Thursday, December 07, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twenty-One - “Then grease me up, woman!”

Season 5, Episode 19
"Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song"
First Broadcast: April 28, 1994

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

Bart, desperate to stand out in a ‘show and tell’ exercise awash with geodes, makes the flawed but understandable decision to take his pet dog, Santa’s Little Helper, into school.  Whilst initially dismissed as some form of walking clock, the dog is a huge hit with pupils and staff alike, until SLH escapes into the school’s ventilation system in search of Grade F Meat,  leading Groundskeeper Willie to grease up and pursue him.

When that situation spirals inevitably out of control, Principal Skinner is left carrying the can with an enraged Superintendent Chalmers, who fires Skinner after bearing the impact of a falling, greasy Scotsman.  Ned Flanders steps into the breach as principal, but his soft touch leads to absolute anarchy, whilst Bart, shocked to be craving structure and rules, starts an unlikely friendship with Skinner, who soon rejoins the US Army.

Bart decides enough is enough, and with Homer on board – simply to take any chance to ruin Flanders – he gets Skinner out of the army and brings Chalmers to the school to view its fall from grace first hand.  Initially unconcerned, Chalmers is moved to fire Flanders when he hears him offer a prayer over the PA system, and Skinner is rehired.  No longer able to be friends, Skinner and Bart have one last chat and depart to be kicked and taught, respectively.


One of the greatest scenes in Simpsons history, period: Skinner’s synopsis of his great American novel, “Billy And The Cloneasaurus”, and his subsequent castigation by Apu.

A debut appearance by one Luigi Risotto:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
The chase scene in the ventilation system, a loving tribute to “Alien”.


Baadasssss songs we do NOT have, here.


No; instead, it is my solemn duty to report that our main musical moment this time is Joe Cocker’s absolutely excruciating version of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends”, better known as the opening to the equally execrable coming-of-age-very-very-slowly snorefest “The Wonder Years”.

I’m bloody not putting that up though, so here’s the aria “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre“ from Bizet’s “Carmen”, more popularly known as “The Toreador Song”, which is briefly hummed by Martin Prince for, like, five seconds or something later in the episode.  It is performed here by everybody's Siberian baritone, Mr Dmitri Hvorostovsky:


Armin Tamzarian… (ducks many, many thrown items) Hey!  It’s canon, don’t blame me!...  Was a Green Beret in the US Army, who saw action and imprisonment in the Vietnam War, before moving to Springfield to take over his missing Sergeant’s life in his absence, becoming Seymour Skinner.  This was revealed in Season Nine’s “The Principal And The Pauper”, an episode which is itself called out in Season Eleven’s “Behind The Laughter” as a point where the show’s golden reputation started to tarnish.

(Or maybe not, as the episode “Boy Meets Curl” – which isn’t that bad, despite having a curling gimmick and being in Season Twenty-One – depicts Seymour in Agnes’ womb…  Maybe this is one of those ones where continuity simply doesn’t work, and I need to dial back the urge to nerd a little.)

Skinner was there from the start and has appeared a great deal of times, given he works at Springfield Elementary and very few episodes don't include at least one scene there.  His classics include a turn as the funny one in "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", his Terminator-esque chase down of Bart in "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" and his surprisingly tender romance with Edna Krabappel, as first kindled in "Grade School Confidential".


Deliberately picked to be the show’s 100th episode to be broadcast due to its focus on Bart rather than Homer, thus harking back to the show’s early days as a family-targetted Bart vehicle, this seems like a distillation of the early years - Bart prank, consequences, resolution, status quo - albeit one informed by the extra experience the show had picked up along the way.

The central conflict/friendship between Bart and Seymour imbues this episode with a similar core dynamic to “Homer Loves Flanders”, but it is further enlivened here by the fringe characters – Ned just being Ned and applying Nedlike logic to a role he is utterly unqualified for, and Skinner and Chalmers’ fantastic interplay, which would become a must-see dynamic in later episodes, particularly where steamed hams were involved.

This is an excellent romp that earns its more sentimental ending by keeping me rolling in the aisles throughout, and much like "Homer And Apu", gives us enough of a glimpse at a side character's life to develop them to full comedic potential - a potential that has been mined to great effect since.  Just don't mention Armin Tamzarian again....

Join us next time when we hand you a stark choice: Mountain Dew or Crab Juice?

No comments: