Pumpkin Root Beer!

Excerpted from The Smart Aleck's Guide to Bootleg Soda, our soda syrup recipe book. It's not every textbook company that has its own in-house beverage! Most of them just drink a lot of gin.


PUMPKIN ROOT BEER (Staff Pick)

One taste of this and we knew: this is why there is a Smart Aleck Staff. So we could make stuff like this. Sure, we’re also good for making fun of historical hats, teaching subtle lessons about info literacy and contextualizing history, but this may be our finest accomplishment.

This quickly became our in-house root beer. It may look like there’s not THAT much root beer in it, but the flavor of the root beer syrup is a stronger than the flavor of the pumpkin spice syrup, really, and, after all, root beer is really just a spice soda to begin with. This is a particularly spicy version of root beer that has just a bit of pumpkin in it, which makes it a fantastic autumn soda to pair with stews. Like “Pineapple Habanero,” this is one flavor that we mention to people just to see their mouths water. And it lives up to the hype!

We made it from mixing two syrup bases together, so there’s a bit of work involved here: One COULD make it all at once, but we haven’t been able to fully replicate the results in one saucepan yet that we get from combining the bases. You can just up the level of cloves and cinnamon in the root beer base and toss in some pumpkin, though, and the results will probably be just fine.  


This is our two-syrup method:

MODIFIED BLONDE ROOT BEER BASE (without the honey or vanilla):
1/4 cup sarsaparilla (or 1/8th cup sarsaparilla and 1/8th cup sassafras roots, if you have some)
2 star anise pods, freshly ground
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 small mint leaves
1.5 teaspoons fresh ginger
5 allspice berries
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of fennel
Dash of coriander
1.5 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cups



 As with the colas, you can also try a tiny bit of gum arabic (web link) (for a fuller “mouth feel.”) Or a tiny dash of citric acid. 
Add a couple cups of water - you can use a bit more here than you would in some recipes. The amount of liquid left after straining tends to be lower than you’d think with this one. Some people even put in 4 cups of water to 1/4 cup sarsaparilla.
Simmer all ingredients for 30 minutes, then strain. 

Pumpkin Spice Base:
1 cup water
3 teaspoons canned pumpkin
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1.5 teaspoons ground cloves

Simmer spices and pumpkin in water for 20 minutes, stirring to make sure the pumpkin is dissolved, and strain. Use whole cloves and cinnamon sticks if you feel like it and want some extra artisan points. Even if you use the ground stuff, though, you’ll want to stir thoroughly and strain it, or you’ll get a chalky syrup in the end.

TO MAKE PUMPKIN ROOT BEER SYRUP:

Ingredients:
1 part modified blonde root beer base 
2 parts pumpkin spice base
6 part sugar

Combine one part root beer base with two parts pumpkin spice base (the root beer flavor will still dominate). Mix the combined liquids with sugar (1 part liquid to 2 parts sugar) in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat at once and let cool. Mix one part of the resulting syrup with 4-8 parts carbonated water. 


Some PLAY ME BACKWARDS reviews

Reviews for PLAY ME BACKWARDS are trickling in this week, and I couldn't be happier with them!

Cite Something calls it "immensely readable" and says it will have "wide appeal...this one will be easy to move off the shelves." (boy, I hope so!)

YA Books Central says that the book is "hysterical, disgusting, endearing, perfect."

A Staff Recommendation from Mabel's Fables, an indie book shop, calls the book a masterpiece and compares it to the second Meat Puppets album, which, they note, Kurt Loder once called a "cultural trash compactor." I've never been compared to a trash compactor in a five star review before, but I'll take it.

Benni the Blog calls it honest, sincere and funny.

Falling for YA  liked it, as well.

VOYA gave it a 9/10 (which counts as a starred review, according to Simon and Schuster) and called it "hilariously subversive, but also tender and poignant."

Geek In Librarian's Clothing says "I made the mistake of starting this book in the middle of a crowded restaurant at lunch and couldn’t stop laughing out loud- and I tried. Everyone was looking and it was so awful, but still I couldn’t stop."

I've been compared to Rob Thomas, Stephen Chbosky, Andrew Smith, and Seth Macfarlane in various reviews. One noted that the whole book had her humming a Mountain Goats song, which I sort of hoped would happen. There's one whole chapter composed of the sort of clever similes about love that populate so many Mountain Goats tunes :)

I know of a few more are coming this week, so I'll add to this post as they come.

My Life, Viewed Through a Simpsons Marathon

Note: this post is got a bit out of hand; way longer than I imagined it would be. I thought I'd just write down some stray notes and memories that came to me while I watched the "Every Simpsons Ever" marathon.  It's ended up being a novella-length autobiography through the prism Simpsons memories. I didn't think I'd get so worked up and misty so often. I was Bart's age when the series began, now I've grown up, the world has changed, and The Simpsons has marked the time. I kept breaking into speeches like that one about baseball and America from Field of Dreams.  This is a long ramble. Click the "read more" button at your own risk. 


So they’re showing every episode of The Simpsons, in order, over the next 12 days on FXX. I just spent the summer showing highlights of the series to my eleven year old stepson, and now I’m sitting here, watching episode after episode and getting a bit misty, remembering where I was when I first saw this one and remembering where I was when I first saw them. I’m transported back to my old house in suburban Des Moines, my grandma’s old house, my friends’ old houses…classrooms where we’d talk about the show, break rooms at my first job that had a little TV…. this marathon is like watching my life flashing before my eyes.

One promo clip keeps saying "There's no way you've seen them all." But I have. I haven't re-watched the last 10-15 seasons nearly as much as I have the first 10, but I've been watching religiously since the old days. Sometimes I used to have to go to great lengths to see episodes that got delayed due to football so the VCR set for 7 or 8 (depending on where I was living) didn't get it, but I always managed it in the end.

 Here are some thoughts and memories, to be updated as I go along. It's really just for my own amusement and nostalgia, but I'd love to hear what YOU remember about the old days of these early episodes.

SEASON 1

“Bart the Genius.” This was the first episode I saw; I was watching when it first aired. Official pilot, if you don’t count the Christmas special, which I missed. i remember the newspaper TV guide had an article called “The Simpsons breaks all rules, gets prime time shot.” I watched this at my grandparents’ house in Windsor Heights, Iowa. Grandpa laughed a lot, but the next time we were over and the show came on he grumbled and said he didn’t like this show.   It's one of my last memories of him.

I was in third grade. The Bart Craze started right up; my dad tried to give me the “Bart” haircut I wanted in our family room using pinking sheers. It didn’t work.

“There’s No Disgrace Like Home.”  I was in my grandma’s basement for this one, watching on the boxy old TV with a wired remote control thingie....  


“Bart the General” - the ‘war with nelson’ and the one where he goes to France in season 1 were episodes that stood out for me this season; it was a big, big deal five years later when we finally saw them again in syndication. It’s easy to forget now how previous season episodes of a show were hard to find back then.

“The Tell Tale Head” I remember my mom saying “Looks like Bart is falling in with a bad crowd” and using this to give me a little talk about peer pressure. I was about that age. 

SEASON 2

“Bart Gets an F” may have been my first experience with a “water cooler.” There was a lot of discussion in my fourth grade class about whether Bart really should have passed the fourth grade or not. 

“Homer vs Lisa an the 8th Commandment” - I missed this one when it first aired; I was excited about it after hearing a radio ad (I specifically remember being in the car in the parking lot of the mall), but for some reason I didn’t catch the episode until a re-run, during which I was at a friend’s house in Omaha.

The rest of season two I have vague memories of catching in my parents’ bedroom, in grandma’s basement again, and sometimes in my own family room. I would always run up to the TV at the beginning to make sure I was close enough to read what Bart wrote on the chalkboard. 

SEASON 3

It was during Season 3 that I noticed that this show had gotten REALLY good. The animation was better than it had been before, and the writing was “smart” in a way that I hadn’t really been conscious of in other shows. It occurred to me that the lack of a laugh track, in addition to being animated, allowed them to do comedy in a way that other shows could never do. It was all in the timing. “Radio Bart” stood out for me in particular, and the “to be continued” tag at the commercial break for “Separate Vocations." It was this year that I started saying The Simpsons was my favorite show; it had been Full House before.

For “Bart the Lover” I remember seeing the first ten minutes - the part with the yo-yo team - at Gold Medal, the baseball card store at Merle Hay Mall, where I would have been buying Marvel Comic Cards, which was my gateway out of baseball cards and into comic book collecting. The store is gone now - the whole basement level of that mall is gone, along with the statue of the naked guy with angel wings riding a tricycle that used to be in the main walkway.

Some months after “Homer at the Bat” aired, my friend Seth wrote up a parody of Talkin’ Softball about the ’92 election. It went “Well Bush be in the bushes hunting Quayle….Clinton claims he’s from the south, but he’s runnin’ away at the mouth with his campaign….we’re talking ODD BALL / describin’ Ross Perot! / talking screwwww ballll….”    I knew “talking baseball,” the original, from a Baseball’s Greatest Hits tape they sold at K-Mart and had memorized; i’m not sure if Seth knew the original or not, but I think every kid in town had that tape.

Around the time this one first aired, Spring of 92, I was graduating Cub Scouts and went to an orientation for Boy Scouts. When they told me the meetings were on Thursday at 7pm, I blurted out "That's when the Simpsons comes on!" A few people groaned, looked at me with scorn, and said "So what?" I didn't join the Boy Scouts.

"The Otto Show"  "Hail to the Bus Driver" is sort of a mystery song; I run a blog tracing the origins of songs like that called Playground Jungle, and as far as I could tell, this episode was the earliest "publication" of the song. But it was already a known thing; I remember going around singing it right after the episode aired at a post-production party for the cast of a play I was in a the Des Moines Playhouse, and some other kid bragged that he'd learned it at camp a year or two before - an early instance of someone slagging me off for not being into something before it was famous. A couple of years later, when I got Metallica tickets and dreams of the show came nightly, I usually imagined it would be just about like the Spinal Tap concert in the episode.

"Bart's Friend Falls in Love" was a standout, one that I considered my favorite episode ever at the time. I loved the Indiana Jones parody at the beginning, and the "Homer Says: Learn These Words" tag at the end. No other show was doing stuff like this - little surprises and easter eggs that made you have to tape the show so you could hit pause and see it again. Of course, now just about every show does it. I've often wondered how much the perceived decline in the show's quality over the years is really a decline in quality, not just that the show isn't as revolutionary now that a few generations of shows building on it  have come and gone.   The line "there stands a broken man...it's recess everywhere but in his heart" is still one of my favorite lines from the show, ever.

 Interestingly, my brother says he missed this one when it first aired and thought it was a new one when he first saw it in syndication (he didn't know quite how syndication worked at the time). Syndication was still a few years off.

SEASON 4

"Kamp Krusty."  Sixth grade. I started hanging out with Seth, my first equally-obsessed friend.  One day in class we were talking excitedly about how it was "Simpsons Night" and a few people gave us odd looks. "You guys still watch that show?"

The episode that night was Kamp Krusty, one of the finest episodes of them all, and the opening of Season 4. Season 3 was great, but somehow Season 4 took things to new heights.

For my money, the show really hit the peak of its powers in season 4-6, but during that whole period, no one seemed to know how good it was. The Bart Craze was pretty much over by then, and a lot of people seemed to forget there had ever been a show attached to it. It wasn't until the show had been in syndication for a year or two that I started hearing people talk about how it was a "thinking man's cartoon" and seeing articles listing it among the top sitcoms ever - all through middle school, I'd get weird looks when I told people I watched this show, and weirder ones when I talked about how good it was.  But when syndication DID start, I was in 8th grade, working my first job as a bag boy at Hy-Vee Grocery Store; when this episode came on in the break room, people recited the dialogue along with the show. Knowing that The Simpsons was awesome felt like being in on a secret back then.

Now my stepson is going into sixth grade, just the age I was when this one came out. The Simpsons Lego mini-figs got him more interested in watching the show this past summer, so we watched several together. It was the biggest rite of passage of fatherhood for me since sharing my Star Wars toys with him when he was five. This was one of the first ones I showed him.

"Lisa the Beauty Queen" - this is the one with Bart dealing three card monte at the school carnival. By this time my sixth grade lunch table was the bane of the school - we were always in trouble for our rowdy antics. After this episode, whenever we were getting in trouble, I suggest we rob the school bank, use the money for bus fare to Italy, and make a living dealing three card monte on the street. It seemed hilarious at the time. 

Thoughout this season I'm having random flashes of remembering watching it in my old family room, or in my grandma's basement, or my parents' bedroom (where I'd be relegated to watch TV if people were watching something else downstairs). I'm gonna be at work when the Monorail episode comes on. And it looks like I have to get an ice water bucket on my head right around the time that "Last Exit to Springfield" comes on. I remember thinking both of those were a-listers when they aired, and arguing with Seth in gym class over whether Mr. Burns's "Listen to them singing.." routine was a reference to The Grinch or Horton Hears a Who. I didn't get most of the references in these episodes at the time; I'd never seen Citizen Kane or read Ahab's last speech in Moby Dick. Even now I'll still see something that clears up a reference to an episode I've been watching and rewatching for 20 years. This tought me a valuable lesson for kids book writers: kids don't have to get all your references right away. If they don't get them til later, they might end up liking your book more in the long run. I've never been hesitant to work Nixon jokes into kids books.

"The Front" - got back home and done with work in time to catch this one. The Itchy and Scratchy outing that ends with them just saying "Kids: Say No to Drugs!" inspired a sketch comedy thing my brother and I would do - he would play "Mark, the Quick and Clumsy," a once-great athlete who now couldn't run down the street without getting hit by a car, etc. He'd end every sketch by saying "Say no to drugs, kids!"

Overnight, I slept through "Treehouse of Horror IV," the one with the Dracula parody. Still probably my favorite. My freshman year of high school, I convinced the seniors in the theatre department that I was cool by knowing the hand motions one should do when saying "Super Fun Happy Slide!" This was a few years in the future yet, though.

"Homer the Vigilante" I remember watching on our old blue and white checked couch, using this remote control whose battery cover looked like a Pac Man ghost. Really an under-rated episode, if you ask me. I remember talking with Seth about what the chase scene at the end was based on, but I can't remember if we knew.

It was around this time, the time this one aired, that I first started hearing people talk like Homer. My friend Ryder was saying "d'oh" and "woohoo" at my house one time, and my dad asked, "Why are you talking like Homer Simpson?" It's hard to imagine now that there was a time when people didn't go around saying "d'oh" all the time.

My 7am #SimpsonsSelfie: "Say the line, Bart!" I think I was in my grandma's house when this one aired; I seem to remember watching it in her basement.


After that episode we came to a run that I just watched with my stepson, so I tied an onion to my belt and wandered around Chicago. Grandpa said "it was the style at the time," and I'm bringing it back. 


SEASON 5

"Sweet Seymour Skinner's Badasssss Song" I remember this one VERY well. In the family room. Same blue couch. This was the 100th episode, and they aired it along with "Bart the Genius," the first episode of Season 1 proper. Reruns hadn't started, so I hadn't seen a season one episode in about 3-4 years - ages to a seventh grader. A couple of days later during a bike ride on Douglas Ave, Seth and I talked about how weird Homer's voice seemed.   During promos I remember Kelsey Grammar saying "May you make a hundred more."  I remembered that when they got to 200. And 300. And 400.....   I rewatched the tape I made over and over. At one point, I had every episode on VHS. Took up a lot of space here in my small apartment, though.

"The Boy Who Knew Too Much."  I've quoted the "hey kid...you wanna see a dead body?" line in ghost tours nightly for years. You can find room for that line on every route. Sometimes I'll just say it to passers-by from the doorway of the bus.

SEASON 6

It was around this time that I went into eighth grade and the show went into syndication. Seth was concerned that "Simpsons Night" would be less special, and maybe he was right. But season 6 was the series at the very height of its powers, my favorite of them all. And still, people would say "you still watch The Simpsons?"

"Lisa's Rival" I remember watching at  Superbowl party - just googled around and confirmed that Fox aired it against the Superbowl in 1995. A few of us dorks snuck away from the game to watch The Simpsons. I brought a two liter "Coke II," the rebranding of "new Coke," to the party, and one girl said "I knew he would bring something weird." This was the height of my Star Wars action figure collection days (a hobby that dominated my life in middle school, back when you could still find them at garage sales), so I loved Ralph using them as his "diorama," though the geek in me noted that packaged Star Wars action figures didn't look anything like they did here (though later some later series of them did, now that I think about it......). I might have missed the original airing; I was working props at a play in the basement of the Playhouse at the time, and you never knew when a VCR would mess up, a game would get slid by a football game, etc.

"Itchy and Scratchy Land."  I remember seeing this at Grandma's house, same TV as we watched "Bart the Genius" on. It wasn't one of my favorites then, but is now. A few weeks ago on a family vacation/reunion I asked my brother to pick his top 10 to show my stepson, and this was the first one we watched. I hadn't seen it without syndication cuts in ages. It aired October 2, 1994. That's a month that stands out for me as a big one. I was working in the theatre, got my first REAL job bagging groceries, was starting to talk with the family about moving to Atlanta. On the day before this aired I went on a bike ride around town that was nothing special, but I felt fantastic. I had a song I thought of as "artsy" stuck in my head and it was nice and gray outside. Halloween decorations were going up. It's weird, but it felt like such a momentous day that I tried to do something cool after October 1st that came after. Years later I started saying that day was the first day I felt like the person I grew up to be. Ten years to the day later I moved from Atlanta to Chicago. This is getting me all nostalgic. It'll be twenty years since that day in about six weeks. So much of my life has changed since then. I'm a grown-up now. My stepson is about the age I was then. We weren't even online yet back then. The whole world has changed.  But through it all, there's been The Simpsons, marking the time. Measuring my life like coffee spoons.  Excuse me.

"Sideshow Bob Roberts" - maybe I missed this when it first came on; I mostly remember seeing it in the apartment outside Atlanta where we lived for the Spring/Summer while we waited for the house to be built.There were quite a few early season 6 episodes that I think got messed up by football or something, because I didn't seem them til spring or summer. I was just starting to get my head around politics and figure out what "liberal" and "conservative" meant when Sideshow Bob ran for mayor. My parents weren't that political, at least around me (though I remember they caucused for Jesse Jackson in 1988). I knew they were for Clinton, though Grandma voted Bush. Now I was hearing about this Bob Dole guy who didn't like my favorite bands. Between this episode, and a MAD magazine thing about conservatives taking over Sesame Street around this time, I started to figure things out and figure out where I stood.

"Homer the Great" - the Stonecutters episode. We're getting close now to the time I moved away. I remember hearing a radio ad for this one when Seth and I were being driven to the flea market at the fairgrounds, where we went looking for 1980s action figures (mostly); the made a big deal out of Patrick Stewart being a guest star. We liked Star Trek: Next Gen quite a bit, so this was exciting. Loved the episode.

I'll be at work for the next stretch, which includes "Bart vs Australia" (maybe the last one I remember watching in Grandma's basement), "Lisa's Wedding" (which I saw 2/3rds of in Omaha, where I was visiting a friend. He was a bit shocked that I still watched The Simpsons, as I recall. Didn't see the first ten minutes for a long time). "The PTA Disbands" was the last one I watched in Des Moines, and the next one, in which Bleeding Gums Murphy dies, was the first one I saw in my bedroom in the apartment outside of Atlanta. I remember thinking they were really on a roll with great episodes at the time; a few weeks later came "Lemon of Troy," the war on Shelbyville, which has long been my go-to answer when someone asks for my absolute favorite. I remember calling Seth long distance and cracking up over this one. Now and then on a tour, when we're a space with a name in cement, I'll do the old "Who was this person? How did they write their name in solid cement?" line.

I'll get back right around time for "Who Shot Mr. Burns" part 1. After that one aired, my brother and I spent the whole summer watching it over and over, looking for clues. I remember how THRILLED we were when we noticed that "Pardon My Zinger," the comedy central show Smithers said he never missed, was playing in the scene in Moe's Tavern. We saw clues in every strange shape.  My brother bought an Entertainment Weekly issue specifically because it had an article with some clues people had found and posted online (We weren't online yet ourselves, to my chagrin). He tells me today that he remembers the cashier teasing him, thinking he was buying it for Courtney Cox, who was on the cover ("and was actually my least favorite of the three female Friends).

