Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 15, 2005)
Without any further ado, let’s dig into Season Six 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 press release.
Bart of Darkness (aired 9/4/94): “During a very hot summer, Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) installs a pool in the Simpson back yard. Bart (Nancy Cartwright) breaks his leg attempting to dive into it and is unable to use the pool while all the other neighborhood kids do. In a scene reminiscent of Rear Window, Bart sees Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer) bury something he thinks is Ned’s wife Maude (Maggie Roswell).”
Via “Darkness”, Season Six launches with… well, not with a bang, but not with a whimper either. The year opens with a show that has its moments but never quite soars. I really like the moments in which Bart turns weird – Cartwright’s disturbing guffaws are priceless – but I think the Rear Window moments get played a little too on the nose, especially when we see a Jimmy Stewart character. I’d call this one a solid “B” effort.
Lisa’s Rival (aired 9/11/94): “A new student (Winona Ryder) joins Lisa’s (Yeardley Smith) class and quickly becomes a rival to Lisa, both intellectually and musically. The competition between the two heats up to the point where Lisa enlists Bart to sabotage one of her rival’s projects. Meanwhile, Homer takes 100 pounds of sugar from an overturned truck and makes grandiose plans for it.”
Season Six immediately rebounds with the excellent “Rival”. Lisa-centered episodes aren’t usually my favorites, partially because they tend to be more sentimental and mawkish than most. Those trends don’t mar the cynical “Rival”, especially as we see Lisa turn surprisingly dark and rely on Bart. He may not be book-smart, but the boy shows real skill as a saboteur – despite a strange obsession with hose-soakings. Add the inspired – and bizarre – sugar subplot that comes complete with one of Homer’s best monologues/rants and “Rival” is a winner.
Another Simpsons Clip Show (aired 9/25/94): “Marge (Julie Kavner) is inspired by the book The Bridges of Madison County to try to teach her children about romance. She describes her near-affair with bowling instructor Jacques (Albert Brooks) while Homer relates his almost-fling with co-worker Mindy (Michelle Pfeiffer).”
Absolute fact: clip shows suck. The best of them work only because of their interstitials; for example, the April Fool’s one had some funny moments when Homer and Bart fought each other. “Another” lacks that factor. The romance related storyline fizzles. That leaves us with a good collection of clips, but since we can already watch them in their original episodes, why bother with this cheap excuse for product?
Itchy & Scratchy Land (aired 10/2/94): “Bart and Lisa ask their parents to take them to Itchy & Scratchy Land – “the violentest place on earth”. While there, Homer and Bart are arrested, and malfunctioning Itchy and Scratchy robots attack the Simpsons ala Westworld.”
To this day, I can’t enter an amusement park gift shop and not look for a “Bort” license plate. “Land” starts a smidgen slowly but really cranks into high gear when the family arrives at the park. It presents one great gag after another and culminates in an excellent little action sequence to make this a very strong show.
Sideshow Bob Roberts (aired 10/9/94): “While listening to a conservative radio host (Shearer) reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh, Lisa is startled to hear a call from Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer). Bob uses the call-in show to help secure his release from prison and then runs for mayor as the candidate of Springfield’s Republican party.”
Sideshow Bob episodes rarely falter, and “Roberts” is yet another winner. Limbaugh’s an easy target, but Shearer’s terrific parody of him really shines, and all of the elements connected to the election also work well. From start to finish, this is a top-notch show.
Treehouse of Horror V (aired 10/30/94): “Act 1: the Simpsons are employed on Mr. Burns’ (Shearer) country estate - and Homer goes insane. Act 2: Homer’s attempts to repair a toaster lead him repeatedly back into the past – and he inadvertently changes the future. Act 3: The school cafeteria turns to an unusual source of food – and schoolchildren start mysteriously disappearing.”
While the first few “Treehouse of Horror” shows were decidedly lackluster, the Halloween tradition became more memorable after a while, and “V” continues that upward swing. All three segments work well, though I think I like the inspired anarchy of the time-travel piece the best. Chalk this up as one of the better “Treehouse” episodes.
Bart’s Girlfriend (aired 11/6/94): “Bart begins a romance with Jessica Lovejoy (Meryl Streep), the misbehaving daughter of the local minister (Shearer). He is blamed and ostracized for her theft of money from the church collection plate.”
We don’t often see Bart in a sympathetic light, so shows like this one are fun. “Girlfriend” reminds me of Season Four’s “New Kid on the Block” since it also featured Bart in love, though the programs differ since here the girl reciprocates. Streep does nicely as the bad kid and we get many fine moments in this memorable program.
Lisa On Ice (aired 11/13/94): “Blessed with the natural ability to stop flying objects, Lisa becomes a hockey goalie. Bart plays for another team and the rivalry between them grows, culminating in a climactic game.”
Wow – two shows in a row with a fairly sympathetic Bart! He’s less so here, but I do feel bad for him as he loses out to Lisa in yet another way. The program pours on some heavy-handed elements related to the pressures created by parents, but it has more than a few good bits and turns into a fairly good show.
Homer Badman (aired 11/27/94): “While driving the Simpsons’ babysitter home, Homer notices a gummy Venus de Milo stuck to her rear and grabs it. His actions are mistaken for an inappropriate sexual advance and Homer is vilified around town.”
Both political correctness and the excesses of TV news get lampooned in this strong program. The show gets into a loose reality for some of these barbs, but it stays in the spirit of the series and never quite becomes over the top. The spoof of the candy convention is a gas, and the rest of the program continues along those lines.
Grampa Vs. Sexual Inadequacy (aired 12/4/94): “Marge and Homer’s sex life hits a rough patch, but Grampa (Castellaneta) perks things up with a homemade revitalizing tonic. He and Homer go on the road to sell their elixir and Grampa reveals that Homer’s conception was not planned.”
Strange – I didn’t remember this as a very good episode, but it actually turns out to be quite strong. The initial plot in which Homer and Marge can’t get it together offers plenty of funny moments – “Enchiladas!” – and the scenes in which Homer battles with his dad offer depth and much humor. It’s also hard to beat the children’s fears of the “reverse vampires”.
Fear of Flying (aired 12/18/94): “Homer is awarded free airline tickets only to discover that Marge is afraid to fly. Marge enlists the aid of a therapist, Dr. Zweig (Anne Bancroft).”
Here’s another show I didn’t recall fondly but that works exceedingly well. I hadn’t realized how many quotes I’ve stolen from this one: the name “Guy Incognito”, the dog with the puffy tale, “a burden coupled with a hassle”. The show makes little sense in regard to continuity since Marge has flown during prior shows, but it’s consistently very funny and entertaining.
Homer the Great (aired 1/8/95): “Homer becomes the leader of a Masonic cult with immense secret power known as the Stonecutters.”
Secret societies get a good ribbing in this fine show. It features one of the series’ best musical numbers along with an excellent guest voice appearance by Patrick Stewart. I think it peters out a bit as it progresses; the best moments show the influence of the Stonecutters, and the show drags a little toward the end. Nonetheless, it still offers a solid piece of work.
And Maggie Makes Three (aired 1/22/95): “Lisa is surprised to discover there are no photos of Maggie in a family album. In a flashback, Homer explains why by telling the story of Maggie’s birth.”
Flashback episodes of The Simpsons usually work well, and “Maggie” is no exception to that rule. Actually, at this point it’s one of my favorites, but that’s partially because of overexposure to some of the others. In any case, this one has many hilarious moments – such as the scene that explains Homer’s hair loss.
Bart’s Comet (aired 2/5/95): “As punishment for a prank, Bart must assist Principal Skinner (Shearer) with his astronomy. He discovers a comet which turns out to be on a collision course with earth.”
During this program’s audio commentary, executive producer/show runner David Mirkin notes that “Comet” is one of his all-time favorite episodes. I don’t share the same level of enthusiasm for it, but I think it provides a consistently strong show. It stretches reality a bit, but that’s not a problem – or unusual for the series – and the program ends up as a positive one.
Homie the Clown (aired 2/12/95): “Krusty (Castellaneta) opens a clown college in which Homer enrolls. Homer is not a great clown, but he looks remarkably like Krusty, leading to many life-enhancing opportunities.”
Chock full of fun bits, “Clown” offers a truly terrific show. It’s hard to resist a program with a clever Close Encounters reference, and the ways that it ties together Krusty’s mob connection with Homer works nicely. It’s a real winner.
Bart Vs. Australia (aired 2/19/95): “Bart makes a collect call to an Australian boy which winds up costing $900. He is ordered to come to Australia to apologize and receive a boot on the butt.”
The hits keep coming with the excellent “Australia”. The series has occasionally gotten in trouble with its lampoons of other nations – if I recall correctly, Brazil wasn’t too wild about the family’s “visit” – but the Aussies seem to have a sense of humor, as I recall no outrage over this spoof. Perhaps that’s because it’s so darned funny.
Homer Vs. Patty and Selma (aired 2/26/95): “Homer runs up a debt that he can only repay by borrowing money from Marge’s sisters. Patty and Selma (Kavner and Kavner) constantly humiliate him until he finds a way to forgive their loan. Meanwhile, Bart takes ballet and is surprisingly good.”
