(originally aired January 9, 1992)
This is a show that’s never content with doing one type of story. Sometimes it’s content to focus on one topic or relationship, like “Lisa’s Pony,” but other times it’s all over the map; always focused, but covering a range of different subjects. “Radio Bart” is one of the latter, ranging from down-to-earth and sentimental to exaggerated ridiculousness, with a bunch of different elements peppered in along the way. We open on Bart’s birthday, where he will be turning 10 for the first of many times. At one point, he was younger, however, as indicated by his spiky hair chart. The first act is a great exploration about the excitement of birthdays as a kid, and how much it sucks to have them be let-downs.
Homer is suckered by a TV commercial into getting Bart a radio-style microphone, but of course has trouble realizing that what happens on TV doesn’t always reflect reality. Over time Bart realizes the microphone does have good pranking potential, leading to a great bevy of scenes of Bart reeking havoc with his new weapon. His final prank creates a frenzy in the town, fooling citizens into believing a young innocent Timmy O’Toole has fallen down a local well. This creates a media frenzy, which ultimately creates a bizarre carnival-type environment around the well, treating the scenario with more sensationalism than an actual desire to rescue. The show also satirizes the sainthood of the victim, that the simple act of one befalling a tragedy, even by accident or on reckless purpose, they become a hero worthy of praise. This is best exemplified by Homer’s defense of calling Timmy a hero (“Well, he fell down a well and… he can’t get out.”) Even celebrities try to sucker their way into the fray, with their “We Are the World” style relief song “We’re Sending Our Love Down the Well,” complete with Krusty hamming it up like Bruce Springsteen.
Realizing the potential to get caught, Bart attempts to cover his ass, but ends up victim of his own prank in getting stuck down the well himself. The absurdity of the second act makes way for the real ironic punishment and pathos for Bart’s actions, as the town abandons their cause after realizing they’ve been had. A scene where Bart muses over the things he’ll never get to do in life is quite touching, even, of course, it involves getting a fake ID and shaving a swear word into his hair. Sting makes a guest appearance as a participant in the well song, mocking the idea of a celebrity activist (“This isn’t about show business, this is about some kid down a hole… or something, and we’ve all got to do what we can.”) and getting kind of screwed in the end himself as he’s ungraciously pushed out of the way after digging his way to rescue Bart. This is an episode that covers a lot of ground, but has a seamless flow and nails every one of its targets completely.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The scene with the microphone commercial is perfect: it’s the ultimate shameless plug, and Homer gobbles up the whole thing.
– Wall-E-Weasel’s is a wonderful Chuck E. Cheese parody, complete with the horrible animatronic singers. For some reason, Senor Beaverotti always gets me (“I’m-ah ready!”), and of course, his tail breaks off and bursts into flames.
– I really like Bart putting his name on everything in the house; it just feels like a real kid thing to do out of boredom. Homer bemoans that a Duff in the fridge is branded, “Aww, there’s only one can of beer left, and it’s Bart’s.”
– Always great that Homer actually buys Bart’s prank that there’s an alien invasion, and runs through the house with a loaded gun. I also love Bart’s guttural “Uh-huh” when Homer realizes Bart actually liked his gift mid-choke.
– All of Bart’s early pranks are good, but my favorite is probably the first with making Maggie talk (I love Bart’s baby voice, “Sorry lady, show’s over!”) Runner-up, of course, is “God” speaking to Rod and Todd (“Walk through the wall. I will remove it for you… [thud] …later.”)
– This kind of feels like Groundskeeper Willie’s first “big” appearance, being first on the scene to get help for Timmy, taking a “nip of courage” from a flask and blocking traffic with his big tractor (“Look out, yah horse’s arse!” I also love Bart trying to build on Timmy’s character by screwing other characters, claiming that Timmy wasn’t allowed into Springfield Elementary by Skinner because of his shabby clothes.
– The charity song is great of course, featuring all the celebrities, and quasi-celebrities, we’ve seen on the show. We also get the first speaking part of Sideshow Mel. I love Krusty’s explaining of where the proceeds of the song go (“We gotta pay for promotion, shipping, distribution… y’know, those limos out back, they aren’t free. Whatever’s left we throw down the well.”)
– Love the tastefully done Itchy & Scratchy tribute to Timmy O’Toole, and the “We’ll Be Right Back” title card with Scratchy with an axe in the back.
– Great sequence of Bart repelling himself down the well, great use of shadows and lighting, and imitation Axel Foley music.
– Eddie and Lou are none too pleased to learn the truth that they’ve been punked. For some reason, “I’ve got an idea, let’s go home and go to sleep” has stuck with me, and was a big quotable line amongst my friends.
– The quick scenes depicting public reaction to Bart is great: Mayor Quimby openly admitting to flip-flopping, news of the Abraham Lincoln squirrel, and the hit single replacing the well song on the charts, “I Do Believe We’re Naked,” by Funky-See Funky-Do.
– The ending is perfect, of course, with the situation being resolved by a tiny sign “Caution: Well.” Nothing has been learned, but Willie is satisfied (“That should dew it!”)