Monday, January 26, 2015
Retro Review: Bart of Darkness
September 4th, 1994
Or the One Where
The Simpsons get a pool.
With Springfield gripped in a heat wave and the kids enticed into swimming thanks to a teasing one-day-only visit from the Pool Mobile, they pester Homer into buying a pool for the family.
As of the start of this season, Fox moved The Simpsons back to it original Sunday night timeslot, where it had debuted before airing on Thursday nights for the previous four seasons. It has remained in that timeslot ever since.
There are twenty-five episodes in the sixth season, the largest per season episode total yet, and the highest ever as of this writing (seasons seven, eight and nine will also have 25 episodes). Two of this season's episode ("A Star is Burns" and "Round Springfield") were produced by the staff of The Critic, including former Simpsons showrunners Al Jean and Mike Reiss (who left The Simpsons to create The Critic), in order to alleviate the burden of a twenty-five episode order on The Simpsons' staff (The Critic had just been picked up by Fox for a second season after being cancelled by ABC the previous season).
The first two episodes of this season are holdovers from the previous season, as they were in production during the 1994 Northbridge earthquake, which shut down the office the staff usually worked in. "Bart of Darkness" was intended to be the finale of the show's fifth season (fittingly, as it takes place over the summer), but the earthquake ended up giving the staff an extra month to work on it.
Large swaths of this episode are a parody of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.
Flanders' girly scream was performed by Tress MacNeille (who voices several female and child characters on the show, and Mom on Futurama), not Harry Shearer (who usually voices Flanders).
I forever associate Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind" with this episode.
Homer: I understand. Let us celebrate our new arrangement with the adding of chocolate to milk.
Bart: Aw, I'm going to miss the whole summer.
Homer: Don't worry, boy. When you get a job like me, you'll miss every summer.
Bart: Faithful Milhouse. You'll spend the long, hot days by my side, won't you?
Milhouse: Uh, I think I lost my glasses in your pool. I better go in and find them.
Bart: But you're wearing your glasses.
Milhouse: No I'm not.
Lisa: I brought you a present. It's a telescope I won at the optics festival.
Bart: There was an optics festival and I wasn't informed?
Bart: But I distinctly heard you say that Maude was with God.
Maude: Oh, that's right. I was at Bible Camp. I was learning how to be more judgemental.
As the sixth season opens, we're still well within Golden Age territory, and though by this time the show has pivoted firmly to Homer being the show's central figure, the season opens with a classically Bart-centric episode (with Lisa handling the B-plot, relegating Homer, somewhat surprisingly, to the background for the episode). The show has parodied Alfred Hitchcock plenty of times in the past, but never quite to the extent it does here, as a bed-ridden Bart starts viewing the world through a lens and observes his neighbor committing an apparent murder. In true Simpsons fashion, it gains something through the bizarre juxtaposition between the show's sitcom trappings and the source material (who would have guessed an episode ostensibly about the Simpsons getting a pool would turn into an extended Rear Window parody?), and gets rounded out nicely through a bit of Lisa characterization, as she willingly accepts the crown of Queen of Summer, knowing full well she's only become popular due to the pool.
Season six kicks off with one of the show's most extended Hitchcock homages yet, with a strong story for both Bart and Lisa.