Controversial moment: The entire backstory of Seymour Skinner being changed
Why it's controversial: The entire backstory of Seymour Skinner was changed. This episode is one of the first legitimate cases where many could argue the show jumped the shark.
|SKINNER! Er I mean Armin Tamzarian|
Matt Groening has called the episode "a mistake" and has gone on record saying it's one of his least favorite episodes (Pretty sure he retcons it, but I'm not 100%).
Harry Shearer has gone on record saying he hated the idea from the beginning and the writers don't even talk about it, admitting it was a mistake.
Ken Keeler (Writer of the episode), Bill Oakley, and Josh Weinstein all defend this episode and Keeler actually says "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." I remind you, this is the man who wrote Brother From Another Series and El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer) as well as some good Futurama episodes.
Was it justified?: Yes and no, first let's talk about the no (Trust me it'll be very short). The idea for this story (As told by Ken) is to satirize the audience of the show for being irrationally committed to what they already knew and too resistant to change. The problem with that is it's not really clear where the satire is and nothing to indicate that the writers know it's a 'zany', 'over-the-top' plot. It feels like it's taking itself serious from beginning to end until the token line at the end basically retcons 30 minutes of TV, which in the end makes this entire episode pointless. This sort of episode was parodied in The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular.
Now on the flip side, yes this episode does deserve most of the hate it gets. I know what it's trying to do, the problem is that it fails at doing it. Yes changing a character's backstory is very stupid and infuriating (See Highlander 2) but I don't think I would have hated it as much if "Tamzarian" actually took Vietnam seriously instead of some punk biker who's only there because he stole a purse. It's hard to view any of Skinner's flashbacks to Vietnam and not say "Hey, why isn't he combing his hair or reading a dirty magazine while on the frontline?". I think the whole premise of "A friend dedicates his life to his fallen friend's life work because he made a vow" maybe could have worked here but maybe I'm reaching for something that's not there. In short, changing the entire premise of a character you've built up over the years will always lead to backlash from the fans.