Brian Kelley is again, not a writer I am all too familiar with, but for the sake of being able to throw a write-up together on the episodes of television he’s worked on (in which I am familiar), I will continue to take this as an opportunity to put the spotlight on a TV writer who may or may not deserve more attention. In my opinion, Kelley’s work ranges from okay to great. As a writer he’s worked on Saturday Night Live, NewsRadio, Futurama, and The Simpsons.
*NewsRadio is a great sitcom but for now, those episodes will be omitted from this list because I’ve only seen the show a while ago in its entirety once. The more TV I watch, the more these lists will become edited.
Without further ado, I present my top picks.
3. The Simpsons “Margical History Tour” (Season 15)
After “Simpsons Bible Stories” (season 10), “Simpsons Tall Tales” (season 12), and “Tales from the Public Domain” (season 13), “Margical History Tour” is the fourth installment of a ‘non-Treehouse of Horror’ episode featuring a trio of stories. In the first act, Homer is King Henry VIII who is looking for a queen to bear him a son. In the second, Lenny and Carl take on the role of Lewis and Clark who are aided by Lisa as Sacagawea. And finally in the third, Bart is Mozart while Lisa is Salieri. As far as these episodes go, nothing much special really stands out here compared to its predecessors. Sure, the three stories hold some agency beyond the characters playing dress-up and each have some funny gags, but it all ranges from mediocre to pretty good in terms either segment being anything too brilliant.
Mike Scully as showrunner of seasons 9-12 might have been granted the impossible task of sustaining a show that would naturally meet its gradual decline just as any other show lasting that long would, but he still knew how to craft and deliver impeccably clever jokes. Because of this, the fact that these trilogy episodes are non-canon and allowed to be looser in characterization, it resulted in “Margical History Tour’s” previous contenders to be pretty decent outings. That’s not to say that Al Jean, showrunner of season 13 and beyond is incapable of sharp, biting humor (season 13’s “Tales from the Public Domain” specifically is a fine example of this), but there’s only so many times these types of episodes can strike gold. These tend to be the hardest to write too, Treehouse of Horrors included, considering each segment has to tell a story in roughly seven minutes, and hopefully be good and funny in the process.
That said, “Margical History Tour” is by no means a bad episode. It’s just okay and merely serviceable for what it’s trying to do. I wish I had more to say about it. Will there be worse trilogy episodes in the future? Yes. Will there be better ones? Certainly.
2. The Simpsons “A Star is Born-Again” (Season 14)
It was season 11’s “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” where Ned’s wife Maude meets her untimely end due to voice actress Maggie Roswell’s departure from the show. Afterwards we were met with a handful of episodes that focused on Ned’s grief and his openness to eventually date other women. By season 14, “A Star is Born-Again” showcases a Ned Flanders who is still feeling lonely and misplaced (perfectly illustrated in act 1’s jellyfish festival being a place for couples to have a romantic night together), but he’s certainly not as bogged down in mourning as he used to be. This episode is more of an opportunity to explore Ned in a glitzy romp with a movie star, Sara Sloane (voiced by Marisa Tomei).
Surprisingly the flashy romance between the two is actually not as hollow as you might expect. It’s ultimately not an ideal one but the Sara Sloane character isn’t as wooden as you would expect from the type of character she’s meant to represent. If there’s one thing I like about it, it’s that she isn’t portrayed as an antagonist with any ulterior motive. She’s rich and famous, but she’s attracted to the milquetoast Ned Flanders. That’s interesting. Even when Ned rejects her proposal to have him uplift his life and move to Hollywood (which easily could have been the deal-breaker to conclude this episode), she still respects his position and without hesitation embraces the decision to move to Springfield so she could be with him, no strings attached.
At the end of the day, “A Star is Born-Again” in the very least contains a memorable premise, a unique mood and charm, and while it’s not exactly belting out laughs, it’s also not without them. The episode obviously doesn’t compare to the peak Simpsons of the first 8 seasons but it’s a fine, inoffensive episode nonetheless which definitely edges out “Margical History Tour” by a wide margin. And hey, it’s got a James L. Brooks cameo. What’s not to like?
1. Futurama “Love’s Labours Lost in Space” (Season 1)
In the fourth episode of the first season, “Love’s Labours Lost in Space” continues to build the universe of Futurama by introducing two key characters (Zapp Brannigan and Nibbler) in a mission to save the animals of Vergon 6, while also exploring a unique trait in Leela that would quickly help distinguish her character from most female characters in comedy, animated or otherwise, and most specifically in this case, her role as a sci-fi heroine. When Matt Groening conceived of Leela’s design, he wanted her to be sexy and attractive but “imperfect” due to having one eye. An episode like this takes it one step further by applying the same line of thinking towards the dimensions of her character.
Futurama’s pilot appropriately titled “Space Pilot 3000” follows Fry, a young 20-something, pizza delivery boy who muddles through his mundane life unappreciated by those around him. By having him be sent on delivery to a cryogenic lab and be blasted 1000 years into a whimsical future by mistake, it sets a precedent that this could be a show that caters to a young male’s fantasy for anyone who shares the remotest similarity towards this everyman protagonist. And while the show’s universe does explore its unlimited, fun possibilities for a Slurm-chugging, free-loading misfit like Fry, I find it commendable that the introduction of Leela doesn’t exist as some attractive, imperfect “prize” for him. There’s no objectification to her character which easily could have been the direction the show could have gone in if it was a lesser, shallower piece of work.
While there certainly is chemistry between Leela and Fry, it’s not entirely one of black-and-white romance. There’s an indifference between the two that’s present and both combat their loneliness or sense of longing separately, until every now and then when they briefly cross each others paths. In Leela’s case, it’s organic and human and if “Love’s Labours Lost in Space” establishes anything more, it’s that she’s flawed in her pursuit for happiness and the ability to maintain the standards she strives to hold up to. And that’s completely okay.
It’s okay for her struggle to find the right man. It’s okay for her to fall into bed with the wrong man (Zapp Brannigan). And it’s okay for her to feel ashamed in the face of Fry and Bender when they learn of her actions, yet not have to make up for it by rebuilding some dignified projection of herself for them to respect . The episode really explores the strength in one’s moment of weakness. Leela owns up to a sense of sexual independence and is all the more stronger of a character than she ever was for it. She was already humanized, but this is a half hour that really highlights the substantial depth her character harbors, making you realize that Futurama is a show reserved for her journey just as much as it is for Fry. In the end, she comes away empty-handed in terms of her romantic conquests, but gains a companion in new pet, Nibbler, and that again, is completely okay.
The first two entries on this list aren’t grade A contributions but Futurama’s “Love’s Labours Lost in Space” is great television that I’d highly recommend to keep an eye on if you are about to start binge-watching the first season. Funny too.