Monday, July 23, 2007

Top 25 Simpsons Moments of Season One

Anybody that knows me knows that my devotion to The Simpsons is undying and unhealthy even when full seasons run with barely a quality episode. With the imminent release of The Simpsons Movie, I thought that I needed to perform some act to demonstrate my respect for those involved. The creators of The Simpsons finally took the ultimate stride a television show can take and, to show proper respect, I must do something equally massive.

There are lists of varying sizes dedicated to the best moments of almost any television show lasting more than a couple of seasons somewhere on the Internet. The typical list ranges from the top 10 to top 25 moments. While anyone can research this claim himself or herself, I suggest taking my word for it unless one wants to be an über-geek.

As stated previously, I wanted to do something equally massive to making the ultimate stride for a television show and. I also think it would be impossible to narrow down what is currently 18 seasons to a list as large at the top 100 moments of The Simpsons. To fulfill my requirements, I reached a monumental, time consuming conclusion: I shall create a list of the top 25 moments from every single season of The Simpsons.

To compile this list I will watch every episode of every season again. I could probably create a decent list based on memory alone for the first eight to nine seasons, but watching the seasons again is best for such an endeavor. As I watch the seasons, I will take notes to insure I include all of the worthy moments.

I commonly see lists such as mine with a disclaimer “I was going to include X, but I’d all ready done so many things from that episode.” I have no qualms about taking all 25 moments from one episode if they truly deserve it. I will skip over entire episodes if they don’t have a single moment ranking high enough to qualify as one of the 25 best.

If anyone reading this has a problem with my list, I suggest that you get over it or make your own list.

Season One Overview
Oh, season one. Your animation is so crude that I laugh just thinking about you. You have disembodied heads, walls that fade from pink to white, and your characters are often off model. Don't worry season one, I love you anyway!

It may be hard to believe if you haven’t revisited season one recently, but the Simpsons were a realistic portrayal of what I always perceived as the “typical American family.” Homer was, despite not knowing his own birthday, nothing worse than a blue collar dad that was below average in intelligence. Lisa was gifted, but not abnormally so. The list goes on for many of the characters who, though cartoon characters, were not cartoonish.

It’s interesting to see The Simpsons find its legs in these early episodes. The show progressed so much over the course of its 13 episodes. If you watch Some Enchanted Evening, the first episode in production, the go straight to The Crepes Of Wrath, the final production episode, it is truly startling. Not only has the animation improved dramatically, but even the writing seems to have grown as well. The foundation is definitely there by the end of the season though I feel that modern Simpsons humor didn’t fully emerge until season four.

I noticed after really coming up with my list that this season affects me much more than I thought it would. A quality show does not stop with making the viewer think about the characters, but also relates to you personally. After a few moments one will notice that I included stuff that is easily missed or dismissed as being not that great, but really speak to me as an individual.

I didn’t include anything from a couple episodes and it’s kind of a shame really. The Telltale Head, one of my personal favorites from season one, didn’t get a single mention on the list. I chalk that up to the episode itself being a series of good moments with nothing particularly great. I didn't get to include Video Boxing either and I really miss it.

I have decided to list all moments in the order of original airing not by preference.

7G08 Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire
Santas from many lands

Some research has uncovered that Hotseiosha, the Japanese Santa Claus, is not the real cultural variation of Santa in Japan. I have a feeling that further research would support my hypothesis that the other two Santa variations exist. I know that different cultures have their own take on “annual gift man” as he may or may not be called in Japan, but these are a tad...oh, let's just say, kooky.

There is something particularly endearing about Lisa’s "Towanga, the Santa Claus of the South Seas" though. I love the dance with the flaming torches. I love those head movements. I love the shot of the finale. I hope LIsa is wearing a flesh-toned body suit or this is really disgusting.

I suspect the writers and animators picked something near the polar opposite of the United States version of Santa Claus because it is funnier than anything else they could have done. Compare Lisa’s tribal dancing to Ralph’s* version and decide which is most memorable.

*Though this character is not named for, I believe, a couple seasons, this is clearly some prototype for Ralph. As strange as it may be seeing Ralph not be a complete imbecile, it’s not nearly as strange as the Ralph prototype with the deep raspy voice from Lisa’s Pony.

Santa’s Little Helper loses
I am, as you have probably guessed, a product of television. Don’t blame my parents because the lure was too strong for my young heart. They tried to prevent me from watching so much (bless them), but I could not stop watching it. They may as well tried to stop me from loving G. I. Joe, but it would have had no affect. The heart wants what it wants and mine wanted television.

Think of the Christmas themed episode of nearly every television show up to this point in time, which would have been 1989 on the initial airing of this show. Didn’t everything turn out wonderfully for everyone? The camera zoomed out through the window revealing falling snow as the family huddled around the Christmas tree. The Simpsons took the poetic road less traveled by having a father gamble away his money on a loser dog.

I don’t remember my initial reaction to this, but it was probably just short of complete and total flabbergast. Christmas Eve was the night miracles always happened to everyone. Everyone always gets presents underneath his or her spectacularly decorated Christmas trees. What in the hell is going on here? Television has promised children across America that Christmas is perfect. Nothing short of the simple miracle of father making it home from war on Christmas morn for that child sat on Santa’s lap saying, “I want my daddy home,” is acceptable.

The Simpsons didn’t even take the high road by using Christmas as a religious holiday where real meaning of Christmas shines through. I could have lived with that scenario because the less entertaining specials talk about the miracle of Jesus’ birth. I didn’t even get that.

The Simpsons loved Christmas for the same gimmie gimmie gimmie reasons that I love Christmas and they didn’t get it. They didn’t even come close. They didn’t even get someone explaining the manger, wise men, lowing cattle and the real reason for the season. They had a regular ol’ day that just happened to be Christmas Eve.

God bless them, every one.

7G01 Bart The Genius
Bart imagines a word problem.

I am a sucker for different animation styles on The Simpsons. This one happens to be one of the best. It isn't totally removed from typical Simpsons animation, but things are noticeably different. I love the abundance of hidden numbers. I love the predominantly neutral color palette.

Every time I did a word problem as a kid I visualized it someway. I always saw two trains leaving Topeka going in two opposite directions. I saw people buying apples at the grocery store. This segment went into way more detail than I ever did, but I never quite had a word problem like this.

I hated word problems as a child even though I now realize they are much more useful for the average person than doing equation after equation. This one keeps going farther and farther out there. It’s similar to reading some word problem you couldn’t quite grasp. You read over it again and again and again. You might hit a wall where your math skills hadn’t yet reached and half the problem is left waiting to confuse you even more.

Bart loses his lunch.

I, like Bart is pretending to be in this episode, was one of the smart kids in elementary school, which is a roundabout way of saying that I wasn’t good at sports and was, therefore, unpopular. Young children appreciate mental aptitude on a certain level more than high school aged students, but athletic skills will always trump whatever intelligence a child may possess unless said intelligence involves memorizing sports statistics.

Even though I was never the best student, I didn’t feel nearly as uncomfortable surrounded by the other “gifted” students as I did with the regular classes. I maintained a certain low level of popularity even there. I had no social skills and was admittedly strange so being unpopular was going to happen no matter which classes I was forced into.

Seeing Bart teased by the smarter children from the "enriched learning center for gifted children" is great because it is so different from how childhood cruelty is typically portrayed on television. Instead of a stronger child taking the lunch of the physically inferior, the more intelligent children are the tormenters. Children in the advanced classes, while not on this specific level, do such things to install of vague pecking order, but it’s rarely seen on television.

This moment affects me a few ways. Part of me relishes the smart kids finally taking advantage of someone because growing up to own a computer company doesn’t erase all those days in gym class. Part of me is so sad that the cruelty of children is inevitable. Part of me becomes angry because our scholastic systems work in a way that ultimately punishes students like Bart because he is “a regular, dumb kid.”
7G03 Homer's Odyssey
Black Smithers

I honestly can't believe it. One of my favorite moments of the season is an animation mistake. It is, at least arguably, the biggest animation goof in the entire series and this episode features the floating disembodied head of either Sherri or Terri. This is Smithers' first appearance in The Simpsons and they could have covered their bases by leaving him black for the rest of the series instead of having a retroactive mistake.

For some reason, this accident really makes me laugh.
Lou the cop, of Eddie and Lou, is white this entire season and it doesn't make me laugh at all. Black Smithers really sticks with me for some reason. Maybe I'm a big racist.

I promise I won't choose mistakes as top moments often, but how do you deny a goof of the magnitude of black Smithers?

Homer's point of view shot

I suspect this idea was in the script, but I really give credit to the director for being able to pull off such a memorable scene. This shot could have been boring. It could have been several seconds of easy animation. It is neither one.

Television direction is an art in conformity. Even though every show has several directors, you aren't intended to notice the difference. Variety within a series is taboo. You're also supposed to be able to jump right in every single time you tune into any show no matter how many episodes you missed on how much of this particular episode you missed.

This shot worked and does not get used much in television. It tells the entire story and you don't really need to see Homer. Also, I love the animation when Maggie poke's Homer's eye.

Homer's decent to suicide

This particular moment pushes the limits of what people will tolerate of network television. Homer was, at this point, the protagonist of the series. Counting this episode, Homer is the main character of 66% of the episodes. How do the writers handle having a loveable loser as their star?

  • He loses his job due to gross incompetence
  • He throws away the cake from his family pictured above
  • He steals money from his son
  • He decides to kill himself

That is not standard writing for a television show.

7G04 There's No Disgrace Like Home
"Shut your big yap"

No one can make a great turnaround like The Simpsons. This ad starts out like a typical psychiatric ad should, but quickly changes from satire to parody with "I admit this: You better shut your big yap." From this point, the ad escalates to absurdity when the couple's child says "Why don't you both SHUT UP?" It's a great moment because The Simpsons handle escalation from subtlety to extreme like no one else. Also, it's quotable as any good episode of The Simpsons is.

I would consider psychiatric help from anyone that were willing to make this their ad.

Dr. Marvin Monroe's Family Therapy Center Aversion Therapy

This clip has an extra couple of minutes at the beginning that is not relevant. Skip ahead until there is 1:35 left to see the MOST SHOCKING SCENE OF DEPRAVITY ever on The Simpsons!

If you have seen only one clip from The Simpsons, this is it. Simpsons moments do not come more classic than this. It's Classic with a capital C. It puts the funny in dysFUNNYctional family which is pretty much all FOX has ever had.

In an era where every family on television is "dysfunctional" they still defend each other. They stop short of maliciously attacking each other. The Simpsons took it further than anyone would dare to do now and this episode aired in 1990. The Simpsons are so far gone that the most
extreme treatment can't cure them of their problems.

At this point I have personally watched this episode so many times that I actually dread this segment. There is a reason I watched it so many times. It was once hilarious to me. It was once original. Whether I like it now or not, this still defines the show.
7G05 Bart The General
Bart gets beaten up

This scene is a great animation choice by the director. Bart makes no effort to defend himself as he is slowly beaten into a new shape. It says something about Nelson that nothing else in this episode does: Nelson is such an imposing menace that Bart either can't or won't defend himself.

The closest Bart was able to muster, until the final act of the show, is accidentally taking on Nelson in a blind rage. Even I, a physically unimpressive child, would have attempted to hit Nelson in this situation if talking my way out of it proved unsuccessful. After this failed, I would have blocked his blows once.

The animation in this segment is really nice. You can feel each punch mangle Bart and the rolling trashcan scene is great.
Bart coughs up his hat

This may be ridiculous, but this is very funny. I still laugh at this to this day.

