The Simpsons: Season 2
By Michael Bentley
January 18, 2006
*This is the second in an ongoing series that will focus on the adventures of that iconic American family, The Simpsons.
After a half-season that brought us some inspired but uneven and not-quite-there-yet episodes, The Simpsons creative team returned for season two and continued to evolve into one of the smartest and wittiest half-hours on television. The one thing I've always found odd when fans of the show discuss the series is that most everyone thinks of seasons 3-7 as the creative peak. Why in the world is season 2 ignored? There is not a stinker in this bunch, and several of the eponymous episodes belong near the top of any Simpsons Best-of list. Many indelible images from Simpsons lore come from one of these 22 episodes: Blinky the three-eyed fish, Homer without a bald head, Homer falling down Springfield Gorge, the Car Homer Built, naked Monty Burns, etc. In any case, it was clear by then that the show was more than simply Bart being a rascally devil or Homer being Homer. Move over Cosby, the Simpsons were clearly America's family! And now, a closer look at the complete second season DVD set.
1) Bart Gets an F (Episode # 7F03)
Bart, being the classic underachiever that he is, is doing very poorly in school. In fact, as his grades get steadily worse, he learns that if he doesn't pass the next test he will have to repeat the fourth grade. Horrified by that prospect, he makes a pact with uber-nerd Martin Prince: Bart gets help studying for the next history test, and Martin gets a lesson in how to be a tad cooler. The plan fails (Martin gets too intoxicated with having fun), so Bart must resort to praying for something like a blizzard to cancel school. And it happens. As Bart studied, the town had its Snow Day - "The Funnest Day in the History of Springfield," as Mayor Quimby declared. Bart Gets an F perfectly captures the conundrum that school kids (and working adults, for that matter) often face between doing work and having fun.
Best moment: Bart tries to have a cram session on the bus with evil twins Sherri and Terri and learns such tidbits like the pilgrims fled England because of the giant rats. Martin overheard and gravely told Bart the truth in his own little way, "As a natural enemy, I don't know why I should care, but the information pertaining to America's colonial period that you just received is erroneous."
The verdict: A-.
2) Simpson and Delilah (# 7F02)
Dimoxinil is a "new miracle breakthrough in hair regrowth." Homer wants it but can't afford it, so he charges it to his company health insurance. It works overnight and he immediately morphs into a young go-getter, dynamic and resourceful, and gets the yearly token promotion to an executive position. Carl, voiced by the ever-distinctive Harvey Fierstein, is Homer's new mysterious secretary off the street, and gives him the "Queer Eye" treatment more than a decade before anyone even knew what that was. In his new role, Homer implements some reforms at work and production skyrockets, while accidents decrease. The beauty of it is that output is now the same as it was during Homer's last vacation.
Eventually the drug is gone and Homer reverts back to his old self, and his old position. This fine episode manages to effortlessly combine a dig at Homer's incompetence at work, with commentary on the premium that is placed on looks and appearance.
Best moment: The first moment when Homer is shown on screen with his sexy new haircut. Priceless.
The verdict: A-.
3) The Simpsons Halloween Special (# 7F04)
AKA The first Treehouse of Horror, which has evolved into one of the most looked-forward to shows of every Fall television season. The setup for the episode is Bart and Lisa telling scary stories to each other in the treehouse. The first part is Bad Dream House in which the Simpsons move into a scary new cursed house. A haunted house that is intent on killing the family somehow. Some of the haunted sights include using vortexes into other dimensions, blood-splattered walls, and a ghoulish voice. Unable to put up with them, the house kills itself, ending the weakest of the three parts.
The second segment is a classic, though - Hungry or the Damned. In it we first meet space aliens Kodos and Kang (and a third) who speak Rigelian, which is coincidentally the same as English. On board their ship Lisa discovers a cookbook, "How to Cook Humans," which leads to some misunderstandings. Finally, The Raven is a version of Poe's classic poetic tale in which Bart is the bird and Homer is the stalkee. James Earl Jones is the voice of the narrator. A good showing, but this part will have less impact for those not familiar with the source.
Best moment: The aliens are bragging about their old-school game of video pong, for which the Simpsons are not impressed. But their retort is a sharp one: "Anyone from a species that has mastered intergalactic travel raise your hand."
The verdict: B+.
