The Simpsons: In a world of its own.
Of all the films, books and indeed TV shows I’ve loved over the course of my life thus far; The Simpsons is the one slice of entertainment/art which has had a recurring presence. And yes, it is art, I know it sounds pretentious, but it is.
I recall my formative Sunday evenings, as I breathlessly awaited the arrival of the latest half-hour slice of magic. Strangely, the memory which resonates most is one of disappointment following most episodes’ culmination.
I would always feel the episode in question had not been up to the shows’ usual high standards. Of course, I now realise that my reluctance to embrace the given programme was, in so many instances, owing to the fact that most of the episodes primarily reward repeat viewing. There are just so many ingenious jokes that it’s almost impossible take them all in at once. This was also why critics were slow in proclaiming the series to be the masterpiece that it was.
And so, given that its immeasurable repeatability renders the show ageless, I have decided to list my all-time personal favourite moments in the show’s history. I wrote personal in case you missed it the first time. I’m not pretending to be a critic-at-large or definitive authority on the show. I’m merely presenting the moments which I have the best memories of.
Before starting, I’d just like to mention that my favourite episode when I was younger was the ‘Itchy and Scratchy Land’ one; whereas nowadays the cineaste in me tends to marginally prefer the ‘Bobo’ one. In the case of the former, it is one of the few episodes I can actually remember watching for the first time and basically laughing all the way through. I love the latter mainly on account of the numerous sly Citizen Kane references which simply make the film nerd in me swoon. Hence, my own personal case demonstrates how The Simpsons will more than likely satisfy simpleton kids and pretentious adolescents alike.
Anyway, without further Apu, here are the 10 most memorable Simpsons’ moments in no particular order:
1. ‘I’m On My Way’– Season 4, Episode 14: ‘Brother from the Same Planet’
When asked to collect Bart by Marge, Homer says the immortal words of above. It subsequently turns out, however, that Homer is in fact watching TV while reading a caption from Wheel of Fortune which happens to say these words. Of course, Homer ignores Marge’s request, leaving Bart to wait for a lift in vain in the freezing cold rain. Not for the first or last time, this incident causes strife in the show’s central father-son relationship.
2. French-baiting – Season 8, Episode 2: ‘You Only Move Twice’
Not only is “You Only Move Twice” one of the best episode puns ever, it would also unquestionably figure pretty high in the pantheon of great Simpsons episodes. Moreover, I could write a whole separate blog dedicated to the top ten jokes about the French in the show, with ample “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” references and what not. Anyway, the following is my own favourite amongst many contenders:
Scorpio: By the way, Homer, what’s your least favourite country, Italy or France?
Scorpio: (laughs) No one ever says Italy.
3. Troy McClure’s Endless Idiosyncrasies – Season 7, Episode 19: ‘A Fish Called Selma’
Troy McClure was undoubtedly one of the best Simpsons’ characters ever. And it’s not entirely a coincidence that the death of Phil Hartnell (the actor who voiced McClure) coincided with the show’s descent into irrelevance. From his hilarious infomercials advertising ludicrous self-help programmes (‘Smoke Yourself Thin’, ‘Get Confident Stupid’) to his inexorable incompetence (‘No, money down’), practically everything McClure said quickly became laugh-out loud funny and enabled the character to acquire cult status in his own right. The ‘A Fish Called Selma’ episode arguably constitutes the quintessence of McClurian witticisms. The following lines are my favourite from memory, as they hilariously highlight his shady relationship with fish and perfectly encapsulate the wry humour which lurks beneath the show’s cartoon veneer.
Marge: What are you talking about?
Homer: You know, his bizarre personal life. Those weird things they say he does down at the aquarium. Why I heard…
Homer: Oh, Homer, that’s just an urban legend, people don’t do that kind of thing with fish.
Louie: Troy McClure!? You said he was dead!
Fat Tony: No, what I said was he sleeps with the fishes! You see…
Louie: Uh, Tony, please, no. I just ate a whole plate of dingamagoo.
4. The Batman/Scientist Dichotomy – Season 4, Episode 12: ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’
A little known fact is that this episode was written solo by Conan O’Brien. He also wrote ‘Homer Goes to College’ (which we will come to later) amongst a few others. This is another vintage episode containing one of the show’s wittiest musical numbers (The Monorail song), one of its best visual gags (the suicide elevator) and one of its greatest minor characters in the strangely Arsene Wenger-esque Sebastian Cobb (“How fast are they going?” asks Marge. “Yaaaaow!” screeches Homer. “Judging by your husband’s cowardly scream, I’d say 180 miles an hour,” Cobb answers. Furthermore, consider this masterful, oft-quoted exchange:
Marge: (over radio) Homer, I have someone who thinks he can help you.
Marge: No he’s a scientist.
Homer: Batman’s a scientist?
5. Homer Nixon – Season 7, Episode 14: ‘Scenes from a Class Struggle in Springfield’
People always look at me strangely when I tell them this is my one of my favourite Simpsons moments ever. They tend to find it vaguely amusing rather than scream-inducingly so. Yet something that I can’t quite put my finger on causes it to touch the deepest reaches of my funny bone. Perhaps it is Burns’ exquisite incompetence and characteristic obstinacy, facets of his personality which contrast perfectly with Smithers’ all-too-self-aware and eager to please nature. In other words, Smithers somehow refrains from exposing Burns as the fusty old idiot that he is, despite his blatant old-man incompetence (see also, Grandpa Simpson’s brief tenure at Krusty Burger) and failure once again to remember Homer’s name.
