Well everybody, here we are, Season Six. This is seriously one of my favorite seasons of all time, and has some of the best episode of the whole series. It’s just wall to wall great, 25 episodes that are pretty much the apex of the medium. Although this was also the season that started that stupid trend of having the DVD season shaped like heads, which was obnoxious, made even worse by the fact that there was a little card that came in it where you could send in and get a real box, but it mocked you for even wanting to do that. But I digress! Let’s dive right in with one of the best season openers of all time, “Bart of Darkness.”
The episode starts off by establishing that Springfield is going through a crazy heatwave, which they show by having Moleman light himself of fire with his glasses, and Principal Skinner up to his ankles in the original cast of MASH at the Springfield Wax Museum. And of course, the Simpsons don’t have air conditioning, so we find the family sitting in the kitchen in a tent that’s attached to the open door of the fridge, which is pretty clever of Homer. But Marge has to introduce logic in the equation, pointing out that this isn’t good for the fridge’s motor, which causes it to crap out. And since she can’t set the oven to “cold,” they’re screwed. The family just sits around, sweating themselves to death, until the kids hear the familiar jingle of the ice cream truck. They run out, only to find that the man is driving around announcing he’s out of ice cream, although they could have some Texas Chili and Boiling Hot Ginger Ale, to which they pass. But then providence shines upon them and Otto shows up with a giant Pool-Mobile, which is basically just a truck that would haul gravel, full of water. So Bart, Lisa, and the rest of the neighborhood kids jump in and have a good time, mainly pantsing Martin, until Otto announces that it’s time for him to head out, and that he was only budgeted for one day a year, so they won’t even get it again.
And this pool experience has taught Bart and Lisa that they need a pool in their lives, so they come to Homer to calmly explain the terms of their arrangement, after forcing him to listen to them in a wonderfully animated scene. They explain that they want a pool, and if he doesn’t submit, they’ll bombard him with weeks of “can we get a pool dad?” chanted over and over. Homer decides this is a good plan, and the family heads out to get an above-ground pool, because the Simpsons are classy folks. So they bring the pool home, and after a lot of work, end up building a very nice barn. And after a random Amish guy points this out, we smash-cut to them having built their pool, and right on time the entire neighborhood shows up to take advantage of the pool. The kids take over the house, making Bart the most popular kid in the neighborhood. But as the kids are frolicking in the pool, Bart climbs to the top of his treehouse to discuss the safety rules, which causes the kids to egg him into jumping from the top. Bart’s all for this, but as soon as he starts jumping, Nelson pops out and yells out that his “epidermis is showing,” which causes Bart to falter, and fall from the treehouse. He smashes into the ground, breaking his arm as Nelson calmly, and incorrectly, explains why his joke is funny, because explaining a joke is always the way to go.
So Bart is rushed off to the hospital to get a cast put on, and he’s immediately depressed about the fact that he’ll now miss the rest of the summer, which leads to Homer giving him the incredibly depressing fact that once he’s an adult, he’ll miss every summer, which is such a dagger of truth into the heart. And it turns out Bart wasn’t even wrong in his fears, because once he gets back to the house, no one even gives him the time of day, they all just care about the pool. Even Milhouse won’t hang out with him, and only signs his cast as “Milpool.” So Bart heads up to his room to become a weird shut-in, while Lisa becomes the new most popular person in the neighborhood. And man is it great that Bart heads up to his room and watches everyone in the pool pull of some crazy Busby Berkeley water-dancing scene before madly deciding he’s just going to watch Krusty all summer. Unfortunately, after one last insanely great Itchy and Scratchy episode, Krusty announces that he’s done for the summer, and will be playing “Classic Krusty” episode, which is one of my favorite gags of all time, because Krusty has apparently been making this show forever, and starts up one from the early 60’s where he’s interviewing a guy about the “labor crisis.”
So Bart starts to get crazy, as he spends all of his time alone in his room, and things aren’t helped by Lisa, who shows up to give him a telescope she won at the “optics festival.” She’s put off by him, especially when she sees he’s writing a weird play, and quickly gets out of there. And now that Bart has his telescope, we really get into the great part of this episode. He quickly realizes that he doesn’t care about space, and starts using it to spy on people around the neighborhood, including Jimmy Stewart as the blatant explanation of what the rest of the episode will be a parody of. And as he’s about to give up spying, he hears a woman’s scream from next door, and sees Ned in his house, talking about how he’s “killer her,” and even sees him burying something and saying that he’s a “Murderer.”
Bart is obviously a little suspicious about this, and begins stalking the Flanders family, trying to find signs of Maude. And he sees Ned explain to Rod and Todd that Maude is “with God now,” and that they’ll be joining her soon, which his horrible, in principal. But while all of this is going in, a very quick little B-Plot shows up where Lisa is the queen of the neighborhood, getting all the attention in the world, that is until it turns out Martin has also gotten a pool, and all the kids abandon her to go there. So once that’s over, and there are no longer any kids in the pool and Lisa doesn’t have any friends, she heads to help Bart with his little murder investigation. And the main thing he wants her to do is sneak into Flanders’ house and get some clues, which he convinces her to do by reading her some of his terrible play. “Is it St. Swithens Day already?”
So Lisa heads over to the house, and begins snooping around while Bart watches from his bedroom with the telescope. But she doesn’t really find anything, and it seems like the project is going to be a bust, until Bart notices Flanders come back home and he realizes he has no way to warn Lisa. And when he sees Ned walk around with an axe, he decides he needs to go save his sister. First he tries calling the police, but they’ve switched over to some sort of Moviephone style system, where he ends up accidently selecting Regicide as the crime he’s witnessing. “If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one!” So without that help, he starts hobbling over to save Lisa, picking up an assortment of crap on his cast along the way. Lisa hears Flanders come in the house, and goes to hide in the attic while he super creepily sings “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with his axe. And Bart show up right as Ned is about to put the axe away, and confronts him as a murderer. The police show up, and we learn what really happened. Maude is alive and well, and Ned didn’t kill her, but he did kill her favorite plant while she was away at a Bible retreat. The woman’s scream was his own scream, and everything was just a big old misunderstanding. And with everything “wrapped up in a neat little package,” the episode ends by showing up Martin’s hubris as his pool explodes with the pressure of all the kids in it, and he’s pantsed by Nelson. He ends up singing “Summer Wind,” to himself, in the nude, surrounded by the destroyed pool.
This episode is wonderful. All of the summer shenanigans are so spot on and true to the experiences of kids in summer, and while I’ve never broken a limb during summer, I bet it would be the most depressing thing in the world. I had pneumonia for a lot of one summer, and that was definitely the worst. It’s a hilarious episode with some truly wonderful gags, especially all the crazy old “Classic Krustys” where we see this weird show about a clown’s evolution over the years. But the driving force of the episode is the incredibly solid, almost shot for shot parody of Rear Window, which is just amazing. I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite things about the Sideshow Bob episodes is the mystery that surrounds them, and seeing Bart try to solve something, and this episode took that formula and really ran with it in a wonderful way. Everything about this episode s great and I’ve been rambling about it too much.
Take Away: Don’t assume people are murderers, and don’t get worried about your epidermis showing.
“Bart of Darkness” was written by Dan McGrath and directed by Jim Reardon, 1994.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons