The Simpsons, Season Two, Episode Fourteen, “Principal Charming”

Three firsts at once! This is the first time we focus on characters outside the family, with our title characters almost entirely on the fringes of the story, and thus the first time we focus on Patty, Selma, and Principal Skinner, developing them as protagonists worth following, and much of the groundwork of the people we’d come to love and tolerate came from this episode.

An opening where Homer’s excitement over a new all-you-can-eat place leads us into the Bouvier twins, attending a wedding for a man who only just missed out on marrying Selma. As Marge explains it, “Patty chose a life of celibacy, Selma had it thrust upon her”. Selma is over forty and desperate to get married and have a family; all Patty cares about is Selma (her lesbianishnessism not being even hinted at yet). Selma turns to Marge for help, and Marge in turn goes to Homer.

This gives us the scene of the episode: Homer searching for a suitable partner for Selma, Terminator-style. That music, that expression on Homer’s face; it sends me into giggles even without the funny pros/cons Homer sees. This is intercut with Bart’s latest misadventures, discovering how herbicide can be used in graffiti; Skinner literally smells out the scheme while marvelling over the school’s Tater Tots, establishing immediately that he’s very intelligent and a huge dork. He calls Homer, bringing these two threads together when Homer decides he’s a good fit for Selma (even through the possibility that Skinner is a homer sexual). The scheme falls apart completely, though, when in attempting to introduce them, Skinner falls head over heels for Patty instead.

What follows is a loose parody of romantic comedies, following many of the familiar beats and messing most of them up due to being a dorky school principal and a callously indifferent asshole. There’s a few predictable gags – Skinner tries the “yawn-hand-shoulder” gag and gets shut down – but in general we get setup to so many character beats for the two of them. Skinner is unerringly polite and formal, and we see how much being a school principal defines him; meanwhile Patty is cantankerous about every inconvenience to her typical routine (at one point, he spots a former student and pulls principal rank on him, which amuses Patty).

This eventually reaches the point where Patty will almost admit to tolerating Skinner, which upsets Selma tremendously, to the point that she’s willing to go out with Barney Gumble just to feel normal. Skinner is caught up in lovesickness and ends up tolerating a lot more chaos from the kids, a situation Bart loves until Skinner starts turning to him for advice for wooing his aunt. Patty sees the effect her relationship has had on her sister, and when Skinner asks for her hand in marriage, she turns him down for the sake of her sister’s happiness.

As Patty leaves him behind, Skinner devolves into tears, then realises the hold Bart has had over him; he vows to take his hurt out on the school. Patty goes to the bar and rescues her sister, casually affirming her love for family over everything else. As much as the Skinner stuff lays the groundwork for his character later, it doesn’t work in the moment nearly as well as the sisterhood between Patty and Selma; their love for each other has a clear grounding all through the episode, as their shared misanthropy gives them a connection Skinner’s lovesickness could never provide.

The episode ends with the relationship Skinner has that really does work: his student/teacher rivalry with Bart.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not belch the national anthem.
Couch Gag: The couch springs out into a bed.

This episode was written by David M Stern, apparently the only member of the staff who could relate to Patty and Selma on a personal level, and directed by Mark Kirkland. The school suddenly has a bell at the top, allowing the episode to reference Vertigo; there are also references to Monty Python, the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hamlet. Principal Skinner sings “Inchworm” by Danny Kaye. Selma sings a lullaby version of “Brandy” by Elliot Lurie. Finally, Skinner’s final line of the episode parodies Gone With The Wind: “Tomorrow is another school day!”

First Appearances: Groundskeeper Willie, Moleman, Squeaky Voiced Teen
Biggest laugh: “You’re making happy hour bitterly ironic.”

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