13. Some Enchanted Evening

(originally aired May 13, 1990)
So we cap off the first season with the first episode produced, oddly enough. When the writers and producers of the show got this show back from overseas and screened it, it was horrifying: characters were off-model, the look was brash and ugly, and the laws of physics seemed to not apply to people and objects in motion. It was practically unusable, and left the fate of the Simpsons in limbo until the next episode in “Bart the Genius” ended up being a huge improvement in quality. As such, “Evening” was sent back to be reanimated, with over 3/4 of the footage completely redone. Perhaps this was all for the best though: transferring the Simpsons from the five-minute Tracey Ullman shorts to a Christmas special, then to series seems like a smoother transition than than an episode featuring a deranged thieving babysitter and a rocky marriage saved by seedy motel sex.

The episode begins innocently enough: once again, Marge finds herself unappreciated and unacknowledged by her family, particularly her husband. Fired up by the urgings of radio psychiatrist Marvin Monroe, she stands by the door, stewing with bottled up rage ready to unleash at her husband when he comes home. Having overheard the radio show at work, Homer attempts to make things right with a box of chocolates and one piddling rose. But when she opens the door and Homer lets out a sincere but trembling, “I love you,” all of Marge’s hate dissolves into a puddle of love. They make plans for a romantic evening: dinner, dancing, and a night at the Ye Olde Off-Ramp Inn (another great Simpsons name).

The children are left in the care of a mysterious Ms. Botz, a snidley hunched-over woman who treats the kids with nothing but contempt. Whilst channel-surfing to “America’s Most Armed and Dangerous,” the kids discover that Botz is actually the “Babysitter Bandit,” a notorious crook who cons parents to gain access to their home and raid their stuff. Again, it’s so odd to think of this as the pilot; Ms. Botz is a truly bizarre and unsettling character, even before the reveal of her larcenous ways. Two young children bound and gagged whilst a stranger robs the house blind would be horrifying on any live-action sitcom, but the Simpsons manages to squeeze dark comedy from the set-up, with baby Maggie becoming their savior and Bart enacting swift vengeance on their captor. However, a bumbling, oblivious Homer lets a tied-up Botz go free (paying her triple, no less) right before the police arrive, giving this dark show a similarly dark ending.

With some of the original footage sprinkled through this show, it feels pretty rough after seeing the show evolve slightly over the thirteen shows, but there are still a lot of bits of animation I really appreciate, like Homer and Marge dancing and the thoroughly creepy movements of Ms. Botz. There were still kinks to be worked out, but the overhaul of the episode ended up mostly successful, giving us a very suitable finale: bizarre happenings befalling a simple American family.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Always love the psych call-in number: 555-PAIN.
– “You’re a pig. Barney’s a pig, Larry’s a pig, we’re all pigs, except for one difference. Once in a while, we crawl out of the slop, hose ourselves off and act like human beings.” Speaking of, the animation on Moe during this line is such grotesque, but wonderful at the same time. His face just morphs as he speaks, he’s so misshapen.
– Homer’s expressions on being inadvertently insulted by the babysitter service receptionist are so great; through gritted teeth, he attests, “Actually, the Simpsons are neighbors of ours, and we’ve found them to be a quite misunderstood and underrated family.”
– I’ve always loved the Happy Little Elves. We barely see them now, but they were a brilliant parody of limitedly animated, overly peppy kid’s shows, like the Smurfs meet Dora the Explorer.
– Maggie proves once more to be an infant savant in escaping her crib and working a remote control. That kid’s gonna go far.
– The end moment with Homer and Marge is pretty sweet, with Marge successfully lauding her husband: “The way I see it, you raised three children who could knock out and hog-tie a perfect stranger, you must be doing something right.”

Season 1 Final Thoughts
One down, nineteen to go. As I mentioned at the start, I pretty much write off season 1 when I categorize the classic years. Sure, parts of it feel like a different show, and there’s plenty to be ironed out and retooled over time, but this season surprised me a lot. A lot of these twenty-year-old shows really hold up, with solid stories, great gags and character humor, and a consistent theme of the misadventures of this quirky offbeat family against the world. For a show that broke so much new ground with its concept, its material and its medium, I’d say this is a dynamite first season. Cheers all around. I’m ever so ready for season 2!

The Best
“The Telltale Head,” “Life on the Fast Lane,” “Krusty Gets Busted”

The Worst
I have a feeling I’m not going to make much use of this column until season 9 at least, but for now I’ll name the two stand-out “meh” shows of the season: “The Call of the Simpsons” and “The Crepes of Wrath.”

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10 responses to “13. Some Enchanted Evening

  1. Pingback: Some Weekend Reading « Dead Homer Society

  2. The Best: Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, Moaning Lisa, Krusty gets Busted

    The Worst: The Call of the Simpsons, Crepes of Wrath, Some Enchanted Evening.

    • My picks for the best and worst of season one:

      Best: Bart the Genius, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (I think this may have been the first Simpsons episode I’ve seen and owned on videotape when I was a kid), Crepes of Wrath, The Telltale Head, There’s No Disgrace Like Home

      Worst: Homer’s Night Out (not that it doesn’t have a good message about how men should treat women with respect; it’s just that the writers should have stuck to making Princess Kashmir a stripper instead of a pro belly dancer that performs at bachelor parties and really play up the fact that Homer is this magnet for sexy ladies, despite being married with children. They played it too safe), Call of the Simpsons (never really took to this one, though Lisa saying, “The Simpsons have entered the forest” after the RV falls off the cliff is good for some laughs), Some Enchanted Evening, Homer’s Odyssey (though I do like the part where Homer saves his family and becomes a safety advocate for the city. And the appearance of Smithers as a black, blue-haired man), Moanin’ Lisa (barring the subplot of Homer trying to beat Bart at a “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!” style video game)

  3. I have mixed feelings on the looser animation in this episode. On the one hand, I love squash and stretch animation, such as what is frequently seen in classic cartoons. On the other hand, I’m more used to the “stiffer” animation style in the show; it wasn’t until later that I saw this episode and the Tracey Ullman shorts. As a result, this kind of style felt like the outlier, despite that it didn’t begin that way. It doesn’t help that the character designs in the Tracey Ullman shorts and the Kent Butterworth-directed sections of this episode are pretty ugly and unappealing; the David Silverman-directed sections may have been stiffer (he hadn’t quite found his visual groove yet), but they were a lot more consistent and professional.

    All that said, I will say that I still love the scene where Botz threatens that Bart better watch the tape. It’s done in a full animation style that you don’t often see on the show.

    I’d love to see the full unaired version of this. We only got a few minutes of it on the season 1 DVD.

  4. ^Speaking of the season 1 dvd, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGhMp_yklUI for those who haven’t seen the animation outtakes. Interesting stuff.

  5. The first episode I ever saw … the greatest line is from Botz to Bart… “Hmm…time to brush your teeth, wash your face, and say your prayers”.

  6. I love the motions of Botz’s face when she tells Bart that if he doesn’t shut up and watch the video she’ll do something to him, which she’s never had to do because everybody’s always listened to her.

  7. WHAT A BORING EPISODE.

  8. Maybe it was the writing but I never cared for this one as much among season 1, and to say I never cared for call of the simpsons either that’s saying something.
    It’s not that it’s bad, it just feels flatt, this crook randomly tying up kids and robbing homes and getting away, it’s as if the writers weren’t really sure of tone, which makes sence if this was indeed the first story written, —- though I do love the sadistic way she makes the kids watch the happy little elves after tying them up (wow that’s evil!).

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