53. Separate Vocations

(originally aired February 27, 1992)
Bart on the side of law and Lisa a rebel? As Skinner bluntly points out, “Has the world gone topsy turvy?” Thanks to the results of the Career Aptitude Normalizing Test (or CANT), the two Simpson siblings are handed down future careers that boggle them: police officer for Bart and homemaker for Lisa. What follows is the two taking the news to heart and how it molds them into different personas, but in a way that seems believable and not just product of an arbitrary role-reversal episode. Bart takes in the allure of the power of “the man,” starting with a ride-along with cops Eddie and Lou, where he is allowed to handle a weapon and is nearly killed by a deranged Snake. While this would traumatize a normal kid, Bart is totally psyched, eventually taking his newfound sense of poewr to the schoolyard, and soon teams up with Principal Skinner to be his eyes and ears of the school. It’s an interesting and fun dynamic to see these two rivals on an even playing field for once, and Bart retains his cocky, mischievous attitude as he pushes the envelope of his duties.

Lisa meanwhile can think of no greater fate worse than the one of her mother, it seems. We once again get more sad looks at Marge, be it here dreams of being an astronaut as a child to seeing her keep a Stepford grin on as her husband and son thoughtlessly gobble down her thoughtfully prepared breakfast. A visit to a music teacher further breaks her spirits, as she learns she has given a poor pair of genes from her father in the form of stubby fingers. Lisa has always been a brooding type, sometimes an emotional adult trapped in a child’s body, so it only seems natural that this level of discouragement would lead her to become a bitter nihilist. With her ambitions for the future crushed, she feels no need to be a model student and teacher’s pet, putting her in Marlon Brando Wild One territory (Skinner asks, “What’re you rebelling against?” Lisa, of course, responds, “Whaddaya got?”)

The Simpson siblings’ paths collide as she steals all the teacher’s editions from the school, an act that nearly turns the school into chaos. Amidst this character study show is another great Simpsons look at public education: without answers in front of them, the teachers go into a frenzied panic, now being unable to appear smarter than young children. We also get a fair share of ridiculous cut-away gags, from Bart imagining himself as a drifter, and later as a witness testifying against a mobster in court, with his identity blotted out and voiced over by the great Steve Allen. As minor as a guest spot as this is, it’s still incredibly memorable (hearing Allen get out “Aye carumba!” is hysterical). We also get the first instance of something spontaneously bursting into flames for no reason, which would become almost a Simpson staple. The show continues to get sillier, but never loses track of its emotional core, as in the sweet ending where Bart takes the fall to save Lisa’s future.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The beginning with the three children wondering what Krabappel’s surprise is very much like Homer’s co-workers imagining what his secret weapon is from the last show. And now that I think of it, it’s the same as when the family members try to guess who Selma’s new suitor is in “Black Widower.” Must have been a trendy joke for this season.
– I do love the pathetically veiled questions on the CANT test: “If I could be any animal, I would be (a) a carpenter ant, (b) a nurse shark, or (c) a lawyer bird.” “I prefer the smell of (a) gasoline, (b) French fries, or (c) bank customers.”
– Something about the ridiculousness of the test security and the Iowa testing center feels like a first time too… like first instance of ridiculous over-the-top secret operations on the show. Especially love the old man with the broom trouble shooting the machine.
– I’ve always liked Lisa’s plotting of her future: “I’ll be unappreciated in my own country, but my gutsy blues stylings will electrify the French. I’ll avoid the horrors of drug abuse, but I do plan to have several torrid love affairs, and I may or may not die young. I haven’t decided.”
– Subtext is always text on the show. The music instructor tries to break some news to Lisa: “I’ll be frank with you Lisa, and when I say frank, I mean, you know, devastating.”
– Lou commenting how Mayor Quimby is “polling the electorate” may be the dirtiest joke ever done on the show. And I didn’t even catch it until I thought about it later, and I have an absolutely filthy mind.
The car chase is so well done, with the exploding milk truck as I mentioned before, but my favorite part is the inexplicable part where they drive through a bunch of empty boxes, like in all action movies. Lou comments, “Damn boxes!” I also love the bridge between the two acts, like it’s a cop drama (“Act II: Death Drives a Stick”).
– This also is the first instance Skinner mentions he fought in Vietnam. Initially a joke, this spawned many future jokes and flashbacks, broadening his character further.
– The third act montage sequence is fantastic, with some great music by Alf Clausen, showing how Bart has taken security in the school to an extreme. In the end, he carts off best friend Milhouse, who cries, “Sure, we have order, but at what price?!”
– I love the teachers going nuts when they’re answer key-less. One panicked man cries, “Does anyone know the multiplication tables?!” And of course, Miss Hoover trying to bring herself down from a panic attack (“Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean…”)
– Another great ridiculous joke in enlisting the police to help. Their hounds catch the scent of books in the library, and they inexplicably send a battering ram into the door.
– I like the cockiness of Bart after he “confesses,” and his back and forth with Skinner, as he continually raises his number of detention days. Hitting a wall, Bart concedes, “Maybe I’ll just shut my big mouth.”

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7 responses to “53. Separate Vocations

  1. Sleek, vigilant, puma..

  2. Pink belly, pink belly, pink belly, pink belly.

  3. Did I ever tell you kids about the 60s?

  4. Lawyer birds are real.

  5. One of my favourite episode. Many over the top bits in such a grounded story. Always loved Bart-Skinner relationship here.

  6. Yep, the switcheroo in this episode works so well and fits. The animation is quite exceptional during the alley scene with Snake. One of my favorite moments is how the test grading machine seems to break down after reading Bart’s test. What sucks is how Bart really did change his ways but was willing to sacrifice himself for Lisa’s benefit.

    As a teacher myself, I also find it hilarious at how useless the teachers were without their answers. While completely unrealistic, sometimes teachers do rely on those books a little too much. Of course, when you are teaching math you haven’t used outside of the classroom 20 years later, you need those answers at times just to double check your own math, especially when your mind double guesses itself.

  7. Oh yeah, I also can not help but laugh my ass off when the old neighbor lady watches Bart get into the police car from her window.

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