Watching and re-watching that episode is the best thing I remember about that summer in the apartment, besides taking pleasant strolls out to the mailboxes to pick up rejection slips for my fantasy and horror stories. The rest of the time, we spent at the complex's pool, hanging around with a couple of girls, one of which I had a crush on mainly because there was no one else around to have a crush on. I can't remember if they liked The Simpsons, though I don't recall ever watching an episode with them. They were into shoplifting, mostly.


I remember my brother and I also having contests when reruns aired to see who could "Name the Episode" first. He recognized "Homer the Vigilante" in one frame. I'm still not sure if he'd checked the TV Guide or something (he swore to me just now that he didn't cheat). Hanging around at home watching TV beat hanging out with shoplifters.  There wasn't much else to do in that complex; back in Des Moines I'd been able to ride my bike to the comic book store, garage sales, the mall, and any number of places that sold candy and magazines. In Atlanta I was basically stranded until I could drive.

  When Part 2 finally aired, Mom guessed that the shooter would turn out to be Maggie, without having actually even seen part 1. Most of the TV references to Twin Peaks and Dallas were over my head at the time. I didn't get the Twin Peaks reference until just last year.

Overnight, I'll be sleeping through all of the other episodes I remember from the apartment, and the first ones from when we moved into our house. We missed "Treehouse of Horror VI" due to messing up on the VCR. This was devastating at the time; I love Halloween cartoons in general, and those episodes had always been highlights of the seasons. Shortly after ingratiating myself to the seniors in the drama dept with my knowledge of "THH IV," one of them told me that VI hadn't been all that good, really. That guy is now directing a Friday the 13th movie. I was in a play wit him about Wrigley Field bleacher bums; it took place about 3 miles from my current apartment. Small world.  When I finally did see THH VI, it really was a lackluster outing. The first of several lackluster THH outings, unfortunately. Perhaps this was the first crack in the wall.

SEASON 7

"Two Bad Neighbors," the one where George and Barbara Bush move in across the street, is one I showed my stepson this summer; it was a good opportunity to teach him the legend of Dan Quayle, God's gift to comedians when I was his age. Shortly after this one aired my dad took me to a big motivational speaking thing at which Barbara made a speech; I seem to recall she mentioned enjoying the episode. Some years before, when George had said "America needs to be less like the Simpsons and more like the Waltons" during the 92 campaign, the show had hastily tagged on a clip of the family watching that and Bart saying "Hey, we're just like the Waltons. We're praying for an end to the Depression, too." Pretty good burn! I don't remember seeing it when it first aired, or knowing about it, or even knowing that the economy was particularly bad at the time, being 11 or 12 and all. I knew the governor got booed tossing out the first pitch at a minor league game, but my parents told me not to boo along unless I understood what I was booing about.  By the time this episode aired, I was midway through my freshman year of high school, Clinton was finishing out his first term, and retail and restaurant jobs were embarrassingly easy to get. I got a gig at the Olympics directing traffic in the VIP tennis parking lot just by walking into a K-mart where they had a recruiting table set up. I told Billie Jean King where to park and talked with co-workers about the episode where the Simpson kids move in with the Flanders. That summer I found a circa 1990 book about The Simpsons in a used books shop; it was all about Bart and seemed to come from a whole other era in human history to me. Weird to think it was only 6 years old now.

"Lisa the Iconoclast," in which Lisa discovers that Jebediah Springfield wasn't really so cromulent, reminds me more of my life today. I spend most of my time digging in archives, and often finding out that the real story and the way a story went down in history aren't quite the same, and it does get me in trouble. People always want me to say that HH Holmes tortured and killed hundreds of people in his hotel. Really, I think the guy was just a swindler who killed a dozen or so people, and probably never tortured anyone, didn't sell any victims to medical schools, and never claimed to have been born with the devil inside of him. It's kind of like finding out Jebediah Springfield was a pirate, only in reverse.  Not to say that the guy was GOOD, but stories about him are wildly exaggerated, and people don't always like to hear that.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Even the 1996 Olympics stuff is skipping ahead some here. At this point in the marathon we're in a series of season 7 episodes that I think were a bit below average for the era, before hitting a string of home runs at the end of the season. Winter and Spring of 96. Finishing up my freshman year. In a play about Wrigley Field and writing a play of my own about a haunted hotel (kind of seems like I was laying the groundwork for my adulthood, looking back).


Going back to the episode on right now, "Homerpalooza," which was a big deal at the time. I was a big Smashing Pumpkins fan and loved that they were on the episode (and reading in some magazine that they were really huge Simpsons fans in real life). Looking at it now it's a real time capsule of the days when alternative was hanging on by a thread; I remember a general feeling that "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" was going to be the last great alternative album. There were other good ones, but by 1996 this whole thing about calling people sell-outs and hating anything popular was just getting tiresome. I remember talking about this episode after it aired in the hallway of the drama department where I was briefly allowed to eat lunch, instead of eating by myself, as I did for most of high school. I liked it in the drama dept, though the "Theatre people are the only REAL people" attitude got tiresome, since I never totally felt like I fit in THERE either. But the girl I had a huge crush on came through now and then, which swept any other concerns away. Looking back now I feel like it would have been a disaster if I ever went out with her. In fact, all of my crushes from my teenage years seem like they would have been disasters. The one girl I did go out with was a disaster (at best). She didn't like The Simpsons. She said "they bother me."

But that was a year or so away when "Homerpalooza" came on. Nowadays I feel like Grandpa in this one. "I was with it. Then they changed what it was.... It'll happen to you..." You kids today, with your dub-stepping and your trap-hopping. At least I'm with it in enough to know that most of the music we played in the 90s was crap, really. The kids next door seem fascinated with 80s music. They found out when I was born and ask if I was into New Wave. You know. When I was 2.  It was also around the time this aired that I realized that kids in fifth grade probably didn't even remember the big Bart craze. I was old. At 15. I think tomorrow I'll go up to the north burbs and go to Billy Corgan's tea shop.

SEASON 8

A lot of my friends name "You Only Move Twice" as their favorite episode; I remember talking about it at lunch the next day, where Homer's end line ("you just don't understand football") was much admired. That semesteer i ate with friends from the debate team, since they no longer let anyone eaet in the drama dept hallway. It's the only half decent semester i remember, lunch-wise. I can't dredge up many memories of lunch from that school from the next couple years after that. When my 10th hs reunion year came, i went to the reunion in Iowa. Most people didn't seem to realize i hadn't actually gone to high school there. They didn't have any memories of me from those years, but probably just assumed I was off in a haze of drugs or something. They weren't far off (except for the drug part).

"Bart After Dark," the one with the burlesque house, I loved when it came out. The Bible Belt had made me interested in neo paganism, and I loved Bart's line in which he says "Lady, I have been grossly misinformed about witches."  I remember watching the VHS tape of it again and again in Grandma's den down in our basement (she moved into a mother-in-law suite there when we moved to Atlanta), the one room in the house where we were able to connect the computer to AOL. Simpsons stuff was among the first things I looked up online when we finally got connected. This one reminded me of the "war on shelbyville" episode, which I now learned was called "Lemon of Troy" as internet culture began to demand that one know the actual titles of episodes (which no one ever did before that). I don't think I'd yet found out just how toxic the Simpsons newsgroups already were yet (they were saying the show had started to suck years before everyone else did), but I felt like a god in the Simpsons Trivia AOL chat room.  I'd soon learn that hating everything new to an ongoing series/band was coin of the realm in online fan culture. Today I probably warn my kid about online fandoms more than I warn him about drugs.   Meanwhile, though, The Simpsons was no longer a secret. The show wasn't as edgy or groundbreaking anymore, but season 8 is full of great episodes. Somewhere around season 7 or 8, a long era which the show and the internet often seemed to be at war with one another began. I seem to recall that the message board I was on hated this one because of the song and dance number; such things were generally hated on the board. I loved them, though. And discovered quickly that you can't please an online fandom.

When "Hurricane Neddy" aired I was back in Des Moines for a few days over winter break; I watched this one in the bedroom at my grandparents' place. Back in Des Moines, some of my old friends could drive now, and the city felt like my oyster. Being back in a town with a centralized population after the sprawling subdivisions of Atlanta felt like busting out of jail. But a lot of old scenes were gone. My house wasn't mine anymore, obviously, and even Seth was in a new house; we watched a really messed up tape of "Bart After Dark" and a few other episodes in his new basement. We puzzled over having seen a list that said "22 Short Films About Springfield" was one of the worst ones. We'd hit this interesting point where the world at large seemed to have finally realized that the show was great, but the "hardcore fans" had decided that it sucked.

Just a thought: in this episode we learn that Ned Flanders hates his parents. In just the last one, when the phone kept ringing at night, he kept answering thinking it might be his mother.  I've always wanted to see more of Ned and his current relationship with his parents. This episode shows why Ned talks like he does, but he must have had quite a religious conversion at some point that we've never really heard about. I know the parents turned up in one fairly recent episode, but it didn't clear things up much.

The "chili pepper" episode was one that I missed at first - another VCR messup (or a football delay - I don't remember for sure). Had to wait for the rerun. A few months later came "The Springfield Files," the X-Files crossover, which I remember talking in class the next day about; there was a wide consensus that it was a lot better than the X-Files episode that had aired that day.  

Off to work now, so I'll be missing the "Poochie" episode that showed that the online criticism was already getting to the writers - it was a brilliant response, but also seemed like saying "Hey, how can you expect us to still be good?" But the problem wasn't that it wasn't as good; it was that it wasn't cutting edge anymore. Nothing's that cutting edge when it comes out and gets famous is still cutting edge eight years later. That's just the way of things. They certainly couldn't change and please the message boards, where people tended to judge episodes on how well it fit into a very particular box they'd constructed. Much of online reviewing, I've found, is just judging things on how well they fit into some box the reviewer has constructed in their mind. Simpsons fandom was among the first things to show me that.

continuing after work...

Now, "My Sister, My Sitter" is an odd case. I seem to remember watching it in my old living room in Des Moines, which obviously can't be right, since I'd been out of there for a couple of years when this one aired. I don't remember where I saw it, though I remember thinking it was a lower-tier episode at the time. I never bought the idea of Lisa being a babysitter when she's in second grade, but even the lower tier episodes had plenty of funny lines.  Anyway, when it aired first I probably missed it; I was probably at work at Fuddrucker's, where I worked for a couple of months until they declined to fire the guy who was chasing me with knives because he thought I was gay.  Right around the time of "Grade School Confidential" I switched to working at Folks, a hillbilly restaurant. That didn't go so well, either. I might be tempted to say I didn't like it much because I was in a bad place, emotionally, but rewatching now I still think it's just okay. I loved some of the others around it, like the Beer Baron one and "Grade School Confidential," in which Skinner and Krabapple started hooking up. For a lot of them, I remember missing the episode, coming home from work, then watching the tape on the TV in the den.

