Last month The Simpsons eclipsed the 500th-episode plateau and will continue to have new episodes for another two seasons to total 25 all together; I, for one, could not have been happier to hear such news. According to Wikipedia, “The Simpsons is the longest-running American sit-com animated series and in 2009 it surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest-running American primetime, scripted network show.” The Simpsons have been dear to my heart and my favorite television show ever since I was in elementary school! I continue to watch The Simpsons every Sunday and even go back to seasons on DVD to revisit episodes almost weekly. They first premiered as shorts in between episodes of The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. Due to the success of the shorts, Fox developed the shorts into 20-minute episodes and had their first show on December 17, 1989. The Simpsons were created by Matt Groening, James L. Brooks and Sam Simon, even though, Simon left in 1993 due to creative differences among him, Groening, and Brooks. However, Simon made an agreement to be credited as an executive producer on the show, even if he has not worked on the show for almost 20 years.
I had planned on writing about the 500th episode last month (the Simpson’s were banned from Springfield and lived on the outskirts of town, a good episode even if the premise felt recycled, but cut them some slack, there are 500 episodes!), but there is a special reason why I chose to write about The Simpsons this week. In a few days, it will be my favorite day of the year: St. Patrick’s Day. It has been tradition since I was in college to go out with friends early in the morning, play video games, go to the parade in downtown St. Paul and then rendezvous to various bars/restaurants/parties all over town. However, when I start thinking about St. Patrick’s Day, there is one Simpsons episode I continually go back and watch every year, sometimes even a few times a year. It is from 1997 (the 8th season) and written by John Swartzwelder, the brilliant Simpsons writer and one of my favorite all-time writers. Swartzwelder wrote a perfect St. Patrick’s Day-themed episode entitled “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.”
Swartzwelder wrote mainly from 1990—2004, has written a record 59 episodes, and is responsible for some of best episodes produced including “Homer the Smithers” (where Homer takes over as Mr. Burns assistant Waylon Smithers, who goes on vacation and comes back only to be fired, since Homer helped Mr. Burns fend for himself after cold-cocking him in his “104-year-old face”), “Homie the Clown” (where Krusty the Clown opens a Clown College to get out of debt and Homer enrolls after being convinced by a billboard and ends up being mistaken for Krusty the Clown by the Springfield Mafia), and “Homer to the Max” (where Homer ends up changing his name after he discovers there is a TV show, Police Cops, where one of the bumbling cops is named Homer Simpson). How Homer comes up with his new name in the episode still remains one of the biggest laughs from the show ever.
Back to “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.” The premise is as follows: When Springfield’s St. Patrick’s Day parade gets out of hand—due to Bart accidentally getting drunk after a Duff beer float in the parade sprays beer into the crowd and into his novelty horn—a protest from the locals to ban alcohol ensues. Reluctant at first but then pressed by the angry mob, Mayor Joe Quimby brings in an Elliot Ness-type agent, Rex Banner (voiced by comedian Dave Thomas), to enforce the new Prohibition law after a town historian discovers by reading from the town parchment that Prohibition has been enforced in Springfield for 200 years. When Bart and Homer start smuggling barrels of beer into his home, he becomes the mysterious “Beer Baron,” outsmarting Rex Banner. When the beer supply runs out, Homer starts making his own alcohol in the basement before giving up the dream as a “bootlegger,” as he almost blows up the house and turns himself in to Chief Clancy Wiggum in order for him to get his job back and prove that Banner was a joke of an enforcer.
This episode from start to finish may have more jokes in each sequence than most TV shows have in an entire season. When Homer, Lenny, Karl, Barney, and the other barflies are waiting outside of Moe’s bar to open at 9 a.m., Homer says, “It’s been St. Patrick Day’s for hours and I’m not drunk yet” and when Moe shows up, Moe asks, “Listen up, this is the busiest drinking day of the year. Where are the designated drivers? [Two men raise their hands]. Beat it! I got no room for cheap skates.” This line still makes me laugh every time and has been endlessly quoted among a handful of my friends who have been die-hard Simpsons fans along with me for years. The episode features great bits by Quimby, Kwik-mart owner Apu, Ned Flanders, and know-it-all Lisa. I still catch new jokes and scenarios every time I watch it, even though the episode is almost 15 years old and there have been over 325 episodes since it first aired.
Why am I writing about this one particular episode you ask? Well, I love St. Patrick’s Day and I love The Simpsons. Some have complained that the episodes have not been as good in recent years compared to earlier seasons. While this argument is completely subjective, I agree to a degree. Seasons six through 10 were pure genius (with many episodes written by Swartzwelder). Even though the ones produced in recent years might not have the long-term standing power as episodes from the late 90s do, they still continue to be firing jokes over our politicians, journalists, our current zeitgeist and everything from social media websites, our complicated school systems and Halloween treads. More importantly, it’s hard to fathom that The Simpsons have been on the air over 20 years and I hope they continue to turn out episodes for more years to come.
Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox