(originally aired April 23, 1992)
One of the show’s greatest assets is its cast. There is no other series that has such a large number of regularly recurring characters, who are all somewhat developed, and always hilarious and interesting, in their own way. There’s so many different kinds of stories and angles you can work with with all these crazy personalities. This is one of the big reasons why it’s so disappointing that in later years the show became so derivative, repeating old storylines and keeping a hyper-focus on the family, especially Homer. This season, we had episodes about Mrs. Krabappel, Krusty, Moe and a few other minor characters, where we got to see more of their normal lives apart from their interactions with the Simpsons. This time, we get a better look at the sad story of Otto Mann, the school bus drive. This is really his only episode, but I see no reason why he couldn’t have had at least one more. Instead, they keep him in the background until they need to make a drug use joke (most egregiously in the movie. “LOOK WE SHOWED SOMEONE USE A BONG ISN’T THAT GREAT?!”)
Our show opens with Bart and Milhouse attending their first concert, starring Spinal Tap. It’s kind of an odd choice, but I suppose a fictional band can be real within the confides of a fictional show. When multiple stage malfunctions cause the band to leave early, a riot breaks out, which inspires Bart to want to be a rock star. You may notice none of this has to do with Otto. His story doesn’t really even start until about halfway through. I’ve heard some people cry fowl about this, claiming, “See! Classic episodes had disjointed first acts too!!” Well, this may be correct. This episode doesn’t have the most stream-lined story, but who’s to say they all need to? The show flows perfectly well to me; Bart’s interest in guitar sparks Otto playing on the bus, which causes him to be late, then crash the bus and lose his job, then live with the Simpsons. There’s a natural, realistic flow. Later, we get tire fire fumes melting Springfield ice caps to thaw a frozen mailman, giving the family a letter that starts the plot. I can’t think of anything more contrived or ridiculous.
Anyway, Otto isn’t the most interesting of characters, but it’s kind of fun to see him out of his element, lounging about the Simpson house, yearning for a can of corn and books written from the vampire’s point of view. Bart gives up his guitar, which works as a call-back to how the writers never really resolved that story, a comment about how kids, and some adults, start things on a whim and don’t finish, and gives us some great indispensable Homer advice (“If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.”) The latter half of the show blends Otto’s story with the Simpsons perfectly, allowing ample time to Homer and Marge’s displeasure over the situation, and then to motivating Otto to get his license. The resolution of winning over Patty over their mutual distaste of Homer is also set up earlier on. Even without a “complete” twenty-two minute plot, the show works completely, and gives us a new look at a familiar character. I only wish the show would have kept making episodes like these, instead of homogenizing every side character.
Tidbits and Quotes
– When Homer found the can of Billy Beer in his old jacket, I was waiting for the “We elected the wrong Carter” line, but… nope, not this episode. Guess I’ll wait for it later.
– We get our second look at an oddly off-model Comic Book guy hawking T-shirts outside the concert. I don’t even remember at what point he became a regular character… season 5 maybe?
– The Spinal Tap members were really funny, which I guess makes sense since they’re a mock group to begin with. I love their interview with Bill & Marty, talking about how they’re big in Bulgaria, “and what’s-it’s-name, the other -garia” and about how they can’t think of anyone who’s benefited more from the fall of communism (except those who actually lived in those countries). Also great is how irked they get about the stage complications (“This is a rock concert, not a bleedin’… splish-splash show!”) and their outro (“Good night, Springton! There will be no encores!”)
– Kent Brockman’s two cents over the riot is great: “Of course, it would be wrong to suggest this sort of mayhem began with rock-and-roll. After all, there were riots at the premiere of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. So, what’s the answer? Ban all music? In this reporters opinion, the answer, sadly, is `yes’.”
– Another weird Bart fantasy where he imagines himself a famous rock star, and himself as the drugged-out washed up version. As always, Bart finds these horrifying future visions awesome.
– Otto playing “Free Bird” on the bus is a great moment, complete with the children inexplicably pulling out lighters to hold up.
– An amazing “fuck you” to the gracious guest stars as Otto knocks their tour bus off the road, which flips over and bursts into flames.
– I do like seeing a bit more of Otto, but he’s got to be one of the dumbest characters on the show. It takes real talent to misspell “bus.” I like his complete shock over his landlord claiming he had mustard, and his musings over his new living arrangements: “Dumpster-brand trash bins are top-of-the-line. This is just a Trash-Co waste disposal unit.”
– Otto living with the Simpsons is filled with lots of great little moments, like Bart’s fake Marge voice recorded message (which Homer falls for), Homer’s fake Bible verse (“‘Thou shalt not take… moochers into thy… hut”’) and Homer quieting down racket so he can think (“I want some peanuts.” “That’s better.”)
– I always laugh at Otto’s attempt to do the driver’s test (“‘Alcohol increases your ability to drive.’ …false?! Oh man…”) and his sheer rage over being reminded that Homer called him a sponge that he slams his fists again the walls of the DMV, putting cracks in them. Either that’s some shoddy worksmanship, or Otto has some bizarre super strength.
– It makes no sense, but I love that for no reason, Skinner gets the final moment, seeming pleased that Otto is back to work. Perhaps due to that when Skinner drove the bus, he was unable to merge into oncoming traffic? For many many hours? That’s good enough. It’s a forced happy ending, but it almost seems like it’s making fun of itself, so I think it’s great. At least that’s how I see it.