100 Greatest TV Episodes: You Only Move Twice (s8 ep2)

A new series charting the 100 greatest individual television episodes, as chosen by the Failed Critics.

You Only Move Twice

By Dr. Pangloss

It’s a pity this series of ‘100 Greatest TV Episodes’ doesn’t come in order. Quite aside from being a sure-fire way to attract indignant comments from readers and bump up page views, it would allow me to make a frankly unanswerable case for the superlative ‘You Only Move Twice’ as number one.

Because as the best episode of the best show to have ever been broadcast, it certainly would be.

If you were to take one episode from the 508 screened so far which encapsulates the show’s intelligence, wit, uncanny ability to provide endless quotable lines and its unique blend of reverence for and irreverence towards popular culture – you could do little better

First broadcast in 1996 (!) the episode displays the staggering ability that is the hallmark of the show’s earlier episodes to send a storyline spinning wildly out of control with divergent storylines, in this case to an entirely new city and with a sub-plot for each family member only to effortlessly draw everything back together in time for a lesson on the importance of sacrifice and family values. This wasn’t the first time The Simpsons had up and moved for Homer’s career (Dancin’ Homer was), but it was the first to have a storyline for each mover. There’s actually a fifth for Grandpa which features on the DVD extras where, somewhat predictably, he is left at home, forlorn and forgotten.

Damn right we’re talking DVD extras, it’s that kind of blog.

Underpinning the episode is the wonderful conceit that Homer has inadvertently found his dream job at the corporation run by a pastiche of a 007 villain more energetic and charismatic than the Blofeld he was loosely based on. From the opening titles, through the Goldfinger, Thunderball, Moonraker, You Only Live Twice and View to a Kill nods, to the closing theme song, the episode is an homage to Bont (for legal reasons). The writers even manage to throw in a parody of a parody in a way only The Simpsons would be able to, with a cameo from Mrs. Goodthighs of Casino Royale fame (1967, youngsters).

And yet its strength is that it manages to retain that unique Simpsons feel throughout, partly in thanks to a cameo from Al Brooks as Scorpio; arguably the greatest one-off character ever and a career-defining performance. And that is a career which boasts appearances in Taxi Driver, Drive and as five other Simpsons characters – bonus points if you can name them all. The writers famously barely bothered to script his lines, as they knew Brooks would improv most of them anyway, often changing tack mid-take. The entire hammock dialogue was ad-libbed on the spot by Brooks in one take; listen and you can hear Castellaneta struggling to keep up.

‘You Only Move Twice’ possesses the multi-faceted, layered script that all of the great episodes of the show have, and that possibly only Pixar at its best moments can match. You can (and I have) watch this show at the ages of 8, 12, 17 and 24 and laugh at different moments with each viewing. From the slapstick throwaway shoe gag (see what I did there?) and a remedial class full of Ralph Wiggums, to the meta-humour of recurring gags like “what lifelong dream?” and the sophisticated, wicked double entendre of “want some cream, too?”, the show stuffs in an incredible number of gags of a hugely diverse range into a mere 20 minutes. The writers also manage to take trenchant swipes at the US Army, the UN and include a rather sad hint at the dark life Marge would have if not for the housework.

And it lovingly references Dr. Strangelove. What more could you possibly want from a TV episode?

Do not accept prescriptions from Dr. Pangloss, his doctorate is in philosophy. Also, it’s not a real doctorate. Do, however, take his writings as gospel.

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