Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Simpsons Challenge, part three

My list of the 25 best "Simpsons" episodes of all-time (in chronological order) continues. Click here for the previous five.

"Bart Gets Famous"
Category: Social commentary
More incisive observation of our obsession with pop culture. "The Simpsons" earned credibility by repeatedly aiming its pointed satire at itself. And, of course, I love this episode now more than ever because repetitiveness has become my job. My job. It's my job to be repetitive.

"Bart Gets an Elephant"
Sadly, many shows can't even write their lead characters with as much nuance and depth as "The Simpsons" gave Stampy. His final scene is a bittersweet goodbye wherein we're simultaneously happy for him, regretful for losing him, laughing with him, and shaking our heads at what an awful jerk he is.

"Bart of Darkness"
Category: Kids being kids
The film geek in me loves the full-on reenactment of Rear Window. But what really brings this episode home is the role reversal of Bart and Lisa, and what they each learn from their new perspectives.

"Lisa's Rival"
Category: Kids being kids
Lisa has met her match several times throughout the series, but none have hit as close to home as Allison Taylor. As far as interests and personality go, she's virtually the same person as Lisa Simpson... except one click better at each of Lisa's defining traits. That the lesson learned at the end of the episode is "sometimes people are just better than you" is remarkably challenging for a prime time sitcom. And as stupid as it is, I really enjoy the subplot with Homer's sugar, especially when it leads to his monologue about never being one of the bluebloods. Also, Ralph bends his Wookiee.

"Itchy & Scratchy Land"
Category: Social commentary
This episode exemplifies what made peak-era "Simpsons" so worthy of the infatuation and devotion of its many hardcore fans. It's working on so many levels and squeezing in so many cultural references simultaneously, while still managing to be true to its characters, tell an original story, and have something original to say no matter how slight that may be. And in this episode, it's pretty slight. The primary objective of this episode is to satirize amusement parks in general, and the culture that both creates them and supports them. Most obviously, we have a parody of then-recent Jurassic Park. Aspects of Westworld (also a Michael Crichton story) are blended into that. There are direct references to Disney rides and attractions, as well as Walt Disney himself. There are also throwaway references to The Birds, Terminator, Saturday Night Fever and more. But at the end of the day, the episode is an original take on crass consumerism, entitlement, and the foolish presumption of safety we put in these amusement parks. Even when not saying anything particularly deep about the human condition, this show could pack in so much rumination about modern society, as well as countless jokes.

Read the next five...