The Simpsons: Season 3

By Michael Bentley

June 15, 2006

Behold Moe: the average American voter. It explains the last two elections, doesn't it?

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*This is the third in an ongoing series that will focus on the adventures of that iconic American family, The Simpsons.

Moving on from the first full season of a hit television show could be a challenge for any group of writers or creative talent. Many shows go into neutral after getting a taste of success and run on fumes, and other shows simply die out after they get past the one or maybe two good ideas they had. But fortunately Matt Groening and company were up to the challenge. The third season of The Simpsons is consistently very strong, and tops out with several A+ episodes that each belong near the very top of an ultimate best-episode list. Plenty of memorable moments from the long history of the animated show come from one of these 24 episodes: white Michael Jackson in a mental institution (obviously one of the writers is clairvoyant), Bart working for mobster Fat Tony, Homer the hero, the Flaming Moe, Homer's gallop through the land of chocolate, Mrs. Krabappel and Woodrow, Mr. Burns and his nine baseball all-stars, Sideshow Bob marrying Selma, Bart getting trapped down a well, etc.

A case could easily be made that it is actually the strongest of the fabled first eight seasons, though I personally wouldn't quite go that far. If for whatever reason you thought season two was still a little rough around the edges, than you clearly lack a soul if season three still does nothing for you. Or perhaps you just drank too much nerve tonic (in which case we won't completely hold it against you). And now, a closer look at the complete third season DVD set.

The Episodes

1) Stark Raving Dad (Episode # 7F24)

When Bart puts his red hat in the laundry, with a load of white clothes, it turns all of Homer's white work shirts pink. He is singled out and, after being grilled at work and failing a personality test ("Careful men - he wets his pants."), sent to the New Bedlam mental institution. There he meets a big white guy who claims to be Michael Jackson (voiced by "John Jay Smith"). The pair hit it off and when Homer is let out, he invites Jackson to come stay with the family. Unlike recent years where guest stars all pointlessly play themselves, it is a good and surprisingly un-showy guest role. Meanwhile, it is Lisa's birthday, in a rather tiresome subplot about her Bart-didn't-get-her-a-present depression.

Best moment: "Homer, I'm a vegetarian and I don't drink," Jackson tells him after Homer gave Bart instructions over the phone for preparing for Jacko's visit. "Are you sure you're here voluntarily?" Homer asks incredulously.
The verdict: B+.

2) Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington (# 8F01)

Homer hysterically becomes a Reading Digest-reading intellect, and Lisa enters its essay contest on the "roots of democracy." She wins the local competition and the family wins a trip to Washington, D.C. in an otherwise okay but bland outing.

Best moment: At a shady meeting with a Congressman, a wealthy lobbyist states: "we want to drill for oil in Teddy Roosevelt's head [in Mt. Rushmore]." After opening his suitcase full of money... "Teddy who?"
The verdict: B.

3) When Flanders Failed (# 7F23)

Homer's nemesis, neighbor Ned Flanders, gives up his job and decides to open The Leftorium, a store geared towards left-handers. Homer wishes him failure on the new enterprise, and his wishes end coming true as the Flanders' end up on the street.

Meanwhile, Bart pretends to take karate lessons but learns a lesson of his own after getting a beatdown by some of the school bullies. The episode really works well in several fleeting moments when Homer encounters various left-handed people who would do well if they knew of Flanders' store. He always has a momentary thought to tell them, but his disdain for Ned stops him and ultimately leads to some serious guilt.

Best moment: The joy on Homer's face as he leads people towards Ned's store, in a rare moment of redemption.
The verdict: A.

4) Bart the Murderer (# 8F03)

Bart's class goes on an awesome field trip to the chocolate factory, but he forgets his permission slip and gets stuck at the school licking envelopes. On his way home he inadvertently ends up in the hideout of mobster Fat Tony, where he gets a job as a young Goodfella. Principal Skinner later goes missing, not long after making Bart mad and late for work, making Bart the prime suspect ("I heard Bart had Skinner killed by gangsters"). The story finishes with a bang, with a great nightmare by Bart, an outrageous court trial, and a flashback that provides that shattering truth as to what happened to Skinner.

Best moment: Marge and Homer have a serious discussion when Marge is concerned about Bart's job and the people that he works with. Homer confidently responds, "If my plant pollutes the water and poisons the fish, by your logic that would make me a criminal."
The verdict: A+.

