#05 - Mom and Pop Art
S10/E19 - Much like Season 9, I tend to go against the grain a bit more on whether the whole season is bad or not. But while Season 9 is pretty well altogether salvageable for me, I do tend to agree that Season 10 does start to dip in quality. Admittedly, this one wasn't a hard season to narrow down to five favourites.
Beginning with 'Mom and Pop Art', we get an interesting addition to previous episode, 'Brush With Greatness'. There, we learned that Marge has a past in art, painting several portraits of Ringo Starr. This episode expands on it with a "what-if" factor, when Homer accidentally almost manages to steal Marge's teenage dreams away from her.
While at the Mom & Pop Hardware Store, Homer comes across a video ad for a barbecue being sold there, and decides to buy it. In his effort to put it all together - a frankly overall memorable Homer moment - he loses his temper at the already messed up barbecue that he makes messier in his anger.
He tries to get rid of it, assuming it's nothing but trash. However, an art dealer by the name of Astrid Weller (Isabella Rossellini) ends up finding an artsy side to Homer's "sculpture", and agrees to display it at the Louvre: American Style Museum. Mr. Burns soon buys it for a hefty amount, and Homer decides that he's found his calling as an artist, thus stomping on Marge's dreams as mentioned earlier.
Of course, this ends up causing tension between the two. Homer's ego gets a little too big, and Marge can't seem to convince him that he just got lucky - which is often the case with anything creative, to be fair. But we also clearly see Marge's jealousy about the attention Homer manages to get, and is understandably upset that he's basking in all of it.
The episode is not complete with a few great Homer moments, which include aforementioned temper tantrum and his now relatively famous "shavin' my shoulders" song. But perhaps my favourite moment in this is Homer's dream. I've always had a thing for the way this show does hallucinations and dreams, and this is no exception. The dream takes place in an art world that utilizes works like da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man', Picasso's 'Three Magicians' and Dali's 'Persistence of Memory' creatively. And that's just to name a few. It's a great scene for anyone who's ever been into classic art.
It ends with, what in my opinion is, one of the most interesting scenes. Homer ends up losing faith in himself as an artist, and manages to pull something really weird and really creative together. This ends up being a not-so-famous scene, but does contain one of the most quoted 'Simpson' lines of all time - "everything's coming up Milhouse!". That line can even be found in the Urban Dictionary these days, defined as "A celebratory phrase used following one, or a series of, positive, though generally insignificant event(s)."
At first glance, one might claim this one to be a throwaway, but considering some of he moments this one has, it really isn't. I daresay, it can be considered a classic of sorts, but more about the moments within the episode than the full episode itself. It's not perfect, but it's fun.
#04 - Bart the Mother
S10/E03 - It almost feels weird to me, picking this one. There were two specific episodes of this show that I got tired of, due to syndication playing them all the damn time. Though I'm sure several other episodes are guilty of overplay, this one, and 'Lisa the Skeptic', for me, were the worst culprits.
So why even put it on the list? Well, despite the overplay on this one, it's still a great episode that shows us, once again, that perfect balance of a character that Bart Simpson is. 'Lisa the Skeptic' is certainly good too, but it was a little heavy, dealing with angels, religion, whether it's all real or not, etc. This is just showing us a character's charm, and even asks the audience what they would do in Bart's situation (not literally, but still).
Marge takes the family to the Family Fun Center, where she witnesses Nelson knock Milhouse off a go kart track, and win a BB gun for his efforts. When she sees Bart's interest in the gun, she swiftly forbids Bart to hang out with Nelson, as he'd be a terrible influence on him. Of course, as kids do, Bart disobeys his Mom and sneaks off to go hang out with Nelson and shoot that BB gun.
Here, we kinda get to see how Nelson lives his life. He's in a drafty house, he's a latch-key kid, and we even see how he eats. It all sort of gives us a window into his behaviour, and I've always found that to be an interesting, never before seen aspect of Nelson for this episode.
Anyway, upon shooting the gun, Bart ends up accidentally killing a mother bird. Nelson gives him praise for "compensating for the crooked sight", but really, Bart was aiming to purposely miss the bird. He's found out by Marge, dragged back home, and becomes guilt-ridden enough to go back for the nest to take care of the baby birds.
