Friday, September 26, 2008

Blog Blast Past: Top 5 Simpsons sports episodes, Part 2

Far be it to say all you lot have spent for too much time digesting the finer points of The Simpsons. The 20th-season premiere is on Sunday, so from July 2007, here are the best five sports-themed episodes from the show's Long Plateau. Part 1 originally appeared in November 2006.

BART STAR (Season 9)
It almost had to be cut, but it made the team by virtue of a priceless smackdown to Lisa's humanitarian values that keeps us all honest. Lisa runs away in tears after finding out there's no sexism or animal cruelty in peewee football for her to denounce -- there's four girls on the team already and one dollar from the sale of each synthetic football (no helpless pigs here) goes to Amnesty International.

There's also an uber-knowing sports reference -- Homer calls up sports talk radio to kvetch about Ned Flanders' coaching, but host Roy Firestone asks him only if he has a question for Sandy Koufax. (Koufax, the J.D. Salinger of legendary left-handed pitchers, doesn't actually have any lines.)

Springfield, led by Flanders' coaching, Nelson Muntz's quarterbacking and zealous kickoff coverage ("Give me the ball -- and your lunch money") and Ralph Wiggum doing yeoman's work on special teams ("I'm special!"), goes undefeated. Along the way, they lay a good old-fashioned Texas thumping on Arlen (Hank Hill: "We drove 2,000 miles for this?") but it's not good enough for Homer.
Homer: Hey, Flanders! You're the worst coach this team has ever had!
Marge: He's the only coach this team has ever had... and the season hasn't even started yet!
Homer: Yeah, well... he's wearing that hat like an idiot.
Marge: You know, Homer, it's very easy to criticize.
Homer: Fun, too.
In frust-diddly-ustration, Flanders quits and puts Homer in charge of the team. Coaching football, especially with Bart on the team, turns out not to be so easy -- except for "the easiest part of any coach's job... the cuts."

The funny: You have a shot across the brow of the Comic Book Guy and the show's know-it-all fans: "Does anyone care what this guy thinks?" ... "Nooooooo!"

The Simpsons end up adopting Dunkin, the diving horse from the state fair, and to pay for his care, make him a racehorse with Bart as his jockey (for his first race, he wears Krusty the Clown PJs in lieu of racing silks). Rebranding him as Furious D, complete with "baditude" and a multicoloured mane a la basketball's Dennis Rodman, Bart and Homer soon turn the sport of kings on its ear. "Wow," Homer says after yet another victory, "Soon I'll have more trophies than Wayne Gretzky and the pope combined."

This causes unrest within the Secret Underground Lair of the Jockey. Homer is taken hostage and told that if Dunkin doesn't lose the Springfield Derby -- "the fifth and penultimate jewel in racing's Triple Crown" -- they'll eat his brain. Bart and Dunkin win the race and the jockeys advance on them and Homer, but Marge and Lisa halt their charge with a couple well-timed blasts from the garden hose.

Sure, it's a Super Bowl show featuring Dolly Parton that doesn't have any football or singing -- which come to think of it, is really kind of a ripoff. Regardless, without it world might not have found out about Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman's skills as a caricaturist.

"You like dune buggies, Ned?"
"No, not really."
"Sure you do. Everybody likes dune buggies."

Homer gets in a pinch at the Super Bowl after he and travel agent Wally Kogen, a kindred spirit in the slow-on-the-uptake department, charter a bus to the big game only to find out their tickets are counterfeit.... "there's no such team as the Spungos and these appear to be printed on some sort of cracker."

It subtly commented on baseball's Steroids Era years before Rafael Palmeiro gave a wag of his finger to the U.S. Congress. This was also way before when Barry Bonds didn't have a melon so large that Russ Meyer would have wanted to immortalize it on film -- and sports wasn't even the main theme.

