Lifetime of Simpsons

S01 E08 – The Telltale Head

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Well, after two episodes that I found to be classic and foundational to the rest of the series, we take a slight dip, back to just a pretty good episode. Don’t get me wrong, I liked this episode, but it just didn’t hold up to the last two’s high bar.

I really enjoy the fact that this episode starts in media res (boom, Liberal Arts education!), and essentially is one big flashback. We open up with Bart and Homer walking through the streets of Springfield, holding the disembodied head of Jebediah Springfield. But I guess we don’t know that yet, it’s just the head of a random statue. It’s also super weird that there’s an on screen title for the episode, don’t know why they chose to do it for this one, and pretty much never again. Then, the first of the series several angry murderous mobs shows up, and chases Homer and Bart to the headless statue of their town founder, ready to tear them limb from limb. But Bart talks the crowd down, and begins telling them the story of how he got to this place.

The story opens up with the family being forced to go to church. I’ve previously mentioned that there are a lot of things that I never experienced, that the Simpsons did, and thus formed my opinions and understanding of. And Church is one of them. I suppose my family was technically Catholic, but besides weddings and funerals, I only went to church once in my whole life before I met my wife, who is religious. I never had much of any teaching in faith, and never had to suffer through Sunday school. As time has gone on, I’ve gotten very comfortable with my atheism, and who knows, the cynicism that the Simpsons always portrays organized religion, may have had something to do with it. When they’re listening to the sermon, they’re always bored, and when they’re in Sunday school they’re miserable. And that’s kind of what I’ve always associated church with. And really, on the rare occasions I have to sit through a sermon now, it’s pretty much the same. But I love church scenes on the show. They’re always so hilarious, especially the Sunday school scenes. And this one was a great one, we get to hear the exasperated Sunday School teacher tell the kids the heaven is only for people (which I always thought was bullshit) and then have to deal with Bart’s ridiculous follow up. I can’t tell if the best Bart question is whether a gangrenous leg that gets amputated goes to heaven, or if a ventriloquist dummy gets to go with the ventriloquist. I also love the defeated teacher asking “is a little blind faith too much to ask?” That pretty sums up my feelings about religion to a tee.

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After church is finally over, the family heads back, and as they pass the Aztec theater, Bart sees that a new movie is playing, the hilariously named Space Mutants IV: the Trilogy Continues. Bart wants to go, but Marge says no. Now, even though my folks temporarily banned me from watching the Simpsons, they had absolutely no restrictions on movies. Maybe some sexy stuff wasn’t allowed, but they had no issues with my cousins showing my Robocop and Terminator when I was approximately five years old. It must have sucked not being able to watch what you wanted to, I feel like it would just lead to exactly what happens in the episode, making it forbidden just makes you want to break the rule and go see it.

Homer lets Bart go see the movie, and as he heads over, he runs into Jimbo (who has a super weird voice), Kearney, and Dolph, who are all sneaking into the movie. Desperate to be cool too, Bart sneaks in with them, only to get kicked out halfway through the movie. Quick comment, I love the Aztec theater, probably because here in Denver we have a theater I love that essentially the same thing, but we call ours the Mayan theater, and it also has fake plaster Meso-American carvings all over it too. Anyway, the four kids get kicked out, and after stealing stuff from the Kwik-E-Mart, and throwing some stones at the statue of Jebediah Springfield, the kids sit on a hill, looking at very violent clouds, chatting. Now, I also want to bring this question up…does anyone know who their town founder is? Maybe Denver is weird, but I never learned about something like that, and yeah, there’s probably a statue of the guy (turns out there’s a dude named James Denver, but he was from Kansas, so, that’s weird) but I was never aware of it. Seems like a weird thing that the Simpsons just takes for granted. But Jebediah Springfield is always a delightful character, and he seemed insane, since this episode implies that he build a hospital all by himself, and strangled a bear to death. But while the kids are talking, Jimbo mentions that someone should cut the head off the statue, and Bart takes that to heart.

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After asking Homer for advice about how far someone should go to make friends with popular kids (which has Homer’s amazing caveat “you’re not talking about killing anyone are you? Are you?!”) Bart sneaks out at night, and cuts the head off the statue, almost immediately regretting the decision. Bart then wakes up with the head inexplicably in his bed, and finds that the town has lost it’s damned mind because of the defacement. Even Mr. Burns is weeping about it. As the day progresses, Bart gets increasingly guilty, and even starts hearing the voice of Jebediah mocking him. He finally reveals to the family that he has the head, and after getting threatened by Homer, the two decide to go put the head back, catching us back up with the beginning of the episode. Once Bart’s story is done, the town decides that Bart has learned his lesson, they put the head back, and everything is back to normal.

It was a pretty good episode, and starting looking at Bart’s complicated relationships with the bullies. Sometimes Bart wants to be the bad boy, but usually he ends up being a good kid, like he truly is. Plus, this episode sets up the Simpsons views on religion, which is always great.

Take Away: Don’t do things just to impress other people. And dummies don’t go to heaven. Thanks Jesus.

“The Telltale Head” was written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss,Sam Simon & Matt Groening and was directed by Rich Moore

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