21. Bart the Daredevil

(originally aired December 6, 1990)
Tonight he have an episode about hero worship, impressionable youth, and the great lengths a father will go to to teach his son a lesson. We start innocently enough cutting back and forth between Bart at home and Homer at the bar watching a wrestling match. Despite their constant butting of heads, we see they’re not all so different, most evidenced by their equal ecstatic reaction to an over-the-top bombastic advert for a monster truck rally, featuring the monstrous Truckasaurus, a gigantic car-crushing mechanical dinosaur. Their plans to attend encounter a slight speed bump in the form of Lisa’s band recital, but before long the family is at the rally, where they unwittingly drive into the arena and are attacked by the mechanical creature. Seeing the family car trapped within the jaws of a humungous dinosaur is quite a way to end an act. I’ve always wanted to know more about the operations of the machine. Why would they pick up the Simpson car? Regardless, the incident is brushed off by the team and the Simpsons are comped for the extensive car damage and given a half bottle of domestic champagne for being such good sports.

At the rally itself, Bart bears witness to Captain Lance Murdoch, world-class daredevil and Evel Knievel parody, who sets up a death-defying motorcycle stunt involving great white sharks, electric eels, piranha, alligators, a mountain lion, and one drop of human blood to get ’em all roweled up. Bart is in complete awe, and despite Murdoch becoming horribly injured, he decides to start cheating death himself with his skateboard. All it takes is one attempt to leap over the family car (the non-destroyed one) to knock him unconscious. At the hospital, Dr. Hibbert (first appearance) attempts to educate Bart on the dangers of emulating media stunts (though opts not to subject him to the horrors of their Three Stooges ward), but Bart is a boy on a mission. He performs one successful jump, then another, and another, but soon feels he needs a greater challenge. He finds one in the form of Springfield Gorge, and announces to his fellow bus mates his intentions to jump it.

I feel this review has been more synopsis-heavy than normal… I enjoy the subversion in witnessing people’s horrible accidents and disfigurements only encourage Bart more in his death-defying feats, as well as a visit to an infirmed Murdoch, who applauds his efforts (“Bones heal, chicks dig scars, and the United States of America has the best doctor-to-daredevil ratio in the world!”) There’s a lot of great jokes and bits in this show, but what I love most about it is at its core it’s a sweet Homer and Bart episode. We begin with the two sharing a bond in their enthusiasm over the truck rally, and we end with Homer genuinely concerned about his son’s safety. The show manages to have very real sincere moments, which are still funny in the character’s wording or misguided nature. In an effort to get Bart to not go through with his jump, Homer has a heart-to-heart with his son, urging him to promise him he won’t do it (“This isn’t one of those phony-baloney promises I don’t expect you to keep! If you make this promise, you have to keep it.”) Bart promises, but is out the door a minute later. Later, Homer catches Bart at the gorge at the nick of time and can think of no other option than to jump the gorge himself to show his son how much it hurts when a loved one risks his own life for no good reason. There’s a real kind of sadistic undertone to this if you think about it, but it’s pure misguided Homer logic, and there’s a real sweetness to it. These scenes feature some funny lines (an exhausted Homer muses, “I tried ordering you, I tried punishing you, and God help me, I even tried reasoning with you”), but nothing really jokey. There are a lot of sincere moments in this show that are allowed to just play out, whereas now I feel there would be an insane effort to not let any thirty seconds play out without a jokey joke.

The episode ends with one of the show’s most classic moments in Homer jumping the gorge and almost making it. Strange that we can find so much pleasure out of watching this poor man fall down the gorge (twice) horribly injuring himself, but perhaps it was because of his heightened enthusiasm and joy at his disbelief that he was going to make the jump. One must not get too cocky over their station in life, or they’re due for a fall, I suppose. This is another pure classic episode, full of iconic elements in Truckasaurus and Lance Murdoch, great jokes and commentary, and a truly epic ending.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The truck rally commercial is absolutely perfect, with a great finale: “If you miss this, you’d better be dead or in jail! And if you’re in jail, break out! BE THERE!”
– The recital is like the calm before the crazy stuff in the meat of the episode, but it has a lot of great bits, like Flanders weeping with joy over Todd’s solo, and Homer “consoling” him (“Come on Flanders, he’s not that bad.”) I also love Homer, super antsy to leave, lifting Lisa out of her chair at the end of the last number, and the sweet moment where he leaves, then returns so she can take a bow. The great capper is when Homer is recklessly driving down the highway humming the 1812 overture, and Lisa mentions to her mother, “I reached him.”
– My favorite moment in the whole show is when Murdoch appears in a blast of flame onto the arena, and addresses the audience whilst still in flames and two guys blast him with extinguishers and put him out. It’s one of those moments where it’s hard to place why it’s so funny; the action itself, but also he’s small in the frame and the animation is so fluid in that Murdoch is completely nonplussed by his condition. Also, his stunt was basically a success, but it was his showboating going back toward the ramp that did him in.
– We see a slightly more serious Dr. Hibbert here, but he has a great line after his serious lecturing (“As tragic as all this is, it’s a small price to pay for countless hours of top-notch entertainment.”) to which Homer gives an “Amen!”
– The first act break was one of the most ridiculous, but the second has a great bit when Bart tells Otto he’s going to jump the gorge.
[Otto] You know, Bart, as the only adult here, I feel I should say something.
[Bart] What?
[Otto] Cool!!
– The whole scene of Murdoch in the hospital is wonderful, as I mentioned earlier. I love when he’s signing a photo with his teeth and reads aloud what he’s writing through gritted teeth, then in the end we see it’s all one big random scribble.
– Something that struck me… Homer’s airlifted up and put in the ambulance, then it goes off not even five tire rotations and slams into the tree. The timing is so quick, which I love, but it’s weird how it’s so quick, like how could the front have been smashed up if it had literally just gotten into motion.

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6 responses to “21. Bart the Daredevil

  1. Pingback: 21. Bart the Daredevil

  2. I think my favourite part of this episode is when Homer says he’s going to jump the gorge to teach Bart a lesson, and Bart says “But dad, you’ll never make it!” to which Homer replies “Don’t you think I know that?!”

    This is an absolutely terrible way to teach Bart a lesson, but I’ll be damned if you can’t give Homer credit for pretty much knowingly killing himself to keep his son safe.

  3. I always loved the last things announcers would scream in commercials on this show. Like the “BE THERE” moment here, or in the episode where the announcer screams “GUARD YOUR EARS!”

  4. The two moments that had me laugh the hardest when I first saw this episode:
    1) Lance almost makes it out of the animal-infested pool, but is dragged back in at the last second (by the lion, no less).
    2) The ambulance hitting the tree. I laughed harder at that than any other thing up to that moment in my life.

  5. I particularly love the last line where homer next to merdock says “you think your brave but raising my kids”

    It’s odd, it’s a very old fashioned sitcom type of moment, but I love it anyway, maybe because it contrasts with jumping the gorge so much.

    My only problem with this episode is that the jumping the gorge bit has been repeated and called back waaaaay too much, especially in zs stories to the point where it now almost feels trite to me. A shame, since the execution is so great (I love homer getting bonked on the head by the scateboard).
    seeing it again In Behind the laughter it was funny, but then it started to get ridiculously superfluous, then again you could say the same for pretty much everything after Behind the laughter.

  6. Aaron Grierson

    One of my dad’s two favourite Simpsons episodes. His other favourite, strangely enough, is The Call of the Simpsons.

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