(originally aired February 23, 1997)
Sideshow Bob episodes must be challenging to come up with and write; as complex a character as Bob is, I feel his role within the Simpsons universe is inherently limited. A devilish scheme must be afoot for Bart to uncover, and Bob will be out of and back in prison within twenty-two minutes. Formula aside, all past Bob outings have been absolutely stellar, and this one is no different. Spicing up the mix here is the addition of Bob’s brother Cecil, played by David Hyde Pierce, who options Bob for a work-release program to be employed to his construction company. This is clever casting of course, having the Terwilliger brothers mirror the Cranes from Frasier. I have enough knowledge of the show from bits of reruns whilst channel surfing, that being enough to appreciate Grammar and Pierce’s banter being mimicked here, along with the title card starting the second act. It’s real neat; Pierce goes toe-to-toe with Grammar performance-wise as Cecil, and a brief backstory illuminates the strife between the two brothers. We see that it was Cecil originally aiming for the gig as Krusty’s sidekick, but fate stood in the way, giving Bob the role.
Bob and Cecil get to work on building the Springfield Hydroelectric Dam. Meanwhile, Bart remains understandably skeptic that Bob is a changed man, but uncovers little evidence to prove otherwise. But some detective work by him and Lisa reveals a briefcase of embezzled money at the construction site, which leads to a subversive revelation that Cecil was the mad schemer this time around. I think it’s an effective bait-and-switch; we have a few misleads of Bob appearing menacing with accompanying dramatic music cues, some hilarious (“Madam, your children are no more… than a pair of ill-bred troublemakers.”) But Cecil is the perpetrator here; tired of living in the shadow of his big brother, who now serves as an excellent scapegoat so he can get away with fifteen million. Petty, but it seems to fit; criminal genius seems to run in the family. This showdown also puts Bart and Bob in an awkward situation in that they have to work together for the common good, which leads to an interesting and exciting finale where they end up saving the day and each other. But then the dangerously unstable dam bursts anyway, flooding the town, and Bob is sent to prison along with Cecil, allowing the writers once again to have their cake and eat it too.
I kinda feel this should have been the last Bob show. Or rather, it was the last good Bob show. At this point the traditional Bob formulas had grown a bit stale, so the logical conclusion was to turn the character around, but they handle it in an entirely believable way. Further examination into his personal life reveals an intellectual foil, and eventual counterpart he must thwart. And in the end, the status quo is still restored, efficiently and amusingly. He gets to be the hero at long last, but ultimately ends up in prison anyway. It kind of feels like the perfect end for his character. This isn’t to say that Bob couldn’t have returned and “turned evil” again, it’s just the ways it was handled in the future were either repetitive of previous efforts or just kind of lazy. For all the balls this episode tries to juggle, the Frasier parody, the witty banter, the action-adventure final act, it all feels very cohesive, coming together for a sharp and solid pseudo-final outing for our favorite homicidal maniac. So ta-ta for now, Bob, like every other character, fate will not be as kind to you in a few years from now…
Tidbits and Quotes
– Great opening with Krusty channeling Johnny Cash in his prison special (“I slugged some jerk in Tahoe/They gave me one to three/My high-priced lawyer sprung me on a technicality/I’m just visiting Springfield Prison/I get to sleep at home tonight.”) The convicts ain’t too happy about the song, but Krusty easily sways them back. After all we’ve seen how much they love his show in “Last Gleaming.”
– I kind of like how Bart is pretty traumatized by Bob, a man who’s attempted to kill him twice now. Compare this to the next Bob show when Bart is unfazed by his appearance, playing it off as a joke that he’s bested him so many times he’s not threatened by him. Hilarious, right?
– Pierce is great out the box as Cecil, with a great line read when Bob asks if his brother knows of his criminal past (“Goodness! I had no idea! For you see, I have been on Mars for the past decade, in a cave with my eyes shut, and my fingers in my ears.”)
– An angry mob protests the release of Bob at first, but a cockamamie speech from him sways them in less than fifteen seconds, as Springfield mobs tend to do. Bart is livid, insisting Bob hasn’t changed, and if only you could know what horrible twisted evil scheme he was thinking of. Dramatic music as we cut closer to Bob being driven off. Then… “I hope they still make that shampoo I like.” Hilarious. And logical; for hair that outlandish, he must be using some incredible product to get it to stay like that.
– Great moment where Bart prays to God to kill Sideshow Bob (“It’s him or me, O Lord!”) Homer scolds him for it (“You do your own dirty work!”)
– I love how angry and displeased Krusty is at the sidekick auditions, greatly contrasted with Cecil’s nervous stammering meekness. Krusty insists that a pie in the face gag is only funny if “the sap’s got dignity,” and has one thrown at Bob, proving to be an instant comedy classic. Cecil remembers the incidence mournfully (“When that pie hit your face, I saw my dreams explode in a burst of cream and crust.”)
– Bob is so incredibly contemptuous about the new business prospects (“Just the thought of all that raw power makes me wonder why the hell I should care.”)
– Bob on a date with Edna is a great scene, I love seeing him out of his usual element. Of course, he’s quite the smooth charmer (“I did once try to kill the world’s greatest lover, but then I realized that there are laws against suicide.”) Of course Bart arrives to spoil the evening. Edna is indignant (“That’s the last time I announce my dinner plans in class!”) So is Bob (“That was Edna Krabappel. You only get one chance with Edna Krabappel, I hope you’re happy.”) Then, given the many allusions of her being… shall we say, loose, I think he may have another shot.
– Great bit with Bob and Cecil’s yokel workmen, including Cletus (“Geech gone to heaven, Mister Terwillidjer.”) I also love the reading and timing of Bob’s bemoaning of “cover-alls that don’t quite cover all.”
– Minor bit, but great direction of the quick few scenes of Bart, Lisa and Bob running through the interior of the dam. The part where Bob pokes his head up in center frame as Bart and Lisa run across scaffolding behind him is one that I remember after all these years. Well directed and staged images stay with me, something that would be increasingly less frequent as the series went on.
– Love Grammar’s reading of “Where did that come from?” It doesn’t sound entirely sincere, leaving the viewer to still question, up to the last minute, whether Bob is actually innocent or not.
– I like how Cecil is a much less theatrical villain than Bob, this is his first outing so he doesn’t know the ropes (“I forgot to mention, I’m planning to blow up the dam with you inside.” “Well, obviously.”) He does get a pretty good villain line in by the end though (“And now, to kill you. There may be a slight ringing in your ears. Fortunately, you’ll be nowhere near them.”)
– Great bit when Lisa worries for their doom, and Bob jealously mocks her for it (“Oh, I see. When it’s one of my evil schemes, you can’t foil it fast enough, but when Cecil tries to kill you, it’s hopeless, utterly, utterly hopeless.”)
– Cecil’s briefcase of money ends up over the cliff… floating down to Hans Moleman’s cabin. He’s grateful at first, then holds a gun up to the air, demanding the Almighty to keep it coming.
– Bob becoming an action star to save Bart is a bit over-the-top, but I’m already swept up in the story that I didn’t mind so much. It leads for a pretty good finale though (“Bart, how would you like to do something incredibly noble?” “Do we have to?” “…yes,”) their having to take a breath while screaming to their deaths, and of course the giant pipe being their savior… to all but Bob’s genitals.
– The dam actually bursting and flooding the town is a great scene, even though it probably would mean the entire town got destroyed or at the very least uninhabitable. This should have been the last episode ever, actually. But instead, we get a great scene where Homer says he’s going out to find the kids, which is a great nod to the fact that they’ve been gone all night, then he runs back inside when he sees a gigantic tidal wave heading his way. When the rumbling stops, he looks back outside to find the street just a bit damp… and also Ralph is there in his jammies (“I think I wet my bed.”) Hysterical.
– Love Cecil slyly feeding words to Bob to further discredit him in the squad car (“You’ll live to regret this! …oh thanks a lot, now I look crazy!”) Then later the two childishly fight over the top bunk in their cell.