4) Two Cars in Every Garage, Three Eyes on Every Fish (# 7F01)
When Bart catches the famous mutated three-eyed fish at a pond by the power plant, a string of headlines ensues. Soon, after a number of violations are found at the plant, the devilish Monty Burns decides to make a run for governor, with the intent of changing the laws. Burns hires a crackpot team of slimy consultants ("Excellent, this is exactly the kind of trickery I'm paying you for.") who inform him that he's viewed as despicable or worse by 98% of voters. The big mistake, though, is when he plans a big campaign event for the night before the election at the Simpson's homestead. Marge supports the current governor and has a few tricks up her own sleeve as well. Hilarious, with one one-liner and quip after another.
Best moment: Homer goes on a tirade one morning against President's Day and proclaims his mission to get Washington and Lincoln's birthdays back to two separate paid holidays. He considers it a ripoff after busting his butt at work. Then moments later, Marge tells him that he's late for work. "So, somebody will punch in for me."
The verdict: A.
5) Dancin' Homer (# 7F05)
This episode begins with Homer telling the story to the guys at the bar of how he became a loser in Capital City. Homer got drunk at the local minor league baseball game and became the unofficial mascot that night. He was such as success that he became the everyday mascot and soon became so popular that he ended up as the main event on the stadium marquee. He even gets asked to fill in for the renowned Capital City Goofball for the big league club, so the family moved there. Unfortunately his tired act didn't go over well there, and he had to drag his tail back home. A good all-round episode, but no standout moments keep this one down a peg.
Best moment: When Marge and the kids take their seats at the game in Capital City, they soon learn that their upper-upper mezzanine seats are in the player's ex-wives' section.
The verdict: B.
6) Dead Putting Society (# 7F08)
Bart and wholesome neighbor Tod Flanders sign up to play in a friendly miniature golf tournament. There's a catch, though. Homer and proud pop Neddy make a bet: "The father of the boy who doesn't win must mow the lawn in his wife's Sunday dress." Homer and Ned are in a fraternity-like game of one-upsmanship and to show that sometimes the adults can be bigger kids than their children. After all, Ned has the best basement, is the best dad, his beer comes from further away than Homer's beer, and his wife has a higher butt than Homer's wife. (Yes, the draft beer surprised me too, as you wouldn't expect loyal Christian Ned to drink.) In the days leading to the tournament, Lisa helps Bart with a little meditation and a practical use for geometry, and Homer puts pressure on the boy, telling him "Remember what Vince Lombardi said: if you lose, you're out of the family."
The episode is a classic example of what The Simpsons represented in the first few seasons: a dysfunctional, albeit normal, white bread American family, with a little slapstick and plenty of honest social satire. With some glimpses of the absurd and surreal tossed in for good measure. It also features one of the very best endings of any of the shows to date.
Best moment: Homer, Bart, and Lisa are sitting around the breakfast table laughing hysterically at Ned's honest letter of friendship to Homer. Marge scolds them for laughing after he opened his heart, but then she leaves the room and can be seen snickering to herself, out of sight of the others.
The verdict: A.
7) Bart vs. Thanksgiving (# 7F07)
Bart ruins Thanksgiving by jealously and maliciously, though inadvertently, destroying Lisa's homemade table centerpiece. After the ensuing firestorm, Bart and Santa's Little Helper leave home in search of some grub and end up at a rescue mission for the homeless. It is there that he realizes he should be thankful for what he has. This Bart-centric episode is admirable for its intent, but falls a little short in the end.
Best moment: In a very casual moment, Marge happily walks through the living room during halftime of the Cowboys game. The dog and cat are passed out on the floor and Maggie is on the couch watching the show; it is such a nice, content moment before dinner.
The verdict: B.
8) Bart the Daredevil (# 7F06)
The family arrives late to a monster truck rally show, and their reliable old pink car ends up being accidentally eaten by the great Truckosaurus. They still stay for the rest of the show, and Bart is inspired by Evil Knievel-like daredevil Lance Murdock. He takes to showing off and performing stunts for his friends and well-wishers on his skateboard and continues to up the ante with ever-more daring feats and challenges. This culminates in an attempt to jump the Springfield Gorge.
Of course he realizes his stupidity and stops himself but Homer tries to teach him "what it's like to witness a family member stupidly risking his life for no good reason." He crashes off the gorge, resulting in tragedy and utter hilarity. Bart the Daredevil hits on all cylinders - the main story, the backgrounds, and the small things everyone says - all fantastic.
Best moment: As a commercial for the monster truck rally plays on TV, we go back and forth to see Bart and Homer's reactions to the upcoming show. As soon as the ad ends, Homer races home from the bar and Bart skips outside to wait for his father. They knowingly embrace, in a humorous - but heartfelt - moment in which the pair share their common bond.
