All posts by From the Couch of Kevin

TV Enthusiast who loves giving the occasional write-up on letswatchseries.blog. Follow me on Twitter @letswatchseries and feel free to ask me questions. I'm always happy to discuss and check out your own content as well!

Top 3 Episodes Written by David Richardson

I don’t know much about David Richardson.  I could have gone for a better known writer to do a top episode list for, but I figure I’m probably the only one who would give the lesser-known writers the proper attention for a write-up.  All I could say is that David Richardson (I’ll say his full name again so you can get to know him better!) worked as a writer most prominently for Two and a Half Men, with early contribution to Malcolm in the Middle, and The Simpsons.  I’m not a fan of Two and a Half Men (I’ve seen enough of it to know it’s not for me) but I won’t hold it against David Richardson because he did fantastic work on the other shows that I know more about.  For all I know he did fantastic work on Two and Half Men as well.  Anyway, here’s a list.  It’s only 3 episodes which made it more easier for me to do this to begin with because these write-ups take some time to do.  I hope you enjoy and feel free to voice your own thoughts if you somehow wandered into this obscure land that is letswatchseries.

3. Malcolm in the Middle “Shame” (Season 1)

Malcolm in the Middle always had this unflinchingly grubby charm to it where the kids are allowed to be kids, not just as characters but for the child actors who encompass these characters, which resulted in a more authentic performance of this single camera comedy.  The first season alone where Frankie Muniz, Justin Berfield, and Erik Per Sullivan were at their youngest worked as a wide open template to test their chemistry, along with the tug and pull of what each of them can achieve with their characters.  It’s through the mind of Creator Linwood Boomer, and his directing staff from the likes of Ken Kwapis (The Office), Jeff Melman, Chris Koch (Scrubs), and Todd Holland (Twin Peaks) that helped provide the freedom for these young actors to be awkward or stilted in delivering their lines and get comfortable at it to the point where it completely combats the overblown and manufactured superhero children you could find on some Disney Channel program if you tune in right now.

With that unique direction in mind, “Shame” throws Frankie Muniz into the role of a kid battling with his own moral dilemma, more specifically when he beats up an annoying school bully who turns out to be a 7 year old.  What I love about this episode is how he’s the only person who is incredibly disturbed by his own mistake while the rest of the family is more preoccupied with a terrible tree with a supposedly ghoulish face that has brought the family misfortune for the last time after Dewey falls when trying to climb it.  While Hal (Bryan Cranston) gets to play the scene-stealing cool dad who is full of giddy energy when marveling in what it was like to cut down the tree in Reese and Dewey’s absence, he asks “Where’s Malcolm?”, only for Reese’s reply:

“I don’t know.  He said something about being evil and took off.” ( < Favorite line)

A couple of scenes later the three of them get to share in a fun montage of throwing random stuff in the wood chipper as Malcolm continues to wrestle with his problem elsewhere.  Even when Malcolm calls attention to himself at dinner, the family in unison breaks into laughter over the utter ridiculousness of his unusual predicament and later begin to howl like monkeys (through a fantasy of Malcolm’s) when the neighbors come knocking to complain about the tree Hal cut down.

*Note- Scene shown below is cut into pieces*

There’s an indifference towards Malcolm in this episode that is met with a seemingly convoluted resolution straight from a cheesy sitcom when he finds a random flyer for a marathon fundraiser in his classroom which he could partake in as a way to relieve his guilt.  In the effort to raise donations, we get a funny montage of doors being slammed in his face before he uses Stevie’s wheelchair to win their sympathy.  The montage ends in ironic triumph as he escapes an angry dog which attacks an innocent bystander instead of him. Appropriately enough after all that build up, when the marathon begins, Malcolm immediately trips over his own feet, proving this quick fix of soothing his inner-demons to be a complete wash.

In the end, he confides in his mother, Lois, who reassures Malcolm to be grateful because having a conscience to begin with puts you a step above the rest and stresses ,”You will feel bad about Kevin (beaten up 7 year old) as long as you’re meant to feel bad about him.”  It’s simply a truly natural and human ending for the episode.  As Malcolm bids goodnight to his mom after getting cleaned up in the bathroom, we’re followed by one last comedic punch as he bids goodnight to his dad when the camera quickly pans right to reveal Hal reading a newspaper on the toilet, establishing he’s been off-camera throughout this heart to heart throughout the entire scene.

Meanwhile, the show’s traditional use of a parallel subplot with oldest brother, Francis, finds him in the show’s original arc setting of him rebelling within the military academy.  As Commandant Spangler, played by the late great Daniel von Bargen (Seinfeld’s Mr. Kruger) shows the young men slides for a sex education course intended to promote abstinence, Francis later breaks into Spangler’s office with his disciplined, yet accommodating friend Stanley in order to throw a monkey wrench for the Commandant’s next slideshow.  By discovering private slides of Spangler’s more intimate moments, Francis plans to sneak them into the presentation, only to become humiliated when it ends up being slides of Francis, himself, during moments he would have believed to be alone.

“A good soldier always checks the chamber.” – Spangler

It’s a snug little B Story of ‘cat and mouse’ and the lovable self-destruction that Francis brings upon on himself which most likely lead to him being thrown in military school to begin with.  The most memorable line of the entire episode lies here during Spangler’s presentation to his cadets purely from the way Daniel von Bargen delivers the line.  On paper, it doesn’t provide much justice:

“Pretty, isn’t she? Perhaps her name is Mary or Wendy or Becky Lou.  It doesn’t matter because her real name is disease.”

2. Malcolm in the Middle “Stock Car Races” (Season 1)

Having premiered in 2000, Malcolm in the Middle was the spark for the single-camera boom for primetime network television.  Within the next year, it helped influence an extensive array of new shows on other channels that ditched the studio audience.  People criticize the multi-camera format for overuse or dependence on laugh track due to feeling insulted as a viewer for “being told when to laugh”.  While that may be the case for a show like The Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men it’s still a necessary tool to keep a show alive.  Seinfeld is funny and can hold its own without the track of the live studio audience, but then it’s a completely different mood from what the show is going for.

In place of a laugh track, single camera comedies like ‘Malcolm’ or Scrubs will use eccentric audio cues, original composition (which goes for every show), and quick moves of the camera in order to maintain an energy to keep the audience attention.  Whether it’s through these techniques or a laugh track, and it’s done well, it becomes absorbed into a show’s DNA which helps set it apart with it’s own unique personality and presentation.  A show like Seinfeld has proven that it’s not impossible to provide a sense of depth in visual style when filming a multi-camera sitcom (something that can be pretty limiting for a director).  Malcolm in the Middle on the other hand showed how much freedom there is for the single-camera genre and I believe “Stock Car Races” is a great example of that.

It’s shooting on location or a studio lot that always excites me.  I can’t tell if “Stock Car Races” takes place at a real Nascar track but the magic of single camera is able to bring me there.  I’ve always enjoyed the pure spectacle of the episode.  It not only becomes an exciting twist of a premise after you’re lead to believe that Malcolm is going to be dragged to a scenario where he’ll be forced to square-dance with the krelboyne kids for the entire school to see, but it’s also used as the perfect opportunity to allow Bryan Cranston to perform his overly giddy, comedic chops as Hal.  In the very early goings of season 1, Hal is originally portrayed as a quieter, care-free drone of a dad, but as the season progressed he quickly proved to be an essential asset as the quirky, energetic character that he will be sooner known for.  This was already demonstrated successfully in David Richardson’s “Shame” but this episode almost feels like a thesis statement to the evolution of his character.  The beginning of the episode starts as a POV shot from inside the fridge.  Hal opens it and asks Lois in a rather monotonous, dreary delivery:

“Honey, which juice don’t I like? Apple or grape?”

Lois: “You don’t like either.”

“Oh, right.”

To go from that to the father who steals his children away from school in order to enthusiastically share in one of his never-before-mentioned childhood obsessions provides the free reign comedic relief that gives the episode a welcome, playful kick.  I love Hal happily teaching his kids of his idol, Rusty Malcolm, accompanied by the instant 180 degree turn he takes when he sternly barks “Shut your filthy mouth” after the man behind him attempts to make small talk regarding Rusty’s divorce.  The most brilliant sequence to me is when Hal daydreams about a stock car turning around the bend and pulling up to the pit stop.  The driver is handed a water bottle and just when you’re expecting Hal to rear his face from the driver seat, the camera shifts to the right to reveal him as a pit crew member.

Rusty: “Great beverage work, Hal!”

Hal: “My pleasure, Rusty!”

Part of Hal’s intention in sharing one of Rusty’s last races with his kids is to show them what can be achieved through determination and persistence, which is what makes it initially disappointing when Malcolm, Reese, and Dewey wander off mostly bored with the entire event.  Ironically the lesson that Hal is trying to bestow upon them applies when Malcolm and Reese choose to trespass through a door that’s marked off-limits.  You would think that their misbehavior would put a damper on Hal’s expectations of sharing a good thing with them, but just as Reese kicks the security guard in the shin (even when the guard was being nice and on the verge of letting them go ala ‘boys will be boys’), Hal exercises the same tactic followed by a hurried escape when the security guard confronts him about the damages they caused.  It’s a story of determination and persistence not just getting you into good places in life, but also hilariously getting you out of the bad, and ultimately they all return home with an exclusive shared bond, all collectively satisfied with the day.