Mr Burns: (while discussing Richard Nixon) I wonder if this Homer Nixon is any relation?
Smithers: It’s unlikely sir, they spell and pronounce their names differently.
Mr Burns: Bah! Schedule the game and I’ll ask him myself.
Richard Nixon: One of the many former US Presidents that the show caustically mocked.
6. Homer and Marge’s Prom Night – Season 2, Episode 12: ‘The Way We Was’
It is often said that the new episodes of the show are inadequate owing to their lack of emotional resonance with the viewer. Well, this is a perfect example of the earlier episodes’ expertise in incorporating this trait. Moreover, Homer getting the girl over the far more brainy and talented Arty is the epitome of what the show has always been about – celebrating/critiquing ordinary, good-hearted Americans who, for all their faults, deserve their life’s lot because they are honest (sort of), hard-working (sort of)and well-meaning (always). Below is a distinctly unfunny but lovingly heartfelt moment.
Young Homer: Marge I have problem. When you stop this car, I’m gonna hug you. And kiss you. And I’ll never be able to let you go.
Present-day Homer: And I never have.
7. Homer’s Space Venture – Season 5, Episode 15: ‘Deep Space Homer’
At the risk of sounding repetitive, pretty much every scene in this episode is perfect. Highlights include James Taylor’s wonderful self-parody, Homer floating in space to a 2001-aping soundtrack and the ensuing the glorification of the inanimate carbon rod amidst the culmination of his space trip. However, below (another movie reference incidentally) is the clincher which seals its status within the realm of classic episodes.
Reporter: Uh, question for the barbecue chef. Don’t you think there is an inherent danger in sending underqualified civilians into space?
Homer: I’ll field this one. The only danger is if they send us to that terrible Planet of the Apes (pauses contemplatively). Wait a minute, Statue of Liberty – that was our planet! You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!
8. The Numerous In-Jokes – Season 8, Episode 14: ‘The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show’
The Simpsons, possibly more than any other show in the history of television, specialises in in-jokes. These include constant sly digs at Fox and Rupert Murdoch in particular (“You are watching Fox,” comes the sound from the TV screen. “We are watching Fox,” reply Bart and Lisa in unison.), ironic references to the programme itself (see ‘Behind the Laughter’) and the occasional slagging of the shows’ all-too-nerdy fans. This is exemplified in the character of Comic Book Guy and in the example below from the ‘Poochie’ episode, which is itself a subtly brilliant critique on the unforgiving nature of television.
Doug: In episode F209, when Itchy plays Scratchy’s skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession, yet he produces two clearly different tones. I mean, what are we to believe, that this is some sort of a… (the nerds chuckle) a magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.
June: (with discomfort) Uh, well, uh…
Homer: I’ll field this one. Let me ask you a question. Why would a man whose shirt says “Genius at Work” spend all his time watching a children’s cartoon show?
Doug: (embarrassed pause) I withdraw my question. (Starts eating a candy bar).
8. Speaking of Itchy and Scratchy… – Season 6, Episode 4: ‘Itchy and Scratchy Land’
One of the show’s many recurring motifs (see also: Moe being prank-called, different opening credit couch sequences etc) and probably its best is the intensely violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoons. Practically all of these delightful vignettes are hilarious (I’ll give a special honourable mention to the one where Scratchy jumps out of a window to successfully recover his bodily organs only to land on a cactus and die), but the amalgamation of all this hilarity is the ‘Itchy and Scratchy Land’ episode. Again, there are so many moments to choose from (further honourable mentions to ‘possibli go wrong’ and ‘’I was just trying to entertain’), but the example below wins purely because I remember nearly killing myself with laughter whilst watching it first time around:
Tannoy: Attention Marge Simpson, we have arrested your son. Attention Marge Simpson, we have also arrested your older, balder, fatter son.
9. The Best Laid Plans of Homer – Season 5, Episode 3: ‘Homer Goes to College’
From the ‘Homer Goes to College’ episode as promised earlier, Homer’s scheme to have the nerds he has befriended save the college dean’s life ends with predictably disastrous consequences. In addition, the plot (which they successfully implement) to kidnap and inebriate the college mascot (Mr Piggy) accurately captures the ludicrous shenanigans which college students are often prone to adopting. The peak in humour occurs after the worse-for-wear pig is lifted into an awaiting helicopter as the mock seriousness of the situation is conveyed. The dean then explains to the nerds that he has no other alternative but to expel all of them.
Dean: I’m sorry boys, but that pig had some powerful friends.
Richard Nixon: (appearing out of nowhere) Oh you’ll pay, you’ll pay!!!
10. Sideshow Bob Perpetually Stepping on Rakes – Season 5, Episode 2: ‘Cape Feare’
Explanation is futile.
Thus, according to my calculations, The Simpsons is the greatest TV show ever (hardly a revelation), season 5 is the best season (with 3 entries in my list) and Homer is the show’s funniest character (as he features in almost all of the aforementioned moments).
Anyway, as Bart might say: see you in the funny pages!
* In keeping with the sense of absurdity, here is video for all you Twin Peaks fans. It’s so funny that it deserves to be mentioned in the same blog as one dedicated to The Simpsons’ best bits. Spoiler alert btw.
* On a darker note, I recently went to the cinema to see Enter The Void and departed from the two-and-a-half-hour screening minus a soul. However, it’s one of those films that gets better every time you think about it and is well worth a look for anyone with a serious interest in cinema. Here are the near-infamous opening credits which only go some way towards preparing you for the stark intensity that follows.