104. Bart of Darkness

(originally aired September 4, 1994)
Our fall premiere takes place in the dead of summer; this is two season openers now (“Kamp Krusty”) about summer, which must have made first watchers wax nostalgic over the recently bygone days. It’s a fairly simple story, but is executed splendidly and contains lots of great character stuff and jokes. When they can’t beat the heat, Bart and Lisa pester their father to buy a pool, making the Simpson house a hotspot for the youth of the town. However, a fall from the treehouse leaves Bart with a leg cast, which turns him into an increasingly nutty hermit locked in his room. The show gets its mileage out of pool jokes, from the store (Pool Sharks, where the buyer is chum), horrified reactions to newly added chlorine, Homer and Marge’s adult swim; these are amusing breaks from our descent into madness with Bart.

There’s a neat through-line story with Lisa in the episode, who is put under the spell of faux friendship because of her pool. One could say it betrays her character a bit, but sometimes it’s neat to see her with a kid mentality, seeing this opportunity to lap up the sweet nectar of popularity and going for it. Particularly great is when her brain acknowledges the fleeting nature of her new stature, she scolds it and proceeds to talk in a dim, drawl-like fashion. Also playing to this story is Martin Prince, who is of somewhat equal mind of wanting to gain popularity. He steals Lisa’s thunder when word gets out that an even bigger push-over has gotten a pool, and they leave her stranded. However, Martin goes mad with his new power, over stuffing his pool and rupturing it, leaving him a lonely, broken man without a bathing suit.

The allure of social status kept Lisa from comforting Bart, but with that gone, she takes a vested interest in her brother. But things have taken a turn for the Rear Window when Bart appears to have witnessed Ned Flanders murdering his wife and burying her in the backyard. He sends Lisa next door to investigate, but Flanders returns home early brandishing an axe, leaving Lisa stuck in the house. Even though you know Ned is in no way a killer, there still is some believable suspense, and it’s all such a stupid magnificent mislead; his angry scowl and the way he brandishes the ax, all so he can place it back on the rack of the attic. In the end, Ned is innocent; his wife was away at Bible camp, of course. As I said, there’s really not much to the story here, but this is one of those episodes that’s a lot of fun to watch unfold, with a lot of laughs and memorable moments.

Tidbits and Quotes
– All the heat wave gags at the beginning are great, ending with Homer’s ingenious plan to camp out in front of the fridge (“I got the idea when I noticed the refrigerator was cold.”) When the motor burns out, Homer goes to plan B (“Marge, can you set the oven to ‘cold’?”)
– Even though I had a pool at my house as a kid, I always wished and wondered if the Pool-Mobile was real. Seems like such a cool idea. I love the animation of the water reacting to Otto hitting the brakes and splashing back into the driver’s seat (“Woah, I gotta replace that window.”) I also like how Martin is introduced early, as is his daring challenge regarding pantsing him (“Take your best shot! I’m wearing seventeen layers!”) Of course kids rip them all off (“I brought this on myself.”) Which of course gets called back at the end; Martin, believing he’s arrived, only wears one pair, which after the pool explodes, Nelson relieves him of.
– I like Bart and Lisa’s negotiation tactics with Homer, calm and collected, followed by incessant repetition (a la “Brush with Greatness.”) Homer responds confidently as well (“Let us celebrate our new arrangement with the adding of chocolate to milk.”)
– Not often I comment on sound effects, but there’s some excellent sound effects of the slapping of wet feet in the Simpson kitchen. Real neat attention to detail.
– Great moment with Milhouse, who is quick to ditch his best friend in the middle of signing his cast (infamously rushed to read “Milpool”).
– Stuck in his room, Bart tries to rationalize his position (“What fun can you have in a pool anyway that you can’t have in a bathtub with a garbage bag taped around your cast?”) We then get a fantastic sequence of kids in the pool having the most fun ever, reminiscent of the snow day in “Bart Gets An F.” They do a lavish synchronized swimming routine, ending with Homer in an inner tube floating into the circle of kids and spewing a beer fountain.
– I absolutely love Klassic Krusty, which again raises questions of what kind of an entertainer he really is, as he interviews AFL/CIO chairman George Meany (“Let me be blunt: is there a labor crisis in America today?”)
– The shadow work in Bart’s darkened room is so visually striking, very well done. There’s also great expression work on Bart’s slightly out of focus, twitched face, especially the blank reaction shot when Lisa pussyfoots around expressing her excitement about being popular.
– The Rear Window parody is made quite clear early on when Bart spies Jimmy Stewart through his telescope, who’s voiced by the great Dan Castellaneta. I love his second appearance where he thinks Bart is coming after him, and he ends up falling out of his wheelchair.
– Great animation with, upon hearing a woman scream, Bart reaching for the telescope box with his feet and hastily reconstructing it, then deconstructing it, then constructing it again.
– Bart is shocked in witnessing Ned talking to his sons (“He’s going to kill Rod and Todd too. That’s horrible! …in principle.”)
– Martin gazes upon his soon-to-be completed pool: “My plan has come to fruition. Soon I’ll be queen of summertime. Er, king. King!” The two workmen exchange a puzzled glance.
– Love the reading on Bart reading his twisted play, with his attempt to do cockney character voices.
– Great fake-out in the vein of “How To Cook For Forty Humans” when Lisa finds a wrapped container labeled “Human Head”! Actually it’s just “Schuman Farms Head of Lettuce.”
– Love the Springfield Police Department Rescue-Phone (“You have selected regicide. If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one.”)
– Perfect finale with Martin mournfully singing “Summer Wind,” which plays over the credits.

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5 responses to “104. Bart of Darkness

  1. One thing I remember about this season is that, for some reason, they made a few jokes at the expense of Flanders’s masculinity. He has girlish screams here, and in “Bart’s Girlfriend”, a deceptive singing voice. Not sure why the writers did that, but still.

  2. Little Thin Man Accused in Robbery

    I think Klassic Krusty might well be my favourite Simpsons bit ever. Much like a urine monkey, it’s funny on so many levels.

  3. you forgot the barn scene

  4. This is one I’ve seen a hole bunch of times and still love.
    I even remember when i first saw it, because it was! actually summer, sky aired it in July, and the simpsons was sponsered by fizzy chewits rather than dominoes pizza as they were from then on forever else, indeed the “summer with the simpsons” was the first time Sky started to show the simpsons on all weak days rather than just Sunday evenings.

    Either way, I still love this one. I love Bart’s “’tis Saint Swiven’s day said aunt helga!” particularly the manic reading on heeeelga!

    I love the creepy flanders Mary had a little lamb, I love the “hay bart your epidermis is showing” and then Nelson’s explaining “epidermis actually means your hair” just before Bart breaks his leg.

    I don’t know if I’d call this one one of the best ever, but for a completely solid example of how awesome the simpsons was back in it’s hayday and how it just churned out amazing stories full of mokes this one would probably be the template.

    Oh, and btw, when I last saw this one I found a real contrast in thinking of how the nice guy classic Flanders was an unlikely psycho killer which made all the fakeouts so awesome, but the religious nutjob boarderline crazy he becomes later would so easily fall into the roll of a psycho that it just wouldn’t make that much impact, particularly since zs probably would have him be! a psycho, or at least somehow kill someone by some sort of crazy accident rather than it all being a series of coincidences.

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