5) Homer Defined (# 8F04)

Milhouse crushes Bart's feelings when it is revealed that he had a birthday party without inviting Bart. At the same time, nuclear safety inspector Homer stupidly and very luckily saves the day during a possible plant meltdown. He becomes an instant hero, but his dumb luck is later revealed to his chagrin. A series of dictionary photos show Homers progression, from stupid to lucky to fraud to Homer. Meanwhile, Bart learns that Milhouse's mom doesn't like him so Marge has to step in and save his day.

Best moment: In a television interview, Kent Brockman tells Mr. Burns that some people are calling the plant crisis a "meltdown." "That's one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an 'unrequested fission surplus.'"
The verdict: A-.

6) Like Father, Like Clown (# 8F05)v

At a thank-you dinner for Bart (for saving him from jail in Season 1's Krusty Gets Busted), Krusty reveals his dark secret that he is estranged from his father, a rabbi. This starts the clown on a quest to reunite with his pop, and of course he gets help from Bart and Lisa. Surprisingly the episode has very little of Homer, Marge, or any of the other supporting characters besides Krusty. So it's refreshing from that point of view, but the story is actually a bit of a bore.

Best moment: A perfectly topical Itchy and Scratchy episode, "Field of Screams," shows mouse Itchy playing catch with his son using Scratchy's head.
The verdict: B-.

7) Treehouse of Horror II (# 8F02)

In the opening, Marge warns the kids, "eat too much candy, you'll end up with nightmares." And that is exactly what happens, setting the stage for three nightmarish tales. The first one, The Monkey's Paw, is Lisa's dream. Homer buys a mysterious monkey paw that grants wishes from a shopkeeper in Monaco. Maggie takes it first and gets a new pacifier, Bart makes the family rich and famous, and then Lisa wishes for world peace. However this leads to bad things, just as Homer had originally been warned that the paw would bring "grave misfortune."

In part two, The Bart Zone, Bart has incredible magical powers and can read everyone's minds. So everyone must think and say happy things about the omnipotent ten-year-old. He ends up turning Homer into a giant Homer-in-a-box. Finally, in Homer's dream of If I Only Had a Brain, Homer gets fired for sleeping on the job. Meanwhile, Burns has created a robotic monster that only needs a human brain. Of course, Homer falls asleep at his new job (as a grave digger), so thinking that he is dead Burns and Smithers take him - eventually resulting in a classic two-headed finale.

This Halloween episode is a true treasure. It is incredibly consistent, with all three segments being excellent, and with any number of hilarious moments that could very well be any one's favorite part. In a close call over Radio Bart, with Bart the Murderer and Bart the Lover being third and fourth, this is my favorite episode of season three.

Best moment: After the previous wishes on the monkey paw brought nothing but ill, Homer finally wishes for something simple that can't backfire: a turkey sandwich, and with no other "weird surprises." It seems good at first until ... "the turkey's a little dry!" Homer erupts.
The verdict: A+.

8) Lisa's Pony (# 8F06)

Homer's love of beer, and his stupidity, causes him to fail at getting a new reed for Lisa's saxophone. She is humiliated at the school talent show, and out of guilt he decides to buy her the gift of her dreams. A pony. Lisa is happy, but the bills are mounting so Homer is forced to take a second job at the Qwik-E-Mart. It's not filled to the brim with laugh after laugh, but a solid outing that proves that Homer can be a real family man - and not just a buffoon - when he needs to be.

Best moment: After Homer admits that Lisa got a pony because she stopped loving him, Bart demands a moped. "I know you love me, so you don't get squat," Homer retorts in jest.
The verdict: B+.

9) Saturdays of Thunder (# 8F07)

Homer fails a "fatherhood quotient" test to see how well he knows Bart. Trying to get to know him better, Homer starts helping Bart build a soapbox derby racer. Team Simpson has fun together, but the result is a laugher. After a crash, Martin Prince ends up in a cast; Bart goes against his dad and opts to ride Martin's cutting-edge racer in the next soapbox race. This creates a lot of tension at home. Interesting that this was the second episode in a row of Homer trying to be a good father.

Best moment: "Bart! You can't weld with such a little flame!" Homer shouts, completely unknowing and oblivious to what his son is up to.
The verdict: B+.

10) Flaming Moe's (# 8F08)

Homer heads to Moe's Tavern one night to escape the madness at home. Except the bar is out of beer, so Homer tells Moe about a good-tasting drink he invented one night when Marge's beastly sisters were over. It's not without its charm, but somehow tastes very good when lit on fire (It's like there's a party in my mouth and everyone's invited!"). Moe steals the idea and the drink becomes a sensation, transforming the dive bar into a hip nightspot. Homer and Moe have a falling out over Moe's dirty work, and eventually Homer gets his payback.

Best moment: A throwback sequence of still-shots in the style of the "Cheers" intro music for Flaming Moe's, featuring drunk cops, a bar fight, and Aerosmith using the love tester machine.
The verdict: A-.

11) Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk (# 8F09)

Mr. Burns, tired of the demanding life of controlling nuclear power, decides to sell the power plant. Meanwhile, the stock price goes up for the first time in ten years. So Homer decides to sell his shares, making a tidy $25 profit. Unfortunately for him, the stock immediately skyrockets, costing him some $5200. A pair of Germans buy the plant for $100 million and Homer, the "safety whatchamajigger," worries about his job security. And rightfully so. The family must soon resort to skimping on things to save money. But the remarkably deft episode comes to a happy conclusion when Burns realizes "what good is money if you can't inspire terror in your fellow man?"

Best moment: Homer's uproarious romp through the land of chocolate in a daydream. Chocolate and candy are everywhere - he even takes a bite from a delicious doggy - but he is most thrilled when he comes up on a chocolate shop having a half-price sale.
The verdict: A.




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12) I Married Marge (# 8F10)

Another flashback episode, this time showcasing Homer and Marge's early days of married life and when they found out that Marge was first pregnant. After a pregnancy scare, Homer tells the kids the story that mostly focuses on their struggles with money and him going from lousy job to lousy job. It's a fun episode, but doesn't pack the same punch as season two's story of how the couple met (The Way We Was). In all, the lack of depth makes it one of the season's weakest links. One brief, but memorable scene, includes a guy named "Cletus" at a wedding chapel - except he is a big, fat man with a trucker hat, and not the slack-jawed yokel that we know now.

Best moment: Homer laments, "Sure, for you, a baby's all fun and games. For me it's diaper changes and midnight feedings." But Lisa was skeptical, "Doesn't mom do that stuff?" "Yeah, but I have to hear about it."
The verdict: B.

13) Radio Bart (# 8F11)

After a wacky and lame birthday party at Wall-E-Weasel's, Bart gets his gift from Homer - a radio microphone that Homer was very proud of himself for getting. Bart begins having fun with the microphone, including tricking clueless Rod and Todd Flanders that he is God. But he soon comes up with his ultimate prank; he puts the transistor down an old well and soon the whole town of Springfield thinks a little kid named Timmy O'Toole has fallen down. To try to help the "boy," singer Sting, Krusty the Clown, and other celebrities team up for a "We Are the World"-sort of single. Of course eventually Bart realizes his sinister prank will be revealed, so he tries to fix it but instead makes matters all too real.

Radio Bart makes excellent use of the full cast of Springfield supporting characters. It is a near-perfect episode, very well written and observed, with laughs and gags in all the right places.

Best moment: The Timmy media circus eventually turns into a full-fledged carnival, with a ferris wheel, "I survived Timmy O'Toole getting trapped in a well" t-shirts, admission fees, bags of baby teeth for sale, and all sorts of other shenanigans.
The verdict: A+.

14) Lisa the Greek (# 8F12)

One of the better Lisa-centric episodes, a daddy-daughter show where Homer must ultimately decide what is most important to him. Things start off with Lisa, in an attempt to get her father's attention, beginning to take an interest in what he likes - namely football. They soon discover that she has a gift for predicting winners, and the pair soon parlay this into some successful betting action ("this is L.S., calling for H.S."). Meanwhile, Marge and Bart spend time together clothes shopping, which draws the attention of the neighborhood bullies.

Best moment: One TV man on the football pre-game show declares a team to be his "lock of the week" and pulls out a giant lock. Homer changes the channel, and another guy declares their opponent to be the "shoe-in of the week" and shows us a giant shoe. "They both make a good case" Homer surmises, despite zero evidence or support from either fellow.
The verdict: A.

15) Homer Alone (# 8F14)

After a rough morning one day - between the kids and Homer - Marge has a nervous breakdown on the Springfield Memorial Bridge, stopping traffic. She later decides that she needs a vacation by herself, so heads off to Rancho Relaxo, Springfield's only two-star spa. Bart and Lisa go stay with Patty and Selma, Maggie stays with Homer, and nobody is happy.

Best moment: When Homer brings Maggie out to go stay at Patty and Selma's, the smart little baby grabs onto the doorframe for dear life, not wanting to go with them. Lisa is highly impressed and jealous, "I wish I'd thought of that," she crankily tells Bart.
The verdict: B+.

16) Bart the Lover (# 8F16)

Bart ends up in detention after Mrs. Krabappel takes away his yo-yo, so Bart gets revenge on her. He answers her personal ad, by posing as a man named Woodrow (Wilson, the 28th president of the U.S.) and using the picture of Gordie Howe (the Hall of Fame hockey player). The two have a love affair in the mail, and the relationship gets pretty intense as Edna falls in love, setting herself up for a serious letdown.

The back and forth between Bart and Mrs. Krabappel is top-notch, and when her heart breaks near the end, you (and Bart) actually feel for her. A minor side story isn't quite as good, in which Flanders asks Homer to quit swearing. It pays off, though, in the end with the smallest touches, like Homer's cluelessly sincere "How did you know?" after Marge buys him a six-pack of Duff.

Best moment: Marge shows Bart the only love letter that Homer ever sent her. It is on a postcard of Duff Breweries. Accompanied by Homer's slurred voiceover: "Maybe it's the beer talking Marge, but you've got a butt that won't quit. They got these big chewy pretzels here..."
The verdict: A+.

17) Homer at the Bat (# 8F13)

Homer and his magical Wonderbat are guiding the power plant softball team to victories, but Mr. Burns isn't satisfied and convinces nine Major League Baseball superstars (Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Ozzie Smith, Darryl Strawberry) to come work token jobs for the plant and play as ringers. This crushes Homer, as he and the rest of the gang are relegated to the bench.

Burns is very confident the night before the big game: "Smithers, there is no way I can lose this bet. Unless of course, my nine all-stars fall victim to separate misfortunes." And, in some hysterical situations, that is exactly what happens - except for "Darryl. Darryl." The show is capped off by a show-stopping melody over the end credits.

Best moment: Back at Moe's Tavern, Barney Gumble and Wade Boggs clash over who was England's greatest Prime Minister. "Pitt the Elder!" "Lord Palmerston!"
The verdict: A-.

18) Separate Vocations (# 8F15)

Springfield Elementary takes CANT - the career aptitude normalizing test - a vocational test. The results show that Bart should be a police officer and Lisa a homemaker. So Bart goes on a ride-along with the copes, loves it, and is even asked by Principal Skinner to be a hall monitor. Now the face of law and order, he starts cleaning up the school. Lisa, however, gets depressed since she wants to be a jazz musician, and goes on a rampage of pranks and destructive behavior. The Bizarro-like episode is amusing, though wussy little Milhouse as a hall monitor is thoroughly unbelievable.

Best moment: After Skinner informs the teachers that "some sick, twisted individual" has stolen all the teacher's editions panic ensues. One schlub inquires, "Does anyone know the multiplication table?"
The verdict: B+.

19) Dog of Death (# 8F17)

Springfield gets lottery fever, but already-wealthy newscaster Kent Brockman wins. Meanwhile, Santa's Little Helper is very ill. Faced with a very costly operation, which the family can't really afford but pay for it anyway. They begin to resent him for their sacrifices, so he runs away. He ends up in Mr. Burns' care where he becomes a killer guard dog. Things turn a little sappy towards the end though, as the family grieves over the lost dog. But plenty of solid one-liners and quick sight gags make it more than worthwhile.

Best moment: Homer optimistically asks the kids what they would do with their share of the lottery money. Bart rationally says he'd put it in the bank, and Lisa would give it to the poor. Homer scoffs, "What do kids know about spending money?" He then has a daydream, where he would be the biggest man in the world and covered in 14 karat gold. "All hail King Homer!"
The verdict: B+.

20) Colonel Homer (# 8F19)

Marge pisses Homer off after embarrassing him by yelling at him in the movie theater, so he heads off for the night and eventually ends up at a country-western bar. There he meets cocktail waitress and singer Lurleen Lumpkin, whose words perfectly exemplify Homer's thoughts and feelings ("You're wife don't understand you but I do."). He sees her again and ends up paying for her to make a demo, effectively becoming her manager. She becomes an instant radio hit, but Marge worries and gets jealous.

Marge's drama and concern for Homer could easily have thrown the show off-track away from comedy, but it works effectively. And Homer's absurd cluelessness is quite funny. Knowing how much the pair really love each other ensures that alls well that ends well.

Best moment: After Marge has her first confrontation with Homer over his relationship with Lurleen, Homer naively responds. "Marge, you make is sound so steamy. All I did was spend the afternoon in her trailer watching her try on some outfits."
The verdict: A.

21) Black Widower (# 8F20)

The criminal mastermind Sideshow Bob returns after being released from prison ...as Selma's new boyfriend. He appears to be reformed; he says he truly loves her, and even makes up with Krusty. "Although kissing you would be like kissing some divine ashtray, that's not what I had in mind," he says before proposing. "Call me Mrs. Scum," Selma answers, after Bart gives her a warning. He is convinced that Bob is up to no good and that he just wants revenge (and of course, we all suspect the real truth). Sideshow Bob episodes are consistently first-rate, and this is one of the better ones.

Best moment: Though out on a romantic date, Selma realizes the time and hurries home to watch her favorite show MacGyver. Bob is put in his place, as we hear the show in the background: "Don't thank me, thank the moon's gravitational pull!" Soon thereafter, Bob tells her his true feelings about the wretched show.
The verdict: A

22) The Otto Show (# 8F21)

Springfield is rocked by a Spinal Tap concert, which ends in a riot. Later bus driver Otto loses his job after an impromptu guitar performance on the school bus. He then gets evicted from his apartment, so Bart invites him to stay in the Simpson's garage - where he drives Homer crazy. Finally he is able to get his driver's license (and his job back), but only after bonding with one of Marge's sisters at the DMV over a shared dislike of Homer. Perhaps the weakest link of season three, with few outright laughs, and only propped up by Spinal Tap in the beginning and the novelty of learning a little more about Otto.

Best moment: Homer reminisces: "Some of the best times I've ever had were in the backseat of a car." Then we quickly flashback to Homer at a makeout spot in the '70s. He is rocking his car with pleasure, while eating a pizza and a hot dog.
The verdict: B-.

23) Bart's Friend Falls in Love (# 8F22)

Samantha Stanky, a new transfer student, arrives at Springfield Elementary and soon comes between best friends Bart and Milhouse. Milhouse falls for her, and Bart grows jealous. Meanwhile, Lisa gets very concerned about Homer's health and weight. So Marge orders him audio tapes to listen to while you sleep, designed to subliminally lose weight, but instead he is sent tapes that build his vocabulary. The main story of Bart's jealousy is a little boring, but Homer's new verbal ability is hilarious.

Best moment: The Indiana Jones-style opening scene (accompanied by the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme music), where Bart steals Homer's change jar and chases after him like an aboriginal tribesman. The gags include Homer tumbling down the stairs after Bart like a boulder, suction-cup darts shooting after him like arrows, and Bart barely getting by the closing garage door.
The verdict: B.

24) Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes? (# 8F23)

Worried about a lawsuit after discovering that nuclear plant employee Homer is sterile, Mr. Burns decides to give him a token cash settlement plus honor him at an award ceremony. So Homer is given the "First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence."

Estranged (and now homeless) half-brother Herb Powell reads about Homer's success in the newspaper and goes to Springfield to reunite with the family and capitalize on Homer's new fortune. He has a new genius idea to make some money again: an invention that translates baby sounds. However, the family needs a new couch, a new washer and dryer, Lisa wants a series of great books of Western Civilization, and Bart wants a machine gun. Suffice to say, the ending is much happier than in season two's Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Best moment: After Lisa remarks that the awards show is the biggest farce she's ever seen, Bart says "What about the Emmy's?" "I stand corrected."
The verdict: A-.

The Extras

If nothing else, the DVD extras on the third seasons set are an improvement for two simple reasons. First, there is no longer a torturous menu system; instead the disc loads straight to the main menu after the usual obnoxious warnings and disclaimers from the studio. Second, there is finally a "play all" option on each of the four discs. You no longer need to navigate all the way back to the main menu after watching an episode just because you want to watch another. And at the breezy 21-22 minutes for each episode, you can easily watch an entire disc's worth of content in one evening, making the "play all" very attractive.

As far as the actual content goes, as with the previous two collections, the bread and butter of the extras are the audio commentaries on each of the 24 episodes. Not wanting to ruin a good thing, the style is more of the same. Creator Matt Groening appears on most tracks, and is joined by a host of other familiar names like Al Jean, David Silverman, and the voice talent such as Dan Castellaneta. Much of the time is spent reminiscing or just laughing at parts that some of them obviously haven't seen in some time, but some genuinely interesting background information is also provided for our nourishment. Unlike many film commentaries, these are actually worth listening to; I recommend watching each episode at least once with the commentary turned on.

The rest of the extra material is generally less fulfilling, but there is a wide variety of the little stuff. For instance, one episode on each disc includes an option to watch it with VH-1 style Pop-Up tidbits of useless facts. You will see this done elsewhere from time to time, but I actually enjoy them quite a bit and wish more DVDs would do something similar. There are a few audio outtakes (though no deleted scenes, unfortunately), as well as a few storyboards and sketches. Also, as with the previous sets, there are a few foreign language clips and a couple Butterfinger commercials. One disc also includes a "jukebox" of all the original songs that were seen this season. The last few things can all be seen once, usually more out of curiosity, but you'll likely never watch them again.

The verdict: B.


     


 
 

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