However, the episode is also about the boys (Hal included) getting in their own way.  Even when Malcolm is rescued from the embarrassment of square-dancing for the whole school, he still can’t help but complain when having to sit through a Nascar race.  Even when the security guard is understanding and about to let them go, Reese kicks him in the shin in order to make a clumsy escape attempt.  Even though the boys were able to bond with their dad, Hal still will get his comeuppance for straying the kids away from school behind Lois’ back.  Lois’ subplot of having the mundane task of trying to find a misplaced paycheck leads to her tearing the house apart only to find mountains of evidence that will put her family in hot water.  It’s funny how she separates it all into different piles by name and I love how this thread of a story bookends the entire episode. But I also like how it gives Lois a chance to blow off steam with a rare, companion in Malcolm’s teacher, Caroline.

It’s pretty risque dialogue to hear a female teacher character talk about her only friends at home being her three howling cats and Bob, her shower head.  Not from a censorship standpoint but from a creative one where it’s just interesting to see a female character not feel required to play the straight-forward, classy lady, especially in the face of her most shining student’s mother.  A character like Lois is boundless when it comes to this, so I guess what I’m saying is I appreciate how the story ends up exploring Caroline from a more human perspective just by having a quick little oversharing line like that which the two end up laughing about through an unspoken understanding between two women.  It’s rich and played so nonchalantly and I like it.

In one of my favorite transitions between act breaks, Todd Rundgren’s “Band The Drum All Day” is the song that plays to introduce the surprise of Hal and the boys arriving at the Nascar stadium directly after a venomous original score is played when a snake that Francis is keeping in his footlocker is implied to escape when the lock comes undone.  The contrast is on completely different ends of a spectrum which mashes danger, misery, and toxicity with fun and joy.  Francis who is the king of getting his own way is experiencing physical harassment from his fellow cadets and is under the constant watchful eye of Commandant Spangler, yet still refuses to follow the rules.  Meanwhile Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey’s main conflict is to sustain boredom from a fun stock car race that got them out of school.

As Francis’s subplot pushes itself into a corner when the snake eats Spangler’s small dog, you are lead to believe he is about to endure the ultimate punishment from the cadets considering more of their privileges are stripped away due to Francis’ actions.  Instead they applaud Francis, exclaiming how they hated the dog and give him a ‘thank you’ punch on the shoulder as a reward.  It might not be much of an improvement, but this is much more hopeful outcome compared to what his brothers will face at home after their non-conflict (in comparison).  Lois informs Francis how lucky he is that he’s as far away from her as possible when he contacts her as a quick fix to his escaped snake problem.  For Francis, we follow his subplots as a show within a show, being the initial problem child who is deemed the most rebellious of his brothers (although they’ll have their fair opportunity to match him in their own ways), and yet he’s the closest one of achieving true independence and overcoming the recurring familial trait of getting in his own way.  We’re far from it in this stage of the series, but as a standalone, this is the feeling I get in regards to the overall episode.

Side note:  I find it hilarious that Commandant Spangler, as decorated as his uniform is, is host to an eye patch, a hook hand, a peg leg, and a missing finger, yet tells the cadets that he’s never seen any real combat.  What the hell happened to him!?

1. The Simpsons “Homer Loves Flanders” (Season 5)

“Homer Loves Flanders” is an episode that modestly turns the tables on the iconic neighboring duo where Homer becomes increasingly appreciative of Ned as a friend, while Ned, usually kind and inviting, becomes gradually irked and regretful of embracing Homer closer into his life.  It’s a carefully trekked character exploration between the two that doesn’t feel too hackneyed or trite by trying to be too meta or ‘bizarro’ with the shift in characterization.

This is one of the last episodes pitched by Conan O’Brien before he left, which was assigned for David Richardson to write and in my opinion, he did a great job at providing a plentiful batch of absolutely great jokes and parodies.  A couple that come to mind is Ned going on a murderous rampage in the fashion of The Deadly Tower (1975)…

…and Homer, obliviously blank faced, while trying to chase Ned down, Terminator-style in the hopes to go golfing.

This is an episode that manages to be incredibly off-the-wall with humor and character actions but again, due to how masterful Classic Simpsons is at commandeering the nuance of character with utmost importance while being completely conscious of what the universe can allow, the final product makes for specially unique, quality outing that blends humor with story near-flawlessly.  On paper, the fact that Homer was prepared to knock Ned out with a lead pipe in the beginning of the episode sounds mean-spirited and out-of-character (a bad Simpsons episode would have actually had him do it), but for the sake of the joke and because deep down, Homer would never do such a thing, the notion of the very idea is funny, while still establishing that Homer traditionally is a jerk to Ned throughout the series.  For Homer and Ned to go from said scene where Homer is arrogant and reluctant, while Ned is unsurpassably kind, (featured here…)

to culminate into such a heartwarming ending (shown below) after each has undergone such a dramatically shifted outlook towards the other, within reason, just shows how much of an excursion occurred in the span of 22 minutes.  And it was all fun in the process.

It’s not as cynical as season 8’s “Homer’s Enemy” and not as extreme as “Hurricane Neddy” (which still are both some of the greatest episodes) and because of this, “Homer Loves Flanders” manages to be a more organic and well-rounded experiment.  Even though it’s hilariously called attention to that the status quo will inevitably come into effect by next week’s episode, the episode still ends boldly without providing any back-pedaling reason for Homer and Ned to resort back to their traditional paradigm.  Instead, we just get a glimpse of The Simpsons family gearing up for another wacky adventure where they must spend a weekend in a haunted house.  Ned stops by the window to say Hi-diddly-ho only for Homer to snap, “Get lost, Flanders!”

Ned: “Okily Dokily!”

And with that, all of American viewership can breathe again.

Top Simpsons Episodes Written by Conan O’Brien

Conan O’Brien.  SNL writer.  Simpsons writer.  Late night talk show host.  Here I present you with the three solo-credit episodes that Conan wrote for The Simpsons, ranked.  The #1 choice was actually physically in the process of being written as Conan learned that David Letterman would need a replacement on “Late Night”.  Any Simpsons writer will tell you that Conan was destined to perform for a studio audience as he would be telling jokes and putting on a show for everyone in the writers room 24/7 without them ever asking for it.  Even if the janitor walked by as Conan worked late at night in his office, he would follow the man down the hallway just to perform some more!  You can tune into TBS and watch him on Conan currently on its 7th year running.  Enjoy!

 

3. “New Kid on the Block” (Season 4)

“New Kid on the Block” bids farewell to the seldom seen, crabby elder couple (Mr. and Mrs. Winfield) who lived on Evergreen Terrace and introduces new neighbors Ruth Powers (who will become a recurring character, most prominently known for season 5’s brilliant “Marge on the Lam”) and young teenage daughter Laura Powers voiced by Sara Gilbert (Roseanne).  Ruth is a newly divorced single mother.  Very no-nonsense yet easy-going who is looking to get back into the dating game, or in the very least to casually grab a beer at Moes and effortlessly ease herself into Springfield’s universe.  Laura is her polite daughter (which she cheekily and optimistically owes to a painful upbringing) who owns up to a sense of wit and edge that Bart will eventually become absolutely enamored by.  One of  the many great aspects to The Simpsons is that beyond the regulars, they have a deep bench of extraordinary one or two-time characters which become instantly three-dimensional, layered and more human than most live-action characters in sitcom.

The most impressive thing being achieved in this episode, especially coming from Conan, is how specifically nuanced it is in tackling an honest story of a 10 year old boy’s first crush.  The manner in which the episode establishes Laura Powers as a more mature, positive role-model and a well-intended, genuine friend to Bart, only for him to be gutted (as shown below) when he learns of the misguided, rebellious passion she harbors for Bart’s school bully, Jimbo Jones, is daringly crushing.  Bart’s innocent kid fantasy of having Laura babysit him doesn’t shy away from becoming a nightmare as Jimbo (or ‘Dr. Tongue’) comes over to “study”.  The earlier moment of her mocking Kearney and Dolph in the beginning of the episode leads Bart to believe Laura is special, which makes it all the more disappointing to him when she reveals to have taken a strong, shallow liking to the one bully who was absent from the initial scene presented above.

It’s unforgivingly conflicting territory, yet what I love is that Laura is not an antagonist out to hurt Bart and what makes her character great to begin with, isn’t being sacrificed.  She’s just as much an innocent kid/teenager who’s also just naturally trying to maneuver the terrain that comes with growing up and ultimately (without taking pity upon him) she still considers the incredible chemistry and uniquely platonic relationship with Bart to be very important.  It’s a very in-depth, carefully executed story that although is tough from Bart’s perspective, still remains quite endearing and sweet throughout. It concludes in the most satisfying, yet extremely unconventional circumstance by taking Bart’s long-running prank phone calls to Moe and using it as an important story-point to frame Jimbo.  After Laura witnesses her boyfriend’s cowardice when begging to not be murdered by Moe (something of which is hilariously unfair to be judged for) , she realizes Bart was right about him all along.  It’s a happy ending appropriately summed up by Bart: “As usual, a knife-wielding maniac has shown us the way.”

In order for the babysitting aspect to work in the main plot, Homer and Marge needed to be out of the house, so we end up with a more lighthearted and humor-driven subplot that involves Homer getting kicked out of The Frying Dutchman, the all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant.  It introduces the now long-time Springfield resident, Captain McCallister (aka ‘The Sea Captain’), an original Conan creation, while also giving the late, great Phil Hartman a chance to stretch his comedic legs as Lionel Hutz.

2. “Marge vs. The Monorail” (Season 4)

The monorail episode is without a doubt one of the more notorious installments the show ever produced and one that is most highly associated with Conan to this day.  It opened the floodgates to the absolute bizarre and holds the early secret to what made The Simpsons able to do whatever the hell it wants week to week without ripping the fabric of space-time within the original qualitative run of the show.  However, it was met with criticism by the nerdiest of the nerds who knew how to use the internet back in 1993, and to be fair, there was reasonable cause for concern, even among the writing staff and cast back when the episode had been produced.

For one, the story in certain parts makes no sense whatsoever.  In fact, for an episode with such a high concept premise, there’s really no complex story going on at all, but instead is 22 minutes of a runaway gags and allowing the characters to just naturally react to the absurdity that takes place.  A show that in the first two seasons had taken the archaic portrayal of the American nuclear family and flipped it on its head, as well as successfully mastering the traditional humanist sitcom genre in general (brushing shoulders with Cheers, The Cosby Show, etc.), was now doing a disaster movie story with wacky, surrealistic humor.  A risky move for any primetime animated show that’s trying to stand apart from ‘just a cartoon’, let alone one that influenced the ones you see today.  In short, “Marge vs. The Monorail” is a fun and epic gag-driven extravaganza with a basic through-line technique to make it all work, being…

F*$# the story!

The humor of this episode derives solely from the fact that the story isn’t being taken seriously.  There’s no reason for Marge to have some great revelation that Lyle Lanley is a scamming trickster because it’s obvious as soon as he makes his classic ‘song and dance’ pitch at town hall.  It’s hysterical though that the one clue that does tip her off about him is when she comes across his notebook left out in the open which consists of obvious, overly-specific drawings of him leaving for Tahiti with wads of cash while the monorail crashes and burns with people screaming in agony.  It makes no sense how an angry mob knows that Lanley is on a plane making a spontaneous, brief layover in North Haverbrook, let alone calling out his specific seat number from the ground, but it’s funny.  This is an episode that proved that as long as you keep your characters intact and have a lot of great jokes in the bag, then you can get away with any loose, wacky premise.  It’s something that will easily fail if you can’t maintain those elements, which later Simpsons and other tv shows will find out the hard way.

For me, like many great Simpsons episodes, the actual story that’s going on is purely conceptual.  It all boils down to the Simpsons universe being at odds with itself.  The monorail is the episode itself, being this unusual and unstoppably surreal event, while Lyle Lanley is the episode’s writer (strikingly similar-looking to Conan) who has cut corners and structured the episode with an intentionally careless logic, but man is he lovable, funny and great at performance (thanks to the always brilliant Phil Hartman) in order to allow him to get away with it.  That leaves North Haverbrook and Springfield to represent the polarization within the audience.  For the former, the train or episode ended up in complete disaster (a clear failure) and we’re satisfied as Lanley at least gets his comeuppance for being responsible, yet for Springfield, we get to enjoy all the characters’ antics throughout as they endure the wrath of the show being pushed to the limit.  We root for them as they attempt to apply logical solutions to an illogical problem.

Sebastian Cobb’s final idea is to find an anchor of some sort.  Something that can bring the monorail to a stop, and thus the episode back down to earth.  This conclusion works on so many levels.  The manner in which Homer creates an anchor is a compromise between inspired (letter ‘M’ on the side of train) and convenient as he retrieves a rope from a random never-before-seen (and never seen again) cowboy spinning a lasso.  This results in this “anchor” being successful in stopping the train, but doing the opposite of its intention as it becomes an opportunity for more over-the-top, surreal gags like the world’s tallest tree falling on the birthplace of Jebediah Springfield followed by a nonsensical explosion, or an abstract joke of conjoined twins getting cut in half, and even Leonard Nimoy beaming himself out of the episode claiming “my work is done here”.

The anchor ripping across the street could have easily used the many potholes that were previously established on Main St. as the thing to hook on to, bringing the episode into a full circle but that would have been antithetical to what “Marge vs. The Monorail” offered best.  Entertainment derived from nonsense.  Therefore, the episode invites deus ex machina by letting a random giant donut be the thing that saves the day.  A simple symbol of joyous imperfection, casual enjoyment and the celebrated laziness of modern America that our leading conductor Homer resonates with strictly through the heart of his character.  While there were a handful of episodes from season 3 onward that already began challenging the flexibility of what the show can do creatively, “Monorail” is one that certainly blew the door wide open.

 

1. “Homer Goes to College” (Season 5)

“Homer Goes to College” vs. “Marge vs. the Monorail” is a toss-up, but I chose to go with the former as my #1 due to its clever, grounded premise that in turn is inventive with the conventions of episodic storytelling within the half-hour format, and personally edges to belt the most laughs out of me.  After Homer is deemed unqualified as safety inspector by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he is given the chance to get himself up to speed by taking a college course in Nuclear Physics.  Simple enough idea, but what makes it great is how Homer approaches the situation with a cliched, stereotypical perspective of college life (perfectly showcased below), ala Animal House or knock-off movies of the like.

In reality, the dean is super cool and laid back, the professor is well-meaning and reasonably helpful, and all the students are sincere in getting their education.  Homer however is completely oblivious to this throughout and applies a rebellious and juvenile stance to the entire experience.  It’s an absolutely hilarious and subtle satire on campus life that doesn’t rely on the softball material of portraying it as an ultra politically correct atmosphere like you see a lot more recently in shows today.  And yet, “Homer Goes to College” manages to paint Homer in an obviously misguided light while somehow still allowing the observational jabs towards the college’s culture to feel rightly deserved.

This is one of the more jerkier episodes for Homer in the classic era (which becomes a very dangerous, recurring trait for his character during Mike Scully’s time as showrunner in seasons 9-12), but he’s still lovable here and put to good use as he’s completely unaware of how destructive his behavior is by continuing to entertain his innocently out-of-touch ‘school sucks’ outlook.  I can’t stress enough how much I die of laughter when Homer apologizes to the dean for his ‘running him over with his car’ prank (which was something he never even planned to do) or how some unrelated children’s hospital won’t be built now just because Homer swiped six cinder blocks from a construction site in order to have a cool, makeshift bookcase for his “dorm”.

The episode becomes more about Homer ironically becoming friends with nerds to help engage in his zany schemes (nerd: “why does it have to be zany?”) and then ultimately attempting to redeem himself when they end up getting expelled.  By the time the issue is resolved lulling you into feeling the episode has concluded, you forget the whole point of Homer in college to begin with is so he could keep his job.  It’s what makes this following scene so perfect:

This is one of the many reasons why I love The Simpsons.  With the meat of the plot over and done with, the episode is tasked in the final remaining minutes to wrap things up, so instead of using the usual sitcom tropes to accomplish that, the writers (and namely Conan in this instance) encourage themselves to take this as an opportunity to defy audience expectations and stick it to the status quo.  After this, the nerds suggest that they change the grade with a computer, despite the moral implications it will raise, but Homer is completely indifferent and does it anyway.

Marge: “An A+! How did you do it?”

Homer: “Heh-heh, let’s just say I had help from a little magic box.”

Marge: “You changed you grade with a computer?”

Homer: “D’oh!”

Finally, with close to 30 seconds left, Homer tries to clumsily determine the lesson learned in all of this to no success and just when you think the show is going to let Homer’s sloth and ignorance triumph, he’s advised by Marge that if he is to set a perfect example for his children, he’ll go back and retake that test.  It’s all you need to feel satisfied in terms of the characters staying true to themselves without feeling required to tie a neat bow on an ending before the credits roll, while also being a fine demonstration of the show knowing how to balance ironic comedic edge with a sense of taste and sincerity.  In its best years the show is unafraid to do either simply because it knows how to do both very well.

Anyway, those are the three episodes Conan wrote solo (sorry “Treehouse of Horror IV”).  Coincidentally, my rankings match the chronological order in which they aired.  They’re all great and I wouldn’t bat an eye at anyone who ranks them differently.  Go watch them now!

Top Simpsons Episodes Written by Oakley & Weinstein

Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein were not only writers for The Simpsons, but the showrunners of seasons 7 and 8 which is a high point in the show where it was assumed to be nearing its end.  They made it their mission to deliver episodes that pushed the boundaries of what the show was capable of conceptually, while still remaining true to what the show established itself as roughly around season 3.  One of the most innovative and influential shows of all time that had already prided itself from experimenting with the form of sitcom had now reached the point of experimenting with none other than the show itself.

Their contribution to the show as executive producers was a high wire act of seeing how far the rubberband of The Simpsons universe can stretch as they pumped out episodes that played with format, formula in storytelling, and even took characters, whether secondary or main, and explored them to a greater extent so late into the show’s lifecycle, oftentimes turning them on their heads, or allowing them to change beyond the confines of a single episode.  They managed to do all of this while still maintaining the heart and nuanced qualities that made the characters and universe of the show so outstanding to begin with.  To this day, season 7 and 8 are hailed as part of the classic run of the show, and in my opinion, is the last showrunning era before the show began to decline based from its own standards.  Each of those seasons are also some of the greatest seasons of comedy on television, period.

The work I’m familiar with outside of The Simpsons is Josh Weinstein’s solo credit as a writer on later Futurama episodes, but most prominently they are both the creators of 1999’s Mission Hill which was an adult animated sitcom on the WB that only lasted one season, despite its high critical acclaim.  They are also set to write for Matt Groening’s new Netflix series Disenchantment, an adult animated sitcom that tackles the medieval fantasy genre which is set to air sometime in 2018.

Before all of that though, they were plain Simpsons writers so for fun, here’s every Simpsons episode that Oakley & Weinstein wrote as a writing pair, ranked.  Again, it’s what they wrote, not the episodes from their time as showrunners.  I will try to sum up to the best of my ability what makes each one stand out to me.  Some entries I was disciplined to keep short and sweet, while others I might have more to say about.  Regardless, I love them all.  Enjoy!

10. “Lady Bouvier’s Lover” (Season 5)

A risk taken towards the end of season 5 in terms of alienating the 18-49 demographic, by having a plot that focuses on Abe and Marge’s mother, Jacqueline, and the not-so-budding elderly romance between them, which eventually gets intercepted by Mr. Burns.  “Lady Bouvier’s Lover” is brimming with old film and tv nods, spanning from Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 film, The Gold Rush to Jimmy Durante’s work of the 1950’s.  The episode is paced rather patiently (for an episode in David Mirkin’s showrunning era) which helps create this desperately mellow tone to a story that explores the loneliness of getting older and the roadblocks that exist from allowing us to become closer with one another. The most memorable moment of the episode is its tip of the hat to The Graduate (1967) with a more raw, not-so-ideal outcome which results in an ending that is ironically satisfying and serene.  It’s also interesting how an entire story that brings Abe, Jacqueline, and Burns to the forefront, unravels from the juxtaposition of celebrating Maggie’s birthday in the first act.

9. “Marge Gets a Job” (Season 4)

“Marge Gets a Job” is an episode that is pretty loose when it comes to its humor, ranging from humbly conventional to delightfully inventive, ultimately resulting in a pretty charming half hour.  Getting Marge to work at the Nuclear Power Plant and exploring the social dynamic between her and Homer, as well as the larger development of Mr. Burns’ infatuation with Marge proves to make for a compelling A story.  The B story with Bart avoiding his test is something that was admitted by Oakley & Weinstein to be an idea haphazardly thrown together.  Personally, I like it.  It uses “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” motif to such blatant, literal extent (whereas other shows would try to be subtle about it) to the point of absolute silliness in the context of its narrative, and it works.

8. “Marge in Chains” (Season 4)

“Marge in Chains” is an impressively cohesive outing when it comes to kicking the show off with a seemingly unrelated Osaka Flu runner which builds to Marge’s rather ambiguous crime in the stress of taking care of her sick family.  The manner in which this episode sticks to one focused main plot throughout, while being flexible enough to exercise Phil Hartman’s comedic stylings in the courtroom as Lionel Hutz, as well as playing on the drama of Marge’s character getting thrown away, not shying away from committing to that idea to the very end, and showing her absence in exaggeration from various core perspectives makes for some grade A material.  A statue of Jimmy Carter with Marge’s doo being used as a tetherball pole, played to the presidential theme “Hail to the Chief” is one of the most bizarre lasting images to go out on, yet it somehow sums the entire episode up perfectly in the midst of all its absurdity, albeit organically unfolded premise.

7. “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy” (Season 6)

This is an episode that manages to intertwine the conflict of sexual shortcomings in the bedroom between husband and wife (Homer and Marge) with the shaky relationship between a father and son (Grampa and Homer), and is unafraid in the awkwardness of such combined subject matter.  “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy” possesses a sharp, snappy wit and is a half hour where Abe holds the miracle tonic to cure Homer and Marge’s sex life, but in the process opens up a can of worms not just on Homer’s relationship with his dad, but for his own role as one.  Meanwhile, as miracle sex tonic is being sold to nearly every adult in Springfield, the kids get swallowed up in their own theories of what the adults are up to, which becomes less about government conspiracy and more on the fun of the kids’ innocence and naivete and how it brings them together, regardless of how increasingly insane they become as the episode progresses.  Many characters butt heads in this episode, yet it makes for an endearing installment.  Only The Simpsons can have an ending with Homer and Abe on fire, rolling around on the grass, and have it play ironically for laughs while still being a sincere, heartwarming moment shared between them.

6. “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” (Season 5)

I’ve always admired this episode due to its hot topic of sexism vs. commercialism where the former becomes validated as long as the latter garners successful results, and how this is all spearheaded by the young Lisa Simpson who sees this for what it is without any veil of traditionalism that seems to lull society into making light of such an issue.  Most importantly, like the best episodes that explore politics, it tackles the subject head-on, traversing the conflict for what it is without strong-arming you or using the story as a tool for the message but instead uses the message as a tool for the story.  It’s an episode that ends in a mock-victory and allows you to sit and reflect on the unchanging, unresolved nature of the overall problem.  “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” has you root for Lisa’s undying determination to bring a more rounded take on a celebrated doll of perpetuated stereotype, but also takes fun in sticking true to every other characters’ indifference towards this matter and Lisa, the underdog problem solver.

As for the subplot, it intermittently crosses with the main plot thematically, especially when Grampa and Lisa commiserate over the lack of attention they receive due to their opposing age gap.  You may notice by now that Oakley & Weinstein are big fans of Grampa stories or ‘old-timey’ humor in general, and this one in particular makes for a sweet and bright display of that.  It’s always enjoyable to watch Grampa maneuver stubbornly, yet optimistically through Springfield in the quest for relevance.  In the end, both plots deal with how advertising makes an impression and reflects on how we act, although sometimes to a staggeringly inaccurate degree.  Grampa won over the crowd of seniors as he realizes the initial commercial that kick-started his supposed solution did not provide an answer that pertains to what he’s actually going through.  At the same time, Lisa ends up losing to the crowd of young girls who will continue to be swept up in the commercialism of Malibu Stacy.  It’s all about the escape from the generalizations (or marginalizations) society puts you in, and the necessary tact of execution that needs to occur in order to convince people of the real problem, being something that’s never too late to achieve.  The narrative sounds so busy on paper, but it’s delivered so elegantly and with such a brilliant sense of humor.

5. “$pringfield” (Season 5)

Immediately “$pringfield” sets itself up by delving into the town’s past as a thriving safe haven of opportunity and intrigue.   There’s a hustle and bustling energy to it that is soon met with its current state of decay and financial strain.  Mr. Burns, who is not immune to the the town’s current predicament piggybacks on Skinner’s more noble notion of legalized gambling and before you know it the town becomes subject to a lifestyle of freewheeling sleaze and debauchery.  As soon as we’re introduced to the Mr. Burns Casino, there’s a colossal shift in mood which becomes much more dark, strange, and disconnected.  The best thing that the episode does with such a backdrop, besides allowing it to be an unstoppable vacuum for the characters to fall into, is to take advantage of the varied, surrealistic comedy you can get from such a place.  The gag rate in this episode is on rapid fire as it jumps from scene to scene, smashed together almost like a sketch show that follows several threads of story.  It’s not operating to a formula you can really peg down yet nothing filler is being showcased and everything somehow is still properly paced.  Homer takes on the role of an incompetent blackjack dealer who everybody benefits from, Mr. Burns becomes a germaphobic recluse to the point of insanity as he monitors the casino, and Bart starts his own casino in the treehouse (even tricking Robert Goulet to attend).  Even little snippets of Abe taking too long at the craps table or Otto punching out a persistent greeter Gerry Cooney become unwasted comedic material in this exclusive one-time setting.

