172. Grade School Confidential

(originally aired April 6, 1997)
Well, my timing is impeccable. Especially for Valentine’s Day, here’s an episode centered around a torrid romance. …sort of. Having Skinner and Krabappel kindle a relationship isn’t exactly an original idea, but kind of interesting to see in action. Harry Shearer and Marcia Wallace hand in believable, nuanced performances; the scenes building up to their kiss feel very genuine, and we buy that they’re attracted to each other, as two lonely people wishing to share a connection. It’s a sweet story overall, but feels a little thin, with things included to draw it out that don’t really feel right. First, their relationship must, for some reason, remain a secret. This seems like the kind of weirdly paranoid stuff lesser minded characters would be nerve-racking about, but Skinner and Krabappel are two pretty intelligent people. Do they really think Chalmers would go into a rage if they ran it by him? What does it matter? Instead, they must keep it hush-hush, and strike a deal with the only witness of their kiss, Bart: his silence in exchange for his hefty permanent record being swapped for some other poor sap (namely, Milhouse).

From this point, Bart falls into the weird role of Skinner and Krabappel’s buffer/liason/messenger/babysitter/whatever. When Chalmers stumbles upon the two at a late night movie, Skinner rushes to get Bart out of bed to the theater to keep up the ruse of a school field trip. They use Bart to exchange mash notes to each other. Bart must watch Agnes while Skinner is out. Atop the absurdity of keeping this such a ridiculous secret, why are they throwing Bart around like this, and why is he agreeing to it? Bart has all the leverage, why would Skinner force Bart to say, “I love you, Edna Krabappel,” in front of the class, when he knew it would inflame him? It’s incredibly bizarre to me. The second act is only saved due to the isolated scenes being hysterical, such as Chalmers whispering to a half-asleep Bart in the movies (“Do you think they actually filmed this in Atlanta?”) and Agnes’ photo album of pictures of cakes (“You can’t have that one! That’s a coconut cake!”) Even with the premise and character motivations are shaky, laughs can almost excuse it.

