TIME Television

David Fincher and James Ellroy Team Up for a Noir Drama on HBO

Director David Fincher speaks onstage at the 63rd Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards Feature Film Symposium held at the DGA on January 28, 2012 in Hollywood, California. Alberto E. Rodriguez—DGA/Getty

The series will be based on the life of a celebrated Hollywood private eye

Director David Fincher (Gone Girl, Se7en, Fight Club) has signed up for an HBO noir drama series together with L.A. Confidential writer James Ellroy.

Shakedown is set in the seedy underworld of 1950s Los Angeles and is inspired by the life of legendary Hollywood vice cop-turned-private eye Fred Otash, but is not an adaptation of Ellroy’s 2012 novella with the same name, Deadline Hollywood reports.

Fincher, who was last involved in television as the director and executive producer of House of Cards, is seemingly moving his energy away from the silver screen. He is currently developing another HBO drama, adapted from the British series Utopia. That project will be written by Gillian Flynn, who wrote the book on which Gone Girl was based.

The Oscar-nominated filmmaker is also going to direct the pilot episode of Living on Noise, the working title of a half-hour HBO project about the world of 1980s music videos, reports The Wrap. Fincher will be able to draw on his own experiences here, since he worked on music videos for both George Michael and Madonna in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

TIME Television

Review: The Colbert Report Is Dead. Long Live Stephen Colbert!

TV-Colbert Report
This Sept. 8, 2010 publicity photo released by Comedy Central shows host Stephen Colbert appearing on "The Colbert Report," in New York. "The Colbert Report" ended on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, after nine seasons. Scott Gries—AP

"If this is your first time tuning into The Colbert Report, I have some terrible news"

It’s a rare man who gets to attend his own funeral. It’s an even luckier man who gets to cheat his own death, dust his prints off the murder weapon, read his own eulogy, and rise to live again in another form.

That’s what Stephen Colbert did Thursday night with “Stephen Colbert,” in a show that sent his bloviating host character — one of the greatest sustained performances in pop culture, TV or otherwise — off into TV eternity. And his final Colbert Report was both a sweet ending and a perfect summation of the show’s spirit — smart and surreal, sly and sincere. The finale nodded to the massive creation that Colbert wrought over nine years, and — as he flew off with Santa, a unicorn Abraham Lincoln, and Alex Trebek — promised something different to come.

Colbert began his last Report by riffing on what pop-culture commentators have been riffing on all week, his show’s legacy, though tongue-in-cheek. “I did something much harder than change the world,” he said. “Folks, I samed the world. Another Bush governor is running for the White House. People on TV are defending torture. We are sending troops into Iraq.” When the Report began in 2005, he said, “I promised you a revolution, and I delivered. Because technically, one revolution is 360 degrees right back to where we were.”

But Colbert revolutionized much more than that in between. A quick rundown of some of his greatest stunts over the years — the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear, the SuperPAC — was the closest he got to breaking-character sentiment: “You, the Nation, did all that. I just got paid for it.”

Then, following a bizarre setup in which one last “Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA” ended with his killing Grimmy and becoming immortal, Colbert launched into a grand, punchy sing-along of “We’ll Meet Again,” with a celebrity cast of dozens that demands DVR rewinding but included, in part: Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Bryan Cranston, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tom Brokaw, Big Bird, Keith Olbermann, Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem, Samantha Power, Michael Stipe, James Franco, Charlie Rose, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Stewart, Christiane Amanpour, Arianna Huffington, Alan Alda, George Lucas, Henry Kissinger, Vince Gilligan (still chained in Colbert’s basement after the Breaking Bad finale), soldiers in Afghanistan, Esteban Colberto, Bill Clinton, an astronaut, JJ Abrams and Smaug.

The all-star sendoff is a staple of talk-show finales, but this one seemed to say something here about the vast world that Colbert created with the Report. The show itself was not the sum total of the production that Colbert has put since 2005. It was just the flagship product of a larger performance that extended to the Internet, to public rallies, to political campaigns, and even to space.

By transforming himself into a character, and taking his performance far beyond the thirty minutes of the show, Colbert was engineering a way to satirize a subject — the media and political culture — that had moved almost beyond satire. It started with one big idea: that in American discourse, gut feeling and team affiliation had replaced reason (indeed, had labeled reason itself a kind of contemptible bad faith). The Report debuted just after a Bush adviser speaking to reporter Ron Suskind dismissed, in pre-satirized terms, the “reality-based community.”

So Colbert created not just a show but a massive work of performance art set in the reality-liberated community. It opened with not just a hilarious routine, but what felt like a summary of the era, in which Colbert introduced the concept of “truthiness.” The nation, he said, was divided between “those who think with their head and those who know with their heart.”

It was funny, it was perceptive, and you might expect that to fuel a show for, what, half a year? That Colbert was able to be “Stephen Colbert” at such a high level for some nine years was the 56-game-hitting-streak of American comedy, a feat we may not see equalled again. He kept it up in part by taking the show on the road. He brought his act to the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, got Doritos to sponsor his favorite-son run in the 2008 South Carolina primary, and — in what was probably his high-water mark — in 2011 went through the process of founding a real SuperPAC. It was simultaneously an epic work of performance-art satire and genuine public-service education.

Before the finale, Colbert was already in the process of letting go of “himself”; on Wednesday’s show, he held a yard sale of Report memorabilia, unloading a copy of his correspondents’ dinner speech to a crying baby, selling a bottle of “Ass Juice” to a lucky bargain hunter. He seemed at peace, and why shouldn’t he be? He’s going on to something new, taking over for David Letterman at CBS. And while that’s generated much interest in what Colbert will do as himself, I’m not too concerned.

Because truth be told, one of the undersung aspects of the Report was how he infused his satire with his actual character, from his geeky enthusiasm for Tolkien to his sincere passion for ideas and ideals. If you expected him to give us a taste of what we’ll see from him on CBS, though, you’ll have to wait until later next year. Except for a post-credits sequence of him cutting up with Jon Stewart during a 2010 taping, he maintained his rock-solid professional facade.

But the plaintive strains of “Holland, 1945″ by Neutral Milk Hotel — a favorite band of the honest-to-God Colbert — clued us in to the bittersweetness of this see-you-later. Right up to the end, Stephen Colbert did not break character. But the rest of us can be forgiven if we broke down a little, saying goodbye to America’s greatest, most genuine phony.

TIME Television

Stephen Colbert: A Great Talk-Show Host? No, the Greatest!

Stephen Colbert smiles while taping "The Colbert Report" with President Barack Obama, not pictured, in Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University in Washington on Dec. 8, 2014.
Stephen Colbert smiles while taping "The Colbert Report" with President Barack Obama, not pictured, in Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University in Washington on Dec. 8, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Farewell to a magnificent comic actor who skewered the news, the media and his own blowhard character — and made it all incorrigibly, indelibly appealing

I’m blue. After nine years and two months, The Colbert Report is off the air. I’ve seen each of the 1446 episodes leading to tonight’s sign-off, and cherished almost all of them. The show’s conclusion will leave a void in my life and in my writing, since I’ve shoehorned Colbert references into reviews of Superbad, Prince of Persia, Pompeii, Jackass 3D, Nightcrawler and Julie Taymor’s The Tempest, and into essays about Richard Nixon, Ingmar Bergman, Derek Jeter, makeup artist Dick Smith and the 2012 Super Bowl. For my wife Mary Corliss and me, Colbert has been destination viewing. Even in the early years, we never took the show’s excellence for granted, agreeing that some day we’d look back on the double whammy of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as the golden age of TV’s singeing singing satire.

That age ends now. Colbert is gone from TV until September, when he takes over David Letterman’s CBS 11:35 slot and, at 51, becomes the oldest man to debut as the host of a late-night network talk show. (Joan Rivers was 53 when she began The Late Show in 1986 on the upstart Fox network.) He’ll be off the air for nine months — a long time for admirers like me to go cold, or Colbert, turkey. And when he finally starts on CBS, he’ll just be Stephen Colbert. Not “Stephen Colbert,” the greatest fake newsman in TV history, and one of the richest fictional characters in any popular art form of the past decade.

I was around (as a toddler) for the late-night pioneers Steve Allen and Jack Paar, and for the 29-year reign of Johnny Carson. They established comedy as the tone de unit for post-prime time TV. And fealty forever to Jon Stewart, who took command of The Daily Show in 1999 and turned it into the prime exemplar of cogent, corrosive political comedy in any medium. The edge Colbert has on all these giants is that he is a magnificent comic actor, commenting cuttingly on his egotistical right-wing “Colbert” character even as he seems to live inside it. He made that Colbert both politically outrageous and personally appealing.

Without Stewart, of course, The Colbert Report would not have existed. Both shows skewer politicians, pop culture and that inexhaustible source of satire, the Fox News Channel. (It’s amazing that, with the same butts for their humor, the two shows rarely cracked the same jokes.) But the on-air Stewart was himself, not “Jon Stewart.” Colbert, who had been a Daily Show correspondent for two years before Stewart replaced Craig Kilborn as host, was already honing his pompous-ignoramus persona, which he described in 2006 as “a fool who has spent a lot of his life playing not the fool – one who is able to cover it at least well enough to deal with the subjects that he deals with.” In other words, the authoritative bluffer, the officious fraud, the idiot know-it-all.

He played another incarnation of this all-hat-no-cattle character on the Comedy Central sitcom Strangers With Candy (1999-2000), which he also wrote with costars Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello. High-school history teacher Chuck Noblet was every bit as seemingly self-assured and wildly misinformed as the Colbert Colbert. He instructed his students that Gandhi “was devoured by his followers,” that the 1840s Opium War was between China and Mexico and that the tragedy of Martin Luther King’s life was that “all this footage is in black and white. Imagine how powerful it would have been in color.” Frequently mentioning his lovely wife, Chuck actually carried a man-crush for Dinello’s slightly-less-closeted art teacher. (Dinello, a Colbert Report executive producer, has made appearances as Tad the building manager. And Sedaris crashed the Dec. 3rd episodes as a “canceled” guest.)

When The Colbert Report premiered on Oct. 17, 2005, a lot of people predicted that the character would quickly grow stale. This blowhard pundit, modeled on Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, was too meta; to play along, you had to get the joke that he was dispensing a right-wing take on the news from a left-wing perspective. (I sometimes wonder: Do all his viewers appreciate that?) One wondered how long he could sustain the role: take the audience’s cheers as he trotted over to the guest’s table, or denounce bears as “godless killing machines,” or deflect charges of race prejudices because he’s color-blind (“People tell me I’m white, and I believe them…”) or preen through repeated segments of “Who’s Honoring Me Now?”

The answer turned out to be: forever. For Colbert and his splendid writing team had created a ferociously funny Col-BEAR — or Col-BARE, if you think this character exposes aspects of the man whom impersonates him —as an alternative to the bright, quiet, modest fellow whose family pronounces its surname COLbert. Both Colberts are ardent Catholics, born and raised in South Carolina and married with three children. But the TV Colbert went to Dartmouth, humiliates his underpaid staff and has harbored an almost stalker-y obsession with his teen love Charlene. The real Colbert graduated from Northwestern; is by all accounts a kind, caring boss; is married to Evelyn McGee (who played his mother on one episode of Strangers With Candy); and for years taught Sunday school near his Montclair, N.J. home. Need we also say, the real Colbert is a liberal.

The last weeks of shows have put poignant ends to some enduring Colbert shtick. His continuing segment, “Formidable Opponent,” in which the more moderate Stephen (blue tie) would debate an issue with the more conservative Stephen (red tie), got a final segment this week in which the cross-cutting ended with a split screen of the two men; and as red-tie Stephen faded out, blue-tie Stephen said, “And you, Sir, have been a most formidable opponent.” (Verklempt!) And in a visit last week to George Washington University, he turned his familiar conundrum to political guests — “George W. Bush: great President, or the greatest President?” — by asking the current President of the United States, “Barack Obama: great President, or the greatest President?”

We’ll bet that the “real” Stephen was touched by that moment. We know that he did get pumped by his audience’s cheers at the top of the show and, in the early years, express pleasured surprise at his renown — for example that “my Wikipedia page is longer than the line for the Lutherans.” (Wikipedia’s Colbert pages now run more than 300,000 words, to about 15,300 for Lutheranism.) Colbert has intimated he thought that, after nine years, his character had run its course. But isn’t it possible that COL-bert will miss Col-BEAR as much as we do?

If so, Mr. Colbert, please come back, at least occasionally. Your replacement show, Larry Wilmore’s The Minority Report, will be on hiatus eight weeks between its debut in January and your September stint on CBS. You may have felt worn out by “Stephen Colbert,” but we need more of the Greatest TV Talk-Show Host.

TIME Television

Here’s a First Look at Season 3 of Orphan Black

The third season of Orphan Black begins airing April 18, 2015

The first peek at Orphan Black‘s third season is here — and it looks completely tense.

A first image, which premiered on EW Wednesday, shows Tatiana Maslany as a clone (Sarah, probably) facing off against the newly-discovered male clone played by Ari Millen. The family reunion does not look particularly fun.

Show creator Graeme Manson told EW that the male clone pictured in the teaser image isn’t who viewers might expect. The clone isn’t Mark, the clean-cut man who viewers met on the cult-like farm last year, but is instead a new male clone from Project Castor named Rudy. As for this new clone breed, Manson raised more questions than he answered in the interview: “How are they different? How are they the same, these brothers? Is Mark a traitor? Is Mark undercover? Like everyone else on Orphan Black, Mark has divided loyalties.”

While Mark and his brothers may be invading the show’s third season, Manson assured fans that Sarah and her sisters will remain the focus of the story. “We want that audience to be taking that journey with Sarah, throughout the whole series,” said Manson. “She’s going to be leading her sisters and protecting her family. And that’s the drive. She’s the one that the audience roots for.”

One thing Manson did confirm, though, is that the new season will kick off more or less right where we left off in Season 2. Based on the two teaser trailers circulating, there’s no time to waste.

The show returns April 18, 2015.

TIME Television

Watch Jenny Slate as Marcel the Shell Sing Fleetwood Mac on Conan

"Landslide" didn't take Marcel the Shell (with Shoes On) down

Jenny Slate has many credits to her name: a brief stint on Saturday Night Live, a reoccurring role as Mona-Lisa in Parks and Recreation and a star turn in Obvious Child, but she is perhaps best known for her work as a tiny tiny shell (with shoes on).

The comedian stopped by Conan Tuesday night and used some of her couch time to talk about her creation, the beloved talking snail (?), Marcel the Shell. It turns out that Marcel isn’t just talking anymore, but covering pop songs, too. Slate showed off the shell’s skills by singing a few lines of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” telling Conan O’Brien, “just a little bit because I don’t want you to have to pay.” Stevie Nicks would be so touched.

