There are two episodes of The Simpsons that stand out in my mind. These two episodes aren’t the bests but definitely make my top 20 list. I’m talking about Flaming Moe’s (season 3 episode 10) and Mr. Plow (season 4 episode 9).
These two episodes had a lot in common, mainly they shared the theme of “stolen credit”. In both episodes, Homer encounters good ideas — or rather, stumbled upon happy accidents — only to have the success taken from him by a close friend. In Flaming Moe’s, it’s Moe, and in Mr. Plow, it’s Barney.
While both episodes are pretty similar, one must stand above the other. Subjectively, one must be better. In this video, I share my thought process in making this very important, very valid judgment.
But before I get into it, tell me, which one did you enjoy more? Which do you feel is the better episode? Feel free to let me know your reasons in the comments. I love to hear why!
I also must say that these opinions are just that — opinions. They’re both awesome episodes, or terrible episodes, or whatever you want to believe. There is no wrong answer. Okay? Now that I’m done appeasing you, on with the video.
Both episodes begin in the same way, with Homer watching TV. This is one of my favorite opening structures because it always lends itself to ridiculous jokes with no setup or context.
In Flaming Moe’s, Homer is watching at home while Lisa is having a slumber party upstairs. On the TV, it’s Eye on Springfield with Kent Brockman, previewing the episode, which includes the Silver anniversary of the Springfield Tire Yard Fire, Springfield’s oldest man meets Springfield’s fattest man (who isn’t so fat), an interview with Drederick Tatum, and part seven of the eye-opening look on the bikini.
Whereas, in Mr. Plow, the kids are watching Troy Maclure in Carnival of the Stars. In this segment, we see Angela Landsbury walking on hot coals and Krusty getting mauled by three white tigers. Shortly after, the kids switched to the Bumblebee Man Show.
Hilarious, but no context.
When it comes to the opening scene, I have to give it to Flaming Moe’s. It was an overall funnier segment of Springfield television.
Flaming Moe’s: 1
Mr. Plow: 0
The First Act:
In Flaming Moe’s, Homer decides he has enough of his children and heads off to Moe’s. However, the tavern is a failing business, and Moe is all out of beer. In a sober panic, Homer recalls a drink he made on a boring night watching his sisters-in-laws’ vacation slides. Blending random household liquids, Homer made a pretty good drink. But when Selma’s cigarette ashes fell into his glass and set it on fire, balancing out the alcohol content, it got even better!
He shares the recipe with Moe, and the bartender recreates the drink. It’s as good as he last remembered — after it’s set on fire, of course. In order to please another customer, Moe slides over Homer’s concoction, and the customer loves it too! But just when Homer is about to tell the random what the drink is called, Moe cuts in and steals his credit. A shocking moment for viewers.
In Mr. Plow, Moe’s Tavern is also the setting of the inciting incident, proving that bad stuff happens when you go to Moe’s. Amid a snow storm, Homer attempts to drive home and ends up smashing his car into Marge’s, a hilarious turn of events that nobody expected on first viewing and remains funny still. Suddenly, the Simpsons totaled both of their vehicles.
The first act ends with Homer attending the Springfield Auto Show, where he eventually gets pressured into buying a snowplow over some sexist gesture from the salesman. So Homer!
In terms of story structure, Mr. Plow has a more straightforward first act. Very effective, clear, and packed with a lot of jokes. The most notable one is when Homer’s thinking on his feet, coming up with another location that would have him returning home in the middle of the night. And don’t forget about all the antics at the auto show, especially with the one true Batman, Adam West. This opening act is hard to beat.
However, Flaming Moe’s is a quintessential Simpsons first act, because, for the first four minutes, you think the episode will go in one direction, but then it takes a turn into another. A classic Simpsons opening.
I’ve seen this episode a hundred times, and I still love the twists and turns it has — especially the betrayal right before the first commercial break. Was Moe seriously going to take his credit? Was Homer going to sit there and allow it?
Beyond the Homer-making-the-drink flashback being one of the most iconic moments in The Simpsons, it also explores Moe’s character in a way that made him human — despicable — but human still. Moe is one of my favorite characters, and I think this episode is a big reason why. He’s more than just a catchphrase. He’s dark.
While both these episodes effectively created drama in the inciting incident, it’s Flaming Moe’s that takes the two-nothing lead over Mr. Plow.
Flaming Moe’s: 2
Mr. Plow: 0
Next, let’s look at the severity of the slight against Homer. Which stolen credit is actually worse? Which is more realistic?
While the name Flaming Moe’s can be trademarked, the recipe can’t. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe if Homer wants to compete in the market, he can. He didn’t sign any contracts. He just can’t call it Flaming Moe’s, and likely can’t call it Flaming Homer’s either.
Homer could still beat Moe to the national market and sell the recipe to major manufacturers first. Legally there was nothing stopping him. But he didn’t. Perhaps even while bitter, he exemplified goodness. Or more likely he was too stupid to realize that that was possible.
When you think about it, the slight had nothing to do with the drink or Moe’s fame. It was about the betrayal between friends. Had some other person stolen Homer’s idea, he might not have been so angry that he hallucinated that person’s face in flowers. No, it wasn’t that Moe stole the drink’s name. It was that he didn’t even ask for it or apologize.
While the conflict in Mr. Plow is similar, the episode’s structure is quite different. Homer spends the first half of Act 2 growing his snow plow business by using strange marketing tactics, including hijacking a church sermon, planting windshield wiper flyers, and producing a 3 am commercial.
Homer is struggling, hustling, and still, he’s barely successful.
To best understand the slight, one must ask how Barney acquired the plow. From Marge’s reaction, we know that plows aren’t cheap. How did a deadbeat like Barney buy one? When you think about it, unless Barney inherited the plow, he’d made the same risk as Homer. And, in a way, should be commended.
It’s true that plows are most common during the snowy seasons, but many with plow trucks also find work during the summer in construction or for the public. There is work out there for people with equipment. Homer just needed some business acumen to see beyond the obvious clients.
Much like Moe, Barney took his idea right from under him and sold it better than he could. While the slight is real, it is never about the originality or lucrativeness of the business plan but rather the way it was taken. If, at any point, they partnered up, they could’ve built a sustainable business.
There were flaws in both of these slights, which were exaggerated for the purpose of comedy. But I cannot ignore Homer’s hustle to grow his business in Mr. Plow and all the belief and effort he put in, despite being a mediocre plowman. That’s why, for the category of slight, I’m giving the point to Mr. Plow.
Flaming Moe’s: 2
Mr. Plow: 1
The Villian’s Intent:
Now let’s look at the antagonists: Moe and Barney. Which one is the more convincing and despicable villain?
The thing is, both were at a low point when they betrayed Homer. Moe’s Tavern had completely run out of beer, while the only work Barney could find was as a giant baby handing out flyers.
Where they confronted their devils was at the high point. Moe, blinded by fame, fortune, and Aerosmith, ignores Homer when he tries to tell him how he felt and that Moe had lost not only a customer but a friend. Greed and pride had turned Moe into a monster.
Only when Moe was at risk of losing a beautiful woman did he reconsider his stance on giving Homer a portion of the sale, a conversation that perhaps didn’t need an ultimatum.
Barney’s darkest moment was during a Plow King commercial when he bashes the Homer cardboard cutout. That’s when we see Barney guided by wrath. Even though he was once a dear friend, Barney wanted to destroy Homer and eliminate him as a competition.
Fun fact: In the original script, it was Lenny who was supposed to betray Homer and become his plow business rival. It was a smart choice to replace him with Barney because can you really see Lenny doing such an evil act?
So, comparing Moe with Barney, who is the greater villain? When we look at it from Homer’s perspective, Barney is far worse. Not only does Barney steal his idea, but he also takes all the achievements away from Homer —the clients and the key to the city, which is not made of chocolate — and shames him publically. Barney is far more ruthless. With that, I’ll give the point to Mr. Plow.
Flaming Moe’s: 2
Mr. Plow: 2
Celebrity Cameos and Musical Numbers:
What makes these classic Simpsons episodes great is the seamless incorporation of celebrity cameos and musical numbers. These two episodes have some really good ones.
In Flaming Moe’s, Aerosmith makes their cameo as a bunch of guys sitting at the bar and then pressured to perform on a stage that was already perfectly set up. Maybe it’s a little contrived, but what better way to show the height of a venue’s popularity during the 90s than having Aerosmith play Walk This Way?
What really impressed me was the Cheers theme song parody. I love the old-timey crosshatching style and the way it transitioned right into the studio audience sitcom. The Woody Harrelson character greeting Barney as he entered and the laugh track in the background all flowed together so well.
Not to be outdone, in Mr. Plow, Adam West gives one of the most memorable celebrity cameos ever. When Bart doesn’t know who Robin is, West goes off on a tangent at the Auto Show, with the camera shifting to a dutch angle, a call back to the old Batman episodes. It was such a clever way to incorporate a guest into the storyline. Using Adam West and the iconic Batmobile in an episode about awkward vehicles is just brilliant.
Another cameo — this one went over my head because I’m not a country music fan — was Linda Ronstadt. All I know was that she was engaged to George Lucas. While I don’t know any of her original music, I still laugh every time I hear, “Mr. Plow is a loser and I think he is a boozer…”
Both these episodes have knock-out cameos and musical numbers, but I have to give it to Flaming Moe’s. The Cheers parody, the way the visual and audio all work together, is the element that tips it over for me.
Flaming Moe’s: 3
Mr. Plow: 2
The Roles of the Family:
Both these episodes focus on Homer, but the Simpsons family is essential in supporting him.
In Flaming Moe’s, Bart is such a great character. First, he’s the victim of his sister’s abuse, which is a role reversal. Then Bart acts as his dad’s advocate by sharing his achievement in a show and tell. Later he flips and gets a Flaming Moe’s fan t-shirt. And finally, his phone call prank backfires on him. This is a refreshing episode for Bart, as he shares his father’s plight, making Homer more sympathetic.
Marge’s supportive bedroom scene is one of the most iconic compositions in The Simpsons. It’s so simple, yet so theatrical. And her muted expression only makes it better.
In Mr. Plow, the family is a support system for Homer. The first commercial, an homage to the late-night cable, is one of the funniest scenes in the entire episode.
The relationship between Homer and Marge is an inspiration for all married couples. First, Homer recognizes that he should talk to his wife before purchasing the plow, however, ends up being manipulated anyways. Then when she confronts him, Homer accepts that it was a stupid decision and that if she were to keep getting angry at him, he would just have to stop doing stupid things. Very understanding. Finally, it’s perhaps Marge’s attraction for Homer and his Mr. Plow uniform that we remember best.
There is so much to love in both these episodes involving the family, but the commercial in Mr. Plow, where all the family members are incorporated, even Grandpa as Old Man Winter, is what wins it over for me. I love that sequence, especially Bart questioning Homer about being “bond and licensed”. For that, I give the family involvement point to Mr. Plow, which ties it up at 3.
Flaming Moe’s: 3
Mr. Plow: 3
Now to break the tie, let’s return to the plot and talk about how Homer responds to the injustice and the episode’s conclusion.
In Flaming Moe’s, Homer responded well at first. He was reasonable in expressing how he felt to his friend, but when Moe consistently ignored him, jealousy and frustration started to boil over. Even when Marge attempted to calm him, it only sent him deeper into a mental breakdown.
Once he spiraled out, Homer revealed the secret ingredient in front of everyone at the bar. If he was more sensible, he could’ve sold the recipe to Tipsy McStagger’s Good Time Drinking and Eating Emporium. Giving it for free in the way he did was a foolish move. And this reminds us that Homer doesn’t deserve fame and fortune either.
In Mr. Plow, Homer nearly commits murder by misleading Barney out to Widow’s Peak where he gets caught in an avalanche. Luckily, he redeems himself by going out there and rescuing him. After stealing some of his business, of course.
In both scenarios, Homer didn’t respond in the most moralistic way. He exhibited the if-I-can’t-have-it-then-they-couldn’t-have-it-either mentality. Still, both episodes return to neutral grounds, and he makes amends.
So which episode gets the point? For me, it’s not just about how Homer responds, but how his friend reacts in turn. The episode that ties it up the best, wrapping up the “stolen credit” theme in the most satisfying way is Flaming Moe’s.
The last scene, where Moe offers Homer the drink with its original name, still melts my heart. And I believe that shows growth in the character that was missing from Mr. Plow. For that, the winner of this comparison goes to Flaming Moe’s.
Flaming Moes: 4
Mr. Plow: 3
There you have it! Congratulations Flaming Moe’s. What an honor.
Now there are many ways to measure and compare an episode. I chose to examine both through the lens of the theme and the story structure. If you disagree with this assessment or if you have an aspect that I missed in this article, please let me know in the comments.
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