Sure, they're happy to see you now, but wait until they hear the smack you've been talking about them.
Last night, as I was kneeling over a toilet, I was struck by an idea, one that I promptly articulated all over the toilet bowl. Repeatedly. I do so hate to let a good idea slip away. You see, it occurred to me that many readers of this site are Simpsons fans. After some quick perusing of the Something Awful forums, it also occurred to me that many of you are whiny idiots, at least when it comes to the show that you claim to know so much about. I don't know most of you personally. You could be perfectly intelligent, rational beings in other aspects of your lives. Probably not, but I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. In any case, it seems to me that whenever anyone mentions the Simpsons, droves of you instinctively respond, "The Simpsons sucks now," only without the fancy italicized title, because you don't know your standard MLA guidelines like I do. Some of you probably said it when you read the title of this article. No one that I've spoken with, however, has been able to give any coherent reasons for why they think the Simpsons currently eats it. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the show isn't quite up the the level of quality we saw in, say, the eighth season, but I also firmly believe that whatever downward trend appeared around season eleven is now reversing. This brings us back to last night, and my fantastic, earth-shaking, life-changing idea. "Gee, Ben," I said to myself loud enough to get my attention. "You know a lot about the Simpsons. Why don't you write an update explaining the merits and shortcomings of each and every season?" Well, needless to say, I was so excited about the idea that I immediately made a collect call to Ralph on the big, white, porcelain telephone. He was happy to accept the charges.
I had made an astute observation about myself in that moment. I do know a lot about the Simpsons. I know more than you, in any case. I mean, I've seen every episode, I own the episode guides, I have the official trivia game, but no one will play against me because it's futile. I've written numerous scholarly essays on the Simpsons. Hell, I even wrote the angel episode. Alright, I'm lying about that last one, but I do know who did write it, and I know what the real name of the episode is, so sit on that and rotate. The point is, when it comes to the Simpsons, I am always right, and, by comparison, you are not. As this is the case, I have taken it upon myself to present you with a summarized guide of all fourteen seasons of the Simpsons, including the one currently in progress. Special attention will be given to each season's "Treehouse of Horror" episode, as that is often a good indication of the merit of the entire season. Hopefully by doing this, there will be no more need for endless arguments over this enriching and frequently hilarious show, as people everywhere will always be able to say, "Oh wait, Ben already settled this debate, and he's always right."
I know more about this family than you will ever know about your family.
Season 1: While certainly a major step up in animation and sound quality from the animated shorts featured on the Tracy Ullman Show, the first season was not nearly as crisp as the later seasons that we have all come to love so dearly. Character's eyes swelled to take up the majority of their heads when they were surprised, outlines wavered when characters got electrocuted (which happened with alarming frequency), and Marge and Lisa's hair bobbed around whenever they moved. That sort of animation can still be seen in the show's opening theme. The sound was muted, a far cry from the boisterous activity of the later seasons. Yeah, that's right, I said "boisterous." You wouldn't think to say "boisterous" in a million years. Lisa barely managed to provide so much as a smile in this season, as every one of her lines sounded like she had just been crying for hours. The episodes in this season focused on only one storyline, usually revolving around how disappointed one member of the family was to be related to the other members of the family. People are quick to defend the first season as classic comedy. Those people are wrong. The first season is classic television, since it brought such an enduring group of characters to national attention, but the first season is not, and was never particularly funny. However, this season did introduce some classic recurring characters, including Herman and Sideshow Bob.
Treehouse of Horror: Nonexistent. The first episode of the season was a Christmas episode. You should have known that already. Jesus.
Season 2: While the voices still suffered from the same softness and lethargy that hampered the first season, the characters really started to come into their own in season two. A lot of the development was due to constant clashes with Mr. Burns. Homer rocketed to the top levels of nuclear plant management when he grew a full head of hair thanks to Dimoxinil, but Mr. Burns busted his lazy ass back down as soon as he went bald again. Two weeks later, Marge ruined Burns's bid for governor by serving him Blinky, the three-eyed fish found near the nuclear plant. Later, Burns ran Bart over with his car, came to the Simpsons' home for a cable boxing match, got painted in the nude by Marge, and got a blood transfusion from Bart. The painting episode still stands as one of Burns's best, as it provided him with ample opportunity to spout classic lines, such as "Oh Ziggy, will you ever win?" Pure gold. Well, it was funnier in context. Anyway, the family still had their share of weepy conflicts, particularly when Lisa exploded at Homer over his treatment of Mr. Bergstrom, the substitute teacher (voiced by Dustin Hoffman, but credited as "Sam Etic"). All in all, season two was a step in the right direction, with plenty of solid laughs, but it was still thinking small.
Treehouse of Horror I: The family moved into a haunted house, got abducted by aliens (the first appearance of Kodos and Kang), and Bart had the title role in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven." The script for this episode looked great on paper. With lines like "Your intestines will burst and gray stuff, possibly your brains, will ooze out your ears," and "If you wanted to make Serak the Preparer cry, mission accomplished," the episode had its phasers set to hilarity. Sadly, the voice actors hadn't gotten the rhythm of the show down pat yet, and some of the best lines were lost among the dialogue. Still, James Earl Jones played a mean Serak the Preparer. Godspeed, Mr. Earl Jones.
Season 3: The first episode of the season included the line "Careful men, he wets his pants," and included a guest appearance by Michael Jackson (who was a socially acceptable guest star at the time, and who was credited as "John Jay Smith"). It was a strong start, but the rest of the season had its ups and downs. High points included the introduction of Fat Tony, the reunion of Krusty and his rabbi father, Moe's performance of "Walk This Way" alongside Aerosmith, and Roger Clemens being hypnotized into thinking he's a chicken. Take that, Clemens. My personal favorite moment of the season came in the episode where Mr. Burns sold the plant to the Germans, when Homer fantasizes about the Land of Chocolate, in which he takes a bite out of a dog. Anyone who says they haven't fantasized about eating a living chocolate dog is a liar. Low points of the season included the seemingly endless stream of episodes in which Lisa decides she doesn't love Homer. The pony episode is a classic, but let's face it, Lisa saying she didn't love Homer was a weak premise for getting a horse into the house. Then there's the one where Lisa's love for Homer was judged by the outcome of a football game. Meh. This season was still in the time before Lisa was allowed to be funny. Sideshow Bob came back in season three, this time trying to kill Selma. That Bob, you never know what to expect from him. Well, attempted murder, usually. And sometimes fraud.Do you know what he's looking at through that viewmaster? I do. I'm not saying that makes me a better person, it's just that.... yeah, I guess it makes me a better person.
Treehouse of Horror II: The family got a wish-granting monkey's paw, Mr. Burns stole Homer's brain to create a robotic employee, and Bart had the power to read thoughts and do all kinds of crazy crap with his super boy-brain. The first of the three stories was the best. After bart wished that the family was rich and famous, people complained about seeing their faces everywhere, a commentary on the proliferation of craptacular Simpsons merchandise in every store. It also featured the return of Kodos and Kang, that wacky brother and sister team of drooling tentacle monsters, the wet dream of hentai game makers everywhere.
Season 4: Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the glory years of the Simpsons. That's right, they started here, not at season six, not at season eight, right here. Season four is when the animation and the voice acting got whipped into shape on all fronts. Homer sounded like the moronic dope we all know and love, Bart stopped being a Dennis the Menace clone, Marge sprouted a personality, and Lisa had the occasional funny line. Hans Moleman was still to come, but still, the show finally hit its stride. The season began with a trip to Kamp Krusty, "the Krustiest Place on Earth," and ended with "Krusty Gets Kancelled," when the great Gabbo took over the Springfield airwaves. Talking about the Itchy and Scratchy movie, Lisa commented that some of the voices were provided by Dustin Hoffman and Michael Jackson, but they didn't use their real names. Chalk one up for Lisa, at long freaking last. Season four had the first Simpsons clip show. As a testament to the quality of the show thus far, the clips were all good enough that no one seemed to give a damn that the entire staff basically just took a break, only linking the clips together with a flimsy story about Homer getting knocked into a coma by a super-shaken beer. You got off easy this time, Groening. By the way, I can pronounce "Groening" correctly. You think you can, but you can't.
Treehouse of Horror III: A Krusty doll tried to kill Homer, Marge was Fay Wray to Homer's King Kong, and Bart unleashed a horde of zombies upon the world. If I had a nickel for every time I've done that.... I'd have no nickels. I, for one, don't associate with filthy zombies. This episode was QUality with a capital "Q" and an unnecessarily capitalized "U." I consider the ultimate thwarting of the evil Krusty doll - accomplished by flicking a switch on his back from "evil" to "good" - to be a landmark in Simpsons history. The writers really let themselves push the envelope of good conclusions. After that point, it became acceptable, nay, hilarious to wrap up the storylines of any given episode with a ludicrously simple solution. They tested us to see just how much crap we were willing to swallow, and we said in one voice, "Plenty!"
Season 5: Oh, the wonder and glory that is season five. I would bear this season's lovebaby, if it asked nicely and maybe took me out for dinner. The Sideshow Bob episode, where the family enters the witness relocation program, is undeniably one of the best of all time. Think I'm wrong? Then you obviously didn't read the title of this article very carefully. The episode included the now famous scene of Homer being completely unable to grasp that his name has changed to Thompson, as well as Sideshow Bob's painful encounter with a field of rakes. I've seen that episode over a dozen times, and those two scenes still crack me up. Ah, the wonders of drugs. If that one episode isn't enough to convince you that season five is better at everything than you will ever be at anything, try these quotes on for size:
Homer: "Don't discourage the boy, Marge. Weaseling out of things is what separates us from the animals. Except the weasel."
(from "Boy-Scoutz 'N the Hood")
Chief Wiggum: "It just disappeared! It's a ghost car!"
(from "Marge on the Lam")
Homer: "There was a monster in this house tonight. I call him 'Gamblor,' and we must free your mother from his neon claws!"
(from "$pringfield, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling")
Barney: (Takes a sip of champagne.) "It begins..." (He steals an experimental jetpack and blasts off.) "Buh-duh-duh-dup-buh-doo!" (The jetpack burns out. Barney bounces off the roof of a pillow factory and gets run over by a truck carrying marshmallows.)
NASA Guy:"I don't understand. That was nonalcoholic champagne."
(from "Deep Space Homer")
You couldn't ask for a better season. Alright, maybe you could. You're never satisfied. Jerk.
Treehouse of Horror IV: Homer sold his soul to the devil (Ned Flanders), Bart stole from the Twilight Zone yet again by seeing a gremlin on the side of his schoolbus, and a Dracula-esque Mr. Burns invited the family over to his castle for a bite ("Dad, that's blood!" "Correction - free blood.") A first rate "Treehouse of Horror" in the middle of a first rate season. The weak link in the trilogy, if there is one, is probably the tale of Bart on the bus. But even that one had some great lines, like Ned Flanders, holding the injured gremlin in his arms: "Isn't that cute? he's trying to claw my eyes out." All in all, one of the best Halloween specials that the Simpsons has produced thus far.
Season 6: Episode for episode, season six didn't quite compare to season five, but it was still high quality Simpsonia. The best entries were undoubtedly "Homer the Great," when Homer joined the Mason-like Stonecutters, "Bart vs. Australia," when the family traveled down under and eventually destroys the entire ecosystem, and "Itchy & Scratchy Land," when the Simpsons took a vacation to Itchy & Scratchy Land. If you couldn't figure that last one out, this article is probably not up your alley. If you come back tomorrow, though, I'm sure Zack will have something very nice for you. Also notable was the shameless plug for the Critic, which was still on the air back then. I miss those days. Jay Sherman stopped by Springfield for their first film festival, in which Homer had to cast the deciding vote that would break the tie between Mr. Burns's self-serving uber-production and Barney's sensitive depiction of his own alcoholism (entitled "Pukahontas), but Homer wanted to vote for the undeniably classy video of Hans Moleman getting hit in the groin with a football. Homer made the right decision in the end, but Moleman's film was adapted into an Oscar-winning star vehicle for George C. Scott, that made "Arr! My groin!" acceptable dinner table discourse. The season ended with a cliffhanger, as Mr. Burns managed to piss off everyone in town, and then was shot by an unknown assailant.Why the hell did this come up in an image search for the Simpsons? Why, God?
Treehouse of Horror V: The family acts as caretakers of a creepy mansion in a parody of the Shining, Homer turned his toaster into a time machine, and the teachers at Springfield Elementary take eating students a step too far... by eating students. Every installment in the fifth "Treehouse of Horror" was comedy gold. The three tales were linked by a common thread of Groundskeeper Willie getting an axe in the spine. Sucked for Willie, rip-roaring good time for the rest of us. Dear God, this episode was beautiful. It was the crown jewel in a superior season. Bow to this episode, lest you incur its awesome wrath.
Season 7: Maggie shot Mr. Burns. The nation let out a collective "guh?" From there, the season got zanier than a sheep in a candy factory. Milhouse got a part in the "Radioactive Man" movie, the kids were adopted by the Flanders's's's, Homer ballooned up to three hundred pounds, Homer's mother returned and left again, Lisa went vegetarian (and stuck to it), Homer formed a league bowling team, George Bush moved in across the street, then moved out, only to be replaced by Gerald Ford, Troy McClure dated Selma, Bart managed to get both Krusty and Itchy & Scratchy cancelled, then reinstated in two separate episodes (alright, "Lester" got Itchy & Scratchy back on the air), Grandpa fought Mr. Burns for a World War II fortune, and Homer became a sideshow star with a rock tour. Now that, my friends, is zany. The seventh season also saw yet another return of Sideshow Bob, in which he almost killed everyone in town with a hydrogen bomb, then almost killed Krusty with a plane, then almost killed Bart by crashing the plane. All of the episodes I just mentioned were great, but my personal favorite of the year was "22 Short Films About Springfield," a direct parody of "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould," with a distinct nod to "Pulp Fiction" in there for good measure. There's something about Milhouse smacking Herman in the head with a mace that always brings a smile to my face.
Treehouse of Horror VI: Advertising icons came to life and attacked the town, Groundskeeper Willie got Freddy Krueger-ish revenge on the school children, and Homer went 3D. While the previous "Treehouse of Horror" may be the best overall, "A Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace" is still my favorite single installment ever. I'm a huge horror fan, which is why I weep like a schoolgirl who's been shot in the kneecaps when I have to watch something like "The House That Screamed." The "Nightmare on Elm Street" series captured my heart years ago, so I went nuts when the Simpsons finally gave the series the parody it deserved. Groundskeeper Willie was at his best, especially when he returned from the grave by public transportation, but left his gun on the bus. I don't care if I have been having horrifying nightmares about a psychotic killer that leave me with real wounds in the morning, if a killer ever asks me to "wait here, please," while he runs after a bus, I will fall on my ass laughing. You hear that, crazed, dreamstalking killers? If you want me immobilized for a good long while, just say "wait here, please" in a Scottish accent. Oh crap, I shouldn't have told you all my sole weakness. Alright, well, none of you tell anyone else.
Taking a cue from Emily "Integral" Reigel, I'm going to stop here and stretch this into a multi-article premise. Unlike Emily, I'm not going to be funny. You should still come back for more next week, though. That's when the real questions will be answered. When did the show really start going downhill? When did it start making a recovery? Did it start making a recovery? Will we ever see it reach the level of seasons five through seven again? I'll tackle all of those issues next week. Just remember, don't go trying to come up with answers on your own. The majority of you out there are at the distinct disadvantage of not being me, so your opinions will most likely be wrong. In the meantime, tonight (assuming you're reading this on Sunday before 8:00) is yet another return of Sideshow Bob. Enjoy it, but don't think about it too hard. I'm here to do all your thinking for you.
A Pinch of Cranky, a Dash of Steve, and a Whole Lotta Whorehouse
It's been a while since the doors of Cranky Steve's Haunted Whorehouse have opened, but the time has come at last for more reviews of terrible maps. This time around, Jed's endured the soul-reaming horrors of "Work."
The ugliest fucking Half-Life map I’ve ever seen, and yes, that’s saying a lot. Take the shitty visuals of every hl failure Psychosis and I have reviewed to date and combine them into one massive, sprawling Nazi death camp of pure repugnance and you get “Work”, as seen on Planethalflife and soon to be featured in all of my nightmares (well, all the ones that don’t involve tiny astronauts with pruning shears, anyway).
Go on, read the review. What have you got to lose? Just your soul! Mwahahahahahahaha! Oh wait, not your soul. Never mind, then.
If you are 35 and you are not integrated into the Gigathrax then you are not ready to retire.
While designing this space, I imagined David Fincher being forced to recreate the music video for Nine Inch Nails' Closer in a haunted gas station bathroom.
My game is funded. Now I know everything.
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.