OTH: The Simpsons- "Bart vs Thanksgiving"/"Bart the Daredevil"

Two more episodes dedicated towards fleshing out our favorite bad boy.

Season 2, Episode 7

Aired November 22, 1990

Directed by David Silverman

Written by George Meyer

My Thanksgivings have always been a small affair. In the past, it would just be my mom, my sister, my grandparents, and myself. My grandparents are no longer with us, and my sister lives a little too far away to justify the trip down for just Thanksgiving (she comes for Christmas instead), so in the past few years it’s just my mom and myself.

Although there was one year that my mom decided to host a little more family. This was when I was still living with her, when my sister was still in the state, and my grandfather was still alive, and that year, we had my uncle, his wife (I refuse to call her my aunt- they married when I was in high school, and he’s not really my uncle in the first plaxe), her daughter, and her boyfriend. My uncle has a tendency to be an asshole, but he was on decent behavior here- it was the daughter and her bf that were causing problems. She’s had a history of drug problems, and tends to date guys with similar issues, and they were becoming increasingly sporadic to the point of belligerence. I’m not sure if they were popping pills at our house or not. It got to the point that her mom started to cry, and my mother had to talk to this bitch, when she replied with a curt “I don’t even know you”. They eventually headed out, and we had dinner without those two.

So that’s the story of my worst/most eventful Thanksgiving- what’s yours? Share in the comments.

Thanksgiving episodes are long-standing traditions in American television, as it’s a holiday ripe for testing and defining relationships. Many of the series I plan to cover in OTH have notable Thanksgiving episodes. For instance, there’s the classic “Thanksgiving Orphans” from Cheers, which has an epic food fight and Frasier’s meltdown over the word thermometer; Buffy has a weirdly racist one in “Pangs” that I’m dreading to hit; The West Wing has its turkey pardoning, and of course Friends is iconic for it’s Thanksgiving episodes (I’m partial to the one with Christina Applegate, myself). Another fun comments game- what are some of your favorite Thanksgiving episodes?

So it’s no surprise that The Simpsons waited no time to do one. This is a show about family, and there’s a lot of potential ways they could have had a noteworthy day. “Bart vs Thanksgiving” in particular is one way to do it, but I have some reservations.

Frankly, I think they picked the wrong conflict to focus on in this episode. I liked what we saw in the first act, with Marge’s cooking and hosting skills being questioned by her family. It may be cliche to have the mother/wife have conflict with her sisters and mother in matters like the kitchen, but this is a shade of Marge that we haven’t seen before.

But after Bart and Lisa’s fight in front of the fireplace, this is basically forgotten in lieu of returning to the star attraction. Building on Bart’s bad behavior isn’t a bad idea at all, but I think the episode would have worked better if this was more of a Bart and Marge conflict, rather than a Bart and Lisa.

Granted, I do think their moment on top of the house at the end was perfectly sweet. I do like how Bart and Lisa’s relationship has been building over the course of the show. Bart doesn’t always want to play the big brother role, and Lisa’s generally okay with that. By now, we know that she’s smart enough to recognize how her brother feels and reacts, and can get along with him when he isn’t crossing a line like he does by burning her diorama. And I will note that I did enjoy most of Lisa’s material in the episode, primarily her rewrite of Ginsberg’s “Howl”.

That much I do enjoy, but those moments are among the few handful of moments that particularly stands out from the latter two acts. The problem for me is that the conflict Meyer, a longtime writer who had this as his first assignment, focuses on is something we’re already plenty familiar with, and doesn’t add much new to Bart’s character, and his material just isn’t that interesting. More time with the family and less with Bart on the run would have helped make this more than just a decent episode.

Season 2, Episode 8

Aired December 6, 1990

Directed by Wes Archer

Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky

Okay, now this is a great Bart episode.

While the Bart and Lisa dilemma and resolution felt undeserved to me in the former episode, his relationship with Homer is much better defined and challenged here. The two get along better here than in past episodes, with Truckasaurus bringing them together better than anything else in the past. Even the thrill of daring stunts is something Homer can find in common with Bart, as they enjoy watching Lance Murdock together.

But Homer’s concern for Bart’s safety is a nice change of pace, as is his laying down the law. I like seeing him try to look out for what’s best for his boy, even if he isn’t great at this side of parenting. His attempt to take Bart’s thunder at the Gorge is stupid, but genuine all the same.

Of course, the scene at Springfield Gorge is iconic, and will be referenced frequently in the years to come. As it should, it’s a perfectly funny little sequence, recalling the violence of classic cartoons without toning things down. We see Homer get bloodied up as he falls onto each rock and can feel his pain from his groans. It’s not unheard of to take a Road Runner-esq gag and milk it up like this, but few can land the timing as well as this particular sequence does, especially as it adds a second trip down.

If this was the only especially noteworthy gag from the episode, I’d consider it decent all the same. But there are tons of great bits throughout, and Bart’s core story is worthwhile. A particularly excellent one comes from Lisa’s recital, when Homer literally picks her up right after she finishes, only to bring her back for a final bow. Just excellent timing all around.

Both writer Wolodarsky and Matt Groening himself consider this to be their favorite episode from the series. While I wouldn’t go that far, knowing what comes ahead. But this is definitely one of the best episodes we’ve hit thus far. Good pacing helps.

Stray Observations:

  • I feel like this is a little sloppy, but I hope that I get my points out well enough. Again, I apologize about work killing me.

  • Chalkboard Gag Wars- “I will not do that thing with my tongue” vs “I will not drive the principal’s car”. WHAT thing with his tongue? I’m curious.

  • Couch Gag Wars- Grampa sleeping on the couch vs the couch tipping sideways. The latter is the first time we saw someone outside of the fab five on the couch, so that deserves bonus points.

  • Speaking of Abe, I call bullshit on him being cognizant enough to recognize Bart on TV.

  • Lisa dedicating part of her diorama to Marjory Stoneman Douglas is exactly the kind of obscure reference I am all for.

  • So we hear Maggie talk for the first time (in a dream sequence anyway), and she’s voice by Carol Kane. A true comedy legend, she has a connection to Brooks ala Taxi, with her playing Latka’s wife, Simka. You may recognize her as Kimmy and Titus’ landlord in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, among numerous other roles. This should be a small world note, but Taxi has not won the Heritage Award yet, which is a damn shame that should be rectified ASAP.

  • Apparently the reason a Thanksgiving episode was made when the showrunners realized that the show could air an episode on Thanksgiving… although just because you could doesn’t mean you should. It looks like this had the lowest ratings for the show this season, and also made it the first time in ages that it wasn’t Fox’s #1 show that week.

  • The addition of the lion into the shark tank is the favorite gag of a few people involved with the show, and it’s a fair choice.

  • Hmmm yes, yes indeed, Homer does say “I’m king of the world!” about 7 years before Leo. I wonder if Brooks and co attempted to sue James Cameron.

  • Something important premiered after this episode aired. Now shall we all Do the Bartman.

  • New Character Column- I believe this is the first time we see Grandma Bouvier (at least in a non-flashback), and I like the angle they give her here, being a stereotypically condescending mother. As mentioned above, it’s a little cliché, giving Marge a mother-daughter conflict, but it’s more than they’ll do with the character in later years. We also meet Dr. Hibbert in the second episode, a deliberate parody of Dr. Huxtable. He should be voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson now as opposed to Harry Shearer, which good.