The Principal and the Pauper

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"The Principal and the Pauper"
The Simpsons episode
PrincipalSkinnerImposter.jpg
Principal Skinner declares himself as an impostor. The episode garnered controversy from fans and critics, with many citing it as the point where the series jumped the shark.
Episode no.Season 9
Episode 2
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Written by Ken Keeler
Production code4F23
Original air dateSeptember 28, 1997
Guest appearance(s)

Martin Sheen as the real Seymour Skinner [1]

Episode features
Couch gag The Simpsons are dressed as astronauts and sit on the couch just as it blasts off into space.
CommentaryBill Oakley
Josh Weinstein
Ken Keeler
Steven Dean Moore
Episode chronology
 Previous
"The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson"
Next 
"Lisa's Sax"
The Simpsons (season 9)
List of The Simpsons episodes

"The Principal and the Pauper" is the second episode of The Simpsons ' ninth season. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on September 28, 1997. [2] In the episode, Seymour Skinner begins to celebrate his twentieth anniversary as principal of Springfield Elementary School, when a man arrives claiming that Skinner has assumed his identity. Principal Skinner admits that his real name is Armin Tamzarian, and that he had thought the true Seymour Skinner, a friend from the Army, had died in the Vietnam War. Armin leaves Springfield, but is later persuaded to return as principal.

<i>The Simpsons</i> American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening

The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical depiction of working-class life, epitomized by the Simpson family, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. The show is set in the fictional town of Springfield and parodies American culture and society, television, and the human condition.

<i>The Simpsons</i> (season 9) Episode list for season of animated series

The Simpsons' ninth season originally aired on the Fox network between September 1997 and May 1998, beginning on Sunday, September 21, 1997, with "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson". With Mike Scully as showrunner for the ninth production season, the aired season contained three episodes which were hold-over episodes from season eight, which Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein ran. It also contained two episodes which were run by David Mirkin, and another two hold-over episodes which were run by Al Jean and Mike Reiss.

Fox Broadcasting Company American television network

The Fox Broadcasting Company is an American free-to-air television network that is a flagship property of the Fox Corporation. The network is headquartered at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in New York City, with additional offices at the Fox Broadcasting Center and at the Fox Television Center in Los Angeles.

Contents

"The Principal and the Pauper" was written by Ken Keeler and directed by Steven Dean Moore. It guest-starred Martin Sheen as the real Seymour Skinner. Although it aired during the show's ninth season, it was a holdover from season eight. [3] The episode is one of the most controversial episodes of The Simpsons. Many fans and critics reacted extremely negatively to the revelation that Principal Skinner, a recurring character since the first season who had undergone a lot of character development, was an impostor. Many fans do not even consider it to be canon. The episode has been criticized by series creator Matt Groening, and by Harry Shearer, who provides the voice of Principal Skinner. Despite this, Ken Keeler considers the episode the best work he has ever done for television.

Ken Keeler Television writer and producer

Kenneth Keeler is an American television producer and writer. He has written for numerous television series, most notably The Simpsons and Futurama. According to an interview with David X. Cohen, he proved a theorem which appears in the Futurama episode "The Prisoner of Benda".

Steven Dean Moore is an American animation director. His credits include 65 episodes of the television series The Simpsons, as well as several episodes of the series Rugrats. Moore was also one of four sequence directors on The Simpsons Movie. He was nominated for an Emmy award in 2002.

Martin Sheen American actor

Ramón Gerardo Antonio Estévez, known professionally as Martin Sheen, is an American actor who first became known for his roles in the films The Subject Was Roses (1968) and Badlands (1973), and later achieved wide recognition for his leading role in Apocalypse Now (1979) and as President Josiah Bartlet in the television series The West Wing (1999–2006).

Plot

On the eve of his twentieth anniversary as school principal, Seymour Skinner is lured by his mother to Springfield Elementary School for a surprise party. The celebration goes well until a strange man arrives, claiming to be the real Seymour Skinner. Principal Skinner admits that he is an impostor, and that his real name is Armin Tamzarian. Armin then tells the story of the events that led him to steal Seymour Skinner's identity.

Principal Skinner Fictional character from The Simpsons franchise

Principal W. Seymour Skinner is a recurring fictional character in the animated sitcom The Simpsons, who is voiced by Harry Shearer. He is the principal of Springfield Elementary School, which he struggles to control, and is constantly engaged in a battle against its inadequate resources, apathetic and bitter teachers, and often rowdy and unenthusiastic students, Bart Simpson being a standout example.

Armin was once a troubled young man from Capital City who enlisted in the Army in order to avoid a jail sentence for petty crimes. There, he met and befriended the real Sergeant Seymour Skinner, who became his mentor and helped him find meaning in his troubled life. Seymour told Armin that his dream was to become an elementary school principal after the war. Later, Seymour was declared missing and presumed dead. Armin took the news of the apparent death to Seymour's mother, Agnes. Upon meeting him, however, Agnes mistook him for her son, and Armin could not bear to deliver the message. He instead allowed Agnes to call him Seymour, and took over Seymour's life. Meanwhile, the real Seymour Skinner spent five years in a POW camp, then worked in a Chinese sweatshop for two decades until it was shut down by the United Nations.

Prisoner of war Person who is held in custody by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict

A prisoner of war (POW) is a person, whether a combatant or a non-combatant, who is held captive by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase "prisoner of war" dates back to 1610.

Sweatshop Workplace that has socially unacceptable working conditions

Sweatshop is a pejorative term for a workplace that has very poor, socially unacceptable working conditions. The work may be difficult, dangerous, climatically challenged or underpaid. Workers in sweatshops may work long hours with low pay, regardless of laws mandating overtime pay or a minimum wage; child labor laws may also be violated. The Fair Labor Association's "2006 Annual Public Report" inspected factories for FLA compliance in 18 countries including Bangladesh, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Malaysia, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, China, India, Vietnam, Honduras, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and the US. The U.S. Department of Labor's "2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor" found that "18 countries did not meet the International Labour Organization's recommendation for an adequate number of inspectors."

United Nations Intergovernmental organization

The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization tasked with maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations, achieving international co-operation, and being a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. It was established after World War II, with the aim of preventing future wars, and succeeded the ineffective League of Nations. Its headquarters, which are subject to extraterritoriality, are in Manhattan, New York City, and it has other main offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and The Hague. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states. Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law. The UN is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193.

After these revelations, the people of Springfield begin to distrust Armin. Armin decides that there is no longer any place for him in Springfield. The real Skinner is then offered the chance to realize his dream and take over as school principal. He takes the job, but the real Skinner finds himself isolated by the townspeople, who realize they prefer Armin to him. Armin, however, has already left Springfield and gone to Capital City to resume his old persona as a no-good street thug.

Marge heads to Capital City with Edna Krabappel, Agnes and the rest of the Simpson family. After Agnes orders Armin to return home, Homer persuades Mayor Quimby and all the other citizens to allow Armin to resume his assumed identity as Principal Skinner. The real Skinner is unhappy about this and refuses to give up his job and his dignity just because the people of Springfield prefer Armin to him. In response, the townspeople banish the real Skinner from town by tying him to a chair on a flatcar of a freight train (literally running him out of town on a rail). Judge Snyder declares that Armin will again be referred to as Seymour Skinner, that he will return to his job as school principal, and that no one shall ever again refer to Skinner or the fallout from his visit, under penalty of torture.

Marjorie Jacqueline "Marge" Simpson is a fictional character in the American animated sitcom The Simpsons and part of the eponymous family. She is voiced by Julie Kavner and first appeared on television in The Tracey Ullman Show short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987. Marge was created and designed by cartoonist Matt Groening while he was waiting in the lobby of James L. Brooks' office. Groening had been called to pitch a series of shorts based on Life in Hell but instead decided to create a new set of characters. He named the character after his mother Margaret Groening. After appearing on The Tracey Ullman Show for three seasons, the Simpson family received their own series on Fox, which debuted December 17, 1989.

Edna Krabappel fictional character from The Simpsons franchise

Edna Krabappel-Flanders is a fictional character from the animated American sitcom The Simpsons, who was voiced by Marcia Wallace from 1990 until her death in October 2013. She was a 4th grade teacher, who taught Bart Simpson's class at Springfield Elementary School. In the twenty-third season, she married Ned Flanders, the widower of Maude Flanders, helping raise Rod and Todd Flanders until her death.

Homer Simpson fictional character from The Simpsons franchise

Homer Jay Simpson is a fictional character and the main protagonist of the American animated sitcom The Simpsons. He is voiced by Dan Castellaneta and first appeared on television, along with the rest of his family, in The Tracey Ullman Show short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987. Homer was created and designed by cartoonist Matt Groening while he was waiting in the lobby of James L. Brooks' office. Groening had been called to pitch a series of shorts based on his comic strip Life in Hell but instead decided to create a new set of characters. He named the character after his father, Homer Groening. After appearing for three seasons on The Tracey Ullman Show, the Simpson family got their own series on Fox that debuted December 17, 1989.

Production

Martin Sheen provided the voice for the real Seymour Skinner. Martinsheennavy.jpg
Martin Sheen provided the voice for the real Seymour Skinner.

"The Principal and the Pauper" was the last episode of The Simpsons written by Ken Keeler, who also pitched the original idea for the episode. Many fans believe the episode is based on the story of Martin Guerre or the 1993 film Sommersby . [4] [5] According to animation director Steve Moore, one of the working titles for the episode was "Skinnersby". [6] However, Keeler has said he was inspired by the Tichborne Case of nineteenth-century England. [4] The episode's official title is a reference to the book The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. [3]

Producers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein were excited about the episode because Principal Skinner was one of their favorite characters. The pair had already written the season five episode "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song", which was an in-depth study of the character. Oakley said he and Weinstein "spent a month immersed in the mind of Seymour Skinner" to prepare that episode, and from that point forward, took every opportunity to "tinker with [Skinner's] personality and his backstory and his homelife". [7]

Describing the real Seymour Skinner, Keeler remarked, "It would have been easy to make him a really horrible, nasty, dislikeable guy, but we didn't do that. We made him just not quite right, not quite Skinner, and a little bit off." [8] Bill Oakley said the idea behind the character was that he "just lacked pizzazz". [9] The producers selected Martin Sheen to voice the character because they admired his performance in Apocalypse Now and felt his voice would be appropriate for a Vietnam veteran. [10]

Keeler borrowed the name Armin Tamzarian from a claims adjuster who had assisted him after a car accident when he moved to Los Angeles. However, the real Tamzarian (now a California Superior Court Judge [11] ) was unaware his name was being used until after the episode aired. Keeler said he later received a "curtly phrased" letter from Tamzarian, who wanted to know why his name appeared in the episode. Keeler feared he would face legal troubles, but afterwards, Tamzarian explained that he was simply curious and did not intend to scare anyone. [12]

Reception

"The Principal and the Pauper" finished 41st in the United States in the ratings for the week of September 22–28, 1997, with a Nielsen rating of 9.2. [13] The episode was the second highest rated show on the Fox network that week, following King of the Hill . [14] The Fox network's ratings average for the week was 6.4. [13]

The revelation that Principal Skinner was an impostor and the self-referential deus ex machina ending were negatively received by many fans and critics, with many seeing this episode responsible for jumping the shark. [15] [16] Skinner had been a recurring character since the first season and, after years of development, his backstory had suddenly been changed. Bill Oakley considers "The Principal and the Pauper" the most controversial episode from his tenure as executive producer. [17]

In his 2004 book Planet Simpson , Chris Turner describes "The Principal and the Pauper" as the "broadcast that marked [the] abrupt plunge" from The Simpsons' "Golden Age", which he says began in the middle of the show's third season. He calls the episode "[one of] the weakest episodes in Simpsons history", and adds, "A blatant, continuity-scrambling plot twist of this sort might've been forgivable if the result had been as funny or sharply satirical as the classics of the Golden Age, but alas it's emphatically not." Turner notes that the episode "still sports a couple of virtuoso gags", but says that such moments are limited. [16]

In July 2007, in an article in The Guardian , Ian Jones argues that the "show became stupid" in 1997, pointing to "The Principal and the Pauper" as the bellwether. "Come again? A major character in a long-running series gets unmasked as a fraud? It was cheap, idle storytelling", he remarks. [18]

In a February 2006 article in The Star-Ledger , Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz cite the episode when asserting that the quality of The Simpsons "gets much spottier" in season nine. [19] Alan Sepinwall observes in another Star-Ledger article, "[The episode] was so implausible that even the characters were disavowing it by the end of the episode." [20] Jon Hein, who coined the term "jumping the shark" to refer to negative changes in television series, writes in Jump the Shark: TV Edition, "We finally spotted a fin at the start of the ninth season when Principal Skinner's true identity was revealed as Armin Tamzarian." [21] James Greene of Nerve.com put the episode fifth on his list "Ten Times The Simpsons Jumped the Shark", calling it a "nonsensical meta-comedy" and arguing that it "seemed to betray the reality of the show itself". [22]

Other figures associated with The Simpsons have publicly criticized the episode. In an April 2001 interview, Harry Shearer, the voice of Principal Skinner, recalled that after reading the script, he told the writers, "That's so wrong. You're taking something that an audience has built eight years or nine years of investment in and just tossed it in the trash can for no good reason, for a story we've done before with other characters. It's so arbitrary and gratuitous, and it's disrespectful to the audience." [23]

In a December 2006 interview, Shearer added, "Now, [the writers] refuse to talk about it. They realize it was a horrible mistake. They never mention it. It's like they're punishing [the audience] for paying attention." [24] In the introduction to the ninth season DVD boxset, series creator Matt Groening describes "The Principal and the Pauper" as "one of [his] least favorite episodes". [25] He also called the episode "a mistake" in an interview with Rolling Stone . [26]

In contrast, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, praised the episode, calling it "one of the series' all-time best episodes, mainly because it shows us a human side, not just of Principal Skinner, but of his hectorish [ sic ] Mom as well." They add that "Martin Sheen steals the show [...] in a brief but important slice of Simpsons history." [3] Total Film 's Nathan Ditum named Martin Sheen's performance in the episode the 20th best guest appearance on The Simpsons. [27]

"This [episode] is about a community of people who like things just the way they are. Skinner's not really close to these people—you know, he's a minor character—but they get upset when someone comes in and says, 'This is not really the way things are', and they run the messenger out of town on the rail. When the episode aired, lo and behold, a community of people who like things just the way they are got mad. It never seems to have occurred to anyone that this episode is about the people who hate it."

Ken Keeler [28]

Ken Keeler, Bill Oakley, and Josh Weinstein all defend the episode in its DVD commentary. Keeler asserts, "I am very, very proud of the job I did on this episode. This is the best episode of television I feel I ever wrote." [29] He describes the episode as a commentary on "people who like things just the way they are", and remarks, "It never seems to have occurred to anyone that this episode is about the people who hate it." However, Keeler says that some of the dialogue was changed from his original draft, making this point less obvious. [30] Oakley and Weinstein explain that they wanted to push the boundaries of the series while working as show-runners, and advise viewers to treat "The Principal and the Pauper" as an "experiment". They surmise that the negative reception was partly due to the fact that it was not immediately apparent to viewers that this was such an episode (as opposed to, for example, "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase"). [31] They also describe the ending of the episode as an attempt to reset the continuity and allow fans to consider the episode as non-canonical, divorced from the larger series. [32]

Later episodes of The Simpsons contain references to "The Principal and the Pauper". A clip from the episode was used in season eleven's "Behind the Laughter" as an example of the show's increasingly "gimmicky and nonsensical plots". [33] In the season fifteen episode "I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot", Lisa addresses Principal Skinner as "Principal Tamzarian" when Skinner chides her for naming her new cat Snowball II, after a cat that had died earlier in the episode. [34]

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References

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  9. Oakley, 14:38–14:41.
  10. Weinstein, Josh. (2006). Commentary for "The Principal and the Pauper", in The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox, 13:29–13:54.
  11. "Governor Jerry Brown Taps Armenian Bar Member Armen Tamzarian As Judge Of The California Superior Court". hetq.am . December 7, 2013. Retrieved on October 30, 2015.
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  14. "How they rate". The Florida Times-Union. October 3, 1997. p. 14.Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help) Retrieved on April 20, 2008.
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  16. 1 2 Turner 2004, pp. 41-42.
  17. Oakley, 2:40–2:54.
  18. Jones, Ian (July 12, 2007). "Rise and fall of a comic genius". The Guardian . Retrieved on August 17, 2008.
  19. Sepinwall, Alan; Matt Zoller Seitz (2006-02-14). "Eight is enough". The Star-Ledger . p. 31.
  20. Sepinwall, Alan (February 16, 2003). "Mmmm ... 300 episodes; Homer's odyssey continues as 'The Simpsons', America's favorite animated family, reaches a comic milestone". The Star-Ledger. p. 1.
  21. Hein, Jon (2003). Jump the Shark: TV Edition. Plume. p. 88. ISBN   0-452-28410-4.
  22. James Greene Jr. (2010-05-06). "Ten Times The Simpsons Jumped the Shark". Nerve.com. Retrieved 2012-01-23.
  23. Wilonsky, Robert (2001-04-27). "Shearer Delight". East Bay Express . Retrieved 2008-04-29.Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  24. Goldstein, Meredith (2006-12-07). "Tapping into the many roles of Harry Shearer". The Boston Globe . p. 8E.
  25. Groening, Matt. (2006). "A Riff From Matt Groening", in The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox, 0:36–0:40.
  26. Eliscu, Jenny (2002-11-28). "Homer and Me". Rolling Stone . Archived from the original on November 2, 2007. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
  27. Ditum, Nathan (March 29, 2009). "The 20 Best Simpsons Movie-Star Guest Spots". Total Film . Retrieved 2009-08-02.
  28. Keeler, 5:46–6:15.
  29. Keeler, 3:54–4:02.
  30. Keeler, 5:46–6:25.
  31. Oakley and Weinstein, 14:47–5:25.
  32. Oakley and Weinstein.
  33. McCann, Jesse L.; Matt Groening (2002). The Simpsons Beyond Forever!: A Complete Guide to Our Favourite Family ...Still Continued. HarperCollins. p. 54. ISBN   0-06-050592-3.
  34. "I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot". Greaney, Dan; Grazier, Allen; MacMullan, Lauren. The Simpsons. Fox. January 11, 2008. No. 09, season 15.
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