to overlook the glaringly obvious inspiration of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan. It’s so unsubtle you can positively hear the shrieks of “hey, did you realise we’re parodying The Departed because we’re totally parodying The Departed”. The episode would have been better off without having such a transparent link to the source material. The rat could have been an existing character like Milhouse or Nelson or, hell, even Martin. That could have given the story some actual weight and Bart wouldn’t come across as such a dumbass.

I realise I’m criticising this episode a lot for what it isn’t and what it doesn’t do which isn’t necessarily useful analysis about what it is and what it does. I just can’t shake the impression that it was throttled by the decision to more or less transpose a character directly from the film into the show. I do like this more than my drawn out criticisms would indicate, but yeah, th-th-th-that's all folks.

4. Treehouse of Horror XIII

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Original Season: Season 17 / 20 / 18

Director: David Silverman / Bob Anderson / David Silverman & Matthew Faughnan

Writer: Marc Wilmore / Matt Warburton / Peter Gaffney

Personal Score: 2.5/5

Comments:
I’ve just about exhausted the supply of semi-decent SD Jean era Treehouse of Horror segments, but we have one Halloween special left to compile so let’s select three more. We start with Survival of the Fattest which is virtually bereft of substance, but the concept is an appropriate one so why not. I like how it manages to squeeze in so many secondary characters to kill, but the dispassionate way it goes about doing that makes it impossible for me to care let alone respond to the deaths. Burns is suitably evil, but he never feels threatening (everyone gets hunted down due to their stupidity more than anything else) and his motivations are too ill-defined. It would have been nice to have some actual tension build as Burns picked everyone off, but I suppose fat Homer jokes are easier to write.

We move on to How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising. The plot for this segment veers dangerously close to ‘Homer gets a job’ shenanigans, but I like the grotesqueness along with the anti-celebrity and anti-capitalist sentiment. We finish with The Day the Earth Looked Stupid which is one of the more memorable and inspired SD Jean era Halloween segments. It’s relatively effortful in places from the Maurice LaMarche voice overs to the general aesthetic and atmospheric elements that successfully evocate the time period. The final shot of a blasted Springfield is especially haunting (love the use of I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire by The Ink Spots). It has its issues though including the clumsy execution of the alien invasion and the heavy-handed Iraq War allegory.

5. The Way We Weren't

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Original Season: Season 15

Director: Mike B. Anderson

Writer: J. Stewart Burns

IMDB Score: 7.3/10

Personal Score: 5/5

Comments:
We all know and accept that Simpsons continuity is mutable, but there are certain inviolable details that transcend the show’s floating timeline – including backstories and other elements that should never be tampered with. The story of how Homer and Marge fell in love is perhaps the most sacred of them all. Astonishingly, it was over 30 years ago when The Way We Was took us back to the age of disco and revealed how a brash and boorish yet unpretentious and lovable Homer won Marge’s heart at their high school prom – an episode brimming with iconic moments that are seared onto our hearts and into our memories. These aren’t easily displaced which is why episodes that modify one or more aspects of their history such as That 90’s Show, Dangerous Curves, The Clown Stays in the Picture, and 3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage just feel false and superfluous.

The Way We Weren’t is different. It remembers and respects its progenitor by ensuring that nothing is contradicted or invalidated. We learn that Homer and Marge met as kids at camp, but the episode avoids the obvious problems of such a ret-con by giving them an excuse to change their appearance and use fake names. The new information we learn doesn’t strictly change what we know – it simply adds to it. One could therefore criticise the episode for being redundant and incidental, preventing it from reaching the same heights as its classic-era counterparts. That would be true, but I’d argue that it isn’t necessary and I think The Way We Weren’t functions fine as a sweet, low-key character story that supplements established canon. I also like that the episode doesn’t explicitly date itself (Homer makes a cheeky reference to this at the start) so the flashbacks are free of jarring anachronisms.

