Friday, July 13, 2012

TV Classics: The Simpsons - "Bart the Daredevil"

Today I felt like watching some classic 'Simpsons'. The big question whenever I want to watch some classic 'Simpsons' is obviously, which episode. More than any other television series, 'The Simpsons' has so many classic episodes, it makes it incredibly hard to choose just one when you want to relax and have a good time watching the antics of Bart, Homer, Marge and Lisa. 

Regularly I pick something from between seasons 4 and 7 (which I think is the highpoint for the series). But today I thought of a special episode: Season 2's 'Bart the Daredevil'. The minute I thought of the episode I knew I had to watch it. First, because it had been a very long time since I last watched it. And second, because of what my high school drama teacher, Gerardo, had told me about it a couple of years ago. Now, I hope my memory serves me well enough as I try to talk about what he told me.

Gerardo, unlike me, is from a generation that was born before 'The Simpsons' ever aired on television and thus experienced its arrival into the culture first hand. When I was old enough to know what 'The Simpsons' was, the show was already a huge hit and had been on tv for almost ten years. Gerardo was already a preadolescent boy when 'The Simpsons' premiered and he got to watch the show become an institution. Gerardo is a huge fan of 'The Simpsons'. When asked if he has any religious affiliation he used to say 'The Simpsons' were his religion. That's the kind of fan he is. And when I asked him what the greatest episode of 'The Simpsons' was, he said 'Bart the Daredevil'.

He said it hold a special place in 'Simpsons' pantheon, and in his heart, because he remembers first seeing it with his family and thinking it was the most hilarious thing ever. Simply put, it may be the single episode that turned him into such a huge fan of the show.

After watching the episode, that this particular episode turned him, is understandable. First, because it is a fairly early episode in 'The Simpsons' run. Secondly, and most important, because it is one hell of an episode. The plot goes like this: The family rushes away from Lisa's recital to go to a monster-truck show featuring a giant robot called the Truckosaurus and a grand-finale-death-defying-stunt performed by daredevil Lance Murdock in which he has to jump across a tank full of sharks, piranhas, electric eels and a lion on his motorcycle. After Bart watches Murdock, he decides to become a daredevil himself and jump across the Springfield gorge on his skateboard. Oh, in case I didn't mention it, the episode starts with Bart and Homer watching a wrestling match.

Now that is one boatload of awesome. I can picture an eleven-year-old Gerardo thinking how awesome the Truckosaurus is. A premise like this in the hands of the 'Simpsons' writers turns into a celebration of awesomeness and rightfully so. 

Talking about the writers, the script by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky is packed with some of the most bizarre 'Simpsons' gags (from putting a lion in a tank full of sharks to the hospital wing dedicated to children hurt by imitating the Three Stooges), but at the same time, at the core of the episode, there is a really strong focus on the relationship between Bart and Homer and how much the father cares for his son. A true and human story that puts 'The Simpsons' above shows like 'Family Guy'. The writers that worked on the early days of the show say that when pitching story ideas, they were always remembered that at the end of the day 'The Simpsons' were a family and they cared for each other.

Now that is television at its best, but that you could have gotten from other great early 'Simpsons' episodes like 'Lisa's Substitute' or 'Radio Bart'. What sets 'Bart the Daredevil' apart is its grand finale, when Homer ends up performing Bart's stunt. Now I couldn't do justice to the moment with my words, so here it is dubbed in spanish because it's the one video I found. (I suppose all of you have watched the episode before, but if you haven't you owe it to yourself to not be spoiled by watching the end of it).

Now, Gerardo talked to me about this very moment and how it became the funniest thing his family had ever seen when the ambulance crashes into the tree and Homer falls down the gorge once again. I think both Gerardo and me agree that this moment pretty much perfectly sums up 'The Simpsons' comic sensibility at its best. This is the moment of conversion.

As for myself, well, after watching this episode I watched 'Lisa's Substitute'. Then 'Marge vs. The Monorail'. Then 'Homer's Barbershop Quartet'. Then 'Last Exit to Springfield'. And then I decided it was too late in the afternoon to not have eaten yet. Simpsons magic, baby.

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