7G05 Moaning Lisa
Lisa is too sad to play dodge ball

Life is heavy and the weight is occasionally overbearing.

When I was a child, I would have occasional bouts of crying for no discernable reason. Even I thought it was strange that I couldn't figure it out what made me so sad and I ended up lying to my parents so they wouldn't think I was weird. That's how I ended up visiting a psychiatrist, or maybe a psychologist, by the time I was nine. Thinking back on the time, I find it strange that no one in my family has ever mentioned it.

Then Lisa said to me, and only me, "It's not that kind of sad. You wouldn't understand." It works.

It would be remiss if I didn't mention Yeardley Smith's performance. I don't think she, or Julie Kavner, get any credit because their voices aren't as versatile as the other voice actors on the show. Listen to one of Lisa's lines here and deny her greatness. Quality voice acting gets no respect because Frank Welker will never be the draw that Hugo Weaving is. The actors on The Simpsons are always top notch, but the work here is heart wrenching. Thank you, Yeardley Smith.

Of course, any family that purchases "Glum" toothpaste has to expect unhappy children.

Also, dodge ball is one of the worst ideas for gym class. When I was in college, a guy named Ron Popp wrote an editorial to The Reflector, our school newspaper, about how he didn't want to take our required Heath and Wellness course as it reminded him of those horrible days of dodge ball in physical education. Do the athletic kids really need to literally knock their inflated sense of superiority into you?

Marge wants Lisa to smile

I suffered with serious depression when I was younger. I still deal with it, but I'm used to it.

I remember people asking the standard rhetorical question, "How's it going?" and responding by saying I felt terrible. Instead of my parents investigating my motivation, my mother gave me the same advice Marge gives. I was supposed to smile even though I didn't feel like it. My mother never did the turnaround Marge does though.

Seeing Lisa make a vain attempt to fit in with other students is a strange experience. I, like Lisa, was one that never quite fit in, but I was lucky enough to avoid what appears to be ostracized completely. It's bizarre that children would consider Lisa to have ulterior motives simply by smiling.
7G09 Call of the Simpsons
Rabbit Trap

I am mildly annoyed when television shows include people making traps for animals. I don't have some sort of empathetic connection with animals. The average person has no ability to trap animals and is so completely ridiculous that I can't help feeling annoyed if it works. I understand the concept of the mechanics of the trap, but I would never be able to set up successfully.

While this would not happen in real life, I thoroughly enjoy that it doesn't work. It's not going to work for real people and it doesn't work for the Simpsons.

"Pork Chops Aplenty"

I was always bothered by this story. It is plausible that people could be convinced that Homer was Bigfoot based on the video alone. I bought that. That Homer, after scientific study, was not conclusively proven to be human is so stupid. The magazine cover almost makes it worth it. It's The Simpsons taking everything up a subtle notch at a time even in such a preposterous story.
7G11 Life on the Fast Lane
Those awkward silences

Marge comes home from a pseudo date with Jacques and there is a second where neither she nor Homer says anything.

Homer knows. Marge knows that he knows. It's a deafening silence that barely gets filled when the do speak. It's an intimate look into their relationship.

A series of dying couples

This is a Simpsons standard by now. This formula has been used in abundance throughout the series. An embarrassingly number of viewings went by before I realized that the couples were slowly dying which actually improves the sequence. The newlyweds come first and two skeletons finish the procession.
7G10 Homer's Night Out
"Where's My Spy Camera? Where's My Spy Camera? Where's My Spy Camera?"

I still wait for mail like this. Anytime I expect a package, I anticipate its arrival daily.

"Squid Platter...Extra Tentacles"

There are few pleasures as watching a joke backfire spectacularly.

Bart deserves his come uppance. He shouldn't have expected anything except squid with extra tentacles and he's playing to the wrong crowd for laughs like these. What sells this moment for me is the waiter's smugness. The waiter emphasizes "extra tentacles" and they both know Bart's been screwed. It's a silent victory for those of us in the retail/service worker dealing with unfunny customers making the same unoriginal jokes time after time.

