148. Bart on the Road

(originally aired March 31, 1996)
It’s amazing how much story some of these episodes can fit in twenty minutes. The emotional core of “A Fish Called Selma” could fill an entire film, while the plot of “Bart on the Road” could easily fill an hour and a half. Even so, the compact running time makes every scene feel integral, keeping the plot focused. It’s amazing how fast the show went from “Bart deals with the school bully” to “Bart gets a fake ID and road trips with friends and gets stranded and having to courier shipments to Hong Kong.” But the characters still feel true, and the situations, ridiculous as they may be, still seem within the realm of believability, at least in this universe. Anyway, the story: on the eve of spring break, Skinner declares a “Go to Work with your Parents Day” and Bart ends up stuck with Patty and Selma. Printing a fake ID and utilizing Martin’s newly earned cash, they, Milhouse and Nelson go on a road trip, under the guise to their parents of a “grammar rodeo.” Meanwhile, Lisa spends the day at work with Homer, and continues through their break, and the two form a stronger bond.

Yeesh, I haven’t even touched a third of the story yet. As I said, I can handle most of the unbelievable things in this episode. Everyone being dim enough to think Bart is of age? Okay. (“You sure don’t look 25, but your unlaminated, out-of-state driver’s license is proof enough for me.”) Parents allowing their kids to attend a school event in Canada with no permission slips or any investigation at all? Fine. I didn’t even have a problem with Bart apparently knowing exactly how to drive (how does he even reach the pedals?) All is excused thanks to the rule of funny. There’s only one thing I have a slight issue with: the sun sphere collapses and crushes their car. No one notices this and comes to see what’s up? Even if Nelson threw the rock, they should still be entitled to some restitution. But they’re kids, so they don’t know. So this is where I draw the line, apparently. Everyone had their own threshold. But ultimately, a minor quibble, and it is touched in the last scene when Marge gets continuous phone calls, the writers acknowledgement of all the silly loose ends.

Running alongside the crazy plot is the sweet B-story of Homer and Lisa. Lisa admitting her secret crush to her father is such an adorable scene; Castellaneta and Smith give absolutely genuine performances, and it’s always great when those two actually spend some time together. The two stories collide when Bart is left with no option but to call Lisa for help, who then tells Homer so the two can come up with a plan to get the boys home. As crazy as the episode is, all of its pieces fit perfectly. For some reason I hadn’t put together that Martin’s wad of cash came from him working the stock market with his dad. We start with talking about Skinner’s trip to Hong Kong, then we see him there at the end when a sleep deprived Bart must make a delivery. And the touching resolution where Homer has the kids shipped home care of Langdon Alger, the boy Lisa has, or had, a crush on. For an episode that goes all out, it’s very tight knit, making for a satisfying watching experience.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I like despite his dedication to his school, Skinner can be just as self-serving as anyone, instating “Go to Work with your Parents Day” because he couldn’t change his flight (“Tomorrow you will learn by doing and applying your knowledge of fractions and gym to real-world situations.”)
– As much as I’d like to try eating cereal and milk out of the box, I know in ten seconds it would soak right through the bottom. Takes a bit longer to act as a reaction shot. I also like how Bart dug his own grave with his snark about wanting to see women in the workplace, biting him in the ass in having to go to the DMV. (“Some days we don’t let the line move at all.” “We call those weekdays.”)
– Love the exciting world of Kirk Van Houten’s cracker factory, with a salt tundra and sled dogs.
– Really sweet scene with Homer and Lisa playing wearing radiation suits. Great bits where Honer clearly doesn’t know what the suits are when Lisa asks, and his gleeful, “This is a lot more fun with a second person!”
– What’s the first thing you do as a kid with a fake ID? Go see an R-rated movie. Unfortunately for Bart and the others, that movie is David Cronnenberg’s “Naked Lunch” (“I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.”) They then go to score beers at Moe’s, which turns into a mini PSA against underage drinking. Seeing Barney and the other miserable barflies is more effective against drinking than any of the anti-alcohol ads I’ve ever seen.
– Love Milhouse’s little geeky freakout (“Spring breeeaaak! Yeah!”)
– Excellent bit showing the kids reading off Bart’s bullshit letter about the grammar rodeo to their parents, ending with Nelson just walking out (“I’m goin’ away for a week. See yah!”) He hasn’t even looked at the note, he just crumples it up.
Amazing animated moment where we first see the road trip, an aerial view of the car going into a complete wrap around the vehicle. The show now can easily do this with CG rendering, but this? All hand drawn, baby. Also great how the awesome bit turns immediately to Milhouse spastically turning the volume knobs like the geeky geek he is.
– I love the mini story of how Marge is home all by herself, and with no kids or husband to look after, she’s got nothing. The best bit is when she must forcibly nudge Maggie awake to upset her, so she can comfort her and fulfill her natural motherly instincts.
– Very true moment that Bart enacts a big road trip without actually thinking of where to. And that Milhouse puts do much faith in the AAA guidebook, and later at the long ended World’s Fair, we see that the year edition is in big bold letters on the cover. How did Milhouse miss that? The answer is that he’s Milhouse.
– Great bit where Smithers confronts Homer and Lisa, who are knocking loose snacks from the vending machine, and is quickly subdued thanks to his penchant toward Jolly Ranchers. (“Nice work, Simpson. …Simpsons.”)
Hilarious performance by Castellaneta as an extremely irate father on the road sick of his kids’ backseat horseplay. Love how cavalier Nelson slaps the back of his head from the other car, and the Dad’s reaction (“That’s it! Back to Winnipeg!”)
– Great montage of the various road trip stops, including one to pick up an escaped mental patient straight out if “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Then to get ice cream. The madman seemed quite cordial (“I don’t think I was rehabilitated, but I guess they needed the extra bed.”)
– Great trip through Branson; a much later episode would have its climax there, but Homer seems to have nailed it down, it’s like Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders. We also learn Nelson’s great affinity toward Andy Williams; the shot of him awestruck in his seat is hysterical (“I didn’t think he’d do ‘Moon River,’ then bam! Second encore!”)
– Nice inversion of the prank phone calls where Homer doles out the angry outbursts.
– Langdon Alger is not only the perfect learned name of a boy Lisa would like, but his brief description fits it to, “a quiet boy who enjoys puzzles.” Also great seeing her kiddish fickle nature later when she tells her dad she doesn’t like him anymore. What did poor Langdon do that was so bad? Poor guy.
– It’s stupid enough that there was originally an information desk inside the sun sphere, but that they would store mounds of wigs up there may be even dumber. Great smash cut showing the four despondent kids sitting on the curb with various wigs on.
– Special mention must be made of the Al Gore doll (“You are hearing me talk.”)
– Both act one and two end with a “Haw haw!” from Nelson.
– I like how when the kids try to catch a train that’s too fast for them, Nelson is a bit more persistent and runs a bit farther than the others before stopping.
– Especially dumb moment where Bart mistakes ‘courier’ for ‘terrier.’ Lisa’s displeased reaction to it is great.
– Love how Bart is asked to shop five thousand Big Macs to Marlon Brando’s private island.
– Wonderful bit when after hearing where Bart is, Homer’s face goes blood red and he must vent his unintelligible anger in the radiation helmet. The read of his silent rage is great (“I will send Bart the money to get home, and then I will murder him.”)
– The animation of Homer casually pouring soda on his work console is great, I love how he runs his finger on the brim and flicks the last few drops on for good measure.
– Great bit at the end at the dinner table where Bart is quite pleased how he got away with it all. Lisa is pissed, Homer is pissed, but Marge is none the wiser.

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12 responses to “148. Bart on the Road

  1. Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo

    “I will send Bart the money to get home, and then I will murder him.”

    My favorite line of the entire epsidoe – of which there are many. Excellent writeup.

  2. This is one of my favorites, which I think is truly underrated. You hardly ever hear of this episode in discussions of best episodes.

    “Amazing animated moment where we first see the road trip, an aerial view of the car going into a complete wrap around the vehicle. The show now can easily do this with CG rendering, but this? All hand drawn, baby.”

    Turns out that WAS a CG shot. The commentary happened to point this out.

    • Hm. Well, that sure fooled me. It’s certainly a different process than CG shots are today, where they’re very conspicuously cel-shaded.

      • I think they rendered the turnaround of the car in CGI, then printed out each frame and had the animators trace over it and add the characters. They used the same trick in “Deep Space Homer” for a few shots of the space shuttle, if I’m not mistaken.

  3. About the CG shots the same method was used for the ending of The City of New York vs Homer Simpson with the bridge

  4. Yeah, you know, this episode is absolutely batshit insane but it works because — as you said — IT’S FUNNY. And it even makes sense, mostly, even when it, uh, doesn’t. Whereas epsiodes today are batshit insane but uh… they’re not funny… or even try to make things connect or work in any meaningful way, in the plot continuity of a 20 minute script. Shrug.

    • Oh, and it always blows my mind that they go and see NAKED LUNCH. I mean I first saw it when I was 15-16 and being very familiar with Burroughs and Cronenberg and having watched it again recently, it’s still a pretty confounding experience. Can you IMAGINE what a 9-10 year old would think when they saw it?

  5. “Purple’s a fruit” was frequently used as a quote in my school days.

  6. The only moment that stretches my believability is when Moe apparently doesn’t recognize Bart. Arguably worse is the possible explanation that Moe did recognize Bart, but since Bart has a passable ID Moe’s willing to take money from him.

    • But Moe didn’t recognize Bart as the prank caller on Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk (the season three episode with the German investors wanting to by the plant), so it goes hand-in-hand with Moe being an idiot.

  7. Whenever I play Madden NFL Create-a-Legend mode, I name my star quarterback Langdon Auger

    he’s very quiet and enjoys pocket passing

  8. On the plus side, I knocked over the Sun Sphere.

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