The Simpsons, Season Three, Episode Eleven, “Burns Verkaufen Der Kraftwerk”

In discussions about favourite Simpsons episodes, people tend to separate the purely funny episodes from the heartwarming ones. I would go even further and separate Simpsons episodes into three categories: pure comedy, heartwarming, and satirical – by way of example, I’d put “Lemon Of Troy”, “And Maggie Makes Three”, and “Last Exit To Springfield” into each category. This is not to say that each kind of episode fits purely into each category, because I would classify this episode as purely comic, with light touches of niceness and satire for flavour.

As the premise is that the power plant gets sold to Germans, we spend a lot of time with Mr Burns, and everyone involved has become a goddamned virtuoso when it comes to him. Harry Shearer’s singsong voice makes a meal out of the flowery dialogue he’s given, and there were so many points where I was reduced to a fit of giggles just by the equally whimsical animation of him. The amount of time we’ve spent with him also gives us the big kinda-sentimental moment of the episode, when Burns says goodbye to Smithers and gives him a photo of himself with Elvis Presley (also giving us one of my biggest laughs, when Burns imitates Presley).

The other half of the episode is Homer. At first, I thought his part in the first act was another case of the first act being blocked off from the rest, but that’s not really true; it’s about Homer stupidly selling his shares in the company for $25 when he could have made $5200 out of it, which doesn’t come up for the rest of the episode but does provide stakes in that it reminds us the Simpsons are always one step away from poverty, which makes Homer’s fear of getting fired more palpable.

Which brings me to the Germans themselves. It’s cheap to make Nazi jokes about Germans, and this is classic Simpsons, so aside from a few offhand references (“Sure, they’ve made mistakes in the past, but that’s why pencils have erasers!”), they make the Germans absurdly accommodating and nice. I particularly like their HR guy, Horst, who explicitly draws a comparison between himself and Sgt Shultz and keeps believing Homer’s fear of talking to him comes down to a mistranslation – Phil Hartman makes him so friendly that everything he says just becomes ten times funnier.

(Also, when Homer spots Horst coming, he throws his donut to the ground in his attempt to look professional, which cracks me up)

Homer’s eventual firing for incompetence splits the episode in thirds, as we follow Burns through retirement, the Simpsons through poverty, and the Germans through their terrible power plant. The scope assists the story and jokes here; it’s basically a few minutes of riffing on the same ideas, and cutting between the three of them keeps the feeling of repetition down (I love the “Goofus and Gallant” style jokes as the Simpson children suggest ideas for saving money – “I didn’t take a bath today and I may not take on tomorrow!”).

The episode climaxes with Burns going into Moe’s (“Watch me blend in, Smithers.”), and Homer taunts him with an extended rant; what Burns really wants is for his fellow man to fear him, and a working plutocrat can achieve that much better than a retired one. Luckily, the Germans have realised how poor the power plant actually is and are willing to sell it for much less than they paid. The status quo is restored in a much more obvious way than usual, and so the end feels less like a climax and more like a casual ‘see ya’.

Chalkboard Gag: The Christmas pageant does not stink.
Couch Gag: The Simpsons run in to find Santa’s Little Helper sleeping on the couch; he growls, and they back off.

The episode was written by John Vitti and directed by Mark Kirkland. The famous “Land of Chocolate” sequence was not in the original script, and was suggested by Sam Simon. The gag about “carrot/ash” cat food came from a time when Vitti tried feeding his cat carrot and ash. There’s a reference to the original Tracey Ullman Show shorts when Bart imagines eating a cement mixer full of frosty chocolate milkshakes. David Silverman storyboarded the “Land Of Chocolate” sequence, and his whimsical hand is all over it.

There’s a great “Bart crank calls Moe” joke when Bart calls Moe, only to have to go to Moe’s to pick up his dad; at first he’s terrified Moe will catch him, but then it turns out Moe knew Bart when he was younger and never makes the connection between Bart and the crank caller. Bart leads them all in song; it always cracks me up when Bart is in his element.

Speaking of things that always crack me up, we have two imagination jokes in a row. Homer imagines what he could do with $25, and Bart imagines what he could do with $5,200; both suit their characters.

That title should actually be “Burns Verkauft Das Kraftwerk”.

First Appearances: N/A
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