The big contrivance of the episode is that numerous secondary characters show up in the one place at the same time and seem to know each other. I can understand why this stretches suspension of disbelief for some viewers and makes the world feel smaller, but I confess it has never bothered me (I personally find Springfield Up more egregious in this regard). I really like how Homer and Marge come across as genuine ten year old versions of their adult selves along with the idea (no matter how hokey) that they were fated to fall in love. The episode is sprinkled with some lovely character moments and I even sympathise with the disappointment Marge feels at the end which rings true and isn’t too overplayed. The Way We Weren’t is my favourite post-classic flashback episode by a significant margin and it works nicely as a retrospective in the context of this final SD season.

6. The Girl Who Slept Too Little

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Original Season: Season 17

Director: Raymond S. Persi

Writer: John Frink

IMDB Score: 6.9/10

Personal Score: 3/5

Comments:
I have mixed feelings about The Girl Who Slept Too Little. The fundamental idea of Lisa confronting and conquering her fears is solid, but the episode is *ahem* afraid to commit to its story and even undermines it at almost every opportunity. Lisa is scared silly by the graveyard that has been moved next door to the house and can’t reconcile her precocious logic and intellect with the irrational fears and overactive imaginations typical of all children her age. We later discover she wasn’t nurtured enough as a baby and had to fend for herself as a result of her dysfunctional home environment. As a result, she never resolved these developmental issues and has no choice but to face them now.

This is a strong platform for an excellent story and character study so why does writer John Frink sabotage it every chance he gets? Firstly, we get the protracted and superfluous sequence at the Stamp Museum which disrupts the flow of the story. Not to mention various other detours and distractions that eat up precious time (the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, the Bonanza skit, and the cops searching the graveyard). The episode also lacks polish at times including when Bart disappears immediately after Lisa enters and gets trapped inside the graveyard. Rather than feeling the tension and anxiety of her scary situation, I’m just bemused by the shoddy editing.

The most egregious blunder the episode makes is the appearance of Gravedigger Billy. I thought the idea was that Lisa has been exaggerating or manufacturing dangers that don’t actually exist. Indeed, isn’t that the point of the dream she has at the end? The creatures help her resolve the internal struggle between her rational and irrational selves. It’s normal and okay to be afraid, but there's nothing to fear from a graveyard. Except, well, there is because there a homicidal maniac is on the loose. Lisa has every reason to be terrified of what she sees which wasn’t a product of her imagination. Yet she refuses to tell anyone and chooses to spend a night there alone? WTF!?

It’s so stupid and incoherent, obfuscating Lisa’s arc and making her look more than a little bit foolish. I realise I’m being hard on this episode, but it’s frustrating to see promising episodes shoot kneecap themselves again and again. I think this is worthwhile for some of the insight into Lisa’s psyche, but I won’t deny it has serious problems. Disappointing, but at least we’ve got Halloween of Horror.

7. Don't Fear the Roofer

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Original Season: Season 16

Director: Mark Kirkland

Writer: Kevin Curran

IMDB Score: 7.5/10

Personal Score: 4/5

Comments:
Man, Homer gets treated like shit in Don’t Fear the Roofer and it’s kinda uncomfortable to watch at first, but it’s easy to forget and important to remember that we only see things from his perspective. Everyone around him across as harsh and unreasonable, but that’s only because we see the forest for the trees whereas they’re just getting snippets. I sympathise with Homer in this episode, but he doesn’t do himself any favours. I can’t blame Marge for being fed up when he’s done next to nothing to keep their house from falling on top of them (it’s hilarious how much effort he applies to set up the elaborate hot wheels track around the house when it would have been easier to just fix the dang roof) and that’s before he starts concocting imaginary friends out of thin air.

I have to credit the episode for making Homer’s ostensible psychosis seem convincing on a first time viewing. The testimony from eyewitnesses successfully lulled me into questioning his sanity and that fake-out remains an effective story device even knowing the explanations during repeat viewings. The electro-shock therapy scenes are definitely the most alarming of the episode, no doubt about it. Homer has to endure a lot of abuse because everyone around him is unreliable and unobservant (Ray chief among them). Dan Castellaneta does some fantastic voice work though, giving what might otherwise be a disturbing and distressing sequence some levity. Of course, it all turns out to be a huge misunderstanding and Ray turns out to be real which leads to the funniest part of the episode.

