The Simpsons, Season Nine, Episode Fifteen, “Das Bus”

One of the most consistent undercurrents to The Simpsons is how well it captures the strange, limited worldview of children and how well it exaggerates that attitude into absurdity. Living on a deserted island is a common children’s fantasy, because they have the imagination to understand the things they’d do with total freedom and lack of boundaries or rules but not enough imagination to know the actual work that would have to go into survival, and this episode has a lot of fun with that fantasy – it is, after all, an extension of the show’s exploration of the relationship between a fantasy and the work to get to it in adults. It almost feels like, just like “Lemon Of Troy”, it’s a kid’s adventure that has it both ways; after the Swiss Family Robinson fantasy collapses, it’s replaced by a descent into barbarism that, in retrospect, only feels less exaggerated than the SFR stuff because it’s rooted in real human impulses. The thing I love about kids is that they’re pure human impulse without any real long-term thinking or discipline and they tend to try and play out an idea they’ve heard of without any experience backing that up, and you really see that in how the kid’s story plays out. Of course one of them lacks the impulse control to avoid snacking at night (even if it turns out Milhouse did eat all the food); of course Nelson leads the group in jumping on the first possible explanation without ever questioning it. Even Lisa feels less like a college student and more like a real eight year old in the way she tries to retain the idea of law and order.

I’m gonna do what I haven’t had the chance to do in a while and swerve to the B-plot for a paragraph; it feels like Golden Era Simpsons is much better at delivering a wide scope of ideas that gives me a lot to play with. Homer’s story is simultaneously rooted forever in the dotcom bubble of the late Nineties and will always be timeless because it’s about the adult fantasy of being a savvy business owner. Homer dives into his business not because he has a good idea to fill a hole in the market, but because he saw Flanders doing it and he wanted to play businessman (based on what he says, I interpret Ned’s business as a side hobby he’s taken up, which makes Homer’s eager belief he’s engaging in a get-rich-quick scheme even funnier); he grabs everything he can think of to make his business look like a business except for a product. It makes me think of multi-level marketing scams and how they trick people into joining by making them believe they’re hotshot business people; it makes me think of people in 2020 who love to talk about their ‘hustle’ and their ‘side hustle’. If you like, it’s another variation on the American grifter and the way people can fall into that image without really taking the time to make it work.

Back to the kids, I love how their story devolves quite quickly into simple impulses. The kids are angry about losing their food, and that anger has to go somewhere, with Milhouse being the most convenient target despite the lack of any proof. After over a decade of social media being a part of the landscape, seeing Milhouse thrown to the dogs and civility and fact thrown aside because he might have eaten the food both seems entirely logical and stirs a greater feeling of anger within me; yes, people’s desire for blood is stronger than their fear of committing injustice. This is something where I can even recognise having been on the mob’s side of things and regretted my actions, making me more fervently on Lisa and especially Bart’s side; I have seen more than my share of Nelsons who don’t even maintain the pretense of interest in justice or in critically analysing their anger, and they’re all dangerous in one way or another. Bart’s verdict is something I try and carry with me in the world, a reasonable understanding of the facts before enacting morality.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The family are frogs that hop into the room. Homer turns on the TV with his tongue.

This episode was written by David X Cohen and directed by Pete Michels. The couch gag was suggested by Dan Castellanetta’s niece. Jack Ong guest stars as one of the Chinese fisherman; originally, Cohen called up a friend who spoke Mandarin to get the dialogue right, but Ong did not feel that Mandarin was accurate to the characters and it was changed to Cantonese.

Troy McClure playing Noah is one of my favourite Troy movies. Speaking of capturing the kid mindset, citing precedent cracked me up as a true-to-life thing, as well as being allowed to stay up and watch a movie. Love the tiny detail that Marge apparently as ‘good’ butter. I had my own personal ‘car hole’ mishearing when I realised I’ve been mishearing Bart’s line as “We’re gonna live like kings! Damn hell ass kings!” Homer inexplicably believing he can get away with Flancrest Enterprises as a name is a great dumb gag. Bart using an inhaler to breathe underwater is a great bit of cartoon logic. I usually find jokes about vegans and vegetarians pretty tired at this point, and it’s probably because none of them will ever top the gag of Lisa eating slime.

The majority of the plot is a riff on Lord Of The Flies. The title is a parody of Das Boot, though it would be more grammatically correct to be “Der Bus”. Skinner bangs his shoe on the desk in reference to Nikita Kruschev doing the same thing at the UN in 1960. The bus plunging over the overpass is a reference to True Lies. Ralph paints his face like Peter Criss in KISS. Milhouse not swinging the vine back to Bart and Lisa is a reference to Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Iconic Moments: 4. “[God] is my favourite fictional character!” | “In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrasts.” | “Go banana!” | “Oh, they have the internet on computers now.”
Biggest Laugh: