#05 - The Last Temptation of Krust
S09/E15 - This is yet another neat episode that ends up bringing together a good hand full of celebrities of a particular sort. This time around, it's stand-up comedians, largely playing on the stand-up popularity of the time (1998).
Bart, with the help of Jay Leno, help to convince Krusty to star on a comedy special that Jay Leno is hosting. Among the guests, are real-voiced comedians Bruce Baum (whose popularity apparently grew after this), Janeane Garofalo, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Steven Wright.
When Krusty goes on to do his act, it turns out dated, offensive, and downright unfunny altogether. After he bombs, he goes on the "bender to end all benders". This was a montage that apparently got the attention of the NHL, as Krusty is seen drinking from, and vomiting into the Stanley Cup here. The angry letter in question, however, was apparently ignored, which gives this episode a boost for me. In my eyes, that story kinda lends itself to the spirit of the whole episode. No offense to my home country's best sport, but I can't help but appreciate that little tidbit.
Anyway, the next morning, Krusty is discovered by Bart, passed out in the Flanders' yard. Bart bring him in to recuperate, and upon looking around Bart's room, he realizes that he's been selling out instead of trying to improve his comedy. When Bart gets Jay Leno to help clean Krusty up, and get him back on his feet, he practices new material in front of the Simpson family, and sadly even ends up bombing there.
Krusty soon holds a press conference in which he announces his departure from show business. However, in doing so, he ends up telling things like they are, and finds a new niche with his act. Before we know it, he's modeled after George Carlin and makes a triumphant, instantaneous return to comedy. His act is reflective of Carlin as well as his new look, with anti-commercialism and anti-corporate viewpoints.
What i enjoy about the episode is probably the same thing people might dislike about it, and that's the overall ending. Where some may see it as an abrupt ending, making things seemingly pointless, I'd sooner take it as a "the more things change the more they stay the same" message. Either way, the closing credits are a funny gag on the unstoppable force of Ford truck commercials, and feature the singing voice of Hank Williams Jr., so it's worth sticking around until the very end.
While Season 9 is apparently the beginning of the show's downhill spiral, there's still several salvageable episodes, but what can be seen as a classic anymore is up for debate. It's so much more down to personal taste now, but this was one for me that I've always enjoyed. Krusty is one of my favorite secondary characters, and to see him channeling one of my all-time favorite comedians is a real treat. It's not perfect, but it's a fun change for Krusty's character.
#04 - Das Bus
S09/E14 - Ths one always struck me as a relatively strong episode altogether. It's able to be a "what-if" throwaway, and not bother with continuity of any sort. But at the same time, it's a neat focus on the students of Springfield Elementary without any sort of adult supervision.
It turns out the school as a UN club, and the group has had a field trip arranged for them. Among the students are Bart, Lisa, Milhouse, Nelson, Ralph, Martin, Wendell, Louis, Sherry and Terri. While on the bus ride, Bart and Nelson decide to "race" their fruit from their lunches to the front of the bus. Ralph joins in with a banana and a hilarious cheer, but Milhouse ruins everyone's day with a grapefruit.
Said grapefruit is lodged between Otto's brake, the bus crashes into the ocean, and Otto is swept away by the current, leaving the kids on their own. While at first the idea of no adults around seems promising, they soon find themselves in a survival situation, and a take on 'Lord of the Flies'. It all ends with a pan-out, and James Earl Jones' narrating voice telling us what happened. It's done in such a way that it's seemingly made up on the spot, and that lends itself to the episode being a "what-if" episode.
Meanwhile, to fill in a side story, Homer learns through Flanders that one can start a business over the internet and make some decent money. This was '98, so imagine 'Windows '98' being the big, new standard operating system back then. Homer wasn't necessarily the only one out there learning about this idea at the time, and I feel this episode may have helped push that idea. Of course, I could be wrong about that. I think we had only just been hooked up with cable internet at the time. But I digress.
While Homer's story takes a total back seat here, the rest of the episode is a real draw for me. This is particularly due to something I have about seeing kids just act like kids, in whatever situation. There's something in their naivety to what's going on around them. In this, these kids are caught up in survival, but still act like they would in the school yard.
This one has plenty of great lines and moments. It's home to both "Go banana!" being cheered by Ralph, and "Zeppelin Rules!" being shouted by Otto as the ocean sweeps him away. It's actually kinda full of decent one-liners, and I daresay may be one of the most quotable episodes of the series - which is saying a lot!
