206. Bart the Mother

(originally aired September 27, 1998)
Where “Wizard” was aggressively awful, this episode is of a different color, namely in that it’s incredibly dry from start to finish. Even despite a third act twist that seems like it should be a lot more biting, the tone throughout this show remains constant, and it’s something I can’t quite place. Marge forbids Bart from hanging out with troublemaker Nelson, but he ignores her plea so he can try out the hoodlum’s new BB gun. Bart ends up accidentally killing an innocent bird, which Marge finds out about, causing her to effectively give up on her son, having been disappointed one too many times. This show has shades of “Marge Be Not Proud” in it’s about Bart trying to do right by his mother, except this one feelssomuch more heavy-handed. Nelson taunting Bart to shoot the bird feels like it belongs in an after-school special about peer pressure, and his remorse afterward basically engulfs the entire episode. The first act ends with an extended slow zoom on Bart dropping the gun and looking regretful. The rest of the show never shakes this bummer feeling.

Bart finds two lone eggs in the newly empty nest and takes it upon himself to care for the orphaned birds until they hatch. Sounds scintillating, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t say it’s wildly out of character for Bart to want to make good for what he did, but it’s not something I’m that interested in watching, and there’s not much in terms of jokes you can milk from it. Act two is kind of one big dead zone. Around that you have Marge’s dissatisfaction with her son, which I felt worked a lot better in “Proud.” Her disillusionment of Bart stealing was a whole lot more interesting than her over dramatic throwing up of her hands (“You wanna play with little hoodlums? Fine. Have fun killing things.”) As if the episode wasn’t overbearing enough. The mother-son disconnect in “Proud” felt very genuine and purposeful, but here, it feels very sour, and gives the entire episode this feeling of unease and displeasure. Not that I want every episode to be a laugh riot, but I don’t want to feel down either.

The clever twist is that the two eggs hatch and reveal two Bolivian tree lizards, a species who eat bird’s eggs and lay their own in their place, so their newly hatched young can feast upon the mother bird. Bart comes to find that the lizards are federally banned for this reason, and the local birdwatching society seeks to put an end to them. It’s kind of interesting, but given that you need to have a scene or two with what the lizards are and their back story explained, it’s not as easy to digest to make it a fantastic twist. This whole thing gives us more sad, crying Bart, who’s come to care for these lizards, and Marge assists him to get away from the birdwatching mob. In the end, the lizards are set free, but end up being an unseen blessing in that they dramatically reduce the pigeon population in Springfield, though now they’re overrun with lizards instead. When this episode wasn’t making me uncomfortable, it was boring more than anything, with only a few select laughs to cut through the doldrums. Ultimately, it’s just downright forgettable.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I do like the bit at the very beginning with Homer’s mail call (“One stinkin’ letter? Why’d you make us gather ’round like that?” “I needed my power fix.”)
– The Family Fun Center set piece isn’t fantastic, but it’s got a few good things: Marge’s slow and steady speed on the go-karts, and Nelson knocking Milhouse’s kart off the track, which of course bursts into flames, and Bart’s pathetic choice of prizes with his paltry amount of tickets. But then we also have Homer at the batting cage, which is just him wailing and getting repeatedly hurt, though I do Bart and Lisa’s commentary as balls continue to pelt their father’s motionless body (“Hang in there, Dad, just half a basket left!” “Wow, you sure get a lot of balls for a quarter.”)
– I kinda like how Bart purposely aims to miss the bird but hits it anyway, with Nelson commenting how Bart’s such a pro for compensating for the crooked sight.
– In his last appearance, Troy McClure stars in “Birds: Our Fine Feathered Colleagues,” a video which is pretty much the only bright spot here. Hartman is golden as always (“Precious eggs. If they’re to survive, they require the gentle warmth and tender love that only a mother can provide. Or better yet, a seventy-five watt bulb.”) Maybe not the best episode to go out on, but with the video ending with his callous response to little Jimmy and giving a big ol’ shit-eating grin to the camera, that’s just how I want to remember him. Farewell, Mr. McClure.
– Call me hypocritical for besmirching the batting cage bit, but I like Homer repeatedly falling down the stairs. First it works as a quick joke where Bart talks about finding a light bulb “lying around,” then we see Homer flick on the absent basement light and take a tumble. Then we see it again randomly in a montage, then much later after the whole lizard reveal and you’ve forgotten about it, Homer says he’s going to eat the remaining pies in the basement, and we get hit once more with it. That’s the way you make Homer getting hurt gratuitously be funny.
– The birdwatching society is filled with recognizable faces, some of which make sense, some don’t. Skinner is perfect as the head, some like Jasper, Apu and even Moe make a little sense, but Edna? Mr. Burns? Kind of like bringing back Alison in “Lard of the Dance,” this is more of a burgeoning trend of inserting as many recognizable characters into scenes as possible, without much regard whether it makes sense for them to be there.
– Like Skinner’s listing of the tree lizard’s target birds (“It’s already wiped out the Dodo, the Cuckoo, and the Ne-Ne, and it has nasty plans for the Booby, the Titmouse, the Woodcock, and the Titpecker.”) But I don’t care for how bloodthirsty he seems to be: putting the lizards in the paper cutter works as a quick gag, then he proceeds to hold up a power drill and talking about preparing for splatter, that doesn’t seem like Skinner. Also, this exchange (“Wow, did you know they had those webbed flaps for gliding?” “Yes, but I was hoping they didn’t know that.”) Why is Skinner a moron all of a sudden?
– Nice paltry gift Quimby bestows upon Bart for unleashing the lizards: a scented candle (“Mmmm… loganberry.”)


11 responses to “206. Bart the Mother

  1. This was Mike’s last post that didn’t get a single episode.

  2. Mr. Burns at the birdwatching group makes sense, considering his extensive bird collection in his house in “Last Exit to Springfield”

  3. I quite like this episode, but there’s a pretty huge plot hole (or “idiot ball” for the whole Birdwatching Society). They act as if Bart’s lizards being released will introduce them to Springfield… but no-one seems to wonder about what happened to the *original* pair of lizards (the ones who laid and fertilised the eggs)… or any other offspring they might have.

  4. Two bits I like: Lisa and Maggie playing skee-ball (Maggie’s little “victory dance” is too cute) and Bart’s bird tribunal daydream. But otherwise yeah this episode is quite boring.

  5. I agree, this is a boring version of “Marge be not proud”. In that episode Bart was more in character, but here, I don’t buy him immediately feeling regretful for killing that bird. I mean, Bart is not Lisa, he is similar to Nelson in some way, he should have not cared about it until Marge discovered it(he’s not mean, but he’s still a little devil); instead he’s becoming more and more of a whining observant kid.
    I think an episode around Bart killing an animal would have been pure gold if it was done during season 1 or 2.

  6. This episode is everything DHS accuses “Marge Be Not Proud” of being, but with worse pacing and no decent jokes. Terrible.

  7. I like the batting cage bit, but what I don’t like is the batting helmet line from Lisa/Homer, like it wasn’t an obvious enough setup that Homer was going to get hit by a few dozen baseballs…

  8. Not a bad episode, but not a great one either. But there are some moments you didn’t mention that I like:

    “I don’t get it, Bart. You got all upset when you killed one bird but now you’ve killed tens of thousands and it doesn’t bother you at all.”
    “Hey, you’re right!”

    “Hey, that’s cheating!” (steals tickets)

    “What happens when we’re overrun by lizards?”
    “No problem. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They’ll wipe out the lizards.”
    “But aren’t the snakes even worse?”
    “Yes, but we’re prepared for that. We’ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.”
    “Then we’re stuck with gorillas!”
    “No, that’s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.”

    “You can just call me mother. No, wait, that sounds kind of fruity. Just call me mom.”

  9. Also, one thing people haven’t really mentioned is that we’re at a point when the writers seem to give the audience a lot less credibility. There are way more jokes that the writers feel the need to explain; for instance, Homer’s comment about Halley’s comet colliding with the moon, only for Lisa to point out that never happened. If this was a classic era episode the joke would probably end after Homer’s line, but obviously the audience of zombie Simpsons is too stupid to understand that Halley’s comet never collided with the moon.

  10. I feel like this episode is the closest the Scully era came to imitating the Oakley/Weinstein era. With some tweaking, this could’ve easily been mistaken for an episode from that 1995-1997 period.

    Favorite moments:
    -“Cram it, ma’am.”
    -“Nelson’s a troubled, lonely, sad little boy. He needs to be isolated from everyone.” Like the exact opposite of moralistic advice.
    -“MILHOUSE!” “Whaaat?” “TELL BART TO COME HOME!” “I think he’s at Nelson’s!” “WHOOOO’S NELSON?”
    -The running gag of Homer falling down the basement stairs
    -“What’s taking so long? Bart was born in about five minutes.” “Actually, it took 53 hours.” “Really? Well time just flew by, didn’t it?”

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