Finally, we hit an episode where everyone is completely recognisable! Skinner is so sick of Bart’s exploits that he convinces the Simpson parents into sending Bart off as an exchange student to France, and this gives us split stories, as Bart is enslaved by winemakers and the Simpsons welcome Albanian exchange student Adil, who is secretly a spy.
I’ve been complaining about the show noodling about for the first act before actually telling the story it wants to tell, but here, the noodling is proper setup – if Bart hadn’t pissed off Homer and hadn’t pulled the prank (which is fairly uncreative and low-key by his later standards, but works for this), he wouldn’t have been sent to France. It also gives us some great Skinner, fleshing him out by bringing in his mother, then showing both his sesquipedalian side and his cynicism as he talks to the Simpsons.
When Bart gets to France, he’s immediately put to work by a greedy winemaker and his nephew, Cesar and Ugolin. Their design is fairly grotesque, especially by the standards the show would have in the classic era, looking like a pair of rats. Bart is starved, forced to sleep on the floor, and doesn’t appear to change his clothes as they get increasingly decrepit. His breaking point is when they force him to drink wine laced with antifreeze to prove it isn’t poisonous.
The Simpsons,on the other hand, seem to be much happier with Adil, a hardworking and friendly Albanian. The writers were apparently intrigued by the idea of celebrating Albania, making sure the Albanian they speak is accurate and basically presenting Adil as a kind genius. Homer in particular takes a shine to Adil, who shows interest in his work as a nuclear technician. We figure out very quickly that Adil is a spy (he’s very interested in the places marked Top Secret), and Homer obliviously and cheerfully shares everything with him. Even when Adil is caught and deported by the government, Homer sadly says he’ll send him civil defence plans.
This is very much in keeping with both the Homer we come to know as well as building upon what we’ve already seen – his susceptibility to flattery and unwavering trust in every shifty-looking stranger was already set up in “Call Of The Simpsons”, and would go on to have more destructive and creative consequences in the future. We even get a quick joke reversing Homer’s stupidity in a proto-Lisa scene, in which she defends Adil’s criticism of America’s economic failures by pointing out America’s freedoms and Homer parentally finds the middle ground; it works because we know Homer is supposed to be stupid.
(I’ve seen this scene criticised as out-of-character for Lisa, who should have doubled down on her leftism; I can’t help but feel this was projection on the part of the person saying it but it really does feel like later Lisa would at least articulate herself better than she does here if not be the one criticising America’s economic unfairness)
Bart saves himself when he gradually realises he’s picked up fluent French in the time he’s been there, which is set up earlier in the episode by an off-hand comment by Skinner (it’s been pointed out that a part of the show’s thing that I missed is that Bart actually is very clever but is underestimated by the school system; this is an example of that). He’s treated like a hero by the French, which feels like a part of the show’s “Bart is a figure of wish fulfillment” idea that it gradually dropped; he returns home with everyone but Marge reluctantly accepting the return of the status quo.
Chalkboard Gag: “Garlic gum is not funny”
Couch Gag: Homer getting squeezed out.
This episode was written by George Meyer, Sam Simon, John Swartzwelder, and John Vitti. It was directed by Wesley Archer and Milton Grey. French writer Christian Coffinet cameos as the police officer Bart talks to.
Cesar and Ugolin’s names are references to the French films Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. Aldi being from Albania was in part a tribute to John Belushi. As he heads to the vineyard, Bart passes by references to Bassin aux nymphéas, Champ de blé aux corbeaux, Le rêve, and Déjeuner sur l’herbe.
This is the first episode I have any memory of seeing. I remembered nothing specific about it aside from the mule, but I remembered it.
Also, apparently French police at the time wore capes.
First Appearances: Agnes Skinner! She’s a genuine nice old lady and lacks the rough edge to her voice though.