The verdict: A.
9) Itchy & Scratchy & Marge (# 7F09)
While Homer is building a spice rack for Marge, Maggie attacks Homer on the head with a mallet in a scene straight out of Hitchcock's Psycho. The culprit: animated television violence. Marge immediately wrote a letter to the "purveyors of senseless violence" and forbid Bart and Lisa from watching Itchy & Scratchy. This was one of the first episodes that showcased Marge, the screwball, and also among the first that calls to attention her crusade against television violence. Her protests gradually build momentum and she is successful in helping to alter the tone of the show to one of love and sharing.
Later, when Michelangelo's statue of David comes to town, it's revealed that she is soft on full-frontal nudity. The lesson? One person can make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn't.
Best moment: The Psycho sequence. Complete with red paint swirling around Homer and a surreal closeup on this eyeball as he lies motionless, this is a refreshing take on an oft-copied movie scene.
The verdict: A-.
10) Bart Gets Hit by a Car (# 7F10)
As the title suggests, Bart gets hit by a car - by none other than evil overlord Monty Burns himself. Being the penny pincher that he is, Burns offers the Simpsons $100 to avoid the negative publicity, but Homer will have none of that and he sues him for a cool million. He hires ambulance chaser Lionel Hutz, making his first appearance on the show in what would turn into a brilliant run of supporting appearances in voice actor Phil Hartman's best character.
It turns into a story about Homer and Marge, though. Just as they're about to get a real settlement, Marge screws things up by admitting to Homer that she feels he is taking advantage of the situation. Later, Marge goes to Moe's to make up with homer, where the barflies feint over her ("A chick." "And it's not even ladies' night!")
Best moment: When they visit quack Dr. Nick for a new check-up for Bart, after they get the grim news (such as whiplash and trauma), Bart wonders if he'll ever play baseball again. Homer cries no, but then Bart remarks, "But I played baseball this morning."
The verdict: A-.
11) One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish (# 7F11)
After Lisa complains about the dull routine of the same meals week after week, she convinces Homer and Marge to skip Pork Chop Night that Friday and try something new. So they head to a Japanese sushi place. And Homer, despite his fears, loves it. In fact a great time is had by all, as Bart and Lisa even partake in some karaoke.
Problems arise though when Homer orders the last thing on the menu he hasn't tried: blowfish ("Come on pal, fugu me!"). It is poisonous and potentially fatal if not sliced properly and, well, with the help of the map on the back of the menu they end up rushing him to the hospital. He has just 24 hours to live so he ends up making a list of things to do his final day, such as being "intamit" with Marge. This is a great entry into Simpson's lore; a brilliant 22 minutes from start to finish. It is a tender and sometimes somber look at the very-human side of Homer J., but smoothly blended with the show's trademark wit. Easily my choice for the #1 episode of season two.
Best moment: After Homer gives in to Ned's BBQ invite the next day and promises to bring some juicy steaks, he devilishly laughs. "The jokes on him, I'll be dead by then!"
The verdict: A+.
12) The Way We Was (# 7F12)
When catastrophe strikes the family TV, Homer and Marge tell the children the story of how they first met and came to be together in the first of the now fairly popular flashback episodes. It is Springfield in 1974 and Homer has a full head of hair, with no worries and a bright future ahead. When best friend Barney remarks that he never gains a pound, Homer tells him, "It's my metabomalism. I guess I'm just one of the lucky ones."
Marge, a bra-burning feminist, and Homer meet in detention and he then has a brilliant scheme of pretending to take French so she can give him a tutoring session. His idea fails and she goes to the prom with someone else. But how can the only thing he's ever been sure about in his life be wrong? There are plenty of gimmicky, but very fun, insights into the two lovebirds in this one.
Best moment: "Hi, you may not remember me. I'm Homer Simpson. I mooned for rebuttal." Of course, this is after Marge had done a spit take at his sight. She remembers.
The verdict: A.
13) Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment (# 7F13)
Homer hooks up with a shady cable guy and gets every channel illegally. The onslaught of channels consumes the whole family ...except Lisa, who is morally outraged. And paired with a Sunday School lesson about Hell, she becomes convinced that the family will be going there. Eventually at a big boxing title bout, where half the town is at the Simpsons' home to watch it, Homer gives in to his daughter.
This episode gives a nice lesson that when you love somebody, you have to have faith that in the end they will do the right thing. A good, solid outing but - let's face it: Lisa as the moral center isn't the most exciting thing in the world.
