Monday, August 15, 2011

John Swartzwelder: The Simpsons Retrospective Day 1

If you know me, and you most likely don’t, I am a huge fan of John Swartzwelder. He is one of the funniest and most reclusive comedy writers today. He wrote fifty-nine episodes of The Simpsons, which he has no problem putting on each cover of his wonderful novels. Since I am a huge fan of the man’s work I have probably seen all fifty-nine of his episodes more than any other writer. (Although Conan O’Brien’s ‘Marge vs the Monorail’ still overshadows as my favorite episode of the series)

So I want to share the wealth so to speak this week by giving you guys a ranking of all fifty-nine episodes of John Swartzwelder. Now even though it is a rank, I don’t find any of these episodes bad in any shape or form. I tried ranking these episodes by the amount of jokes and overall story into each. So without further ado, here is part one of this five part retrospect:

59) The Crepes of Wrath (Season 1)

While the moments involving Albianan exchange student Adil screams John Swartzwelder (as the quote here shows) most of the episode was written by George Meyer. While I love George Meyer as a writer, and I may do a retrospect on him too down the line, the mix of him and Swartzwelder (and Sam Simon) is too many in the pot to get a consistently funny episode.

   Homer: Hey, Lenny, does this place have one of those plutonium
          isolation deals?
   Lenny: Yeah, in Sector 12.
   Homer: Sector 12?
   Lenny: Third floor, by the candy machine.
   Homer: Oh, <that> Sector 12!

58) The War of the Simpsons (Season 2)

While the episode is noted for the debut of Nelson Muntz’s ‘Ha-Ha’ catchphrase, this episode doesn’t hit the mark like other Swartzwelder episodes. I think Swartzwelder was trying too hard to find ‘cool’  things for the kids to do with tormenting Grandpa then having moments involving Marge and Homer’s marriage crisis. Although the old man in the bait shop is vintage Swartzwelder.

   Marge: [slaps Homer's hand] Homer!  You promised.
   Homer: I promised I wouldn't eat?  Never!  You lie!

57) Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington (Season 14)

There’s a great FOX News parody in this episode but other than that it feels like a standard political parody episode. It’s a shame because once Season fourteen hits it really feels like the writers re-wrote a lot of Swartzwelder’s scripts unlike previous seasons.

Elderly Congressmen: Why, this news make my blood boil, my left arm feel numb, my mouth taste of copper! Arrgggh!
56) Life on the Fast Lane (Season 1)

This would not be the last time Albert Brooks would be the star in a Swartzwelder script. This is a very good, first season episode to show just how different the series could go in terms of subject matter. On that front it’s a good episode, but as a Swartzwelder episode it doesn’t feel like he wrote it. Mainly because Brooks would ad-lib his entire performance; plus ignore the original idea of his character being Swedish. But Swartzwelder would learn how to keep Brooks in line for a future episode.

    Bart:  Look Dad, I don't know what's going on, but once you gave me some advice that might help.
    Homer: I gave you advice?  Get outta here.
    Bart:  Yeah, you did.  You told me when something's bothering you, And you're too damn stupid to know what to do, just keep your fool mouth shut. At least that way you won't make things worse.
    Homer: Hmmm, good advice.

55) Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?

A Sequel to “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” (a great Season two episode by Jeff Martin) and it has a lot of Swartzwelder troupes to it. Like a first act involving hobos and Mr. Burns confronting his lawyers. However, I feel like I’m repeating but for this it’s true, the final act feels heavily rewritten to get Herb Simpson back on track. It does have a great performance by Danny Devito who I love.

    Tester: This can't be right.  This man has 104% body fat!
            [turns to Homer] Hey, no eating in the tank!
    Homer: [with a chicken drumstick] Go to hell.

