(originally aired April 8, 1992)
I look at Sideshow Bob episodes sort of like Treehouse of Horrors, they usually come around annually, and they’re always a treat (like TOHs, later seasons would screw them up too, but still). He’s the closest thing the show has to a true villain, and this is really the episode that gave him that title, his return from prison to marry and murder Selma. But this is Bob we’re talking about, so he is completely subtle and convincing through the entirety of his scheme. It seems almost too easy for Bob to present himself a reformed model citizen (Lisa comments, “You’re living proof that our revolving door prison system works.”) Again, Grammar’s voice works wonders as he narrates his time in prison, and how he turned his life around upon Selma responding to his pen pal letter. Even Krusty seems willing to forgive Bob, in a tearful reunion reminiscent to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ rekindling. Only Bart remains suspect that Bob’s motives are impure.
This show is full of great moments, a fair share involving Bob’s growing annoyance and impatience awaiting his plan’s end, and having to put up with Selma, a woman on the opposite end of his high-minded spectrum. The best scene is where he cannot contain his sheer contempt of MacGyver, much to Selma’s horror (Grammar’s read of “That was a well-plotted piece of nonclaptrap that never made me want to retch” is wonderfully seeped with polite sarcasm). As much is done to make Selma particularly repulsive (excessive focus on her hairy legs here), there’s also a sweetness in showing her genuinely happy. The episode is also a unique mystery, in that we know who the killer is, we just don’t know how he’s going to do it. All the pieces fall into place, and Bart manages to figure them out before it’s too late. Super-director David Silverman does a phenomenal job here, with lots of dynamic shots, angles, shadow work; the slow-motion sequence of Selma lighting the match is dripping with tension. The show balances these moments of humor and real drama perfectly.
I think Simpsons fans can all agree that Sideshow Bob is one of the greatest characters the show has ever known, and by extension, Kelsey Grammar is one of the best guest stars (really only rivaling Phil Hartman, in my mind). Bob has committed many heinous crimes in his time, including multiple attempted murders toward our ten-year-old protagonist, but he remains one of the most affable characters in the entire series. Grammar’s smooth, intellectual performance, a voice I could listen to all day, plays a huge part in this, but there’s more to it than that. Bob favors high society, and believes in cultural and mental standards. Most of his criminal activity revolves around his attempts to better society: usurping Krusty’s show to make it more educational, running for public office, eradicating the brain rot of television. “Black Widower” is a peculiar exception, where Bob’s motives of marrying Selma aren’t exactly clear. He wants her money? To what end? I thought about this a while before I watched the episode, then I tried to put it into some perspective. This is our second Bob show, and previously we didn’t see him in a criminal light until the end of the episode. This is the show that made Bob an actual threat, a true original kind of villain. The plan may be extreme, but future greats like “Cape Feare” and “Sideshow Bob Roberts” wouldn’t work unless we establish Bob for who he is: the most highbrow attempted murderer the Simpsons universe has ever known.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I love when Bob tells Homer’s he’s forgetting the first two noble truths of the Buddha, Homer indignantly responds, “I am not!” Like he’s genuinely offended at the accusation.
– Great “Cool Hand Luke” reference with the chain gang, and Bob picking up a slew of discarded Krusty shake cups just adds to his seething rage.
– The Daytime Emmy segment is pure genius. First off, the category, outstanding performance by a sidekick in a children’s show, is ridiculous. Then the nominees are even more ridiculous: Droopy Drawers, a sad-sack lanky clown who has a very hot date, Colonel Coward, a jittery panicked mess, Pepito the Biggest Cat in the Whole Wide World, Sideshow Bob (live from prison), and Suck-Up the vacuum, who could not attend, as he (it?) is shooting a movie in Spain. That’s like six jokes done just in six seconds reading off those nominees. Even better is Pepito holding his hands over his eyes in shame when he loses. Topped off with Krusty and Bob’s bantered, and the latter’s sedation by guards, and you got yourself a classic Simpsons scene.
– I always love the bit where Bob muses, “In our overcrowded cell, we became little more than beasts…” Cut to the cell in question: “Who used my chapstick?” “I did. Here you go.” Then, in the most disturbed, shuddered voice possible, “I don’t want it.”
– Bob playing violin for the rocking conjugal visit trailers is mildly disturbing, but a brilliant semi-covert dirty joke.
– A Bob show wouldn’t be complete without having Grammar sing a song, this time karaoke with Selma to “Something Stupid,” which has a wonderful reprise when Bob delivers he’s succeeded in his plot.
– Krusty’s Jerry Lewis-like telethon is a great sequence: the ridiculous cause of motion sickness, his response to Bob’s apology for putting him in prison (“Hey, if they ever open the books on this telethon, I’m right back in there!”), his insulting of Sideshow Mel (a visibly hurt Mel watching at home says, “All I can be is myself”), and the great silly animation of Krusty kicking Bob in the ass repeatedly in clownish fashion.
– Bob’s motives are hinted at in a few scenes, which are still funny enough to excuse. He asks Selma if they can afford the wedding (“I’ve already run through eight of the ten dollars they gave me when I left prison.”) Selma assures them they’re fine (“I got money. I bought stock in a mace company just before society crumbled.”)
– Bob’s hatred of MacGyver’s the best thing in the show. After their “fight,” he can’t bring himself to say one nice word regarding it (“I can’t do it! Even that car chase seemed tacked on!”)
– I love Lisa’s bitterness toward Maggie being made the flower girl over her (“if you want to go for cutesiness instead of competence, fine.”)
– This episode is filled with fantastic animation, by the way, particularly the telethon and Sideshow Bob assaulting the bellhop.
– In the third act, Bob gets progressively more sinister; upon gazing at the fireplace (“Ah, fire. Scourge of Prometheus, toaster of marshmallows… eradicator of deadwood.”) and the scene of covering murderous murmurings as foreign sweet nothings.
– I do like how Bart normally figures out Bob’s plans, showing he’s not just a dumb kid, just one who’s not book smart. The fast-motion sequence of him repeatedly trying to explain the plan to Homer is hilarious (“I explained it to Mom and we were on our way.”)
– I’m going so long here, there’s just so much great stuff… the Psycho reference at the end with the lightbulb, Selma wanting a separation, Wiggum begging Bart to explain Bob’s plot, and the reason behind why the room exploded. I guess I’ll end with the immortal ravings of Bob as he’s being hauled off: “I’ll be back! You can’t keep the Democrats out of the White House forever. And when they get in, I’m back on the street! With all of my criminal buddies!”