Eugene and Father not enjoying bachelor party
This is brilliant writing. The bachelor, and his father, is miserable at his own bachelor party. There's one line about how this is hell, but it's pretty subtle. They don't play it up much. They just don't enjoy it.
7G13 Crepes of Wrath
Real Albanian - not subtitled
I think that Lost is one of the best shows currently on television. There was minor praise among viewers I know for the Kwon's Korean not being subtitled. It was another layer to their alienation. It allowed the audience to become that much closer to the show. The Simpsons did the exact same thing over a decade earlier and no one noticed.

Many television shows, and big budget movies, will use some European sounding language with a few genuine words to convince the audience. The Simpsons went for the real thing by using a real and obscure European language which means it isn't German, French or Spanish. Where was the praise for The Simpsons? Are they not good enough for your commendations?

The Simpsons didn't need them because television was different then. People wanted a little more from their shows. They expected a little more from their shows. Every time a new show with mildly intelligent writing comes along it gets accolades out the wazoo for not pandering to the lowest common denominator.

I won't pretend that television wasn't a vast wasteland of non-entertainment in 1990, but there was more to watch that was worth watching.

"Now how's that for freedom of choice?"

The reason Homer remains popular despite his lack of any positive qualities is his purity. Matt Groening has said that "Homer loves what he loves" and I would add that Homer does so with his whole heart.

Homer equates having a variety of donuts from which to choose is an example of America's greatness. Is it Homer's fault that his desires are simple?
I could turn this into an examination of middle class complacency, but I won't.

I will say that Homer is using donuts as an defense against Adil's argument from the previous night that ninety-five percent of the country's wealth is controlled by five percent of its population. I think that Homer has simplified things a bit.

7G12 Krusty Gets Busted
Scott Christian

This is a joke I never really noticed as a child. Scott Christian mentions that Kent Brockman isn't there, but the announcer says "Kent Brockman" as well. The payoff is bigger than the build up itself.

This small joke really says a lot. Either the station doesn't have a back up announcement for when Kent can't be there or the technical director made a mistake. Any joke that is bigger than the time it takes to do it is quality.

Krusty's Heart Attack

Nothing complicated here. Great animation. Apparently Krusty forgot that pork products are not kosher.

Sideshow Bob speaks

Let's take a look at Sideshow Bob. Pretend that you haven't heard his voice. Stop and imagine what you think that guy would sound like. Remember that, to this point, we have only heard him through a slide whistle. You didn't hear Kelsey Grammer's smooth baritone did you?

The joke itself is hackneyed. It is such a stereotypical joke that, in a new low for unoriginality, The Simpsons did it again with Sideshow Bob's replacement, Sideshow Mel.
How on earth did they get away with that? Seriously, this joke hasn't been new for decades. The big black guy in prison with a squeaky voice is still funny and the nerdy white guy with the Barry White voice is still funny.

The Simpsons don't even get an originality point for Sideshow Bob's intelligence which they also used with Sideshow Mel. Seriously, how did they get away with that? The big stupid looking character says the smartest thing on the show is not new. It's not even remotely new. It's called irony. It isn't irony, but that's what people call it anyway.

It's funny and it always will be. Some things remain funny no matter how many times you see them which is why America's Funniest Home Videos stays on the air even though I've all ready seen someone get hit in the balls by some form of sporting equipment except I don't actually watch America's Funniest Home Videos.

What makes this better than being funny is that Sideshow Bob has great motives for robbing a convenience store. Sideshow Bob felt that Krusty was pandering to children. The only way to resolve this was frame him for robbery, get his own show called Sideshow Bob's Cavalcade of Whimsy, and have a discussion on Ancient Greece's "school of thought called stoicism..." He took a strange road to get there, but his intentions are noble.

If you've actually read this far, thanks because I really didn't expect it. Don't expect the top 25 moments of season two soon, but it will happen.


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