Thursday, February 22, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Ten - “Thanks to you, we're having fun. Before-we-had-kids fun!”

Season 23, Episode 19
“A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again”
First Broadcast: April 29, 2012
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Simpsons Wikia.

Filled with an oddly disproportionate sense of ennui, Bart believes his life is ever unchanging and that, despite him only having ten years of experience in the world, the situation is hopeless and he is doomed to his existence.  On seeing a commercial for a cruise ship holiday, he sees the opportunity of distraction, even for a little while, and sells all his worldly possessions in an attempt to fund a trip for him and his family – but this does not glean enough money.

Moved by his desperation, the family decide to fund the shortfall, and they go off for a wonderful holiday…  But as the end approaches, Bart cannot face returning to his rut, and concocts a plan to prolong his happiness by convincing the crew of the ship that there has been an outbreak of a deadly virus throughout the land masses of the world, and that they can never dock again.

Isolated from the world and with supplies running low, things quickly go south for the ship’s company, with society breaking down in short order.  Lisa discovers Bart’s deception and, upon the inevitable revelation of said, the family are dumped off the ship in Antarctica, where Bart reveals his fears.  Marge and Homer explain that life is routine, and advise him to make the most of the moments of fun he gets – starting by sliding with the penguins.  We cut to an old and happy Bart reflecting on his finest moments.


Now unfortunately Season 23 is not yet on Frinkiac, so to keep the balance before we hit the Magic Moments, here's Homer finding his niche as a gladiator in a hideously broken society:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Simpsons Wikia.

Bart's run through the ship's many activities.  I'm not quite sure how to describe the animation but it's pretty damn good.

The happy ending.  And if you think that's me being syrupy, you might want a sick bag ready for the final section.

“I’m going to floor.”


The guest star gets a song – we’ll come to him in a minute – called "Enjoy It While You Can", which is (perhaps unsurprisingly) reminiscent of “Enjoy Yourself”, and certainly carries the same sense of impending joylessness:

The episode also includes songs by Hot Chip and Animal Collective, because of course it contains three songs after two consecutive weeks where there hasn't been anything worth posting at all.  Of.  Fucking.  Course.  It.  Fucking.  Does.


Steve Coogan (yes!  It is he!) appears as the ship's entertainment director, Rowan Priddis.  Steve has  a great legacy of modern British comedy, and whilst he is best known for his role as sports journalist and talk show presenter Alan Partridge, he has also entertained in "Saxondale", "Coogan's Run" and "The Trip", and appeared in various Hollywood productions, including a great turn in "Tropic Thunder".

British guest stars are usually pretty entertaining in the show, and it has a good record of getting some of the most famous possible, including all of the surviving Beatles, Mick and Keef from the Stones, The Who and, er, Sting.  Who, give him his due, wasn't actually too bad in "Radio Bart".  Away from music, Eric Idle, Patrick Stewart and Simon Cowell have appeared, as has Ricky Gervais.

(But you don't have to watch that.)

Lamentably, no discussion of British guest stars would be complete without mentioning the most cringeworthy of them all: Season Fifteen's "The Regina Monologues" features a cameo by Tony Blair.  That's former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

But he wasn't then, ohhhh no.  He was Prime Minister at the time of his performance.  Drink that in for a bit - let it settle.  A man routinely described as a war criminal for his actions in our country's name took time out to record lines for an animated comedy show during his time in charge.

And no more need be said on it.


And here’s what you’re wondering: why has he put a Season 23 episode in the top ten?  This isn’t from the established classics – in fact it’s from this decade!  The storyline makes little sense and doesn’t even explain how they get home!  It shoehorns in a guest star for no good reason!

Simply put, this one hit me right in the heart.  Bart was a character that never spoke to me as a child; he seemed smart alecky and annoying, wantonly destructive and entirely unrelatable to a quiet British child growing out of that kind of televisual antic.  The show’s gradual shift to focus on Homer as its main character throughout the third to fifth seasons was what made the show an enduring classic for me.

Here, though, he is given the kind of conundrum that generally hits people much older than him; namely that life has become a glum grind through the same lows every single day, and he yearns for an escape from that, no matter how temporary.  That he attempts to make it permanent with disastrous results is by the by here; that he felt that way in the first place, and that he doesn’t so much solve the problem as learn to live for the few moments of happiness he’ll get, is at once inspiring and heartbreaking.

I can’t remember when I first saw the episode; I’ve only ever seen it twice.  But both times it somehow appeared in Channel 4’s schedule right when I needed it, to remind me that this is life – glorious, horrible, mediocre, warts and all, sun and rain, a constant struggle without tangible rewards on most levels and most of the time, that is actually entirely worth it for those few great moments: an hour with the love of your life; a perfect sunset by the river; another month without illness; a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Join us next time when we’ll be asking if you have any questions – keeping in mind that we’ve already explained about our hair.

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