Welcome to your bonus entry. There are a few of these on the list for various reasons. This one is on here just because I originally picked this episode for number 93, but then decided to replace it with “Homer’s Enemy.” Since I wrote it already, it seems a waste not to post it, so here you go:
The main characters of the Simpsons are the fat, lazy, idiot father Homer (Dan Castellaneta); his wife who definitely could have done better Marge (Julie Kavner); his prankster (and later sociopath) son Bart (Nancy Cartwright); brainy daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith); baby Maggie; and the city of Springfield (hundreds of characters at this point). It would take me days to explain all of the characters, but, this episode focuses mostly on beloved kids’ show host, Krusty the Klown.
Television is a fickle mistress. Some TV shows fail because they just don’t have the quality, but, occasionally, a hit TV show can fall off the radar just because something more popular comes on in the same time slot. This episode features the latter.
When Krusty the Clown is run off the air by the creepy puppet show Gabbo, Krusty falls into depression. He is taken in by the Simpsons, who convince him to fight to get his show back. He calls in every connection he can in order to create a star-studded comeback special. Bette Midler, Johnny Carson, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Hugh Hefner all guest star, along with Sideshow Luke Perry, Krusty’s “Worthless Half-brother.” This episode was only possible because the Simpsons were red hot at the time, and the reason why they’d become so popular is that they had some of the best writers available. Every line of this episode is funny, and it’s not just one style of humor. It comes at you from every direction, from “Worker and Parasite,” Eastern Europe’s favorite cat and mouse team, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers changing their indecent lyrics to “what I’d like is, I’d like to hug and kiss you.”
Krusty Gets Kancelled showed that an episode full of cameos could use their presence to focus on more than just the fact that they had a guest star. It simultaneously embraced and satirized the exact thing depicted in the show: Relying on celebrities to draw in a crowd to get the audience to remember a show that was losing out to the flavor of the month. Since then, we’ve seen many more celeb-mob TV episodes, but I can’t think of any that were better.
If you don’t know what The Simpsons is, well, congratulations on finally escaping the basement that you’ve lived in since birth. Welcome to the above-world. Here, The Simpsons is the show that never quite drops in quality enough to be outright cancelled. It has enough nostalgia left from seasons 2-10 that it has managed to hang on for an extra decade and a half. It has a few episodes on this list, and all of them are from that window because, for those years, the Simpsons managed to combine cartoon physics and reasoning with bitter reality in a way that even the Flintstones had to envy. This episode is a perfect example.
Quick Recap of the cast: The main characters of the show are the fat, lazy, idiot father Homer (Dan Castellaneta); his wife who definitely could have done better Marge (Julie Kavner); his prankster (and later sociopath) son Bart (Nancy Cartwright); brainy daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith); baby Maggie; and the city of Springfield (hundreds of characters at this point).
The Simpsons is a show that has ebbed and flowed in terms of humor and relevance, but has never managed to die. It’s impacted the world so much at this point, that people know about it, even if they don’t know they know it. Homer Simpson is one of the most remembered and beloved figures on television, albeit not always for good reasons. One of the keys, though, is that, in typical sitcom fashion, Homer will always end up okay, no matter how ridiculous the situation. Other characters… not so much.
Frank Grimes was in only 1 episode of the Simpsons, but has been referenced at least once per year since then. He was an everyman who had to work extremely hard for everything he ever got. After seeing a story about him on TV, Homer’s boss, Mr. Burns, hires Grimes to work at the Springfield Nuclear Power plant. After being assigned to work in sector 7G, he takes an immediate dislike to Homer, both for his incompetence (Grimes stops Homer from drinking acid and gets yelled at for wasting it by Burns) and his seeming never-ending streak of good fortune (Homer is the only person in the plant without a Nuclear Science degree, having just shown up when the plant opened). After losing his salary due to saving Homer, Grimes openly declares himself Homer’s enemy.
Homer, wanting to make amends, invites Grimes over for dinner, which only makes things worse. The Simpsons live in a rather large house (despite Homer being the only breadwinner and perpetually losing money), whereas Grimes lives above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley. They have money for lobster to try and treat Grimes. There are photos of Homer with former presidents, in space, and on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins. Homer even has a Grammy. Grimes, not seeing how Homer could merit any of these experiences or awards with his limited intelligence and lack of work ethic, leaves.
