51. Bart the Lover

(originally aired February 13, 1992)
Y’know… there’s something about these last bunch of episodes that has gotten me a little depressed. In its earlier, more realistic-in-tone years, the show had never shied away from showing the darker, more somber side of everyday people, and life in general. Lisa is a perpetual big fish in a small pond, ever unappreciated and unstimulated, Marge is an unacknowledged house slave to an oafish buffoon, and now we lay focus on Mrs. Krabappel, a lonely, depressed woman with no interest in her job and has almost given up on herself. Seems the point here is that it must suck to be a woman on The Simpsons. I guess even this is a commentary on how men always seem to have a bit of a leg up in society. The stories you can write about Mr. Burns or Krusty are seemingly endless, where a character like Krabappel has a bit more grounded range.

A hilarious film reel about the wonders of zinc leads us into our show, which is not only great by itself, but shows us just how little Krabappel has left for her job. After school we see her pick up dinner for one and a lotto ticket, and make an impromptu stop at the mechanic, who finds sugar in her gas tank (he comments, “Your ex-husband strikes again.”) The content here is very subtle and building, giving us a very real look at a depressed human being. Another set piece that felt kind of sad is the school assembly with the yo-yo team. While I love the gag of the leader shoving the team into the back of a van, it seems so sad an existence for them, that this is their station in life. Anyway, Bart’s yo-yo antics get him a month’s worth of detention, so in retaliation, he ghostwrites letters to Krabappel’s personal ad under the name “Woodrow,” who is done in voice-over by Harry Shearer, seemingly channeling Ricardo Montalban.

Through the second act, Bart plays a double role, lending an ear to a warmer Mrs. K about what she wants out of a man, then using that material to fire off another mash note. But a point is reached where even Bart realizes he may have pushed things too far, and he falls back on the family to help him out of the mess he created. Writing a ginger farewell note is a nice conclusion, and the sequence of the Simpsons tossing out lines and debating over it is really sweet. I feel as sad as these episodes get, there’s still an element of hope at the end, and even if there isn’t, it still feels like it. “Woodrow” was an elaborate ruse from start to finish, but we’re still left feeling good about Krabappel, because she feels good. I think Marcia Wallace got an Emmy for this episode, and for good reason too. She took a character who could really be a complete caricature and made her so believable and so empathetic that we root for her as much as we do any of the Simpsons. This season and beyond, the supporting cast is really rounding out, creating a richer yellow universe.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Yeah, the zinc film is amazing, starring Dan Castellenta’s squeaky voiced teen character. I can’t believe they got away with the attempted suicide (failed of course, no firing pin), but I’m glad they did. “Come back, zinc! Come back!”
– Another amazing Simpsons product: Chef Lonelyheart’s Soup For One, labelled with a sad chef with a tear in his eye.
– Very great brief joke inside Springfield Magazine, an article “We Talk to J.D. Salinger, perhaps also a covert joke about the credibility of said magazine.
– I do like Bart is quite the yo-yo whiz; in future shows we’d find that he takes a vested interest and can get good at almost anything that doesn’t involve schoolwork, or something that could benefit him in the future. Also his latest technique “Plucking the Pickle” reaaaaallly sounds like a euphemism for masturbation.
– I love Krabappel’s blind date with Jasper; it keeps building on Mrs. K’s desperate state of affairs, but that old photo of him, a tall strapping man in a zoot suit cracks me up every time.
– I do like the wording of Krabappel’s personal ad: “1 + 1 = 2? Recently divorced 4th grade teacher wishes to meet man age: 18-60. Object: SAVE ME.”
– I couldn’t fit in the B-story into the main write-up since it’s so divorced from the main plot, but it provides much needed overt laughs to the more emotional A-story. Young Todd Flanders swears at the dinner table, and Ned discovers he heard it from a raging Homer during his fight building a doghouse. Marge suggests the use of a swear jar, which gets filled up mighty quickly, so much that Marge and Lisa just buy a doghouse on their own. So much great stuff here, from Ned’s punishment (“No Bible stories for you tonight!”) and his plea to Homer not to swear (“All of us pull a few boners now and then, go off half-cocked, make `asses’ of ourselves…”) and the great montage of events that cause Homer to fill the swear jar. I particularly love his intense fury over Flanders getting work in a commercial.
– Homer’s drunken postcard to Marge from the Duff Brewery: instant classic (” Maybe it’s the beer talking, Marge, but you got a butt that won’t quit. They got those big chewy pretzels here merJanthfgrr five dollars??!!!? get outta here…”)
– I do like Bart taking in an Ernest movie before he witnesses how far he’s broken his teacher. Then, of course, the great second act closing line: “I can’t help but feel partly responsible.”
– Two more things on the other plot: I love the sequence of Homer’s attempts to restrain himself. He steps on a nail (with a disturbing sound effect) and through gritted teeth comments, “Fiddle-dee-dee, that will require a tetanus shot.” Then there’s his joy over seeing his wife’s present to him: “Beer! How did you know?”
– Homer is especially a great help during the letter, from his initial draft (Dear Baby, Welcome to Dumpville. Population—You.) and his insistence on including “I am gay.”

7 thoughts on “51. Bart the Lover

  1. “Seems the point here is that it must suck to be a woman on The Simpsons. I guess even this is a commentary on how men always seem to have a bit of a leg up in society.”
    Im sorry but, NO. Thats clueless and a very “modern” comment(nowadays, in the idiotic internet society, art doesnt exists anymore: everything is ALWAYS about something, especially sex\rac – ism). About the writing about women, its just that women are more sensitive than man: its in their DNA, in their soul, and nothing can change that. And being sensitive means living through senses, so even suffering more. Thats why in Simpsons universe their episode are more intresting and deeo while men stuff is more funny and light. Simple as that. Lets not put politics where it doesnt belong, please.

  2. I have no idea what the Ef is thinking, but he’s clearly an idiot!

    Anyway, this is probably one of my least favorite episodes of the season, but that doesn’t make it a bad episode by any means, it just isn’t as good as the others. I find Homer’s comment towards the end, “THIS IS YOUR TEACHER? I should got teacher conferences more often!” down right hilarious in a creepy way. Such a great line.

    The highlight of the episode for me though is Homer’s swear jar bit due to how quickly it fills out. Such a fantastic, pointless subplot.

    Oh, the Zinc film reminds me of a reel I got to see a few year’s ago during a Rifftrax theatrical showing that dealt with springs.

    1. “I have no idea what the Ef is thinking, but he’s clearly an idiot!”

      My congratulations, that’s an astonishingly interesting and deep examination, and a really satisfying disquisition about the point that I made. You’ll forgive me if I’m jealous of you, because you taught me how the smartest minds, like yours -not mine-, work: when there is something they don’t understand, then that thing is stupid. I bow to you, master.

      Don’t reply, don’t worry. Luckily for me, and for all ours enjoyment, you comment a lot on this blog, so the intellectual quality through which you dissect the episodes definitely helps me, and all of us, foreshadowing any of the mind blowing replies you could write to me.

  3. I would love to watch the entire zinc film. I just want to know how we get to some teen wishing for a world without zinc, of all things. They did have trouble with the attempted suicide. I think the commentary says that the gun isn’t quite pointing at the kid’s head or something.

    “Plucking the pickle” is indeed a masturbation euphemism. They tried more obvious ones, but the censors wouldn’t allow them.

    Another nice nod to Marge’s subtly dirty mind. When Homer asks about situations where he could swear and not get in trouble, Marge says it’s okay during snuggling (Simpsons code for sex). Speaking of the swear montage, I always thought it was unfair Homer had to pay for swearing when a populated beehive fell on him. Funny visual, though.

  4. A pretty great episode that shows a more human side to Mrs. Krabappel. I remember this episode making me appreciate her character more. I didn’t hate her before then, but this episode is what made me realize that she’s a pretty great character.

    The subplot with Homer is absolute hilarity from start to finish, especially Homer trying to build a doghouse. I also like his idea of putting “I am gay” in the confession letter. Homer in this episode provided some fantastic comic relief. Overall, this episode is a true classic.

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