The Principal and the Pauper

The Principal and the Pauper

Infobox Simpsons episode
episode_name = The Principal and the Pauper

image_caption= The real Skinner (left) and the faux Skinner (right)
episode_no = 180
prod_code = 4F23
airdate = September 28, 1997
show runner = Bill Oakley
Josh Weinstein
writer = Ken Keeler
director = Steven Dean Moore
couch_gag = The Simpsons are dressed as astronauts and sit on the couch just as it blasts off into space.
guest_star = Martin Sheencite book | last = Gimple | first = Scott M. | title = | publisher = HarperCollins| date = December 1, 1999| isbn = 978-0060987633|page=p. 12]
commentary = Bill Oakley
Josh Weinstein
Ken Keeler
Steven Dean Moore
season = 9
"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.cite web|url=|title=The Principal and the Pauper|accessdate=2007-12-14|publisher=The] 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 persuaded to return later in the episode. The episode was written by Ken Keeler and was 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 produced by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein as part of the season eight batch.cite web|url= |title=The Principal and the Pauper|author=Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian |date=2000|publisher=British Broadcasting Corporation Retrieved on December 14, 2007.]

"The Principal and the Pauper" is one of the most controversial episodes of "The Simpsons". Many fans and critics reacted negatively to the revelation that Principal Skinner, a recurring character since the first season, was an impostor. 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. Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein have also defended the episode.


On the eve of his twentieth anniversary as school principal, Seymour Skinner is lured by his mother to Springfield Elementary for a surprise party. The celebration goes well until a strange man arrives, claiming to be the real Seymour Skinner. Principal Skinner soon 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.

Armin was once a troubled young man. He stole an old woman's purse and, while making his getaway on his motorcycle, hit a pedestrian who happened to be a judge. As punishment, Armin had to join the Army and fight in the Vietnam War. 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 after he was caught in an explosion. 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. Meawhile, 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.

After these revelations, the people of Springfield begin to distrust Armin. Armin decides that there is no longer any place for him in Springfield, and quits his job. The real Skinner is then offered the chance to realize his dream and take over as school principal. He takes the job, but the townspeople soon realize that they prefer Armin over him. Even Agnes Skinner misses Armin, since she had lived with him for twenty-six years, and does not believe her actual son still needs her. Armin, however, has already left Springfield and gone to Capital City.

Marge Simpson heads to Capital City with Edna Krabappel, Agnes and the rest of the Simpson family. After Agnes orders Armin to return home, Homer Simpson 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. 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 mention the name "Armin Tamzarian" again, under penalty of torture.


"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".Keeler, Ken. (2006). Commentary for "The Principal and the Pauper", in "The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season" [DVD] . 20th Century Fox, 4:25–5:00.] [cite web|title=Blue Glow: Salon's TV Picks |url=||author=Millman, Joyce |date=September 25, 1997 Retrieved on July 29, 2008.] According to animation director Steve Moore, one of the working titles for the episode was "Skinnersby".Moore, Steven Dean. (2006). Commentary for "The Principal and the Pauper", in "The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season" [DVD] . 20th Century Fox, 5:18–5:31.] However, Keeler has said he was most directly inspired by the Tichborne Case of nineteenth century England. The episode's official title is a reference to the book "The Prince and the Pauper" by Mark Twain.

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".Oakley, Bill. (2006). Commentary for "The Principal and the Pauper", in "The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season" [DVD] . 20th Century Fox, 15:33–15:50.]

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." [Keeler, 14:20–14:34.] Bill Oakley said the idea behind the character was that he "just lacked pizzazz". [Oakley, 14:38–14:41.] 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.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.]

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 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. [Keeler, 18:21–20:12.]


"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.cite news|title=Live `ER, Seinfeld' put NBC on top; `Jenny' just dies|date=October 3, 1997 |page=D-2|publisher="St. Petersburg Times"|author=Bauder, David Retrieved on April 20, 2008.] The episode was the second highest rated show on the Fox network that week, following "King of the Hill". [cite news|title=How they rate|date=October 3, 1997|page=14|publisher="The Florida Times-Union" Retrieved on April 20, 2008.] The Fox network's ratings average for the week was 6.4.

The revelation that Principal Skinner was an impostor and the self-referential deus ex machina ending were negatively received by many fans and critics.cite book |last =Sloane|first =Robert|editor=John Alberti|title =Leaving Springfield |publisher =Wayne State University Press|date =2004 |page = p. 165|chapter=Who Wants Candy? Disenchantment in The Simpsons|isbn =0814328490] cite book | last=Turner | first=Chris | title=Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation | date=2005|pages= pp. 41–42|id=ISBN 0-679-31318-4] Skinner had been a recurring character since the first season and, after years of development, his back-story had suddenly been changed. Bill Oakley considers "The Principal and the Pauper" the most controversial episode from his tenure as executive producer. [Oakley, 2:40–2:54.]

Critical reviews

In his book "Planet Simpson", Chris Turner describes "The Principal and the Pauper" as the abrupt end of "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.cite book |last=Turner |first=Chris |Title=Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation |date=2005|pages= pp. 41–42|id=ISBN 0-679-31318-4]

Many others believe the episode signaled a decline in the series. In a 2007 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. [cite web|title=Rise and fall of a comic genius|url=|work=The Guardian|author= Jones, Ian|date=July 12, 2007 Retrieved on August 17, 2008.] In a 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.cite news| last =Sepinwall| first =Alan| coauthors =Matt Zoller Seitz| title =Eight is enough| work =The Star-Ledger| page = 31| date =February 14, 2006] 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".cite news | last =Sepinwall| first =Alan| title =Mmmm ... 300 episodes; Homer's odyssey continues as 'The Simpsons', America's favorite animated family, reaches a comic milestone| work =The Star-Ledger | page = 1| date =February 16, 2003] 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." [cite book|title=Jump the Shark: TV Edition|last=Hein|first=Jon|year=2003|publisher=Plume|id=ISBN 0452284104|page= p. 88]

In contrast, the authors of the book "I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide", Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, have 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 Mom as well". They add, "Martin Sheen steals the show though in a brief but important slice of Simpsons history."

Reaction from the production staff

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." [Keeler, 3:54–4:02.] 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. [Keeler, 5:46–6:25.] Bill Oakley and Josh 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"). [Oakley and Weinstein, 14:47–5:25.]

Other figures associated with "The Simpsons" have publicly criticized the episode. In a 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." [citeweb|url= |title=Shearer Delight|author=Wilonsky, Robert|date=April 27, 2001|publisher="East Bay Express" Retrieved on April 29, 2008.] In a later 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." [cite news|title=Tapping into the many roles of Harry Shearer|date=December 7, 2006|page=8E|publisher="The Boston Globe"|author=Goldstein, Meredith Retrieved on February 9, 2008.] 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".Groening, Matt. (2006). "A Riff From Matt Groening", in "The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season" [DVD] . 20th Century Fox, 0:36–0:40.] He also called the episode "a mistake" in an interview with "Rolling Stone". [citeweb|url=|title=Homer and Me|author= Eliscu, Jenny|date=November 28, 2002|publisher="Rolling Stone" Retrieved on August 17, 2008.]

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". [cite book |last=McCann |first=Jesse L.|coauthors=Matt Groening|title=The Simpsons Beyond Forever!: A Complete Guide to Our Favourite Family ...Still Continued|year=2002 |publisher=HarperCollins |isbn=0-06-050592-3 |pages=p. 54 ] In the season fifteen episode "I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot", Lisa addresses Principal Skinner as "Principal "Tamzarian" when Skinner chides her for giving her new cat the same name as a cat that had died earlier in the episode. ["I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot". Greaney, Dan; Grazier, Allen; MacMullan, Lauren. "The Simpsons". Fox. January 11, 2008. No. 09, season 15.]


External links

*snpp capsule|4F23
*imdb episode|id=0701257|episode=The Principal and the Pauper

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