Best moment: After Marge calmly suggests that they unhook the cable (or pay for it), Homer threatens to bring his foot down. And he does, topped off with a riot-inducing closeup on the bottom of his foot.
The verdict: B+.
14) Principal Charming (# 7F15)
Spinster Selma begins to get sad that she may never get married, so Marge has Homer try to find a nice man for her. In his search, Homer, in Terminator-style fashion, realizes that Principal Skinner might be a good catch (though possibly a "homer sexual"). Skinner is invited to the house for a family dinner, but the plan backfires when he actually falls for Selma's identical twin Patty. Skinner and Patty have a whirlwind romance, but she rejects him eventually and things go back to normal. Principal Charming provides a nice interplay between Bart and Skinner, especially how their relationship changes over the course of everything.
Best moment: After Homer gets very excited about news of a new all-you-can-eat BBQ joint, Marge reminds him that he promised to limit pork to six servings a week. "Marge! I'm only human!" he cries.
The verdict: A.
15) Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (# 7F16)
After Grampa has a heart attack, he tells Homer that he has a half-brother. The family find him in Detroit - Herb Powell, a high-powered auto executive with a mansion and a cook that will make Homer pork chops whenever he wants. But, in what will be his downfall, Herb entrusts Homer to be an average schmo and hires him to help the lead company out of its sales slump. The Car Built for Homer is a monstrosity. It ruins Herb, and even results in a downbeat ending. That is until Bart tells his pop that he liked the car - just what he needed to hear.
Best moment: Fair is fair: Homer reprimands the kids at the dinner table and vows, "If I hear one more word, Bart doesn't get to watch cartoons and Lisa doesn't get to go to college."
The verdict: B+.
16) Bart's Dog Gets an F (# 7F14)
Santa's Little Helper does one bad thing after another - eating food off the table, eating Bart's toys, ripping up the backyard, chewing Homer's expensive cookies and new sneakers, and a family quilt. Bart gets an ultimatum that the dog must improve its behavior or they have to get rid of him. So they enroll at an obedience school but things don't work out.
Finally on the final night before Homer sells the dog (telling the buyer that the dog can talk), Bart and the dog bond and he manages to learn some commands. It feels a little too much like a common sitcom for most of the episode, but with the Simpsons touch it still works.
Best moment: After Marge learns that Homer's new sneakers cost $125, she tells him that they were supposed to consult each other before major purchases. Homer thoughtfully responds, "Well you bought all those smoke alarms and we haven't had a single fire."
The verdict: B+.
17) Old Money (# 7F17)
Old Grampa gets a crush on a fellow resident of the nursing home, Bea. But Homer and the family comes pick him up for their monthly visit (the third Sunday of the month), he misses her birthday party and hours later they found out that she passed away too. "She died of a broken heart," Grampa says. This does have a bright side, though, as he inherits a large sum of money from her. The money does nothing for him, so he decides to play philanthropist and give it away. With Homer and the gang in the background for much of the episode it gives a nice change of pace, but without the usual depth or humor. There are few laugh-out-loud moments.
Best moment: As Grampa is gambling away his money, he plays one last roulette spin, telling them to "put it all on 41, I've got a feeling about that number." The wheel only goes to 36, though. "Okay, put it all on 36, I've got a feeling about that number."
The verdict: B-.
18) Brush with Greatness (# 7F18)
After constant badgering from Bart and Lisa, Homer takes the family to Mount Splashmore water park, where he ends up causing a sensation in the news by getting stuck in the tube of a waterslide. Later, as he's looking for athletic equipment in the attic, he finds a large collection of old painting by Marge (all of Ringo Starr). With some encouragement by Lisa, Marge signs up for an art class and begins painting again. She is soon entered in an art exhibit and, lo and behold, ends up painting a ...rather personal portrait of Mr. Burns that shows his inner beauty. "He's bad, but he'll die, so I like it," one woman comments. In all, for better or worse, this formula of the first segment in the show only being loosely linked to the rest of the episode continued to be used more and more in the coming years.
Best moment: Maggie splashes through a kiddie pool (where the water is changed hourly) with her life jacket on. She quickly moves from the one end where the depth is 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches, onto the deep end at 2 inches. Marge freaks out and tells her to stay in the shallow end.
The verdict: A-.