It's another episode that gives us a deeper look into Bart's mind. He's edgy enough to want to shoot a BB gun (he's 10, so that's at least kinda edgy), but he's absolutely not a killer. It's a good way to see just how big Bart's heart is. He's all for causing destruction, but not at the cost of a life, even if it's "just a bird".
I think the most appreciative thing I get from this one is the relationship between Marge and Bart, expanding a little. It all ends with an interesting reveal, having to do with these eggs Bart's protecting. Without ruining it, soon enough, we see Bart's attempt at protecting these eggs as a metaphor for the mother-son relationship Bart and Marge have always had. it's really kinda sweet, and not something the show does a whole lot of. It's refreshing to see Bart totally humbled, and Marge's endless love for her son, despite all the trouble he can cause.
#03 - When You Dish Upon a Star
S10/E05 - I have mentioned this about celebrity guest stars for 'The Simpson' from pretty much the beginning, but this is another great example of celeb guest stars who are more than capable of laughing at themselves.
This one features then-married Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, as themselves. Shots are fired such as Baldwin not being able to get an Oscar, or Basinger's name (probably) always getting mispronounced. Ron Howard comes into things as well, and he pretty much becomes a willing punching bag for the episode, right down to pitching weird ideas to producer Brian Grazer - who likes the weird ideas, by the way.
It all starts when the kids convince Homer to take them to Lake Springfield for a bit of a summer getaway. They engage in various activities, which include having Homer try parasailing. He insists on going higher, and in gunning the engine, Marge starts a fire, burning the rope. Homer then drifts straight onto the roof of a fancy summer home, only to crash through the skylight, landing on Baldwin, and next to Basinger, whom he immediately recognizes.
The couple's idea was to get away from it all in a secluded town, choosing Springfield, which no one seems to be able to find - a running gag on the location of the town. Homer then volunteers to do their groceries for them, in an effort to keep them hidden from the public eye. Ron Howard eventually pops by to provide plenty of comedy relief as well.
Things go great for a while, and no one is the wiser, until Homer finally lets slip that the celebrities are in town. As usual, the Springfielders get a bit crazy, and head as a gigantic group towards the summer home. This understandable upsets Baldwin, Basinger and Howard, and they banish Homer for disturbing their peaceful time. Eventually Homer gets up to his own thing, as a now-angered fan, and hilarity pretty well ensues.
It turns out that Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger weren't actually the first celebrities the show runners had in mind for this episode. Bruce Springsteen was first approached, turning down the offer, but he was followed by Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, who also turned it down. Baldwin and Basinger agreed to do it, eventually, and hot off the Oscar trail with 'LA Confidential', Basinger could lend herself to a lot of decent gags following the film's success.
What I really enjoy about this is how celebrities are seen by the common man, and it delves into how stupidly gossipy we get about them. 'TMZ' is all I really need to say, which unfortunately means it's only gotten worse since this '98 episode. This is also another one of those strange, prophetic episodes, "predicting" Disney buying Fox, when after the credits role, a visual gag on the Fox logo mentions "A Division of Walt Disney Co." They saw it coming, even in 1998
#02 - Sunday Cruddy Sunday
S10/E12 - Let's get one thing about me out of the way - I'm not a sports fan in any sense of the term. I will cheer my country on in the Winter Olympics (Go, Canada!), but that's about the extent of it. The sport I'm furthest removed from has got to be football, which probably seems crazy since this episode didn't only make the list, but made #2. How? We'll get to that in a bit.
Things kick off when Bart and Lisa take a field trip to the Springfield Post Office. The trip is altogether about as boring as their trip to the Box Factory in 'Bart Gets Famous', but each of the kids is given a junk mail souvenir at the end. Bart is handed a coupon book, giving it to Homer for his birthday.
In using a coupon for a "free wheel balancing", Homer's quickly conned into buying four brand new tires for his car. While waiting for the installation, he meets Wally Kogen (Fred Willard), travel agent and fellow "sucker". Wally mentions to Homer that his agency is sending a charter bus to the Super Bowl. If Homer can help fill the bus, he and Bart can get free seats to the big game.
Homer then puts together perhaps the strangest collection of male Springfielders to head to the game together, and basically have one gigantic Super Bowl party every step of the way. The first thing I appreciate about this episode is that it's one for the guys. Marge and Lisa spend this whole episode at home, trying to find some sort of activity to do with the guys away, which in itself is pretty funny, but it takes a complete back seat to the Superbowl plot.
Among the aforementioned characters are Krusty, Side Show Mel, Barney, Moe, Lenny, Carl, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Dr. Hibbert, Flanders, Sea Captain, Bumble Bee Man and more. Even that not-Lionel Hutz Lawyer guy is there! As the episode carries on, we get to watch the drunken camaraderie unfold with these guys, and the whole thing becomes a sort of "boys night out" themed episode.
This one can also be seen as a football-themed answer to 'Homer at the Bat', which featured several pro baseball player voices. This features Troy Aikman, Rosey Grier, Pat Summerall and the more familiar names in my eyes, John Madden and Dan Marino (and yes, I know Madden was a coach/sportscaster). Rupert Murdoch and Dolly Parton also make appearances as themselves, thus making it all in all pretty star-studded, as any Super Bowl episode of something like 'The Simpsons' probably ought to be.
There's not a whole lot more to say about it. Nothing gets deep here, it's just a super fun Superbowl party. I think that's exactly why I like it as much as I do. I'm not entirely sure about this, but I'm not sure there has really been a fun party-themed episode before this. After this, a Spring Break party episode would happen, but I feel like this is the start of that kind of thing. It could be seen as a bad thing, but I do have a strange thing for party themes, even in movies. So this is just no exception.
#01 - Wild Barts Can't Be Broken
S10/E11 - As mentioned in a couple of previous posts, I do have this thing for kids being kids. This episode plays that idea very well, and doesn't need to be some sort of "what-if" episode to do it. It even puts the kids up against the adults, and even as an adult, myself, I can't help but route for these kids.
It all starts when Homer and his friends go on a drunken, blackout spree, following the Springfield Isotopes winning the pennant. The group absolutely trashes Springfield Elementary in the process. The ruins of the school are seen on the news the next day, and kids are blamed for the entire thing.
Homer, being completely wasted while driving, doesn't even remember enough of what he did to register and sort of guilt as he usually would. Soon, a curfew is put into place, and it's soon enough broken when the kids sneak into a Drive-In theater to watch the latest big horror movie, 'The Bloodening' - a sort of take on 'Village of the Damned', combined with a few other things, maybe? I dunno, I couldn't make it through that movie. But the white-haired, creepy kids are a dead giveaway.
The kids are, of course, caught, and things begin to escalate when the kids take inspiration from the movie they were just watching. Don't worry, it doesn't get murdery, but they do take to telling deep, dark secrets over the radio about their parents. For example, Homer is targeted for "eating food out of the Flanders' trash can".
Once again, this takes an almost 'South Park'-ish turn, putting the children's intelligence up against their parents ignorance and/or stupidity. It's not to say kids are just generally smarter than us adults, but it is to say that it pays not to jump to conclusions and blame kids without even looking into things.
Much like 'The Springfield Files', I largely feel like this is an episode that could be watched as a Halloween episode without actually being one. It's not quite on the same level, but there's a bit of a creep factor in the idea that these kids see a horror movie and end up imitating it. The trailer for 'The Bloodening' alone is great, but once things take off with plot, it does take a bit of an eerie turn. It doesn't seem like much, but put yourself in these adults shoes - a nameless voice on the radio who knows your deepest darkest secrets, announcing them to the world? It'd be creepy enough having someone you know give that stuff away over something like Facebook.
To me, this is easily the most fun episode of this season, and it's another one of these that brings it back to being localized to the town, without reaching too far for guest voices. Cyndi Lauper does appear at the beginning, but her whole role is to sing the American anthem in the style of her. It's also got a great musical number at the end, which leads to an interesting twist, and a hilarious Ralph Wiggum one-liner that you can't possibly fully hear, aside from the last two words. But trust me, it's a laugh and a half.
Well, that does it for 'Simpsons September'! I hope that I have been able to provide unfamiliar audiences with some favorable episode titles. I further hope that those who only see a comedic surface can now delve a bit deeper into some of these aforementioned episodes, especially in the earlier days. Please note that you basically cannot go wrong from Seasons 2-8, Seasons 1 and 9 are still solid, but opinions will differ, and from 10 on is an almost immediate decline in quality. But honestly, the show is now on its 31st season, so it's probable that there are people out there still watching with that same passion they had in the early days.