Posts Tagged ‘simpsons classics’

Simpsons Classics: “Summer of 4 Ft. 2”

Simpsons Summer of 4Ft2

The calendar has turned to July, which can only mean one thing: Time to celebrate the greatest summer episode in the history of television.

The television season, like the school year, pretty much runs from September to May, meaning that most shows never explore the summer as in-depth as the other seasons. For The Simpsons, “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” is a rare episode that dives into what goes on between one season’s finale and the next’s premiere, and it does so with near perfect execution.

Season One
Life on the Fast Lane
Bart Gets an F
Lisa the Iconoclast
Mr. Plow
22 Short Films about Springfield
Treehouse of Horror

The finale of the seventh season — originally airing May 19, 1996 — is centered on Lisa’s often quixotic quest to find friends. The final day of school reveals that overseeing the layouts and fonts of Retrospecticus, the Springfield Elementary yearbook that excels in “immortalizing your awkward phase,” doesn’t make Lisa the most popular girl in school. The family’s trip to the Flanders’ beach house in Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport offers her a chance to try on a new personality and win over friends, which she does for a time. It’s a sweet episode.

Yes, I know I’m prone to the charm and realism of Lisa episodes. But what makes “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” so groin-grabbingly transcendent is its absolute embrace of its setting—both the Independence Day time and the Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport place.

It does this through sensational animation throughout the episode. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on like a six-month Simspons hiatus—probably the longest I’ve had since 1992 or something—but “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” jumps out as a landmark of animation excellence. So much of the humor in “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” is derived from subtlety and precise execution. Take the scene in which Flanders offers up his beach house to Homer. Homer’s posture at the beginning of the scene—hand on hips, legs crossed, his eyes half-closed*—transfers a wealth of information about his relationship to Flanders. If you’ve never seen an episode of The Simpsons, this posture alone would communicate how Homer feels about his neighbor. Continue reading

Simpsons Classics: Treehouse of Horror

Tonight is The Simpsons’ 21st annual “Treehouse of Horror” episode. I suppose I’ll watch, which is a far cry from the days of yore when I built my expectations for the Halloween special way beyond reasonable levels. In retrospect, I don’t know why I always looked forward to Treehouse of Horror, because those episodes are generally not among my favorites. I find them fairly average to be honest.

I guess it was because, on those rare occasions when Treehouse of Horror was on top of its game, it was as good as The Simpsons could be. It could somehow pay tribute to source material while parodying it, it could be silly but in a good way,* and it could provide us with some of the series’ most memorable lines and moments. It has given us Kang and Kodos, “Mosi Tatupu, Mosi Tatupu,” Homer killing the zombie Flanders (“He was a zombie?”), lousy Smarch weather, “Guess I forgot to put the fog lights in,” and the concept of reeee-Neducation.

*An idea epitomized, I think, by the fog that turns people inside out.

So, once again with a hopeful eye toward tonight, here are my nine favorite Treehouse of Horror stories:

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Simpsons Classics: 22 Short Films about Springfield

“The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life. This antagonism represents the most modern form of the conflict which primitive man must carry on with nature for his own bodily existence.”

–Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life”

“Everybody in town’s got their story to tell.”

“There’s just not enough time to hear them all.”

Milhouse Van Houten and Bart Simpson, “22 Short Films about Springfield”

Viewed in and of itself, “22 Short Films about Springfield” isn’t the funniest episode of The Simpsons, or its most character-driven, and it certainly isn’t the best. In fact, it doesn’t even earn these titles among the five episodes that accompany it on Disc 4 of the Season Seven DVD.* It isn’t as funny as “Much Apu about Nothing,” and it lacks the frequently poignant characterization of “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” or “Homerpalooza.” But within the entirety of The Simpsons canon, “22 Short Films” stands out as a unique, and, I’d like to argue, uniquely necessary episode of the series. This is because “22 Short Films” is nothing short of a thoroughly Modernist foundation and legitimation of Springfield as a metropolitan setting.

*If I could only keep one of my DVDs, it would be this disc. It has “22 Short Films,” “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish,’”  “Much Apu about Nothing,” “Homerpalooza,” and “Summer of 4 Ft. 2.” It is amazing.

By this, I mean that the 23 minutes of “22 Short Films about Springfield” help establish, develop, contextualize, and yes, animate the world around the series’ eponymous family. And the manner in which it does this is steeped in what appears to be a distinctly Modernist tradition. My texts for backing up this assertion will be the episode itself (obvs), the aforereferenced “Metropolis and the Mental Life” by Georg Simmel, and two landmark Modernist novels: Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and definitive Modernist tome of them all, James Joyce’s Ulysses.

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Simpsons Classics: Lisa the Iconoclast

Our first two Simpsons Classics looked at early-season episodes in “Life on the Fast Lane” and “Bart Gets an F.” This time, we jump ahead a few seasons and to an episode that focuses on Lisa.

I admitted in my last Simpsons Classic that I’m a bit of a Lisa fan. But you don’t have to be to enjoy all that’s going on in “Lisa the Iconoclast,” a classic out of the series’ seventh season, by which point it was deep into its prime.

“Lisa the Iconoclast” takes place in the week leading up to Springfield’s bicentennial, during which Lisa discovers (through research at the Springfield Historical Society, “Where the Dead Come Alive [Metaphorically]”) that the town’s beloved founder, Jebediah Springfield, was in fact the murderous pirate, Hans Sprungfeld. She takes her case to Mayor Quimby and what Moe later calls the “Town Jubilation Committee,” convincing them to exhume Jebediah to prove that he was Hans based on his silver tongue. The coffin doesn’t contain a tongue and Lisa is shamed, but only until she figures out that the Historical Society’s curator, Hollis Hurlbut, pocketed the silver tongue in order to protect Jebediah’s legacy (and his own scholarly pursuits). In the end, though, Lisa decides not to inform the townspeople of their hero’s disgraced past, deciding to preserve the myth instead.

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Simpsons Classics: Bart Gets an F

"Look, John Hancock's writing his name in the snow!"

The Simpsons, despite how it appears retrospectively, had a fairly auspicious start in its first season. In fact, the show was so successful that Fox made the controversial decision to move it from Sunday to Thursday, placing it in direct competition with NBC’s ratings behemoth (and The Simpsons’ ideological foil), The Cosby Show.

The first episode of The Simpsons’ second season, then, was set up to be one of the definitive moments in the series’ history. Could the Simpsons compete with the Huxtables, and if not, just how badly would they fare? It’s a good thing, indeed, that Matt Groening and Co. decided to air what was originally intended to be the third episode of the season as its premiere; “Bart Gets an F” virtually equaled The Cosby Show’s ratings and, to date, stands as the single highest-rated episode in the series’ illustrious history.

That is why it is not an overstatement to call “Bart Gets an F” the most significant Simpsons’ episode in its now 21-year history. Continue reading