Later, Grimes rants to Homer’s co-workers, but they deny that Homer is a bad person. Grimes decides to show that Homer is an idiot by having him enter into a contest designed for children, where the contestants are asked to create a new model for the power plant. Homer ends up winning the contest, despite one of the other entries being so efficient that the model of it is powering the room (Homer’s design is the existing plant, but with a racing stripe and fins to make it more aerodynamic). In response to this, Grimes snaps and begins running through the plant doing all the things Homer usually does, believing that his incompetence will save him. In the end, he electrocutes himself and dies, showing that, realistically, Homer Simpson should be dead 100 times over from the things that he does on the show.
The episode really lampoons cartoon physics and hangs a lampshade on almost everything about the Simpsons’ lifestyle and continuity. The reason they keep going back to Grimes afterwards is to remind everyone that, sometimes, you need to just suspend that disbelief because otherwise your main character is a corpse.
Bonanza was the show to watch 60 years ago. When Westerns dominated the market, this was the first one in color, and had James Arness not been so awesome as Marshall Dillon, it would have been the longest running Western. As it is, it has the 4th most episodes of any prime-time show ever (update: now sixth). It was an impressive show, to say the least, and this episode both did, and didn’t, start the show’s run. You’ll see why.
A Rose for Lotta was the first episode of the show, and introduced the Cartwright family to the world. The family consisted of Ben (Lorne Green), the aging father and owner of the Ponderosa Ranch, and his 3 sons, each from a different wife (Ben Cartwright was bad for the ladies, apparently, because they all died). The eldest was Adam (Pernell Roberts), who was an architectural engineer who had returned to work for his Ben, usually attributed to seeking to gain his father’s approval. The middle was Hoss (Dan Blocker), who is the original gentle giant, and peacekeeper between the family members. The youngest was the impulsive and hot-headed Little Joe (Michael Landon). Each son was very different in personality, but all were equally bound together as a family. It made for great tv… and it wasn’t clichéd then, because there were only like 10 TV shows in existence. Oh, and the theme song was awesome.
The plot of the episode involves a singer/actress named Lotta Crabtree (Yvonne De Carlo) being hired by a mining tycoon, Alpheus Troy (George Macready), to lure the Cartwrights into town in order to ransom one of them into surrendering the timber rights for the Ponderosa Ranch. She succeeds in drawing the amorous Little Joe in. For much of the episode, Lotta is “entertaining” Little Joe, but since this is 1959, he’s always wearing a four-piece suit to make sure that it’s chaste. Granted, the outfit that Lotta wears, while modest by modern standards, is still pretty provocative. Credit where it’s due, however, Yvonne De Carlo plays her as a deeper character than just being the money-hungry singer. She loves the finer things, but it’s clear that it’s because she started out with nothing. Eventually, she starts to have some feelings of regret about what she’s done, asking Joe if there’s any way that his family can just give Troy what he wants so that Joe won’t be hurt.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family rides in, ready to take on the men working for Troy. Troy directs them to his hired gun, Poole, a man famous for having “12 Notches in his Belt.” Ben agrees to duel him, but Adam, true to character, steps in. Adam wins, but declines to kill either Troy or Poole, and demands to be taken to Joe. By this point, however, Joe has escaped, leading the family to finally locate him dancing in the saloon. As the episode ends, they ride off into the dawn.
In this first episode, the Cartwrights, who in the rest of the series were usually a peaceful, lovable family, were much more aggressive. They were truly the “fighting Cartwrights” who were willing to take on anyone who threatened them. At one point in the episode, Adam pulls a gun on a henchman and gives him a minute to talk him out of pulling the trigger. Ben beats and hogties the man, and coldly tells his cook Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung) to kill the man if the family isn’t back by morning. After this episode, they were toned down, because America wanted a slightly gentler Western. Later episodes even have outright goofy premises like Hoss and Little Joe trying to be detectives based on reading Hardy Boys books. What a different world we might have had. This episode gives us a taste of that world.
Also, this episode originally featured the only time the Bonanza theme was sung with lyrics, which were so awful that they were only broadcast once. The scene in which they sing it is… bad. It makes no sense, it completely clashes with the tone, and removing it was the right call. Despite the fact that it only aired once, when I bought my father the complete series, he remembered the exact part of the episode from which the song was cut (it was not the title sequence). He was 10 at the time of the only airing of the song, fifty years earlier. That ought to tell you how badly it stood out.
Okay, this is a tough episode to judge. I like Dallas, but, objectively, the show was not art. It is fun, and that’s all it ever needed to be. Cue some angry PMs.
The main focus of the show was the Ewing family. They’re an oil money family based in, you guessed it, Dallas. The one in Texas, not the one in Georgia. The loving matriarch of the family was Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), wife of Jock Ewing (Jim Davis), a very driven businessman who built up an oil business from nothing. They had 3 children: Bobby (Patrick Duffy), the altruistic, favorite, youngest child; Gary (Ted Shacklelford), who spent most of his time on the spin-off Knots Landing; and J.R. (Larry Hagman), the ruthless oil baron who bribed, blackmailed, or broke anyone who got in his way. J.R. is married to Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), an alcoholic who he bullies constantly and cheats on with her sister, Kristin (Mary Cosby). While the plot of the series usually relies on the rivalry between the Ewing family and the Barnes family, the build up to this episode came from all sides.
For several seasons, J.R. has mistreated almost everyone he has come in contact with, and somehow managed to get away mostly unscathed. In fact, he was originally only supposed to be a supporting role, but, because America loves a scoundrel, he not only got progressively worse, but became the breakout star of the show. Still, watching him get away with everything short of outright murder made anyone with a shred of decency want to put a bullet in his smug, smiling face. Sadly, he only got shot in the gut.
Yes, this is the famous “Who shot J.R.?” episode. After escalating his behavior for several years, someone finally decides to remove J.R. from the Earth… but the show didn’t tell you which of the 5 likely candidates it was going to be. Well, I should say which of the 5 people who had established that they either wanted or intended to kill him. By this point, almost anyone in the cast would have been completely justified in wanting him dead, if only on principle.
Why is this episode on here? Well, partially because even within the episode, J.R. getting shot was a shock. It’s literally the last scene of the season, J.R. hears a noise, steps out into the corridor, and is shot twice. That’s it. The episode closes on him groaning. We don’t know who shot him, we don’t know if he’s dead, we just know that no one was going to tell us until the next season.
Over the Summer of 1980, people lost their damned minds on this. “Who Shot J.R.?” and “I Shot J.R.” shirts were popping up everywhere, both in the US and beyond. One of the shirts even showed up in the pilot for “Father Ted,” an Irish sitcom, years later. After President Jimmy Carter remarked that he would have no trouble financing his campaign if he knew who shot J.R., the Republican Party started manufacturing pins that said “A Democrat Shot J.R.” (This would later prove false). People were making bets on it around the world. There were official international odds (the favorite was Dusty Farlow, J.R.’s Wife’s lover, at 6 to 4). The Queen of England, Elizabeth herself, went on record of saying she was greatly intrigued by the mystery, which is the closest she gets to being Honey Boo-boo’s Mama June.
And it’s not like it was easy to figure out. In addition to the number of people shown wanting to kill J.R. in the episodes leading up to it, the writers locked the script in a vault and refused to tell anyone. They filmed multiple fake versions of the scene with every actor on the betting list, plus a few more, killing J.R., and told no one which version was real. Hell, it wasn’t sure if J.R. was going to survive, not just because of the ambiguity, but because Larry Hagman was holding out for more money. He flat-out refused to show up to film the next season until they renegotiated his contract. He ended up getting 3 times his previous salary and a percentage of the merchandising, because it’s not like they could write around it at this point. Apparently, Hagman was method.
The conclusion to this episode, which was called “Who Done It” had a 76% share of the market. To put that in perspective, more people watched the episode than voted in the presidential election that year. Restaurants brought in televisions and advertised that people could eat and not miss the show. Heck, the Turkish Parliament shut down to watch the broadcast. Part of the hype was that a writers’ strike had delayed the debut by an additional two months. Much like Hagman, the writers knew they had the upper hand, with the fans clamoring for the reveal. Even still, the reveal wasn’t given in the first episode of the next season, it was held until the fourth.
It was so successful, other shows started doing more drastic cliffhanger season finales. Whether that’s a good thing or not is another matter, but this is what really began the trend, and, like most such things that can be abused as gimmicks, the first one was the best one. Years later, the Simpsons would parody this with “Who Shot Mr. Burns,” and that too, was successful (although, according to the producers, no one guessed the right answer to theirs, unlike Dallas). This episode was original, it was intense, it was surprising, and, since there wasn’t as much in the way of film and tv news back then, there really wasn’t a way to be sure who shot J.R., or even if J.R. would return. At the very least, this episode managed to hold the world in suspense for 8 months, and I have to respect that with a spot on this list.
