Simpsons World: The Ultimate Episode Guide

Posted by on February 18th, 2011 at 1:00 AM

Harper; 1,200 (as in one thousand, two hundred) pp.; $150; Color; Hardcover (ISBN: 9780061711282)

There are any number of ways to try and get proper perspective on a television series that has reached 20+ years of broadcasting. The method I now prefer — and the one that last Christmas offered Santa-certified proof that I had been a very good boy the year prior — is Simpsons World: The Ultimate Episode Guide.

“Guide” is a fit if pale description for the tome, one that at least holds a suggestion of the range and breadth of functions here provided to escort and enhance. Each of the episodes of the inaugural 20 seasons of the show gets two or more pages combining recap, listings, references and profuse quotes, one exhaustive if specialized encyclopedia.

Generous, dutiful synopses do their level best to convey the usually convoluted, unfailingly crazed narrative of each episode. These do a good job conveying the imaginative premise and precipitous action, even occasionally suggesting how groundbreaking certain themes and their treatment were for their time. Still, given the program’s rapid-fire pacing, the brilliance of the voice-acting, the depth of the characterization and the other inherent virtues of animation refined to its peculiar art, these synopses, when compared to the viewing experience, are the least likely of the book’s features to boost viewing pleasure.

Bountiful hilarity rains down elsewhere. The bulk of every page is taken up with episode dialogue, song lyrics, character profiles, show art and more focused highlights, including separate compartments for “Stuff You May Have Missed” and “Moments” citing homages /swipes from films or television history. Every episode includes Bart’s signature chalkboard joke as well as more mundane info such as original airdate, production code designation and creative credits.

Ultimate duplicates the same format of earlier “complete guides” (to my knowledge, the last before this one was The Simpsons Beyond Forever covering seasons 11 and 12) but, as we’ll see, fortifies, refines and updates. The biggest changes between earlier compilations and this’n is the uniform expansion of earliest episode listings from a single to multiple pages, whether those earliest episodes, relative to later shows, deserves the expansion or not (many don’t and can’t support it, accounting for the heavy reliance on more program art for the inflation).

Let’s take a closer look at how a single program fares in an earlier guide compared to this Ultimate guide and make some disturbingly obsessive observations.

I just happened to have recently seen “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” from the middle of the 12th season. It’s a sturdy if run-of-the-mill outing immediately eye-catching for being credited to the inimitable writer John Swartzwelder.

The episode rated two pages in both earlier and Ultimate editions. Here, Homer gets a computer and begins a blog site as Mr. X until his wild “bull plop” lands him in a “creepy village by the sea” à la the television show The Prisoner. Accordingly, hero and guiding hand of that program, Patrick McGoohan, guest stars.

Neither guide explains the title which adapts that of an undistinguished Disney film, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, itself of interest possibly only for its early starring role for Kurt Russell … and let me emphasize possibly. Ultimate expands the number of highlighted entries and quotes for the episode from 22 to 27 and extends the dialogue of a common excerpt. On the debit side, Ultimate drops a reference under “Stuff You Might Have Missed,” an aside about this show representing the second appearance of The Prisoner’s “anti-escape orbs” (they having been seen prior, in show 5F23, “The Joy of Sect,” when Marge flees the Movementarian religious compound). That’s a net gain of four highlighted excitements, all of which warm the cockles of your funnybone, although the missing link about the orbs is to be lamented.

Regardless, bear in mind too, that 22 or 27, we are talking about that many funny bits in a show that, without commercials, runs some 23 minutes.  Interestingly enough (well, to some of us), both guides contain the same reference to escape boats cobbled from toiler paper rolls, toothpicks and plastic forks; additionally both also list as construction components “scabs and dynamite,” a joke absent from the televised program.

In the earlier guide “bull plop” goes unhyphenated while in Ultimate it gets the hyphen… but maybe I’ve already said too much …

Although wait, there is more. In the original guide, the plot synopsis regarding Homer’s site reads “His web page starts becoming unpopular …” This is changed in Ultimate to “His web page becomes unpopular …” Now, what that means is that the powers overseeing this new volume were not content to merely reprint the perfectly serviceable earlier material wholesale, but made the effort to augment, amplify and improve, up to and including hiring somebody familiar with the English language to go ahead and reedit everything. That, in my book, is service above and beyond.

I haven’t really gotten to the added treats that would so appeal to longtime viewers and that, to recite even a tiny fraction of the savory good parts as examples, would brand me the enamored fan that I am. But what must be mentioned are the voice credits in f-u-l-l (Dan Castellaneta’s go on for almost four pages; Hank Azaria’s for more); every celebrity guest star (Art Spiegelman and Alan Moore both have one more than Bruce Springsteen but themselves are doubled by Thomas Pynchon); mercilessly extended index (“Tinkle, Ivana” is in two episodes!); complete descriptions of every opening sequence (including the original, that of seasons 2-20, the new, Christmas and post movie versions with variations); every couch gag; every Itchy & Scratchy cartoon-within-a-cartoon; every First Church of Springfield marquee; every Krusty authorized product (OK, dweeb alert from here on out…) including Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel; every occasion when Homer said “D’oh!;” every time he said “Mmm” (“Mmm … extra-virgin” [don’t ask]); the lyrics for every song sung (“We see another shot of U2 sitting on their barstools, revealing that their rears are exposed. Each member of the band pulls up his pants. Bono: ‘And tell you when your arse [here “ass”] is showing!’”); and “A Tribute to Troy McClure,” voiced by the late, great Phil Hartman, including his television shows and specials, telethons (“Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House”), his 29 films (including Leper in the Backfield) and funeral hostings.

I’ll stop, but this isn’t finished, not by a long shot.

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One Response to “Simpsons World: The Ultimate Episode Guide

  1. Michael Grabowski says:

    Sounds great, but seriously: $150?