The Simpsons, Season Three, Episode Sixteen, “Bart The Lover”

Up til now, Mrs Krabappel has been a distant authority figure with hints of a personal life – she’s popped up here and there when the show has needed a woman desperately trying to get laid. This episode, much like “Homer Alone” did for Marge, centres her and makes her a more empathetic figure by cutting her some slack and giving her exactly what she wants for an episode. It’s an interesting choice – with time, Krabappel would be humanised by contexualising her bitterness within the context of the educational system failing her as a teacher as much as it fails Bart as a student, but for now it sticks to Krabappel in the context of her love life.

There are hints of her bitterness stemming from her career, mainly in the first act. Most obviously, there’s all the little annoyances of being in a room full of ten year olds all day, signified in this case by them all obsessing with yo-yos (killer line from Krabappel: “I question the educational value of this assembly.” “Hey, it will be one of their few pleasant memories when they’re pumping gas for a living.”), but I also like the way her home characterises her, a sad motel room of an apartment (big ups to beloved commentor Lemon Of Troy; without their tireless efforts cataloguing imagery I wouldn’t have even thought about this).

Bart is the real protagonist of this story, though. After Krabappel confiscates his yo-yo, he sets out to get revenge by sending her a fake love letter, only to feel terrible when he sees how badly he hurt her feelings, and I love every step of that. It makes sense that Bart would be wildly successful at yo-yo tricks – his senses of physicality, creativity, and showmanship would all overcome his general lack of focus and discipline enough that he’d probably be good at it, and he’s not someone who thinks about others feelings in the moment but does feel terribly guilty in the aftermath.

The other thing I love is how Bart learns to speak romance, cobbled together from his parents, TV, and most surprisingly by listening to Krabappel herself and telling her what she wants to hear (best joke in that vein: “Oh yeah, and I really hate yo-yos.”). It’s all sweet enough that it overcomes what should, on paper, be a weak ending: Bart confesses to his parents what he’s done and together the whole family writes a goodbye letter from ‘Woodrow’. We end up with a situation where Marge provides a heart and brains, Lisa provides a sense of poetry, and Homer provides comic relief (“Three words: I am gay.”) before capping it off with surprising sweetness. The final effect is that Krabappel has received just a little bit of hope in a bitter, empty life, and Bart has learned something about both a specific woman and romance in general.

Supporting this story is Homer, who has to use a swear jar after his language spreads to Ned’s son, and the rote premise is saved by some fantastic character-specific gags. This is our first real case of Flanders being ‘the religious guy’ instead of ‘the great neighbour’, the best jokes of which are Flanders punishing Todd by sending him to bed with no Bible stories (“You knew I had a temper when you married me.”), and Reverend Lovejoy’s pre-emptive exasperation at Flanders’ call.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: An alien sits on the couch, and ducks out via trap door before the family gets in.

This episode was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Carlos Baeza. Homer’s subplot was inspired by criticism the show had gotten about cursing, which seems fucking shitheaded ridiculous these days. Some eight-year-olds happened to be visiting the studio when Dan Castellaneta recorded Homer’s swearing montage, which is as funny as anything that happens in the episode.

Harry Shearer’s performance as ‘Woodrow’ is an impression of Ricardo Montalban. The episode opens with a parody of 50’s educational films, in which a boy is shown a world without zinc – it most resembles “A Case Of Spring Fever”, featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Todd watches Gomer Pyle. Bart watches Ernest Needs A Kidney, a parody of Ernest P. Worrel movies.

Marcia Wallace (RIP) never had much to do up until now, but she makes a meal out of Edna this episode, committing to every emotion she feels and investing the bitterness and cynicism with wisdom – her line “Bart, if I were you and you were me, would you give me your yo-yo back?” sounds exactly like every teacher I’ve ever had.

First Appearances: N/A
Biggest Laugh: