Episode 004 – There’s No Disgrace Like Home

Plot: After being embarrassed at a company picnic by his family, Homer decides to scrape the money together to go see a family therapist.

For some reason I recall this being one of the episodes that really helped lodge this show in the popular consciousness — the Simpson family strapped into chairs wired with electricity, shocking the hell out of each other is certainly an indelible image (though maybe that’s just me).  It’s an odd episode to watch now, because none of the characters really act the way we expect them to (aside from Bart, who as I mentioned before, has remained surprisingly consistent from episode one).  Particularly, Homer and Marge’s roles seem reversed here: Marge gets fall down drunk at the party and doesn’t seem to care, and Homer is the one mortified by his family’s behavior.  Homer even sells the family’s TV to pay for the therapy session, a downright unthinkable act for the Homer we’ve come to know and love.  GRADE: (B)

Funniest Moment: Homer’s coworker sadly proclaiming “I pity you,” after Homer tells him to drop the “cornball routine” of being in a happy family.  That doesn’t read that funny, but it certainly made me laugh (the delivery of the “I pity you” line is pretty great).

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Episode 003 – Homer’s Odyssey

Plot: After Bart inadvertently gets Homer fired during a field trip to the power plant, Homer discovers his calling as a safety activist.

Another solid episode, with a handful of laugh-out-loud moments and some nice character stuff throughout.  I’m obviously a big fan of the wackier tone that the show took after its first couple of seasons, but I think that even if the show had stayed low-key like this throughout its run, it still would have become a classic.   One observation is that the show seems much more cinematic here than it is now; there are a lot of interesting camera angles in this episode that have been all but abandoned in favour of a much more homogeneous visual style. GRADE: (B)

Funniest moment: Like I said, a few good laughs here, but my favourite has to be Mr. Burns’ line to Homer: “You’re not as stupid as you look.  Or sound.  Or our best testing indicates.”

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Episode 002 – Bart the Genius

Plot: When Bart switches his IQ test with Martin’s, he winds up being sent to a special school for genius children.

The first episode started the series on an unexpectedly high note; this one, while not bad by any means, feels more like an early episode from a show still finding its voice.  Even the animation seems more crude here than it did in the pilot.  Of course, a weaker episode of The Simpsons in its first nine years or so is still better than a strong episode of most shows, and so this is still a pretty solid episode of television.  It’s interesting to note that, unlike pretty much every major character on the show, Bart’s voice and personality has remained fairly constant since the first episode.  With most of the characters, it took the writers and actors a season or two to really nail them down, but the Bart in this episode is pretty much the Bart we’ve come to know and love over the last couple of decades.  GRADE: (B-)

Funniest Moment: Not a lot of big laughs in this episode, though Homer and Bart’s boredom at the opera did make me chuckle.

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Episode 001 – Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

Plot: Homer struggles to save Christmas by taking a second job as a mall Santa when he doesn’t get his Christmas bonus.

It’s hard to believe that The Simpsons has been with us for almost a quarter of a century; this episode premiered on December 17th, 1989 (and I remember watching it, which makes me feel old).   It’s been a few years since I’ve watched this episode last, and my biggest take-away from this viewing is how surprisingly great it is.  The animation is a bit crude, the voices aren’t quite what we’re used to, and the pacing is a bit more slow, but it’s clear that the show was almost absurdly strong right out of the gate.  The things that made the show great — the strong characters, combined with laugh-out-loud humour and a good amount of heart — are all front and centre here.  Though the show got a lot more gag-heavy within a couple of seasons, it’s clear that the foundation was set right from episode one.  This episode also does an impressive job of introducing us to a lot of Springfield’s supporting cast, setting the stage for the eclectic city full of characters that have been so instrumental in keeping the show going for its hundreds of episodes.  GRADE: (A)

Funniest Moment: There are a few to choose from, but I’m going to go with the Santa school scene, including Homer’s attempt to remember all of Santa’s reindeer (“Dasher, Dancer, Prancer… Nixon… Comet… Cupid… Donna Dixon?”), and his blind rage when the instructor questions his authority.

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