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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wanna be S-M-R-T? Let life lessons from 'The Simpsons' be your guide

This article originally ran in the Green Bay Press-Gazette prior to "The Simpsons Movie" being released in 2007. In honor of the show's 450th episode airing Sunday on Fox, we thought it would serve as an appropriate Channel Surfing salute to Matt Groening's continued genius.

To be perfectly honest, longtime "Simpsons" fans didn't need a big-budget movie to seal their devotion to Matt Groening's four-fingered universe.

After 18 years — and more specifically, an unparalleled run of brilliance during Seasons 1 through 8 — this weekend's expected box office smash is akin to the release of a band's "Greatest Hits" album.

You've invested the time. You recall the special moments. And while an extended push of the play button is worth the anticipation, it's the cherry on top of what has already been a star-studded career.

In the Springfieldian spirit of celebration — and nothing more than the opinion of a longtime fan who has used "Simpsons" quotes far too often as e-mail subject lines — here are 10 unforgettable lessons from the show's golden era.

"Homer at the Bat"

Quick synopsis: Montgomery Burns turns into Springfield's version of George Steinbrenner upon hiring major league players to secure a winning bet in the nuclear power plant softball league. The move reduces Homer and his "Wonderbat" to benchwarmer status — at least until the big leaguers start experiencing odd misfortune on their way to the ballpark.

Instantly memorable because of ... Ken Griffey Jr.'s gigantism brought on by an overdose of nerve tonic.

Quotable: Bart: "You make me sick, Homer. You're the one who told me I could do anything if I just put my mind to it!" Homer: "Well, now that you're a little bit older, I can tell you that's a crock! No matter how good you are at something, there's always about a million people better than you." Bart: "Gotcha. Can't win, don't try."

Real life lesson: Loyalty should always trump greed. Even if you've bet a million dollars on a sporting event and Roger Clemens is available to pitch.

"Mr. Plow"

Quick synopsis: With his car totaled, Homer visits the auto show and purchases a snow plow as a means of secondary income. Having gained respect in the community — all aided by a delightfully redundant TV jingle — Homer is riding high until best friend Barney steals his thunder as the rival "Plow King."

Instantly memorable because of ... "Call Mr. Plow, that's my name, that name again is Mr. Plow!"

Quotable: Actor Adam West tries to convince Bart and Lisa that he's the "real" Batman. "Back in my day, we didn't need molded bodysuits. (Taps his chest.) Pure. West."

Real life lesson: Friends are always better than enemies, even in the cutthroat snow plow industry.

"I Love Lisa"

Quick synopsis: Ralph Wiggum's finest hour, but not before problems arise when Lisa gives the chronic nose-picker a pity Valentine's Day card. Smitten with his new "girlfriend," Ralph's announcement to the world forces normally polite Lisa to break his heart during Krusty the Clown's anniversary show. Ralph channels his embarrassment into a mesmerizing performance as George Washington in the school play.

Instantly memorable because of ... Lisa's valentine to Ralph, a card with a little train that says, "I-Choo-Choo-Choose You."

Quotable: "Someone's gotten to you, you deceitful cow!" — master thespian Rex after Miss Hoover gives Ralph the part of Washington, thanks to meddling from his police chief dad.

Real life lesson: Dry those tears. Spite is the driving force for all great art.

"Homer's Barbershop Quartet"

Quick synopsis: At a flea market, Bart and Lisa discover the lost Be-Sharps album, recorded by Homer and his barbershop quartet during the summer of 1985. The group's meteoric rise to the top is recounted by Homer — with Beatles references and a cameo by George Harrison — leading to the ultimate payoff, a rooftop reunion at Moe's Tavern.

Instantly memorable because of ... the Be-Sharps name, "witty at first ... but less funny each time you hear it."

Quotable: "Eh, it's been done" — an unimpressed Harrison after driving past the Be-Sharps rooftop performance.

Real life lesson: Fame is fleeting. Be-Sharps funny foam lasts forever.

"Homer Goes to College"

Quick synopsis: When Homer causes a nuclear meltdown, he's forced to attend Springfield University to keep his job. Problem is, Homer's vision of college life has been molded by cheesy 80s comedies like "School of Hard Knockers," leading to nothing but disruption for a group of naïve nerds and a "crusty old dean."

Instantly memorable because of ... "Curly, straight. Curly, straight."

Quotable: "Dad, nerds are nothing to fear. In fact, they've done some pretty memorable things. Some nerds of note include popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher, rock star David Byrne and Supreme Court justice David Souter." — Lisa

Real life lesson: A balance can be struck between studying and "partying down." But never, ever mess with mascot pigs that have powerful ex-Presidents for friends.


Quick synopsis: Even the Ramones can't cheer up Mr. Burns, who during a birthday blowout becomes wistful for his childhood teddy bear, Bobo. When Bart goes to the Kwik-E-Mart to buy a bag of ice, he finds Burns' long-lost compatriot inside. Now in baby Maggie's possession, Burns does his best to wrestle Bobo away from her, leaving Homer to grapple with the choice of lifelong riches or his daughter's happiness.

Instantly memorable because of ... Bobo's historic journey upon leaving Burns' possession, which includes brief stops with Charles Lindbergh, Adolf Hitler and members of a North Pole expedition.

Quotable: "Oooh, a head bag! Those are chock full of (long pause) heady goodness." — Apu

Real life lesson: Choosing your daughter's smile over a large sum of money? Good. Eating 64 slices of American cheese in one sitting? Not good.

"Deep Space Homer"

Quick synopsis: In an effort to ramp up public interest in the space program, NASA embarks on a search to find the perfect "blue-collar slob" for launch day. Homer beats Barney by default and nearly gets Buzz Aldrin killed when potato chips and ants (which appear as giants during a TV camera close-up) dangerously clog the instrument panel during their mission.

Instantly memorable because of ... the inanimate carbon rod, which ensures the astronauts' survival by securing the door hatch after Homer breaks the handle. The rod later makes the cover of Time magazine ("In Rod We Trust") and receives its own parade.

Quotable: "One thing is for certain; there is no stopping them. The ants will soon be here. And I for one, welcome our new insect overlords," — TV anchor Kent Brockman while making a pitch to help the ants round up humans to "toil in their underground sugar caves"

Real life lesson: Be happy with who you are, accolades or not. We can't all be heroes like the inanimate carbon rod.

"The Boy Who Knew Too Much"

Quick synopsis: Bart forges an excuse note in order to ditch school, causing a suspicious Principal Skinner to stay hot on his trail. The chase leads Bart to filthy rich Freddy Quimby's birthday party, where our favorite spiky-haired troublemaker becomes the lone witness to an altercation between the spoiled socialite and a waiter who has a funny way of saying "chowder."

Instantly memorable because of ... Bart's moral dilemma ("a sissy boy who's too scared to come forward") perfectly captured in an episode of "Dirty Harry"-esque cop show, "McGarnagle"

Quotable: "Well, Marge, it was horrible. Everyone was against me in that jury room. But I stood by the courage of my convictions and I prevailed. And that's why we had Chinese food for lunch." — Homer

Real life lesson: No matter your accent, always pronounce the word "chowder" correctly when around someone from Massachusetts.

"Sideshow Bob Roberts"

Quick synopsis: Rush Limbaugh clone Birch Barlow enlists cunning convict Sideshow Bob to run for mayor and stave off the "Dumbocrats." After receiving a pardon due to media manipulation, Bob uses his new powers to squash arch-nemesis Bart, who is busy trying to prove voter fraud while saving his own hide.

Instantly memorable because of ... Sideshow Bob's political ad proclaiming, "Mayor Quimby supports revolving door prisons. Mayor Quimby even released Sideshow Bob — a man twice convicted of attempted murder. Can you trust a man like Mayor Quimby? Vote Sideshow Bob for mayor."

Quotable: "And the results are in. For Sideshow Bob, 100 percent. For Joe Quimby, 1 percent. And we remind you, there is a 1 percent margin of error." — Kent Brockman

Real life lesson: Corrupt politicians always get their comeuppance. Or not.

"Who Shot Burns? — Part One and Two"

Quick synopsis: A perfectly executed parody of the classic "Who Shot J.R.?" cliffhanger from "Dallas" (sprinkled with coy O.J. trial references) that infiltrated pop culture with its mass marketed guessing game in 1995. Universally loathed Mr. Burns finally pushes Springfield too far, leaving several town suspects, but only one shooter. Like taking candy from a baby, right?

Instantly memorable because of ... the entire plot arc, a brilliant "Whodunnit?" that even managed to call Mambo king Tito Puente into question.

Quotable: "DNA, positive ID — those won't hold up in any court. Run, Dad!" — Bart

Real life lesson: Only two kinds of people are immune from the justice system. Babies and celebrities with high priced lawyers.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,



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