The explanations make no goddamn sense, but I love how completely and utterly insane they are. Stephen Hawking’s explanation of the localised black hole in particular is just bonkers, but it’s the perfect punchline to a series of increasingly absurd…absurdities. The ending doesn’t pretend that any of it should add up which, I gotta say, makes me laugh and the episode wouldn’t have been anywhere near as memorable or successful without them. Ray Romano also does a great job as Ray Magini (nice anagram, by the way) and probably in my list of top 10 post-classic celebrity guest stars.

8. Lisa the Drama Queen

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Original Season: Season 20

Director: Matthew Nastuk

Writer: Brian Kelley

IMDB Score: 6.0/10

Personal Score: 4.5/5

Comments:
I only recently learned that Lisa the Drama Queen was inspired by the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures starring Kate Winslet which was based on a 1954 matricide in New Zealand. Suffice to say, that piece of trivia places the episode in a very different and decidedly more unsettling context. However, I’ve never picked up on anything overtly disturbing during previous viewings. Even now, I think that the connections to both the source material and the actual historical event are loose enough that the story and the characters need not be tainted by them. As a matter of fact, I reckon this is a really good episode and an absorbing iteration of the ‘Lisa gets a friend’ trope.

Emily Blunt steals the show as Juliet Hobbes. Unlike other celebrity guests who have voiced one-time characters, Blunt actually makes an effort to approximate the voice of an 8-year old girl and I cannot overstate how refreshing that is. Her performance finely balances innocent charm and whimsy with a more obsessive and neurotic edge that isn’t too over-the-top. Juliet is also well-sketched for a one-time post-classic Simpsons character. The scenes at her house with her family are good at exploring her motivations and revealing what prompts her to escape from the mundanity of her everyday life. She also isn’t a new or previously unseen character at Springfield Elementary, giving us a glimpse of a larger world beyond the purview of the Simpsons. Juliet feels real in a way few others do.

Lisa and Juliet bond over their precocious passion for art, but their connection goes far deeper than that. Both of them feel alienated from their peers, misunderstood by their mentors, and dissatisfied with their families. They also share similar addictive and obsessive tendencies which stem from deep anxieties they wish to repress or escape from. However, there are crucial differences between them that make the prospect of a long-term friendship unlikely from the outset. Unlike Lisa, Juliet is a little fish in a big pond whose home life is stable and sophisticated but completely devoid of imagination and inspiration. She compensates for this by concocting and losing herself in elaborate fantasies and make-believe worlds which initially attracts Lisa initially, but fails to satisfy her.

Juliet is an interesting counterpoint to her more grounded and rational temperament. Lisa possesses tangible aspirations in the physical world and recognises that her forays into Equalia, as tempting as they are, are unhealthy and unproductive (not to mention dangerous). Her choice to step away from that utopian world and effectively end her friendship with Juliet is a great character moment. Lisa, who has always struggled to make friends, willingly walks away from a kindred spirit despite the joy they gave each other. It’s a very mature and level-headed decision that I respect immensely because it shows remarkable wisdom and awareness of her boundaries. There are many pleasurable things in the world, but they can be harmful when they consume you and distract you from what’s real. Juliet is wrong when she says the real world is only for people who can’t imagine anything better. Lisa can and does imagine better – she just wants to make her fantasies of a more just world a reality.

Some final comments regarding Marge: she’s brilliant in this episode. I love how enthusiastic she is about Lisa making a friend which makes it all the more devastating when she gets rejected. There’s something true-to-life about the way people create insular bubbles and react cruelly or insensitively when that gets disrupted. Lisa absolutely crosses the line here – she doesn’t realise or appreciate how her words and actions affect the world around her because she’s captivated by her fantasies with Juliet, signalling that the friendship has become noxious. Even her school grades suffer which is when Marge decides to interfere. Perhaps cutting Lisa off from Juliet so quickly and completely is an over-reaction, but that too is very true-to-life and I can understand why Marge is so concerned.

I’ve written more about this episode than I expected to, but it’s an unsung success and one of Brian Kelley’s many underrated contributions to the show.