Bart, whose prescription of Focusyn has caused him to become paranoid that he is being spied on by the nefarious MLB (as in Major League Baseball), steals a tank and drives it through Springfield before shooting down a satellite. "May God help you if that thing carried the Spice Channel," says an angry Moe.

It turns out MLB is monitoring his and every Springfieldianite's activities, but enter future disgraced home run king Mark McGwire to put things right. After confirming that Major League Baseball is "spying on you pretty much around the clock," McGwire asks the assembled mob, "Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?"

The crowd replies, "Dingers! Dingers!", basically summarizing the American media's head-in-the-sand approach to McGwire's home-run exploits of the late '90s. As they ooh and aah at the baseballs soaring long into the night, McGwire swipes the classified information -- "Yoink!" Presumably, the Simpsonsized Big Mac disappeared before he could face any kind of serious scrutiny -- just like real-life Mark McGwire.

(Another great baseball reference in this episode. Bart, briefly, becomes driven and organized, showering his family with gifts. Homer receives the self-help book Chicken Soup For The Loser, which "inspired Bill Buckner to open a chain of laundromats.")

It would be the best of this bunch even if didn't actually lead to the birth of a Triple-A baseball team called the Albuquerque Isotopes.

After an incident stemming from a family outing to Blockoland -- don't you mean Legoland? -- Homer becomes a champion of the little guy and tries to get his crony Lenny a refund on season tickets for the Springfield Isotopes. The 'Topes are the local minor-league baseball team owned by the evil and heartless Duff Corporation. Until recently the 'Topes had been owned by the Mafia -- "it was the last of the family-owned teams," Moe the Bartender says wistfully.

Homer pops open a closet door by mistake and finds it brimming with Albuquerque Isotopes hats, pennants and T-shirts, revealing the team will be moved. To force the truth out, Homer goes on a hunger strike, but no one believes him because, as Milhouse's weekend dad notes, there's been nothing about it on "Sportszilla and the Jabber Jocks." Despite wasting away -- "I'm down to a B cup!" -- and having hallucinations where the ghost of Mexican-American labour leader César Chávez appears to him as the ghost of actor Cesar Romero -- "because you don't know what César Chávez looks like! -- Homer refuses to give up.

Eventually, team management -- which had chained Homer to the centre-field flag pole to co-opt him as a gate attraction -- admits defeat, since his smell was also distracting the centrefielder. With help from Duffman, who has new feelings brewing inside, Homer reveals to the fans that the owners plan to move the team. Seeing this, the malevolent mayor of Albuquerque decides Springfield has too much spirit and decides to steal another baseball team.
"Find out how much Dallas wants for the Cowboys."
"Sir, that's football."
"They'll play what I tell 'em to play. For I am the mayor of Albuquerque!"
Honourable mentions
When Springfield comes close to getting a NFL expansion team, the Meltdowns, Carl enthuses "I have Melts fever!" and Lenny chimes in, "And I've got Downs syndrome!"

After each dating Rainier Wolfcastle's daughter, Greta, and being rejected by her, Bart and Milhouse find themselves at loose ends while in Toronto. "Well," says Milhouse, "we're in Canada... let's do something fun."

Cut to the two best friends on a basketball court, wearing red-and-white.

Milhouse: "I can't believe we're on the Canadian Olympic basketball team."
Bart: "Yep, it's just that easy."
(Winds up and takes a shot that misses the rim entirely)
Canuck player: "Wow, that was close. You can be the centre!"

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to


Tyler King said...

The ridiculous and random horse jockey episode over the terrific peewee football one? That's a shame.

sager said...

If anything they're in descending order, not ascending... really it's Hungry Hungry Homer at No. 1 and a 4-way tie for 2nd.

Tyler King said...

"Mmmm... that is malty. But he'll never know! Hahahahaha!"

Gotta mention Stacy Keach's terrific guest spot on that episode. So often in the post-1997 Mike Scully era they'd just have guest stars on to say one line and not really contribute anything (like Paul Newman in one). That one broke that mold.