36. Stark Raving Dad

(originally aired September 19, 1991)
The Simpsons
was basically a smash hit right out of the box, and after two seasons it was a total phenomenon. Fans loved it, critics loved it, people couldn’t get enough. Celebrities like Tony Bennett and Albert Brooks lent their cred by having guest roles. But none would be bigger than the focus of this show, Michael Jackson. Now for me, I grew up right during the turning point of his career from international pop superstar/god to ghostface weirdo who sleeps in hyperbaric chambers and dangles infants out windows. In the late 80s/early 90s, as I’m told, Jackson was the biggest star in existence. Ever. His fame could not be topped. As it turned out, he was a big fan of the show and called up the producers, telling them he wanted to give Bart a number-one song. And damn it all if he didn’t mean it: “Do the Bartman” was a #1 hit single (in the UK and other countries, but still). Anything Jackson was involved in turned to gold, so why wouldn’t they say yes when he also asked if he could do a voice on the show?

If there’s one thing this show does the best, it’s having its cake and eating it too, where they treat their guest stars with respect, but present them in biting, subversive ways. But let’s back up a bit: the festivities begin in typical fashion: a questioning of Homer’s sanity. This is a result of him wearing a pink shirt to work, thanks to Bart throwing his red cap in with the whites. He fails a psychological exam (which Bart fills out for him) and he’s hauled off to the nut house. There, he meets Michael Jackson. Sort of. He’s actually a hulking three-hundred-pound mental patient who thinks he’s the pop star. It’s a truly brilliant concept on dealing with how to fit Jackson into the show without making it seem like a 22-minute ass kissing session. You get your laughs with the context of it all, but “Jackson” is also presented as a nice guy, helping Homer through this new and strange situation. Homer is also the only man on the planet who has never heard of the King of Pop, which is a bit of a stretch, but if anyone is going to be that oblivious, I think it’d be Homer.

The emotional runner in the show involves Lisa’s urgings to her brother to not forget her birthday, which of course he does. Instead Bart inadvertently sparks a media circus who expect Michael Jackson to arrive at the Simpson house, who are of course infuriated by what they ultimately get. Lisa is devastated, so Jackson offers to help Bart write a song, in a story beat that eerily mirrors real life. Their happy birthday song, which Jackson himself wrote, is a very sweet song, and performed quite well by Nancy Cartwright and Jackson (or his sound-alike Kipp Lennon. Either or). The Jackson role becomes even more complicated when he reveals himself to be Leon Kompowski, speaking in a gruffer voiced (by Hank Azaria), explaining how he adopted the Jackson voice because he found it made people happy. Perhaps Michael Jackson in this episode is not so much about himself but about the idea of himself; much like the pop star himself, he was larger than life, something that fans could adopt for themselves for their own purposes to make them happy, a sentiment that seems even truer now after his passing. While its Jackson content gives it a little age, this is still a wonderful episode. An epic collision of two pop cultural juggernauts? I can’t think of a better way to start a season.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Krusty hotline is fantastic. It’s not only another example of the clown’s shameless merchandise hawking and half-assery of said products, but an examination of his “comedy.” Sometimes we see shots of the show in the background of just Krusty laughing at a camera. And here we get him laughing over the phone. But hey, the kids love it! “Thanks for calling, kids! A new message every day!”
– Great line from Homer: “Marge, I can’t wear a pink shirt to work. Everybody wears white shirts. I’m not popular enough to be different.”
– I do like the running theme of non-conformity: wearing a pink shirt gets Homer labeled a wild, free thinking anarchist, while Kompowski decided to adopt his Jackson persona and ended up helping a lot of people.
– The America’s Funniest Home Videos parody is absolutely spot-on, complete with Bob Sagat’s dumb little voice-overs he does over the videos. Also interesting one of the finalists is “Baby with a Nailgun,” a situation that would occur a good nine seasons down the road.
– We get our first “inappropriate hold music” joke, where Marge calls the mental institution and has to listen to “Crazy” by Patsy Cline.
– I love the obligatory “Cuckoo’s Nest” parodies in the hospital, from the Chief “It’s about time someone reached out to me!” to the agoraphobic guy who Homer mocks (“Pfft. Baby.”)
– The “Not Insane” certificate is fantastic. I wish it would have become one of the staple items you’d always see hanging up in the Simpson house, like something Homer would be proud of and display, but I guess not.
– The Michael Jackson media storm is great, it’s something great enough for Apu to close the Kwik-E-Mart (turning his “We never close” sign over to read “Closed for the first time ever.”) We also get Mayor Quimby declaring they’ll be renaming the Dalai Lama Expressway to the Michael Jackson Expressway, implying that the Dalai Lama has visited Springfield. Now that would be a good episode.
– I love Lisa’s angry letter: “Dear Bart, I am using the stationery Mom and Dad gave me for my birthday to inform you that we are now brother and sister in name only. Perhaps if a professional so advises, I will give you a hug at some far-distant family reunion. But rest assured, it will be purely for show.
Well, Homer does show off his certificate at the end. After Kompowski’s touching speech about how his Jackson voiced helped me, he asks, “To make a tired point, which one of us is truly crazy.” Homer, holding up the certificate, gleefully responds, “Not me! I got this!” Brilliant.

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12 responses to “36. Stark Raving Dad

  1. Pingback: tv’s best birthday themed episodes « tvdinner&amovie

  2. “This isn’t fair! How can you tell who’s sane and who’s insane?”, Homer asks. The doctor replies, “Well, we have a very simple method”. The doctor then stamps his hand with the word “INSANE”. At the end, we see him trying impossibly to wash it off! That is the best thing about this episode. As for Michael Jackson, the hyperbaric chamber stuff was from the mid 1980s during the height of his powers following the release of Thriller.

  3. “It’s a truly brilliant concept on dealing with how to fit Jackson into the show without making it seem like a 22-minute ass kissing session.”
    Compare the way this episode handles its mega-star to the recent episode “Lisa Goes Gaga.”

  4. Brilliant brilliant brilliant. Another of my favourite. Probably a top10 episode

  5. Aaron Grierson

    Fun fact – when we were in chemistry on Fridays we’d watch the Simpsons season 3 DVD. We went through every episode and this was a nice start. We all thought John Jay Smith was the best Michael Jackson impersonator until we learned the truth.

  6. I was born in 82, so I wasn’t old enough to understand the Jackson craze. He’s got a few good songs, but I still don’t see what the big deal was about. Nevertheless, this episode is absolutely fantastic. I love when Bart calls up Milhouse and asks him if he can keep a secret and tells him anyway despite his blatant “no.”

    I wouldn’t start watching the show for another 6 episodes, but I totally remember Fox advertising the hell out of this episode back in 91. In fact, it might be where I actually learned about the Simpsons for the first time.

    Anyway, it is so nice to see Bart acting like a 10 year old kid here compared to what has been done with him over the last decade. His initial song was pretty funny, but the real song has so much heart to it that you really get the sense that he cares for Lisa, even moreso than from the Thanksgiving one.

    Lastly, the transition they do from this episode starting out as a Homer one to a Bart one in the end is pretty seemless.

  7. This episode is being pulled from rotation following the release of the “Leaving Neverland” documentary: https://variety.com/2019/tv/news/the-simpsons-michael-jackson-leaving-neverland-stark-raving-dad-1203158114/

    • First they decide to write out Apu and now this episode is bring pulled. Seriously Jean and co stand by your show and don’t just give in like this. South Park would never do this. Simpsons shouldn’t either.

    • Yeah, it’s complete and utter bullshit that we’re just supposed to hate this episode now. I don’t see them pulling “Mr Lisa’s Opus” from last season that featured the song and Leon. I also didn’t see them pull this episode back in the 90s when these allegations came up the first time. Oh wait, the show was relevant then and didn’t need something controversial to make a headline.

      If the world can continue to live with various adaptations of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland every decade, they sure as hell can live with this episode. We’re adults, and we can choose for ourselves if we want to watch an episode or not based on who is in it.

      • Who is saying we’re supposed to hate this episode now? WHO is saying that?

        I understand the reasoning why they pulled it, but it just makes me think about why they haven’t pulled the Mel Gibson episode either, considering both shows were gigantic love letters to these megastars who were later revealed to be monsters. But one’s dead and has an hot expose doc out, and the other somehow wormed his way back into Hollywood with all forgiven. So I guess that’s why.

      • Kaiju no Kami

        Nah, I’ve come to the conclusion that with the show being utter shit now, no one cares about it, thus, it doesn’t get media attention. However, if you pull one of the greatest episodes of the entire series, everyone cares and everyone is talking about it. It’s getting headlines up the ass.

        As for your question, several people are saying we are supposed to hate it. I have one guy on another message board who can’t seem to distinquish the difference between Michael Jackson in the real world and Leon Kimpowski in the fantasy world. He’s too retarded to grasp the concept.

      • The Anonymous Nobody

        Mike, with all the crap you give The Simpsons on a weekly basis, I’m surprised you’re agreeing with this decision. Let me explain why this bothers me:

        1. MJ was accused of child molestation on multiple occasions. He was tried twice and was acquitted in a widely publicized trial in 2005. In 1993, when he was first accused, he ended up settling out of court despite wanting to defend his innocence in the criminal case, which would have sent him to prison if he was found guilty. This isn’t the first time these accusations have been made and it sure as hell won’t be the last time because MJ is such an easy target. Why wasn’t the episode pulled back then? Did they believe in his innocence or did they just not care enough to pull the episode?

        2. It’s night and day compared to how they handled the Apu situation. They were ambivalent about the whole thing, brushed off the Apu documentary as just people being sensitive, and devoted time in an actual episode to somewhat address the issue. The whole point of them doing that was just to say, “Apu wasn’t problematic back in 1990. Why is he problematic now? Maybe we’ll do something about it, maybe we won’t, but we don’t really understand the controversy at all.” But all of a sudden, a one-sided documentary starring two people with sketchy stories and ulterior motives comes out and they make a public decision to get rid of the episode?Even though nobody was asking them to do this or giving them any pressure to do this. They independently made this decision based on a documentary.

        3. It’s going to backfire. If they believe MJ was a child molesting monster, fine. But what they should do is not talk about the episode anymore or promote it in any way. Pretend it never happened. What they’re doing is giving the episode more attention. I don’t know how many people were thinking about “Stark Raving Dad” before the news came out, but now that it’s the “forbidden” episode, it has a new reputation and people are going to want to watch it even more. When Chris Benoit’s situation came to light, WWE initially tried to erase his name and his career. Several years down the line, they started including him in biographies and their WWE Network library, but there are disclaimers now. People have the right to watch Benoit’s matches, but the company will remind you that they are not promoting him in any way because of what he did.

        This is something the old Simpsons would never do. It’s not genuine at all. It’s a cheap publicity stunt meant to get people talking about the show again and also gives into the mob mentality of “He did it because the TV said so.” But since enough time has passed and the world feels comfortable with hating Michael Jackson again, ten years after his death, why not jump on the bandwagon?

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