Interestingly enough, it's even used at University of California in Berkeley as study material. The idea is to examine aspects of American society, and how the episode addresses them. The whole idea of the UN club plays into this nicely, especially as it's a bunch of other countries being represented by American children. It's largely satirical, and plays with the idea of a somewhat ignorant American representation of other nations. For example Ralph representing my home country of Canada - largely seen as an almost childish stereotype. To me, it manages to parallel 'South Park' satire, which is some of the best you can find nowadays.
#03 - Simpson Tide
S09/E19 - This is another favourite based on its overall fun factor. It steps outside the box a bit, and gives us the concept of Homer in the US Navy.
Homer, Lenny and Carl are down to the last doughnut at work. Upon Homer attempting to enlarge the doughnut in a nuclear reactor, a meltdown nearly occurs, and he is swiftly fired by Mr. Burns.
While sitting on the couch, contemplating things, Homer sees an ad for the US Navy. When he learns it would make Lisa "sorta" proud, he decides to join up. I've always kinda took this as a somewhat clever call back to so many previous episodes that were about their father-daughter relationship. Disappointing Lisa always hits Homer hard, so making her proud is always a big deal. It's as though they've gone through this so many times, it's now just a quick setup. Really and truly, Bart's more the focus in the beginning.
Milhouse ends up getting his ear pierced, and when Bart sees how cool it seems to make him, goes and gets it done for himself. Homer sees Bart's new earring as a disappointment, and when Homer is called in for war games, Bart gives it up to him in a huff. The earring would come into play later, making it a pretty convenient subplot. But leading up to that, there's a lot of great laughs with Homer, Moe, Apu and Barney, the latter three joining up to support Homer.
The hilarity ensues when Captain of the sub, Tenille (Rod Steiger) is fired out of a torpedo tube, and Homer is put in charge, having formed a close previous bond with Tenille. He then accidentally steers the sub into Russian waters, which is seen by the US military as defecting, and it causes a split between the US and Russia, who give us a pretty over-the top but hilarious reveal. At the end of it all, the lives of the crew end up in Homer's hands, and all we can hope is for Homer to make good decisions.
Cultural references are fairly abundant in this one. Captain Tenille was actually modeled after 'Crimson Tide' character, Captain Frank Ramsey, (Gene Hackman), adding to the episode's title's significance. There are also references to 'The Deer Hunter', 'Planet of the Apes' and 'Star Trek'. The Village People perform 'In the Navy', and though it's not clear, I'd swear there are hints of 'Down Periscope' going on here, too (a movie I fully go against the grain with critics on, but that's a whole other list waiting to happen). It even references itself when Bart does 'The Bartman' on the bus, which Ralph claims to be "so 1991" - a clever gag.
Again, this is really just a fun episode with nothing much deeper than gags and one-liners to offer. But I do love how its written, overall. One of the best things about this is how Homer speaks to his superiors. He's just very polite, and to see that piss off his drill instructor is always fun. Firing the Captain out of the torpedo tube is a gag that still gets me to this day, along with a lot of Homer's quick thinking, which obviously doesn't always pan out for him. It's great for a laugh, plain and simple.
#02 - The City of New York vs Homer Simpson
S09/E01 - This episode is widely regarded, apparently, to be the last good episode of 'The Simpsons', before 'The Principal and the Pauper' came in with an absolutely pointless plotline, and began the show's downhill decline. But as I mentioned before, there's still plenty of salvageable material from this season - hence why "the last good episode" is a #2 for me.
Homer, Barney, and the rest of the regular barflies arrive at Moe's for a night of drinking. Moe informs them that one of them has to be the designated driver, however, due to them causing way too many traffic accidents. Barney ends up being "it", and things are a torturous process for him. He's even met by Duff Man (in his debut), who has a bunch of free beer for him that he can't drink. In his sobering torture, Barney drops off the other guys, and ends up driving Homer's car to New York City, going missing for two whole months.
Homer eventually learns that his car has been illegally parked at the base of the World Trade Center (no, I am not getting into any sort of controversial whatnot about it. This was 1998, after all). The Simpson family then heads to the big city on a cheap bus ride, although Homer is extremely hesitant, having had a terrible experience there some time in his past.