The most surprising and pressing storyline which becomes the core conflict is the gambling addiction that develops in Marge (which is a trait that’s seldom referred to in future episodes) and how the family and ultimately Lisa ends up suffering due to Marge’s oblivious neglect.  It’s unnerving and kind of heartbreaking as Lisa fails to get efficient help on her school project when Marge promised she would.  For a half hour that serves as a vehicle primarily for the comedic hijinks of the townspeople, Mr. Burns, Homer, Bart, etc., it still manages to tell an honest story for the family.  And not only does Marge never get home in time to help Lisa (a resolution that’s hilariously resolved by Skinner awarding her for clearly not having any help from a parent, despite the fact that Homer gave his best effort), but the episode ends just due to the fact that Homer confronts Marge on her gambling problem.  The show doesn’t need to give a resolution to her somehow overcoming it, because 1) that wasn’t the point of the episode, and 2) that’s not how life works anyway.  One of my favorite things in The Simpsons is how it never feels required to tie a neat little bow for an ending.  It can deliver the best storytelling in sitcom, but if push comes to shove, comedy many times takes precedent, and because of that, the show during its best years is a pioneer to the form in offering something different and unique every week.

4. “Sideshow Bob Roberts” (Season 6)

Even with “Sideshow Bob Roberts'” resolution leaning more on the convenient side, I can’t deny the highs the episode reaches in terms of its consistency and rate for intelligent satire (political or otherwise), dramatic build-up in story, the pure cinema to the animation direction, and of course Kelsey Grammer’s performance as Bob.  Back in the days when the writers didn’t need to depend on Bob’s homicidal urge to kill Bart Simpson, each episode before season 12’s “Day of the Jackanapes” offered something original, and in this case Bob is running for mayor which offers an epic, high-stakes playground of comic mischief.

I love how the show always includes a recap to who Sideshow Bob is without feeling like a big monkey-wrench was thrown to interrupt the flow of the script.  Instead it’s always done with theatrical sensation which helps set a necessary tone, while still using humor to precede and/or undercut it (“Oh…SideSHOW Bob!” – Homer).  The reveal of Bob’s voice on the radio as he rants to Birch Barlow plays as a neat ‘aha!’ introduction, and the smashcut to his current incarceration is a well-executed physical reveal.  Mayor Quimby’s echoed monologue of Bob’s granted release being pasted over the scene of the prison gates opening as Bob walks towards the screen ala Cape Fear is something I find more cinematically effective than the scene from the actual film.  The slow, eerie push-in to the establishing shot of Republican Headquarters is also one of my favorite exercises of tension and mood used in the show.

First and foremost though, the episode is thriving on laughs, and it succeeds ten-fold, such as Abe’s ramblings of owning the first radio in Springfield where the only broadcast is Edison reciting the alphabet, everyone at Republican HQ assuming the new mayor is a water cooler, or Birch Barlow setting Bob up for his thoughts on what Les Wynan has to say.  It feels like such an injustice to list funny moments, because for every one clumsily called attention to, I’m dismissing another five in the process.  Overall this is a Sideshow Bob show jam-packed with so much quality material, it needed to cut out the opening title sequence.  It stands the test of time for being an absurdist, political thrill ride despite how increasingly bizarre said climate for America today has become.

3. “Bart vs. Australia” (Season 6)

I don’t think anyone else could have made this episode up.  Not for lack of talent, but the key elements that keep this episode glued together are so absurd and obscure, the odds are astronomical in replicating it.  For one, it launches right out of the gate by taking something specifically learned and seemingly tedious knowledge as the coriolis effect, and turns it into a fun and inspired device to fuel sibling competition between Bart and Lisa.  Not only is it an important catalyst to spark the major conflict to the episode, but it also plays a hilariously subtle role throughout and surprisingly to the episode’s conclusion.  Then you have the target of Australia as a source for comedy.  Usually when other shows take relentless cracks at another country or place, it might be cooked up due to some heated political issue that’s going on or hones in on a certain satire that holds some bearing.  “Bart vs. Australia” however, is one of those rare examples that amps the riffing of a country up to 11 with either intentional exaggerations or just flat-out unapologetic inaccuracies, and it’s all the more remarkable for it.  Bart is the villain of this episode but his punishment is too bizarre for us not to root for him and the good ol’ U.S. of A to drag Australia through the mud.  The entire sequence in the courtroom is just peak comical genius.

2. “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song” (Season 5)

The series’ 100th episode is a down-to-earth, focused plot that takes advantage of Principal Skinner as a supporting character by respectfully highlighting his underlying humanity when he’s fired from Springfield Elementary and showcases his relationship with Bart from a completely different perspective, as well as sheds further light on his military background.  It’s a seamless balance of thoughtfully delivered story with punch after punch of smart, biting jokes from beginning to end.  The first act with Santa’s Little Helper being brought in for ‘show and tell’ (“I knew the dog before he came to class” – Milhouse)  and getting trapped in the air ducts is one of my favorite first acts in sitcom.  It’s just a treasure trove of elevated energy from the opening of The Wonder Years parody, to the lovable SLH stealing the show from Martin’s geode, to a greased up Willie tobogganing through the vents, all the way up to Skinner’s final hiccup as an act break.  To follow, you get the hilarious twist with the terrifying, no-nonsense Leopold introducing Ned Flanders as Skinner’s replacement, which in turn uses Ned to the highest possible potential before concluding his temporary stint as principal with Superintendent Chalmers’ classic quote, “God has no place within these walls! Just like facts have no place within organized religion!”

When it comes to emotion, the climax to me is provided with two, successive key moments.  The first is Skinner walking by the school at night before becoming enveloped with self-reflection as the educator that impacts the children’s lives whether they knew it or not, and vice-versa.  The next is the moment Bart shows up to his house to learn Skinner has re-enlisted in the United States Army.  I think the twinge I get from that is the shot of the letter itself that Agnes leaves Bart, which is written so formally, and presented with such surrender and weight to the point where it feels absolutely real.  This is the one episode where the cat and mouse between Skinner and Bart is stripped away and we witness a deeper bond formed between the two that otherwise can’t exist if things return to normal, which is a conflict in itself that pushes the viewer up against the wall.  It’s a special chemistry that is proven from here on out to exist under the surface.  The next chronological episode of season 5, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much”, however,  will remind the audience why ‘Skinner vs. Bart’ is a wonderfully iconic rivalry that has just as equal benefits.  Other than that, they’ll always have the laundromat.

 

1. “Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One)” (Season 6) & “Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part Two)” (Season 7)

Spoilers to anyone who’s been living under a rock for the past 20 years.

I know I’m cheating for the sake of this list by including parts one and two together for the #1 spot, but I find it hard to talk about one without the other.  I would certainly advise to watch them together.  On its own though, Part One is my #1 pick regardless for best episode concocted by Bill and Josh.  Part Two is in an unfair position to be judged in my opinion because it’s meant to be falling action from the sheer intensity that Part One masterfully builds upon, although it still manages to explore the actual mystery to its fullest.  If I was to place Part Two somewhere on this list, it still would rank somewhere towards the top.  Sure, if Part Two came on tv, you can watch it standalone and still enjoy it (as if from Krusty’s perspective returning from Reno after six weeks) because you will still feel the repercussions and increased temperature that Part One sets up, but at the end of the day Part One is completely accessible and it’s borderline silly to not watch them together properly, as intended.

“Who Shot Mr. Burns?” is something I hold in high regard simply due to how much is being achieved at once.  As one of my favorite two-parters in sitcom alone, it transcends The Simpsons Movie (2007) for me in terms of being a celebratory climax to what the first 8 seasons and overall show excels best at.  Not only is Mr. Burns at his most destructive and evil than he’s ever been or ever will be, but it finally brings a longtime running gag of Burns never remembering Homer’s name and turns it into something very personal that will help drive the larger story at hand to peak, epic proportions. Other than that, it’s one of the most carefully crafted mysteries that takes advantage of its limited running time by rewarding you with a plethora of freeze-framed subliminal hints and thematic imagery.  So much thought went into the mysteries’ use of logical and technical clues to the point where it’s almost creepy how elaborate it is.  Beyond character M.O’s, the time on the clocks/sun dial and subtle visual information being shown in the background leading to the M.S/W.S theory still blows my mind in how many possible suspects still remain. The answer to the mystery is all there but only to the most keen viewer/fan who can think in and outside the box.  To this day, I’m still discovering more from clues in the episode’s layout.  On top of that, for an episode that sounds so complicated from a narrative and technical perspective, it’s effortless in being extraordinarily funny in nearly every scene.

Many characters come full circle during this episode and have their own threads of story that become painted into a corner by the time the shooter is revealed.  Whether you consider it a cop-out or not, Maggie as Mr. Burns’ shooter still changes the perspective of how you view the two of those characters being in the same room together in future episodes.  It’s forever iconic.  It’s also interesting how it almost plays like a bookend to David Mirkin’s showrunning era when you consider season 5’s aforementioned “Rosebud” which is an episode nearing the start of season 5 where Burns and Maggie cross paths over childhood teddy bear Bobo.  The bond that’s shared between them at “Rosebud’s” end compared to what transpires between them offscreen in the season 6 finale makes for a jarring contrast.  And the way Homer’s more internal conflict of getting on Burns’ radar culminates in him not only being one of the most likely, definitive suspects, but a payoff in humor as Burns can only seem to repeat his name upon waking from his hospital bed in the second part.  Even if Maggie was a safer (yet earned) choice for the shooter, it doesn’t take away from the dramatic payoff of Homer’s mind losing a circuit as he pulls the gun on a recovering Mr. Burns in front of the entire town.  For the portion of the audience that may have been disappointed with the mystery’s outcome, I still think it’s a scene that’s a widely overlooked substitute of giving the audience something darker as it serves as an incredibly shocking moment to push Homer to that point.

