There has to date been a grand total of 615 full episodes of The Simpsons. I think most of us would agree that while the show does have a pretty impressive overall hit rate, the quality has undoubtedly dipped slightly in recent seasons. During its peak years however, a range that varies depending on your outlook but for me lies between seasons 3 and 10, it delivered comedy gold on an extraordinarily regular basis. I thought it only right therefore that we should take a moment to remember The Simpsons’ finest outings, those episodes that still stand out many years down the line as true pieces of comedy brilliance.
I’ll be tackling these in no particular order, but first up is season 8’s You Only Move Twice.
I’m going to just come out and say it from the off, You Only Move Twice makes a pretty strong case for being the greatest episode of The Simpsons of all time. While this is undeniably a bold claim, it’s also hard to think of many other episodes that can rival it for sheer volume of hilarious moments. From the very start, with Smithers jauntily singing his way down the street and rejecting a job offer, to Homer’s final disappointed groan as his NFL related present is revealed, it’s none-stop gold.
The plot sees Homer accepting the job offer from the mysterious Globex Corporation which Smithers turned down and then relocating the entire family to the seemingly perfect Cypress Creek. Once there, the family move in to a new home and meet Homer’s disarmingly polite new boss, Hank Scorpio. Homer starts to excel in his new position but his family are clearly not taking to life away from Springfield. Lisa is allergic to everything, Bart struggles at school and Marge is developing a drinking problem brought on primarily through a lack of housework. Throughout proceedings, Homer also remains blissfully unaware of the fact that his jovial new boss is actually a maniacal criminal mastermind. Eventually, Homer does what’s right for his family and moves them all back to good old Springfield, though not before inadvertently helping his boss finally seize the East Coast.
While the whole Simpsons family are on fine form and Homer excels as always thanks to his role as unwitting right hand man to a master criminal, its Albert Brooks’ Hank Scorpio that really stands out. Brooks was making his fourth’ guest turn on the show and this was his finest work yet. His Scorpio is affable, polite and utterly ruthless to boot. He also has most of the episode’s best lines, including the ever important and seldom asked question “ever seen a guy say goodbye to a shoe?” A line I am entirely confident I will never get bored of hearing.
From his dealings with an uncertain UN, to his pertinent question regarding France or Italy, it’s never a dull moment when Scorpio is onscreen and that is in no small part down to Brooks’ own wonderful comic delivery. In fact, another stand out moment in the episode where Hank’s explains to Homer about where he can buy hammocks from,was actually a surreal riff that Brooks himself ad-libbed during production.
What makes the entire scenario at Globex so funny is Homer being completely oblivious to it all the entire way through. He only sees the smiling, caring boss and the dangerous terrorism just sort of happens in the background. It’s basically a Bond movie that eschews the central action and instead focuses on the home life of one of the villain’s mid-level managers.
Having such a gradual build up to revealing Scorpio’s true intentions and keeping it at arm’s length the entire episode is an absolute master stroke. It’s no surprise therefore to find that this was another episode written by reclusive genius John Swartzwelder. Swatrzwelder is hugely revered among his peers and is also one of those quirky characters where you’re not entirely sure just how many of the tales surrounding him are actually true. For example, when California banned smoking in public places, Swartzwelder, a heavy smoker, allegedly purchased his favourite booth from his diner of choice and had it installed at his home where he could smoke at will and still keep his usual routine.
Swartzwelder is credited with having written more Simpsons’ episodes (59) that anybody else, starting with 1990’s Bart the General and ending with 2003’s The Regina Monologues. He has worked on some of the show’s finest episodes including the likes of Homer at the Bat, Whacking Day, Rosebud, Homer the Vigilante, Itchy and Scratchy Land, Bart the Fink, Homer vs the Eighteenth Amendment and Homer’s Enemy. Arguably though, You Only Move Twice could very well be his pièce de résistance, incorporating great one-liners, clever movie pastiches, genius sight gags and surreal flights of fancy in to one neat 22 minute comedy package.
The episode as a whole manages to get that special Simpsons blend just right. It’s got family drama in the form of the family’s troubles in a new town, character development in the shape of Homer sacrificing his own happiness for that of his loved ones and, rather than simply relying on a special guest star or gimmick, it has a unique central concept too. It takes the family out of Springfield and gives them a whole new environment to work in, all while having Homer excel for once rather than floundering. In other words, You Only Move Twice is The Simpsons at its very best; inventive, full of warmth and crammed with hilarious moments.
(Image credits: FOX)