(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exaggerated to comic effect, Springfield Elementary still looks like your typical underfunded school with its long outdated textbooks and poor cafeteria options (“There’s very little meat in these gym mats.”)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.”