Overnight, they'll be showing "Homer's Enemy," often cited as a turning point in the series ("When it started to suck"), and the notorious "Principal and the Pauper," the early season 9 episode in which it turns out that Skinner is an imposter, and the REAL Skinner has been in a POW camp since Vietnam. That one has a reputation, even among the staff on the show, as a terrible episode. When I suggested putting it on this summer, even my stepson said "I hear that one is terrible." But I actually LOVE both of those episodes. I seldom laughed out loud harder than I did at the death of Frank Grimes in "Homer's Enemy," and even with the outlandish premsie, "Principal and the Pauper" has one great scene after another. And I quote the "under penalty of torture" line from the end all the time. These were episodes that came out when I was with my first girlfriend, which was an experience I'd rather not even think about now.  And not just because she didn't like The Simpsons.  While we were together Seth and Tanner, my friends from Des Moines, came to visit in Atlanta, and we watched the episode where Apu moves in (and a lot of commercials for the premier of South Park). That fall, my girlfriend and I broke up around the time of the episode where Apu gets married.  I didn't date anyone else until after college. I'll DVR "Lisa's Sax," a good one that I haven't seen in a while.

MONDAY MORNING, SEASON 9

Woke up to "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace." I was working at a Publix Grocery Store when this came on ("best company to work for," my ass.) Came home and my brother had taped it and thought it was the funniest thing ever; he couldn't wait to watch it again. I didn't like it quite as much, myself, though I eventually bought a production sketch from it at Dragoncon. It's one of fairly few that I remember watching in the living room of our house outside Atlanta; we were usually relegated to the den for it. But by this time even my mother admitted to having developed a soft spot for the show; a few weeks before she had cracked up at the "For no reason, here's Apu" part of the "Those Were the Days" parody in "Lisa's Sax."    I remember talking about The Simpsons with a lot of co-workers while bagging groceries at that store; one of them wasn't all that interested in the much-hyped Seinfeld finale that came on around this time, but said "Maybe if they did a last episode of The Simpsons I'd watch it...do they still make new episodes of that?"   I hated that job, hated school, and really don't even remember my junior year very well. The whole of living in that town is sort of a blur to me. But I remember watching The Simpsons.  It was around this time, I think, that I first conceived of getting every episode on tape. They didn't really sell full seasons of things on home video yet, and I worried sometimes that if the show ended, well.... there were a lot of old shows that I liked, but couldn't see anymore.  Eventually I organized the tapes I had and started filling the holes in the collection by taping re-runs. It took a couple of years.

"Das Bus" I certainly saw in the den, and missed the first 10 minutes of or so when it first aired. I remember thinking the internet was going to HATE it (unrealistic plots, like being lost on a desert island, were particularly unpopular on there), but it's a damned funny episode with some particularly memorable lines, like "damn hell ass kings" and "they taste like...burning."  This one one of those periods in time where between work and school I didn't have a day off for weeks at a time. Hated school, hated work, hated the town I lived in.

"This Little Wiggy," in which Bart is forced to become friends with Ralph, was a particular favorite, then and now, that I remember watching next to the computer. It won the grudging respect of even the alt.tv.simpsons message board, which by then was a cynical, toxic place where it was risky to say anything after season 2 or 3 was any good. The whole rest of the season was really excellent, looking back. That summer, between seasons, a kid was buying a Simpsons comic book at the grocery store, and I said "Can you believe they're about to go into season ten?" His mom made a face and said "I don't watch it."

SEASON 10

Season 10 came early with "Lard of the Dance" premiering in August. I remember hearing a radio promo for it in my car while driving home from my new job bussing tables at Damon's, a rib place that had four giant TVs (you could turn the speaker on your table to the audio from a tv of your choice). I was surprised to hear a new episode would be on; so often the season premier didn't come until late October or even early November.  By this time I had switched to the local "alternative" school, besides switching to the new job. It was a long drive to school and a longer one back (traffic), and the job involved a lot of actually climbing into the dumpster, but I liked both the school and job a LOT better than my old ones.       Anyway, I loved "Lard of the Dance."

"D'ohin' in the Wind," in which Homer becomes a hippie, was one I really looked forward to (I was a big Bob Dylan fan; saw him in concert for the fourth or fifth time the month this one aired), and by then I knew the episode's actual titles well before they aired. I missed it due to work, but the VCR came through this time.  At the same time I took a second job at Waldenbooks; I liked to work in the back room, where I'd talk about The Simpsons with a guy named Wes. We'd try to stump each other with obscure references. We both agreed that the show was showing signs of age by then, but still hit it out of the park pretty regularly. I remember suggesting that they should age the kids up a few years to refresh things.  Rewatching them now, I think season 10 was actually excellent. The jokes weren't as fresh as they would have been five years before, maybe, but if this one had come out in season 6, it would have fit in just fine.

-
Right now i'm in my car, up in the north burbs. My wife is working a quick acting gig at an ampitheatre, so i'm sitting in my car in the parking lot. I feel like i should be munching a sandwich and singing "The little spanish flea" while  eating junk food, like when Homer waiting in the car while Barf and Milhouse went to the Spinal Tap show, but this being the 21st century i have the marathon streaming on my phone and the blogger app up on my tablet. Weird to think how recently in history i thought it was necessary to tape and save every episode, just in case.   "Viva Ned Flanders" just came on. I was excited for this one, hoping that it would have a bit about Ned's parents, who I always want to see more of. Wes at Waldenbooks especially liked the line in which Homer calls Ned "Churchy la Femme." 

 This run of episodes i'm watching in the car is really excellent. I loved the one with the curfew that came after Viva Ned, and now they're on the terrific Sunday Cruddy Sunday, in which Homer takes a bus junket to the Superbowl. And which i know I saw in the living room on tape a few hours after it aired. The Atlanta Falcons were in the Superbowl that year, so it was a big night for restaurants that had TVs, like Damon's. The episode came on after the game, and we had to change the channel at work; The Simpsons was not considered "family friendly" by the management. 

As a side note, the episode actually plays "The Little Spanish Flea" under the credits, so I'm feeling more like Homer waiting out the Spinal Tap concert in his car than ever. I even have the sandwich. Here's a pic I took earlier:



When we came to an episode I'd seen a few weeks ago, I drove around Highland Park a bit. It's a weird town, Highland Park. It's just a regular upper crust north shore burb, really, and Billy Corgan's tea shop was closed by the time I got there, but it's the kind of town where the Fuddruckers is shaped like a castle (and was the first place I saw a Coke Freestyle machine). The houses are a mix of massive Tudor mansions, houses that look like the Home Alone house (which is in town someplace, I think, along with Cam's house from Ferris Bueller), and I always run into streets that have the same name as streets I made up for books and songs over the years. At night the town feels like being inside a weird dream to me, for some reason.

Damn, what was IN that sandwich?

I don't normally binge-watch like this. Watching episode after episode, letting my life flash before my eyes, is strange and cathartic. It is cleansing. I feel like I'm getting clarity. This is a new form of therapy. I have not really worked on the new book I'm having trouble with, but I'm getting better ideas for it. Other than typing this, and sneaking off to run a few ghost tours, i've mostly done nothing for four days but sit here, eating and watching TV and thinking. Oh, I've done chores, run errands, and all of that. But much of that is doable with the TV on in the background, at least, so I've had the marathon on pretty much continually. I am reaching a zen state and we're not even halfway done. By the end I will think I am some species of hummingbird. 

I wonder if I could do this with OTHER things, feel like I'm telling the story of my life just be remembering, say, Bob Dylan album releases, or Star Wars stuff, in order of release. It'd be interesting. I don't think either would be quite as comprehensive, but they'd tell a different story. People who barely show up here would play prominent roles in a story of my life based on Star Wars memories. Same with Bob Dylan ones. 

Anyway, I drove home about in time for "Simpsons Bible Stories." By the time of this one I was just about to the end of my senior year. I remember my English teacher laughing about this one the day after it aired and saying she thought they went too far with a joke or two. She wasn't offended herself, though. Most of what I remember about this period in time is counting the days until the new Star Wars movie came out. I do remember watching this one in the den, though, with the promo for next week's episode, where Homer says "Matt Groening? He can't even draw!" and having an eraser hit him on the head.   Some weeks later I went to a midnight release of Star Wars toys, and Fox News had a camera crew to film us. "They have news on Fox?" I laughed. "What is this? World's Deadliest Toy Hunts? When Action Figures Attack Part 7?" This all makes me pause, now, and remember a time when I didn't know about Fox News. 

I looked forward to "Simpsons Bible Stories" a lot, too, though. Arguing about religion was about half of what I did in that town, and I loved religious humor and satire. Hell, half an hour from the end of this episode, it'll be officially the release date of my new book, Play Me Backwards, which I describe as "a novel for young adults who worship the devil." Kinda fitting. Free copy to the first person who reads this far (ha!) and sends an email with your address and the phrase "Hey, is that manna?" in the subject line. 

My last one before going to bed tonight will be "Mom and Pop Art," with the aforementioned scene of Homer being erased. The night that aired, the manager was away or something, and we got away with having it on at work. I saw about the last ten minutes, but tried not to look; unless I was wiping down a table and could mess with the speaker, I couldn't really see it, and I wanted to wait until I could watch the whole thing. I saw the last few minutes, though, with the immortal line "Everything's coming up Milhouse." 

tomorrow: SEASON 11

Woke up in the morning to the one where Marge breaks her leg skiing, best remembered now for Homer's "stupid sexy Flanders" line. It was around this time that Salon published Worst Episode Ever, an article about how bitter and cynical the alt.tv.simpsons message board had gotten. I was in college now, living in my first dorm. The campus would basically shut down on weekends; most people went home (It was a small Georgia town; people who lived in the Atlanta burbs could make a lot more money keeping their old jobs). I lived 90 minutes from campus myself, but with the dining hall closed and no one around, I made the trip myself. If I was staying in, I'd hike out to the gas station to buy Hormel ravioli to watch with The Simpsons, then I'd get online and defend the show's honor. I thought it was a bit past its prime by then, but still excellent overall, but suggesting that it had any redeeming qualities after about season 3 was a good way to make enemies. The show's writers certainly knew it; there got to be more and more references to them in the show, and, increasingly, little times when they'd admit that a plot angle was ridiculous, that they were having trouble coming up with more ideas, etc. But most of the episodes from this season still seem strong, looking back.   I brought my set of tapes (I now had about 90% on tape), and people would sit in my dorm with me, watching episode after episode.

Around then we found out that Maude Flanders was dying, and based on episode titles everyone assumed it was happening in "Faith Off." I liked that one anyway (Bart-themed episodes tended to be my favorite), and LOVED the one where they move into Burns's mansion, which was next in line...

What followed was Saddlesore Galactica, the episode where Homer and Bart buy a racehorse and find that there are singing, dancing troll jockeys living underground. That one I remember watching in my dorm room in a state of mild shock. Though many subtle digs at the message boards had been made before, this one seemed fiendishly crafted simply to piss off the denizens of alt.tv.simpsons. It had characters acting out of character (Lisa not seeming to notice they have a horse?), a chase scene, a singing number, and outlandish plot twists, cartoonish behavior (Moe's heart beating out of his chest)... all capped off with Comic Book Guy saying "Worst Episode Ever" under the closing credits (after pointing out a continuity error in the episode, prompting Homer to ask "Anyone care what this guy thinks?" and everyone shouting "No!") And the villains are "troll jockeys," a common name for unpleasant online agitators. No one online doubted that they were the targets, and that the show had made the worst episode ever on purpose just to spite them. I still think this was pretty much what happened.

 And yet, no word has ever come from the Simpsons camp saying that it was truly intentional - there's not a word about it in the DVD commentary. None of the writers I'm trying to ask about it on Twitter (many are chiming in during the marathon) are responding. 

Well, one thing I learned from message board adventures is that if you get too into a board or blogosphere, you get a bit detached from reality. People on feminist blogosphere sometimes seem shocked when normal, friendly, people (including feminist) use the word "female," which in some segments of the blogosphere is only acceptable in conversations about animal husbandry. I remember when Alf Clausen, the show's musical director, gave an online chat, he was a bit confused by all of the abbreviations (like referring to the Simpsons as OFF ("our favorite family"), which posters seemed to forget were their own mores and codes, not anyone else's. You see this happen in every blogosphere and fandom. Maybe "Saddlesore" just SEEMED like a dig to us, having gotten lost in the toxic world of an online community where trolls have moved in and planted their flag. But it DID end with Comic Book Guy's stinger....

One comment I remember in a discussion was "I'm sure if it was intentional, but what if it wasn't? What if it really WAS just that bad?"  Underneath it all, "Saddlesore" is actually really pretty funny; in a pattern that would come up a lot in the next several seasons, the first act was terrific (the boards taught me to refer to the segments, between commercial breaks, as "acts"), then it started to spiral out of control and get weird in the next couple. Even then, plenty of jokes hit the mark.

Come to think of it, maybe this is what happened with my grandpa, mentioned way back at the beginning, who laughed his way through the first episode then grumbled and said "I don't like this" when the next one came on. He read an article, found that in his "circle" this show was considered offensive somehow, and insisted on disliking it. He DID once plan to support Pat Robertson's presidential bid.

Maude did die in the next episode. I've never looked at a t-shirt gun the same way since. 

 The next one up, in which Homer becomes a missionary to escape from paying his PBS pledge, had plenty of other triggers for the boards, too (and is better remembered now, due to Homer's hilarious line about "Jebus." - a couple of years ago, my brother and his roommate had a dog named Jebus, as well as a couple of Simpsons-named ferrets (Bitey and Mojo) I still say they hit it out of the park most consistently during seasons 3-6, but they were still getting plenty of homers in season 11. But during this period, I spent a lot of time thinking "Oh, god, what are the msg board trolls gonna think of THIS?" Especially on the good ones. 

A few weeks later came "Days of Wine and D'ohses," the one in which Barney sobers up. I was in my second dorm room then, and remember thinking the episode was especially strong because it never apologized for itself. Self-aware references and little nods to their own plot holes and what people online were likely to say had become pretty common, and this one didn't do it at all.  Also, Barney describing his drink at the end as "a double tall mocha latte."  This helped me a bit; I had just taken a job at Starbucks (the first of several hitches I work there over the next five years) and was having trouble remembering the order of details to shout out when calling out drinks. "Double" came before "tall." I'd had trouble with it that very afternoon, working a shift before driving back to school in time to catch the episode. 

One line that especially stuck with me was Cletus calling cardboard tubes "Cardyboard tubes."  A few months later, when I went back to Des Moines for a few days, Seth, my friend Tanner and I reconvened our old band, Scapegoat, to record a new album of songs so immature and inappropriate that we called it Insurance Against Ever Holding Public Office. We still record now and then - recent songs include "Cemetery Safari" and "Crunchberry Diarrhea" - but no power on earth could make me post just about anything from THAT session today. We did have a references to "cardyboard tubes" in one song, though. 

The "Spring Break in Florida" episode that followed I watched at home with the whole family (probably had to work too late), and thought it was pretty goofy. Like a lot of the season, it was a really funny, but ultimately lower-tier, episode. My dad pronounced it "stupid." 

"Behind the Laughter" I saw at home twice; both the time when they referred to Springfield as being in northern Kentucky and the re-run that summer, when the line was changed to "southern Missouri." Seth and I always though it was Missouri; is dad said there was a Shelbyville near the Springfield there. I loved the episode. Watching in the Jiffy Lube now.  Al Jean just tweeted that Phil Hartman is getting a star on the walk of fame today; I remember hearing about his murder on Yahoo and wondering if The Simpsons could ever be as good without him. I might have actually been watching The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase at the time. In a way the show never did really recover. I think that a lot of "Gil" scenes used him in roles that would have been better with a Hartman character.

SEASON 12

For season 12 I was in my next dorm, sophomore year, which my roommate, Joe, and I set up with Halloween decorations year round. We drove 90 minutes both ways to see Rocky Horror every weekend, then slept late, had a lunch of free samples from all the grocery stores, then watched The Simpsons. At some point that year I taped "Homer Loves Flanders," the last one I needed to have the complete series on VHS. Somewhere in the world there is/was a picture of me jumping up and down in triumph.  Most of these I remember watching in the dorm, then arguing about them online. I liked most of the episodes a lot; some of them were really terrific, but, then again, it was the first time that a Sideshow Bob episode sort of let me down. Even the ones I thought kinda sucked now are fine in reruns, really. "Run Lisa Run" and "HOMR" were particular highlights for me. But by this point watching a Simpsons episode was starting to be like going to Bob Dylan concerts - you couldn't necessarily expect that the whole thing would be great, but there were always moments, and often a lot of moments, that made it all worth it. 

At the time I remember thinking that the episode where they get a tennis court was a lowlight, but today I'm sitting here laughing at joke after joke on it. Possibly just because I haven't revisited it so much longer than many of the others.

Lately I'm thinking about just how long this show is. To a kid who is now the age I was when it started (9), the show started sixteen years before they were born. Sixteen years before I was born, the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan show. 

I was back home by "Simpsons Tall Tales," settling in for a semester off, just working at Starbucks. I'll be sleeping through most o the episodes that aired at the time. I remember watching "Tall Tales" in the living room with the whole family, though. My dad laughed particularly hard at the part where they switch Nelson/Huck for a pig.  I'll be sleeping through  the first half of season 13; looking over the list of episodes my memories of watching them aren't that strong. Season 13 was a slow starter. 

...

SEASON 13

Woke up for "Tales from the Public Domain," with the Odyssey, Joan of Arc and Hamlet stories. I watched this in the dorm I moved into, briefly, in Milledgeville. I wasn't in that place long; when I first moved to the school there wasn't enough dorm space available, so they put a bunch of us up in a hotel (which only had internet access in the "business room" on a computer that was missing a couple of keys). Eventually they got me into the dorm, which I shared with an aspiring youth pastor named Judd who I mostly remember spending a lot of time on the phone, trying to convince his girlfriend to stop being a Mormon. I also remember him talking about how scared he was that the Democrats were going to get us into a war (his grasp on the 2002 political scene was a bit odd). Nice guy, though. Season 13 had been hit and miss for me, and mostly miss, really. I didn't really spend as much time defending it online (but I also didn't spend all my time on boards complaining about it, acting as though it was the end of the world, or flaming people who still watched it). This episode was a good one; I especially liked the Hamlet segment.

"Weekend at Burnsies," the medical marijuana episode, was a favorite of mine that season. I seem to remember that I watched it at my friend (later roommate) Mandy's house in Milledgeville. We were looking for a house to rent at the time, and planning to decorate it as Hogwarts Southeast. We and our friends were basically a Harry Potter cult. I had trouble convincing people who hadn't seen it that the episode was all that good the next day ("some people think everything about pot is funny"), but the fact that I wasn't known as a pothead myself came me some credibility here. 

In one of those odd coincidences that seem sort of cosmic when you hit this loopy state one can attain after this much time watching a marathon, as I was walking to the coffee shop just down (watching the marathon on the FXNOW app), it occurred to me that it was 15 years ago today (8/27/99) that I flew to Chicago to see a Tom Waits concert. Now I'm sitting here, watching Phish appear on the show, and I remember that at that very concert I was sitting a few rows behind the guy from Phish. Who is onscreen right now. Neat. I'm still coherent enough to realize I'm being weird here, at least. 

--
Back at home now, "I Am Furious (Yellow)" is on. The one where Bart makes an internet cartoon. I was in a friend's dorm for this one and missed taping it, breaking my streak of having all of them, though by this time the DVDs were coming, and I felt less like it was necessary to have a cupboard full of VHS tapes of episodes with syndication cuts. I'm not as famous as the cartoon creator who comes to career day in the episode, but I am always tempted to tell kids when I do school visits that I spend most of my time eating candy and going to r-rated movies, like he does. Being a writer/historian isn't such a bad life.

