22 Short Films About Springfield [episode of The Simpsons]
Jim Reardon, United States, 1996, approximately 22 minutes
(not available online, but can be found in The Simpsons Seventh Season DVD box set)
22 Short Films About Springfield is an episode of The Simpsons that eschews a running-time length plot in favor of a series of 'short films' about minor characters in the Simpsons' universe. As some of the shorts are connected and all the episode is book-ended by a discussion between Bart Simpson and Milhouse Van Houten about what the citizens of Springfield are up to, it could be argued that this is not really a pure short film omnibus. Still, that pseudo-omnibus is 22 minutes long, so the whole episode itself qualifies as a short
I count 13 shorts in the episode, whose title is a reference to the film 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould and is not an actual tally of the short's mini-shorts. Many of these are only shorts because of this episode's specific concept-- a sequence in which Reverend Lovejoy instructs his dog to urinate on Ned Flanders' lawn, for example, would just be a joke in any normal episode of The Simpsons. Still, a few of the shorts could be standalone, self-contained pieces if released in a different context. I have trouble pinning down my favorite segment, but it's usually either Principal Skinner's 'steamed hams' fiasco or the Mexican Bumblebee Man's short, in which his personal life resembles his wacky professional life; these segments have full plot arcs, with conflicts and resolutions that are totally independent of any of the other shorts. (Sidenote: I feel horrible that I can't share this with you on the blog, but I will lend my DVDs to anybody who wants them. You can also find the episode online through illegal video streaming websites, but I don't endorse any of those and, I'm assuming, neither does this blog).
The best part of the short is unique to non-Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons-- in the final minutes of 22 Short Films..., Professor Frink directly addresses the camera and begs the director not to end the episode. As the scene fades to credits, Frink explains that he's late because of an incident with a monkey. He holds a title card and sings a theme song, but the episode ends regardless. I've always loved this moment for its ability to break The Simpsons' rules without doing so in an obnoxious way. Later episodes of the show would re-write character histories and replace heart with jokes about Homer falling on his butt, but this scene manages to break the fourth wall without making the audience groan. I think it's because, in this moment, we really want to see Frink's short, "The Tomfoolery of Professor John Frink." At this point in its life, The Simpsons had made even its smallest characters likeable and this episode, specifically this scene, proved that while also creating as strong a half hour of television as I've seen (and I will seriously lend you the DVDs).