27. Principal Charming

(originally aired February 14, 1991)
NOTE: During the past week I was visiting my hometown in New Jersey. However, that did not hinder my Simpsons obligations. I managed to burn through six episodes with two very good friends of mine, and together we recorded brief, five-minute commentaries for them. They’re quite rambling, misguided, and mostly disposable, but hey, they’re only five minutes, and if you’re reading this, chances are your time isn’t that valuable to begin with.

These audio reviews will also be an excuse for me to write less. A bit of a cop out, but hey, I got four hundred episodes more, so cut me a break.

A great thing about the show for me was when the writers could take inherently jokey or stereotypical characters and make you see them as real people, but not betray their original natures. We saw it earlier, eliciting sympathy for the cunningly evil boss Mr. Burns in “Two Cars.” Here, we get a broader look at Marge’s sisters Patty and Selma. Up to this point, they existed to create grief for Homer, two one-note irritants permanently tied to his life to cause him misery. In that role, they’re fantastic characters, but here, we get to see them further fleshed out, seeing their hopes and aspirations, and their relationship with each other.

We first see that Selma is the softer of the two, who deep down wishes to settle down and start a family, while Patty is a bit more abrasive (Marge can put it better than me: “It’s Patty who chose a life of celibacy. Selma simply had celibacy thrust upon her.”) Saddened by her sister’s plight, Marge beckons Homer to find Selma a man. Side note, it’s a testament to Homer’s good nature that despite his seething hatred toward his wife’s sisters, he would do just about anything for Marge. His search ends with Principal Skinner, but due to Homer’s continued twin mix-up, he ends up hooking him up with Patty instead. The normally stuck-up stuffed shirt Skinner has now become as giddy as a schoolboy, head-over-heels in love with her. He’s really quite endearing, with a great performance by Harry Shearer; it takes a lot to take a line like, “Kiss me, Patty. I don’t have cooties” and make it work, but it totally does.

But the meat of this story lies with Patty and Selma, of how Skinner has become a wedge keeping them apart. Patty is apologetic over the situation, knowing the set-up was intended for her sister, but Selma remains adamant she not blow her chances at love like she had. Their scenes together throughout the show are the most interesting; we see these are two sisters who are primarily looking out for each other’s best interests, which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the only people they need are each other, in which Patty delicately dumps Skinner and saves Selma from a hell date with Barney. It’s one of the deeper early episodes, a real sweet episode, and given its subject matter and lack of focus on Bart or Homer, a forgotten gem.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The emotional trigger for the episode, Selma wanting a husband, couldn’t have been made more succinctly or fiercely. Attending the wedding of her co-workers, with the flashback of how they met; Selma could have been the lucky one, until Patty intervened. It even ties together with the ending. Absolutely perfect economy.
– Patty asleep on the couch… oh so disturbing…
– Here we get the first of many classic joke set-ups, where someone (usually Marge) alludes to a past event, which is then shown in photo or newspaper clipping form. Here, Marge refers to when Homer dragged the family to St. Louis to see the car shaped like a bowling pin. Homer fondly gazes at the photo at his bedside, a magnificent picture of Homer, in full tourist get-up with shades, posing with the car, with Marge off to the side, completely disinterested. All you need is the photo and you get the laugh. Another show starring a certain family guy would milk this situation for minutes in a lengthy flashback, but here we get the laugh quickly and perfectly and move on.
– Homer’s Terminator-esque search for a man was almost topical back then, but still remains funny. It’s one of the great Simpsons running gags that manages to keep being funny by escalating the ridiculousness. We get a great bit with Homer staring at a stranger (“Pro: Nice Stide, Con: Total Stranger), and then tops itself with the Laramie Billboard cowboy (“Pro: Smoker, Con: Just a Sign.”)
– We get first look at the Springfield Elementary Belltower, a structure that we’ve seen so many times since. At least we got a good Vertigo shot out of it.
– Homer Sexual may be one of my favorite Bart prank calls. And “Cons: Possible Homer Sexual” always kills me.
– First appearance of Groundskeeper Willie. Not much to say about it. …moving on.
– I love the Springfield Revolving Restaurant. It’s an early look at the overall stupidity of the whole town, like someone would invest money in this, which must cost a fortune, and the town would love it. It’s our first step toward the giant tower of Popsicle sticks and the escalator to nowhere.
– As sweet as he is in this show, Skinner hallucinating Patty’s head on Bart’s crude female stick figure body (with two giant circular breasts) and almost lusting over it is a tad disturbing.
– The show in its classic years has a lot more physical acting in it, which I love, but there’s also really small stuff that’s powerful. I can’t even place this one. Near her lowest point, Selma looks to the mouths of babes to cheer her up, asking Bart what he learned at school. Bart tells her that Skinner plans to propose to Patty. Selma sits stone-faced, and a single ash falls from her cigarette. I have no idea why this is effective, or what it means, but I absolutely love it. It may be my favorite part of the whole show.
– I love the disheveled Barney at Selma’s door, and his surprise upon looking at the label on the bottle he brought (“Schnapps?”)

7 thoughts on “27. Principal Charming

  1. I just watched this the other day after buying Series 2. I love it. Homer’s terminator scenes are pretty funny, and I love Apu thinking Homer is meditating when he’s rating Apu’s suitability.

    But it’s a great ep for seeing what the side characters like Skinner are like.

    And I love how Bart has taken over the school. Skinner most likely signed the forms himself 😛

  2. “Farewell my little patty cake”
    “Goodnight sweet principle”

    Sorry, we don’t even call them principles in the Uk but this line still always makes me laugh.

    Great episode all around.l

  3. It is a sweet episode that has its moments. I do love how Selma botched her chance out of fear, leading to great things in later seasons. Patty though, I guess they were always hinting at her being a lesbian, but it was done so subtle that you never thought about it.

  4. Selma’s cigarette ash moment is meant to show how quietly shocked she is by Bart’s news. A seasoned smoker like Selma is usually effortless in ashing her cigarette, but here her tiny moment of shock causes her to forget to ash into an ash tray. I agree with you, it’s a great little detail.

  5. “Homer Sexual” is a great gag, and it’s even better when it comes back. I love this episode, as it puts two characters you’d think would never work together and somehow makes it work. The ending is pretty sweet, and there’s many good jokes. I just really like this one.

  6. Patty and Selma were definitely a ‘secret sauce’ back in the day. You didn’t think of them a ton, and too much of them would probably not make for a great show, but when they did show up, they never disappointed and all episodes they featured in were usually good ones.

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