Original airdate: April 19, 2015
The premise: After a rampage with a bulldozer that Bart may or may not have been responsible for, Marge takes to watching her son like a hawk, following him everywhere he goes. Meanwhile, Flanders gets a new dog.
The reaction: This has got to be one of the worst episodes in a while; it’s one of those shows where it feels like literally nothing is happening, because literally nothing is happening. The story is so razor thin, I can’t believe they managed to stretch this shit to twenty minutes. We start with Chief Wiggum laying blame on Bart for a bulldozer rampage with no reason or evidence. Marge asks what happened with the bulldozer. Bart deflects and doesn’t commit to an answer. That exchange is repeated, no joke, at least seven times through the show. And neither party really pushes past this, especially Marge, who you think would be more proactive in asking for an explanation or figuring out through other means what happened. But if she did any of that, we wouldn’t have our hilarious story, where Marge follows Bart to school, to his hiding spot in the woods, when he sneaks out at night, all culminating in her asking about the bulldozer over and over. By the time she throws her hands up and says she’s done with Bart, we’re fourteen minutes in, and we’ve gotten absolutely nowhere from minute two. After commercial break, we see Bart is scheming to “prank” the Springfield sign rechristening by tearing down most of the letters with a bulldozer. So, after setting up that we should be wondering whether or not Bart was guilty or not, they just openly show you he is. But maybe he’s not? Surely this is some kind of bait and switch? Maybe? Also, what kind of a prank is this? He’s going to change ‘SPRINGFIELD’ to ‘FIE,’ as in the olde English term for expressing disgust. What a stretch. At the event, seated in the bulldozer, Bart has a change of heart, reunites with his mom, and then finally admits he did the bulldozer thing. And then is arrested. I can’t even call this storytelling lazy, because it literally didn’t even try. Was it too much to ask for some kind of twist, like Bart was forced to do it, or he was protecting someone and didn’t want to say, or some kind of subversion as to why he was so guarded and didn’t want to admit it. But why bother doing that? The first two-thirds are positing whether Bart did something, then we immediately told visually that he did it, and then at the very end, he admits he did it. Rousing, isn’t it? This one isn’t as aggressively terrible as other episodes we’ve seen, but it’s definitely going to stick in my mind as one of the worst just from a complete lack of giving a shit.
Three items of note:
– Because Marge can only ask Bart about the bulldozer so many times, we have a B-plot to pad things out. Flanders gets a small little dog, but is saddened that he seems to have a greater bond with Homer. When he sadly gives the dog away to him, Homer refuses, seeing that his neighbor could really use the pick-me-up. And that’s it. Just as bare bones as the main plot. This applies to a lot of the episode, but especially this B-plot, there didn’t even seem to be a lot of jokes in it. Like, not even failed attempts at jokes (see: 98% of the show’s humor now), just bits of the dog being cute and Homer having fun with it, and then at the end, Homer has an internal monologue explaining why he won’t accept the dog. We just saw that with Lisa in “Pay Pal,” and I think one or two other times, even in situations where a character can’t talk out loud to themselves to describe what they’re feeling and are about to do, the writers still find a way: if they can exposit it out loud, they can just think it! Brilliant!
– Bart dons a ninja outfit to skateboard in the middle of the night, and Marge follows suit in her own ninja outfit. As does Maggie. Then we get a boring chase montage, that for some reason, is set to what sounds like a rearrangement of the theme from the Simpsons arcade game. We also get a lame duck joke of Bart skating by the cast of characters he does in the opening titles (almost) every week, and after he leaves, Moe gives the all clear and they all funnel into Moe’s. Never mind why all these characters would be there at night, who cares? Are you feeling serviced, fans?
– The ending is such fucking shit. Right before he’s about to pull back on the bulldozer, Bart finds a tupperware of chicken and a sweet note from Marge, making him reconsider his plan. But just seeing that isn’t enough. We get a thought bubble of the two hugging before the Springfield sign, then the letters drop and Marge is devastated. Did we really need to be told that Marge wouldn’t like that Bart did this “prank”? So instead of just not doing it, he changes plans, instead leaving only the letters “FD,” which the mindless crowd ends up thinking is for the Fire Department. Why is that any better? If anything, it destroyed even more letters than “FIE.” And a giant letter also crushed Mayor Quimby. But Marge is still pleased anyway; she’s pissed when Bart admits the truth, but is placated by a hug anyway. My God, this episode is a huge piece of shit.
One good line/moment: That screenshot above. One single frame, that’s all this episode is good for.