(originally aired May 14, 1995)
Shelbyville is probably one of my favorite overall bits of the series; this neighboring town that the people of Springfield needlessly vilify to assert themselves to a higher plane. In this episode, we find out the origins of the towns (with the reasoning of their divide being just as stupid), and, more enlightening, that the Shelbyvillians are just as spiteful and vindictive as Springfield. It’s just another never-ending feud over inconsequential matters, with each party too pig-headed to realize how stupid it all is. This is the quintessential Springfield-Shelbyville episode, that does a great job examining the dynamics between the two towns and how each side is equally as retarded.
Through his mother’s repetitious urgings, Bart is instilled with a renewed sense of town pride, just in time to find punk kids from Shelbyville have taken off with their beloved lemon tree. In response, he forms a ragtag group of kids to venture into uncharted territory to get back what’s theirs. Before this, we have the scene where the two groups of kids meet at the city line, and it sets the stage perfectly: their childish back-and-forths and swipes at each other fit, but it’s also just interesting that they’re fighting over something they have no real consciousness about. Hatred of their neighbors is something just instilled to them by their parents, they’re just unknowing pawns in this ongoing stupidness. To push this artificial rivalry further, Shelbyville appears to be full of “evil” parallels, with the main kid Shelby being like a slightly more evil Bart (and his father as well, adapting Homer’s original Walter Mattheu-type voice). The petty rivalry between Springfield and Shelbyville is one I felt could have been explored a lot further in future episodes, but in a way, I think this one kind of ruined it by making it so ridiculously over-the-top. Would you want to see an episode featuring the exploits of Joe’s Tavern and a barely feminized Willie? No, but it works spectacularly for that one stupid joke.
Soon enough the parents get involved in tracking down their kids, and then they quickly get involved in the lemon tree mission. Homer’s mindset is brilliantly encapsulated in the few scenes where they find the kids: he’s initially angry and lecturing to his son, then upon hearing Shelbyville stole the lemon tree, immediately switches gears and immediately channels his anger toward that. I’m sure Homer didn’t even know there was a lemon tree in Springfield; all he knows is Shelbyville took it and it’s ours, goddammit. Shelbyville may seem more antagonistic than Springfield, but the latter did burn down the former’s city hall, so both cities are pretty reprehensible. The plot basically would have been the same if the cities were reversed, but not quite as satisfying for us. Throughout all the silly assholery in this universe, we’re still pleased as punch as Flanders’ RV drives the lemon tree back through the city line… and laugh when they inadvertently damage a large portion of their sacred icon.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Nice ridiculous fantasy as Bart imagines being labeled a future God by writing his name in wet cement (“He must have been much smarter than his sister Lisa, about whom we know nothing.”) They’re a people who can bring a person back to life with what must only be a speck of DNA, but are absolutely amazed by a simple yo-yo trick.
– I like the quick montage of Bart and Milhouse running to the lemon tree, with Milhouse repeatedly stumbling and injuring himself over nice, light music. It’s not really emphasized as a joke, it’s just kind of there, just a quick illustration over the disparity between hero and sidekick. This ain’t Milhouse’s show.
– Because the kids know nothing about the ongoing feud, they must invent stuff to be angry about on their level. Milhouse accuses the Shelbyville kids of copying their habit of wearing their backpacks over one shoudler. He’s rather incensed about it (“Step over this line and say that! I’ll kick your butt! …at Nintendo.”)
– Grampa regales the kids with the story of the origin of the two towns (“Hey everybody! An old man’s talking!”) If the name Jebediah Springfield wasn’t silly enough, his partner was Shelbyville Manhattan, who believed the whole reason for their journey was to form a town where one could marry one’s cousin. Jebediah asks why on earth one would want to do that; Shelbyville responds, “Because they’re so attractive.” That tears it, and the two split up their parties. The origin of the rivalry is dumb, and remains so to this day (“The town of Springfield was born on that day, and to mark that sweet moment, our people planted this lemon tree, lemons being the sweetest fruit available at the time.”)
– Great bit where Nelson calls the kids out of class, it’s an emergency and no time to explain. This works when you have an immediate cut to them arriving at their destination, but we see them running downtown and Nelson stopping at a drinking fountain (“I said there’s no time to explain and I stick by that!”)
– The lemon tree is gone, and Bart vows to get it back (“That lemon tree’s a part of our town, and as kids, the backbone of our economy. We’ll get it back, or choke their rivers with our dead!”) At home, Bart tells his mother her speech about town pride really stuck and he’s going to go teach some Shelbyville kids a lesson. Marge is none the wiser (“I choose to take that literally!”) Outside, Bart yells, “Death to Shelbyville!” Homer goes with his wife’s interpretation (“Tute on, son! Tute on!”)
– I love the quick sad fantasy Milhouse has, that his camo outfit will give him Cheshire Cat-like abilities (“Over here, my friends! Or is it over here?”)
– Milhouse seems to be the most irritated of all of them, but I feel he’s putting some of it on just to seem ramped up about the mission (“The kid with the backpack said ‘radical.’ I say ‘radical.’ That’s my thing that I say! I feel like I’m going to explode here!”) Of course I don’t remember him ever saying that. His complaints are usually targeted toward that one kid, which has a beautiful payoff when he learns he’s also named Milhouse, and a great microcosm that the two towns could really have a fine bond if they drop their stupid feud (“So this is what it feels like when doves cry!”)
– I love how dense Marge is regarding Bart’s actual intentions. Lisa eventually has to flat-out tell her mother that Bart’s waging war on Shelbyville, and Marge is horrified (“Homer! Come quick! Bart’s quit his tutoring job and joined a violence gang!”)
– The scene with Martin and Nelson shaking down Shelbyville kids in wonderful: Martin acting assertive is fantastic, then his consistent assertion that his best buddy and protector Nelson will save him. Nelson sheepishly appears and reasserts his cred (“I never hang out with him, normally.”) before knocking out Martin’s would-be attacker. Martin is most pleased, singing a song of triumph while dancing around Nelson, who has such little care or energy to deal with this he just half-heartedly swipes at him.
– I like how Bart’s big reveal of himself to the Shelbyville kids lands so flat, like the name Bart Simpson is not as immortal as he’d hope. They even saw him the other day and don’t recognize he’s a Springfieldian until he says so.
– The scene where Bart has to escape the tiger feeding area by deciphering Roman numerals is kind of dumb, but I still like it for calling back earlier when Bart didn’t pay attention in class, and his solution in recalling the titles of Rocky movies (“Rocky V plus Rocky II equals… Rocky VII: Adrian’s Revenge!”)
– I’ll reiterate how much I love that Shelby’s father has the Walter Mattheu voice. It’s almost like these are the unevolved Bart and Homer. He’s also got some of the best lines (“Get out here, son! There’s a doin’s a-transpirin’!” “Shake harder, boy!”)
– It’s such a stupid, stupid, stupid, dumb joke, but I still love the bit where Ned can’t start the engine because Homer has chosen this highly dramatic and tense get-away moment to cook and baste four turkeys in the oven.
– Homer and Bart taunt Shelbyville from the window (“Eat my shorts!”) Ned attempts to join in (“Yes, eat all of our shirts!”)
– Each town gets their moment of triumph: Bart and Milhouse celebrate with some lemonade (just a few drops, and entire glass full of sugar), and Shelbyville’s resident old man assures the town valiantly evicted the lemon tree because it was haunted, and now they could enjoy some nice turnip juice.