Seymour Skinner's 20th anniversary as principal is approaching and all of Springfield Elementary has decided to throw him a surprise tribute party. Skinner is "lured" (read "browbeaten") by his mother Agnes to the school and he receives a touching (yet still Springfield-esque) tribute. Meanwhile, a man in a taxi passes by, notices the "Tribute to Seymour Skinner" sign and demands the driver pull over. While the delighted Skinner gives his thank you speech, the man barges in and claims that the person giving the speech isn't Seymour Skinner, he
is. Superintendent Chalmers naturally assumes the man is crazy...but...
"Skinner" is surprised the real Skinner is still alive, since he was presumed killed in Vietnam. The "real" Skinner claims he was instead held in a secret P.O.W. camp then sold to a Chinese sweatshop as a slave and remained there for decades, until the U.N. shut down the factory and sent him home. The fake Skinner then tells his story. His real name is Armin Tamzarian and he is a Former Teen Rebel
from Capital City. One day, after stealing a purse from an old lady and getting away on his motorcycle, he hit a pedestrian who happened to be a judge. Armin was given the choice between jail, the Army and apologizing to the old lady and the judge
. He chose the Army instead of apologizing because he wasn't aware there was a war going on
. Armin then served under Sergeant Seymour Skinner who became his mentor and helped him find meaning in his life. Skinner also frequently expressed his dreams of becoming an elementary school principal. When Skinner went missing and was presumed dead, Armin was heartbroken and went to inform Seymour's mother. When she confused him for her real son (though he suspected that she knew the truth but chose to keep up the charade anyway), Armin decided to assume Skinner's identity.
The town then starts treating Armin with disdain over having deceived them for so long. This prompts Armin to resign as principal and hand over his job and life to the real Skinner. Armin goes back to Capital City and gets a job advertising a nude show (in his traditional deadpan).
Meanwhile back in Springfield, Agnes, used to the doormat Armin, doesn't enjoy the company of the mature and independent Seymour despite the fact that he's her real
son. Skinner proves himself to be a decent normal fellow, yet everyone misses the "old" Skinner. Eventually, they go to Capital City and convince Armin to return. Skinner is naturally upset at this and rightfully points out they cannot expect him to disappear since they like the "old" Skinner better. Homer the comes up with a plan that will solve the problem and let "Skinner keep his dignity
": tying Skinner to a chair and putting him on a train out of town. Judge Snyder then appears and declares that Armin be given the name and life of Seymour Skinner and that no one speak of this again under penalty of torture, restoring the status quo.
As you might imagine, this episode wasn't well received
. To this day, "The Principal and the Pauper" is a fixture in many "Worst Simpsons Episodes" lists, often taking the top spot
(or placing in the top five, as there are worse episodes that came after this, making this one look like a Golden Age
episode from seasons 3 to 8) due to its blatant retconning
of Skinner's backstory and its Deus ex Machina
ending. Harry Shearer (Skinner's voice actor) has called the decision to make Skinner an impostor "arbitrary", "gratuitous", and "disrespectful to the audience" and Matt Groening himself has claimed it was one of his least favorite episodes. In contrast, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein and Ken Keeler have defended it, with the latter even claiming it was his best work for television. Nevertheless, the show itself seemed to eventually agree with the criticisms, judging by a few self deprecating jabs at "The Principal and the Pauper" in later episodes, such as in "Behind the Laughter," when they cited this episode as the point that the show became "gimmicky" and "nonsensical."
This episode contains examples of: