Thursday, April 05, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Four - “I think he’s talking to you!”

Season 5, Episode 2
“Cape Feare”
First Broadcast: October 7, 1993

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

Bart starts receiving death threats through the post and via ironic song requests on local radio, and though at least one of them is from Homer, there’s clearly trouble ahead for the Simpson boy. With his mortal nemesis Sideshow Bob being paroled, having sworn revenge in tattoo form, it's clear they're not safe, and when a showdown in a local movie theatre threatens to turn ugly, action must be taken.

Turning to the Witness Protection Program, the family are forced out of Springfield – indeed, out of their own identities – to become the Thompsons of Terror Lake, after an afternoon of gruelling (and failed) training.  They drive to their new houseboat with a Gilbert and Sullivan song in their lungs and an overwhelming sense of relief...  But tied to the bottom of their car is Bob, who arrives relatively unscathed in Terror Lake, cactus patches aside, only to have an immediate run-in with his true nemesis: rakes.

After a further incident with some elephants, involving a partial trampling, Bob overpowers and restrains the rest of the Simpson family, before trapping Bart on the deck of the now-moving boat.  Bart outwits Bob by getting him to perform the entire score of "HMS Pinafore" as a last request, which gives the boat enough time to reach Springfield and run aground outside a brothel, where the entire Springfield Police Department just so happen to be - and Bob is arrested, surely never to escape again...


Bob's performance of the entire score of "HMS Pinafore", complete with costumes, props, popcorn and reviews:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
"Uh, we object to the term 'urine soaked hellhole', when you could have said, 'pee-pee soaked heck-hole'."  "Cheerfully withdrawn!"

The rakes, obvs.


The entire score of “HMS Pinafore” aside, as that might take a fair while, this episode is blessed with the excellent sounds of The Surfaris' magnum opus, "Wipeout"!


Robert Underdunk "Sideshow Bob" Terwilliger first appeared in Season One's "The Telltale Head", looking somewhat different to his iconic appearance - apparently once the character was redrawn for his defining appearance in "Krusty Gets Busted" later in the season, they did mean to iron out the inconsistencies, but...  Well, here we are.

Suffice it to say that the events of the latter episode leave Bob incarcerated and harbouring grudges towards Bart and Krusty the Clown.  He would attempt to his revenge on one or both of them on a number of occasions, including trying to end television in "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming", becoming mayor in "Sideshow Bob Roberts" and going full Lecter to help Homer flush out a potential assassin in "The Great Louse Detective".

Bob is of course voiced by none other than TV "Frasier", Kelsey Grammer - which led to much hilarity when TV "Niles", David Hyde Pierce, voiced Bob's brother Cecil in "Brother From Another Series".  The Terwilliger family has also been expanded to include a wife and a child, in the usual cases of diminishing returns - though oddly all of Grammer's dialogue was cut from "The Simpsons Movie", and the character has appeared even more sporadically since.  Perhaps a rare example of television knowing when to leave a gimmick well alone?


OK, so perhaps slightly more suspension of disbelief is required for a Sideshow Bob episode - of which this is easily the best - but I really like them as concept episodes, even when they don't 100% deliver in terms of quality or comedy.  Usually there is no real peril in The Simpsons - did anyone really think Homer would die jumping Springfield Gorge? - so introducing a malevolent attempted murderer is a real switch of gears.

Helpfully, aside from all the evil, this episode is also packed with an absolute ton of great sight gags, as it cleverly places Bob into the role of slapstick crash test dummy that is usually reserved for Homer.  This means any horrendous acts he is attempting to perpetrate are undercut by repeated rake thwackings, a grating over cacti or an unnecessarily long line of elephants.

But what really makes this a next-level episode is that the absolute ridiculousness of the ending, which starts with an absurd final request from Bart and goes on to be stuffed with absolutely impossible things happening, feels earned by the quality of the writing up to that point, and even seems, for all its wacky far-outness, like a pretty damn clever way out of the narrative problem.  Once witnessed, few can forget this mad but inspired snowballing of events - in many ways, a perfect episode struture in microcosm.

Join us next time, when we answer everyone’s burning question: when are they going to get to the fireworks factory?

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