I’ve not written much about media for a while, but there is something I have been wanting to write about for a while. At the beginning of September I bought Series 4 of the Simpsons on DVD for a bargain price. Episode 17 of that Series (which is in with a shout for greatest series of TV in history I think) is, in my humble and irrelevant opinion, the greatest single TV episode in the history of the medium. Ever. Period. Last Exit To Springfield is just about damn perfect, and after exploring some dark corners of life via Heidegger recently, I’m going to explore some lighter, more delightful stuff (although there is a fair bit of dark in this episode, but its funnier than watching David Cameron take a colonoscopy from Freddy Krueger).
People who spout “X is the best thing ever” are usually scum of the highest order, so I need to justify myself. The greatness of Last Exit is, for me, a triangulation of plot, character and cultural references. The plot, Homer becoming a Union kingpin to preserve the Plant Dental Plan after Lisa is told she requires braces is, of course, utter genius. It acts as a gateway into twin critiques of the corruptness of organised labour (Homer: So what does this job pay? Lenny: Nothing. Homer: D’oh! Lenny: Unless you’re crooked.
Homer: WOOHOO!), brilliantly observed in the Jimmy Hoffa-esque “disappearance” of Homer’s predecessor, and the equivalent moral decrepitude of capitalism, personified by Mr. Burns (morphing into the Grinch as the episode goes on). The plot plays on Homer’s
moral incontinence, base greed and rank ignorance to perfect effect, as he outwits Burns with no awareness or strategy of any kind, relying on luck and Burns’ own greed-fuelled incompetence (his attempt at running the death-trap nuclear plant is testament to this). Homer wins – but as Burns acknowledges, he may not be the great tactician he appeared. Burns has always been one of my favourite characters – part Charles Foster Kane, part Satan, part dementia. This is the character’s finest hour (with the notable exception of ordering the Rolling Stones to be killed after the Ramones play at his birthday party). The petty thugs of the union and the gloriously creepy dentist also play key roles in this fest of quality.
The cultural references are where Last Exit totally kicks ass. The Godfather II, The Beatles, Citizen Kane, Moby Dick, Tim Burton’s Batman – all there and all perfect. This triangulation makes Last Exit awesome no doubt, but then there are the actual jokes that make it transcendently good. Firstly, the greatest sequence I have ever seen on TV (here in a very poor tv copy, as YouTube does not carry Simpsons clips):
I could go on, but NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU HAVE SEEN THIS EPISODE, I URGE YOU TO WATCH IT AGAIN. This is the one episode of TV that can always, no matter what, take me out of myself for its duration and make me forget whatever is happening in life at the time. Its perfect. Its a Marxist cultural critique wrapped in a poisonous attack on union greed wrapped in a comedy that is so well written it would make you cry if you attempted to match it. I’ve missed so much out of this it is untrue. Just go watch it again. NOW.