(originally aired May 13, 1990)
So we cap off the first season with the first episode produced, oddly enough. When the writers and producers of the show got this show back from overseas and screened it, it was horrifying: characters were off-model, the look was brash and ugly, and the laws of physics seemed to not apply to people and objects in motion. It was practically unusable, and left the fate of the Simpsons in limbo until the next episode in “Bart the Genius” ended up being a huge improvement in quality. As such, “Evening” was sent back to be reanimated, with over 3/4 of the footage completely redone. Perhaps this was all for the best though: transferring the Simpsons from the five-minute Tracey Ullman shorts to a Christmas special, then to series seems like a smoother transition than than an episode featuring a deranged thieving babysitter and a rocky marriage saved by seedy motel sex.
The episode begins innocently enough: once again, Marge finds herself unappreciated and unacknowledged by her family, particularly her husband. Fired up by the urgings of radio psychiatrist Marvin Monroe, she stands by the door, stewing with bottled up rage ready to unleash at her husband when he comes home. Having overheard the radio show at work, Homer attempts to make things right with a box of chocolates and one piddling rose. But when she opens the door and Homer lets out a sincere but trembling, “I love you,” all of Marge’s hate dissolves into a puddle of love. They make plans for a romantic evening: dinner, dancing, and a night at the Ye Olde Off-Ramp Inn (another great Simpsons name).
The children are left in the care of a mysterious Ms. Botz, a snidley hunched-over woman who treats the kids with nothing but contempt. Whilst channel-surfing to “America’s Most Armed and Dangerous,” the kids discover that Botz is actually the “Babysitter Bandit,” a notorious crook who cons parents to gain access to their home and raid their stuff. Again, it’s so odd to think of this as the pilot; Ms. Botz is a truly bizarre and unsettling character, even before the reveal of her larcenous ways. Two young children bound and gagged whilst a stranger robs the house blind would be horrifying on any live-action sitcom, but the Simpsons manages to squeeze dark comedy from the set-up, with baby Maggie becoming their savior and Bart enacting swift vengeance on their captor. However, a bumbling, oblivious Homer lets a tied-up Botz go free (paying her triple, no less) right before the police arrive, giving this dark show a similarly dark ending.
With some of the original footage sprinkled through this show, it feels pretty rough after seeing the show evolve slightly over the thirteen shows, but there are still a lot of bits of animation I really appreciate, like Homer and Marge dancing and the thoroughly creepy movements of Ms. Botz. There were still kinks to be worked out, but the overhaul of the episode ended up mostly successful, giving us a very suitable finale: bizarre happenings befalling a simple American family.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Always love the psych call-in number: 555-PAIN.
– “You’re a pig. Barney’s a pig, Larry’s a pig, we’re all pigs, except for one difference. Once in a while, we crawl out of the slop, hose ourselves off and act like human beings.” Speaking of, the animation on Moe during this line is such grotesque, but wonderful at the same time. His face just morphs as he speaks, he’s so misshapen.
– Homer’s expressions on being inadvertently insulted by the babysitter service receptionist are so great; through gritted teeth, he attests, “Actually, the Simpsons are neighbors of ours, and we’ve found them to be a quite misunderstood and underrated family.”
– I’ve always loved the Happy Little Elves. We barely see them now, but they were a brilliant parody of limitedly animated, overly peppy kid’s shows, like the Smurfs meet Dora the Explorer.
– Maggie proves once more to be an infant savant in escaping her crib and working a remote control. That kid’s gonna go far.
– The end moment with Homer and Marge is pretty sweet, with Marge successfully lauding her husband: “The way I see it, you raised three children who could knock out and hog-tie a perfect stranger, you must be doing something right.”
Season 1 Final Thoughts
One down, nineteen to go. As I mentioned at the start, I pretty much write off season 1 when I categorize the classic years. Sure, parts of it feel like a different show, and there’s plenty to be ironed out and retooled over time, but this season surprised me a lot. A lot of these twenty-year-old shows really hold up, with solid stories, great gags and character humor, and a consistent theme of the misadventures of this quirky offbeat family against the world. For a show that broke so much new ground with its concept, its material and its medium, I’d say this is a dynamite first season. Cheers all around. I’m ever so ready for season 2!
“The Telltale Head,” “Life on the Fast Lane,” “Krusty Gets Busted”
I have a feeling I’m not going to make much use of this column until season 9 at least, but for now I’ll name the two stand-out “meh” shows of the season: “The Call of the Simpsons” and “The Crepes of Wrath.”