HELL YEAH SIDESHOW BOB HELL YEAH
This is the last episode produced for season one, and it really shows, as the show’s style, themes, and characters are all crafted better than they’ve ever been, and with a mostly-well-done mystery story thrown in on top. When Homer stops at the Kwik-E-Mart, Krusty the Clown robs the place, and a Bart investigates to clear his idol’s name.
We’ve seen concepts and ideas in this episode before. Bart was a semi-ironic kid adventurer in “Bart The General” and to some extent “Crepes Of Wrath”, Homer has been an anti-heroic failed father figure since “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”, mob rule was satirised in “Homer’s Odyssey” and “The Tell-Tale Head”, and the idea of the school system underestimating children has been in the series since “Bart The Genius”. But few of those ideas saw any serious development, and none of them have been used in a plot as propulsive as this.
Bart’s role in the plot benefits enormously from a specific, interesting motivation. Lots of shows have kids who get bullied by generic dumb bullies; only the Simpsons would have a boy set out to clear the name of a clown who effectively raised him through TV. And both the “schools underestimate kids” and “mob rule” themes act as further motivation – it’s not just making fun of religious institutions for railing against pop culture they don’t understand, or making fun of inane children’s television by showing Bob’s ludicrously classy educational programming; it’s selling us on the idea that only Bart can clear Krusty’s name and gives his decision more weight.
About that theme: when Sideshow Bob takes over the show, he changes it drastically, cutting down on pie gags and reading to children from The Man In The Iron Mask. When he’s arrested, his motive rant is based entirely around trying to raise standards for children’s entertainment, and I absolutely love that the show would go on to prove what he was saying with its own existence. How many of us, as kids, learned more about history (“Just when I was getting over my Chester A. Arthritus.”), physics (“It just keeps going faster and faster!”), and Unitarians through the show’s tireless efforts?
What lets the episode down, sadly, is the slight creakiness of the mystery plot. The first act lays out all the clues for us very well, disguising them under jokes or just leaving them out in plain sight, and Bart’s brilliant moment of insight when he lays out Bob’s scheme on TV as he beats the shit out of Bob’s feet with a hammer is a cathartic moment of triumph; it’s the middle section, where Bart and Lisa put together the clues rather inelegantly, that the gears start to grind. The worst decision the writers make is to indicate to us that Bob is evil way too early – the reveal would have made more of an impact if they hadn’t already blown their wad.
Chalkboard Gag: “They are laughing at me, not with me”
Couch Gag: Maggie pops out, and lands in Marge’s lap.
This episode was written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, and directed by Brad Bird. Bird would go on to be a regular feature director, doing The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille amongst other things.
Chief Wiggum says “Send in the clowns” at one point, referencing the song. The closeup of Krusty’s face at the start of act two is a reference to The Prisoner. When he’s arrested, Bob says”I would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!”, a reference to an apocryphal line from Scooby Doo.
First appearances: Sideshow Bob