The Simpsons, Season Eight, Episode Nine, “The Springfield Files”

The genre-bending aspect of the show returns as it delves into being a full-on supernatural mystery! One of the interesting things about this season is wondering every episode if this is gonna be one of the ones people point at and say “this is an example of the show’s decline”, and this has a lot of those elements – an incredibly wacky premise involving alien visits, gratuitous celebrity guests, a fake crossover with the only other 90’s Fox show that matters, a ridiculous solution to the whole thing, and big cheesy musical number to finish things off. The difference, as always, is that this is all very funny and pitched at such a level that it all feels like it follows a logical sensibility; the musical number is a great example, because on top of just being wacky, it’s a punchline to a joke about how cruel Burns is. As always, it’s the thought that went into this that makes it work; this is a genuinely functional supernatural mystery story that delivers all the same pleasures, just twisted for laffs – the whole opening act feels like the cold open of an X-Files episode (well, after Homer leaves the bar), as the spooky atmosphere builds up and up until it climaxes with Homer meeting a green alien, and both the investigation and the conclusion hit the kind of notes you see in these stories. Just, you know, with jokes in them.

I confess that I haven’t seen enough of The X-Files to really comment on the parodies the show does (I’ve seen the first half a dozen episodes and didn’t care much for them), but most of the jokes translate well with just a loose understanding of the show’s concept (“I hardly think the FBI is concerned with matters like that.”) and often riff on the deadpan sense of humour of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. It’s funny, actually, that their presence is mainly contained to testing Homer’s viability as a witness and checking out the area he talks about, clearing the way for Homer to solve the mystery himself; I’m sure seeing Mulder and Scully basically just give up in the face of Springfield’s absurdity is hilarious after watching them chase the truth so hard in their own show. But it also works to force Homer to heroically save the day on his own and restore his name; I think if there’s one major aspect of The Simpsons that’s responsible for its success, it’s that it takes absurd situations and gives them real emotion, where we’re genuinely moved and highly amused by that.

I especially find the solution to the mystery funny, for how it manages to have a Scooby-Doo effect of uncovering a rational explanation despite being based on complete Simpsons-esque nonsense, because of course death-defying aged care treatments that last exactly one week and green radiation glow are much more plausible than aliens in Springfield – I see that Skeptical Inquirer praised the episode for coming out against aliens, proving once again that ideologues don’t so much watch television as stand in its general vicinity. The upshot is that I’ve kind of run out of things to say about this episode – there’s kind of a half-assed moment of glory where Marge says she was proud of Homer for bringing peace and love to the town, but it feels like something thrown in there to make the whole thing worthwhile. I suppose that’s the real connection to the post-Golden Age episodes: the feeling that it’s said everything it wants to say.

Chalkboard Gag: The truth is not out there.
Couch Gag: The family fly in on jet packs.

This episode was written by Reid Harrison and directed by Steven Dean Moore. The episode was overseen by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, returning to produce this and a few other episodes. Before producing the episode, the script was sent over to X-Files creator Chris Carter, who considered it an honour to be satirised by The Simpsons. Leonard Nimoy returns as himself and Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny play their characters from The X-Files.

There’s one plot hole: how does Homer know the alien shows up every Friday night, like Urkel? The ‘alien’ genuinely scared the shit out of me as a kid; discovering it was just Mr Burns did in fact make me feel better, though perhaps it shouldn’t have. Love the unspoken gag that literally everything Bart and Homer use while camping is stolen from Ned Flanders. This episode contains the first full title sequence we’ve seen in a very long time on this show.

Nimoy’s sequences are a parody of his show In Search Of… Obviously, there are multiple references to The X-Files, including the iconic music showing up when Homer sees the ‘alien’, Mulder’s FBI speedo being a reference to the episode “Duane Barry”, and an appearance of the Smoking Man. The frogs croaking is a reference to a Budweiser commercial. Homer’s suggestion that they fake an alien autopsy is a reference to the Alien Autopsy hoax. Homer compares the alien to Urkel of Family Matters. Marvin the Martian, Gort, Chewbacca, ALF, and either Kang or Kodos show up in an alien lineup, in what the producers called the most illegal shot in The Simpsons. Homer hears the music of Psycho on his walk home. One of the time/place chapter titles devolves into repetition of “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” from The Shining. Mr Largo conducts his students through the five-note tune from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Milhouse plays an arcade game based on Waterworld. Homer steals his way to get out of work from the movie Speed.

Iconic Moments: Leonard Nimoy’s entire opening bit. | “The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down” | DIE…T | Mulder’s swimsuit ID photo | “It’s bringing love! Don’t let it get away!” / “Break its legs!”
Biggest Laugh: