Friday, September 26, 2008

Blog blast past: Top 5 Simpsons sports episodes, Part 1

The Simpsons -- teacher, mother, secret lover! -- begins it 20th season on Sunday night. From November 2006, here's the top 5 sports-themed episodes from the show's golden age.

Every fan knows The Simpsons had its Golden Age and the Long Plateau, divided precisely at Sept. 28, 1997, The Principal And The Pauper, when it's revealed that Principal Skinner stole another man's identity while in Vietnam. (All together now: Worst. Episode. Ever.)

So, here's the Top 5 sports-themed episodes from the Golden Age:

Homer's resentment toward to Flanders' attempt at friendliness ("Your beer comes from farther away than my beer! Your wife's butt is higher than my wife's butt!) spills over when Homer signs Bart up to play in a mini-golf tournament against Todd Flanders. Homer makes a bet with Flanders that the father of the boy who doesn't win has to mow the other man's lawn wearing his wife's Sunday dress. With the pressure on, Lisa becomes a 4-foot-2 yellow-skinned Phil Jackson, tapping into some Eastern wisdom to help Bart focus.

Lisa: I want you to shut off the logical part of your mind. Bart: OK. Lisa: Embrace nothingness. Bart: You got it. Lisa: Become like an uncarved stone. Bart: Done. Lisa: Bart, you're just pretending to know what I'm talking about! Bart: True. Lisa: Well, it's very frustrating! Bart: I'll bet.

The Funny: Homer gets his at the end of the episode, when Bart and Todd Flanders, after several nerve-wracking playoff holes, decide to call their championship match a draw. This means Homer and Flanders both have to mow the lawn in a dress -- excepts Flanders enjoys it since it "takes me back to my fraternity days."

It wouldn't have even been thought of as a sports-themed episode when it debuted in the fall of 1990, but it predated the X Games and extreme sports' movement into the mainstream, a development that spawned a bajillion Blink-182 videos and Mountain Dew commercials in the late '90s.

(It even got to the point where it was an easy parody -- remember the "Extreme!" guys in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle?)

The Simpsons go to a monster truck show, where unfortunately they arrive late. Lisa, of course, had to have a saxophone recital. Homer drives into the arena, leading to a harrowing encounter with Truckasaurus. (Even funnier is that Homer has to drive the mangled family car home.)

Inspired by Lance Murdoch ("If he's not in action, he's in traction), Bart fantasizes about becoming a daredevil, imagining an intro of, "If he's not in class, he's risking his ass." (Remember, this was 1990. You didn't hear the word "ass" on TV back then, especially if you were a kid living in a cable-free household.)

Bart begins doing a series of skateboard stunts for the neighbourhood kids. He gets the idea to leap Springfield Gorge, but Homer prevents him -- with disastrously hilarious consequences.

Homer proclaims NFL Sunday to be Daddy-Daughter Day when he discovers Lisa has an almost eerie prescience for helping him win his bets. Remember, the main reason people watch the NFL is because they have money riding on it. In fact, she's much better at it than the network guys, like Smooth Jimmy Apollo (voiced by the late Phil Hartman): "Well, Chet, when you're right 52 per cent of the time, you're wrong 48 perc ent of the time!"

The humour comes in how Lisa, normally so moral, gets such a rush from helping Homer clean out his bookie (Moe, of course) and turn into an eight-year-old gambling addict. She even incorporates her new hobby into an essay on the happiest day of her life:
Ralph Wiggum: ... and when the doctor said I didn't have worms any more, that was the happiest day of my life.
Ms. Hoover: Thank you, Ralph, very graphic ... Lisa Simpson, would you like to read your essay?

Lisa: The happiest day of my life was three Sundays ago. I was sitting on my daddy's knee when the Saints, who were 4½ point favorites, but only up by 3, kicked a meaningless field goal at the last second to cover the spread.
Ms. Hoover: Dear God!
Of course, Homer blows it by taking Lisa's gift for granted. Hurt, Lisa offers him this proposition: If Washington wins the Super Bowl, she loves him; if not, Buffalo wins. This creates a very anxious Super Sunday for Homer.
Barfly: "Whaddya got ridin' on this game?"
Homer: "My daughter!"
Barfly: "Whatta gambler!"
(Also funny: In repeats the following season, "Dallas" was dubbed in for "Washington," and that again correctly predicted the Super Bowl's outcome.)

After Homer gets beaten up by the fathers of school bullies Dolph, Jimbo and Kearney at Moe's, Moe the Bartender decides to revive his failed boxing dreams by putting Homer in the ring. Predictably, Marge objects --"Of all the crazy ideas you've ever had, this one ranks somewhere in the middle." However, it turns out Homer more than meets state requirements to "box, wrestle or be shot out of a cannon." (Apparently whatever state Springfield is in was founded by circus freaks.)

Refusing to fight, and simply waiting for his opponents to punch themselves to exhaustion so he can push them to the canvas, Homer cleans out the ranks of ASSBOX (Association of Springfield Semi-Professional Boxers):
Moe: OK, you're fighting a guy named Boxcar Bob.
Homer: Brawled his way up from the boxcars, did he?
Moe: Uh, no, not yet, he still lives at the train yard. But he's a hungry young fighter. In fact, he's actually fighting for a sandwich.

This gets Homer a shot at the champ, Drederick Tatum, who, uh, kind of looks like a certain boxer from real life.

The Funny: You learn more of Moe's backstory, there's a Raging Bull parody, and well, making fun of boxing -- the sham fights, the B-list celebrities, its bottomless capacity for farce -- is like fishing with dynamite.

Let's see: Parodies The Natural, the song Talkin' Baseball ("Mike Scioscia's tragic illness made us smile / while Wade Boggs lay unconscious on the barroom tile") and George M. Steinbrenner III's micromanaging ways: "Mattingly! I told you to trim those sideburns!"

Writers and baseball are always a natural mesh, and there's enough baseball-fan humour and knowing references to support this episode. Darryl Strawberry's a team player ("Some of these guys have a got a bad attitude, skip") and José Canseco is a glory hog ("Don't worry, ma'am, I'll save your cat"). Plus we find out Mr. Burns is really, really old, since his initial hand-picked team of ringers consists of Cap Anson, Honus Wagner and Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown. In fact, his right fielder has been dead for 130 years.

Waylon Smithers, acting upon Burns' orders to "scour the professional ranks -- the American League, the National League, the Negro Leagues," puts together a team that's more stacked than the late-'90s Yankees. Of course, all of of Waylon's wizards are waylaid by various calamities, meaning the real Power Plant team has to play the championship game -- except for regular right-fielder Homer Simpson, since Strawberry is still OK to play. Naturally, Homer gets his skull-cracking chance at glory.
Lisa: "No, Mom, it counts as a hit! Dad won the game!"
Marge: "Well, I guess he'll be happy... when he comes to."

LISA ON ICE (Season 6)

Funny at times -- "Ralph Wiggum lost his shinguard! Hack the bone! Hack the bone!" -- but mostly this episode is a cop-out.

Why? Firstly, the show's writers want to make a point about overly competitive sports parents, and they chose hockey, a foreign game, rather than go after America's triple-threat of baseball, basketball and football. (Granted, they went after youth football in subsequent seasons.)

Secondly, the ending. Bart gets a penalty shot against Lisa with four seconds left in a tie game. The winner will be showered with praise, the loser will be taunted and booed until Homer's throat is sore... but they remember all the good times they've had as siblings, and decide to let the game end in a tie. Except for one thing: In real hockey, the clock doesn't run on a penalty shot, so the ending is a cop-out.

One could argue that the writers played on the average American's ignorance of hockey. It still only makes the ending snort-through-the-nose funny, if not actually funny.

(This post was almost 99% Greg Hughes' idea.)

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to


Chris said...

"Bones heal, chicks dig scars, and the United States has the best doctor to daredevil ratio in the world."

Words to live by.

Tyler King said...

"Flaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanders! Flaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanders!"

"What? What is it?"

"Game's out there!"

A shocking omission.

Tyler King said...

May I also add, you chastise them for not noticing that the clock doesn't run on a penalty shot, BUT - in Homer at the Bat, Lisa incorrectly states that Homer's hit by pitch "counts as a hit". It does not.

sager said...

Come on Tyler, she's 8 years old! ;)

(Also, half the play-by-play guys the Jays have had post-Dan Shulman would probably say the same thing.)