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Monday, January 26, 2015

Retro Review: Bart of Darkness

Original Airdate
September 4th, 1994

Or the One Where
The Simpsons get a pool. 

The Setup
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. 

Notable Notes
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.

Quotable Quotes
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.

Teebore's Take
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.


  1. Classic episode.

    I also love the social commentary about the fleeting popularity of kids, and how shallow children can be when it comes to finding someone else popular (I remember Seinfeld once had a joke about how Jerry, when he was a kid, became friends with another kid just because he had a ping pong table).

  2. @wwk5d: I also love the social commentary about the fleeting popularity of kids, and how shallow children can be when it comes to finding someone else popular

    There's a great bit early in the ep that I love (which loses something in being typed out) where Marge asks Bart if all the kids hanging out at the house are his friends, and after he assures her they are, a bunch walk by and say "hi Bart" to some other kid, ending with one of them saying hello to "Mrs. Cumberdale".

  3. Funny episode. I agree with you about "Summer Wind". Also, I really liked THE CRITIC. Unlike most of those flash-in-the-pan animated shows which tried to capitalize on THE SIMPSONS' success, I thought it was genuinely well done and entertaining. I don't remember a lot about it these days, but I still will occasionally inform people that "penguins can't fly planes!"

  4. @Matt: Also, I really liked THE CRITIC

    Me too. It's easily the best of the early Simpsons knock offs (King of the Hill is probably the best overall, unless you count Futurama as a knock off and not a spinoff, but it came later). Some of the movie parodies can be a bit dated (and are, of course, mostly sequel-driven), but nowadays there's some added value in seeing just how many of the joking sequels from Jay's show actually got made.

    Like "penguins can't fly planes!", I remain endlessly amused by Mr. Pilkington, the brainy, pipe smoking velociraptor from one of the Jurassic Park spoofs, and also "we're the bears who sing for Duke, doo-dah, doo-dah/drinking moonshine 'til we puke, all the doo-dah day".


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