(originally aired November 24, 1996)
This is an episode with a pretty out there plot, but rides and succeeds based on the pitch perfect characterizations. It shows this series can tackle just about any story and work as long as we stay mindful of our beloved characters. Things start off naturally enough as Lisa gets adamant about a new cause: cleaning up a sizable oil spill devastating a distant beach. We see celebrities like Rainier Wolfcastle and his buxom companion cleaning up and mugging for the camera in their staged publicity stunt, but we also see that a righteous Lisa isn’t much different. True, she probably cares a lot more for the cause than those Hollywood phonies, but we also see how flighty she is with her environmental activism (justified in that she’s frigging eight), and devastated when she arrives that she won’t get to clean and save cute little animals. After much cajoling, Marge agrees to take Lisa to the beach, leaving Homer and Bart to their own devices. Suffice to say, the house quickly becomes a wreck. Marge had kept the boys just on the edge of civilized, and it’s great to see how low they can go, be it Bart gargling with soda or Homer answering the door wearing a grocery bag (with groceries in it.)
The main story kicks in when Bart’s horseplay leads to the destruction of a rooftop gargoyle on a house belonging to a witch (at least according to child folklore.) Owner Belle arrives at the Simpson house expecting Bart to be punished, and Homer, not wanting Marge to find out down the line, demands Bart do chores for the woman to pay off his debt. But neither of them know Belle’s actual business: the house is actually a gentleman’s club called the Maison Derriere, where Bart performs a bevy of tasks from being doorman to subbing for the unusually short opening act. It’s a pretty risque show, but this kind of subject matter has never stopped the series before. A particularly great scene involves Homer’s discovery of where he sent his son to work, consisting of Belle apologizing for any miscommunication whilst he is dumbstruck by a nude Princess Kashmir on stage. I like Bart’s childish naughtiness in volunteering to sort through a trunk of bras, and later seeing the slightly perverted side of Springfield’s citizens, including Principal Skinner, who brings Bart’s work to the attention of the Lovejoys and the Flanderses. The second act break may be my favorite of the series, where Homer gets incredibly adamant in defense of his decision, then immediately deflates when he sees Marge standing there (“Now, Marge, you’re gonna hear a lot of crazy talk about Bart working in a burlesque house…”)
Not seen since “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” Marge leads a moral crusade against this previously underground establishment, effectively guilt tripping the town into siding with her upon showing damning photographs of various citizens attending the burlesque house, including Mayor Quimby (“That could be any mayor!”) The town is in true angry mob form as they storm the Maison, smashing and setting fire to the area. How best to mollify this situation? Through song, of course. “We Put the Spring in Springfield” is one of the show’s hallmark songs, incredibly catchy, entertaining, and full of overt euphemisms (those ladies sure put the “boing” in Springfield alright…) It also culminates into a great self aware moment about these kinds of ridiculous songs, where Marge comes in late with a bulldozer and is shocked to find a song has completely changed everybody’s minds, and that they can’t re-sing it since it was so spur of the moment. Marge attempts to come up with her own song, but accidentally rams the dozer into the house. One of my favorite lines from the whole series is from Lovejoy, “Thanks a lot, Marge. That was our only burlesque house.” This man of God who three minutes ago was totally against the place is devastated to see it gone. But that’s the power of the spontaneous song. A hilarious and showstopping episode if I ever saw one.
Tidbits and Quotes
– After a quick V-Chip joke, we get a really crazy, almost dark Itchy & Scratchy, with the set up of a talk show with Scratchy as the abused victim on stage. Itchy breaks a bottle, comes out from backstage to full applause, Scratchy gets down and begs for his life and Itchy lunges the bottle at him before the show is cut off by a news announcement. How horrifying…..ly funny.
– Of all the beaches the tanker could have crashed in, of course it was Baby Seal Beach. Also great seeing a drunken Captain McAlister offering Dave Shutton a hundred buck to take the blame for the accident on camera.
– Great animation and performance by Yeardley Smith of Lisa play-acting for her mother on how much she loves that peach tree.
– The time fade of Bart and Homer doing garbage angels to seeing them passed out on a floor covered in garbage is so funny and disturbing at the same time. A day has passed and they’re literally stewing in their own filth.
– Don’t know if I buy Martin wanting to hang out with Ralph. But we do get the great Burns line when he sees the two running away from the toy plane (“I don’t like being outdoors, Smithers. For one thing, there are too many fat children.”)
– Wonderful performance by Tress MacNeille as Belle in this episode. I feel later seasons would overuse her as every single woman and child voice, but she had a few memorable performances here and there. Belle has a particular affectation and rhythm I haven’t heard from any of her other many many characters.
– Classic bit where Homer drops Bart off at Belle’s saying he needs to take responsibility for his actions, then accidentally pulls up on the curb, knocking over the mailbox, screams and quickly drives off.
– There’s a lot of quick risque stuff in this show; at the start of the second act we see a girl coming to Belle in a bustier, which we see from Bart’s perspective with extra care in the animation to emphasize her heaving bosom. Bart is clearly on board with this. As am I.
– My favorite scene is definitely when Grampa walks in the door, turns to put his hat on the rack, turns back to see Bart, turns back to get his hat, and then out the door. All while whistling. He peeks his head in and asks, “Is your name ‘Bart’?” Bart only has to nod. Grampa demands if his father knows he’s working there. Bart says it was Homer’s idea. Grampa is convinced, walking back in asking for a whiskey sour.
– Love Bart on stage telling the slightly lame jokes, but the crowd laughs uproariously at them because I assume they’re all drunk.
– Homer takes a moment to observe the many pictures on the Maison Derriere’s wall (“President Eisenhower celebrates 40th wedding anniversary. Not pictured, Mrs. Eisenhower.”)
– I love how Skinner tries to cover his tracks when he realizes that Bart is the doorman at the burlesque house, and then later when the Lovejoys and Flanderses show up at Homer’s door. Helen tells them Skinner found out about Bart, then he pops up from below, almost like he was hiding in shame, to defend himself (“That’s true, but I was only in there to get directions on how to get away from there.”)
– The scene where Marge demands Belle get out of town is fantastic, where Belle is really just toying with Marge, and she is incredibly adamant toward her cause (“Sleazy entertainment and raunchy jokes will never be as popular as sobriety and self-denial.”)
– The town hall meeting is full of great stuff, like the townspeople angrily defending the structural stability of the house in question, and the various calls of shock at the slideshow of people leaving the Maison Derriere. When no one comments on Barney’s picture, Moe steps up out of obligation, and Burns is surprised to see Smithers up there (“My parents insisted I give it a try, sir.”)
– So yeah, the song is fantastic. I’m sure you know that if you’re reading this. Probably goes in third after the Planet of the Apes musical and “You Can Always Depend on the Kindness of Strangers.” I also like the ending with Marge’s lame ventriloquism act, and Homer’s lewd “Take it off!” leading to Bart kicking him out.