Saturday, 11 September 2010

THE PRINCIPAL AND THE PAUPER


SEASON 9 EPISODE 2 (EPISODE 180)

THIS IS IT:
This is the Seymour Skinner story.  Sort of.  It is one of those weird Simpsons episodes that is stand alone and feels the equivalent of “let’s never speak of this again” (which is reiterated at the end).  From a continuity perspective it is infuriating but on the plus side it features Martin Sheen.  The episode opens with Principal Skinner walking along the corridors of Springfield Elementary at 3PM inspecting his school (“I have it going on”).  Meanwhile Superintendent Chalmers, who has been following him, steps into the Faculty Lounge complaining “God lord!  The rod up that man’s butt must have a rod up its butt”.  At this point Miss Krabappel offers him a cup of coffee flavoured beverine which he takes grey with creamium.  At this point he makes an announcement that in hour of Skinner’s 20th year as principal they have decided to hold a surprise tribute on the coming Friday night.  At this point Groundskeeper Willy pipes up “it’s my 20th year too” which prompts Chalmers to cruelly respond “the teachers’ lounge is for teachers Willy” causing him to spit on the floor as he leaves.  We cut to Lisa’s classroom where Miss Hoover is requesting a volunteer to present an oral report on Principal Skinner’s life at the tribute.  Obviously she is thinking of Lisa but naturally Ralph puts up his hand asking the famous question: “Miss Hoover, which one is oral?” to which she responds with the handy rhyme “out of your mouth, Ralph”.  In the end she selects Lisa but to keep things fair she suggests that she and Ralph can do the presentation together.  Back home Bart is scooping up meatballs with little American flags inserts causing Marge to ask what he’s doing to which he responds “our class is making refreshments for Skinner’s party.  These are in honour of his army days” to which Marge says “that explains the flags but what about the dog food?”  “My theory is, Skinner likes dog food” at which point Homer comes along excitedly declaring “a fresh batch of America balls” before scoffing them.  With this we cut to Skinner’s house where he is making his weekly silhouette at which point his mother screams asking him what the time is (“7 o’clock Friday night, time for our weekly silhouette”).  At this point she steps in all dressed up saying “no, cutting out your ugly nose gives me a hand cramp”).  Soon Skinner notices that his mother is all dressed up as he enquires why to the battering response “because I’m sick of this house and I’m sick of you.  Tonight we’re going for a drive”.  He asks “what’s so special about tonight?” to which she insists “nothing.  Now put on your special suit and get in the car”.  From here he drives to the school where on the sign outside it says “Tonight: Surprise Tribute to Seymour Skinner”.  Curious about the visit Skinner asks Agnes what the sign says at which point she slaps him before leading him into the gymnasium where several members of the community jump out as a surprise.  With this Skinner sheds a tear and says “mother, you are still the master of deception”.  We cut to Lisa and Ralph giving their presentation with Lisa reading facts about Skinner’s army exploits while Ralph makes simple but sweet statements.  The music teacher then conducts his class singing the theme to Flipper albeit with the words changed to “they call him Skinner, no one you see is stricter than he”.  At this point a shady character passes the school reading the sign out front in shock, telling his driver to stop.  Back inside at the tribute Superintendent Chalmers introduces the anniversary cake which is wheeled out by Bart and Milhouse at which point Bart says “hope you all brought forks and plates” as the camera cuts to Chief Wiggum gleefully displaying that he has brought his own.  With this Skinner goes up onstage to blow out the candles after which he shakes Bart’s hand where he has a hand buzzer which Skinner naively refers to as an “enjoyment buzzer”.  As he gives a thank you speech out of the shadows emerges another man claiming to be Skinner who Agnes recognises before promptly fainting.  With this Superintendent Chalmers requests that “would somebody please remove that crazy man” at which point Seymour confesses that he’s an impostor.  While the room reacts in shock Homer sneakily acts shocked while slowly moving towards the cake.  From here we cut to Skinner’s office where they are attempting to resuscitate Agnes and Chalmers asks the new man who he is.  It turns out that the existing Skinner was in the real Skinner’s platoon but he believed that he was killed on a scouting mission however he was just captured (“its kind of a funny story”).  In the end after fives in a POW camp in Vietnam he was sold to China for slave labour and since 1977 he has been making sneakers at gunpoint in a sweatshop.  It transpires that the U.N. just shut down the factory last week and the embassy shipped him home.  Asking the existing Skinner his story it is revealed that his real name is Armin Tamzarian prompting gasps from everyone in the room except for Bart who laughs his head off.  Tamzarian is an orphan from Capital City and was once himself a street punk.  Inevitably he was arrested at which point he was given the option of imprisonment, the military or apologising to the judge who he ran over and the old lady whose purse he stole.  He chose the army without realising that the Vietnam War was going on (“I probably would have apologised”).  He turns out to be a reckless soldier whose dreams “all involve combing my hair”.  Sad to hear this Sergeant Skinner tells him of his dream to return to Springfield and become principal of the school.  Tamzarian responds saying “some might call that a pretty corny dream” but he is sold and inspired.  With this Sergeant Skinner takes Tamzarian under his wing and shows him that life is worth living, thinking of him as the big brother he had never had.  One day after landing from a helicopter Skinner is hit by a large shell prompting everyone to believe that he is missing presumed dead and with that Tamzarian’s future dies again.  When he returns to the U.S. Tamzarian feels it his duty to return Skinner’s belongings at which point a confused Agnes thinks that he is Skinner.  She says that he looks different but still he “must be Seymour” at which point she cunningly points him in the direction of Skinner’s room (“upstairs, third door on the left”) subtly revealing that she knows what she is doing/scheming.  So with that Tamzarian makes his final confession that for the past 26 years he has been living out the real Skinner’s dream.  With this Agnes now disowns her existing son while also rejecting the real Seymour Skinner (“I have no son”).  Resigned to the situation Tamzarian announces “I guess I’ll have to find a hotel” at which point Chalmers says “I won’t hear of it, you can sleep on the floor of your office”.  The next morning Bart wakes Tamzarian after being sent to him by Krabappel for forging Homer’s signature on his report card although he doesn’t see this as being any different to Tamzarian stealing Skinner’s identity to which he concedes it would be somewhat hypocritical to punish Bart.  Later while buying groceries at the Kwik-E-Mart Tamzarian experiences identity confusion as to which name to sign his check with (“just put an X by your name and call yourself whatever the hell you want”).  At this point he tells Apu that there is no need for profanity saying that he is still the same person he was last week at which point Marge butts in and tells him he’s not, expressing distaste at being lied to (“to me you’re just a stranger pretending to be something he’s not”).  On that note he calls an assembly to announce his retirement (“effective as of the end of this sentence”) as he suggests/recommends Sergeant Skinner as his replacement (“if a man pretending to be me can do it then the real me must be far more qualified”).  With this Tamzarian moves out of the Skinner house and leaves Springfield visited Edna on the way.  She pleads with him to stay but he decides to leave the town forever.  On his way he visits his Stor-U-Stuff unit, puts on his old leather jacket announces “time to pick up where I left off, as a no good street punk”.  From here he rides his motorbike out of town.  We cut to a news storage by Kent Brockman of the town opening its arms to the new Seymour Skinner.  At a public address with Mayor Quimby he announces that Springfield beats the older slave labour camp.  Watching at home Lisa expresses some doubts over Sergeant Skinner expressing admiration for how Armin Tamzarian pulled himself up from the gutter with hard work.  Bart reiterates how he lied to everyone but Lisa says it was just a name using the “would a rose under any other name” cliché to which Bart counters “not if you called them “Stench Blossoms” as Homer adds “or Crap Weeds”.  Marge states that she would hate to receive Crap Weeds for Valentines Day and how she would prefer to receive candy.  To this Homer factors “not if they were called “Scum Drops”.  Back at Springfield Elementary the new Principal Skinner struggles as he despairs at the pupils’ inability to do the Pledge Of Allegiance (primarily Bart).  Skinner considers this an insult to everything he suffered for.  He also clashes with Edna when asking her to recite the pledge after describing her as “someone who gave their youth in service of their country” (“you haven’t dealt with women in a long time have you Sergeant”).  Meanwhile in Capital City Tamzarian is pushing his motorbike back in his old neighbourhood.  He spots a “Help Wanted” sign at Topless Nudes which he applies for and gets as the next thing we see is him stood outside wearing a sandwich board that says “Nude! Nude! Nude!” while he reads from a script “oh yes, oh yes.  Capital City’s nakedest ladies.  They’re not even wearing a smile not suggestively.  Yes six, count ‘em, six gorgeous ladies just dying for your leers and catcalls, yowsa yowsa”.  Back at the Skinner house in Springfield the time is 7.30PM and Agnes is stressing at Seymour asking where he has been.  He says that he’s been at a bar, something she claims not to know before ordering him to come straight home after school on Fridays as it is “silhouette night”.  With this Seymour states that he just really came home to change into a turtleneck before telling her that he is borrowing her car causing great tension for her.  The next time we see Agnes she is at the supermarket where Marge bumps into her and asks how her “new son is working out?”  Angrily she responds “that child is the most disobedient smart alecky middle aged man in creation” at which point Edna pops up asking “hello ladies is this the line for people that want to bad mouth Sergeant Skinner?”  Marge points out that it’s the line for ten items or less so Edna throws various items from her trolley to bring it down to ten before stating “the man’s a weenie”.  In his defence Marge states that Armin Tamzarian was just as big a weenie to which Edna cries “but he was our weenie” as Agnes adds “now there was a weenie you could be proud of to call your son”.  On this bombshell Marge asks “did you ever tell him that?”  With this we cut to Homer driving Edna, Agnes, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Grandpa and Jasper to Capital City.  During the drive Grandpa tries it on with Agnes who responds “in your dreams” as he promptly nods off.  They find Tamzarian living at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel For Transients where the nine of them try to persuade him to return to Springfield.  Angered by this response Agnes tells him that she has been raising him for 26 years and that he is her real son stating that the real Seymour Skinner doesn’t need her and she doesn’t need him.  With this she orders him to go downstairs and get in the car before telling the rest of the group to do so too.  Homer drives Tamzarian straight to Springfield Elementary where a gathering crowd welcomes him back.  He announces that he is going to take over the school again.  On this announcement Mayor Quimby voices hesitation describing Armin Tamzarian as “an savoury character who played us all for chumps” prompting Homer to state that he “doesn’t care.  His mom doesn’t care.  Do any of you care?” to the resounding response of “no”.  With Sergeant Skinner points out that everyone seems to be forgetting that he is still around (“this is where I belong.  You can’t ask me to disappear just because you like some other guy better.  I gave half my life for you, aren’t I entitled to a little dignity?”).  With this Homer offers a solution that will satisfy the town and allow Sergeant Skinner to keep his dignity: tie him to a chair tied to a train wagon.  As he wheels out of Springfield Station Agnes walks along the side and apologises stating that he is “just not what I’m looking for in a son, I’m glad you understand” and with that he is gone.  Armin Tamzarian says this to be a nice gesture but says the town has to face the fact that he is not Seymour Skinner at which point Judge Snyder steps out and legally changes his name before decreeing “that everything will be just like it was before all this happened.  And no one will ever mention it again, under penalty of torture”.  On this announcement Agnes hands Skinner “his” pocket watch before declaring that he has never been happier or prouder to be Seymour Skinner and that his past few days as Armin Tamzarian have taught him that he has been a bit too uptight in the past as he says “well from now on you’re going to see a new Seymour Skinner” and loosens his tie to which Agnes promptly snaps “oh no we won’t” which sees Skinner comply with “yes mother” as he straightens his tie back.  Then titles run and we are back to where we started.

IS IT ANY GOOD:
It’s OK but it doesn’t make sense and thus it is a much derided episode.  That said it isn’t much different to the origin of Don Draper in Mad Men which those guys have got away with.

WHAT IT TAUGHT ME:
I guess the message of this episode is that it is wrong to pass yourself off and pretend to be another person.  It is a picture assessment of identity and the importance of being genuine.  However what it personally taught was more about the reaction of people when they feel they have been duped.  The most chilling moment for me is Marge’s shun of Armin in the Kwik-E-Mart.  Marge!  Marge is the most forgiving lady in existence (well, in suggested existence).  When women decide I guess.

EXTERNAL REFERENCES:
The kids sing a modified version of the Flipper theme.  Also anything Martin Sheen and Vietnam can only bring about thought of Apocalypse Now.

BEST LINES:
“Miss Hoover, which one is oral?”  “Principal Skinner is an old man that lives at the school”.  “When I grow up I want to be a principal or a caterpillar”.

BEST JOKES:
Chief Wiggum goes to the tribute event with his own fork and plate and Homer’s roll call explanation for driving a full car to Capital City.

PERIPHERAL MOMENT:
In 1966 Skinner enlisted in the army and shipped out to Vietnam.  His eventual rank was platoon sergeant.  Spring Elementary normally only serves cake on Thursdays.  Seymour Skinner is a member of the Radio Shack Battery Club.  Skinner has a souvenir from his trip to upstate New York of ten Canadian dollars.  He owns a Stor-U-Stuff storage unit.  Bart’s version of the Pledge Of Allegiance goes “Hey America, you’re so fine, you’re so fine, you blow my mind, America”.  433 Street in Capital City is Tamzarian’s old neighbourhood.  Now it is home to Topless Nudes nightclub.  Armin owns a porno mag called Swank.

REALITY CROSSOVER:
Back to Marge’s shun of Armin.  I have felt that frost, often from things I have said/written on the internet.  It’s actually a very revelatory moment.  People can turn, people will turn, people do turn.  Even the ones you think the nicest.

MVP:
It has to be Armin Tamzarian.  His performance is dense and pained, displaying a new side of Skinner that is seldom seen.

GUEST APPEARANCES:
Martin Sheen is the real Seymour Skinner.  Is this perhaps the story of what happened next for Benjamin Willard?  And in that case, does that make the existing Seymour Skinner his Kurtz?

SONGS:
Only the kids singing “They Call Him Skinner” to the Flipper theme music.

EPISODE LINKS:
No explicit links, this is a very stand alone episode.

PERCULARITIES:
The whole episode is peculiar.  So what happened to the real Seymour Skinner when the train stops?  Why doesn’t he return to Springfield to sought reparation?

BART ON THE BLACKBOARD:
There is no blackboard.

OTHER:
Ralph has some pretty good lines in this baby.

FINAL WORDS:
I maintain that this plot was lifted by Mad Men as Harry Crane (Jon Hamm) adopts/steals the identity of Don Draper.

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