(originally aired February 13, 1992)
Y’know… there’s something about these last bunch of episodes that has gotten me a little depressed. In its earlier, more realistic-in-tone years, the show had never shied away from showing the darker, more somber side of everyday people, and life in general. Lisa is a perpetual big fish in a small pond, ever unappreciated and unstimulated, Marge is an unacknowledged house slave to an oafish buffoon, and now we lay focus on Mrs. Krabappel, a lonely, depressed woman with no interest in her job and has almost given up on herself. Seems the point here is that it must suck to be a woman on The Simpsons. I guess even this is a commentary on how men always seem to have a bit of a leg up in society. The stories you can write about Mr. Burns or Krusty are seemingly endless, where a character like Krabappel has a bit more grounded range.
A hilarious film reel about the wonders of zinc leads us into our show, which is not only great by itself, but shows us just how little Krabappel has left for her job. After school we see her pick up dinner for one and a lotto ticket, and make an impromptu stop at the mechanic, who finds sugar in her gas tank (he comments, “Your ex-husband strikes again.”) The content here is very subtle and building, giving us a very real look at a depressed human being. Another set piece that felt kind of sad is the school assembly with the yo-yo team. While I love the gag of the leader shoving the team into the back of a van, it seems so sad an existence for them, that this is their station in life. Anyway, Bart’s yo-yo antics get him a month’s worth of detention, so in retaliation, he ghostwrites letters to Krabappel’s personal ad under the name “Woodrow,” who is done in voice-over by Harry Shearer, seemingly channeling Ricardo Montalban.
Through the second act, Bart plays a double role, lending an ear to a warmer Mrs. K about what she wants out of a man, then using that material to fire off another mash note. But a point is reached where even Bart realizes he may have pushed things too far, and he falls back on the family to help him out of the mess he created. Writing a ginger farewell note is a nice conclusion, and the sequence of the Simpsons tossing out lines and debating over it is really sweet. I feel as sad as these episodes get, there’s still an element of hope at the end, and even if there isn’t, it still feels like it. “Woodrow” was an elaborate ruse from start to finish, but we’re still left feeling good about Krabappel, because she feels good. I think Marcia Wallace got an Emmy for this episode, and for good reason too. She took a character who could really be a complete caricature and made her so believable and so empathetic that we root for her as much as we do any of the Simpsons. This season and beyond, the supporting cast is really rounding out, creating a richer yellow universe.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Yeah, the zinc film is amazing, starring Dan Castellenta’s squeaky voiced teen character. I can’t believe they got away with the attempted suicide (failed of course, no firing pin), but I’m glad they did. “Come back, zinc! Come back!”
– Another amazing Simpsons product: Chef Lonelyheart’s Soup For One, labelled with a sad chef with a tear in his eye.
– Very great brief joke inside Springfield Magazine, an article “We Talk to J.D. Salinger, perhaps also a covert joke about the credibility of said magazine.
– I do like Bart is quite the yo-yo whiz; in future shows we’d find that he takes a vested interest and can get good at almost anything that doesn’t involve schoolwork, or something that could benefit him in the future. Also his latest technique “Plucking the Pickle” reaaaaallly sounds like a euphemism for masturbation.
– I love Krabappel’s blind date with Jasper; it keeps building on Mrs. K’s desperate state of affairs, but that old photo of him, a tall strapping man in a zoot suit cracks me up every time.
– I do like the wording of Krabappel’s personal ad: “1 + 1 = 2? Recently divorced 4th grade teacher wishes to meet man age: 18-60. Object: SAVE ME.”
– I couldn’t fit in the B-story into the main write-up since it’s so divorced from the main plot, but it provides much needed overt laughs to the more emotional A-story. Young Todd Flanders swears at the dinner table, and Ned discovers he heard it from a raging Homer during his fight building a doghouse. Marge suggests the use of a swear jar, which gets filled up mighty quickly, so much that Marge and Lisa just buy a doghouse on their own. So much great stuff here, from Ned’s punishment (“No Bible stories for you tonight!”) and his plea to Homer not to swear (“All of us pull a few boners now and then, go off half-cocked, make `asses’ of ourselves…”) and the great montage of events that cause Homer to fill the swear jar. I particularly love his intense fury over Flanders getting work in a commercial.
– Homer’s drunken postcard to Marge from the Duff Brewery: instant classic (” Maybe it’s the beer talking, Marge, but you got a butt that won’t quit. They got those big chewy pretzels here merJanthfgrr five dollars??!!!? get outta here…”)
– I do like Bart taking in an Ernest movie before he witnesses how far he’s broken his teacher. Then, of course, the great second act closing line: “I can’t help but feel partly responsible.”
– Two more things on the other plot: I love the sequence of Homer’s attempts to restrain himself. He steps on a nail (with a disturbing sound effect) and through gritted teeth comments, “Fiddle-dee-dee, that will require a tetanus shot.” Then there’s his joy over seeing his wife’s present to him: “Beer! How did you know?”
– Homer is especially a great help during the letter, from his initial draft (Dear Baby, Welcome to Dumpville. Population—You.) and his insistence on including “I am gay.”