Friday, March 13, 2015

The Best of The Simpsons: Bart the Lover

In this episode, we get a heartwarming and hilarious “A-Story”, a funny “B-Story” that could have stood on its own, and tons of quotable lines. Yes, it all came together in the Simpsons episode- Bart the Lover.

The episode begins with a “controversial” parody of those stupid educational films that everyone was forced to watch in school. In the movie, a dweeby kid from the fifties is forced to live in a world without zinc. When he discovers all of the everyday things that do not work without zinc, he decides to shoot himself in the head. Of course, he cannot do this because the firing pin uses zinc. After admitting his ignorance, he begs for the magic of zinc to return, which it does. Closely mirroring the real educational short, A Case of Spring Fever, this parody is classic Simpsons. They get the tone and look of these types of films down and play it all for laughs. (Unfortunately, some people found fault with the kid trying to commit suicide, but the circumstances are so ridiculous that any such quibbles are petty and unfounded.) At the end of the movie, the bell rings and we get a glimpse of Mrs. Krabappel’s lonely life. She sadly calls after her students to stay and learn more about zinc. She even offers to do their homework.

Sad and despondent, Mrs. Krabappel goes home. Everytime she finds herself outdoors, it is raining. As more bad luck befalls her, she happens upon a Personals column in the Springfield Shopper and decides to place an ad of her own.

The next day, Principal Skinner is trying to calm the kids down for an assembly. The assembly is another dead on parody of those quasi-educational assemblies that all of us attended in school. This time, the assembly appears to be sponsored by a Yo-Yo company that is trying to sell more Yo-Yos to kids. Miss Hoover and Mrs. Krabappel sit at the back of the auditorium and debate the educational value of the assembly with the following classic exchange:

MISS HOOVER: I question the educational value of this assembly.

MRS. KRABAPPEL: Ah, it’ll give the kids something to look back on when they’re pumping gas for a living.

Of course, this assembly leads to “Yo-Yo Fever” at the school, which slowly drives Mrs. Krabappel over the edge. Right after admonishing her class to stop submitting Yo-Yo related homework, Bart accidentally breaks the class aquarium with his Yo-Yo. Mrs. Krabappel confiscates the Yo-Yo and gives Bart after school detention.

While serving his detention, Bart recovers his Yo-Yo from Mrs. Krabappel’s desk and happens upon her personal ad. Armed with this information, Bart decides to write a letter to Mrs. Krabappel that purports to be from a mystery lover named “Woodrow”.

Meanwhile, Marge decides that Santa’s Little Helper could use a doghouse. As she prepares to head to the store to buy one, Homer stops her and decides that he wants to save money by building a doghouse himself. As he attempts to do so, he discovers that it isn’t as easy as he had first thought. His constant swearing is overheard by the Flanders boys next door. Todd begins to pick up the bad habit and Ned decides to figure out what could be causing it.

Bart receives a response to his first letter as Woodrow. Mrs. Krabappel has seen fit to include a picture of herself seductively posing on a bed in a negligee. Flanders begins his detective work and traces the bad language back to Homer. He confronts Homer and they agree that if Homer stops swearing in front of the Flanders boys, then Ned will shave off his mustache. When Homer brings this up to Marge, she agrees with Ned and suggests that Homer use a swear jar to help him stop his blue language. Homer grudgingly agrees. We then get treated to a hilarious montage of bad things happening to Homer that result in deposits to the swear jar, the most hilarious being one that takes place in church! (We also discover that Ned began getting offers to appear in television commercials after he shaved his mustache off and now receives hefty residual checks, to Homer’s obvious chagrin.)

In the world of Bart, Bart cruelly invites Mrs. Krabappel out on a date with “Woodrow” in order to laugh at her when she gets her hopes up. Sure enough, Mrs. Krabappel is devastated when Woodrow fails to show up. Homer, on the other hand, suffers injuries that would make the Pope curse like Ozzy Osbourne yet can only muster a “Fiddle-Dee-Dee”. Cured of his swearing, he decides to destroy the doghouse he’s been building. Marge takes the brimming Swear Jar to the store and buys a doghouse for Santa’s Little Helper and a six pack of Duff for Homer.

Bart decides to confess to his crime and asks his family for advice. They all agree that Bart has been cruel, but that he cannot confess for fear of making Mrs. Krabappel even more embarrassed. They decide to write a letter for the ages, one that will explain Woodrow’s absence, yet still make Mrs. Krabappel feel loved. (and doesn’t include the phrase ‘I Am Gay’) They accomplish this admirably and so ends the greatest 22 minutes of television.

What makes this episode so great? This episode gets everything right. The Simpsons is at its best when it is hilarious, sharply satirical and also heartwarming. When The Simpsons first came out, so many people focused solely on the hijinks of Bart and totally ignored the underlying love and respect woven into each story. Despite the fact that everything that can go wrong often does go wrong with Our Favorite Family, good always triumphs in the end and the love that the family feels for each other always wins out. Despite the fact that Bart acts cruelly in this instance, his humanity and conscience win out and he seeks to make things right regardless of the consequences.