Homer’s disdain for Marge’s sisters – and vice versa – has always led to terrific sparks, and “Vs.” provides another great round in their eternal battle. It’s hilarious to see Homer indebted to the Terrible Two, and the subplot in which Bart gets into ballet also works – where else can we see a modern character drink a Tab?
A Star Is Burns (aired 3/5/95): “Film critic Jay Sherman (Jon Lovitz) comes to Springfield for a local film festival. Entries include an artistic effort by Barney (Castellaneta), an overproduced piece of propaganda from Mr. Burns, and Homer’s favorite – Moleman (Castellaneta) getting hit in the crotch with a football.”
When I first saw “Burns”, I feared the worst as it seemed like little more than a cheesy piece of cross-promotion to tout The Critic. The show tries to have its fun with the concept via some self-referential gags, but it really is a cheap way to promote the other series. It manages some funny moments – and who doesn’t refer to “Senor Spielbergo” ever since? – but I think it lacks a lot of spark or real humor.
Lisa’s Wedding (aired 3/19/95): “The Simpsons visit a local fortune teller who describes Lisa’s wedding in the future. She is engaged to a charming British man but her family inadvertently mucks it up.”
I was surprised to learn that “Wedding” won an Emmy, as I never considered it to be one of the year’s better episodes. Fantasy shows are a tough sell, and this one has aged worse than others; it takes place in 2010, which isn’t quite so far off anymore. (It also has gags that don’t seem improbable, like a Stones tour and a film festival for Jim Carrey.) I really don’t like the bit about Maggie’s chattiness, and this episode leaves me cold.
Two Dozen and One Greyhounds (aired 4/9/95): “The Simpsons’ dog impregnates another greyhound, leaving the Simpsons with a litter of 25 puppies. Mr. Burns attempts to get the little dogs for purposes which turn out to be quite nefarious.”
Disney comes in for massive spoofing here. The influence of 101 Dalmatians is obvious, but we also get jabs at Lady and the Tramp and Beauty and the Beast. Add to these the most bizarre references to Rory Calhoun imaginable and you have a fine show.
The PTA Disbands (aired 4/16/95): “When Principal Skinner implements new budget cutbacks at Springfield Elementary, the teachers go on strike. Lisa and even Bart start to miss the school, and local parents must step in to teach classes.”
At times “Disbands” reminds me a little too much of the episode in which Skinner got fired, but it goes off on enough tangents to form its own identity. I especially like the contrasts between how Bart and Lisa accept the strike. The show doesn’t quite manage to soar consistently, but it has more than enough to make it positive.
’Round Springfield (aired 4/30/95): “Bart gets appendicitis from a box of Krusty-O’s cereal. While visiting him in the hospital, Lisa is dismayed to learn that her idol, jazzman Bleeding Gums Murphy (Ron Taylor), is also being treated there.”
“Moaning Lisa”, the Season One episode that introduced Bleeding Gums, has long been one of my least favorite. “’Round” doesn’t do anything to make that character more endearing to me. Some of the moments connected to Bart’s illness are funny, but I really hate that “Jazzman” song and don’t care for the Bleeding Gums parts.
The Springfield Connection (aired 5/7/95): “Marge confronts a street hustler who takes $20 from Homer and enjoys it so much that she decides to become a cop. She discovers the work is not as much fun as she anticipated.”
After the dull “’Round”, Season Six rebounds with the pretty good “Connection”. I can’t quite figure out how Marge stays in such good shape, but her escapades as a cop are funny, and the episode works best when she arrests Homer. I especially like his refusal to remain silent.
Lemon of Troy (aired 5/14/95): “When a popular Springfield lemon tree is stolen by kids from Shelbyville, Bart vows to get it back. He learns the tree has been moved to an impound lot.”
For Season Six’s penultimate program, we get one of the year’s better – and weirder – shows. The parts that contrast Shelbyville with Springfield are unquestionably highlights, especially via quirky and clever touches like the voice of Bart’s main rival. The whole concept of the precious lemon tree is amusingly strange, and this episode comes chock full of nice biys.
Who Shot Mr. Burns? Pt. 1 (aired 5/21/95): “Mr. Burns attempts to take the oil from beneath Springfield Elementary School and then blocks out the sun, enraging local residents. Soon after, Burns is mysteriously shot in the chest – and there is no shortage of suspects.”
Though “Shot” is more plot-driven than most episodes – so it can push the cliffhanger mystery – it still manages many funny components. Homer’s ongoing frustration with Burns’ inability to remember him works well, and the show has fun with its obvious suspense moments. “Shot” finishes the year well and acts as a good cliffhanger.