(originally aired May 5, 1994)
What a fine episode. At its core it felt like one of the great morality tales we’d seen in seasons 2 and 3, but surrounding it all of the wacky and offbeat jokes we’ve come to know, love and laugh at from this season. Bart remains at the show’s center, starting with his escapades leading to the main event, then his guilty conscious eating away at him. The through-line is never forgotten, even amongst the Quimby/Kennedy jokes, Skinner’s relentless quest against Bart, and a mini-plot line of Homer living it up at a fancy hotel as part of a sequestered jury. This is another one of those episodes where I didn’t remember too much about (except for the more famous bit), and really surprised me of how great it was.
On a particularly lovely day, Bart decides to skip school, but when Skinner catches wind of it, he goes into hot pursuit. It becomes this great cross between Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and a gritty crime drama, which then turns into Westworld as Skinner basically becomes a blank automaton, an impossible force that Bart cannot escape from. However, he does, in the back of Mayor Quimby’s nephew Freddy’s convertible, whose destination is the Quimby compound for his lavish birthday party. Freddy is just as you’d expect from a young Quimby: loud, arrogant, and extremely entitled, all of which he can get away with… ’cause he’s a Kennedy… er, Quimby. A disagreement over the pronunciation of the word “chowder” (the best scene in the show, of course), Freddy and the waiter have an altercation in the kitchen, which only Bart is witness to, which leaves the waiter brutally beaten.
As Freddy Quimby stands trial, Bart is in crisis: he knows the truth, but admitting it will be exposing his own guilt for skipping school. I like the various turns of the court case that give Bart more or less wiggle room: at first it seems like the case is in the bag, as Mayor Quimby is basically buying his nephew’s freedom, until Freddy makes another violent outburst over the “chowder” incident, which immediately turns off the jury. But dumb luck goes in Bart’s favor as his father prolongs the judging, if only so he can live in luxury at a fancy hotel. The scenes where Bart talks about with Lisa, then his mother, are very genuine, and all reach an increasing level of urgency, until Bart finally takes the stand and reveals what happened: the waiter did himself in due to his incredible clumsiness, in one of the most ridiculous, and ridiculously well animated, scenes of the series. Skinner applauds Bart for his honesty, but in a great bait-and-switch, gives him detention anyway. All’s well that ends well, I guess.
Tidbits and Quotes
– It’s almost as if Bart is forced to play hooky by the beyond wonderful day outside, and coming to school on a prison bus. The kicker is when he looks out the window and see Freddy Quimby in his cool car and hot girlfriend (“And to think I got all this after dropping out of the fourth grade!”) This is also a really tight show, where the Freddy story is set up this early, and is the catalyst of Bart leaving in the first place.
– The almost destitute Springfield Elementary apparently has an extensive crime lab, which Skinner uses to examine Bart’s bogus note (“Please excuse my handwriting, I busted whichever hand it is I write with. Signed, Mrs. Simpson.”) Skinner takes action, as he and Willie grill Lisa as of Bart’s whereabouts, in a cute scene where Lisa giggles about the two switching good cop-bad cop roles.
– I like the grim reality of Bart’s Huck Finn fantasy coming true… in the form of two creepy hobos on a raft (“Hey kid, wanna see a dead body?”)
– Skinner’s search for Bart is a great character moment, with no sign of him at the natural history museum or the youth center (“Am I so out of touch? …no, it’s the children who are wrong.”)
– The Westworld bit of Skinner walking through the stream is fantastic, especially when the music stops and then starts up when he submerges and resurfaces. Another movie I watched after seeing a Simpsons reference, then loved all the more.
– As if Rainier Wolfcastle wasn’t enough of a Schwarzenegger parody, we see him with his wife Maria and that he owns a Humvee. Talk about on the nose.
– The “chowder” scene is hysterical, of course, with Dan Castellaneta being so loud and annoying as Freddy, and Hank Azaria as the waiter being as deadpan as possible. The outro line is great (“Come back here! I’m not through demeaning you.”)
– Another great Wiggum line (“Oh my God… someone’s taken a bite out of the Rice Krispies square! …oh, and the waiter’s been brutally beaten.”)
– Great bit with Skinner glaring at Bart from the jury box (“I know you can read my thoughts, Bart. Just a little reminder: if I found out you cut class, your ass is mine. Yes, you head me. I think words I would never say”) and Homer’s thoughts, which consist of the Meow Mix jingle.
– It’s interesting here that in this case we have our lawyers reversed. Quimby’s lawyer doesn’t look like him, but has the same voice of the Blue Haired Lawyer, who always defends the guilty, but most affluent party, while Lionel Hutz is the cheap affordable schmuck the Simpsons can afford. It makes sense given the representatives, though.
– Odd that Hutz got Dr. Hibbert, normally a respectable doctor, to give testimony on something as dumb as the “evil gene” (“Hitler had it, Walt Disney had it, and Freddy Quimby has it.”) That’s enough for Hutz (“I rest my case. …what? Oh no, I thought that was just a figure of speech. Case closed.”)
– Bart’s fantasy of the future, of being a grizzled (female?) school cafeteria worker is hilarious (“This creamed corn tastes like creamed crap!” “Watch the potty mouth, honey.”)
– Homer exhibits more thickness as he gets Skinner to describe exactly what happens when a jury is deadlocked, and gets increasingly excited about his potential accommodations (“We’ll get a free room, free food, free swimming pool, free HBO… ooh, Free Willy!”) Also, really fantastic minor bit from Skinner, offhandedly calling it a film about a disobedient whale.
– Amazing return from McGonigle, which does nothing to comfort Bart, involving the detective convincing a little boy to testify, only to have his throat slit. McGonigle is not so moved (“Hey, I’m trying to eat lunch here!”)
– The ending with Skinner is absolutely amazing. He commends Bart for his bravery, then Bart gives him his open about having it excuse his previous transgression. Skinner admits, “I’m a small man in some ways, Bart. A small, petty man. Three months’ detention.” Bart begins to walk away, but Skinner stops him. Pause. “Make that…” Pause. “Four months’ detention.” Hilarious.