Slate noted that Marcel the Shell’s voice is “so little, so little,” but as Conan points out the adorable univalve sure has some “big lungs.”

TIME Television

8 Things We’d Like to See from The Colbert Report Finale

Will Colbert reveal he was really Bill O'Reilly in a bodysuit this whole time?

Somewhere in America, a bald eagle is crying.

Thursday, Dec. 18 marks the final episode of The Colbert Report before host Stephen Colbert breaks character and moves to CBS to take over the Late Show. It will be a sad, but undoubtedly epic episode.

“The biggest question of all remains, how will my final broadcast close?” Colbert said recently. “Will I wake up next to Suzanne Pleshette in a snow globe after Rachel gets off the plane to be with me while B.J. Hunnicutt spells out ‘Goodbye’ in the rocks until we cut to black in the middle of a Journey song? Or will I just get sued for copyright infringement?”

As much as we’d like to see a riff on a famous TV show finale, here’s what we really hope is in store for Colbert’s last show:

  1. Stephen Colbert unzips what appears to be a bodysuit and reveals that he was Bill O’Reilly this whole time.
  2. The finale is obviously sponsored by Wheat Thins.
  3. The episode won’t be complete without a musical interlude with Colbert and Alan Cumming
  4. And a very serious speech by Sam Waterston (in a very trustworthy manner)
  5. Colbert interviews David Letterman for his segment, “Fallback Position”
  6. Colbert announces his candidacy for governor of South Carolina
  7. He also announces his imminent hosting gig of the MTV VMAs
  8. The camera zooms out to reveal The Colbert Report on a television in the living room of the Stephen Colbert International Space Station.
TIME Television

Offline Viewing Is ‘Never Going to Happen’ Netflix Executive Says

Netflix Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings
The Netflix website and logo are displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2014 Bloomberg/Getty Images


You won’t be able to watch Netflix without an Internet connection. Ever.

“It’s never going to happen,” said Cliff Edwards, the video-streaming site’s director of corporate communications and technology, speaking to TechRadar about the possibility of offline viewing.

A few other streaming services do offer the ability to download shows and then view them without Internet access, but Edwards said Netflix is of the view that downloadable content is “a short-term fix for a bigger problem” of wi-fi access and quality.

The Netflix top brass fully expects both those things to improve significantly in the near future, and Edwards opined that the concept of offline viewing may be a thing of the past as early as five years from now.


TIME Television

Watch the Trailer for the Final Season of Parks and Rec, Set in the Future

Jerry's new name is Terry, for instance

Parks and Recreation‘s final season (sad face) will air on Jan. 13 and will take place in 2017. (You know, since at the end of the previous season they jumped ahead three years. Continuity.) Now, thanks to this new, science fiction-tinged trailer, we get a glimpse into what life is like the near future. (Spoiler: there will be drones.)

All your favorite Pawneeans are back, but they’ve definitely changed. Andy, for example, now has his own TV show. Jerry now goes by Terry (against his will, obviously). Tom’s now a mogul (or so he claims).

Otherwise, we’re all just going to have to tune in on Jan. 13 to figure out what else is going on. Our only major hope is that there’s a Li’l Sebastian statue somewhere by 2017.

TIME Television

The 25 Best Simpsons Episodes Ever

The Simpsons family in "White Christmas Blues" episode on Dec. 15, 2013.
The Simpsons family in "White Christmas Blues" episode on Dec. 15, 2013. FOX—2014 FOX

Happy 25th birthday to the Simpsons!

In honor of the show’s 25th anniversary, a revised and updated version of our 2003 Springfield Hall of Fame. Woohoo!

25. “The Regina Monologues”
Airdate: Nov. 23, 2003
Episodes of The Simpsons that qualify as all-time classics are rare in the new millennium, but ”The Regina Monologues” has a connection to the show’s golden age: writer John Swartzwelder, the man behind a slew of classic episodes (including five others on this list). His final writing credit, ”Monologues,” takes the family to England in a joke-dense episode filled with allusions to Trainspotting, My Fair Lady, and James Bond, and features a cameo by a sitting head of state (Tony Blair), as well as big-name Brits Ian McKellen and J.K. Rowling. ”The Simpsons are going to ________!” has become a trope on the show, but seldom has it worked so well.

24. “You Only Move Twice'”
Airdate: Nov. 3, 1996
One of the Golden Age’s wackiest episodes also happens to be one of its funniest. In this season 8 standout, the Simpson clan leaves Springfield behind when Homer gets a new job at the Globex Corporation — a mysterious mega-company run by friendly-seeming ginger Hank Scorpio (Albert Brooks, giving his best Simpsons guest performance). Gradually, it becomes clear (to everyone but Homer) that Scorpio’s actually a ruthless supervillain hell-bent on defeating secret agent James Bont. It’s an absurd setup bolstered by one of the show’s best laughs-per-minute ratios. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to take a trip to Hammocks-R-Us; it’s in the Hammock District.

23. “Lisa’s First Word”
Airdate: Dec. 3, 1992
The best Simpsons episodes aren’t only hilarious—they’re also poignant, showcasing the big, beating heart beneath the series’ occasionally caustic satire. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the show’s early flashback episodes, including ”The Way We Was,” ”I Married Marge,” and ”And Maggie Makes Three”—the latter of which ends with what may be the most heartwarming image ever seen on TV. Of that stellar quartet, though, ”Lisa” reigns supreme, thanks both to its emotional high points (the titular event, which shines a spotlight on Lisa and Bart’s relationship; its closing moment, in which Maggie (played by guest star Elizabeth Taylor, of all people) says her own first word, ”Daddy”) and its barrage of ace jokes (Bart’s ”spout medley,” ”It’s not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to fit in eight hours of TV a day,” ”can’t sleep, clown’ll eat me”).

22. “Hurricane Neddy”
Airdate: Dec. 19, 1996
Homer’s mild-mannered nemesis had a few spotlight episodes before this one—but none were as juicy as ”Hurricane Neddy,” which digs into just what makes Springfield’s model citizen tick. It all starts when Hurricane Barbara sweeps through town, sparing most residents—except the devout, endlessly generous Flanders clan, who lose everything they own. (Ned doesn’t have insurance because he considers it a form of gambling.) What follows is half an hour of darkly-tinted soul searching in which Ned questions his faith (”I’ve done everything the Bible says, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff! I’ve even kept kosher, just to stay on the safe side”), finally gives the rest of Springfield a piece of his mind (Moe: ”Hey, I may be ugly and hate-filled, but I… um, what was the third thing you said?”), then checks himself into a mental hospital. One of the series’ darker installments, to be sure—but it’s also relentlessly hilarious and quotable (”I’m Dick Tracy! Take that, Pruneface! Now I’m Pruneface! Take that, Dick Tracy! Now I’m Prune Tracy!’ Take that, Dick…”).

21. “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Parts 1 and 2″
Airdate: May 21, 1995; Sept. 17, 1995
A two-part comedic homage to Dallas‘s ”Who shot J.R.?” stunt, ”WSMB?” is perhapsThe Simpsons‘s most grandiose pop moment ever. An atypical outing, too: Satiric potshots (O.J. Simpson, Madonna, and Twin Peaks) and gut-busting randomness (Moe’s marathon lie-detector session is a classic) are subordinate to a methodically plotted murder mystery that, alas, climaxes with a cop-out, albeit a deliberate one. (Maggie did the deed—accidentally, of course.) There’s no way it could have approached the ratings for the Dallas cliffhanger, but it’s still a pivotal marker in the show’s evolution. By deftly deploying The Simpsons‘s array of supporting characters (even Doctor Colossus!), this onetime anti-Cosby lightning rod demonstrated what a rich, self-sustaining universe it had become.

20. “Radio Bart”
Airdate: Jan. 9, 1992
Homer tries to top his past gifts to Bart (a shoe tree and shelf paper) with a Mr. Microphone-style radio. The boy immediately drops it down a well and begins broadcasting plaintive cries for help as Timmy O’Toole. A ridiculous media circus ensues: Hucksters sell authentic Timmy baby teeth, and guest voice Sting leads an overblown, ”We Are the World”-style ballad called ”We’re Sending Our Love Down the Well.” In the end, Timmy’s story is bumped off the front page by a squirrel who resembles Abraham Lincoln, and Sting’s ditty gets booted from No. 1 by Funky C Funky Do’s ”I Do Believe We’re Naked.” It’s a media parody so sharp, we’re still stinging a bit.

19. “Simpsons Spin-off Showcase”
Airdate: May 11, 1997
”Could The Simpsons ever maintain its popularity without Moe the bartender?” asks Troy McClure. ”Let’s hope so — because Moe is leaving to do his own sitcom.” This send-up of spin-offs has it all, from odd pairings (Grampa Simpson’s spirit inhabits a love-tester machine in Moe’s bar) to awkward cameos (says Lisa to Chief Wiggum, newly relocated to New Orleans: ”I can’t wait to hear about all the exciting, sexy adventures you’re sure to have against this colorful backdrop”). But ”The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour” is the strongest of the three spawn — a searing homage to one of the most dreadful spin-offs ever, The Brady Bunch Hour. The Waylon Smithers Dancers and Hee Haw interstitials are a hoot, but memo to Fox: Don’t be getting any ideas.

18. “Flaming Moe’s”
Airdate: Jan. 21, 1991
Moe laments his poor business: ”Increased job satisfaction and family togetherness are poison for a purveyor of mind-numbing intoxicants like myself.” Then Homer invents a new drink, for which Moe takes credit. The ”Flaming Moe” turns his bar into a raging success (a velvet-rope policy begins, Aerosmith perform ”Walk This Way,” and Moe hires a comely new bartender). ”Flaming Moe’s” is a crucial addition to The Simpsons‘s liquor canon, with a Cheers parody that includes a sobering theme song (”Liquor in a mug/Can warm you like a hug”). Extra attraction: Bart actually apologizes for making a prank call to Moe’s. Remorse and fiery mixed drinks—does it get much better?

