98. Bart Gets An Elephant

(originally aired March 31, 1994)
There have been a handful of episodes this season that have showcased rather flimsy, meandering plot lines. However, laughter can excuse almost anything, and if the episode is funny enough, it usually gets a pass, and can become pretty memorable based on a particularly great bit or two alone. “Bart Gets An Elephant” has probably the loosest premise of any episode so far, and isn’t really the funniest of this season, but damn I still loved it anyway. It’s also pretty memorable despite being so ridiculous; what Simpsons fan could forget about Stampy? Stupidity aside, this show does have its share of genius moments, and some nice character stuff with Bart, caring for his pet elephant and calling for it like Lassie. As dumb as this episode can get, there’s still an emotional core buried in there somewhere.

We open with an unrelated tangent in Marge forcing the family to do a little spring cleaning around the house. We get a few funny parts here, with Homer treasuring decade-old newspapers and TV Guides and Bart virtually erasing a Grant Wood original out of boredom. It also has a great capper, where two seconds after the house is spotless, it becomes messy again, basically negating the four minutes we’ve just watched. The “plot” kicks in when Bart is the call-in winner for a KBBL radio contest, but rather than take the cash prize, he is adamant on receiving the gag gift: an African elephant. And in the end, that’s what Bart gets; act one ends with an elephant being left on the Simpson lawn. Never mind how those radio numbskulls got their hands on one. I like to think that they stole it from a zoo or animal sanctuary. From this point, the show becomes a cross between “Lisa’s Pony” in the family must deal with the financial hardship of such an extravagant animal, and the beginning of “Bart’s Inner Child” where Homer starts a home-based racket charging people money to see and ride the elephant.

I hate that I brought up “Lisa’s Pony” just then, because this just isn’t that caliber of episode. Bart cares for Stampy, but nowhere near the girlish dream fulfillment that Princess was to Lisa. But again, this episode is about the laughs. Homer is set on selling Stampy to an ivory dealer (who according to his logic is less likely to harm the elephant compared to someone whose ivory supplies are low.) Bart sets to run away with his pet, but Stampy goes on a rampage and ends up missing. They end up at the Springfield Tar Pits, and after the elephant saves him from sinking, Homer has a change of heart (begrudgingly) and gives the animal to a local wildlife preserve. By act three, everything felt very by-the-numbers, like of course Stampy was going to end up at the reserve, and was going to save Homer to get him to change his mind. Even with the pieced-together plot, there are still enough laughs and memorable moments to retain this one’s ‘classic’ status. Kudos to you, Stampy.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great line reading on Homer’s confused, questioning “D’oh?” when no one fights him on his calling of cleaning the basement. Seeing the horrendous shape the cellar is in, he sees why.
– Nice appearance by President Clinton, playing sax in the Little White Girls Blues Quartet. Moe drives by and yells at him to get back to work. A nonplussed Clinton responds, “Make me!”
I love how sloooow Homer is to process that Bart is taking an elephant over ten thousand dollars; when he finally gets it, he freaks out (“With $10,000, we’d be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things like… love!”) Marge recommends double-ply windows, which no one else cares for. Lisa puts in her two cents regarding cruelty to animals, in which Homer bluntly responds, “Go to your room.”
– I don’t think this is the first time we’ve seen Bill and Marty, but it’s probably the longest we’ve seen them on screen. They’re really exposed as two chuckle head morons who have to make good with their boss or lose their job. Great is their attempt to win Bart over by using the money to bribe Skinner to spend a year with his pants at his ankles, and if that’s no good, surgically alter him into a bizarre lobster creature (“Now, wait just a minute, that wasn’t discussed with me!”) The final straw is when the KBBL head shows their replacement: the DJ 3000, which can play records and dispense inane banter (Bill is impressed. Marty murmurs aside, “Don’t praise the machine.”)
– I like how reckless and destructive Stampy is; they didn’t pull any punches in making him a real animal, unable to comprehend anything that is said to him, at least up until the end. Kinda.
– Cute bit with Homer noticing a bird perched on Stampy grooming him, then getting a bird of his own (“Mmmm… elephant fresh.”)
– Great running gag of Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II desperately trying to impress the family, leading up to SLH speaking. That “Weee… looovee… yooouu” is the stuff of nightmares.
– More great thick-headed Homer: in the midst of discussing money woes, gawking kids come to the door offering to pay money to see the elephant (“For the ninth time, no!”) That gives him an idea… posting a “Go Away” sign on the lawn. Bart offers up his own sign, charging money to see and ride, to which Homer says, “I don’t have time to read it. Just give me the gist of it, son.”
– Classic first appearance by Cletus the slack-jawed yokel (“Hey, maw! Look at that pointy-hairded little girl!”)
– Classic bit with Stampy marching through the Republican Convention (“We want what’s worst for everyone,” “We’re just plain evil”) and the Democratic Convention (“We hate life and ourselves,” “We can’t govern.”) It’s really not much far off now almost twenty years later.
– I like the pacing of Homer’s plan of escaping the tar pit (“I’m pretty sure I can struggle my way out. First I’ll just reach in and pull my legs out, now I’ll pull my arms out with my face.”) Stampy goes to save him, first pulling out Barney, who thanks the elephant by name somehow, then proceeds to light a cigarette and engulf himself in flames. Seeing how stringent this show is about continuity, I expect next episode to start with Barney’s funeral.

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4 responses to “98. Bart Gets An Elephant

  1. If you thought that SLH speaking was creepy, imagine hearing that in German like I did one time in high school.

    “Ich lieeeeeeebe dich!” It’s doesn’t sound as funny or creepy typed, but that moment became much more ingrained into my mind from that point on.

  2. One of my favorite Simpsons quotes is the “clowns in congress” line in this episode (and of course the DJ’s admiration for the computer’s ability to stay current)

  3. This is easily the stupidest episode of the classic era. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    It’s one of those John Swartzwelder episodes that walks an incredibly fine razor’s edge, where everything is incredibly dumb, and they know it’s incredibly dumb, and they want you to laugh at how dumb it is. This is the kind of thing that plagues the modern era of the show, but this one somehow pulls it off. This episode is almost experimental, in a way, as if the writers are saying “How far can we push this premise into the realm of balls-out stupidity and still make it funny?” Like they took the show apart and tried to see what would happen if they ran it on cartoon logic for one week. Crazy things keep happening in this episode, despite an awareness that they should be impossible in this universe. It’s the kind of thing that works okay as a one-time experiment, but now, when that’s pretty much all the show is, it gets annoying in a hurry.

    • I was going to type that this episode is often considered one of the worst of the classic era because of how ridiculous and unrealistic the plot is, but compared to the later episodes (which pretty much do the same thing, only it’s not funny), this is a masterpiece.

      You pretty much said what I was going to type.

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