(originally aired April 29, 1993)
Whacking Day is one of those classic, long-staying Simpsons hallmarks. Mention it to even a casual fan and they’ll be able to tell you all about the questionable Springfield holiday. This is because it’s a brilliant concept, this satire of out-dated, almost barbaric local events continued to present day for the sake of remembering one’s history (the similarly themed Weird Al Yankovic song “Weasel Stomping Day” nails it with the perfect lyric: It’s tradition, that makes it okay.) However, as great an idea as this is, it doesn’t quite fill an episode. The holiday isn’t even brought up until after act one, where we have our main story of Bart being expelled and later home-schooled. I find the best episodes are the ones that are extremely focused, where everything in the entire twenty-two minutes, even if it’s an outlandish gag, is still related to the one story. Episodes like these may not reach those ranks, but are still solid stories and hilarious enough to justify themselves.
Our first act features the introduction of Superintendent Chalmers, a man even more no-nonsense than Skinner, who here is a scrambling wreck attempting to suck as much ass as he can to his superior and sweep all the troubled elements of his school under the rug, namely Bart and the other bullies. The interplay between Shearer and Azaria in Skinner and Chalmers’ scenes is fantastic; we may not have “SKINNER!!” yet, but there’s no doubt that this is a fantastic relationship off the bat, with Bart’s tormentor having one of his own. Bart of course wrecks everything and a livid Skinner expels him, leading him to become home schooled by Marge. This really takes up most of the second act, and around it are preparations for Whacking Day. We get a little bit of the history of the glorious event, and Lisa’s ever growing concerns about the ethical nature of pummeling innocent creatures to death en mass. There’s plenty of great material to be had, from Homer’s use of a long whacking stick to really excite his wife to Reverend Lovejoy bullshitting a Bible verse supposedly justifying the holiday.
Despite my earlier criticisms, the two stories do come to a head in a manner that makes sense. Homeschooling makes Bart more studious, and through most of the second half he’s seen with his head in a book. Visiting Ye Olde Springfield, he questions the factual accuracy of Jebediah Springfield participating in the very first Whacking Day. At the climax, he manages to come up with a clever plan to lure the snakes to safety and reveals to an angry mob the sham the holiday truly is. Skinner is impressed by the applied knowledge and invites Bart back to school. It all works pretty well, and is a satisfying weaving of the two plots. Also a pretty great use of a guest star with Barry White’s bass tones saving the day. It turns into a bit of a music video, but hey, who can complain. Ohhhhhh baby.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The density of the deceived bullies is great; they just can’t comprehend that they’re not getting mountain bikes. Also a small point, the shot of Skinner jumping down from high in the utility room and locking the boys in is pretty dynamic, sort of from down below but with a little skewed perspective. Classic Simpsons really had some interesting direction and visual interest, something that has all but evaporated nowadays.
– The Skinner/Chalmers scenes are just hilarious, with all of Skinner’s plans immediately backfiring. Highlighting the fawning banners, Chalmers dryly responds, “Nothing but transparent toadying.” Skinner backpedals without skipping a beat, “It was the children’s idea. I tried to stop them.” Also great is his much-too-prolonged laugh over Chalmers’ not made of stone quip and his cover of Ralph’s “What’s a battle?” “So you hear ‘r’s as ‘b’s?”
– I love positing about the lives of less-than-one-shot characters: what happened to the comely Scottish lass Willie assists? I’m sure he banged her. Then dumped her. Big Willie style.
– The tractor’s tempting of Bart, with the red tonal shift, is pretty neat, with the great chicken joke (“He’s insulting both of us!”) and a decent act break joke.
– Two great “Coming up”s for Eye on Springfield: The Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, where are they now? (a cemetery) and a nudist colony… for animals!
– Love the delayed reaction by Homer to Bart being expelled, and his indigence over his son becoming a cockney boot black.
– Gotta show some love for the Evil Homer scene, but the flashback crown has got to go to Grampa’s WWII story, in one of the greatest, most disturbing flashbacks in the series’ history. I crack up at Hitler’s outrage every time (“Das is nicht eine booby!”)
– Great Itchy & Scratchy, guest directed by Oliver Stone, recreating the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. Love the dramatic music and “Oh God!” immediately juxtaposed by the bouncy I & S outro music.
– Fantastic animation of Homer’s Whacking Day training, as well as some more dynamic direction, particularly the close-up shot of his mouth screaming a war cry.
– Olde Springfield Towne has a lot of great bits, like the auditions for village idiot and the story behind Fort Sensible. Marge and Bart being escorted out by security is good, but was done better in “Homer Alone.”
– Again, Barry White is fantastic. With that voice, I could listen to him for days. I love his shocked reaction about hearing exactly what the hell he’s actually there for: “Oh God, no. You people make me sick!”
– Miss Springfield’s “Gentlemen, start your whacking!” has got to be the second dirtiest joke of the entire series, following the sperm bank sign in “Selma’s Choice.” Prove me wrong, seasons 5 +.
– Love the stereotypical Irishman, who’s popped up a few times since, who appears to be in good spirits about Whacking Day’s origins: “‘Tis true. I took many a lump, but ’twas all in good fun!”
– Quimby has a great runner of having his aide prepare pre-whacked snakes, only to hold them in triumph immediately after the masses has turned their opinions. Quimby is outraged (“I’m sick of you people! You’re nothing but a pack of fickle mush heads!”) Surprisingly, the crowd agrees (“Give us hell, Quimby!”)