Thursday, January 04, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Seventeen - “I’m going to party like it’s on sale for $19.99!”

Happy 2018, Simpsons-wads!

Season 7, Episode 21
“22 Short Films About Springfield”
First Broadcast: April 14, 1996

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

Bart and Milhouse are spending a lazy day spitting on passing cars from a bridge.  This leads Bart to have a thought about how many people there must be in the city’s larger community, and wonder what all those people might be up to.

This gives us our framing device, and from there we jump all over the city, viewing a number of divergent episodes in the lives of Springfield’s finest.  Skinner attempts to curry favour with Chalmers with a home-cooked clam dinner; Bumblebee Man’s life imitates art; Cletus Spuckler commits a fashion faux pas; Springfield Police Department debate the differences between McDonalds and Krusty Burger, before Snake and Chief Wiggum are kidnapped by Herman…  The list goes on.

If there is a running thread, it centres on Lisa’s battle with a piece of bubblegum stuck in her hair.  Seemingly the whole population of the city – up to and including the Capital City Goofball – are on hand to dispense their folk remedies.  Nelson haw-haws the result, but gets a taste of his medicine at the hands of a very tall gentleman, which eventually leads him back to the bridge where Bart and Milhouse are still making mischief, bringing the episode full circle.

And that’s before we even get to Professor Frink, who…  Oh.  We’ve run out of space.


Skinner and Chalmers.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Skinner and Chalmers in the morning…

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Skinner and Chalmers in the evening…

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Skinner and Chalmers ‘til the sun goes down.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Dr Nick passing a bee-stung Smithers: “Oh my God!  You need booze!”

Comic Book Guy’s short interjection in Milhouse’s story, selling him a Hamburglar comic in which a child had solved the jumble using crayons.  The answer was “fries”.


Many of the segments have their own miniature opening theme, which is a lovely little touch.   Here’s "Skinner And The Superintendent":

And here’s Cletus’.  I couldn’t get a cigarette paper between the two in my affections, so let’s have a rare twofer:


Speaking of which, this was Cletus Spuckler’s first featured appearance, having literally been called “a slack-jawed yokel” in “Bart Gets An Elephant”, then favoured with a name in “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily”.  He would then be rolled out with his ever-growing clan of young-uns and his wife, and possibly many other relations, every time the series needed a shorthand for the south of America.

For a series that deals reasonably well with non-American cultures and all sexualities, and at least equally badly with all featured religions and countries, this is arguably the most offensive stereotype that is regularly portrayed, and is also a rare example of a side character getting too much screen time; with all due respect, Cletus seems more of a one-note joke like a Disco Stu or a Captain McAllister than a living, breathing character like Barney, Moe or Flanders.

Smithers’ fatal bee sting allergy would later be referenced in Season 16's "Midnight Rx", although the whole idea is frankly absurd – in “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk”, he was stung by several bees and did not die!  Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder!


This is an absolute masterclass in telling a flowing, many-layered story.  So, so many writers were involved in this episode, and with the narrative then stitched together from the smaller pieces, one would expect at least some lulls in the action.  However, and perhaps as a result of so many different creatives struggling to get their vision noticed in the chaotic whole, it’s a breathless, action-packed affair.

Expansion of side characters, and a look at the less featured faces of Springfield?  This one’s got ‘em in spades!  And as seasoned readers will be only too aware, development of the diverse background players of the Simpsons universe is one of this writer’s favourite Simpsons tropes.  Jokes?  Forget about it.  The punchline count is through the roof, and if you don’t like this one, the next one’s coming right up.  Parodies?  How about “Pulp Fiction” for starters?

This is a snapshot of the very best of The Simpsons, albeit one that's best enjoyed with a rich understanding of the show’s world to begin with, but definitely a half hour that puts a lot of meat on the bones of the series' continuity, which greatly elevates what could easily have been a throwaway gimmick episode.

Bathtubs of money, wheelbarrows of awards, fire hoses of respect - The Simpsons had it all.  But behind the streamers and confetti, storm clouds were gathering.  Figurative storm clouds.  So, er...  Yeah.  Join us for that next time.

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