[As you probably already know, starting on Thursday, August 21, FXX is running the Every Simpsons Ever Marathon, running through all 552 episodes of "The Simpsons," plus "The Simpsons Movie." To aid in your viewing process, Team HitFix is selecting our favorite episodes from each day, plus an episode or two that you can skip and use as a bathroom or nap break.]
It's a reasonably good day, both because it starts with a near-classic, but also because mid-morning will see the show transition into HD, which will finally end those conversations about FXX's cropping decisions and whether they've hindered the comedy thus far.
The shift to HD didn't reinvigorate "The Simpsons" back to its Season 4-ish peak, but it absolutely gave new juice to the storytelling, inspiring the show to take more visual risks -- the couch gags have never been better -- and to add more aesthetic depth. "The Simpsons" always had moments of beautiful animation, but they were usually wedged amidst plainer stuff. Since the HD transition, "The Simpsons" has been a consistently good-looking show.
If you're like a lot of the HitFix staff, you may have already stopped watching by this point, but that's a mistake and we have five episodes you should check out from Day 10. I also wrote up three episodes you can skip.
Check out our recommendations for Day 10 and chime in with your own favorites...
Alan Sepinwall Recommends:
"Eternal Moonshine of the Simpsons Mind" (12 a.m.)
Why it's a classic: Many of the stronger episodes of the show's second and third decades stand out because they successfully find a variation on a story the show had already told 3 or 4 times. "Eternal Moonshine," though, is a true original in both style and substance, telling a clever and visually gorgeous tale of Homer trying to recreate the events of a night after consuming Moe's strongest drink. As the title suggests, it owes a debt of inspiration to "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," but quickly becomes its own wonderful thing.
Favorite lines: Homer panics when he sees Marge talking to Duffman, and says, "The mother of my children with the reason for my children!" When Homer calls Professor Frink a nerd, Frink replies, "To me, 'nerd' stands for Not Even Remotely Dorky. So thank you. Thank you for the compliment."
Alan Sepinwall Also Recommends:
"That '90s Show" (1 a.m.)
Episode # 411
Why it's a classic: First, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to again note that I briefly overlapped in college (and on the college paper) with this episode's writer, Matt Selman, and that the episode features many visual nods to the UPenn campus we both know well. That said, I've always admired what Selman tried to do with "That '90s Show," even as I understand why the fan reaction was so viscerally angry that it was ignored going forward. The episode tries to answer two long-standing "Simpsons" continuity questions at once: 1)Given that we're now in 2008, how could Homer and Marge have been teenagers in the '70s?, and 2)Given that Homer's age had creeped up into his late 30s (if not early 40s) while Bart remained 10, what were Homer and Marge up to in between when they fell in love in high school and when she got pregnant? So the episode not only brings Marge and Homer forward into a more era-appropriate context (which includes Homer forming a popular grunge band called Sadgasm), but also addresses the idea of the smarter Marge going off to college and possibly leaving Homer behind. After the episode, the notion of young Homer and Marge having adventures in any decade but the '70s would be treated in the same manner as Armin Tamzarian, but the episode itself is excellent.
Favorite lines: A younger Comic Book Guy confidently proclaims "And that is why 'The Lord of the Rings' can never be filmed!" Homer, recalling Sadgasm's brief stay at the top, says, " I had finally realized every rock star's dream. Hating being famous." And in the episode's wisest moment, Homer declares, "He who is tired of Weird Al is tired of life."
Daniel Fienberg Recommends:
"Any Given Sundance" (4:30 a.m.)
Why it's worth watching: "The Simpsons" has waxed and waned in its ability to do political satire and even in its ability to do simple storytelling, but one of the show's most consistent veins of humor has been Hollywood satire. This episode, like "Springfield Up" in yesterday's Marathon day, is a reminder of how on-point "The Simpsons" can be when it pokes fun at the entertainment industry, particularly less-than-expected corners of entertainment. Some "Simpsons" fans probably didn't respond to this episode's accurate depiction of Park City, Utah, nor its smart take on "Capturing the Friedmans," nor vocal cameos from the likes of Jim Jarmusch, nor the idea of Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers deciding to become indie producers, but I got lots of laughs. And this is yet another terrific countpoint to the "A Star Is Burns" crossover episode with "The Critic," reminding me of how great that episode is and how sad it is that we only got 23 episodes of "The Critic."
Favorite lines: Homer: I like Homer's line, "Robert Redford? Guess what. A scissor runs through it." And I like Marge's response to Bart's announcement that the family can star in another movie: "No more Simpsons movies! One was plenty." And the individual parodies of Sundance documentaries, especially the one from Nelson, are full of good lines and good moments.
Daniel Fienberg Also Recommends:
"Take My Life, Please" (10:30 a.m.)
Why it's worth watching: No, something strange didn't happen to your TV or your FXX feed between the 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. episodes of Every Simpsons Ever. "Take My Life, Please" was the first "Simpsons" episode ever presented in HD, including gloriously revised opening credits. And "The Simpsons" didn't just casually jump into HD, it plunged in with an episode full of minutae and background references and details to justify the evolution of the show's visual style. The actual story of the episode -- Homer discovers he should have won a high school election and "It's a Wonderful Life"-style what-ifs ensue -- isn't all that notable, but very few shows were as invigorated by the move to HD. You'll notice the difference in the look -- and in the lack of silly incorrect cropping -- but you'll also notice the difference in quality.
Favorite lines: Homer: "You're all going to try to convince me that my life is great just like it is, right?" Marge: "Are you kidding? We couldn't even convince you that Bruce Wayne is Batman." Homer: "Oh, come on! That millionaire playboy? He's too busy socializing at cocktail parties and managing the affairs of the Wayne Foundation."
Katie Hasty Recommends:
"Gone Maggie Gone" (12pm)
Why you should watch it: Get Maggie to a nunnery! This one is a fun adventure for Lisa, who makes her way through a series of riddles with an unlikely crew -- and yields a miracle of sight for Marge when Maggie is upheld as a gem child of the Earth. But Bart turns it all to hell.
Really, this makes more sense when you watch it.
Nun: [Singing] If you're happy and you know it, that's a sin.
Homer: Why did I bring the baby and the dog to the poison store?
Nun: I'm married to Jesus!
Homer: Yeah, and I'm married to Wonder Woman.
Of course, if you happen to need a bathroom break or a nap or a brief window communicating with the outside world...
Daniel Fienberg Recommends Skipping:
"Smoke on the Daughter" (3:00 a.m.)
Why It's a Dud: Again, the problem is a familiar plot without enough freshness to justify the recycling. I guess it had been nearly 200 episodes since "Last Tap Dance in Springfield," so Lisa's transition from failed tap dance to perfect-postured ballet student isn't so swift, but the "Lisa discovers she's a better dancer thanks to second-hand smoke" twist just doesn't work, especially as a variation on the "Lisa tries to fit in with cool girls and succeeds only through misadventure" theme. And as get-rich-quick schemes that bring Homer and Bart together, does making basement beef jerky seem more or less amusing than when they recycled and stole grease? The correct answer is "C: Neither was especially funny."
Redeeming Lines: Because I like anthropomorphized animals, the family of raccoons that steals Homer's jerky makes me smile much more than it should.
Daniel Fienberg Also Recommends Skipping:
"Papa Don't Leech" (3:30 a.m.)
Why It's a Dud: Two straight for you to skip! The episode begins with Homer dreaming of suffocating his father and no matter how many Abe episodes I've recommended skipping, that seems like a bridge too far. But I'm not getting excessively hung up on that. For me, it just comes down to not being a huge fan of "Homer the Colonel" and never having had even the slightest urge to bring Lurleen Lumpkin back to "The Simpsons." But here she is and Marge's jealousy isn't funny, nor is her dismissal of that jealousy, nor is the return of the jealousy. The Dixie Chicks cameo felt like the sort of thing that was several years behind the cultural curve. But mostly, if you like Lurleen Lumpkin, watch this episode. If not? you've been duly advised to skip it.
Redeeming Lines: Marge struggling to foist Lurleen off romantically: "She turned down Lenny and Carl? That's like somebody who doesn't like hamburgers or hotdogs! What could make her hate men like that?"
Daniel Fienberg Also Recommends Skipping:
"Oh Brother Where Bart Thou" (8 p.m.)
Why It's a Dud: Let's start with the laziness of the title. "The Simpsons" already did a classic episode with "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" but what's more astounding is that they were scooped on this punny title by a freakin' episode of "Gossip Girl" a year earlier. Ouch. [To be fair, "Gossip Girl" titles were often awesome.] Of course, criticizing a late-era "Simpsons" episode for repetition is probably pointless. And, realistically, this was hardly the most recycled plot of this period, even if Bart's quest for a new sibling figure was a bit like previous searches for a father proxy and a mother proxy. There are bits and pieces of amusement here, with the Bro-Town USA dream and cameos by the Smothers Brothers and the Mannings. And I guess that Bart trying to trick Homer and Marge into getting pregnant might make you laugh if it doesn't make you just a bit queasy (or if you don't get irked by Bart repeating tactics used on Mrs. Krabappel several seasons earlier). Mostly, though, this just isn't a funny enough episode for me to forgive it for not changing the episode title after "Gossip Girl" got there first. GOSSIP GIRL!
Redeeming Lines: Maybe you like Otto referencing "South Park"? Me, I've got nothing.
Chime in with your own favorites and skippables...