Aired April 22, 1990
Directed by Brad Bird
Written by Jay Kogan & Wallace Wolodarsky
I keep on mentioning that I try to only talk about the series as I’m watching it, and not as it is today. Try to think of these episodes as if I’m watching them for the first time, not as if I’ve had these characters and their stories integrated into my mind for decades. But I keep breaking that rule every week, and will do so again.
Mainly because I can’t help but think about Sideshow Bob, and the way we know him today. He’s one of multiple characters that I feel even those with the most miniscule experience with The Simpsons have at least a general idea of who they are, along with Mr. Burns, Ralph, and Apu, among others. Not counting the family, obviously, or this episode’s titular character, who I’ll get to later.
Of course, by now, Robert Terwilliger’s decades-spanning feud with Bart is well-noted, and continues to remain a highlight of the series for many. The show continues to find unique ways for Sideshow Bob to return and exact his revenge on his 10-year-old rival, enough so that the origin of their rivalry seems downright tame.
Still, our first proper introduction to Sideshow Bob is fun. We’re already shown how much of a pompous ass he can be, which is largely thanks to Kelsey Grammer’s excellent performance. It’s interesting to hear that James Earl Jones was initially considered for the role, and while his baritone would be well-suited, Grammer’s natural, uncompromising voice fits perfectly. Bob and Frasier Crane aren’t that far off, although I’d say that Frasier is only slightly less bloodthristy.
Krusty is one of the first non-family members we spend a significant amount of time with thus far, particularly away from the family. While he doesn’t have the most developed personality just yet, what we do see from his hearings is telling of the direction the character will go in. Seeing the children’s show icon be a lowkey degenerate is very much in the tone of the series thus far. Also, adding a water spritzer to his drink is hysterical.
If there’s one thing that especially interested me about this episode, it’s how different Krusty and Sideshow Bob’s takes on their show were. Krusty is a more typical, crass host, aiming for cheap slapstick above all else, while Bob’s take is between Mr. Rogers and Masterpiece Theater, attempting to add some culture into his audience’s life… alongside the compromise of retaining Itchy and Scratchy. Sideshow Bob’s take sounds more in line with what executives believe that parents want their children to watch (although let’s be real- most parents are willing to let their children watch any kind of brain dead entertainment if it can shut them up for a half hour or so), but kids really are buying what he’s selling. It helps that Cole Porter is catchy, and Alexander Dumas is vintage pulp fiction. It’s no surprise they’ll do well.
But this is really Bart’s episode, or maybe the Simpsons children as a whole. We’ve seen the kids watch Krusty before, as far back as on Tracey Ullman, but this is the first time we see how much Krusty really means to Bart. He’s more than just an entertainer, Krusty is a childhood hero, one who offers guidance when his own father can’t. Note how cowardly Homer reacted to the robbery to see why Bart struggles to view his father in the same light. Seeing Krusty stripped of his makeup and costume, so impotent, has to hurt for Bart, especially when in his heart, he knows Krusty is innocent.
So this episode proves that Bart has more to him than his bad boy attitude, as he successfully finds a way to prove Krusty’s innocence. It could have been just as easy to have Bart see the crime on TV, and have him double down on his bad behavior, but by now we know that he has enough heart in him to do the right thing when he’s motivated, as he is here.
Lisa and Maggie are shown to be more willing to give Sideshow Bob a chance, as opposed to Bart’s ride or die attitude towards Krusty. I don’t think that’s a fault on them, nor is Bob’s show itself nefarious. What interests me more is how they’re willing to help Bart, particularly Lisa. So far, we have seen her be a little smarter than her older brother, but she’s yet to show herself as the truly gifted Simpson until her sense of deduction comes in this week. Up until this point, she’s been written more or less as the middle child, so this is a welcome addition to her character.
I do also want to mention the direction and animation in this week’s episode. Brad Bird had already proven himself to be an admirable name in animation by this point, having some experience at Disney, and directing the beloved “Family Dog” episode of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, but this is his first directorial work for the series, which he excels at. The animation is a little sharper and stronger here than in previous episodes, and the direction generally comes out tighter than in the past. One notable touch of his is how each act starts with a close-up of one of the two children’s hosts, each time helping to set the mood. Thus far, Bird has helped to make the animation in the series stick out, and in his directorial work, he continues to do so.
“Krusty Gets Busted” is an undeniable highlight of The Simpsons’ first season, and it’s helping to get us closer to the series I love.
Aired May 13, 1990
Directed by David Silverman and Kent Butterworth
Written by Matt Groening and Sam Simon
Simpsons fans know that this is was meant to be the first episode to air. It was the first written and the first to be fully animated. However, it’s workprint airing did not go over well, with producer James L. Brooks going as far as to call the product shit, and to literally define the word. This could have been it for the series if the next episode in production turned out as poorly, which luckily it didn’t. Brooks and co were able to convince Fox to move the show’s September premiere up to December and to air the Christmas special, planned as the eighth, to air first. They did, and the rest is history.
While the final product probably does look better than what Brooks and co saw in 1989, “Some Enchanted Evening” isn’t a particularly great episode by any means. Honestly, it’s kind of weak.
It’s funny to hear about the argument Brooks and Klasky-Csupo cofounder Gabor Csupo had, in which Csupo blamed the writing for the episode’s poor quality, which… yeah, fair. While we won’t get to see much of that original animation, there isn’t a whole lot you can salvage when your script is weaker. This is another rare Groening credit, who cowrote the episode with co-series developer Sam Simon. Simon’s credits tend to be stronger, so I’d imagine that he helped liven the script up with better jokes, while Groening doesn’t tend to have the best creative tendencies for the series.
The thing is, I would have been a little less ambivalent about the final product if this aired closer to the beginning, even if it wasn’t the first episode. By this point, the show was starting to find a groove in its writing, particularly its character dynamics. This reverts to earlier episode blandness, however, with a less analytical Lisa and a weaker defined Marge. Even her pleas of her husband’s unresponsiveness comes off as excessive, despite Homer more or less proving her point.
There also just isn’t much of a story here, either. Homer and Marge having a night out on the town seems like more of a start towards a more worthwhile B-plot, which the episode never really delves into, and only leaves a few good moments for, such as Homer’s request for the second-least-expensive champagne available. Even their motel time never delves into much of note.
Meanwhile, the core material with Ms. Botz arguably works a little better, and I’d credit that to Penny Marshall’s fun delivery as the character, as she’s able to sell her gruff exterior, and find a good mix between humor and some genuine menace in it. She helps to balance out the less developed sibling characters. I will give credit to Maggie, who shows a little bit of resourcefulness with her escape route, and even how that’s balanced with her indifference to Bart and Lisa’s tied up selves… although why wasn’t Lisa’s face taped up like Bart’s? We know that he was more of a whiner, but both siblings should have had their mouths shut.
A few clever moments aside, “Some Enchanted Evening” comes off like the weaker trial run it was intended to be. It’s not a terrible episode, and probably will work better as an early introduction to the characters, but even compared to what aired prior, this is a disappointing way to end the first season. Basically a step backwards against some real progress.
Season 1 Final Thoughts:
Watching these early episodes all over again, it’s hard to believe how much the series set the world by storm when so many of the episodes don’t raise above being slightly enjoyable. But looking at animation, and even other contemporary primetime television at the time, it makes sense as to why
The Simpsons was the first Fox series to crack the top 30 in the ratings, tying for 28th place alongside Night Court and Doogie Howser, MD. Not bad for the little channel no one thought could. The series ended up doing much better in terms of merchandising, especially when it came to Bart, who sold everything from T-Shirts to rap singles written by Michael Jackson. Although from my experience over the years with those old enough to be hooked on the series right away, the whole family could sell, with even Maggie dolls making good money.
If I was watching these episodes as they aired, would I have enjoyed them? I think so, although I don’t know if I’d be on board with calling this the best cartoon since Bullwinkle. This is ignoring how animation would progress in the coming years, but Disney was already making some strong animated programs at this point in time. Still, the show was already being subversive and clever enough to stand on its own in these early episodes, using its unique art style to its advantage. I could see myself tune in each week to see where it goes next.
I don’t think that there’s a downright bad episode in this first season, but there are few which I truly cherish, especially in an all-time greatest list. If I was ranking this in terms of 1990 standards, my score would be a little different, but I’d overall have to give season 1 of The Simpsons a C-. There’s definite room for improvement, and I am willing to stick it out to see.
Chalkboard gag wars- “They are laughing at you, not with you” vs '“I will not yell “fire” in a crowded classroom”. I’ll go with the latter, personally. Good on ya, Bart.
Couch gag wars- Maggie falling up vs no couch gag. I admire the latter for its stagnancy.
“If cartoons were meant for adults, they’d put them on in primetime.” lol
Talk about G-I-L-L-T-Y.
Krusty’s prison number is A113. Pixar/Brad Bird fans know what’s up.
So what’s the difference between giving into mob mentality and jumping on the bandwagon?
Good-hearted people have little feet, while big feet are ugly? Sounds like penis envy to me.
Prank call ranking- Al Cholic. Meh, it’s pretty basic, a 1/5. I’ll give Oliver Klozoff a pity 2/5, though.
Voice acting legend June Foray shows up as the receptionist for the babysitting company. I’ve heard before that she auditioned before for the series, but was turned down for her voices tending to be too cartoony. Which I think is a little unfair, but it’s nice that they found some room for her here.
But yeah, the animation is… interesting. I don’t know if I like this or not, frankly. It’s like if Disney and Hanna-Barbera meshed.
It’s kind of funny that Ms. Botz warns Homer about Bart, when Maggie was arguably more responsible for her capture.
New Character Column: Hey, Kent Brockman! Not a bad way to show off a lovably droll anchorman. We also meet lesser-known anchor Scott Christian, and Judge Snyder, neither of which have much to talk about. Although the latter was called Judge Moulton here, before his name is landed on Snyder later on.
Here’s a new section, it’s a small world, where I’ll make note of an actor, or potentially a notable behind the scenes person, from another OTH series who appears this week. Of course, Kelsey Grammer makes his first of multiple appearances as Sideshow Bob this week. When this aired, Cheers should have been in its 8th season, which I believe was the year it hit #1 (edit- I checked, and it was third to The Cosby Show and Roseanne tying for the top slot. Still, nothing to sneeze at), so America was already quite familiar with Frasier Crane. I don’t think anyone expected him to stick around for as long as he did though, as I don’t believe his spin-off was remotely near anyone’s mind at this point. Still, getting Grammer on was quite a boon, but I think he enjoys the work just as much.
Thanks for reading my season 1 reviews! I know some of you did, at least. I won’t be taking a break, and will be going right into season 2. I may post something in between to tide those off who are curious about my Heritage posts and aren’t as interested in The Simpsons. We’ll see. Anyway, I am excited to get to season 2! There are still some clunky elements, but there’s a lot of classics which I’m excited to rediscover, with the premiere being a perfect example. With 22 episodes, I can easily stick to two a week.