The Simpsons: S01E08 “The Telltale Head”

At last, an angry mob! Angry mobs would become as vital a part of Springfield as the tire fire or the Kwik-E-Mart (which gets its first appearance here too). A big chunk of the Simpsons satirical worldview is that the town as a community can get a hair up its ass about one particular thing almost immediately, usually in the form of an angry mob. This episode contains the first example, and like a lot of The Simpsons iconography at this stage, it’s drawn out, though in this case to the benefit of the story – as a response to Bart’s shenanigans.

This story really shades in Bart’s specific level of hellraiser. The opening act shows Bart going to church, trying to sneak in his personal stereo, and causing a nuisance (admittedly along with the other kids) by asking stupid questions, which themselves get stupid answers. Afterwards, he semi-cons Homer into giving him money to see a movie he’s definitely not allowed to see, only to run into some older kids who show him how to sneak in, to his surprise. They show him a whole bunch of petty teen shit, leading up to vandalising the statue of Jebidiah Springfield, the founder of the town.

Bart’s reaction to all of this characterises him as someone who is neither malicious or callous. He’s not inclined to steal from the Kwik-E-Mart or sneak into movies, and he has a genuine respect for the guy who founded the town. He is however, easily swayed into doing all of that to be liked by the older kids. Fundamentally, Bart is like any other kid in that he just wants to be liked, and most of his more destructive antics are attempts to get that positive attention.

(Though I love the later development that his pranks are also a creative outlet for him)

The older kids eventually bandy about the idea of decapitating the Springfield statue, which sticks in Bart’s mind. He turns to his dad for advice, and Homer naturally gives him the worst possible advice: being popular is more important than anything. In the middle of the night, Bart ninjas out of his house and steals the head, only to discover the horror sweeping the town the next morning (once again, Moe’s Tavern acts as a stand-in for the town). Even the kids he looked up to are angry at whoever it was that stole the head.

Bart is consumed by guilt, to the point that he imagines Jebidiah talking to him. He finally confesses his crime to his family, and Homer, equally guilty when he realises he’s partially responsible, talks him into giving himself up. As they go into the center of town, though, they’re attacked by the mob. Bart tells them his story, and they’re so moved they decide to let him go Tfree.

We’ve been talking about the tone and rhythm with these early episodes, and I think this is the first to hit that classic rhythm. The jokes have started coming hard and fast, with a punchiness that makes them funnier. We’re through the looking glass, people.

Chalkboard Gag: “I did not see Elvis”
Couch Gag: Repeat of “Bart The Genius”, in which Bart pops out of view and falls in front of the television.

The title is a reference to “The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allen Hoe Poe. There’s a reference to The Godfather when Bart wakes up to find the head right next to him. The football announcer Homer listens to is based on Keith Jackson.

This episode contains an early bit of metahumour. It opens with a flashforward to Bart and Homer getting chased by the mob, and Bart asks them to listen to his story. They ask how long it’ll take, and he says “About twenty-three minutes and five seconds.”

I have no idea if Homer saying “I pulled a few boners in my time” is supposed to sound gay.

This episode is also the first time we see the Simpsons in church, and thus the show’s fairly unique, bordering on archaic view of religion by contemporary television standards. The show fully believes in the power of faith in God as motivation and as a way of pulling through a crisis, while thinking religious institutions are at worst corrupt and shifty, at best boring. It’s the former that must have helped the show stand out at the time, and the latter that helps it – or at least the classic era – stand out now.

When I was a kid I found a lot of the satirical elements of the Simpsons funny because no human being would act like that, only to become an adult and realise it captured the world better than I realised. For example, the angry mobs became a lot funnier after I’d been on Tumblr for a while – presumably, most of you have heard of the mob justice Tumblr’s users can inflict, but I still remember the time the entire goddamned site decided it hated coleslaw for some reason.

The opening sequence is sampled in my favourite Simpsonswave video:

First Appearances: An angry mob, Jebidiah SpringfieldKrusty The Clown, Captain Whatsisname Reverend Lovejoy, Jimbo, Kearny, Dolph, Apu, The Kwik-E-Mart, Sideshow Bob, a young teen who looks and sounds almost like the Sqeaky Voiced Teen

Biggest Laugh: This was genuinely difficult – the bit with Moe and Barney cracked me up – but ultimately I had to go with the episode’s punchline.

Original Post and Comments