117. Bart’s Comet

(originally aired February 5, 1995)
Y’know… after doing so many of these write-ups, some episodes you just kinda get stuck on. This one, it’s a spectacular show, full of lots of great character bits, memorable set pieces and a satisfying, heartwarming ending. But I don’t have much to report on besides that. I’ll come up with something though. It’s kind of hard in that thing is one of those shows that isn’t so much about a theme or a character study, it’s just a well plotted bunch of stuff that happened. But it’s very economical, where all the events lead you through the story and pay off in the end. We open with Bart’s brilliant balloon prank, which results in his punishment to help Skinner in his early morning astronomy. The balloon returns to distract Skinner as Bart observes a comet by happenstance and gets the credit. Then at the very end, the comet shoots through the balloon coming into the atmosphere, closing the book on Skinner’s public humiliation… for now.

This episode is also a great look at mob mentality, which is a common runner on this show. Mobs can vary on purpose, but they’re very instinctive and sometimes quick to sway. A whole mass of Springfieldians arrive at the door of Flanders’ bunker, wielding weapons hoping to get in. But they quickly disperse and apologize when Ned tells them it’s full. Ned thinks better and allows them all in, which leads to the hilarious image of all the townspeople stuffed in a small space, a visual that works wonders. Not only are there token jokes (Waldo appears briefly, the bottom right with Nelson having Milhouse in a headlock), it’s interesting direction dealing with so many characters in a confined space. Anyway, Homer vindictively casts Ned out to save the rest, which he does so willingly of course. Then no sooner after does he decry everyone else for the decision he proposed (“I’m surprised and disgusted by all of you, especially his children!”) He goes out to join Ned, and the rest of the crowd is soon to follow. As I said, mobs are easy to sway, and when they shift focus, they go all out, regardless of any kind of sense (Moe is next to leave: “Hey Homer, wait up, I wanna die too!”)

Umm… ahhm… we see more general incompetence on behalf of local and national leaders. The Quimby-sanctioned plan is to send a missile on course of the comet to blow it up before it gets too close to the planet. The people of Springfield, as evidenced before, are an easily swayed lot, and this plan sounds like dynamite. Can’t fail. They walk outside after the town hall meeting, take a look at the menacing comet in the sky, and they just laugh. And they gather outside at night to watch the comet get destroyed, like it’s some kind of fireworks display. It’s all a show, until shit gets real when things screw up royal. Later we see such ineptitude in a higher scale when a bill to evacuate Springfield on the floor of Congress is about to go through, until it is hastily paired with an unorthodox rider: $30 million of taxpayer money to support the perverted arts. The Springfield-slash-pervert bill is instantly defeated (Kent Brockman muses, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: democracy simply doesn’t work.”) Sorry if this review feels kind of half-assed; some episodes I kinda get stuck on, and while this is a really really great one, I haven’t much to say about in on a whole. I’ll do better next time, I promise.

Tidbits and Quotes
- Skinner proudly closes science week with the launch of a weather balloon, which Bart seems suspiciously excited about (“‘Hurrah for science, woo’? I can’t say I approve of the ‘woo,’ but the ‘hurrah’ was quite heartening.”) The incredulous repeating of Bart’s outburst is hilarious. Harry Shearer is fantastic in this episode as Skinner, his passion for his amateur astronomy, his deep-imbedded hatred for the principal who beat him to the punch, and his feeble attempts to make things go his way, which always go wrong.
- The big butt Skinner balloon is such a fantastic design. It’s so fantastic, it’s something that really Bart should be praised for making something that creative and elaborate.
- I love the DJ alarm on Bart’s clock at 4 am (“Top of the hour, time for the morning news. But of course, there is no news yet. Everyone’s still asleep in their comfy, comfy beds. Good night, everybody.”)
- I could listen to Sherear read out findings all day. I love after the time lapse his eager read of the coordinates… leading to still nothing.
- Great, great line when Skinner manages to capture the balloon (“Got you, my rumpy doppelganger!”) And hilarious act break with a three punch to Skinner: Bart steals his discovery, which causes him to let go of the balloon, then the paper boy makes his deliver, with headline “Prez Says: School Is For Losers.”
- Lots of great stuff at the town hall meeting, from Quimby’s opening statement (“Fellow citizens, when I learned about the impending crisis, I caught the very next plane to Springfeld… field.”) to both the slideshow rendering and Frink’s model demonstration both resulting in Moe’s being singled out as destroyed (both accompanied by Moe reacting, “Oh… dear God, no!”)
- Great quick joke that the armory rocker is labeled “Aim Away From Face.”
- The news report at the start of act three also has some great lines, starting with Kent (“And, like Icarus, the rocket foolishly soared too high, and lost control of its servo guidance mechanism, leaving us with some six hours to live.”) then Arnie Pye reporting on cars lunging over the destroyed bridge out of town (“It’s a silent testament to the never-give-up and never-think- things-out spirit of our citizens.”) and ending with Kent’s last-ditch revelation (“The following people are gay,”) a list that consists of a majority of the Simpsons staff.
- There’s some great small Homer bits here. He bemoans that the comet is taking too long, then there’s a knock on the door (“There it is!”)
- The ending with everyone coming together singing “Que Sera” is pretty sweet, and the harrowing fact that the only thing the comet destroys is the bomb shelter. And of course the very end is great with the shocking realization that Homer was right all along that the comet would break up to be no larger than a chihuahua’s head, and to further push that point, it lands right next to one of the tiny dogs just for scale’s sake.

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