It’s been a long time since we’ve had a ‘first’ anything on this show. I stand by my belief that the Golden Era is seasons four to eight, with the first three seasons being the show’s Experimental Era, where it tried out different identities and emotions and rules to follow – things like “Mr Burns is infinitely old, infinitely rich, and infinitely evil” and “the school never has enough money” and “typical sentimental TV moments never work out”. It discarded rules that didn’t really work and refined rules that did so they were at their most effective. By season four, the rules were so clearly defined that the show could follow them to incredible, gonzo places nobody had ever been, so it hasn’t really had to reinvent its own wheels. “The Springfield Connection” is a little bit of an evolution of what’s already there and a precursor to what’s next because it feels like the first true “Character Gets A Job” episode, by which I mean that it’s the first that feels like the show is following a formula. There’s one misfire of a joke here where Homer eats Hans Moleman’s last meal, and he asks “Are you really allowed to execute people in a local jail?” It’s not that it’s not a funny idea for a joke, it’s that I can feel the gears turning to get there, and that feels true for the plot of the episode. What makes this show work so well is that every step of the way feels organic, which is what makes the comedy, satire, and the heart all land so well. To use an example of a joke that does land despite some logical inconsistencies, there’s Burns pocketing Apu’s bribe. Marge wouldn’t take a bribe, Apu wouldn’t take no for an answer, and Burns would take free money when he saw it (see: infinitely rich, infinitely evil). What’s a plutocrat doing wandering around a local supermarket? I don’t care.
Not to say this episode doesn’t entirely work. I enjoy that part of the premise relies on Marge discovering a thrill-seeking side she was never aware of, and that she discovered it while trying to preserve the social order; Marge is famous for being a stick-in-the-mud, but I think many of her best stories lean into that in some way. I also enjoy the Lisa/Marge dynamic that develops; Lisa’s mixture of starry-eyed pride in her mother and leftist criticism of the police makes a hilarious combination (“As long as it’s constitutional.” / “Rrrrnn.”). To an extent, I don’t mind that Homer’s arc within this episode is a little muddled, because he’s impulsive enough that I can see him jumping from one point of view to another over the course of the episode (especially when every one of those jokes lands). The best I can settle on is that a great Simpsons episode feels absolutely stuffed with ideas that all bounce off each other in surprising and meaningful ways, where trying to make sense of the ideas it presents makes me feel like I’ve learned something. If I turn my head and squint, I could say people like Marge, interested in doing good by preserving the social order, will eventually be worn down by both the corruption of the force and the Sisyphean task of preserving order, but it feels like the show could have done more with this.
That said, barring that Moleman misstep, this is a powerhouse of comedy as always. That’s what people always mean when they say bad Simpsons is better than every other show on TV – even when the thoughtfulness falls flat, the show is as funny as ever. I think my favourite detail here is the fact that the criminals are selling counterfeit jeans; it’s an absurd detail on its own, and the episode pulls so many great jokes out of it in places other shows wouldn’t even think to look. However dissatisfying the sum might feel, the parts are as good as ever, with all the jokes feeling like the people we know and love. If it sounds like I’m saying I don’t like this episode, I’m really not. It’s just hard to write about in a way that this show usually isn’t. A dumber or more conventional show wouldn’t have these jokes, but it would have this plot.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not mock Mrs Dumbface.
Couch Gag: Homer walks in and shoots the camera a la James Bond.
This episode was written by John Collier and directed by Mark Kirkland. It was inspired by Mike Reiss’ wife seriously considering becoming a police officer. The counterfeit jeans gag was a riff on an explosion in the jeans market going on at the time. The Korean animators had trouble animating a gun because guns are illegal there. Originally, Marge would have had her hair up with the police cap perched on top, but it was found it made it difficult to stage action sequences; David Mirken found he preferred her hair down because it made it easier to take her seriously as a cop. I absolutely love Julie Kavnar’s stuttered delivery of “They g-g-g-get a-a-a-a-a surge of adrenaline!” and I equally love how the animation backs that up.
Another mysterious joke that seems like a reference to something but by all accounts isn’t: Marge knowing a guy named Benavonstanchiano. A much better cruel gag is Homer tricking Flanders into thinking his family was dead, because of the sheer joy he gets out of it, the precise way he makes it clear they’re fine, and Flanders’ feeble attempt to laugh along with the joke.
Marge and Homer see a performance of the music from Star Wars.The title and plot of the third act are references to The French Connection. McGriff the Crime Dog is a reference to McGriff the Crime Dog. Many references are dropped to Hill Street Blues. Marge appears on COPS. Marge’s training references both Police Academy and The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down Speed.
Iconic Moments: Only the one, the infamous “car hole” joke, where many misheard it as “car hold”. Aside from Hank Azaria clarifying it, Homer distinctly says “car hole” later.
Biggest Laugh: Others have cited “Four Krustys” as the perfect joke, but I think it would be more accurate to call it the most efficient joke. What this gag sacrifices in efficiency, it gains in power, expertly tripping up an unwary viewer. I can’t believe it’s only the second funniest dig at Police Academy this show ever did!