Upon arrival, Homer is made to wait by his car in order to talk to an officer about his car being parked illegally. He runs into trouble like needing something to eat, and having to go to the bathroom, swiftly losing his patience with the city. I've always enjoyed this aspect of it, because Homer is just seemingly not allowed to enjoy New York in this at all. As if there's some force making his visits there a chore.
Meanwhile, however, the rest of the family takes in the city by visiting a Broadway show, seeing the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and more. That's sort of where the clever writing comes in. New York can easily be seen as a beautiful, magical city, but at the same time, it can just as easily be seen as a place you don't wanna be. This episode offers both perspectives rather generously, and having been to NYC three times before, I can see both sides of the story quite easily. It probably also helps that the episode writer, Ian Maxtone-Graham, was a former NY resident.
I find it interesting that this is seen as the last really "good" episode. I can actually come up with several that I appreciate after this, and would claim the real downhill spiral to start a bit more towards the next season. I'll tell you, Season 10's Top 5 was much easier to narrow down. This list was relatively simple, and I find the season kinda scattered between good and "meh". But if this is regarded as the last "good" episode by so many, what could my #1 possibly be? How about a focus on one of my personal favourite secondary characters that hasn't really been done before?
#01 - This Little Wiggy
S09/E18 - So, in case it's not obvious, Ralph Wiggum is one of those characters that could easily qualify for a Top 5 position for yours truly. I've always loved how naive, slow, random, and almost baby-like he is. The episode 'I Love Lisa', which is pretty Ralph-centric, was very close to being on my Season 4 list. Another testament to how difficult that list was to make.
The Simpsons visit a science museum, where the family splits up to each do their own things. Homer's chosen activity of operating a sperm simulator is probably the best laugh here, especially when Krusty comes in to take over. Bart eventually runs into Ralph while "skateboarding" on a giant replica of the moon. The typical bully crew come by, and stuff Ralph into a giant ear. Bart laughs at this, but the guys brush him off as a kiss-up, even going so far as to tell him to "go kiss the virtual ass".
Marge sees this happen, and gets to know Ralph a little more with the help of Chief Wiggum. Here, we see that Ralph has a good imagination, and he just likes to have fun, even if he's playing by himself. Marge soon arranges a "play date" with Bart and Ralph, and the two contrast pretty much as expected.
When visiting the Wiggum household, however, Bart learns about the Chief's "Master Key", which opens any door in Springfield. The fun really comes in when we see Bart and Ralph unlocking places like toy stores and candy stores, having the time of their lives - again, kids acting like kids. They could be robbing these places blind, but they're just enjoying everything these places have to offer. I can only imagine what would be going through a 10-year-old's head when they have full access to the whole city.
So yeah, I appreciate this episode the most because it's Ralph-centric, and it was really a long time coming. Even though 'I Love Lisa' was pretty well focused on him, I felt more like Lisa was the main focus of that episode. Here, I feel like Bart is supposed to be the main focus, but Ralph steels the spotlight with his one-liners.
I further appreciate that we actually get to know Ralph a bit more as a character. For example, he's got an imaginary leprechaun friend who tells him to burn things. There are also subtle things, like his love for chocolate and candy, claiming at one point that his toys are all sticky, and we see clearly why they would be. It even covers how Ralph reacts to dire situations, like the idea of facing his fears in order to enter an abandoned prison just to get his dad's key, which he knows he can't go home without. It's subtle, but it actually develops Ralph quite a bit.
Of course, most of the laughs here come from Ralph's famous one-liners, which pretty well solidified him in the show as a one-line character. It even brings up a good point about Bart's character, when he's basically misunderstood by the bullies as a "sometimes cool, sometimes not" type of personality. That's genuinely true of Bart altogether. He often leads these kids, much like in the aforementioned 'Das Bus'. But at the same time, these bullies beat him up just as much. Bart was always a bad kid with a heart, and this is an episode that kinda brings that to the forefront.
So perhaps there's a bias here, and 'The City of New York vs Homer Simpson' really ought to be #1, but this isn't like previous lists where the two are a coin-flip for me. I actually consider this episode to be grossly underrated. It struck a chord with everyone at the time, but since then, it has become a part of the "beginning of the end" for the great quality of 'The Simpsons', and that's pretty unfortunate.