(originally aired April 27, 1994)
Status quo is God for a reason; just as in life, radical change can shake things up something fierce. Many characters in this show are defined by where they work and what they do, and are in deep trouble if they’re not. Mr. Burns needs the power plant. Apu needs the Kwik-E-Mart. And Principal Skinner needs to be Principal Skinner. Here we get a better examination of Seymour, of the overbearing nature of his work, and his piddling attempts to live a life after he is let go. A lot of the middle of the show of seeing Skinner’s day-to-day routine, living at his mother’s house, faux-conducting an orchestra in his bedroom, is extremely fascinating, and gives up real human insight into his character. As I mentioned last time about Burns, I’d love to see an entire episode just about Skinner and a regular week for him. These secondary characters are so rich, they’re just as engaging as the Simpson family.
The first time we see Skinner in the show he’s already a nervous wreck, struggling to defend himself on the phone with the superintendent. He’s a man who loves his job and the authority, but we can see he’s in hot water already. That leads us to further shenanigans when Santa’s Little Helper, who Bart brought in for show-and-tell, ends up roaming around the air ducts, and only a greased up Willie can apprehend him. When this turns into a disastrous fiasco, Superintendent Chalmers pays the school a visit (uttering the very first “SKINNER!!”) and promptly fires Skinner. Now Seymour is just any other civilian, shopping at the Kwik-E-Mart and paying a visit to the laundromat. The scene of Skinner running through all the detergent names seeing which to use is spectacular; it’s so true to him that he would run through all his options and really consider his choice, even for something so trivial. Bart feels guilty for the situation he caused and spends time with his ex-principal; at times it borders on out-of-character for him, but the fact that the friendship is slightly awkward on both of their ends feels very genuine.
Trying to move on, Skinner re-enlists as a sergeant in the army, when meanwhile, head of the PTA Ned Flanders is made the new principal. We get some nice moments displaying his namby pamby disciplinary skills, and also a really telling look into his past, revealing his parents were a bunch of beatniks (I also want a young Ned Flanders spin-off too.) Eventually Bart and Skinner hatch a plan to get him back, which comes up short, but Flanders ends up thwarting himself by daring to speak the name of the Almighty over the intercom (Chalmers delivers a classic line: “A prayer in a public school! God has no place within these walls, just like facts have no place within organized religion!”) As odd as it may have been at times, Bart and Skinner’s friendship was very sweet; it was interesting to see the two mortal enemies, on a level playing field, actually enjoying each other’s company. They both acknowledge that once Skinner is back in power, their friendship must end, and they accept that (unless Bart becomes a good student, which he scoffs at the idea). It’s a real nice episode, lots of laughs, interesting character stuff. Jolly good show.
Tidbits and Quotes
- Nice home movies at the start, with Homer lighting his beard on fire, and the adorable baby Bart on the toilet. Marge makes a clever comment regarding Bart bringing the movies into class (“I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with the idea of your classmates laughing at our family’s private moments. How would you like it if, twenty years from now, people were laughing at things you did?”) Twenty years now, and I’m still laughin’.
- Nice quick moment with an ecstatic Willie, enamored by Santa’s Little Helper, pressing his face against the glass of Mrs. K’s class.
- Brief appearance by Lunchlady Doris sifting through a barrel of assorted horse parts (“More testicles means more iron.”) And her deadpan reaction to Willie ripping off his shirt, revealing his muscular physique (“Grease me up, woman!!” “…okie-dokie.”)
- The chase in the vents is wonderfully directed, and references not one, not two, but all three Alien movies. The first Alien with Skinner observing their locations on a computerized diagram of the vents (for a school with no budget, surprised they had such sophisticated technology for such a useless purpose). Aliens when Skinner sticks his head in the vents and is licked by the dog. Then Alien 3 with the blurred shapes of the dog as he dashes through the vents. On catching the mutt, Willie gives a classic line: “There’s nary an animal alive that can outrun a greased Scotsman!”
- Great timing as Skinner tells Chalmers everything’s under control, then a fireman falls off a ladder, knocks down the giant scoreboard machine and smashes the gymnasium window.
- First appearance of Leopold, who’s only been in two shows, and serves one purpose: frighten children in the greatest of all misleads. I love his character, and Dan Castelleneta does such a great job doing the grittiest, most angry possible voice, all deflating for the final line of dialogue. I also love Chalmers’ anger toward the kids not responding to his jokes (“It’s just a damn popularity contest with you kids!”)
- Speaking of anger, Apu has a wonderful tirade toward Skinner’s obliviousness that he has ripped off Jurassic Park with his novel idea, with terrific time fades as Apu gets more and more irate (“…most popular movies of all time, sir! What were you thinking?! …I mean, thank you, come again.”)
- Great moment that makes Bart truly guilty about Skinner when the bullies steal his underwear at the laundromat (“I can buy a new pair! …no I can’t. I needed those, I really did.”)
- Also first appearance of Luigi, the greatest Italian stereotype, voiced by Hank Azaria. Don’t have much to say about him, other than he’s hilarious (“Hey Salvatore, give-ah the ugly kid a plate of the red-ah crap-ah!”)
- Nice sweet moment of a depressed Skinner mournfully gazing at the school after dark, remembering the good times, varying from serious (“I learned to read because of you, Principal Skinner!”) to not so (“I got car sick in your office.”)
- More great true-to-Skinner moments when he reprimands his troops for their lewd army chants, who then switch over to one about how old the Parthenon is.
- Another first appearance, this time of Gerald, the one-eyebrowed baby, Maggie’s arch nemesis. The baby has got to be up to something.
- I always thought the kids wrecking total havoc throughout the school was a bit much, like that wouldn’t happen with the other teachers and faculty still there, no matter how much they didn’t give a shit. I guess it’s worth it for Chalmers’ blaze attitude (“The way America’s public schools are sliding, they’ll all be this way in a few months. I say, lay back and enjoy it! It’s a hell of a toboggan ride.”)
- Nice sweet ending with the “Kick Me” and “Teach Me” signs, and one final “Oh, mercy” from Skinner.