9. Milhouse Doesn't Live Here Anymore

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Original Season: Season 15

Director: Matthew Nastuk

Writer: Julie Chambers & David Chambers

IMDB Score: 7.2/10

Personal Score: 5/5

Comments:
There have been many episodes involving Bart and Lisa squabbling with, competing against and working alongside each other. Some are among the best the show has produced, gifting us priceless moments both hilarious and heart-warming. Usually, Bart and Lisa bonding comes with a caveat – sibling rivalries to overcome, interpersonal dramas to resolve, and mysteries to unravel. I can’t think of any episode in which they just hang out with each other for an extended period of time except, well, this one. Milhouse Doesn’t Live Here Anymore stands out for precisely this reason and I’m very fond of it despite some excess mawkishness and a throwaway subplot.

There’s very little story in this episode and so the character work does a lot of the heavy lifting. There are plenty of lovely scenes, sweet moments, funny lines and creative flourishes. I particularly love seeing Bart and Lisa hosing down Ned in the front yard while Marge watches from the window, Groundskeeper Willie’s tirade from the school window (a rare source of memes in the post-classic era), and especially that graceful pan through the house hearing everyone’s internal dialogue. There’s a naturalistic and understated ‘slice of life’ quality to the episode which, as I’ve said in the past, is when I think post-classic Simpsons is generally at its best.

The ending is…look, it’s undeniably sappy, but I totally dig it. Lisa was there when Bart needed a friend and the time they spent together felt genuine. The gratitude and kindness he returns feels just as real and earned. I think it’s among the nicest things that Bart has ever done – an act of love that makes an episode like On a Clear Day I Can’t See My Sister just a season later not only impossible, but fundamentally fraudulent. It’s a beautiful moment and it didn’t need something funny to offset the sentiment – a shame the Sandford coda had to go and spoil it by doing just that. That said, it’s still one of the best episodes of season 15.

10. 'Tis the Fifteenth Season

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Original Season: Season 15

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Writer: Michael Price

IMDB Score: 7.1/10

Personal Score: 4/5

Comments:
‘Tis the Fifteenth Season is superb for the first 13 minutes. Homer, rebuked by his friends and family for his selfish behaviour, watches a hysterical adaptation of A Christmas Carol and realises the error of his ways, endeavouring to be more generous. There are a few things I really like about how this plays out (to begin with at least). Firstly, Jerkass Homer so often answers to no one and suffers no karmic retribution or remorse for the consequences of his actions. This time though, Lenny and the family don’t let him off the hook and the viewer isn’t expected to root for or sympathise with him for being shunned. He gets what he deserves and that’s refreshing. Secondly, the effort he makes to change doesn’t feel disingenuous. His apology to Lenny is genuinely sincere and thoughtful as is his gesture to Marge at the dinner table (love her over-the-top reaction, btw). For a few minutes, Homer is a better person and it all ties in nicely with the festive spirit permeating the episode.

Unfortunately, it pretty much runs out of story at this point and tacks on a new conflict to sustain the remaining runtime at which points things take a bad turn. I don’t have an issue with Ned being jealous of Homer (in fact, that’s an interesting inversion of their usual dynamic), but Homer reverts to a crazy asshole again to make Ned sympathetic. Homer’s subsequent good deeds (such as the Church collection plate) are over-the-top and reek of smugness which undermines his previous sincerity and that’s before he decides to become the Grinch and steal everyone’s presents in a psychotic attempt to make everyone happy. Guess what? Homer isn’t punished or repentant for his crimes. He gets away with breaking into houses, stealing gifts, and chloroforming kids and we’re right back where we started. Can I also point out that turning a straightforward Christmas-themed character story into a commentary on materialism comes out of left field? Alas…

This is a 5/5 up until Ned gets involved after which it barely scrapes a 2. I guess that rounds out to a 3.5, but the strength of the first two’ish acts earn it a solid 4.

11. The Italian Bob

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Original Season: Season 17

Director: Mark Kirkland

Writer: John Frink

IMDB Score: 7.1/10

Personal Score: 1.5/5

Comments:
Sideshow Bob episodes are an event. In 32+ seasons and over 700 episodes, the character whom Kelsey Grammer has brought to life with such idiosyncratic flair has only had 14 major appearances (15 if you count Treehouse of Horror XXVI), nearly half of which are from the first eight seasons. The others are spread out across the subsequent seasons, equating to once every three seasons of 66 episodes on average since season nine. It’s easy to see why they generate more buzz and feel more memorable than a typical episode (especially in the homogenised HD era) – they’re deviations from the usual scheduled programming, shaking up the format and ratcheting up the action. They’re also unique in the context of the show in that they have a mostly firm and linear continuity.

The Italian Bob certainly ticks all the boxes, but drops the ball in terms of execution. Indeed, it’s one of only three or four Sideshow Bob episodes I’d classify as outright poor. I have almost nothing nice to say about it, which begs the obvious question of why include it? Well, as I said, Bob episodes are noteworthy and they’re hard to exclude for this reason alone. More importantly, I’ve added Funeral for a Fiend to this season which is a direct sequel to this one. Some elements of that follow-up (like the slideshow recap, the presence of his wife and son, and the reason for his initial vendetta against the whole Simpson family) wouldn’t make much sense without it. So what are my problems with this episode beyond generalisations like shoddy craftsmanship, awful jokes, and lazy writing?

Well, for starters, it doubles as a vacation episode with all the banality and cheapness that tends to come with them. The viewer is bombarded with a cacophony of the most tedious gags and cultural stereotypes as the family visits multiple major landmarks in quick succession. The writers are more interested in ticking off an itinerary than telling an actual story with something genuinely funny or interesting to say. The history and richness of a place of like Italy could be used to mock how the Simpson family (sans Lisa) and, by extension, American society is bereft of culture except insofar as they can easily consume and co-opt it. Exotic foods, sophisticated art, esoteric theatre, and excitable people – it’s antithetical to the mundanity and “simple values” of the Simpsons. That juxtaposition is ripe with comedic and satirical potential, but it’s completely ignored save one or two indolent lines.

In addition, the story takes far too many shortcuts and contrivances. Why does Mr. Burns choose to send Homer to Italy rather than Smithers or, I dunno, anyone else? How far and how long was the family pushing the wrecked car before getting to Salsiccia? Why is Bob still wearing his goddamn prison uniform? That last one really grinds my – someone obviously thought this was funny, but it’s just fucking stupid. Also, why is Krusty shoe-horned into this episode? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Mr. Burns to intervene given that he had a vested interested in what was going on and had tried contacting the family earlier on? That would have been far less convoluted and tied things back to the start, wrapping up loose ends and without having to change the Colosseum showdown.

The episode also ignores its few interesting ideas and goes down the most insipid route possible. We get reacquainted with a tamer Bob who has given up his felonious ways and settled down to raise a family. The story of how he arrived in and became mayor of the town is actually pretty good and I like the idea of him finding peace and acceptance in a place that aligns with his cultured sensibilities. Unfortunately, writer John Frink is wholly indifferent to this and insists on making him a vengeful psychopath again at the earliest opportunity which feels like a waste. Furthermore, Francesca is too thinly sketched as Bob’s wife. How did they meet and fall in love? Why is she so willing to leave her life behind for a man who obviously deceived her? She’s not a character and has almost no agency.

I think some of these issues could have been avoided or at least mitigated if the episode was more interested in doing something fresh and less obsessed with cramming in as many gratuitous travel gags as possible. In the end, they complete with and distract from the real story which is thoroughly squandered. If the writers wanted to have their cake and eat it too, maybe this could have worked better as a two-part episode? As it stands, this might be the worst Sideshow Bob episode of the lot and I’m not happy about including it, but it serves a function as a mid-season finale and a precursor to Funeral for a Fiend (which is better but not by a huge margin). The final shot of Bob and his family walking out of the Colosseum with the promise of more to come is a decent one to end on.

Addendum (21/10/21): The following changes have been made:
  • Modified the sequence of episodes:
    • 'The President Wore Pearls', 'The Debarted', and 'The Girl Who Slept Too Little' were held back from the previous two seasons and have been re-inserted into this one.
    • 'Milhouse Doesn't Live Here Anymore' was originally slated for the second half of the season, but has been pushed forward.
    • 'Any Given Sundance', 'Home Away from Homer' and 'Dial 'N' for Nerder' has been pushed back to the second half of the season.
  • Modified the Treehouse of Horror:
    • Swapped 'E.T. Go Home' with 'Survival of the Fattest'.
    • Swapped 'I've Grown a Costume on Your Face' with 'The Day the Earth Looked Stupid'.
  • Lowered the score of 'The Debarted' from a 4 to a 3.5.
  • Minor and major edits and fixes to the comments for every pre-existing episode.
 
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CousinMerl

the waiting game sucks
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Oct 24, 2006
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Your season 14 is looking pretty good so far, even with some weaker episodes in the mix. I also immediately noticed you've written more in general about the episodes this time, with some even garnering several paragraphs (which I don't have a problem with but do really like, as these episode do deserve to have more written about them).

So anyhow, 'Seemingly Never-Ending' story is an excellent season premiere (probably the best season 17 episode to me) & 'The Presiden Wore Pearls' is a great one to follow up on (probably the most consistently good post-classic musical). I appreciate that 'The Way We Weren't' and 'Milhouse Doesn't Live Here Anymore' both gets top scores (I really think they are some of the finer and best episodes of season 15, yet they both seem kinda underrated, especially the former).

There are other nice picks as well, of which 'Don't Fear The Roofer' stands out the most (probably one of the most ridiculous yet ingenious episodes of the SD Jean era. Also, Homer is treated like crap, but he gets the last laugh in the end and Hibbert gets his comeuppance for putting Homer through shock therapy). 'Tis The Fifteenth Season' is probably the best Christmas episode of the era, but like you I do think it has some problems in its latter half (and it ends up feeling a little oddly rushed in the end).

I do like 'The Girl Who Slept Too Little' a little more than you and find it good (it has some writing problems, but I think the story itself and the good parts make up for those that doesn't work as well. Plus the animation work is great). I am not as fond of 'Lisa The Drama Queen' as you are, but it is still a nice and interesting story in the end. 'The Debarted' is a fairly decent one with a good (if a little too obviously referential) plot, some nice moments & jokes, but also some ssues that hold it back.

That Treehouse Of Horror' I am conflicted about since I only like 'Survival of The Fattest', while 'How To Get Ahead In Dead-vertising & 'Day The Earth Stood Stupid' I am no fan of. Both have good premises but their execution felt clumsy and in the instance of the latter, too obvious and heavy-handed with its messaging). As for 'The Italian Bob', I still find it a typical mediocre episode: It's nonsensical, cartoonish and messy (wanting to be a travel story and a Bob story), but the show has done worse, though I understand why it has garnered such hate, maybe especially with it being a Bob episode (and those tend to require more. Really didn't like how his family weren't even developed but ended up extremely one-dimensional as if the writers didn't care).

Overall, an interesting season so far (and again, really like seeing those unexpected 5/5s. Those episodes deserve more love). Looking forward to the rest. Keep it up!
 
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Wile E. the Brain

Scientific progress goes "boink"
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Oh, a season revolving around "experimental" episodes, I dig that.

I absolutely adore The Seemingly Never-Ending Story. It's just an episode that goes deeper and deeper and deeper without tangling itself, the multiple stories are interesting to follow (like a bunch of rejected concepts for complete episodes, the Simpsons themselves are a part of them one way or another), and it's tremendously entertaining. Without a doubt my favorite post-classic era episode.

Honestly I don't mind the last part of 'Tis the Fifteenth Season. In fact I actually like how the plot turns into a battle of wills between Homer and Ned to see who can be the nicest and most altruistic. It's interesting to see Ned forgetting the true meaning of altruism in my opinion (while Homer just does have trouble to understand it from the get-go). So I don't mind Homer acting like a jerk and not getting a big comeuppance here, plus it fits with the somewhat dark tone of this episode. A contender for my favorite season 15 episode.

Personally, my favorite [musical] remains the Sherry Bobbins episode
You sir have good taste.
 

CousinMerl

the waiting game sucks
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Oct 24, 2006
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Spittle County
@Wile E. the Brain & @B-Boy, I would be a little surprised if any fan didn't think 'Simpsoncali' was their favorite musical episode of the show (it is a hilarious spoof on 'Mary Poppins') but I still can understand those who don't love it (and me myself, I do find it maybe gets a little too dark, cruel and nihilistic & the exaggerations of the characters are rather extreme) but for me, it is a fine episode. I wonder if @Szyslak100 still find it an awful episode (I went to the R&R thread to see what the board opinions on it is overall and was reminded of his harsh review from two years back). Maybe something changed now that he's more open minded about musicals?

Anyhow, of the post-classic musicals, 'The President Wore Pearls' certainly stand out as its best to me (and might very well rival 'Simpsoncali', especially with the plot being stronger). The half liked/half disliked 'The Star Of The Backstage' probably comes in second for me since I don't really recall any other modern era musical that have been that interesting or good.
 
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Szyslak100

Stonecutter
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I have to say I am very disappointed because I thought It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse was going to make the cut in this last special since it was the most-voted segment along with Survival of the Fattest when you asked for our opinion and I thought it was going to be a democratic process. It would make double sense in an "experimental season" since it's an experimental segment. But, whatever, you have the last word and it's fine if you consider How to Get Ahead deserves the spot.

Other than that, I loved this half-season and I wouldn't be surprised if the second part ends up being even better. You know, beyond my irrational fanatism I have built during my entire life, if I still watch The Simpsons and I still defend it against the harsh critics, it's because around the constant mediocrity, the worthless rehashes of classic episodes, and the notorious filling that clearly abound, there are high-quality episodes often and a lot of worth-watching stuff. Well, I am not saying anything new, it's that what this project is about, right? But this season brings something different. It proves that post-classic Simpsons is more than a flawed and "zombie" version of classic Simpsons and shows that, despite all the problems this era has, it enriches the legacy of the series.

I mean, the previous seasons had lots of episodes I love, but some of those episodes felt overshadowed by similar classic episodes. My Mother the Carjacker is a sequel to Mother Simpson, The Wandering Juvie is great but Bart already had had a girlfriend who manipulated him, and Moe Baby Blues or Sleeping with the Enemy had "classic era vibes". Well, that's what makes this season special. When I think of Don't Fear the Roofer, The DeBarted, or Lisa the Drama Queen, I feel them as genuine Simpsons episodes, but I can not see them being part of any of the first eight seasons and not even similar to them. And when I think of The Seemingly Never-Ending Story or The President Wore Pearls I see syles the show barely tried in its glorious days. Can you see what I am trying to say? They are things we would have lost if The Simpsons had ended in season 8, and makes me happy that the show is still on the air.

I have the theory that the most acclaimed post-classic episodes are indeed experimental, gimmicky, or format-bender. I love it when new episodes find uncovered ground and try out something different. Think about it, the big part of the best contributions of this era has something that differentiates them from the golden years of the show. They either have a non-linear narrative and/or are non-canon (which was atypical in the earliest seasons), or they fully parody movies/series or explore new concerns that didn't exist back in the 90s, or they come up with unexpected backstories for minor characters, or with unexplored chemistries between characters that have never interacted before. Hits like Poppa's Got a Brand New Badge or A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again are the exceptions. In most cases, a modern episode must be different to be special. And episodes like these are different. I loved this season (despite that Sideshow Bob episode).


I wonder if @Szyslak100 still find it an awful episode (I went to the R&R thread to see what the board opinions on it is overall and was reminded of his harsh review from two years back). Maybe something changed now that he's more open minded about musicals?
I definitely don't hate it anymore but I'd pick The President Wore Pearls, The Star of Backstage, and even My Fair Laddy over it. Two things pissed me off from that episode: the songs and the shallow unfitting parody. The latter remains so I still don't think it's a truly good episode (but I would happily rewatch without judging it for being a musical)
 
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