334. Bart-Mangled Banner

(originally aired May 16, 2004)
People hate this episode. They hate it. Even at the eternally apologetic No Homers they ripped this show apart. Certainly for good reason: its absurdity and unrealistic shenanigans are through the stratosphere, it’s a rather piss poor satire on the then-jingoistic American landscape, and none of the elements and scenes of the show fit together or work on their own at all. It’s a flaming hot mess… but I don’t hate it. Episodes like “My Big Fat Geek Wedding” and “Co-Dependent’s Day” want you to think they have an emotional purpose, but ultimately betray and tarnish our beloved characters in an insulting, denigrating way. This show is absolutely bonkers from beginning to end; right from the start, there’s no mistaking this is going to be a ride far removed from reality. The Simpson kids go in for shots, but Bart remains elusive, leading to a montage sequence of Dr. Hibbert stalking him with needles at the ready at school, piloting a plane a la North by Northwest, and at a carnival. No punches are being pulled here to trick you into thinking this might all make sense, it’s complete insanity straight away.

Bart’s inoculation ends up rendering him temporarily deaf, right before the school’s donkey basketball game, which I guess is actually a thing. Does anyone know about this, or better yet have been to one? Anyway, Bart teases a donkey and ends up having his shorts ripped off, just as an American flag is being unfurled behind him, resulting in a photo that appears to have him mooning Old Glory. I don’t entirely understand why they needed to get Bart deaf for this inopportune situation; he just kind of stands there slightly crouched over as Martin takes a picture. Said photo is reprinted and aggrandized in the paper, and the Simpson family become town pariahs. To clear their names, they appear on an aggressive FOX News-type show which only serves to make things worse. This scene is the only inspired part of the show, the host is written perfectly (“Coming up after this commercial, I will be talking even louder! Don’t miss it!!“) Springfield does damage control and the town gets an ultra American makeover, but the Simpsons are arrested by the government for their “crimes” and sent to Alcatraz for American re-education. They escape, go off to France, then return to America as new citizens.

The episode just gets crazier and crazier as it goes; that’s why I can’t get mad at this show, it’s like some kind of mad drug trip. The first two acts don’t make much sense, where the ultra patriotic Springfield completely whitewashes the town’s complete hatred for the Simpsons. Then we get to act three and everything goes ape shit. I get what they were going for here with satirizing the Patriot Act (the Government Knows Best Act line is pretty good), but the government interning children for months on end with fellow prisoners Bill Clinton and Elmo is just far too absurd. It’s a conceit that feels more out of South Park than this show. By the time we get to the end with the family dining inside the Eiffel Tower, then coming to Ellis Island by boat dressed as old time immigrants, I’m completely beside myself. It’s like this show is just so far gone, it’s essentially bullet proof. What can I take umbrage with here? That it makes no sense? Of course it doesn’t, the entire episode is completely bananas. This show is so insane that a part of me perversely admires it. It’s by no means good, but I definitely wasn’t offended like I was with other shows this season. I’ll definitely say it’s the fucking craziest episode of the entire series that I can think of. Anyone else have one nuttier, feel free to mention it.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The dramatic locking of the car doors, as well as the air conditioner flaps, was a nice quick gag.
– I broke pretty quickly into this one, where no more than three minutes in we get the crazy Hibbert montage, which ends with him tricking Bart by having Barney dress up like him in an incredibly realistic costume and facial prosthetic, then emerges from a rail thin tree with a gigantic grin on his face brandishing a needle. I just had to laugh, it’s just so insane.
– Not only are Patty and Selma in the crowd booing Bart, but so is Jacqueline Bouvier. So much for a grandmother’s love.
– I kind of liked the bit with Homer on the phone (“Appear on your TV show? Tell our side of the story? You’ll see us there? Goodbye? Dial tone?”)
– In the green room at the talk show, Homer instills some crazy advice to Bart (“To stay out of trouble, just say nothing. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t even get in the boat. Just buy some ice cream and walk around the pier. But don’t go into the bathrooms, they’re filthy.”) Then later Marge cites the “don’t rock the boat” part as actual advice Homer gave that they could have heeded to avoid getting thrown in jail. What?
– The Libertyville bits are kind of amusing, with the red, white and blue traffic lights and Apu blatantly referring to the current witch hunt.
– Good thing everyone’s cells are labeled with prisoner’s names, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to recognize obscure faces like Michael Moore or Elmo.
– The insane prisoner that helps the Simpsons escape is basically that Cookie guy from “Dude, Where’s My Ranch?” If any character deserved a second appearance, it definitely… is not him. Also he died in that episode, didn’t he? Who cares.

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16 responses to “334. Bart-Mangled Banner

  1. You hated “Catch Em If You Can” and “Simple Simpson” but liked this? Wow. We definitely have different tastes.

    Anyway, yeah, I am definitely in the group that absolutely hated this episode. It was not funny, it was just down right stupid and boring. All they did was throw random **** together, but in a piss poor way, and let it out the door.

  2. Interesting fact: the donkey basketball game was supposed to be used in a Season 7 episode, but it was scrapped. I wonder how it would have turned out then.

  3. Are you sure Season 15 hasn’t just broken you by this point? I have a feeling that you’ll be a babbling mess by the end of this thing. I can picture you sitting in a rocking chair, mumbling “No, Bart, put it down. Put it down, Bart…”

    In all seriousness, I remember having positive things to say about pretty much every Season 15 episode when they first aired, even the really terrible ones, but this was the only one I out-and-out hated. This episode has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, and it whiffs pretty much every satirical opportunity it gets. It shouldn’t be hard to make fun of the rabid anti-foreigner “patriotism” that ran rampant in America immediately after 9/11, but this episode seemed to have no fucking clue what it was doing. All I know is I didn’t laugh once.

  4. I actually liked the Hibert thing in act 1. Aside from that I honestly do think the show has had much, MUCH worse episodes. This isn’t anywhere near decent though.

  5. About the hobo skeleton comment from Marge… how the hell would she know that and I don’t think a persons skeleton would be that durable…. and if what marge is saying is true then it makes the hospital full of insane weirdos when you think about it 😦 😦

  6. I think Kill the Alligator and Run is still crazier than this one, although they’re very similar in style. I’m definitely in the hate it camp on this one. The bit with Hibbert at the beginning is the only thing I enjoyed.

  7. This episode is pretty shit but it isn’t one of the worst. Fortunately for you, you won’t have to watch my worst episode ever because it is in season 22.

  8. This episode might fool you into liking its batshit retardedness by keeping things consistent and too the point, but batshit retardeness is still awful, and completley unlike The Simpsons. Thats why I hate this episode.

  9. I don’t think this episode has aged well. It came out at arguably the height of intense patriotism in the U.S. Flash forward a few years and people are expressing displeasure with the government right and left, due to the recession and other issues. As such, this episode feels like a product of its time and not a timeless satire that’s relevant in any age.

    The style of this episode feels very much like old school Family Guy, in the sense of how over-the-top wacky it is. However, unlike classic FG, “Bart-Mangled Banner” isn’t nearly as funny.

  10. “the school’s donkey basketball game, which I guess is actually a thing. Does anyone know about this, or better yet have been to one? ”

    DEFINITELY a real thing. I remember when I was 15, they had a donkey basketball game take place at Hauser, in Hope Indiana…

  11. This was the moment, I think, that I knew The Simpsons was no longer good.
    It started out as one of the few shows with the balls to dare to poke fun at respected institutions and authority figures, but by this point you couldn’t ever claim to be pro-American in any tolerable social circle without getting torn apart by loud, angry liberals.. so while they were patting themselves on the back for their cheeky rebellious attitude, they were really just kicking The Man while he’s down. It’s impossible to tell a story about how freedom of speech is being infringed… if your story is allowed unabated. People used to actually have to work hard to sneak unpopular opinions about important issues into entertainment in a subtle and tasteful way.

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