This is the first part of a two part contribution to Esoteric Rabbit's Simpsons Blog-A-Thon. Part Two will be posted later today. If you want some good Simpsons reading, head on over to the hub.
It is my favorite episode of my favorite television series of all time. In my opinion, "Cape Feare" is the greatest half-hour of television ever produced. After rewatching it, there are still very few instants when I am not laughing. It has the best punchline in The Simpsons ("I think he's talking to you") as well as the best extended gag I think I've ever seen (the rakes). It includes references to Psycho, Gilbert & Sullivan, Linda Lavin, panda smuggling, and possibly the oddest death threat ever made ("Wipe Out" is somehow the perfect touch).
One of the main successes of "Cape Feare" and other Simpsons episodes of the time was its incorporation of offbeat cultural references without dwelling too much on them. This is something that Family Guy has taken to its logical extreme, mentioning a pop culture artifact and immediately cutting to a short parody. The Simpsons often avoids this, usually indulging its fantasies in quick dreams. The prime example in "Cape Feare" is a daydream Homer has in which he is John Elway, dressed as a turn of the century football player. When he runs in for the touchdown at the last instant, it is revealed that the score is now San Francisco 56, Denver 7. This sort of sketch is works by virtue of escalation. Each successive image builds off of the last one (Homer as John Elway? Homer dressed like that? Homer running it in? They still lose by 49 points? Why would he dream this?) to create the perfect comedy bit.
"Cape Feare" also indulges itself in a few running gags, such as the revelation of ridiculous laws (you are not allowed to put squirrels down your pants for the sake of gambling) and Itchy and Scratchy cartoons (having seen this many times before Goldfinger, I always thought Bond's escape looked something like this. "Cape Feare" is also one of the first episodes to feature the back room of Moe's bar. I have no idea what Moe was doing with illegal pandas, but I would pay good money to see Barney's reaction as they ran through the bar.
Yep, for me, "Cape Feare" is almost the perfect Simpsons episode. There's only one problem. I haven't read up on my primary sources. And so today I will watch Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear and rewatch "Cape Feare" to see how this new insight will shape my perception of the greatest half hour of television ever created.