Alright, because this list is biased, Frasier is on here3 times, however, that is because Frasier put on three completely different kinds of episodes that all count as great moments in television. If you haven’t seen the show, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) is a radio celebrity psychiatrist who lives with his father, Martin (John Mahoney), and most often interacts with his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), his father’s physical therapist and later his sister-in-law Daphne (Jane Leeves), and his promiscuous producer Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin). In general, the show is known for its witty dialogue, insane comical coincidences, and the amazing acting ability of its leads. Of all three episodes, this one most utilized the latter.
Despite the show normally being grounded in reality, this episode has a simple yet surreal premise: Hospitals have memories. We are born in them. We go to them in some of our most trying times. We go to them in some of our happiest times. All of those moments are held within the hospital. Since the show features two psychologists in the lead, it often at least name-dropped psychological theories, so the writers likely knew about the concept of “cued recall,” where an object with which we have a history can evoke an emotional response. This turns that on its head: An inanimate object can recall our emotional moments as a memory. Each of the memories shown in this episode is tied to an intense emotion, from joy to despair.
The episode starts when Niles is going into surgery for a heart problem, one that is apparently extremely urgent. Niles had almost no symptoms, and only went to the doctor on a strange hunch. He is only 43, and of a thin build, so this isn’t something that he would have thought of as being a possibility. It’s also right after he finally got married to Daphne, the woman he’s been chasing after for the duration of the show. The set-up is especially brutal to the viewer’s emotions, because it reminds us that at any point we can suddenly, and randomly, lose everything, even right after we get what we wanted. Throughout the episode, the hospital sees each of the main characters and recalls a memory while the characters cope, shown by a room being filled with the characters in their pasts. For Niles, going into surgery uncertain of living, we are shown flashes of his entire life, from Daphne telling him lovingly that she’ll be there for him, to his times there with his last wife who was emotionally abusive, and even images of his father bringing him an Archie comic when he was hurt as a child.
While Niles is on the table, each member of the family is trying to cope with the stress of the situation in their own way. Frasier tries to break everything about the surgery down clinically to distance himself from the emotional burden of the situation. To him, Niles is just a machine that’s being fixed, not a loved one who might be in trouble. He evokes memories of the first time he met his newborn brother and of the time that he bribed his brother to keep silent about breaking his leg. Martin, as a father, denies recognizing any possibility that he’s losing his son, but we are shown the hospital remembering the last time he was in the hospital, when the doctor telling was him that his wife had terminal cancer.
Roz, Daphne’s best friend and Niles’s jovial verbal sparring partner, is struggling to be as calm and supportive as possible to her friends. However, we are shown a memory of her running into the hospital with her baby, panicking over what turns out to be nothing. Daphne, who hasn’t been in the hospital before now, is trying to just keep herself from breaking down into an emotional wreck. Unfortunately, the situation eventually overcomes her, causing her to finally break down and, sobbing, yell that there is nothing else in the world for her until Niles is safe. After Niles gets out, we are finally shown an image of Daphne’s memory. It’s of her and Niles welcoming their second child, a daughter, into the world. A memory of things that have yet to come.
Because any fan of the show knew they would never kill off the character, the episode instead focused on the emotions of all of the other characters around the situation. In real life, every person deals with the possibility of losing a loved one in their own way. Some will try to hide their worry to keep the person strong. Some will try to keep themselves distracted. Some will break down because they’re facing a future they never imagined. All of these will happen, and this episode portrayed them all beautifully. Even if you have never had a person you love in the hospital, this episode will make you feel for the characters. If you have had the misfortune to have someone you love be in a dire situation, this episode will make you cry.
Update: I have realized that in the show’s series finale, Daphne and Niles have a son. So, the two children at the end, who are both girls, must be at least their 2nd and 3rd children. From some interviews, it appears they were supposed to have a daughter, but, after the script was written but before it was filmed, series creator David Angell was killed in 9/11. The son, named David, was a tribute to him.
If you don’t know what Maverick is, or only know the movie with Mel Gibson, it was originally a show starring James Garner. If you don’t know who James Garner is, please knock yourself in the head and get on Google. Now, Maverick wasn’t exactly a traditional western at the time, mostly because of James Garner’s portrayal of the professional gambler, which is what made it worth watching. Bret Maverick was kind of a hustler, a drifter, and his code of honor was mainly shaped by his “pappy-isms,” little platitudes he picked up from his father. One of the better ones is “As my old pappy used to say, ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, and those are very good odds.’” His role as the honorable rogue made him distinct and kept the audience from getting too bored by a white knight, until other shows started to steal the idea.
This episode is the perfect episode of Maverick, and served as the basis for the movie “The Sting.” After getting swindled by a crooked banker, Bret recruits his brother and his other friends (I think every recurring character is in the episode) to perform an elaborate sting operation to get his money back. To be a little harsh on Bret, it might be the easiest swindle in history: Bret won $15,000 at a series of poker games (how he does that in the 1880s is anyone’s guess), then asks to deposit it with the bank after-hours. The banker, Mr. Bates (John Dehner), counts it, gives Bret a receipt for the deposit. The next day, Bret returns for his money, and the banker flat-out denies knowing him. The banker’s partner even attests that the deposit receipt is clearly forged. Bret takes a seat outside of the hotel across from the Bank, and tells everyone that he’ll be leaving the town in two weeks with his $15,000.
The other characters he recruits constantly think that they’re at least somewhat acting on their own, but at the end of the episode you can’t be sure whether they did most of it on their own and Bret is just taking too much credit, or whether he actually knew what was going to happen from the start. Plus, they have some of the best names in television: Dandy Jim Buckley, Gentleman Jack Darby, Big Mike McComb, Cindy Lou Brown, Samantha Crawford, and Bret’s brother Bart (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Richard Long, Leo Gordon, Arlene Howell, Diane Brewster, and Jack Kelly).
The townsfolk come up repeatedly and ask Bret, mockingly, if he has his money yet, and he just says “I’m working on it” as pleasantly as possible. As the episode goes on, Bret’s unwavering smile starts to wear on the banker, which makes the hilarious end of the episode all the more impressive. The Banker, having just realized he’d been conned into handing the money back, just walks outside and says “He did it.” It even has the accompanying “whomp whomp whomp” horns. In the end, Maverick even manages to set the banker up for embezzlement charges with the very money he steals back.
The best part of the episode is that, until the end, all Bret Maverick has to do to seem intimidating, is smile, rock on a chair across from the Banker’s office, and whittle while saying “I’m working on it.” Because few things are as frightening as a man you’ve crossed telling you that he’s coming for you while confidently smiling.
The truth is, I could have put almost any episode of the Muppet Show here and felt justified, because the Muppets deserve their recognition and should not have fallen to the wayside to the extent they did after the death of their creator. And here’s a loving tribute to that man:
I’m hoping that I don’t have to tell any of you what the Muppets are, but, in case you did not have a happy life, allow me to give you a quick run-down. The Muppets were created by Jim Henson, who decided that puppets, while good for entertaining children, could still be used for more mature audiences as well. After helping start Sesame Street, and giving it a run with “The Land of Gorch” on SNL, Henson finally found the balance of adult and child humor that he was looking for with “The Muppet Show.” The main characters are all puppets, and they interact with regular people, usually their “special guest.” It was a variety sketch show, and often managed to grab some famous actors at the time. Many of these guests provided memorable performances or character moments, however, I chose this episode for a reason.
Steve Martin is everything: A comedian, singer, banjo player, magician, dancer, and brilliant writer. The Muppets are the Muppets, which is the most awesome tautology ever. These two elements just put together on screen should be excellent, but it is their other synergistic element that made them really work: Both Steve Martin and the Muppets excel at performances that seem entertaining to children but contain enough subtle adult elements to allow parents to laugh alongside their spawn. They both portray an innocence that masks their absolute debauched nature, and seem to be genuinely having the time of their lives doing it, which always makes for better TV. Even the cold open is Scooter telling Martin that, after seeing his routine, he’s going to fit right in on the show. Since one of the sketches is him doing balloon animals from balloons he stole from “balloon farms” without inflating them, resulting in him being attacked by the “parent balloons,” it’s hard to argue with that assessment.
The “plot” of the episode is that the show is being cancelled, so all of the sketches are supposedly being performed for almost no one, which helps sell the idea that Martin is just an entertainer, who is here for the fun of it and not for the money. Martin also interacts with the Muppets as if they are no less real than his usual human co-stars, which helps the audience to become more engaged in the episode. As the episode progresses, this creates an atmosphere in the episode that everyone really is enjoying the performance, which always helps with a comedy show. Throughout the sketches, you can actually hear the puppeteers laughing themselves silly, because they were having such a good time.
If you ever just want to feel like a kid and an adult at the same time, watch this episode. If you just want a sample, enjoy Martin being his own musical act.