Of course Bart reaches his limit and exposes Skinner and Krabappel’s janitor closet make-out session to the school. The kids’ innocent embellishments of the scene get the parents all flared up, as well as Chalmers, who is out for their jobs. After a pep talk from Bart, Skinner springs into action, barricading Krabappel and himself in the school until their jobs and relationship is secure. Things start feeling more draggy in the third act; the silliness is ever present and you know how it’s going to end, so you’re just drawing out the clock until the credits. Whatissuccessful is how the controversy begins and ends. All the kids give their own outrageous versions of the story, some by here-say, which when it gets to the parents becomes here-say of here-say, until it goes too far (“Sordid public sexual congress!”) To clear his name, Skinner must make a shocking public confession: at forty-four years old, he is still a virgin. The crowd is stunned. I remember seeing this episode quite often as a kid (during my syndication viewings, season 8 seemed to be in heavy rotation), and I can’t remember what I thought about this ending or what it meant. But I love it now, just how everyone is so floored and uncomfortable they can’t get out of there quick enough. So yeah, while the story is flimsy and some parts don’t make sense, we’re still left with a fair share of amusing scenes, and a solid overall premise. It’s passable. But since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll be nice, it’s pretty darn neato.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Love Skinner’s boring morning announcements (“Finally, the bake sale to raise money for the car wash has been cancelled due to confusion.”) Krabappel’s class is so struck with boredom that Edna must light a firecracker in the middle of the room to wake them up.
– I don’t know why, but I love Homer’s little scene play-acting astronauts for a bored Bart and Milhouse. The conceit feels like childish, moronic latter-day Homer thinking, but it feels really sweet, and is just kind of randomly there. The writers needed a scene where Bart decides to go to Martin’s lame party, so they needed to have him doing something even more lame. This is a logical and amusing solution. And we have Homer mimicking Richard Nixon
– Martin’s party is a pretty lavish gala, complete with an ice statue of himself. Bart breaks the fingers off to put in his class. We also get a great scene with the Mathemagician, who has the power to make remainders disappear (with help of a magical 7). The climax of the kids getting sick from oysters is pretty great; Bart notices Lisa on a stretcher (“Hey, why’d you eat them? I thought you were a vegetarian.” “I didn’t. I just wanted to leave.”)
– The scene in the playhouse is pretty sweet, with amusing bits (“What kind of little boy has a tea set?” “I think we both know the answer to that… a lucky boy.”) I also like both parties’ compliments to each other; Edna finds Seymour’s innocence charming, and Skinner likes Krabappel’s “tart honesty and ability to be personally offended by broad social trends.”
– The scene with Agnes and Bart is my favorite bit of the show. I like seeing Mrs. Skinner act like an old lady; later they’d just use her to be angry and bitter at her son all the time. It reminded me of Bart having to deal with Mrs. Glick in “Three Men and a Comic Book.” (“I don’t have much saliva left, so you’ll have to lick my thumb before I can turn the page.” “Can’t I just turn the page for you?” “No!”
– I like how childishly giddy Lisa is recounting Skinner and Krabappel allegedly being naked in the janitor’s closet, and Homer’s knee-jerk reaction to this news (“Bart’s teacher is named Krabappel? I’ve been calling her Crandall! Why didn’t someone tell me? Oh, I’ve been making an idiot out of myself!”) Then of course, there’s Ralph’s retelling (“Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and then the baby looked at me.” “The baby looked at you?”)
– Skinner announces from the roof they’ve shut up the school until their demands are met, to an audience of one (“Willie hears ya. Willie don’t care.”) Bart assists in creating a scene, calling the local news about a giant octopus on the roof of the school, spurring up a media circus. Kent Brockman reports (“So, once again, I’ve been had. But an even more interesting story has developed high atop this two-story school: a love story.”)
– Great bit with Homer and the megaphone, asking Bart where the remote is. It was in his pocket the whole time. I like how he talks back to Marge through the megaphone for a second, then realizes it, and demurely finishes his sentence. Latter-day Homer would just scream into the megaphone in his wife’s face.
– I love how embittered Chalmers is, speaking how as a public servant he isn’t permitted to use his judgement in any way, and his response to Krabappel’s request to take their case to the people (“Oh, yeah, that’ll be real productive. Who do you want to talk to first? The, the guy with a bumblebee suit, or the one with a bone through his hair?” “My opinions are as valid as the next man’s!”)
– I don’t buy that Skinner would go with Bart’s bomb idea, but it’s saved with jokes (Shearer’s read on “I… have a bomb,” the Armour hot dogs jingle, and the animation of one lone hot dog sticking to Skinner’s shirt, then peeling off.)
– The crowd is miffed about the alleged naughty behavior going on in the school (“I don’t think were talking about love here. We’re talking about S-E-X. In front of the C-H-I- L-D-R-E-N.” “Sex Cauldron? I thought they closed that place down!”) Skinner’s admission of being a virgin shuts them up (with a great follow-up question from Homer: “Hey, does this mean that Mrs. Krabappel is a virgin, too?” “Ha!”) Chalmers is mollified (“Well, it’s clear you’ve been falsely accused. Because no one, anywhere, ever, would pretend to be a 44-year-old virgin.”) I love Azaria’s quieted and hurried read for this last scene, so stunned by this news that he needs to get out of there as quickly as possible.

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6 responses to “172. Grade School Confidential

  1. Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo

    “Sex Cauldron” is probably Krusty’s greatest line in the entire series. It’s spot-on, and one that is still used by many (okay, me) today.

  2. It’s eerie — when you consider you’re doing the episode reviews in order — how often your posts line up so perfectly with current events (this episode reviewed on V-Day, a christmas episode on christmas, and so on).

    Anyway, super entertaining blog, THANKS for doing this.

  3. Two things I like to point out:

    1) Homer’s bit with the megaphone was ad-libbed.
    2) The bit where Milhouse gets sick just as he’s about to pin a tail on a cactus had such incredible timing to it.

  4. “Atop the absurdity of keeping this such a ridiculous secret, why are they throwing Bart around like this, and why is he agreeing to it?”
    Well, its them just being romantic, using their only “friend” to live their love in the most romantic way possible, while still keeping the secret. And about Bart doing them favours, its made quite clear why, when Skinner and Bart agree to make a deal: Bart’s silence for his schools bad records. Yeah, maybe Bart accept too much before going mad, but it’s not really unbelievable.

  5. usodwis r dewoh

    They’re being so secretive because they know that if word gets out about their relationship, the rumors will make things seem worse than they really are….which is exactly what happens. So that aspect of Skinner’s motivation I buy. I even buy him holing up in the school with Edna, newly mad with love. What I don’t get is why he’d keep Bart there with him–that seemed like a bridge too far for Skinner.

    Oh well, still a fabulous episode. Maybe my favorite Ralph line of all time.

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