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America's Favorite Non-prehistoric Cartoon Family - The Simpsons Thread

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Rosebud

Nostalgia is a powerful force. We can watch videos of the old days (as I am typing this, a youtube collection of vintage Halloween commercials is playing in the background), by old mementos and antiques and reminisce with friends but the past is a world gone by. We can't go back there. Too much can be toxic, of course (re: shitty politics), but there's no question that it holds a force over us. It would be easier to say that we miss a "simpler" time but for many of us, they weren't simple or without hardship. For some of us, it was much harder. But we can still be effected by us because it reminds of a place we can never return to. And I don't think anyone is immune, regardless of our station in life.

In this episode, Mr. Burns is feeling blue during his birthday and Smithers susses out that it is due to Mr. Burns' longing for Bobo, a teddy bear from his childhood. The yearning becomes so strong, Burns drops any pretense and has a national search for his bear. The bear find its way into the hands of Maggie Simpson, who loves and cherishes it. When the Simpson find out they have Burns' bear, they make a deal for it but Maggie's love for the bear is too strong and Homer can't stand to separate his daughter from the bear. This makes an enemy of Burns, who tries numerous tactics but nothing seems to work. Eventually, Burns learns he must deal with Maggie directly and eventually seeing how sad Burns is without his bear, she gives it to him.

The Simpsons has already make a lot of parallels to Charles Foster Kane and Mr. Burns before but this episode takes the "rosebud" of this episode and uses it as a jumping off point to tell a great tale of how nostalgia can lay us low. Burns starts the episode prideful and even before his war with the Simpsons, slowly loses the armor of confidence his wealth affords him. He is still incredibly powerful and even dangerously malicious. Though his plans for most of the episode are wackily inept, his final plot to defeat the Simpsons by turning Springfield against them is clever in knowing how to hit the town were it lives: forms of escape. "If I can't escape, neither can you." But despite all this, even bottomless well of Goku-like power money can grant is completely contingent on others willing to accept it. The Simpsons don't, so Burns turns to others. But eventually, its just him and Smithers and they can't do a thing about it. Burns has been vulnerable before and we've even seen a similar formula where Burns finds a force money can't defeat if the people don't let it (there's a good episode in one of the later Simpsons where Burns buys all the media in Springfield except Lisa's newsletter).

In this episode, Mr. Burns' yearning is what does him in. He's undoubtedly the episode's villain but while he's not quite sympathetic (especially after his "spoiled child" style birthday party), he is also softened a bit in his genuine longing. He might have all the money in the world but it is something he cannot deny, try as he might. Of course, it doesn't take long for Burns to turn these feelings into cruel, nasty action once the bear is within sight. I definitely sympathize with Homer not giving Burns the bear simply because I have had to take something from a child before. That shit is heart-shattering. It's like "no, we need to put your monkey away while you eat." and the kid acts like he's lost something more important than his life. The episode ends with Maggie's desire relating when Burns drops the pretense of being a social better and literally gets down to Maggie's level. Stealing doesn't work but letting her see Burns as vulnerable and genuinely willing to relent touches her.

Burns is never going to learn the lesson the audience may, of course, and the show acknowledges that with a great gag that implies a return to the status quo by next week. But in that moment is some genuine sweetness, even if it isn't going to last. Conan O'Brien pointed out his favourite character to write is Burns because he can essentially "do anything". At this phase, it is around Burns that things get the most off the wall and it is in full display in this episode. This is Burns at his Burnsiest: having a birthday where presidents are kicked out and Australia spells out his name. He acts like a ninja and has robot bears made for him. He may as well has magic genie powers.

But despite that, the show is sometimes great at humanizing a character who is both the most outsized one AND the most villainous. Compare him to Sideshow Bob, whose appearances as a villain are events. Bob never actually killed anyone, though he's done many evil things. Its implied Burns has offed his fair share number of enemies off-screen and his evil is omnipresent. But he's not an immediate threat to the leads all the time and people... just learned to live with it. Which is a disturbingly realistic take on evil for an absurd character. So it is impressive that the show has episodes like this that can earn... not a redemption of the character by any means, but making us feel for him, even for a moment before he steals Christmas from 1981 to 1985.

Jokes I missed before:

There are two jokes cut for syndication I completely forgot:
Burns kicking out one term presidents out of his party and even Bush Sr. doesn't want to hang out with Carter. Again, history has been kinder to Carter than to Bush Sr.

And this.
The giant wind up key is a nice touch.

Also, I love the touch that on his pile of presents that include treasure and a unicorn is a LOT of fucking ties.



Other great jokes:

Every bit of this moment is PERFECT
Smithers giving Homer the most unfortunate introduction a comedian could expect (even insults and derogatory comedy would be FAR better than completely bumming out the room), Homer being completely unable to read the room and trying to hype up the room with the most vanilla call and response TWICE, that one guy who is vocally sad and that lady who treats Homer like he came onto the stage uninvited.

I feel like the 90s went through a HUGE period of Hitler jokes where he was the height of comedy. Apparently someone had to tell the Simpsons writers to cut it out because its played out. Still, Hitler blaming his loss on a teddy bear is funny use of Hitler.

The reveal of where convenience store ice comes from is great.

"Oh, a head bag. That's full of... heady goodness."

"Hug me, squeeze me, tug at my fur!"

"And, uh, leave the costume."
I won't kink shame, Burns.

"Why can't I be greedy once and a while?"

"Maybe I can still get that drink!"

I love Smithers impotent growl as they leave the house.

The ninja Burns segment is gold throughout from gassing Flanders to a cheese fueled defeat and everything in between.
"Good day to you."

"My old man can't get a beer because his old man won't give a bear to another old man."

I love Burns felt the need to star in his own show with Smithers rather than just leaving the TVs blank.

Other notes:

Somehow two episodes that reference Sheriff Lobo, a show I only know exists because of this show, feels like a LOT of references to that show.

Its kind of fitting Johnny Ramone singing for Burns considering they are basically on the same area of the political spectrum. I like Drummer Ramone's (whatever his name is) "I think they liked us."

Good foley work this week. There's a record scratch joke in the episode, which is the most cliche bit that eventually became a movie trailer go to but the editors then put the subtle sound of the needle being put back into the spinning record. Also, Homer "cracking" which sounds like a nasty back snap. Man, good sound work is tough and I need to remember that the Simpsons is a VERY good sounding show.

Remember in the 90s when everyone felt the need to dunk on Barney (the dinosaur, not the drunk)? Regardless of the quality of the show, that kept feeling perfunctory on basically any show it happened on.

Marge saying "It's an ending, that's enough." feels like the writers where exhausted and it came through on the page.

I feel like the post-apocalyptic coda was the kind of thing that made the writers and animators giddy to tackle.
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
Moldy? Old? I'm going to get something to eat!
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Treehouse of Horror IV

Ah, watching Halloween near Halloween! After this I'll be taking a short break to watch more scary movies and such but I figured this was the best time to stop with a Halloween show. They are the only episodes I still catch up on when new ones come out, though it usually isn't worth it. That said, there was a canonical Halloween episodes a few years back that was actually pretty decent. But I've found that even with the introductory segments, these episodes are very economical in being dense joke machines while still feeling like a complete package rather than a series of stapled together scenes.

In this episode, Bart introduces three tales of terror in a spooky art gallery. First, Homer makes a deal with the devil/Flanders, and finds himself in a trial for his soul. Then Bart is riding on the bus when a monster on the outside begins to rip it apart. And finally, Mr. Burns is a vampire and only the Simpsons can stop him.

This is the last time the show uses a proper host segment and while I kind of miss them, it is probably for the best they were jettisoned in favor of giving the stories a little more breathing room. This time, it is a parody of the Rod Serling series The Night Gallery. Well, when I say it was his series, it kind of wasn't but he did serve as host and contributed quite a few scripts. But he was more or less brought on because people still remembered how scary the Twilight Zone was and wanted people to associate the two shows. I've only seen a few episodes but it definitely had some strong episodes. Big Surprise is a fun little mini-episode well worth watching. Not terribly deep, more a cheeky spooky gag at ten minutes. I like that thoughg the show implies Carradine is going to kill him, maybe he's just going to laugh at him.

The first story is a parody of The Devil and Daniel Webster, a movie I've never seen but I am given to understand it is a winning fantasy tale of a trial for a soul with the devil, which has been MUCH parodied since. Though he doesn't get to do too much, making that lawyer Lionel Hutz is absolutely perfect, someone who is the opposite of the lawyer of the source material: stupid and corrupt and completely worthless. Hartman is always wonderful and here he's on the top of his game, helped by his writers with an all-time great Hutz quote (though every line works). Making Flanders the devil is also perfect too, less for the dramatic irony and more for creating a put upon but somewhat friendly devil who even tries to give Homer a chance to think things through.

The second story is a parody of Terror at 20,000 Feet one of the all time great Twilight Zone episodes. Appearing in the show's final season, it made an impression, being remade for the Twilight Zone movie with George Miller of Mad Max fame. The new series also had an episode that was a loose subversion of the tale, in which it posits "Hey, maybe a panicky man on a plane who is looking to battle a threat no one else can see" looks a little different in this era. The story concerns a nervous man on a plane who realized there's a gremlin picking apart his plane. Its a memorable episode and one of the few with an out and out visible monster (and definitely one of its most memorable). The first and final segments are all about using the parody to tell very Simpson-y jokes and have some fun homages to classic Satanic iconography and vampire movies but this one is very specific and it also captures that specific tone of that episode while telling absurd jokes, the best of which is essentially making the bus a plane with the bus having a plane-style window shade and some serious decompression when Bart opens the window.

The final episode is the one that feels very specific to the then recent "Bram Stoker's Dracula" but despite that, its not actually a dated episode in any form. The jokes are timeless, with the central joke being the time honored one of a villain barely capable of even bothering to hide his evil secrets and everyone else being oblivious to it. I haven't personally scene many of the more famous Dracula movies nor read the book (though I did see a play once in Jr. High). But I can't think of ANY horror story where the cultural osmosis is so pervasive.

Another Halloween episode and another series of top notch gags. Time to take a rest from the Simpsons but when I'm back in November, we are going to see a top notch episode with "Marge on the Lam".

Jokes I missed before:
A nice touch I've never noticed before... Homer's head in the background on the mountain.



Do you get the gag?

Here's another clue.


In case you still haven't got it, I'll spell it out: A Night on Bald Mountain

Other great jokes:

"Bastard! He's always one step ahead!"

"Hey Bart."
"Hey."

"Mr. Simpson, don't you worry. I saw Matlock in a bar last night. The sound wasn't on but I think I got the jist of it."

"Arr, this chair be high, sez I."



No one seems to be into this visit and I love it.

"OW, I CUT MY CHEEK!"

"I'm riding the bus today because mother hid my car keys for talking to a woman on the phone. She was right to do it."

"Right or wrong, your behaviour was still disruptive. Maybe spending the remainder of your life in a madhouse will teach you some manners."







"Big deal, this is no different than the basement in grandpa's restroom."
That's some dark shit and I love it."




It always works...

"Why if it isn't little.... boy."

"And if you say you're a vampire, you get a free small soda at the movies."


"Well, I do have a life outside this house you know."

Other notes:

The first appearance of Uter!
 

yama

the room is full of ghosts
We are dealing with a supernatural creature, most likely a mummy. As a precaution, I've ordered the Egyptian wing at the Springfield Museum destroyed.
 

Ludendorkk

(he/him)
"Devil and Homer Simpson" was always memorable to me for Nixon remarking "Actually I'm not dead yet", a grim reminder of how long ago these episodes originally aired. (Nixon would pass away before this season ended, funnily enough)
 

Tegan

dirtbag lesbian
(She/Her)
"Devil and Homer Simpson" was always memorable to me for Nixon remarking "Actually I'm not dead yet", a grim reminder of how long ago these episodes originally aired. (Nixon would pass away before this season ended, funnily enough)
Taking every available opportunity to take swipes at Nixon is one of my favourite things about the Matt Groening body of work, particularly the letters column from Simpsons Comics #4 having this half-page burn track for no particular reason.

 
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