124. The PTA Disbands

(originally aired April 16, 1995)
It’s interesting to see how well the social commentary of these episodes has held up after all these years. And by interesting, I mean frightening. Though exaggerated to comic effect, Springfield Elementary still looks like your typical underfunded school with its long outdated textbooks and poor cafeteria options (“There’s very little meat in these gym mats.”) Even the typically apathetic Mrs. Krabappel has had enough, following a particularly disastrous (and hilarious) field trip on a thinner than shoestring budget. So the inevitable happens: the teachers go on strike, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. This is another one of those free form episodes that’s pretty loose on plot, with the second act largely focused on Bart and Lisa. Bart, of course, couldn’t be more thrilled, and spends his days pulling pranks about the town. More interesting is Lisa, who without a structured learning environment begins to unravel at the seams, a bit exaggerated, but really funny.

With no reconciliation between Skinner and the teachers in sight, PTA head Ned Flanders proposes townspeople fill the roles as substitutes, which gives us many classic moments from Professor Frink teaching complex equations to preschoolers utilizing a children’s toy (“No, you can’t play with it; you won’t enjoy it on as many levels as I do!”), Moe’s self-consciousness about his “big ears,” of all things, and of course Jasper (“Talking out of turn… that’s a paddlin’. Looking out the window… that’s a paddlin’. Staring at my sandals… that’s a paddlin’. Paddling the school canoe… ooh, you better believe that’s a paddlin’.”) Bart runs all the teachers out of class until he meets his match: his mother. This reveal is at the second act break, but there’s not really much further this story could have gone. It really serves as the final straw for Bart of all people wanting Skinner and Krabappel to reconcile.

The very ending feels like a last ditch effort, like the writers sat around a table for hours and hours trying to come up with a suitable ending, and this is what they landed on: the school gets extra revenue by co-oping with the local prison. It’s kind of amusing… I guess, but feels like such a bizarre and out-of-left-field conclusion to the story. I dunno, just didn’t gel for me. This episode feels pretty thin, but it’s got plenty of great bits and laughs to keep it going the whole way through. …hm. I appear to have ended early. Look at that.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I like the fake-out where we see that fate of the old bus, which is even more dilapidated than the current one, one half on cider blocks resting in the school parking lot. A single leaf begins to fall, seemingly to knock it off the blocks and topple over or something. Instead, it immediately bursts into flames upon impact. Like entirely engulfed in flames. And another great fake-out with the tour guide talking about the old war cannon being very sensitive as the bus with no brakes careens over and taps it… and nothing (“Of course, for safety reasons, we don’t keep the cannon loaded: it’s just common sense.”)
– I love the rich competing school from Shelbyville and its chrome, double-decker bus, and the debonair Principal Valiant, whom Skinner resents (“He thinks he’s so hot ever since he swept the Princi Awards. Those things are rigged.”)
– Great line from Otto, who’s stuck sucking out gas for the bus (“Damn! I shouldn’t have eaten the mint first.”) The students barely make their escape, save Uter, who is beaten mercilessly by Civil War re-enactors. Skinner isn’t too dismayed (“God bless the man who invented permission slips.”)
– Great moment where Skinner loudly tells Krabappel the children have no futures in the crowded cafeteria. When a deafening silence results, Skinner attempts to cover himself (“Prove me wrong, kids! Prove me wrong!”)
– I really like Bart’s simile that he seems to have pulled from nowhere, that Skinner would fold like Superman on laundry day.
– The (almost) act break with the little girl stuck on the gymnasium rings is fantastic. Having seen this one many times in syndication, that’s when it usually ends. How surprised I was seeing it on DVD there’s another scene where the music class can now play the forbidden music: “Pop Goes the Weasel.” …yeah, maybe a good idea that was cut.
– Great bit with Bart messing around with workers at a construction site, then revealed they only obeyed because the foreman strangely has the exact same voice (“Hey! Can’t you tell my voice from a ten- year-old kid’s? Aye carumba!”)
– Classic Homer line in response to the strike (“If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike: you just go in every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.”)
– Lisa starts to crack (“Relax? I can’t relax! Nor can I yield, relent, or… only two synonyms? Oh my God, I’m losing my perspicacity!”) She runs off screaming, and Homer retorts, “It’s always the last place you look.”)
– The teacher’s strike signs are hilarious (“A is for apple, B is for raise”) Hoover’s is more simple (“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”) and I also like how cold she is toward Lisa (“Get away from me.”) Bart attempts to prolong the strike, passing on a message, which gets through perfectly, with one small addition (“Skinner said the teachers will crack any minute purple monkey dishwasher.”) Krabappel responds in kind, “Well! We’ll show him, especially for that ‘purple monkey dishwasher’ remark.”
– My favorite scene in the show is probably Bart wrecking havoc at the bank, spreading rumor that they only have money for the next three customers. A Jimmy Stewart-type bank manager attempts to calm the crowd, then passes the buck (“I don’t have your money here. It’s at Bill’s house and Fred’s house!”) An angry Moe turns to the guy next to him and yells, “What the hell you doing with my money in your house, Fred?!” and punches him out. A fight ensues, and Bart is pleased.
– Homer displays some of his flashing moments of intelligence observing Lisa’s perpetual motion machine. He calls Lisa in and says, “In this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!”
– Great scene of ad-libbing actors as Krabappel and Skinner go back and forth to sway over the crowd of parents: the well-being of their children vs. taxes. Eventually it’s reduced to Krabappel’s “C’mon!” and Skinner rubbing his fingers together (resulting in a great ad-lib from Castellaneta: “The finger thing means the taxes!”)
– Second and last appearance from Leopold, who basically serves the exact same purpose as he did in “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadassss Song.”
– I love how Bart’s “prank” of rigging a gigantic wooden pole to swing forth at the substitute is both preposterous in that no one noticed it set up above the classroom, and it seemingly would have crushed the skull and killed whoever was sitting at the teacher’s desk.
– Marge is exhausted after her first day teaching (“It took the children forty minutes to locate Canada on the map.”) Homer responds, “Marge, anyone can miss Canada, all tucked away down there.”

14 responses to “124. The PTA Disbands

  1. This episode is where my avatar comes from!

    “There’s very little meat in these gym mats” is one of my favorite quotes of all time. You’d be surprised how often I’m able to quote that in conversation.

  2. “I love how Bart’s “prank” of rigging a gigantic wooden pole to swing forth at the substitute is both preposterous in that no one noticed it set up above the classroom, and it seemingly would have crushed the skull and killed whoever was sitting at the teacher’s desk.”

    Even better, Marge reacting “Oh, we had that back in my day”

  3. The joke regarding the perpetual motion machine is that lisa builds a working perpetual motion machine which violates the laws of thermodynamics. Which is why homer saying, “in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics” is funny. Overall great blog.

  4. The last actual prank call to Moe’s was in season 4. since then they’ve done several callbacks, like Moe’s appearance in this episode, never once worrying that people wouldn’t get the context. like in this episode, if you hadn’t seen the first few seasons, Moe’s scene might seem completely random, like it could have been anyone else reading out those prank names. but if you’re in the know, the fact that it is Moe makes it that much funnier. it must have taken incredible confidence for these guys to keep building on a joke they last made two or three years previously. the kind of confidence you can only have when you know you’re making the best show on television.

  5. Lisa’s Strike Preparedness Kit is one of my favorites ever. “is that gum?… is that gum?…. is that gum?”

    purple monkey dishwasher ends up in at least one of my conversations daily. anyone that can spot it is my new instant best friend.

    honk if you love cookies!!

    jimbo Jones watching soap operas in a posh home with his mother.

    and of course, bart flying a kite at night. “hello mother…..”

  6. This was the first episode I ever watched, as a syndicated rerun in 1999. My mom had made it clear throughout my childhood TV watching years that The Simpsons was strictly off limits, but she finally lifted the ban when I turned 13. Having grown up almost exclusively on a diet of Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, I was thoroughly unprepared for this show, and I still remember how confused I was when I saw it for the first time: “Why do they keep cutting away to stuff in the middle of scenes? How come there’s no background music? What kind of school would rent out their closet space to a prison? What sort of weird twisted show is this?”

    I had never heard the word “satire” before, nor did I understand the concept at the time. It took me a few more episodes before I began to understand the show’s sense of humor and appreciate its brilliance.

  7. I love the bit with the “The finger thing means the taxes”. It’s just brilliant.

    I also love the guy at the PTA meeting who freaks out that the PTA has disbanded and launches himself through the window. When Ned calmly replies that the PTA has not disbanded the guy somehow flies back up several stories through the broken window and sits back down again.

  8. Bart: “Ow! My bones are so brittle. But I always drink plenty of… malk?!?!”

    Lisa: “Grade me! Look at me! Evaluate and rank me! Oh, I’m good, good, good, and oh so smart! GRADE ME!!!”

    Bart: “Milhouse! I found a hive of killer bees. You wanna go throw rocks at it?”
    Milhouse: “Sorry, Bart, I’m deeply immersed in the Teapot Dome scandal.”
    Bart: (surprised) “Huh?”
    Milhouse: “However, it might be feasible in a fortnight.”
    Bart: “Wuh?”
    Milhouse: “I can play in two weeks.”
    Bart: “Juh?”
    Milhouse: “Bart, you’ll never get Krabappel and Skinner together again – they’re like two positively charged ions.”
    Bart: “Zuh?”

    Yep, definitely an episode that relies more on its gags than on its plot. Just about all the gags are good, though.

    Even the “Pop Goes the Weasel” one isn’t bad – it’s certainly helped by Mr. Largo popping his head through the door halfway through and snapping, “I heard that!” Might have been better, however, if it had come before the girl-on-the-gymnasium-rings scene rather than after.

  9. Yep, this episode is incredibly thin, but god, i love it! Its all only about characters and gags, but every one is damn hilarious. Bart flying a kite in the night is probably one of my favourite scene in the whole series.

  10. I wouldn’t say this episode is thin on plot, as the plot is teachers have had enough bullshit and want better pay and supplies to teach. This episode aired not too long after a teacher strike nearly erupted in my school district as I was in 7th grade when this episode aired (all of our schools in Buffalo NY were K-8) and the teachers kept talking about how we might not have school the following week if they had to go on strike.

    I’m a teacher myself now and the amount of disrespect teachers get is staggering. Even parents treat their own child’s teacher with such disdain that it is disgusting. Yet, no one has a problem when some sports player is offered millions upon millions of dollars just to play for the local team. If those dumbasses didn’t go to school, they wouldn’t even be on a professional team, so how about showing some respect for the people that raised that idiot?!!

    Anyway, my favorite moment is when Marge opens up the window at night and Bart is outside flying a kite. The way Bart says hello to her is absolutely priceless.

  11. I feel about this episode the way you do about Dog of Death–the plot itself is a little thin, but the sheer number of hilarious gags and quips makes this one a perennial favorite for me. And if I had to compare the two more directly, I’d say I like this episode more, simply because I care way more about the staff of Springfield Elementary than I do about the family dog.

    The ending feels out of nowhere because it was an out-of-nowhere idea Skinner and Krabappel suddenly thought of at the same time after being locked in a room with each other for hours.

  12. A very strong episode. I like the concept behind it. I also like the idea of Flanders being a member of the PTA. I don’t know what it is, but I love that little factoid. The story itself is a little thin, but is well told regardless. It’s pretty good from that department.

    What really makes this episode amazing is its jokes. This is one of the funniest episodes of the series by far. The hilarious moments are numerous: the cannon not actually shooting the ball (“for safety reasons, we don’t keep it loaded”), Otto’s mint problem, Uter being left behind, Skinner insulting the children (“prove me wrong!”), the girl in the gymnasium rings, the construction worker who sounds like Bart, Homer’s line about half-assing work (“that’s the American way”), “purple monkey dishwasher”, Bart’s prank on the bank and the subsequent chaos (“what the hell are you doing with my money in your house, Fred?!”), Lisa disobeying the laws of thermodynamics to Homer’s annoyance, “the finger thing means the taxes”, Leopold’s cameo, Canada being tucked way down there, the guy freaking out about the PTA disbanding, etc. I could go on, as almost every joke is a slam dunk. It’s an episode with a somewhat thin story that is completely saved by how freaking hilarious it is.

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