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The Principal and the Pauper (The Simpsons)

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The Principal and the Pauper
The day that The Simpsons "jumped the shark" and in the worst way ever.
Series: The Simpsons
Part of Season: 9 (originally Season 8)
Episode Number: 2
Air Date: September 28, 1997
Writer: Ken Keeler
Director: Steven Dean Moore
Previous episode: The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson
Next episode: Lisa's Sax

"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."
Harry Shearer[1]

The Principal and the Pauper is the second episode of Season 9 of The Simpsons (actually a leftover episode from Season 8). It aired in the United States on September 28, 1997, with Martin Sheen guest-starring as Sgt. Seymour Skinner.


During a surprise party to celebrate Seymour Skinner's twentieth anniversary as principal of Springfield Elementary School, the real Skinner shows up unannounced and reveals that "Skinner" (who is a former street punk named Armin Tamzarian) stole his identity after he was thought to have been killed in the Vietnam War. Now exposed as an impostor, Tamzarian promptly resigns and returns to his old hometown of Capital City.

Why It's Not The Hero

  1. During the early years of The Simpsons, Principal Skinner was always portrayed as a tough authoritarian who was the perfect nemesis for Bart Simpson, which helped to make his character quite popular. Seeing his past as a street punk and going back to it was just insulting to fans of the show.
    • Also the concept in this episode about the impostor and who is not the impostor is rather unoriginal.
  2. The horrible and dreadful plot of this episode made it very clear to fans and critics that the quality of The Simpsons was beginning to decline.
  3. Not only did the episode start Skinner's Flanderization and ruin his backstory, but it also showed how disrespectful it is to fans who enjoyed the show and the characters.
  4. There was never any indication before this episode that Principal Skinner was a former street punk named Armin Tamzarian.
  5. The reveal that Principal Skinner was an impostor almost destroyed his character, who had eight years of character development at the time.
  6. The ending is absolutely atrocious: Sgt. Seymour Skinner, a war veteran who was imprisoned in a Viet Cong POW camp and left to suffer for decades, was banished from Springfield, which is just insulting.
    • Not only is Sgt. Skinner’s banishment insulting but it is also very mean spirited as the citizens of Springfield banish him not because of any crime Sgt. Skinner committed but because the citizens prefer Armin over Sgt. Skinner. The mean spiritedness of the banishment is shown with the citizens tying Sgt. Skinner up to a chair and placing him on a train that moves him out of town. This kind of behavior in real life in illegal and unconstitutional meaning that Sgt Skinner had the right to sue the citizens for kidnapping and false imprisonment because of this.
    • It also ends with everyone being ordered to forget everything that happened under penalty of torture after they banished Sgt. Skinner, which is just a pathetic way to maintain the status quo.
    • Furthermore, they should have at least agreed not to let this sort of thing happen again, which would've been a decent way to maintain the status quo.
  7. The second and third acts made the episode an absolute chore to watch.
  8. Even Bart is out-of-character, as he is on the bandwagon of everybody believing Principal Skinner to be an impostor.
  9. Sgt. Seymour Skinner is not only a bad character but also completely pointless. He just appears out of nowhere and his backstory damages Principal Skinner's "real" backstory.
    • "I'm... an impostor. That man is the real Seymour Skinner!".
  10. The episode teaches a very bad and criminal moral: identity theft is acceptable if the perpetrator is likable, meaning that if you commit identity theft then you are allowed to get away with it if people like you. In real life identity theft is a serious crime that is not acceptable no matter how likable you are. This bad moral is shown when Armin commits identity theft on Sgt. Skinner then has the sergeant return and tell the truth only to get punished for it even though he is the victim.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. The first act of the episode was genuinely good, despite ending on a dumb cliffhanger.
  2. The animation and the voice acting (except for Agnes Skinner) of the show are still good. Also, Martin Sheen does an admittedly good voice acting performance as Sgt. Seymour Skinner.
  3. Edna Krabappel is the only character who never believed that Seymour was an impostor at all, nor did she care about what he said at the celebration.
  4. There are several funny lines, such as Ralph Wiggum's "Principal Skinner is an old man who lives in the school!" and Homer's "Keep looking shocked and move slowly towards the cake...". And the scene where the citizens of Springfield head to Capital City and Homer repeatedly asks why there are so many people in the car they're all in is rather funny.


The episode was near-universally panned by critics and fans of the show and is often called "the episode that killed The Simpsons." the episode was considered by many the moment when the show jumped the shark. Though it didn't kill the show, it is the first notable episode that made fans begin to notice that the show was beginning to experience a rapid decline in quality, although there are still good episodes of the show, along with Seasons 9 and 10 still being considered part of "The Golden Age" of The Simpsons.[2] Some people have even gone as far as to call it the episode that ended "The Golden Age". Matt Groening himself hated the episode and considers it to be non-canon.[3] Even Harry Shearer, who voiced Principal Skinner, hated the episode and criticized both the episode and the script for ruining Skinner's backstory, claiming it to be "so wrong."[1]

The episode currently has a user score of 7 on IMDb.[4] On it was ranked 37th worst episode on their 2003 list to 44th worst episode on their 2006 list[5] before being dropped out of the list on their latest 2011 list.[6]

However, the writer of the episode, Ken Keeler (who later went on to be a writer on Matt Groening's other show, Futurama), defended this episode, saying: "Yeah, this is the best work I made for television, so what? Nobody cares if people hate me for an episode nobody loves; I never liked to care anyway!"[7] Showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein also defended it by claiming it was intended to be an experimental episode.[7]


  • This episode is the last Simpsons episode written by Ken Keeler, and it is unknown why he left the show, though it has been theorized that he was forced off the writing team due to the negative reviews this episode received (though the more likely explanation was that he decided to resign from being a writer for The Simpsons so he could work on Futurama, as that show was in the works around the time the episode aired).
  • This episode was originally going to be in Season 8, but it was pushed to Season 9 as a leftover.
  • The title of the episode is a reference to The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain.[8]
  • Although it is widely believed that the episode is based on the 1982 French movie The Return of Martin Guerre, it is based on the real-life Tichborne heir case of the mid-1800s.[7]
  • The events of this episode were mentioned only two times, once in "Behind the Laughter" as an example of a nonsensical episode plot, and again in Season 15's "I, D'oh-Bot" where Lisa makes fun of the episode by mentioning the name "Armin Tamzarian".
  • In the Season 26 episode, "Walking Big & Tall", "The Principal and the Pauper" was officially revealed to be non-canon by a scene showing a young Seymour with Agnes.
    • A later episode even has Skinner talk about his birth, further cementing that status.
    • Another later episode shows Skinner living with his mother as a teenager.
  • Sgt. Seymour Skinner was never seen again, excluding The Simpsons: Tapped Out.
  • Because of the events of this episode, Principal Skinner was ranked 10th on's "Top 10 Cartoon Character Changes that Made Fans Rage Quit",[9] while the moment where he was revealed to be an impostor was ranked 1st on their earlier video "Top 10 Cartoon Moments that Made Fans Rage Quit".[10]