The Simpsons Classics
The Simpsons Against the World

Starring: The Simpsons
20th Century Fox
RRP: 12.99
Certificate: PG
Available 16 August 2004

Homer gets an illegal hook-up to cable TV. Lisa is horrified and boycotts the TV room. Homer invites his mates round to see the Big Fight, where they are joined by the police and the nuclear plant management. Under pressure from Lisa, Homer finally caves in and cuts the cable...

Given that the Simpsons is a massive money spinner for Rupert Murdoch's cable TV empire, Homer Vs Lisa and the 8th Commandment has a lot of damming things to say about the quality of the medium's output, with Bart and friends most interested in the late night pornography. Ultimately of course, Homer is shamed into cutting the illegal service, but the points are well made.

Industrialist Mr Burns is caught dumping Toxic waste in Springfield park. He is fined $3M and the town meets to decide how to spend it, eventually being persuaded to build a monorail by the promise of jobs and prestige. Homer gets a job as a conductor and his quick thinking - for once - brings the train to a halt after the brakes fail...

Marge Vs the Monorail is a nice little parable of gullibility and the dire consequences of get rich quick capitalism. Springfield emerges as a town unwilling to tackle basic problems of law & order, potholed streets, illegal dumping, but gambling on the jobs and prestige from the bizarre project of an obvious fraudster (political lessons anybody?). Marge, Erin Brockovich-style, uncovers a trail of disaster where the monorail has gone before, but the lure of 'the project' is too strong. A delightful side plot has a fight between politician and policeforce for authority as the disaster unfolds around them.

To settle a bet with Lisa, Bart collect-calls an Australian household and runs up a huge phone bill. The young Australian lad's dad sues Bart, and to avoid a major international incident, the US state department persuades Bart to make a public apology before the Australian parliament or risk a 5-year jail stretch...

Bart Vs Australia is an episode which makes telling points about culture clashes. The state department spook reminds Bart about the brief '80s US infatuation with Oz culture. The Ozzies exhibit a strong anti-American streak. Bart introduces an alien species (the frog) which destroys the local fauna. The US embassy - sacred ground - even has a device to make waste water flow the 'American way' down the plug hole. A lot of nice touches including a recreation of the panic evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon, as the furious Ozzies batter down the doors of the embassy compound. Endless repetition of stereotypical 'Ozzies' somewhat overplayed, however.

Homer loses his money on a wrong-way bet on Pumpkin futures. He is forced to borrow from his nemesis, Marge's two sisters, who lose no opportunity to humiliate him. Taking a job as a chauffeur, he takes a driving test - with the sisters as examiners.

A subplot of Homer Vs Patty and Selma sees Bart also wrestling to face down humiliation as he finds a hidden talent for ballet dancing The despair of indebtedness in a consumer culture run through this episode, symbolised by Homer's public and private humiliation by Marge's sisters ("You can't spell Obsequious without IOU"). Credit rating shot, and face with the alternative of money lenders backed by extreme violence, Homer is forced to come to terms with his demons. A fine episode.

Andy Thomas

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