54) Dog of Death (Season 3)

I don’t know why but seeing Santa’s Little Helper get treated so poorly is really upsetting. It’s probably why I don’t like this episode too much. Specifically hating on a Dog just because he needed a surgery seems extra cruel. But the idea of Doggie Hell is amusing…

   Bart:  Is there a doggie hell?
   Homer: Well... Of course, there couldn't be a heaven if there weren't a hell.
   Bart:  Who's in there?
   Homer: Oh, uh... Hitler's dog... and that dog Nixon had, what's his name, um, Chester...
   Lisa:  [annoyed] Checkers.
   Homer: Yeah!  One of the Lassies is in there, too.  The mean one! The one that mauled Jimmy!

53) The Frying Game (Season 13)

An impressive performance by Dan Castellaneta as the ‘Screamapillar’, which literally screams for the first eight minutes of the show. One of Swartzwelder’s themes seems to be repeating jokes ad nauseam, to the point where it gets annoying. Once the first act ends though, it becomes a bit of a predictable story of Homer and Marge helping an old lady. The ending with Carmen Electra though pretty much sums up her career though.

   Lovejoy: Nice dress.
   Catholic Minister: Oh, go home and have sex with your wife!
   Lovejoy: That's it, bring it on!

52) A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love (Season 13)

A character Swartzwelder is perfect at writing is Mr. Burns. So an episode revolving around Burns libido seems perfect. The episode starts with a series of great jokes about writing Chinese fortune cookies and the joke of Homer’s idea of ‘pistol whip’ is hysterical. But this isn’t the strongest Burns/Homer pairing that he would do in earlier episodes.

   Woody:  What am I doing here?  I should be in New York writing riddles on Popsicle sticks. Then I'd be making a difference.
   Writer:  Oh, they ruin my best fortune.  I wrote, "Let a frown be your umbrella."  They change it to "smile."  A frown is a much better umbrella than a smile.

51) The Lastest Gun in the West (Season 13)

My favorite novel by Swartzwelder is ‘Double Wonderful’, which is about a small town populated by idiots in the Old West. So an episode dedicated to an aging Western star also seems pure Swartzwelder. Outside of the Western parodies (which comes a plenty and are hysterical) the plot revolving around Buck quitting alcohol is predictable and is not interesting for a full plot. The idea of lassoing makes food taste better is funny though.

   Homer:   Eh, I'm sick of this Tarzan movie.
   Lisa:    Dad, it's a documentary on the homeless.
   Homer:   Oh, right.

50) Homer to the Max (Season 10)

The parody of cop dramas is pitch perfect in this episode. The idea of stealing a bank on a tow truck to throwing a bullet back at a thief is still not as over the top as some real life shows. But outside of that, the idea of Homer changing his name isn’t a strong premise for an entire episode. The idea of Homer getting into a big party could’ve been done in any other plotline.

   Homer:    Oh, this is the worst party ever!
   Marge:    I don't know.  Remember that New Year's Eve at Lenny's?  He didn't even have a clock.

49) A Tale of Two Springfields (Season 12)

The fact that Homer has no problem committing suicide by blowing everyone up is pure Swartzwelder. Plus the parody of ‘The Rifleman’ is one of Swartzwelder’s best jokes. However, this feels like yet another episode that only exists just for the guest stars (which would be ‘The Who’ in this case)

   Marge:    We can't go on fighting with Old Springfield.  These people are our neighbors.  We see them every day.
   Homer:    You're right.  We've got to block them from our sight with a giant wall.
   Marge:    Like the one in Berlin?
   Homer:    Good idea.  We should call the guys they used.

48) The Sweetest Apu (Season 13)

One of the greatest Swartzwelder jokes happen in this episode. The continuous scene of Homer backing away with a ladder, then going back to him home, and then falling asleep, and then dreaming about backing away with the ladder. Outside of that not the strongest episode involving Apu and Manjula.

   Homer: Let’s tell Krusty.
   Marge: What would that accomplish?
   Homer: That guy's hilarious. His reaction would be priceless.
   Homer: Apu is cheating!
   Krusty: That's sad. All those kids.
   Homer: I think he's building to something.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this John Swartzwelder retrospective!

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