17. “Itchy & Scratchy Land”
Airdate: Oct. 2, 1994
Based on those cartoonishly violent killer critters, Itchy & Scratchy Land is the theme-park realization of Bart’s most extreme daydreams — no wonder he and Lisa beg to go there for a family trip. What’s waiting for the Simpsons when they arrive—besides two gargantuan parking lots, of course—is actually a smart riff on the Disney empire: There are shots at Walt’s lame character spin-offs (Klu Klux Clam, anyone?), a dig at his speculated sordid past (Itchy & Scratchy’s creator turns out to be a Nazi sympathizer), and a nod to the park’s mollifying grown-up attractions (the booze-filled ”Parents’ Island”). When the animatronics attack, the showdown between man and machine—okay, Homer and a giant robot mouse—is an uproarious rebuttal to capitalism run amok.

16. “Homer at the Bat”
Airdate: Feb. 20, 1992
When Mr. Burns recruits nine all-star major-leaguers for his company softball team, what ensues is less an indictment of America’s pastime than a loopy celebration of the sport’s long-lost innocence, a paean to pro sluggers as both heroes (Jose Canseco misses the big game because he’s rushing into a burning house to rescue a baby—and a cat, and a player piano…) and softies (Darryl Strawberry sheds a tear at Bart and Lisa’s bleacher heckling). It was also early proof that The Simpsons could juggle a squad of guest stars without giving the family short shrift: Who drives in the winning run when a ball bounces off his head? Homer, of course.

15. “Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield”
Airdate: April 14, 1996
Working with animation grants the writers of The Simpsons the liberty to do things that live-action shows can only dream of. They can create a supporting cast that’s several dozen characters deep and produce episodes that rely on elaborate concepts rather than on straightforward plots. ”Twenty-Two…” plays to these strengths. Taking its title (if nothing else) from the movie ”Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould,” the outing is a Whitman’s Sampler of Springfieldians, giving such fan favorites as Snake, Chief Wiggum, and Dr. Nick Riviera their brief moments at center stage. (It even finds time to supply the hillbilly Cletus with a toe-tapping theme song.) If that’s not enough, it wedges in a priceless ”Pulp Fiction” parody, replete with a nuanced discussion of the difference between Krusty Burger and McDonald’s. Let’s see a Chuck Lorre joint try that.

14. “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”
Airdate: Sept. 21, 1997
The show that dares ask the question ”Why did I drink all that crab juice?” A bingeing Barney ditches Homer’s car in the Big Apple, prompting a family trip to retrieve it. Change-of-venue episodes are typically uninspired, but this ”City” is frantically busy — skewering foreign-food vendors (five words: Khlau Kalash on a Stick), crazy subway dudes, and gawking tourists. A Broadway parody about the Betty Ford clinic called Kickin’ It is uncomfortably catchy; even bits about the Twin Towers are so clever, you’ll smile instead of wincing. Plus, Marge offers an admonition for anti-Gothamites: ”Of course you’ll have a bad impression of New York if you only focus on the pimps and the C.H.U.D.’s.” Put that on a T-shirt, and we’ve got something.

13. “I Love Lisa”
Airdate: Feb. 11, 1993
Lisa gives sad little Ralph Wiggum a Valentine’s Day pity card, featuring a smiling train and a special greeting. ”You Choo-Choo-Choose Me?” marvels a desperately happy Ralph. Anyone who’s suffered an unrequited crush will find these 30 minutes wonderfully squirmy. Lisa ignores Homer’s advice for warding off Wiggum (”Six simple words: I’m not gay, but I’ll learn”) and ends up dumping him live on Krusty’s 29th Anniversary Show (”You can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half,” enthuses Bart, watching in slo-mo). But ”I Love Lisa” ultimately reveals the show’s unexpected sweet side, as when Ralph cheerfully reads a make-up card from a repentant Lisa: ”’Let’s Bee Friends.’ It says ‘bee’ and has a picture of a bee on it!”

12. “Duffless”
Airdate: Feb. 18, 1993
For years, we chuckled at Homer’s sloppy, overheated love for beer. But all that hilarious brain-cell killing was never really addressed…until this episode, in which Homer—riding high on a Duff brewery tour buzz—gets busted for DWI and reluctantly heeds Marge’s request to quit drinking for a month. Not only does ”Duffless” tweak an unrelenting alcohol culture (a billboard flips between ”Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” and ”It’s Always Time for Duff”), it deftly depicts poignant, if grudging, emotional growth for Homer: After bemoaning his newfound sobriety at a baseball stadium (”I never realized how boring this game is”), he forgoes a reward beer to bike into the sunset with Marge.

11. “The Last Temptation of Homer”
Airdate: Dec. 9, 1993
When Mr. Burns is forced to hire a female employee at the plant, Homer is suddenly very attentive at work. There’s plenty Homer admires about Mindy Simmons (voiced to slinky perfection by Michelle Pfeiffer): gluttony, sloth, and, he suspects, outrage that ”’Ziggy”s gotten too preachy!” Of course, we know that Homer will stay faithful, his marriage having already survived Jacques the bowling instructor and a giant catfish named General Sherman. But it’s Homer’s anguished journey (”Oh no, I’m sweating like Roger Ebert!”)—and a memorable cameo by Colonel Klink of Hogan’s Heroes—that makes getting there so great. It’s no Scenes From a Marriage, but it’s a hell of a lot more amusing.

