Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 21, 2004)
Call it progress: while it took more than a year between the releases of Seasons Two and Three of The Simpsons, Season Four followed barely nine and a half months later. That was amazing to fans, but the incredulity continues with Season Five. It hits the shelves a mere six months after its predecessor.
Hopefully this trend will continue, and we fans will gladly take it. I’ll dig into the programs that make up Season Five of The Simpsons. Presented in their original broadcast order, I’ll look at each show individually to document the lows, the highs, and the creamy middles. The plot capsules come straight from the DVD’s booklet. Lastly, I’ll toss in a fun line from each episode; the quotes won’t always be me absolute favorite, but they’ll provide tidbits I find to be amusing that seem to work in the written context.
Homer’s Barbershop Quartet (aired 9/30/93): “While at a flea market, the Simpsons discover an old barbershop quartet album starring Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta). Homer reveals that he was once a singer/songwriter for a popular group known as the Be-Sharps, whose rise and fall eerily paralleled that of the Beatles.”
Season Five kicks off with a terrific bang via “Quartet”. Like the better Simpsons episodes, this one parodies a mix of subjects across various lines. It focuses on a music business spoof, with a slant toward Beatlemania; that element’s accentuated by the second of three Beatles cameos - and probably the best one - as George Harrison shows up here. It also tosses in some deft mockery of the mid-Eighties and other hilarious elements like the Homer doppelganger Marge creates.
Representative line: The Sea Captain: “Ah, I’ve nothing against ye, Squiddy. I just heard thar was gold in your belly.”
Cape Feare (aired 10/7/93): “An anonymous letter writer makes ominous threats to Bart (Nancy Cartwright). The Simpsons discover they were sent by Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) who, when released from prison, harasses the Simpsons and then attempts to kill Bart with a machete. But Bob’s vanity foils him yet again.”
The Simpsons rarely goes wrong with Sideshow Bob episodes, and “Cape Feare” fates as one of the best. It plays more as a straight parody than usual, but it doesn’t depend much on your knowledge of the two Fear flicks. It includes more hilarious moments than you can shake a stick at and turns into a classic. Even a moment created due to a short running time – the rake gag - becomes entertaining.
Representative line: Bart: “But who could hate me? I’m this century’s Dennis the Menace!”
Homer Goes to College (aired 10/14/93): “Homer must return to college in order to keep his position at the nuclear plant. He tries to turn his collegiate experience into a rowdy riot (ala Animal House) and nearly ruins the life of his kind, understanding dean - not to mention his three nerdy tutors, Gary, Doug and Benjamin.”
Don’t expect “College” to quite live up to its two predecessors this year, but it remains a strong show nonetheless. Actually, it starts a little slowly but builds steam along the way. It includes some classic moments of a Homer idiocy - hard to beat him chasing squirrels with a stick - and one of the better visual gags via Burns’ chair. Who can dislike a show in which Richard Nixon threatens Homer due to a drunken pig?
Representative line: Homer’s essay: “It was the most I ever threw up, and it changed my life forever.”
Rosebud (aired 10/21/93): “Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer) has a birthday party featuring a performance by the Ramones (themselves). Yet he is despondent, pining for his lost teddy bear, Bobo. Meanwhile, Maggie gets Bobo from Bart who finds it in a bag of ice. This leads to a furious struggle between Burns and the baby for possession of the bear.”
As with “College”, “Rosebud” fails to reach the highest echelon of Simpsons shows. That doesn’t mean it’s not another winner, though. The show boasts a funny look at Burns’ childhood, and every time it looks like it might turn too sappy, it produces something clever and witty.
Representative line: Mr. Burns: “Have the Rolling Stones killed.”
Treehouse of Horror IV (aired 10/28/93): Act 1: When Homer announces that he would sell his soul for a donut, the Devil, disguised as Ned Flanders (Shearer), shows up to take him up on his offer. Act 2: While riding to school, Bart believes he sees a malevolent gremlin on the side of the bus. Act 3: Mr. Burns is Dracula in a spoof of Francis Ford Coppola’s horror film.”
The show’s highest profile segment - “Dracula” - is easily the least effective. It presents some good moments but never quite takes flight. The donut scenario is mostly clever and funny, but the gremlin one works the best. We get the introduction of Uter the German exchange student and his Marzipan Joy Joys plus many other wonderful bits.
Representative line: Milhouse: “No way, Bart. If I bend over, I leave myself open to wedgies, Wet Willies, and the dreaded Rear Admiral.”
Marge on the Lam (aired 11/4/93): “Marge (Julie Kavner) goes out on a girls’ night with next-door neighbor Ruth Powers (Pamela Reed). When Chief Wiggum (Hank Azaria) attempts to pull Ruth over, she flees and reveals she stole the car from her ex-husband. Pursued by the cops, they drive over a chasm - only to land safely on a pile of garbage.”
Any episode that launches with a slam on Garrison Keillor is a-okay with me. I love the show even though I’ve never understood the gag about ballet involving a bear in a little car - is this some universal concept lost on me? It’s funny anyway, and Homer’s pathetic inability to get by without Marge is sweet. Count on another very good show.
Representative line: Mr. Burns: “Far too much dancing, not nearly enough prancing!”
Bart’s Inner Child (aired 11/11/93): “Homer buys a trampoline which injures many of the neighborhood children. To avoid future impulsive behavior on Homer’s part, Marge orders a videotape to help them communicate better. Brad Goodman (Albert Brooks), the tape’s host, comes to Springfield and recommends the townspeople should all get in touch with their inner child, like Bart - with disastrous results.”
A certified classic, “Child” mocks the self-help field and makes a good point along the way. Of course, it does all this with scads of clever moments and becomes a great show. As one who works in psychology, it’s hard to resist this program’s spoofery.
Representative line: Moe: “You really irritate me, Skinner, with your store-bought haircut and your good posture!’
Boy-Scoutz ‘N the Hood (aired 11/18/93): “Bart and Milhouse (Pamela Hayden) do the town after drinking extra syrupy Squishees and wake up to find they have joined the Junior Campers. Homer and Ned accompany the scouts on a father-son rafting trip, which goes awry thanks to Homer.”
Another brilliant show, “Hood” works from start to finish. We see what an amazing amount of goods and services one can purchase in Springfield with only $20, and we get a fun spoof of scouting. Add to that terrific rivalry moments between Bart and Homer and the show excels.
Representative line: Bart: “I’ve made my bed, and now I’ve got to weasel out it.”
The Last Temptation of Homer (aired 12/9/93): “Homer gets a beautiful new co-worker, Mindy Simmons (Michelle Pfeiffer), who likes the same things he does. When the two of them are sent on a business trip together, Marge fears for her marriage.”
Given Homer’s utter devotion to Marge, it may seem off-character for him to fall for Mindy. However, the show makes it fit, as his obsession doesn’t come across as inconsistent. The “B”-plot that turns Bart into a nerd is the funnier one, though I do love Marge’s discount T-shirt of herself.
Representative line: Homer: “What the hell was that? I probably shouldn’t have eaten that packet of powdered gravy I found in the parking lot.”
$pringfield (aired 12/16/93): “Springfield legalizes gambling, leading Burns to open a casino and Marge to become an addict. Burns grows more and more like Howard Hughes, while Bart turns his treehouse into a Vegas-style resort, complete with singer Robert Goulet (himself).”
This excellent episode includes a surprising number of concurrent plots. In addition to the three listed above, Homer also works in the casino and tries to care for the family without Marge. It balances them deftly and provides great laughs along the way.
Averted censorship note: after the real-life incident in which Siegfried and Roy’s Roy got mauled by a tiger, some folks worried an eerily similar scene in this show would get the boot. It doesn’t - the tiger chomps on the faux entertainers the same as always.
Representative line: Grampa: “I’m old - gimme gimme gimme!”
Homer the Vigilante (aired 1/6/94): “An elegant cat burglar (Sam Neill) terrorizes Springfield. Homer leads a mob of vigilantes who catch the thief but are unable to succeed until they learn from Grampa (Castellaneta) that their nemesis is actually an old man.”
After the many plots of the prior show, “Vigilante” maintains a much tighter focus. It’s not quite as wonderful an episode as its immediate predecessor, but it’s strong nonetheless. Much of the humor comes from Homer’s newfound power and abuse of it. If nothing else, it’s a great program due to Homer’s reaction to Lisa’s jug playing.
Representative line: Homer: “Can’t talk - robbed - go hell.”
Bart Gets Famous (aired 2/3/94): “Bart sneaks away from a field trip into the studio of Krusty the Clown (Castellaneta), who hires him as his assistant. Bart gets a part on a sketch, but inadvertently messes it up, saying ‘I didn’t do it’, a catchphrase which catapults him to celebrity and an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
Is there anything better than Skinner’s intense fascination with the box factory? Yeah, as lots of great moments pop up in this excellent program. Bart’s rise to fame sparkles via its deft parody of instant - and fleeting - fame, and many wacky bits show up along the way such as Homer’s fear that Bart got turned into a box. We also get what I believe is the series’ first use of “yoink!” It’d take a lot of space to fill in all the wonderful moments in this top-notch show. It’s maybe the series’ most quotable episode - I’ve used scads of this piece’s lines over the years. Am I the only one who can’t hear “U Can’t Touch This” and not rap “I didn’t do it!” instead? This might be Season Five’s best show.
Representative line: Box factory manager: “That’s just the TV studio where they film Krusty the Clown and other non-box-related programs.”
Homer and Apu (aired 2/10/94): “Homer goes undercover to reveal that Apu (Azaria) is selling tainted meat at his convenience store. Apu loses his job and lives with the Simpsons until he and Homer go to India to appeal to the head of the Kwik-E-Mart Corporation.”
The first episode to focus on Apu, this one works well. It’s not as good as “Famous”, but what is? Our glimpses of Apu’s sleaziness and culture are entertaining, and the “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?” tune is one of the better musical numbers. And every time I go into a warehouse store, I try to find a 12-pound box of nutmeg. Also count James Woods as one of the all-time best guest stars, which is likely why he gets many more lines than the average cameo voice.
Representative line: Apu: “Silly customer! You cannot hurt a Twinkie!”
Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy (aired 2/17/94): “Lisa gets upset by the sexism displayed by a Talking Malibu Stacy doll. She tracks down the creator of the doll with the aid of Springfield’s biggest Malibu Stacy collector, Mr. Smithers (Shearer). A new doll is created, modeled on Lisa (Yeardley Smith), but it proves unpopular.”
Back in the early Nineties, Mattel put out a talking Barbie. One of its lines? “Math class is tough!” The doll didn’t stay on the market long due to all the protests, and that incident led to this season’s big Lisa-centric show. It’s a good but not great one despite more than a few strong moments, like the hilarious shot of Bart at the gay rights parade. Most years this would be an “A”-list program, but it’s one of Season Five’s lesser lights despite a generally high level of quality.
Representative line: Malibu Stacy: “Don’t ask me - I’m just a girl!”
Deep Space Homer (aired 2/24/94): “In an attempt to send an average man into space, Homer and Barney (Castellaneta) are recruited as astronauts. Homer is sent into orbit on a voyage with Apollo 11 veteran Buzz Aldrin (himself). Homer saves the mission from disaster, but is dismayed when all the credit goes to an inanimate carbon rod.”
Hmm… I always remembered “Space” as a great episode, but it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. To be sure, it includes a lot of fine material - it’s just not as consistently stellar as I recalled. Nonetheless, I like it a lot and regard it as a strong show.
Representative line: Homer: “Default - the two sweetest words in the English language!’
Homer Loves Flanders (aired 3/17/94): “Flanders invites Homer to go with him to a football game and even gives him the game ball. Homer decides he’s been too hard on his neighbor and is overly kind to Ned, which Ned finds increasingly aggravating. But in the end, the natural order of the Simpsons universe reasserts itself.”
I always remembered “Loves” to be a great episode - and I recalled correctly. Sure, the show goes with a less than creative presence; it’s an easy story to make characters behave in atypical ways. However, the development of the theme is terrific, as we learn the friendship of Homer Simpson is worse than the antagonism of Homer Simpson.
Representative line: Ned: “What’s the cash value of those tickets so I can report it on my income tax?”
Bart Gets an Elephant (aired 3/31/94): “Bart wins an elephant in a radio giveaway. The elephant, which Bart names Stampy, turns out to be ill-behaved and uncontrollable, and the other Simpson pets feel neglected. Finally, the family places the petulant pachyderm in an animal refuge.”
As with shows like “Space”, Season Five includes plenty of programs with potentially cheesy concepts, and “Elephant” is one of them. However, it manages to easily overcome its possible flaws to turn into a very fine program. And it even includes the first appearance of Cletus!
Representative line: Homer: “Marge, I agree with you in theory. In theory, communism works. In theory.”
Burns’ Heir (aired 4/14/94): “Burns holds auditions for an heir, and after Bart vandalizes his mansion, the old man chooses him. Burns tutors his protégé in all his evil ways, but when forced to choose between his patron and his family, Bart chooses the latter.”
“Heir” features such a great concept that it’s a surprise no went for it earlier. It occasionally veers on the edge of mushiness, but it avoids becoming too sentimental. It’s a blast to see Burns’ world from Bart’s point of view.
Representative line: “Being abusive to your family is one thing, but I will not stand idly by while you feed a hungry dog!”
Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadassssss Song (aired 4/28/94): “In the 100th episode of the series, Bart’s dog gets loose in the school, and the ensuing havoc is so great, Principal Skinner (Shearer) loses his job. Ned Flanders Skinner and Skinner returns to the Army, but when Flanders brings his Christianity into the public school, a guilty Bart is able to get Flanders fired and get Skinner his old job back.”
When I was in second grade, I got a puppy for Christmas. I still recall the excitement when my Mom brought her into school for the others to see, and the first segment of “Sweet” reflects the atmosphere caused by a doggie visit. The rest of the episode gets into Skinner’s life nicely. Toss in a great Alien reference and “Sweet” offers yet another solid show. It’s easy to love a show that features a memory of Ned’s beatnik father.
Representative line: Martin: “My raisin roundies!”
The Boy Who Knew Too Much (aired 5/5/94): “Bart plays hooky and witnesses a dispute between a waiter and Mayor Quimby’s spoiled nephew Freddy (Castellaneta). Freddy is accused of beating the waiter and goes on trial, with Homer enjoying himself in the jury. Bart can exonerate the accused - but only by admitting he skipped school.”
Freddy Quimby may well be the most unpleasant character to grace the series - in an amusing way, though Freddy’s edginess makes him less amusing than his uncle. It’s rather startling to see Skinner so rapidly resume his dislike of Bart after the last episode, though. It’s fun to see his superhuman powers in the pursuit of Bart, and the mystery aspects of the show help make it a very good one. Add to that Homer on jury duty for even more entertainment.
Representative line: Bart: “Oh my God - he’s like some kind of non-giving-up school guy!”
Lady Bouvier’s Lover (aired 5/12/94): “Marge’s mother (Kavner) is wooed by both Homer’s father and his boss. She nearly marries Mr. Burns, but when she sees the true evil of his nature, she decides to run off with Grampa instead.”
On one hand, I don’t like Marge’s mother; she’s one of the series’ less interesting characters, which is probably why she appears so rarely. On the other, Grampa’s always fun, and it’s nice to see him in an ebullient mood, at least for a while. I like the show’s mockery of collectibles via Bart’s purchase of an Itchy and Scratchy cel, and this adds up to a generally good program, though not one of the year’s best.
Representative line: Lisa: “Doesn’t this family know any songs that aren’t commercials?”
Secrets of a Successful Marriage (aired 5/19/94): “Homer goes to take an adult education class, but decides to teach one instead. He reveals intimate secrets about his marriage which, when Marge learns about them, infuriate her. Homer moves into Bart’s treehouse until Marge’s wrath dies down - which is finally does when he promises not to betray her again.”
Season Five ends on a high note with “Marriage”. Homer’s insensitive gossiping about his relationship presents lots of good bits. It completes this excellent year well.
Representative line: Homer: “This is a place of learning, not a place of hearing about things!”