Well, at least the couch gag was a nice touch. As for the rest of the 500th episode… well, the above caption (which closed the episode) pretty much sums it up.
Anyway, on with happier times in Springfield. It’s the next part of our rundown! Of the best (etc.)!
15. Krusty Gets Kancelled
Season 4 episode 22
original airdate 13 May 1993
“Endut! Hoch Hech!”
With so many of the later episodes derailed by being centred so heavily on whatever celebrity has cropped up that week (usually introduced by Lisa gasping their name so we know who it is, which is a bit like Rory Bremners saying “I wonder what Tony Blairs would say about that” before doing an impression of Tony Blairs, i.e. annoying), it’s a bit of a revelation to rediscover the episode that kickstarted the whole “loads of celebrity guests in one episode” theme. Inspired by the success of season three’s Homer At The Bat, which featured appearances from a bunch of MLB big hitters (figuratively, presumably at least one of them was a pitcher), the production team decided to put together an episode featuring stars from the world of, well, everything.
It certainly helped that when it came to choosing guest stars, the production team aimed for the, er, stars (the stellar kind) (figuratively). All surviving ex-presidents were invited to appear, as were the Rolling Stones. Many of those initially contacted declined the offer (with the ‘Stones later appearing in piss-weak 2002 episode ‘How I Spent My Strummer Vacation’), though the majority of those taking part were as A-list as you could get in 1990s showbiz, such as Bette Midler, Liz Taylor, Luke Perry (hey, it was 1993), and in one of only a few post-retirement TV appearances, the great Johnny Carson.
It all helped that there was a brilliant plot for them all to get involved with (as opposed to, say, just turning up for no reason), with Krusty being usurped by infuriatingly popular puppet Gabbo (imagine TV Burp being replaced by Celebrity Juice), and more brilliant lines than you’d get in an entire series of most top-drawer sitcoms (“If I had a girlfriend, she’d kill me!” “And now, the Crazy Old Man singers.” “Hah, yeah. I slaughtered the Special Olympics!” “If this is anyone but Steve Allen, you’re stealing my bit!” “Eastern Europe’s top cartoon cat and mouse, Worker and Parasite.” “We want Chilly Willy!” “My face! My valuable face!” and so on).
FUN FACT! Along with inviting every living ex-President to take part, “very respectful but cute” scripts were penned for each potential former ‘leader of the free world’. That means scripts were written for (in reverse order of tenure) George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon. It is now our ambition to become US President purely so we can demand the script written for Richard Nixon’s scenes be made public.
14. Homer the Heretic
Season 4 episode 3
original airdate 8 October 1992
“I’m all naked and wet!”
Ah, one of those episodes that helped propel the series from merely being “the best show currently on TV”, to the heights of “one of the best things ever broadcast in the history of always”. Taking what could have been a very sober topic – Homer doubting his faith – is played for laughs wonderfully, with Homer deciding to eschew Christianity more through endemic laziness than high-minded secularism.
So, it’s a great big expensive example of atheist showboating? Not a bit of it. While the church is lampooned throughout (“Don’t worry Lisa. If I’m wrong, I’ll decant on my deathbed”), the concept of God is treated with as much reverence as the show can muster, as indeed are all faiths. In a cheek-tweakingly enjoyable way, obvs (“be they Christian, Jew or… miscellaneous”).
We should probably stop mentioning this as a plus as it applies to every single episode on our list, but the tight wrapping up at the end of the episode – lesson learned by Homer (if only in a way that suits him), everything can go back to how it was - is what really seals this episode’s place here. Lesser writers may have thought the ending too preachy, but George Meyer (picked to write the episode by Al Jean and Mike Reiss in part because of his lapsed Catholic background) judged it all perfectly.
FUN FACT! This was the first Simpsons episode where the animation was produced by Film Roman. The earlier, slightly wobblier episodes had been put together by Klasky-Csupo, of Duckman and Rugrats fame (also, Stressed Eric, for the six people who remember Stressed Eric. No, wasn’t very, was it?).
13. Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk
Season 3 episode 11
original airdate 5 December 1991
“Does your money cheer you up when you’re feeling blue?” “Yes.” “Okay, bad example.”
Another episode that saw the series hit new heights, and the first proving that somewhere within the withered frame of C Montgomery Burns beats what might just be a human heart. Word gets out that Monty might be tiring of the nuclear energy business, meaning that a group of German venture capitalists swoop in and decide to run things in a caring, sharing, efficient European Union kinda way.
With the new regime in place, Homer’s position of safety inspector is soon under threat, meaning that the family are soon desperate for an increasingly restless Burns back in the boss’s chair. Though, Homer being Homer, he doesn’t really go about this in the best way possible.
For our money, ‘…Kraftwerk’ was a clear step up from the previous enjoyable, but still relatively tame episodes. The bite that was missing from episodes like ‘Mr Lisa Goes To Washington’ or ‘Radio Bart’ finally snaps into place here, with ruthless businessman Monty Burns selling out his most prized possession for a quick buck (well, hundred million bucks), as well as finally becoming a character so established there was plenty of enjoyment to be had from seeing him as a fish out of water, Homer instinctively acting against his own best interests more entertainingly than he’d done before, Smithers gamely adapting to his future employers with a cheery resignation, the other power plant employees proving that they’re only a few notches lower than Homer on the dumbness scale after all.
All that, plus this marked the point where great episodes started to outnumber the episodes that were merely good, and if you ask us, the start of the real Simpsons Golden Age.
FUN FACT! Originally, the writers intended the new owners of the plant to be Japanese, but were wary of being too clichéd. As it was, the portrayal of the German businessmen in this episode was probably about as affectionate a portrayal of a national stereotype as the series would get.
(If this were a documentary on The Simpsons, this is where a clip of Monty Burns mockingly warbling “ooh, don’t let the Germans come after me!” would be played. You’ll just have to imagine it.)
More tomorrow, as we get into the top non-baker’s-dozen. Will ‘Dude, Where’s My Ranch?’ make the cut? Only time will tell.
(No. No, it won’t make the cut.)