10. “Treehouse of Horror V”
Airdate: Oct. 30, 1994
Simpsons Truism No. 666: ”Treehouse” episodes are as inconsistent as Grampa’s bladder. Welcome to the exception. ”The Shinning” is a parody brimming with such detail, comic timing (”No TV and no beer make Homer…something something”), and Kubrick send-ups that it ranks with the greatest of pop-culture spoofs. ”Time and Punishment” features Homer’s time-traveling toaster and one of the most beautifully random moments in Simpsons history (Homer: ”Don’t panic. Remember the advice your father gave you on your wedding day.” Grampa in thought bubble: ”If you ever travel back in time, doooooonnnn’t step on anything…”). Maybe ”Nightmare Cafeteria” doesn’t shine as brilliantly, but we think it’s perfectly, well, ”cromulent.”

9. “Mr. Plow”
Airdate: Nov. 19, 1992
”Call Mr. Plow, that’s my name/That name again is Mr. Plow!” Those 12 words of insipid brilliance stand testament to one of the few times Homer has actually succeeded at something. As Springfield’s No. 1 snow mover, Homer—rather incredibly—earns some extra money, the gratitude of Mayor Quimby, and the amorous adoration of Marge (She: ”Would you mind…?” He: ”Cutting my nails? Brushing my teeth?”). But Homer finds competition—and even betrayal—from…Barney? A curiously dark episode (we learn that Homer is responsible for Barney’s alcoholism) in which escalating tensions come to a head on icy Widow’s Peak. Not exactly laugh-a-minute, but oh, that jingle…

8. “The Itchy & Scratchy and Poochie Show”
Airdate: Feb. 9, 1997
Hey, kids! Who likes scathing commentary on aging TV series? In this provocative, self-referential spectacle that polarized a nation (okay, some particularly rabid fans),Itchy & Scratchy‘s falling ratings prompt the network suits to introduce a painfully overhip canine. (”You’ve heard the expression, ‘Let’s get busy’? Well, this is a dog who gets biz-zay.”) The Homer-voiced Poochie provides perfect fodder for aggressive meta-lampoonery: As Lisa criticizes the desperate character-adding act, a hipster teen named Roy is seen inexplicably chillin’ with the Simpson clan. No cow is sacred here, not even The Simpsons‘s increasingly nitpicky fans, who are milked for laughs in the Comic Book Guy’s ”Worst Episode Ever” didacticism. Worst ever? Hardly.

7. “Homer’s Phobia”
Airdate: Feb. 16, 1997
The Simpsons gets away with more hot-button hotdoggery than any other show, and the most cunning example may be this flamboyant installment, in which the family befriends John (John Waters), the droll owner of a kitschy collectibles shop… until Homer finds out that he’s gay. For a man who once called a spoon ”the metal dealie…you use…to dig…food,” Homer attains a new level of keg-headedness in his foolish paranoia (”He didn’t give you gay, did he?”) and absurd anger toward John for not mincing around and declaring his orientation (”You know me, Marge—I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals fa-laaaming!”). But the same-sex silliness never turns offensive, perhaps because of the sincere subtext: By worrying that John is going to convert Bart, Homer actually fears that he hasn’t been a good father—thus explaining the accidental visit to the gay steel mill. Hot (and funny) stuff, coming through!

6. “Lisa the Vegetarian”
Airdate: Oct. 15, 1995
In the early days, Bart and Homer were the Simpson family’s — and the show’s—undisputed breakout stars. Talk to Simpsons writers, though, and you’ll discover something interesting: A critical mass name Lisa—nerdy, earnest, principled, perpetually misunderstood Lisa—as their favorite Simpson of all. Which means this list needs a Lisa episode—and not a Lisa episode that’s really a Bart episode (”Lisa’s First Word”) or a Lisa episode that’s really a Ralph episode (”I Love Lisa”). (Don’t agree? Go back to Russia!) And which Lisa episode is better than ”Lisa the Vegetarian,” in which the smartest kid in Springfield first realizes the unsettling connection between the lamb she just met at a petting zoo and the chops Marge is serving that very night? But there’s more to this half-hour than Lisa’s awakening; her meat-eschewing highlights her relationship with Homer, one of the show’s most interesting dynamics, and also leads to a few of the series’ catchiest gags. Sing it with me now: You don’t win friends with sal-ad!

5. “A Fish Called Selma”
Airdate: March 24, 1996
You may remember Troy McClure from such TV shows as ”The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular,” but in his splashiest turn, the underemployed actor is plagued by a ”romantic abnormality.” ”Gay? I wish!” says the closeted fish fetishist, who becomes a family man by marrying Marge’s sister Selma (the one with a repetitive stress injury from scratching her butt). Hollywood lampoons are well-tread ground for the show, but this take on the scandal-contrition cycle, featuring the wonderful McClure vehicle Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!, is particularly smart. And Selma’s farewell to McClure is also a touching tribute to the man who supplied his voice, the late Phil Hartman: ”Goodbye, Troy. I’ll always remember you, but not from your films.”

4. “Rosebud”
Airdate: Oct. 21, 1993
It begins with Citizen Kane, ends somewhere near the ”Planet of the Apes,” and in between, manages to find time to include Hitler, the Ramones, and 64 slices of American cheese. But despite being one of The Simpsons‘s most spectacularly overstuffed episodes, ”Rosebud” has plenty of heart, though it is the Mephistophelian ticker belonging to Mr. Burns, who, on the eve of his birthday—somewhere north of 100—finds himself pining for Bobo, his long-lost teddy bear. Burns and Smithers’ efforts to retrieve the tattered toy from Maggie show why they’ll always be TV’s most functional dysfunctional couple: Smithers (who fantasizes about his boss jumping out of a birthday cake) isn’t happy unless his boss is happy—which happens only after an empathetic Maggie gives Bobo up. It’s a moment that proves even Springfield’s twisted billionaire can learn to love—though he conveniently forgets how a few seconds later.

3. “Last Exit to Springfield”
Airdate: March 11, 1993
This episode is virtually flawless, the product of a series at the height of its creative powers—when the satire was savage and relevant, when names like John Swartzwelder, George Meyer, and Conan O’Brien were relatively unknown, when Maude Flanders lived. So it is that we find America’s favorite family at Painless (formerly ”Painful”) Dentistry, because Lisa is in need of braces. Meanwhile, at the nuclear plant, Mr. Burns is trying to ax the union dental plan. The rest is the stuff of syndication legend: Burns facing down ”brilliant” labor kingpin Homer Simpson; Homer Simpson facing down his own brain (”Lisa needs braces/DENTAL PLAN!”); Grampa rattling on about wearing onions on his belt. ”Last Exit” is a glorious symphony of the high and the low, of satirical shots at unions and sweet ruminations on the humiliations of adolescence (as evidenced by Lisa, who copes with a medieval mouth contraption), and, of course, all those ”D’oh!”s. The things, in other words, that make us love The Simpsons in the first place.

2. “Cape Feare”
Airdate: Oct. 7, 1993
The Simpsons is, at its heart, one big parody, but even Homer Thompson could recognize ”Cape Feare” as the show’s most meticulous and manic pop-culture takeoff. Not only is it a pitch-perfect send-up of the Martin Scorsese remake (with Kelsey Grammer’s Sideshow Bob traveling to Terror Lake to hunt down and murder his pint-size nemesis, Bart), but it also features one of the most bizarre scenes in television history. We’re referring, of course, to the rakes. Think about it. How many other series would waste valuable prime-time real estate by showing a man whacking himself in the face with a garden rake not once, not twice, but NINE TIMES?!? If ever there was a gag genius in its repetitive stupidity (progressing from funny to not so funny to the funniest thing ever), this is it—merely the sharpest cut in an entire episode that just plain kills.

1. “Marge vs. the Monorail”
Airdate: Jan. 14, 1993
Fast-talking huckster Lyle Lanley (Phil Hartman, natch) sells the town a faulty monorail; only through Marge’s intervention is the town saved. That’s the plot of ”Marge vs. the Monorail,” but it’s not the point. The point is that the episode has arguably the highest throwaway-gag-per-minute ratio of any Simpsons, and all of them are laugh-out-loud funny. You want parodies? In its first five minutes, ”Monorail” skewers The Flintstones, Beverly Hills Cop, The Silence of the Lambs, andBatman. Celebrity cameos? Leonard Nimoy bores the town with tales from the Star Trek set. Simpsons in-jokes? Country star Lurleen Lumpkin, from ”Colonel Homer,” has a bit part. A musical number? The Music Man‘-inspired ”The Monorail Song” is, well, inspired. Elaborate visuals that were clearly devised by a roomful of overgrown boys? This episode features giant remote-controlled mechanical ants, a radioactive squirrel, an escalator to nowhere, and—in case we haven’t mentioned it already—Leonard Nimoy. Thus we proclaim: Best. Episode. Ever.

This article originally appeared on EW.com


Mythbusters Will Take On The Simpsons


The bubble-bursting masters will test the assumptions of one of America’s most beloved cartoons

The good people at Mythbusters are turning their skeptical eye next toward a show about a little family from Springfield: the Simpsons.

For the hit Discovery Channel show’s 13th season premiere, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman will test assertions and assumptions in some classic moments from the show.

“We set out to test Bart throwing a cherry bomb into the toilet that makes all toilets in the school act like geysers,” Savage says.

They’ll also put to the test the time Homer put himself between a wrecking ball and his house in order to save the structure—with two real life houses to wreck—or not wreck, if somehow Homer’s feat actually works—plus a life-sized Homer replica.

Read more at Entertainment Weekly

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