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By Felix Vasquez Jr. | August 18, 2007

My relationship with the Simpsons is a long and rather pleasant one. I was never too aware of their lifespan on the Tracy Ullman Show for the simple fact that I was too young to actually see it, but at the time the first episode appeared on FOX, I was old enough to enjoy it, and I was old enough to know that I’d be a hardcore “Simpsons” fans for a very long time.

And that prophecy was not premature. After “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” I fell in love with the animated sitcom, and learned to enjoy it in syndication, watching each episode at least ninety times. I also tuned in to the rip offs. Does anyone else remember “Capital Critters,” “Fish Police,” and “Family Dog”? Just me, then? Okay. Much like Looney Tunes, The Simpsons managed to catch me on a two pronged effect. As a child I loved the animation, I loved Bart, and I just loved the goofy humor, and when I got older, I learned to love the humor, the gags, the spoofs, and of course, I learned to love Homer more than I did Bart.

When “The Simpsons Movie” arrived, I discovered that all my worries were relieved, as the once mediocre and rather clunky series it that currently drags on long after The Simpsons jumped the shark, was nowhere to be found. I rather loved “The Simpsons Movie” to be exact, as it obtained most of what made the earlier seasons (the series was better by season four, and gradually jumped the shark by season twelve), so since I’ve rekindled my love for the series, I thought I’d post six of my favorite episodes of the series. There are plenty of episodes I kept out, but tough decisions aside, these are some notable episodes that stuck with me for a long time.

Marge vs. The Monorail
Conan O’Brien was probably one of the better writers the series ever had, and his presence was sorely missed when he left to pursue his career as a talk show host in my current favorite late night treat “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” But “Marge vs. The Monorail” is one of the many episodes of “The Simpsons” that’s a bit outlandish and epic, but still rather hilarious, and is one of my favorite memories watching this series as a young lad. From the musical number “Monorail” led by the great and recurring Phil Hartman in a savvy spoof of “The Music Man.” The musical numbers would of course later be ripped off by “Family Guy,” but the folks at “The Simpsons” displayed a sense of sharp humor and hilarity that worked for the numerous musical numbers to follow in the series.

The fact that Homer sings the repeated chorus line long after the ends is still one of my favorite gags, and I still can’t keep from being reduced to tears when Leonad Nimoy observes: “A solar eclipse: the cosmic ballet goes on.” To which a disturbed man sitting next to him asks: “Does anybody want to switch seats?” Bart nearly getting his head lopped off on the Monorail, the family of possums living in the train leading to the famous line: “I call the big one Bitey,” the inevitably train crash being saved by a large donut, this episode has it all.

The Springfield Files
What do you do when you have a huge hit but completely opposite genre series like “The Simpsons” playing alongside “The X-Files” on the same network garnering very much critical acclaim and loyal fan bases? Why, you put them together of course! Though it’s yet another episode guest starring Leonard Nimoy, “The Springfield Files” is a sprawling spoof of “The X-Files” that also properly pays homage to the series’ absurdities. There’s also the hilarious performances from Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny who are laugh out loud hysterical, yet never fall out of character once, incidentally.

This episode is one of my favorites solely because of the still riotous scene of Homer re-enacting his night at the bar before sighting an alien, and, Homer being Homer, gets piss drunk while hitting on Scully. There’s also the subsequent investigation which involves a great line-up scene with Alf, Marvin the Martian, Chewbacca, Gort, and Kang/Kodos. The inevitable explanation for the alien sighting was a bit on the empty side, but much of that was undercut by the fun musical number in the climax, and the great epilogue where Nimoy runs off the screen prematurely and drives off. Scully and Mulder of course are equally spoofed as they’re led on a complete wild goose chase, Mulder has a full photo of himself in a speedo whenever he flashes his FBI identification, his almost endless monologue about the mysteries of the universe or “The unsolved mysteries of unsolved mysteries!”, and he basically shows more interest in the alien sighting over a shipment of drugs and illegal weapons. “Well, I hardly think the FBI is concerned with matters like that!”

Treehouse of Horror III
There were plenty of contenders for my favorite “Treehouse of Horror” episode. I rather loved “The Shinning,” and I just adore the “Night Gallery” spoof in IV featuring the Dracula segment. But for my money, “Treehouse of Horror III” is just the best all around installment, mainly because it displays a darker sense of comedy than the previous and future episodes do. The segment that takes this episode home for me is of course “Dial Z for Zombie” which plays like a spoof of “Night of the Living Dead” and “Return of Living Dead II” all in one. Lisa, still mourning the loss of Snowball I is convinced by Bart to raise her from the dead. Wouldn’t you know it, the occult book Bart picks up actually raises the human dead, and they set loose a zombie apocalypse.

As Bart and Lisa race to find a new spell to bring the zombies down into their graves, everyone in town falls prey to the horde, including Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and Krusty who is eaten by a zombie Sideshow Mel. Krusty later appears asking kids to send in their parents brains to the show. Homer inevitably becomes the hero leading the charge with a shotgun after the zombies turn on him and find no brains. There are of course more notable segments including “The Clown Without Pity,” which is a hilarious riff on “The Living Doll” in which Homer accidentally buys Bart a demonic Krusty doll for his birthday, “King Homer” another large movie spoof on “King Kong,” and one of the few installments with actual set ups where the segments are actually scary stories being told in a lame Halloween party being thrown by the Simpsons. A few laugh out loud moments involve Bart dressed as Alex DeLarge, and Grandpa’s reaction to Ned Flanders who bursts through the door dressed as a zombie.

Cape Feare
Sideshow Bob had plenty of appearances fighting Bart and his cohort Lisa. He even teamed with his brother Cecil, attempting to go straight, when Cecil turned to a life of crime, trying to create a cheap dam for Springfield, and make out with the embezzled money, in a hilarious guest spot from David Hyde Pierce. But the best and pure quintessential description of the feud between Sideshow Bob and Bart begins and ends with Cape Feare. Yet another excellent spoof of an excellent movie, Sideshow Bob breaks out of prison and hunts down Bart, taunting him and harassing him a la Max Cady. This involves writing him letters written in his own blood eventually leading to Bob collapsing from blood loss, driving around in a truck announcing who he will not kill (Bart was excluded from the list of course), laughing loudly during a movie cigar in hand, much to the chagrin of Marge and Homer who has a bigger cigar, Homer hiring a wimpy vigilante who begs Bob to leave town, and of course the eventual run through witness protection as The Thompsons.

In possibly the most memorable moment of the episode, two FBI agents are trying to get Homer to play along and respond to his new name Mr. Thompson, and Homer can’t quite get what the point of the practice is. And of course, there’s their new residence on a house boat in Terror Lake, to where Bob and Bart eventually square off. Bart, in his infinite ingenuity, convinces Bob to sing the entire HMS Pinafore for him. But my two favorite moments involve the spoof of “I Love Lucy” where the family sings “Three Little Maids” with Bob being tortured underneath their car, and Bob’s confrontation with an endless sequence of rakes to the face.

Bart of Darkness
“Flanders is going to kill Rod and Tod, that’s horrible…! In theory.” This episode was a little bit of a connection for yours truly, as I could pretty much sympathize with Bart’s situation, sans the lunacy. Breaking my arm years ago, I was excluded from many summer activities including sports, and yes, going to public pools. In possibly one of the best episodes I’ve ever seen, the summer heat wave is so bad in Springfield that a guitarist singing “Sunshine on my Shoulders” gets knocked cold by a passerby, and the Simpsons inevitably get a taste for pools after the Pool Mobile drives by for the day to give the neighborhood some relief. The family becomes the neighborhood celebrities after buying their own pool, but showman Bart breaks his leg after distracted by Nelson.

While Bart is left with a broken leg and locked in his room, Lisa becomes the sensation of the now public pool. Bound to a cast, with Krusty playing old repeats of his series, Bart’s sanity deteriorates and in “Rear Window” fashion, he spots a murder from Ned Flanders out the eye of his new telescope. This brings about more usual hilarity from the writers who pull great gags from a tired premise. The last person suspected of murder is Ned, and he’s a likely candidate after Lisa, playing the role of Grace Kelly, goes inspecting his house after being guilted into it by Bart. As is the norm, Lisa is about to be caught by Ned, who is wielding an axe, and Bart comes to her rescue dragging along a bucket, garden hose, and a chained dog with his cast. The inevitable reveal is funnier than most comedies as we learn what happened to Ned’s wife, what the bag reading “Human Head” is, and where the female scream from Ned’s house came from. All in all a hilarious hall of famer for the series.

And on that note, I’ll end it on Homer’s final monologue in “Bart of Darkness:”

“”Oh I see, than everything is wrapped up in a neat little package…! Really, I mean that. Sorry if it sounded sarcastic.”

Those were the days.

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  1. Felix Vasquez Jr. says:

    Hilariously enough, in “The Springfield Files” when they have the aliens lined up, the producers declared it as the most illegal shot in television history, they had no rights to place Alf, Chewbacca, Gort, and Marvin the Martian on-screen.

    So, I gather this rip off in “Bart of Darkness” was completely illegit.

  2. Jeremy Knox says:

    Watching some of the later seasons of the simpsons I’ve gained a new appreciation for how good the series has always been. Even the so-so episodes are pretty decent.

    Bart of Darkness is classic Simpsons where they shamelessly rip off an old movie but it’s so funny that you don’t have the heart to really hate them for it. Must have cost them an arm and a leg to get the rights though.

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