By the time of "Little Girl in the Big Ten," the one where Lisa pretends to be a college student, I was in my first house, a really big ranch style place near the Zaxby's. The neighborhood was a dump (cops doing drug raids constantly, and there were some rusty old 1930s or 40s cars buried in tall weeds in a vacant lot). It was still a pretty nice place, considering our rent came to $131.25 each. This one I remember watching in my bedroom instead of the living room there; there was probably some sort of role playing game function going on in the living room. My three roommates were all big gamers, and the house became a sort of headquarters. I mostly stayed in the room with Crookshanks, the cat we got at a shelter (he's sitting on my ottoman, by the window, right now. He wasn't quite a year old when this aired; he's 13 now and missing most of his teeth). Even with the low rent, I was broke as hell and having trouble finding a job. The job market in Milledgeville was just terrible, and even those who were hiring never paid over minimum wage. Mandy was working a graphic design job for the newspaper that I think paid her 7 or 8 bucks an hour.  A few days after this episode I went to Atlanta to camp out for Star Wars Episode II

It was also right around this time that I started the tradition of Simpsons and Pasta Night. Every sunday, I'd make pasta to eat during the show. Often I'd have people over for it. It was a tradition that endured for years and followed me to Chicago.   What's striking me re-watching them now is how little I remember some of them. Looking at the list of upcoming episodes, only a handful have really stuck in my mind.  But it was what I based my schedule around. That first summer in the house I eventually got a job working for Domino's, but the boss was a sexist redneck pig that I quit after a day and went to Pizza Hut. It was a bit better there, but the job didn't pay much; most people in town didn't know you were supposed to tip the pizza guy. In the Fall, once daylight savings time came (the unmarked roads and houses made the job pretty much impossible after dark) I started commuting back to Atlanta to deliver for a different place on weekends - the pay was a lot better. My schedule was pretty much based around being home on Sunday nights to make pasta and watch The Simpsons.   The ones that I do remember watching, I almost invariably watched on that couch in the living room of the house we called "The Burrow."  My friend Justin came over more nights than not, and my friend Carol, who I met in line for Star Wars, came now and then, as well. 

SEASON 14

Mostly I remember bits and pieces from these ones. Just now on the halloween special, I remember the cowboy saying "Play me some piani! Not piano, piani!" which I then said at a recording session a few months later (everyone got the joke and the piano player played some piani). 


One major episode I remember well from this era is "Barting Over," the one that was advertised as the 300th episode (though it really wasn't). But I don't remember the episode itself as well as I remember the 300th episode party I had that night; several people came over, and I made a huge pot of pasta and bought a couple of boxes of Butterfingers as a throwback (just now remembered that Q102, a radio station back in Des Moines did a big Simpsons giveaway - I think it was that whenever you heard "Do the Bartman" on the radio, the tenth caller got a Bart shirt and a box of Butterfingers, though I'm only certain about the BUtterfinger part). I called once and had it ring about 20 times before I freaked out and hung up before anyone answered. I was afraid that even if I won, they wouldn't give the prize to a kid). 

Season 14 has a lot of episodes that I loved, like the one where they live in the "1895 House," but the best ones of the season were generally the political ones. This was the build-up to the Iraq war, when my roommates and I would sit there open-mouthed as Bush kept going on TV and connecting Iraq to 9/11. The Simpsons had a few digs - there was the none-too-subtle "War is not the answer...except to all America's problems!" at the end of the episode where Bart joins the Pre-Teen BRaves (an excellent episode all around), and, better yet, the one where Krusty runs for congress, which had a lot of fun digs at Fox News. My memories of the season, though, are pretty much uniform: sitting on the couch, eating pasta.  I am going to make some pasta right now. 

....

Since that last entry I've been to the suburbs and back (went out to a bookstore that I knew would have my new book on the shelves), but kept watching episodes on the phone while my wife was shopping at the other places. Even had it out for a bit on the table at Steak and Shake. When the screen went black for a second before commercials my face appeared, reflected, on the spot where Flanders' face had just been and it seemed odd and profound. I feel like this marathon is important. It's a part of television history, cultural heritage, and a chance to reflect on our lives at the same time as it messes with our minds. Mine, anyway. I didn't mean for this to turn into an autobiography. Benvenuto Cellini said you shouldn't write an autobiography until you turn 40. I'm not there yet, but Benvenuto Cellini is dead and can piss up a rope.

Season 14 was awesome. I've been so caught up just saying "the peak was season 2-8" (or even "3-6" when I'm grumpy) that I let how great this season was slip from my mind. Got home in time for the end of "Bart of War," possibly my favorite of the year, but every time I've broken away to watch a few minutes, it's been a great scene that's lived in the back of my mind and would have thought was from a few years earlier.   I've had a lot more memories of exactly where I was sitting and who was over when I saw some specific one, but they were all basically in the same living room. Same goes for season 15; I lived in the same house the next year, with some roommate shuffling.  With my first digital camera I took a picture of the 19th century woodcut of Mr. Burns terrorizing children in the "My Mother the Carjacker" episode and used it as my desktop wallpaper for a long time. 

...
SEASON 15

The episode with Mart and Homer's first kiss at Summer camp and the one where Bart gets in trouble for appearing to moon the flag are the last two that I remember watching in Milledgeville. At the end of the season, I moved out. I finished college, got out of town, and only came back once, briefly, to pick up some of my kitchen appliances. I haven't been back since. I spent the next summer working at yet another Starbucks, then moved to Chicago on the tenth anniversary of that Season 6 bike ride. I think the first episode I remember watching in Chicago was a re-run of the season 15 finale, in which Lisa starts a newspaper. The new season got off to a late start, so I had a few weeks of re-runs before the new episodes came on. 

SEASON 16

From here on out, my memories of watching the show are pretty much uniform: I've been in the same apartment this whole last decade, and the TV has been in the same place, in front of the window. The show still hits one out of the park now and then, but most of the time I just watch them and forget them. DVR and other technology mean I don't have to make too much an effort to make sure I never miss an episode. There's no combing through the TV guide, making sure they aren't springing a new one on me in August.  Sometimes I wonder if the show is really that much less memorable now, or if it's really just a case where what you get out of something depends on what you put into it. These days I go to concerts and can't tell you the whole setlist a month later, a situation that would have been unthinkable to me in high school. At one point the bio on my website said that I could name any Simpsons episode within a minute, but that's a lot easier to do with 200 episodes than 552.  There may just be too many of them now for me to leave room in my brain for more. One or two memorable episodes per season is about all I can handle.  Often, I see a joke and imagine it just KILLING in the writers' room. But in an apartment, watching by yourself and not too invested, it's not quite the same. 


One I particularly remember from this season - one that I did rewatch several times, is "Midnight RX," showing now. The one where they go to Canada to get affordable drugs. The issues here were hitting me pretty hard at the time - I didn't have health insurance and couldn't get a decent plan that was remotely affordable. The one time I went to a doctor to get a prescription in those days, I didn't fill it because it cost a couple hundred bucks to get the pills. I got a plan that covered nothing and cost 250 a month for a while, but they dropped me when they found out I had a chronic cough. I was bouncing around between jobs, including a brief new hitch at Starbucks (where I didn't get enough hours to qualify for the benefits; I barely knew anyone who did).  This episode was fuel for the troops, even though the recent election meant that nothing was going to change. It's nice to watch it now knowing that things have improved a bit - we self employed people can get decent plans now. Even as a "freelance consultant," Homer wouldn't be completely screwed. Not as badly, anyway. 

Meanwhile, though, since I lived around the corner from an Italian grocery store, I stepped up my pasta making. I developed a sauce that took all day and included house-made sausage (that was still cheaper than grocery store sausage). I still make that recipe now and then, and made it for every girl I dated at the time, I think. Inviting people to Simpsons and Pasta Night was part of how I made friends. It even led to a fight with the girl who'd become my girlfriend in Atlanta and was now planning to move to Chicago - I think the fight over who was making the pasta one night (we both wanted to) was the biggest we ever really had one weekend when she was in town. I ended up making it, but with an admonition to use smaller pieces of sausages than I normally did. We never had HUGE fights, but when I look back I can see that we didn't exactly get along, either.  I think the first big sign of trouble came around then, when she'd call me to talk for the hour or so she spent driving home from work. Having just gotten back from work myself at the time, some days I just wanted to relax and watch the Simpsons re-runs that were on at the same time. I was in a new city, trying to carve out a new life, and The Simpsons felt like a sort of anchor, I guess.   

One job I was able to get, off and on, was working as an assistant to a vendor for Mattel - my boss and I would go around to all the Targets, Toys R Uses, etc in the metro area, checking stock and setting up displays. Starbucks fired me when I took the job; my manager wanted me to keep up unlimited availability. I couldn't turn down even a seasonal job that paid a lot better, though. When the assistant manager (who was a nice guy) had me sign a paper acknowledging that I'd gotten my last paycheck, I asked if he was a "Simpsons man" and invited him over for Simpsons and Pasta night. He never came, though.

My new boss was described to me as "a tough old rock and roll lesbian" by the person who got me the job. We got along great, but for the first couple of months she was always referring to her "roommate." I didn't wanna just come out and say I knew - the first time I remember talking about it with her was when Aunt Patty came out in the episode coming on now, "There's Something About Marrying." 

The job also had me spending a LOT of time in suburban Wal-Marts (Chicago had pretty well kept them out of the city). We hated working at Wal-Mart.  K-Marts tended to be dumpier, less organized, and scarier ("Now and then you hear a really good fight in the back of a K-Mart," my boss said), but Wal-Mart still made me feel dirty. You knew that if you died in the back, your clothes would probably go on the rack and they'd bury you in a shallow grave. You were probably more likely to die in the jumbled, unorganized back rooms of the K-Marts, but you knew that if they ever found you, they'd probably alert the proper authorities. The next episode after "Marrying" had Homer working at "Sprawl-Mart," with signs saying "if you worked here, you'd be poor by now." The show blatantly encouraging employees to rob the store blind. I loved that.  But I'd forgotten all about it until I saw it again just now - a common case with a lot of these episodes. 


...

SEASON 17

Home from work and back at the TV, they're up to "The Italian Bob," the Sideshow Bob episode that takes place in Italy. This one was a shocker - Bob episodes had lately been a let-down, but the day after this one, my brother sent me a message saying "How good was this year's Sideshow Bob?" It made the long list for his "top ten" over the summer that we showed my stepson. At this point, Simpsons night usually followed a "rehearsal" afternoon, when the piano player and guitarist from my band would rehearse for some upcoming recording sessions.  I specifically remember watching this one on a pasta night with the piano player from my band and the girl I was going out with, but for some dumb reason on my part not calling my girlfriend (we're still friends now but I don't think either of us is entirely proud of ourselves when we think of those six months; I know I'm not). I remember that after the episode, which had a take-of on Pagliacci, and I went into a whole routine retelling the plot of that opera, and wrote the line "Pagliacci went out stabbing" that I'd written for her. She came to a lot of pasta nights, sometimes joined by a couple of friends, though she once suggested I pick a different show for pasta nights, since The Simpsons had gone downhill. Season 17 wasn't a banner year, but  "The Italian Bob" is as good as I remember it. It was a sign that even though it was largely singles and doubles in season 15, they could still bag a homer now and then.

...
SEASON 18

Made sure I was up at 6:30 for "Jazzy and the Pussycats," in which Bart becomes a jazz drummer. I watched this one several times and still like it for the jazz scenes, but I had totally forgotten about the subplot with Lisa trying to find a home for zoo animals. This is a pattern in latter day episodes - I remember a lot of the best jokes, but not the plot. By the time this one aired I was a year into my new job as a ghost tour guide, about to become a partner in a new company. I was in a long distance relationship with a woman in Ohio who had come on the tour with my agent a few months before. My first novel was a few months from coming out.

I remember that I looked forward to the episode where Moe becomes a Charles Bukowski-like poet, but didn't think it was all that great. I'm liking it better as a casual re-watch now, particularly the J.Jonah Jameson parody. "Poems? I need photos! Photos of Spider-man!" That became one of many Simpsons lines that worked its way into my tour patter over time. One of the tough things on a ghost tour is how to react when people get excited about "orbs," little blobs of light in digital photos that some people like to say are ghosts. They were thoroughly explained away years ago, but some people still really want me to get excited when they get a picture of them. For a while, when someone showed me a picture of them, I'd say "Orbs? I need photos of Spider-man!" in my best JJJ voice.

In general, I haven't thought about these season 18 episodes, let alone re-watched them in years, but watching them now I'm enjoying the hell out of them.

...
 "Springfield Up," the parody of the "Up" documentaries, was a particular favorite of mine that year, and holds up well - one of the occasional home runs that could have been dropped into any of the early seasons in fit in pretty well. It aired a few days after my first novel came out, which was actually a pretty bad week. I had thought the book would be in more stores than it was; it was mainly sold to libraries and schools, a pattern I've never quite broken. Around this exact time I was working on ideas for a new middle grade project, at Random House's request, and thought a book along the lines of this episode might be fun. It was listed as a possible entry in a series that would have followed Andrew North Blows Up the World, if that book had been a hit. It wasn't, though. However, that same period of brainstorming ideas to pitch at an upcoming meeting (before they'd told me to start writing middle grade, instead of YA) yielded an idea called Dad's Gonna Kill Me about a guy trying to sell his soul (also, not unlike a certain Simpsons episode from years back) that eventually morphed into the new book that came out this week (which'll I plug again - see that book here). Seeing my usual pattern with that book - lots of great reviews in the trades and on the blogs, but not sure how many stores are carrying it. I don't expect much different now, though, so.

Getting an idea from The Simpsons is by no means a faux pas in the book world; it may not even be avoidable at all. South Park did their "They did it on the Simpsons" episode ages ago. A while ago I was asked to write a sample chapter for a packaged project (where producers write the outline, etc, and hire a writer to fill in the blanks). I looked at the outline and said "Didn't they do it on the Simpsons?" The outliner writer said "Yeah, that's where I got the idea!"       Oh, I'm gonna have a few things to say when the season 24 episode about the YA book writing heist comes up. Possibly my favorite episode ever, if I'm being honest.

Anyway, I'm enjoying season 18 enough that I have to wonder: if some of these latter-day seasons were the ONLY seasons, would I know them as well as I know seasons 2-10? Maybe. Depends on a lot of factors. Part of why the early episodes hit so hard was a "right thing at the right time" factor that you can't plan for or reproduce easily. Plenty of these episodes are as good as or better than many season 6 episodes, though only a couple of them really live in my memory now. Again, maybe I'm just getting older, maybe the "marathon" is messing with my head, and maybe I can just only fit so many new episodes into my overall psyche per year.

I can only imagine what it's like for the writers, at this point. Looking at new episodes now is almost like watching them competing in a sport. Can they come up with another one after all these? Just hitting a single is a Herculean feat, really. Al Jean, the show-runner, said something to this effect on Twitter during the marathon; you can't do 552 episodes of a show. But they keep going.  And though I've never referred to Season 18 as a big one, but now I'm even ready to watch "Marge Gamer," the Warcraft parody that I always thought of as a lowlight. ...

....
"Marge Gamer" still doesn't do much for me, but watching episode after episode, with one new job after another for Homer, puts me in mind of what GK Chesterton said about The Pickwick Papers: it is not a novel....for no novel with a plot and a proper termination could emit that sense of everlasting youth -- a sense of the gods gone wandering in England. This is not a novel, for all novels have an end; and "Pickwick," properly speaking, has no end -- (Mr. Pickwick) is equal unto the angles."  That is Homer. That is The Simpsons. A story of the gods gone wandering, with no proper beginning or end. The more I think of it in my marathon-addled brain, the more The Simpsons seems similar to The Pickwick Papers. There's probably a term paper in there someplace, but I'm not at a point in my life where one writes term papers.

....

Season 18 wound down with a double feature of two real winners, the 24 parody and "You Kent Always Say What You Want," and by then the Simpsons Movie was only weeks away, after years and years of rumors. A handful of 7-11s were transformed into Kwik-E-Marts, and I took a series of L trains and busses to get to one out by Midway airport:


I went to the movie with the aforementioned Ohio woman, whom I married about exactly a year later. It was the first movie we saw in the theater together. She doesn't remember going now, though. She thinks the first one we saw was The Golden Compass. I saw it twice, actually - once here and once in Ohio, if I'm not mistaken. 

...

Came home from work just in time to catch the one with the new comic shop; the pork-pie hat wearing owner looked like me. I guess if you watch a show long enough, you're bound to see yourself. Especially if they have as many hundreds of characters as this show has. Of course, I didn't look like him when I started watching:



I didn't have time to watch the whole ep; had to go pick my wife up after a house concert she attended. The entryway of the apartment building smelled EXACTLY like Seth's old house did 20 years ago. I sat out there and watched "E Pluribus Wiggum," the episode where Ralph Wiggun is put up as a candidate for president, and had a sort of moment of zen. 

I loved the episode more now than I did when it aired (though I liked it fine then). Once I thought of looking at it like "the gods gone wandering" in The Pickwick Papers, I started seeing later episodes a new way. I can't claim credit for this insight, really; there was some article a week ago describing the later, Homer-based episodes as an everyman let loose upon the world. But I thought of that Chesterton quote and it's seemed more true with every new Homer episode.  "The Debarted" is on right now, though, and I'm back at home. This one isn't  "Gods gone wandering" episode. It's just a damned good one that could have fit in better with the first ten seasons. 


Woke up to the era when the show went HD, with a new intro. I don't sit right be the tv set to make sure I don't miss the jokes in the intro anymore, but I like. I missed most of the morning episodes of the marathon today, as well as the overnight ones, which is all of the ones from the time in my life when I was first married.

I don't really remember these ones very well - I mostly watched them, enjoyed them, and forgot them - but I'm having weird memories that keep popping up from lines I see quoted on Twitter from previous seasons. I forgot that in high school and college I had a license plate frame that said "Can't sleep - clowns will eat me."  Not "clown," as in the Bart quote from "Lisa's First Word," but I guess the people at Hot Topic didn't want to get sued.

Then I remembered a book I tried to write back in third or fourth grade in the dining room on our old Apple IIe. It might be the first book I ever tried to type, rather than hand-write. It was about a girl who goes on an adventure with martian/zombies. I remember i opened with the line "It's weird how I got so interested in martians." (Or zombies. I don't remember for sure). The story opened with her home alone, watching a Simpsons special, when a martian/zombie (a mixture of the two?) flew in and was excited to see The Simpsons was on. He then rattled off the names of the characters, getting them all slightly wrong, ending with "And, most of all, Brat." (Or, if I wanna flatter myself, I can imagine that I had him say Bart's name as "Bort"). It was pretty heavily influenced by The BFG by Roald Dahl and never got longer than a page or two.

Even in those days, though, i'd sometimes get an idea for a book and get all excited about it. Nowadays the amount of work that goes into it is more apparent for me, so when I get an exciting idea the feeling is more like "here we go again."  Maybe it's like that watching the show, too. I still enjoy it, but I suppose a part of me is saying 'Enough already, Homer Simpson!'"  There are so many great lines in season 20 and 21, but I don't have the brain power to keep memorizing them!

....
Now it's sunday morning. I'm thinking of all sorts of favorite lines, scenes, and episodes that I didn't see in the marathon - episodes that came on overnight, or when I was out running tours. I feel like I've done little besides watching The Simpsons this past week. I feel like I'm IN Springfield. I keep going past convenience stores and thinking Hans Moleman is about to come out. I feel like any minute I could get a tweet from Flanders trying to get me to repent and come to chur-diddily-urch. Up and into Season 22 now; last night I could five or six good but sort of forgettable season 21 episodes. Right now is one about Bart adopting a pigeon that I barely remember at all. This was the season that came on the year that I wasn't running ghost tours anymore. I had finished up the last couple of novels I needed to write to fill out my contract and living off the foreign rights sales of a zombie romance satire I'd put out, following a failed attempt to work in an office, and trying to write a few different novels at once to get back in the game. Nothing about late 2010 or early 2011 really jumps out at me now. I was just writing all the time and somehow making enough to get by, though I worried I wouldn't be able to keep that up for long. Mostly stuf that's never come out, though I was definitely working on the "Satanic YA novel" draft at the time.  The two books that were supposed to be my big "hits," Smart Aleck's Guide to American History and I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It, had come out a few months before to good reviews, but my usual low visibility in stores. Borders had initially put in a big order for Zombie, by Barnes and Noble didn't like the cover, and when they skipped it, Borders cut their order way back. No amount of rave reviews in the trades really help much in this situation. But it was still a zombie book in a year when those were big, so it did all right. The Disney Channel optioned the movie rights, and foreign rights sales to Germany, France, etc kept me afloat for a while.

 Sales were just okay, and I wasn't particularly optimistic about the chances of the two that were coming out next. They'd be out in season 23, though, so that's neither here nor there.  But season 22 isn't inspiring many memories for me, even though it's only been a few years. I don't remember this thing with The Simpsons as puppets joined by Katy Perry at all. I'm sure I saw it, though. Even in season 21-22, when things were perhaps at a low ebb, relatively speaking, I made a point of seeing every episode. There are some habits you just don't break.


With season 22 going on, I’ve skipped back to a couple that I missed due to work, such as the season 19 episode where Homer becomes and opera singer who can only sing properly when lying on his back - the kind of ridiculous plot that they sometimes really make work. I’m seeing ALL of these scenes with strange and random guest stars. I’m not famous, but I suppose there’s always a chance that my next book will be a huge hit and they’ll do an episode with a lot of YA authors. I can imagine a scene where some famous author (nameless here forevermore) is giving a speech about how amazing “teens” are and I cream him with a pie. 

Season 23 is a return to form. “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts,” in which Bart gets into Teddy Roosevelt, was my favorite episode in a long time; this was the year they started hitting it out of the park again. The plots got more focus (most of the time), and they found a sort of middle ground that reigned in some of the over-the-top goofiness that took over before.  Sometimes.

And a few episodes in comes “the Book Job.” I never would have imagined that my favorite episode would come out in Season 23, but this one, in which Homer and gang orchestrate a “tween lit gang write” to write a formulaic YA/middle grade fantasy novel while Lisa procrastinates instead of writing “a personal story that my readers will connect with,’ came out in November, 2011,  month when I had two new YA novels out on the same day, under two different names. They were, I think, the two lowest-selling books of my career (though one later won an award, which gave it a bit of a boost, at least), and I was at a particularly low ebb in my career. I didn’t like to go into bookstores anymore. I was back working for another ghost tour company, running more tours per week than I ever had and, for the first time in my life, getting a decent weekly paycheck for it. Though I managed to make a deal to do a couple of nonfiction projects around then, I wasn’t sure I had much of a career left. I’d written a big middle grade project, though editors who saw it were saying things like “I love the story, but it doesn’t seem like middle grade. Did he ever think of writing YA?” Some months later I was somehow booked to an autographing session where I was at the same table as George RR Martin. My books were not on sale anywhere at the con and the only people who even came to say hello were a couple of people who’d seen me on a panel the day before.

In fact, I had started telling people that the best advice I could give to a writer is “follow the trends and stick to the formula.”  Then, here came this episode, in which Lisa gets such zingers as “Everything I believed about young adult literature was a lie!” and “Every book on the young adult charts is written by five idiots who just want to take advantage of kids!”  Lisa laments that there’s no wonder she can’t get any writing done, because all of her CDs are out of order and she has to get them organized. She cleans her windows rather than working. I still do this sort of thing ALL THE TIME.

But shining through all of the personal stories that I connected to, the episode is actually a very good one on its own merits. Watching Homer and Bart put together their “team” and write The Troll Twins of Underbridge Academy is great fun, and you get swept up in the whole “heist” aspect. It’s well plotted, it’s funny, and it may just have the most “freeze frame fun” of any episode, ever. Pause the show at the right time and you can read note cards for plot ideas, the spines of LOTS of books on shelves with funny names, and even the better part of the first page of the book (which isn’t half bad). 

When it aired just now, executive producer Matt Selman tweeted about it, and he favorited my thanks:




He said in one tweet that the episode is about how, when you have fun creating something with your friends, you love what you created no matter how goofy it is. I have several albums worth of "Scapegoat" songs to back that up; the band I started in eighth grade still records now and then. We're awful. And I love everything we do.

Of course, there are those who would say that much of the latter-day Simpsons episodes could be explained by this same statement: the writers are clearly proud of what they do, even as critics agree that the show, overall, went downhill years ago. I think so, too, even though my revelation about how the show is like The Pickwick Papers now has helped me see it in a new way. They don't hit it out of the park every time, or really even every other time. More and more episodes are just singles, bunts, or even the occasional outright miss. But you can almost always tell that it was fun to write, and they still hit a homer from time to time. If they can make my favorite episode in Season 23, anything can happen.

A few episodes later, just after I added that last bit, is "Holidays of Future Passed," which I've since learned was written as a possible series finale. I remember watching it and liking it when it first aired; it's the best "future" episode since at least "Lisa's Wedding." Watching it now, knowing it may have been the last one, i think it would have been a perfect farewell. It flashes forward 30 years, when Bart is a divorced college drop-out living in a rented room in the school, with two sons who think he's an embarrasssment (but love Homer). From a montage of Christmas photos we see that Lisa mostly dated women in college, but is now married to Milhouse with a teenage daughter who never speaks to her. The whole episode is really very good, with only short, tasteful, "blink and you miss it" callbacks to earlier episodes that could have overwhelmed it rather than allowing it to stand on its own. There's one scene in particular shere Bart and Lisa sit in the old treehouse, sharing a bottle of wine and talking about their difficulties with their marriages and their children.  It would have been a good finale. Or a good movie, if they'd expanded it. And the refelective mood this marathon has put me in makes it seem especially poignant.

It's a bit wrong to say that The Simpsons haven't aged. They haven't, officially, but there've been plenty of episodes with Bart and Lisa dealing with more teenage concerns with boyfriends and girlfriends, certainly moreso than any given fourth and second graders would. Their age is kind of fluid.

...
Woke up early to watch a DVRd version of an episode from a couple of hours to watch "The Day the Earth Stood Cool," in which the hipsters take over Springfield. In Chicago I don't really qualify as a hipster. Oh, I listen to fair share of hipster music, I live in a small inner-city apartment waking distance to the Pitchfork fest, I have a fine collection of hats and, as of this week, glasses with thick black rims,  but I don't go to trendy restaurants, I've seldom darkened the door of a club, and I can tell the difference when I'm among proper hipsters, like the ones in this episode. I laughed about this one, and the commercial at the end for artisanal nuclear power, with some old friends from Des Moines (who are also sort of low-level Andrew Bird-listening hipsters now, I guess).   I have some driving to do tonight, but planning to get where I'm going in time to watch the last episodes of the marathon tonight.  Some good episodes in these last two seasons.

...
With "Black Eyed, Please" came an episode about Homer hanging out with Ned's parents. I'd always wanted a good episode about the beatnik Flanders, but we didn't see as much of them as I would have liked. I wish we could have two or three episodes that showed how Ned's realationship with his parents evolved over the years,  or how he found religion. There's a good story in there someplace.
..

"Pulpit Fiction" is one now - one of many religious episodes that takes me back to my ninth grade health class. The "coach" in that class spent what seemed like half of the time waxing about religion and politics. He did not like me, and I did not like him. He ranted about welfare, people who get divorced, single mothers, homosexuality (he was against them), and once told me I'd get more free throws if I had more religious faith. He was supposed to teach us sex ed. I'd had fairly comprehensive sex ed in 7th grade back in Iowa (though my teacher that year turned out to be a sexual predator; she was having some sort of relationship with a fourteen year old student that year), but this guy's idea of sex ed was just to pass out copies of articles with titles like "I Was Aborted as a Baby...and Survived." One of his many evangelical handouts. One of the others talked about how you never saw religion on television, particularly on sitcoms. And it's sort of true; you don't often see sitcom families going to church or anything. I remember trying to point out that The Simpsons went to church all the time - they complained about it, but the show dealt with faith and religion MUCH more than any other sitcom on the air. He laughed me off. The school never took my complaints against him seriously; it was the Bible belt, after all. I recently saw that he was working in a Christian school now; that's better for him, though I have to admit I was hoping to find out that he was lying in a gutter someplace with his drawers messed up. I named a gay background character after him in my first book, and the guy who passes out misspelled handouts in Play Me Backwards is him to a T. The handouts he wrote himself turned spelling into a sort of outsider art.

By the time I was out of high school, and Family Guy, South Park, and the next generation of "PG-13" cartoons had come out, the complains against The Simpsons when they first came out seemed quaint. The hell of it is, though, they were always quaint and ridiculous. I remember my grandmother (not the one who moved to Atlanta with us) saying she didn't like the show because "nothing ever goes right for them." I think people just weren't used to seeing cartoons like this back then. Somewhere along the line, people noticed that The Simpsons had more religion and morality at its core than pretty much any other program on the air, and managed to do so without seeming preachy. That's no mean feat. Even when the Simpsons gets political, it almost never feels like a sermon (like South Park is often known to do). The humor is always still there.

Looking back, I imagine I could get in some hot water for saying the show helped form my political beliefs, but as an adult who spends half his time reading old newspapers and magazine articles to research non-fiction projects, I'm not ashamed at all. Take any given issue of the last half century, and odds are that the most astute take on it was in MAD magazine. It may well be watching people comment on the news and spin it to their own agenda isn't as good a way of being informed as just focusing on the people whose job is to call "bullshit" and point out stupidity.
.... 
SEASON 25

I'm going to be out later, so I skipped the Season 25 "Treehouse of Horror" and skipped ahead to rewatch "Holidays of Future Future," the follow-up to the excellent Holidays of Future Passed from a couple of years ago. This one I remember watching in my bedroom first; there was something going on in the living room. This future episode, in which Lisa is more attracted to Milhouse when he becomes a zombie, seemed utterly weird to me at the time (and I wrote a zombie romance book once). At the time, I'd pretty much forgotten the previous episode in this version of the future, and thought I might appreciate more this time. I did, but I still think it's a weird, loopy episode. It does make me hope they do more with 40 year old Bart, though. And I'd like to see a 30 year old Bart, from a period when he and Jenda, his ex-wife, were happy.
....
Had a chance to watch the episode that was a parody of The Warriors before going on the road; I liked it at first, and even better now that I've seen the movie they were parodying. Got off the road in time for the excellent Lego episodes, then the final two. The marathon just ended.

I watched this marathon in three states. I watched it on the tv, the phone, and the tablet. I watched it on armchairs, recliners, floors, booths, benches, beds, car seats, bus seats and couches. Atrangely enogh I don't think I got to a couch until the last one. I watched the marathon in three states. The last episode gave me a "last day of school" feeling that i haven't auite felt since my last last day of school. Over the course of it I had a new book published, I talked about several new possible life decisions, and I saw my life flash before my eyes.  I never thought I'd end up with novella-length notes, or with such a dreamy Zen state in my brain. I have had strange dreams every night. I feel like i have been a part of something bigger than myself. Smell ya later.


TO BE CONTINUED throughout the marathon; I'll keep going through and adding as it goes. 

Adam's New Book: Sept 2013