Chief Wiggum, who’s tasked with a case that’s perhaps too difficult for him to crack still ends up displaying a surprising amount of competence amidst his stupidity in the effort of solving it.  Lisa too, who’s desperate to take a stab at the case and later rectify her dad of the accusations against him, manages to prove successful in getting one step closer to the truth.  The breakdown of Smithers after being fired and the wedge that’s driven between him and Burns is also a series first, especially as he develops into one of the lead suspects.  Grampa, who’s retirement home was destroyed, gets good mileage from the story as a recurring red herring up until the very end.  It’s nice to see Abe get a bit of a spotlight in the last episode Oakley & Weinstein ever wrote, considering how much fun and favorability they’ve always held towards his character from the start.

Part One alone has an unnerving energy to it from the very beginning.  You can feel that something’s up about this episode as it feels on edge from the moment Skinner discovers the death of the class gerbil Superdude, and through the acceleration of the plot as soon as Willie strikes oil.  Even the bright, quickly paced sequence of Burns and staff going through the process of sending the parcel to Pete Porter in Pasadena establishes the classic, unmatched comedic swiftness that “Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Parts One & Two)” is about to undertake.  By the time the drama in Springfield accumulates from the aftermath of Burns’ Slant-Drilling Co., you almost forget that this is also ‘the one where he blocks out the sun’, a demonstration in the very surreal flexibility the show is capable of without breaking the constructs it abides to.  Smithers puts it best:

Dr. Colossus is an obscure callback to his brief mention in “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy”.  Leopold, another character conceived by Bill and Josh from “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song” is also showcased here.  In fact, there’s a number of celebrated dig-ups like Principal Dondelinger or Dave Shutton throughout both parts that helps provide a sense of scope and nostalgia for the world of Springfield (along with the candy box recap for Burns’ relation to Maggie, Bart, and SLH) as shit begins to escalate.  Even Shelbyville, which was already recently delved into a few episodes prior in Season 6’s “Lemon of Troy” gets hilariously referenced as the entire town gets crushed when Springfield’s residents tear down Burn’s sun blocking machine.

I don’t know whether the #1 entry in this list is extra long due to the covering of a two-part episode, whether I’m just passionate in my appreciation for it, or if I just don’t know how to end this write-up, but overall “Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One)” and “Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part Two)” are both among the series’ best and a testament to why I love the show in general.  Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein are among my favorite writer-pairings for a half hour comedy, so I figured it would be fun writing exercise to share my thoughts on their work.  While it’s still wise to consider what showrunners Al Jean & Mike Reiss, and David Mirkin contributed to Oakley & Weinstein’s scripts, you could still feel how quickly they mastered their craft when you watch these 11 episodes in chronological order.  Keep in mind, my ranking of these episodes are just my opinion, which is always subject to change.  Anyway, what do you think?  Do you have a favorite? How would you rank these episodes?

Better Call Saul “Slip” (S3E08)

Eight episodes in, I feel that “Slip” did such a great job at bringing a lot of character/story points to a head, some of which I’ve been anticipating for a while. It’s weird because “Chicanery” is essentially this season’s big climax, (almost reminding me of “One Minute” from Breaking Bad’s third season), and while it’s absolutely paramount to explore the fallout from that episode (as we have), I’m still impressed with how successfully the story continues to push forward. It’s like the writers could easily rest their backs and take the time to plan their next move, as Kim suggested to Jimmy, or they could take Jimmy’s lead and hustle full-tilt to meet certain ends. I find this exciting because we already know the long-term direction for the show, but in terms of how the journey unfolds, I feel a current sense of charging into the dark. Obviously the writers have had an end game to this season for a while, but you can tell they’re locked on something good.

So right off the bat, Marco returns in a flashback being the first time since “Marco”, the season 1 finale. I wasn’t quite sure when this was taking place, but it felt like it was during the time of that very episode, considering Marco speaks of Jimmy’s mom as if in tribute after learning of her passing, as well as Jimmy’s hair being its usual current style. Something came to me when I was watching this cold open. It’s not so much that Jimmy feels a divide between him and his father because of their opposing morals, but there’s also a matter of neglect. Chuck is the smart brother which is a quality I feel Jimmy may have always admired, so when Jimmy exercises small bouts of obscure knowledge in front of his father (like knowing specific coins, rarity, and worth), only to be immediately ignored and interrupted in exchange for his dad being more concerned with returning the coin, it’s no wonder that Jimmy harbors such a resentment towards him.

The same thing happened in the cold open of “Inflatable” when young Jimmy tries to warn his father of the con-artist (another instance where Jimmy is very smart) only for his father to not give an inch of credit to Jimmy over this suspicion. Jimmy sincerely tried to get close with his father many times but they were just never quite on the same page. Perhaps when Jimmy says, “he never did what he had to do”, it doesn’t just pertain to not being sucker, but to also being a proper father and acknowledging Jimmy when instances of true individual expression called for it. It was great to see Marco nostalgic over Jimmy’s folks. It reminded us that Jimmy’s dismissive attitude towards them is an issue that’s exclusive to Jimmy and that just because Marco can tend to be the devil on Jimmy’s shoulder, doesn’t mean he needs to see eye to eye over conditions of the heart. I really liked that. Before the camera cuts, the final act of Jimmy swiping those coins felt coated in a layer of spite and expressed a sense of reveling in what he was able to take during the time his parents were still kicking around.

As much as I’ve been rattling on since “Nailed” about what the good samaritan’s death meant to Mike, it was a complete surprise to me when it turned out the favor Mike needed from Nacho was the murder victim’s whereabouts. As soon as I saw Mike drive passed the Oasis sign from the truck heist, it all hit me at once. The entire sequence was done so thoughtfully and with such care. If this was a scene where Mike is undergoing preparation for a heist, the image of him in a forward cap* with a metal detector would be played ironically or punched up since this is a get-up we’re unfamiliar with. There’s no such sense of that in this scene. There’s one cool shot of the metal detector’s control panel but it’s tasteful and beyond that there’s nothing flashy going on even when director Adam Bernstein is shooting it in a very unique way. The overhead shot with multiple Mikes fading in and out to express the passage of time is done appropriately. Everything regarding Mike’s conflict with the good samaritan’s death has lived on through subtext up until now so to get this moment where Mike recovers the physical body, it’s very moving. Just seeing a hand with a ring on it was enough to illustrate that there are indeed loved ones out there wondering what happened.

*The forward cap is a key aesthetic in this moment for me. You could really feel that he’s a father here, or even a grandfather and it makes the recovery of the body all the more cathartic. Jonathan Banks brought a lot of weight to this. The look on his face when he finds the body is profoundly sad and harrowing.

One of the aspects I’ve been looking forward to is further exploration of Chuck’s condition. After an episode where Chuck was completely absent, immediately diving head-on into an appointment with Dr. Cruz made for a fresh and compelling change of pace from what we’re used to seeing. The display of his newfound self-awareness and aim to improve shows us a more hopeful Chuck. Whether you sympathize with his character or not, it’s hard not to root for the guy when he’s finally in the best position to getting better. At the end of the day, he has a sickness. I remember back in the season 2 finale, after Chuck hit his head at the print shop and went through the horrific ordeal of being brought to the hospital, his persistence afterwards to derail Jimmy felt too unhealthy and toxic.

Sure, he was subject to a major injustice brought on by Jimmy, but after Ernie protected Jimmy by saying he called him earlier, everything was clearly at a loss and might have been better off for Chuck to just walk away at that point. Even if it just simply means he has to shut Jimmy out from his life, because as Howard stated in “Off Brand”, Jimmy is just not worth it. Anyway, I’m glad that Chuck for the first time is focusing on himself with no ulterior motive. His sentiments of “If it isn’t real…then what I have done?” elicited a very powerful feeling of wasted time and opportunity. That’s a rough realization to come to and it’s going to be even more depressing now that Jimmy may have possibly squashed any further hopes and dreams in the event that he does get better. I think Chuck’s premiums going up are just the start of his problems. What if it leads to not being able to practice law at all?

Last episode’s “Expenses” showed Jimmy in a constant, unforgiving rut so as the twins of ‘ABQ In Tune’ decide to renege on their deal, it looks like this unfortunate trend will continue. “Slip” was an episode though that had Jimmy quickly recalibrating to his situation. Slippin’ Jimmy lives and we’re finally shown his legendary pratfall after only hearing about it through stories, coincidentally told to the skater twins in the pilot. I love how the special effect of Jimmy falling was absolutely believable, visually, yet there was a hint of it that made it look quite surreal in the process. It was perfect and felt reminiscent of when something weird, strange, or outlandish occurs on Mad Men.

