Unusual animation made this really feel like an early episode and it’s been my mental prototype for early Simpsons since. It’s the Babysitter Bandit episode featuring Ms Botz, who I am pretty sure is a one off character but wouldn’t put it past them to trot out again sometime during season 34. There aren’t a lot of babysitters in the low-soc areas, mostly aunts and allied family friends who are allowed to belt you.
The person my neighbours used, nobody, suggested they were either extremely hippy or extremely negligent, either way we once saw a 3 year old covered in his own poo. We were climbing the tree in the front yard, a game that consisted of climbing to the main bit we always climbed to and then bullying someone selected by the whims of social instinct to ascend further. They’d get up a bit higher and celebrate by pelting whoever was beneath them with gum nuts. For reference: green ones hurt way more than brown ones.
I was being pelted with gum nuts and so was the first to smell Jeremy. He looked like an albino despite not being one and communicated mostly in oddly deep grunts. This translucent pig mutant always struck me as being fucking weird, even at the time, and my later education makes me think he’d probably missed some developmental milestones. That day, he’d smeared himself in his own shit.
Credit where it’s due, it was a pro job. Head to fucking toe and, somehow, his goddamn back. He looked like a racist caricature rendered in acrylic and stunk like only cheese slice diarrhoea can. The rain of gum nuts slowed as the others noticed the grinning Rumpleshitskin dancing about beneath us. He couldn’t climb the tree because he was too short and this was a blessing because he was hell bent on touching us. Maybe he knew, I still think he just wanted human contact.
We were stuck up the tree for half an hour.
Eventually some grasp of social rejection hit a relevant sensory cluster and he toddled off into the backyard to get licked clean by a pair of dogs. He’d be 29 now. I wonder how he is.
Of all of season one, this episode feels the least The Simpsons and it’s down to a combination of a dry if wacky plot and the legendarily bad animation. The Ullman shorts were animated by Klasky Csupo but Groening and Brooks wanted something with a firmer realism, more animation than cartoon, for the half hour series. The workprint of this episode that came back was so bad that 70% of it had to be redone leading to a delay in the series, this introductory episode being shunted back to finale position, and the queerly appropriate oddity of a Christmas episode being the first ever broadcast Simpsons.
The result is an episode filled with some of the worst cartoon tropes you can think of. Backgrounds that are just one colour fading into an arbitrary vanishing point, a house with shifting layout and background items, and frequent basic continuity errors. It also has that Klasky Csupo-y thing of character overanimation that makes them look like when your mum has frame interpolation on her TV. Everyone in this episode moves like a waterbed full of scorpions; a shifting mass whose persistent, monstrous fluidity occasionally takes on deformed human shapes. The result looks like a jaundiced Rugrats fanfiction about Tommy’s miserable adulthood.
Nothing in this episode is good but that shitful arrangement collapses into a nonetheless interesting structure, like if the twin towers collapsed into a giant statue of David. It’s a little like The Room; a series of failures, faults, and really bad creative decisions that combine into something that’s fun to watch just not for the reasons its creators intended. The plot sees Marge finally lose her shit and complain about Pedro/Homer to Marvin Monroe’s radio program. Homer hears this at work and takes Marge out for a date night, leaving the children at home with a babysitter. Said babysitter, Lucille Botzcowski, is actually the notorious babysitter bandit and the highest of jinks ensue. The weirdest thing about this is it sounds like a Home Alone parody or reference but it was aired a full 6 months before Home Alone was released.
One of the hardest things for me to get my head around is that this was meant to be the first episode. This bizarre fact frames every awful bit as a screamed challenge to even remotely enjoy this new “animated sitcom” malarkey and serves as the chicken stock to this episode’s Room stew. Case in point, the episode opens with Marge finally sick of Homer. Coming at the end of the season, this actually fits rather well and makes a sensible cap to what the viewer has experienced. Starting the series with this is largely stupid and overly reliant on the hinge of audience trope knowledge to force the belief that sitcom dad Homer is this terrible when we haven’t seen it. The opening sequence casts him as a well-meaning boob, not a great husband but also not a bad one. At the end of the season Marge’s anger is the understandable result of Homer ignoring her or not working on any of his problems. Here, she snaps at him via radio program and he immediately pulls out all the stops to fix it which makes Marge seem like the unreasonable one who wouldn’t communicate.
Then there’s the tone.
Tone is a bit like the word aesthetic in that what it’s describing is the end result of so many separate variables that the word gets used as a gap-fill when people aren’t really sure what part of something they’re describing. A text (and its component parts) can have multiple interpretations so a creator has to signal which direction their audience is supposed to take and this is done with tone. A horror comedy and a straight horror film will both contain near identical scenes but their interpretation is necessarily different, so everything from casting and characterisation to cinematography and music (in the case of film, which is the easier example to give) will be used to separate the two. This would structure the differences between otherwise very similar movies like Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead. This continues into deeper sub-categories like in the difference between a straight horror comedy like Shaun and a zany horror comedy like Army of Darkness. Both horror comedies but with distinctly different tones to their comedy as indicated by how incongruous a wise-cracking skeleton would be in Shaun. With these tones established, a viewer can approach a text with an expectation set the creator can predict and therefore stimulate without veering into the unpleasantly discordant.
