119. Bart vs. Australia

(originally aired February 19, 1995)
In 1993, asshole American punk Michael Fay was arrested in Singapore for multiple counts of wanton vandalism, and was sentenced to a brief prison stay, and to be caned a few times. Needless to say, the States went apeshit, crying it to be barbaric and set to do anything they could to prevent the besmirchment of a pure American ass on foreign soil. Even President fucking Clinton got involved in this, and as a sign of good will, the president of Singapore reduced the caning from six times to four. What a ridiculous current event, it’s just the right kind of fodder for South Park to tackle. But since that show doesn’t exist yet, The Simpsons swooped in to parody it. While I saw “Homie the Clown” dozens of times in syndication and loved it from the first watch, this is an episode that slowly grew on me, and between the loads of other mixed quality travel episodes, and knowing more about the Fay case, it became one of my favorites, with an incredibly strong plot that equally skewers both America and Australia, having its cake and eating it too, as the Simpsons create an international incident in a believable, hilarious way.

I love how innocently the episode begins only to have it snowball out of control. Lisa informs Bart that water always drains counter-clockwise in the Northern hemisphere, and clockwise in the Southern (another in a long line of things I’ve learned from this show.) Like I was, Bart is stunned by this, and being a typically bratty brother, he hopes to prove her wrong by making multiple long distance calls to southern countries. His calling spree ends with him bamboozling an Australian boy, keeping him on the line for multiple hours, and because he accepted the collect call, racked up a rather high bill. What I like here is Bart tricks the kid at first, but it wasn’t his intention to keep him on the line that long. Late that night he returns to the phone having completely forgotten about his previous activities, being the attention deficit child he is. The Aussies get hoppin’ mad, they do, as Bart’s hoopla makes its way up to the Prime Minister. Enter Evan Conover from the US State Department (Phil Hartman, perhaps his most understated character,) who urges the family must go to Australia to make a public apology to mend American-Aussie relations.

We get a few bits of the family touring Australia, but the story remains focused on the plot of having Bart doing his phony apology, only to have an additional punishment sprung: a public booting. As the Simpsons hide out at the US embassy, Conover deals with the Aussies on the most precarious of negotiations (“Then it’s agreed: during the bargaining session, we each get two candy apples… all right, one candy and one caramel.”) Eventually a deal is struck: the Prime Minister will boot Bart once through the embassy gates with a wingtip shoe, a bargaining down similar to the Fay case. There’s so many things I love about this plot, mostly how the Simpsons ends up as pawns for the government, with Conover being true to his name and selling them out to prevent international controversy, and when that falls flat, they almost begrudgingly agree to help them. Bart of course screws over everyone by mooning the Prime Minister (one of the greatest scenes of the entire series,) and the family must be air lifted out like the good people of Saigon. It’s an episode that feels as real as it is crazy and nuts, and is without a doubt the best travel episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great covert joke when Marge catches Bart digging his hands in the toilet (“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Bart, use the plunger!”)
– I’m not sure if it was a syndication cut, or I just forgot about it, but when I saw this on DVD for the first time and the Hitler scene came up, I was like, “….wha?” I think it’s such a crazy insane joke, the idea Hitler is still alive somehow, but every time I hear Shearer’s “Eine minuten, eine minuten!” I laugh hysterically.
– I like the impetus for Bart to abandon his Australia call via Milhouse appearing at the window (“Hey, Bart! The bakery caught fire and all of downtown smells like cookies! Wanna go smell?”)
– Homer argues with his brain again over the ramped up phone bill, with him wondering whether he made the calls himself and just forgot. When he wonders if he should tell Marge, his brain informs him otherwise (“Why embarrass us both? Just write a check and I’ll release some more endorphins.”) He signs off a check and immediately writhes with pleasure.
– Hank Azaria as the Australian kid’s father is so goddamn funny… such a loud, stupid, boorish character. Right from the start he’s hilarious; his son tells him the American call was from the International Drainage Commission, he responds in shock, “Oh my God! There’s nothing wrong with the bidet, is there?” The call between him and Bart is so frigging fantastic, where Bart just fucks with this guy repeatedly. Cartwright and Azaria do an amazing job playing off each other.
– Conover’s initial proposal is imprison Bart for five years. Homer thinks for a moment, then responds, “That’s tough, but fair. Boy, go with the man.” Marge, of course, will have none of it (“I’m not going to have my son go to jail over some silly tiff with Australia. You’ll just have to find some other country to have relations with.”)
– The pan through the entire planet is a clever transition, with Vishnu operating in the Earth’s core, to seeing the plane landing upside down.
– The American toilet at the embassy is amazing for many reasons. First, it’s a nice button on the initial spark of the episode. Second, it’s such an inconsequential device; like me, I’m sure no one even knows or pays attention to what way the water drains, making it the perfect stupid indulgent American expense. Third, of course, is Homer tearfully singing “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee” as it flushes.
– Homer jumping back and forth from America and Australia is a tad jerkass, but made up for it with his family being embarrassed and the marine punching him out (“Here in America, we don’t tolerate that kind of crap, sir!”)
– The pub features three great jokes in a row: “I see you’ve played Knifey-Spooney before,” Homer being disappointed by Australia’s famous giant beers, and the bartender’s inability to fathom someone ordering anything else but beer (“C… O…” “B… E…”)
– Quick insane joke of the Parliament building apparently being from Austria, with the additional letters penciled in. Like the Australia’s stole the face of Austria’s Parliament building and brought it back with them.
– I love the Australian version of the Pimply Faced Teen, who is not so won over by the bullfrog’s name (“That’s an odd name. I’d have called them ‘chazzwozzers.'”)
– I like the very ending with the bullfrogs decimating Australia’s agriculture, if only because it was set up in two earlier great scenes, but I don’t like how Marge and Lisa take amusement out of the situation. Similar to how they participated in the food fight in “Homer Loves Flanders.” But a minor quibble, I loved that episode, and I love this one too.

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7 responses to “119. Bart vs. Australia

  1. For years, I thought Rand McNally was a real place. I was a stupid child.

  2. I always thought the “Austria/Australia” sign was a nod to the Land Down Under’s origin of being a penal colony for Europe – damn straight we are, and we even took your Parliament building, too!

    Homer singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was outstanding.

  3. I always wonder why the producers and writers didn’t learn anything from this episode when making future travel episodes like the Japan trip. They even send Homer and Bart to prison, but it’s nothing more than a gag.

  4. The Coriolis effect doesn’t have any significance at such small scales. Only hurricanes and such are affected by it.

  5. Gotta like the bit where Bart phones the president of an unknown, but unstable, Latin American country – especially the president’s aide and his crappy interpreting skills:

    Aide: “Please to repeat again and I will translating for the el presidente.”
    Bart: (slowly) “Which way does the water turn in your toilet?”
    (aide gasps, then turns to the president)
    Aide: (in Spanish) “He says the tide is turning!”
    President: (in Spanish) “Ay caramba! Then the rebels will soon take the capital! I must flee!”
    (he dives out the window and falls to the ground heavily)

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