Also I forgot to mention this in the last review (thankfully it becomes more prominent here) but Jimmy pining over a Ritchie Blackmore signed guitar and then playing “Smoke on the Water” (season 1’s ending song) after obtaining it from his fall, it almost feels too on the nose, yet with intention. I mean what are the chances that he would get that guitar? I did a rewatch of season 1 earlier this year and I considered the choice of “Smoke on the Water” being used. Other than what relates from the content of the song, I doubt anyone who has ever had a guitar, whether you followed through with it or not, has not played the tune to “Smoke on the Water”. It’s the easiest series of notes to learn which is fitting for Jimmy, being the guy who takes pride in the simplest route.

Another long anticipated moment for me was when Howard confronted Kim, holding nothing back in the process. The tension between them has been bubbling for a while so to see them sniping at each other outside in front of the valet was just so good. It’s far off from how they used to interact with each other in the first season. Howard gracefully demonstrates to Kevin and Paige that just because he lost their business doesn’t mean he’s doesn’t wish them the best after Kim’s handling of their case. Obviously this is politics to maintain the reputation of his business, as he does with all his clients, but I believe Howard is able to do this because his good manners are genuinely of his own nature. It’s a message to Kim that just because she’s now off on our own, doesn’t mean that ties should be cut, especially after Howard was her mentor and helped her grow as a lawyer to begin with. It’s a sense of community within their field that shouldn’t be sneezed at and Kim understands this, but things are obviously more complicated. She writes a check to cover her loan which is more of a conditional reply than a kind gesture. She wants to be free of him and while I don’t think he’s trying to control her, he definitely disagrees that she’s earned the right to come off innocent in all of this. I think I’ll always lean a tad more on Howard’s side regarding all of this, but Kim did have a point in how Howard pretty much turned a blind eye to Chuck’s obvious mental illness in order to benefit and save face. Plus, man was he brutal with keeping her in doc review.

I’d like to take back what I initially said earlier in the season being that Hector Salamanca’s fall from grace should play as a backseat ‘aha!’ moment to a grander, unique story that only Better Call Saul could tell. I’d be lying if I said I’m not absolutely entertained and fraught with anxiety over how Hector’s situation is going to play out and what possible collateral damage can occur from all of this. This show is indeed a Breaking Bad prequel for a reason and Better Call Saul still manages to be unique and unpredictable in how it orchestrates events to which we already know the outcome. What we don’t know is what happens to Nacho. I actually really care about him despite the fact that we’re essentially rooting for a criminal to murder another criminal. The scene of him at his father’s upholstery business, practicing and failing to get the pills to fall into the coat pocket was the perfect set-up for this hair-puller:

Every beat of this scene is brilliantly uncomfortable from Nacho reaching into the wrong pocket to him dropping one of the pills on the chair while having to be quiet about it. The miracle toss he makes was one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced from something so mundane and seemingly simple. It was like doing a cartwheel on the edge of a skyscraper. David Porter’s score in the moment of that toss emitted a feeling as if fate itself or the gods were screaming/cheering over the wildness of the outcome. I was also reminded of Breaking Bad as Nacho approaches the expresso machine, seeing as this is where Jesse Pinkman plays with the idea of a delivery system in poisoning Gus (“Problem Dog”) only to never go through with it. Nacho’s approaching the expresso machine after committing the crime has kind of a mirror effect. My only question now though is whether Nacho is out of the woods. A famous quote from Omar Little (The Wire) states “You come at the king, you best not miss” and we all know Hector will live from this. We also know that Nacho is to blame for something very big when Saul gets kidnapped from Walt and Jesse. If there’s any tell that points to Nacho being responsible, it most likely will derive from when he eventually switches the pills back.

Speaking of committing, Jimmy’s fall earlier in the episode wasn’t fake. He had no issue in actually hurting his back in order to get what he wanted which is probably how his young, leaner version of himself always did it. In turn, he’s able to use his real injury as part of his narrative against the parks and rec guy as he threatens to sue the man personally. Again, Jimmy is back and in complete opposite form than how we saw in last episode. Lounging in the dirt surrounded by garbage when he’s supposed to be doing his community service is such an appropriate image too.

The episode ends with Mike also committing to something big as we’re given a handshake that finally solidifies the union between him and Gus even though the future of that handshake will lead to so much death and chaos. We still don’t even know, pre-Walter White, how Mike becomes so accustomed to killing people simply because it’s part of the job. Luckily Gus is a reasonable man and the people that will meet their deaths are ‘in the game’ but there’s a gap that still needs to be filled in order to get him there. Other than that, Gus doesn’t want his money, but just Mike and the work he can provide. It was pretty bold for Mike to just agree on that without really knowing what Gus could truly want out of him.

More thoughts:

– In the spirit of going over the multiple meanings of the episode’s title, ‘slip’ obviously refers to Jimmy’s fall, but also of Mike giving the police the slip on the good samaritan’s whereabouts. Kim slips Howard a check for her loan and one slip from Nacho in swapping those pills and he would be a dead man!

-There’s something about this show with twins huh? First the skater twins break their legs and now the owners of ‘ABQ In Tune’ fall prey to Jimmy. Even in Breaking Bad Saul’s actions will end up severely crippling Ted Beneke, a father of twin daughters. No twins are safe from the misfortune Jimmy brings. At this point, Tuco’s cousins better watch out.

-I missed it on my first watch but Francesca hiding her Hawaii magazine as Kim walks from Jimmy’s office to hers was funny. Already looking for an escape, it’s a change from the interviewee who was hoping to get employed here in the beginning of the season.

– Like I said, I loved everything with Nacho. I especially liked the idea of obstructing the air conditioning unit in order to sweat Hector into removing his jacket. The leap that Nacho makes from the dumpster to the roof was a cool stunt. I’m not sure if he did it himself or not, but a cool action moment nonetheless. I don’t what it is, but I always find it entertaining when characters on tv or in the movies are trespassing and sneaking around some place they shouldn’t at night. There’s always a calmness to it despite how potentially dangerous it could be. Also, this is unrelated but those ceiling fans in the taco restaurant were awfully depressing haha.

– Something about Bob Odenkirk having to pick up a dirty diaper during his community service makes me think of Vince Gilligan laughing his ass off.

Overall, this was one of my favorite episodes of the season. There’s just a lot happening in it, all being very interesting. I know I shouldn’t measure episodes based off the order it shares, but in terms of the 8th episode, it’s right up there with season 1’s “Rico” and season 2’s “Fifi”. And something to keep in mind as we approach this season’s penultimate episode, “Pimento” and “Nailed” managed to be series highlights for me. They’re both very important episodes so I wonder what next week’s “Fall” will manage to do. I can’t help my excitement as we await these final 2 episodes. What’s everyone else’s thoughts?

Twin Peaks “The Return, Part 3”

 

The entire first 15 minutes of “Part 3” with Cooper in the purple/red realm is absolutely indescribable. It operated like a lucid dream where one would be lucky to recount its mood half as accurately to someone else upon waking. David Lynch, however, somehow summoned this from his mind and put it on screen, fully realized. Between the girl with no eyes, the hauntingly shrill, yet muffled sounds she made when trying to communicate to Cooper, and the use of jumping back and forth constantly between frames, it resulted in one of the most artful and otherworldly sequences I’ve ever seen on screen. The constant skipping around puts you at such unease to the point where you just have to give in to it. I felt a constant physical sensation of imminent shivering throughout, a release of fear, but I didn’t allow myself to because I invited David Lynch to play on it and pull me deeper and deeper into the strange… trusting to come out the other side somewhere wonderful. Pretty much how I approach any Lynch film.

When I consider the concept of life, I sometimes think of a petri dish with small microscopic organisms, all following a certain set of rules and functions. It’s so alien to us, yet it’s all in our same universe and completely within our access, properly studied. Then I think of the ocean, and how the deeper you go, the more abstract and mysterious the marine life gets (same could most definitely be said the farther you go out into space). To me, this scene was that for me. It exists in the deepest trench of the universe, so far removed from the concept of time and space and our familiar rules. However, despite all of that, the will to thrive as a living organism still extends to this mysterious world. The lady with no eyes notions Cooper to keep quiet when the banging is heard and warns Cooper with a translation of danger if he’s to go towards the strange mechanism, finally motioning him towards a door for safety. Even when she pulls the switch upon the floating construct, the sense of danger is present, and Cooper feeling sympathy for this girl being tossed into space, proves that emotion also extends to this distant pocket of a world. The stars and deep space surrounding Cooper in this moment plays as a necessary backdrop to ‘the unknown’ which is what I’ve always thought of in regards to the blue rose in FWWM, being of the mystery or unknown that people can just never know, not because Lynch is holding it back to confound you but because ‘the unknown’ is a very real thing.

*From the lever pulled, to Major Brigg’s sideways projection, it was very reminiscent to the intro of Eraserhead which I’ve watched again recently. I’m wondering if the mechanism was set to return to the mysterious glass box where the creature is slicing up Sam and Tracey (explaining the forewarned slicing motion the lady makes) and by her pulling the lever, the destination for Cooper to return to the real world would change, hence the swapping of Dougie at Rancho Rosa. This would also explain the number on the mechanism changing as if it’s an elevator.

“When you get there…you will…already be there.” – Ronette

We can assume this relates to Dougie, the version of Cooper that exists almost like an anomaly from all this switching/traveling between dimensions business.

“You’d better hurry…my mother’s coming.”

???

Perhaps by mother, she’s referring to mother nature or whatever higher power dictates the rules of this place. Shooing Cooper like he’s a teenage boy who climbed through Ronette’s second story window suggests that what they’re doing is wrong or betrays the rules, therefore Dougie, becoming somewhat of a third version, manufactured, in order for Cooper to return to the real world. Whatever was constantly banging from beyond this room didn’t seem to want to permit this. My question from here is whether it was Bob or maybe Jeffries that was behind this? Some other supernatural force? In “Part 2”, Bob said he had a plan in order to not return to the black lodge. Electricity, however, became a factor in all of this which reminds me of Jeffries’ disappearance/reappearance in the film, while also explaining Bob’s crashing and vomiting garmonbozia as if it is something he was hoping to prevent. Dougie is revealed to have a numb arm due to wearing the ring and later tells Mike in the red room that he feels funny. I took ‘funny’ as in being something created outside of nature and it seemed fitting that as soon as we were introduced to him, he seems to be in a place where he doesn’t belong. The entire development of Rancho Rosa comes off manufactured as well, but that could just be a mere decision in aesthetics to match the feeling in regards to Dougie.

As Dougie’s head pops in the red room and we’re met with this gray, ugly head, it appeared strikingly similar to the creature the attacked Sam and Tracey. Whereas those two looked straight at it in horror before becoming violently mutilated, Mike makes sure to shield his eyes. Is this the creature that was banging in the beginning of the episode, similar to the banging that occurred before breaking through the mysterious glass box? Does the lady with no eyes benefit in this creature’s presence from having no eyes? Does the creature represent the truth we’re never meant to see or know?

We meet Jade, Dougie’s girlfriend, who ultimately serves as a guide for him, echoing similar instructions to Laura Palmer’s “you can go out now”, but then even her reminder to him that he’s missing his shoes felt like it was taking on a larger meaning as it alluded to the parallel world where Cooper left his shoes behind as he went through the mechanism. Not only does Cooper hold the key to the Great Northern Hotel, an initial token to the Cooper we know, but it also becomes the key to his survival (also having just passed Sycamore Street) as he drops it after a speed bump and the hitman misses his shot. Too much of a comedic coincidence for the universe not to be playing an important role in ensuring Cooper’s safety after this bizarre anomaly that’s occurred. It strikes me as weird too in how over the top and specifically customized that rifle was, like a toy, yet implied as completely necessary. Almost as if the guy can afford to be eccentric when tasked with correcting the universe. A shot that has to count. Jade’s yellow Jeep also stands out blatantly in contrast to the paler color scheme of the neighborhood, making for an easy target.

Is it just me or do you feel overwhelmed with having to keep note of numbers? 430 was the hint from the giant. 253, time and time again, which was the time Bob began to spiral out on the road, also synced by Ronette in the parallel realm. 315 is the room to the Great Northern hotel, but I’m only really noting that because it just another three digit number. 119 is what the addict kept reciting from across the street of the house where Dougie and Jade were. Every time a door is shown with a number on it, I note it but then forget and the only reason I don’t write it all down is because I know the more I do, the more confused I’m going to get in trying to crack whatever it could possibly mean. For now though, 430 and 119 are high on the list of remembering, seeing as 253 may have already fulfilled its purpose as the time of the anomaly and 315 is probably no more than just a room number. Who knows? I’m sure the use of numbers is going to sprout many mathematical theories in the future when the season is all said and done.

Other than reciting 119, the addict at Rancho Rosa was given a significant amount of screen time as she takes a pill, washed down with a bottle of Jack Daniels, but didn’t offer mush else. I suppose we’ll see more of her later on or perhaps she could just represent something. This is an episode by the way, that doesn’t lend itself to material that could all stand on its own and not even in the usual serialized sense. In other words, I actually find parts 3 and 4 to be much more essential to watch together, whereas I felt that part 1 and part 2 are more prone to be watched separately if you wanted to, even if Lynch may have intended for it to be viewed together considering that’s how it was presented. Overall, it’s an episode like this that proves that these 18 episodes aren’t designed to be reviewed week by week, despite the fact that I’ll continue to do so, because it’s not as if I can wrap up a single hour with some self-contained theme or element. It’s all continuing and as previously noted, we’re still in pretty much act 1 of a single film being 4 episodes in.

At the same time, “Part 3” does follow a theme of chance, hope, and the impossible. Cooper has been brought back to our world under the most unusual and unlikely circumstances. I think this is what made his jackpot winnings at the Silver Mustang Casino all the more unnerving. It’s as if his existence has broken the law of probability, which in turn, can extinguish hope when the universe is just committing to your good fortune. As funny or weird as it is, and how Cooper being the subject of such a fringe event puts emphasis on how important he is, this is a phenomenon that diminishes his individual self. He has always strived for and achieved good fortune from his own doing through individual spirit and good nature. Throughout this episode, he’s brought from point A to B to C by the means of being instructed and physically pushed along by outside forces. He knows how to walk and parrot phrases, but he’s generally directionless and I find it pretty impressive that the show has been able to naturally move him along without it being tedious or sacrificing the fact that Jade or the Casino employees aren’t aware of the cosmic jetlag that he’s under. From there, I can only touch on how perfectly eerie it is that the red room is marking particular gaming machines as if in some odd attempt to fix things or for some greater plan. Is it a trick? Is it the white lodge or the black lodge that’s trying to guide Cooper right now? I’ve always been confused in distinguishing the lodges to begin with.

To continue the tour beyond the boundaries of Twin Peaks, we are brought to FBI headquarters, Philadelphia where Gordon Cole and Albert Rosenfield provide a briefing for their agency regarding clues to a killer in Georgetown. Unless I’m mistaken, this case seems unrelated but the show took the time to bring our attention to it. The following items being (and feel free to correct me):

– photo of blonde lingerie model
– pliers
– photo of 2 girls sunbathing
– photo of young boy in sailor suit
– an uzi pistol with a silencer
– jar of seeds/pebbles

After the room subsides, Tammy presents video from New York of Sam and Tracey’s death, where it turns out the creature was caught in a frame from one of the digital recordings. I’m still going with my theory that the security which was gone after having watched this building and apartment for 24 hours a day were under orders to leave, perhaps from the billionaire knowing that the phenomenon would occur that night. I don’t know. At this point, learning of the billionaire’s identity (who I believe Patrick Fischler’s Duncan Todd answers to) is just as compelling as learning of a killer in a murder mystery. The fact that the FBI are clueless on this matter makes it even more eerie, but I will say, it is reassuring to have Gordon and Albert introduced to lead us through the dark. They get a call from Black Hills, South Dakota where Cooper has supposedly been found. Their sense of urgency upon hearing this, accurately portrayed the feeling of not seeing a good friend in 25 years. I loved it.

Another beautiful transition to the roadhouse as we bow out with The Cactus Blossoms’ “Mississippi”. This is a song that reminded me of the beginning of Cooper dropping into the purple realm where before entering the room he had that view of the open water (or sea). From there, the song elicits a feeling of being far away and waiting for an arrival. Again, I just think of Cooper, being the central conflict where as an audience we anticipate his return. Just a reminder, in the season 2 finale, the last shot over the credits is a cup of coffee with Laura Palmer’s face inside. For me, this felt like a transition, whereas Laura Palmer’s homecoming picture, being a symbol of her innocence or how she was viewed at the surface, a cup of coffee would serve as Dale Cooper’s symbol. In my opinion, he is certainly the subject of the show’s mystery now just as much as Laura was.

Some missing pieces:

– Donut disturb. I love that amidst all the confusion and dark subject matter, the show is still seamlessly host to such lighthearted charm. Hawk, with the help of Andy and Lucy. continues to follow the log lady’s clues regarding Cooper’s disappearance. I love how Hawk is playing the straight man who out of the three would have the best chance to cracking this puzzle, yet he’s so stumped to the point of Andy and Lucy being just as competent, if not, more in the chances of solving this. “Let’s sit down…let me sit down” expresses Hawk’s attempt to gain a modicum of traction, yet comically shows him as a step behind. “It’s not about the bunny!/Is it about the bunny?” is also great.

– Dr. Jacoby uses gold spray paint for his collection of shovels. If there was ever a scene to highlight the feeling of waiting and anticipation, this is it. Jacoby is like the Mike Ehrmantraut of Twin Peaks right now.

– I loved Gordon Cole’s office with an enlarged photo of a nuclear explosion behind his desk, properly positioned between him and Albert as they’re getting a bombshell of a phone call. The mishearing jokes from Gordon were also funny. It took me a second watch to catch the radio joke after Albert’s, “The Black Hills…seriously?”.