“Lemon Of Troy” (season 6, episode 24, originally aired 5/14/1995)
The “rival opposite town” is a TV trope that feels very standard at this point, so it’s hard to remember that The Simpsons pretty much invented it. Obviously rival towns had existed before, in literature as well as TV, but Shelbyville is the beginning of an unforgettable comedy concept (one so good we did a whole list on it).
This is a great Bart-centric episode, and like a lot of great Bart-centric episodes, it takes the form of a caper. The joke of “Lemon of Troy” is that Shelbyville is really very similar to Springfield in every way, just with strange little tweaks (they drink Fudd Beer, have a lady Groundskeeper Willie, Joe’s Tavern, etcetera). But you still feel Bart and his gang’s trepidation as they enter the unknown territory of the town where fire hydrants are yellow and everything just feels a little off. It gives the whole caper an appropriately exciting air—you feel like the kids are in real danger for some reason, even though no threat exists beyond possibly getting thumped by a bunch of rival kids.
The episode begins with Marge questioning Bart’s civic pride as he contemplates sidewalk graffiti. Marge, in a small and crucial role this episode, is extremely funny in her bullheaded do-gooder insistence. We’re quickly given a rundown on Springfield’s legendary lemon tree and rivalry with Shelbyville, fomented by Jebediah Springfield and Shelbyville Manhattan’s disagreement over whether they should be allowed to marry their cousins.
Then the lemon tree is stolen by some punk Shelbyvillians, and the adventure begins, school be damned. One of my all-time favorite Mrs. Krabappel moments is her weak protests as the kids run out of her schoolroom to follow Nelson to the lemon tree. “No, children, no! Your education is important! Roman numerals, etcetera. Whatever, I tried.” Bart is incensed, and tells Marge he’s out to teach some kids a lesson. “I choose to take that literally!” Marge says, as Bart leaves screaming “Death to Shelbyville!” “Yes, Bart’s a tutor now. Tute on, son! Tute on!” Homer chimes in.
The rest of the adventure is just terrific fun. Bart, Nelson, Milhouse, Martin, Todd and Database (who stands there silently) make up the team, and most get a cool moment in the sun. Most memorable is Milhouse’s rivalry, and then powerful détente, with his blue-haired rival who wears his backpack the same way, also says “radical,” and most importantly shares his name. “So this is what it feels like…when doves cry!” Milhouse sobs as they embrace.
Perhaps my favorite union is Nelson and Martin, aka Team Discovery Channel. I’m not sure that precious little Martin, a bit of a “wussy” stereotype, is a character you could get away with anymore, but I’ve always admired his ridiculous confidence in the face of adversity, and this is one of his finest hours. “Here’s a tip: put a sprig of sage in your boots, and a spicy scent all day is your reward!” he chirps, dodging Nelson’s blows. Later, they take on their Shelbyvillian counterparts with terrific results.
The whole thing culminates in a failed disguise gambit by Bart (whose Beatles wig is immediately spotted, but appreciated, by the Shelbyville kids) and a slightly bonkers sojourn in the zoo that sees Bart use the power of Rocky to decipher Roman numerals (I’d still love to see Sylvester Stallone make Rocky VII: Adrian’s Revenge one day). Then the parents get involved, demonstrating the same mix of civic pride and mediocre execution that their kids had. It’s kind of a beautiful thing to see.
Homer’s rivalry with his counterpart (who is possibly even dumber than he is, although maybe it’s just the overalls) is a perfectly done 30-second scene. The closing maneuver is where the episode takes its name from: a Trojan Horse trick that sees Flanders’ RV towed into the lemon tree lot with all of the crafty Springfielders inside. Again, even though there’s no real danger at any point, the stakes feel high and the sense of triumph as the gang makes it home is tremendous. This is that rare episode that just gives Homer and Bart a totally deserved win. Shelbyville sucks, Springfield rules, and we should all be cheering about it.
- Too bad we never get an episode featuring Frink’s flying motorcycle.
- Bart imagines a future where he is celebrated and resurrected for cement graffiti. “He must have been much smarter than his sister Lisa.”
- “This town ain’t so bad. Good friends, lots of lemons, numerous angel sightings.”
- Oh, man, Homer is at his best when he’s hypocritically lecturing Marge. “Now, Marge, you can’t blame all of Bart’s problems on your one little speech. If anything turned him bad, it’s that time you let him wear a bathing suit instead of underwear! And let’s not forget your little speech!”
- “This whole raid is as useless as that yellow, lemon-shaped rock. Wait a minute. There’s a lemon behind that rock!”
- Ned has the spirit, even if he doesn’t know the lingo. “Yes, eat all of our shirts!”