Tone manipulation is what creators use, among other things, to make the unpleasant into something funny and to direct the audience away from questions that break the text. Take Home Alone for instance. The idea of an abandoned child being pursued by two career criminals bent on his bodily harm is an inherently horrible one but the film shifts the viewer away from that thought by making Harry and, particularly, Marv be bumbling nincompoops. Cartoonishness is used a lot, both in animation and live action, to allow a text to balance its reality and soften any of the pointy edges. When those edges aren’t an issue, you tone back the cartoon factor and your series is now able to walk the fine line of real enough to structure real problems around and wacky enough to have this kind of fun.
Later series did rough stuff, Sideshow Bob threatening Bart in Cape Feare with a machete and the real intent to murder him is fundamentally harsh, but they cartooned their way out of that edge by having him perform a musical number. The musical number is the ultimate in anti-reality, in anything not an overt musical or opera it will negate any tone and replace it with absurdity.
This episode has no musical numbers or any of the other fabric softener one might apply to a narrative. Ms Botszcowski is the narrative focus as the antagonist, a competent criminal and legitimate threat, and she slithers through the episode like poison through a vein. She is a tonal anti-musical and forces the unpleasant reality of children being threatened by a career criminal into the viewers minds. Scenes that would be comic with a buffoon like Marv become unpleasantly real, like when Bart is about to crush a woman’s head with a bowling ball.
Normally, I wouldn’t be thinking about how Bart is so quick to pretty much murder someone, or that a bowling ball to the head would crush a skull like a spoon through a crème brûlée, but here we are because there’s no screwball shit to take the edge off. And edge can be great, black humour too, the Halloween episodes pull it off by existing in pocket “what-if” dimensions of their own. The tone is set via the framing device of these being stories within stories and thus beholden to their own, far looser rules. If Bart had succeeded here he’d have killed a woman which is both more than America’s bad boy could emotionally handle and a notch above statue vandalism. This is all on my mind because this is all very serious and within the primary continuity.
The whole episode is leveraged off of this conflict as the vestigial scenes one could almost describe as a lower case b story between Homer and Marge exist only to build the main story’s tension. I get the sense that there was maybe an effort to add some more background to their relationship, mention of a first date involving a chaperone pops up, but the scenes play out as the banal discussions between dull-witted suburbanites sitcoms painstakingly avoid. Now the episode alternates between the mind-numbingly bland and the acridly bitter, with no laughs to cut either.
The episode wraps up with Bart bashing a woman in the skull with a bat and the episode’s only attempt to soften any of this with Bart sucking Maggie’s pacifier as lure. This only serves as a good example of how trying a thing once just highlights that you haven’t been doing it when you should have. If you want Halloween to be a comedy, you can’t just have one scene near the end where Michael Myers slips on a banana peel with an accompanying cartoon sound effect. This is fucking up tone.
Having been unable to reach home, Marge and Homer arrive to find Botz tied up in front of the TV. Homer lets her go, paying her triple for the offence. The episode tries to turn this into a joke at Homer’s expense, as though anything he has experienced in this episode would make him reasonably think that the babysitter was a criminal. This is mistaking your audiences’ perspective for your character’s. Homer isn’t an idiot for paying the Babysitter Bandit triple and sending her on her way. If anything, that’s the exact best idea he could have gone with. He’s only an idiot if you expect him to have been watching the episode too. It’s fucking stupid, a bit of a pet peeve of mine in narrative construction, and perfectly caps an episode that is watchable only as a curiosity. It does manage that role well, though. It’s the deformed goat fetus in a jar of The Simpsons.
Yours in leaving Pedro, Gabriel.
Jokes, lines, and stray thoughts.
Marge using Pedro as her fake Homer name is about the funniest thing in this episode because of how quickly it comes to her. Why Pedro?
The other few moments of funny in this episode are Homer calling the babysitting service, Botz noticing the hommade pickled beets, and her line of “Please turn off the cartoon” when she’s released. That’s it, everything else in this episode is like Everybody Loves Raymond without the laugh track.
This was going to be the fucking pilot. THIS. This is like starting your tinder date by showing her how much faeces you can let hang out your butt before clenching it back in. I can’t convince myself that leading with this would have killed the show and started some weird Simpsonsless side universe but it certainly wouldn’t have helped.
Some classic retro in this, like Marge referring to their “video library” complete with the raggedy cardboard sleeves those crappy old things used to come in.
Marge referring to a chaperone on her and Homer’s first date would be interesting were that whole part of their lives not a canonical clusterfuck but that’ll be a fun thing to explore for next season.
2 replies to Some Enchanted Evening
Bungus Bronbo on 16th November 201716 Nov 17 said:
I just wanna say that I'm really impressed by the amount of effort that goes into each one of these reviews, and that I'm really enjoying reading them quite a lot. I genuinely look forward to each one.
Gabriel on 16th November 201716 Nov 17 said:
Tell your friends because I don't have any to tell
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