19) Lisa's Substitute (# 7F19)
Lisa's elementary school class gets a substitute teacher, Mr. Bergstrom (voiced using an alias by Dustin Hoffman), who immediately wins Lisa over with his mannerisms, good lucks, and philosophies. In short, he's the complete opposite of baboon Homer. Lisa is devastated when regular teacher Miss Hoover returns.
Meanwhile in a very good subplot, Bart faces off with Martin Prince for class president. Bart is cruising towards a landslide victory until election day when none of his supporters (that is, everyone but Martin and one other) remember to vote. Like Dewey Defeats Truman, Martin wins. But when Homer makes things better for everyone at the end, he proves why we watch the show to begin with. Also features the first appearance of lovable little Ralph Wiggum (though not revealed to be a Wiggum yet).
The verdict: A.
20) The War of the Simpsons (# 7F20)
The Simpsons throw a neighborhood party and ...surprise, surprise, Homer gets really drunk and makes a complete fool of himself. Though his memory of the night is a little different, as he envisions an uproarious, high-end, classy affair that is "the most whimsical jape of the season." Marge is furious and signs them up for a marriage retreat weekend.
In the subplot, the kids are left home with Grampa, who they take serious advantage of. At the retreat, Homer continues to be selfish and doesn't help matters when he ends up out on the middle of a fishing lake trying to catch the legendary catfish "General Sherman." Naturally, Marge and Homer's love for one another wins out in the end though.
Best moment: At the end of the episode, in the bait shop near the lake, the clerk is telling a tall tale about the great man who nearly caught the massive General Sherman one day. "Well one fella came close. Went by the name of Homer. Seven feet tall he was, with arms like tree trunks. His eyes were like steel, cold hard. Had a shock of hair, red like the fires of Hell!"
The verdict: A-.
21) Three Men and a Comic Book (# 7F21)
This was actually the official season two finale. Bart is so dead set on purchasing the comic book Radioactive Man #1 that he actually starts doing odd jobs, like selling lemonade (and later Homer's beer for a nickel a pop), then doing chores for an old neighbor. It's not enough, so he, Martin and Milhouse team up to purchase the comic together. But they get more than they bargained for. After some civility in the beginning, things turn to paranoia and fighting. And on a fateful, thunderous rainy night in Bart's treehouse, the young kids learn a valuable lesson. Maybe.
Best moment: When Marge suggests Bart should get a job, a nice riff on The Wonder Years begins with far-out music ("Turn Turn Turn") and a romanticized voiceover.
The verdict: B+.
22) Blood Feud (# 7F22)
Mr. Burns, being the bony old man that he is, needs a blood transfusion to survive. He has very rare Double-O negative blood that, coincidentally, Bart has. After Homer convinces him that "when you save a rich man's life he showers you with riches," Bart donates his blood to Burns. Expecting a big reward, all they get in the mail from Burns is a thank-you card. Outraged, Homer and Bart write him a nasty letter. Despite some second thoughts, the letter arrives and Homer's job (and life) is on the line. But, Smithers is the yin to Burns' raging yang, and the Simpsons get what they deserve.
Best moment: Homer goes to the post office to try to retrieve the letter and poses as Mr. Burns. "Okay Mr. Burns, what's your first name?" "I don't know," he stupidly responds.
The verdict: B+.
Well, first of all, we still do not have the Tracey Ullman animated shorts on the second DVD release. What is on the four-disc set, though, is again generally scant pickings but is at least a mild improvement over the first DVD set. However, a very unfortunate decision was made to include an incredibly torturous menu system that forces you to hit the enter button several times (until the character's heads match on screen) just to get to the main menu. Ridiculous.
As with season one, the backbone of the extra features is audio commentary on all 22 episodes. Again there is a mixed bag of participants on each one, though Groening and the producers appear on most of them. While they spend a good chunk of the time laughing (obviously some of them haven't prepared or haven't seen the episode in quite some time), there are also quite a few gold nuggets and some very interesting facts and details.
A few other odds and ends appear on disc four in the set. For those who want to relive Bart-mania from the early 1990s, we get two music videos, for "Do the Bartman" and "Deep Deep Trouble." Also included is an awfully embarrassing stint by Bart (Nancy Cartwright) onstage at the 1991 American Music Awards. There is commentary for this, too, and is highly worth listening to, as the kind folks do a nice roast and self-criticism of the appearance. There are also a few foreign language clips and some brief publicity and production interviews, as well as a series of three Butterfinger commercials. No deleted scenes are included and once again there is no "play all" feature for the episodes on each disc. Fortunately, some of these flaws and oversights would begin to be improved on subsequent season sets.
The verdict: C+.