SSR #21: “Bart the Daredevil”

Introduction:
Bart Simpson has done a lot of crazy things, but now he is going to stare danger right in the face with the next episode of Season 2, “Bart the Daredevil.” This is a pretty iconic episode of Season 2 and the series in general, mainly due to the final setting of the episode and certain gag that gets shown and referenced a number of times throughout the entire show’s duration. But how does this episode stand the test of time in general? Today we are going to find out!

“Bart the Daredevil” is the 8th episode of The Simpson’s second season and debuted on December 6th, 1990. Although it was the eighth episode broadcast, it was actually the sixth episode written and was swapped places for Dead Putting Society for some particular reason. I assume because this episode needed to be edited due to some of the animation and particular scenes that may have been a little uneasy for viewing audiences, but I can’t be 100% for certain. The chalkboard gag for this episode is “I will not drive the principal’s car!” and the couch gag features the Simpson family coming into the house, sitting on the couch, with the entire couch tipping over sideways with Maggie landing on a couch cushion in front of the television.

“Ladies and gentlemen, a 10-year-old who is brave and bold, when he’s not in class, he’s risking his ass; the world’s greatest daredevil, Bart Simpson!”
~Announcer (Bart’s Dream)

Plot:
While watching a wrestling match on television, Homer and Bart see an advertisement for a monster truck rally coming to Springfield Speedway that weekend. Excited to see the show, they decide to inform the rest of the family and make it a family event. However, Marge and Lisa remind the boys that Lisa has a recital that night as well. As a compromise, they decide to attend both events. The recital runs long which has Homer rushing to the speedway, and in the madness of speeding to the stadium and missing all the early parking spaces, Homer drives right into the field and their car with the entire family gets attacked by a giant mechanical dinosaur called Truck-o-saurus.

The team behind Truck-o-saurus apologizes to the Simpson family, pays for the car damages, and allows them to watch the event from very good seats as compensation. During the show, Bart takes notices of a daredevil by the name of Captain Lance Murdock who jumps over a pool of vicious sea creatures (and a lion) on his motorcycle. Bart becomes enamored with the thought of death-defiance and starts having daydreams about jumping over stuff on his skateboard. When he tries to jump over his parent’s car though, he hurts himself pretty badly and is taken to the hospital.

Dr. Hibbert, Bart’s doctor, tries to discourage Bart from pursuing the path of a daredevil by showing him a ward filled with children who have hurt themselves by performing stunts they have seen on television and through media in general. Bart promises not to pursue this path anymore, but immediately tries jumping over the car again when he gets home. This time, Bart makes the jump and proceeds to jump over more things on his skateboard. Although he has had some temporary success, he quickly becomes bored of the feats because they are too easy for him, but on a class field trip to Springfield Gorge, Bart finds a way to make it more interesting and he makes an announcement to his class that he will be jumping over Springfield Gorge on his skateboard.

Lisa, not approving of Bart’s announcement, takes Bart back to the hospital to have a private audience with Captain Murdock himself, to try and discourage Bart from going through with his plan. Lance is proud of Bart for taking an interest in his craft and encourages him to go through with it, which was not what Lisa was hoping for at all. As a result, she tells Homer and Marge about Bart’s plan and Homer immediately grounds Bart for even entertaining the thought. Bart threatens Homer that he will not be able to watch him every hour of every day and that the second his back his turned, he will be jumping the gorge. Homer goes to reason with Bart, and while it does seem like he is getting through to him, Bart sneaks away when Homer leaves the room to jump the gorge.

Bart gets ready to jump the gorge and as he is riding down the slope, Homer arrives and tackles Bart before he gets to the jump. Tired of not getting anywhere with his son, even through ordering, punishing and reasoning, Homer decides the only way to get through to Bart is to attempt the jump himself. Bart, knowing Homer will not make the jump, finally gives in and tells Homer that he will not do jumps anymore. They have a sweet reconciliation on top of the gorge, but it doesn’t last long as Homer is still on the skateboard and it starts to rolls down towards the cliff. Homer has no choice but to attempt the jump and as he nears its completion, he comes up a bit short and plummets to the bottom of the cliff, getting badly injured. Even when paramedics come to rescue him, the retrieval doesn’t go well, causing Homer to plummet down the cliff a second time. The episode ends with Homer laying in the bed next to Lance Murdock, remarking, “You think you have guts? Try raising my kids.”

“I don’t even want to show you the horrors of our “Three Stooges Ward.”
~Dr. Julius Hibbert

Personal History:
This was another episode that was featured on my Season 2 VHS tape, and was probably one of my favorite episodes as a kid. Of course the most iconic thing for me was the Springfield Gorge jump (probably to no one’s surprise) because it’s definitely one of those things where, if you see it once, you will never forget it. I also remember being terrified as a kid when the family was being attacked by Truck-o-saurus, just because it’s the scene that ends Act 1 and the entire family is screaming the whole time. If anything, I actually found that more terrifying than Homer’s plummet down the cliff. In fact, I want to say that as a kid, I could never stop laughing at the Springfield Gorge stuff, when in reality, that’s the kind of stuff that would freak me out to the extreme.

Homer: “Springfield Gorge? I thought we settled this daredevil junk.”
Bart: “Squealer!”
Lisa: “Sorry Bart, but if you would have gotten hurt or died, despite the extra attention I’d receive, I’d miss you.”

Favorite/Memorable Moments:
After the last couple of episodes, I think I’m going to slightly change the format of this section for the reviews, just because I feel like for the last couple of episodes, I’ve been very disorganized with my analyses, having a lot of the stuff I should be putting in the “Review” section in this section. To avoid that, I’m going to try to spend one paragraph on each act of the episode and talk about the things that stood out for me, whether it’s favorite scene, favorite quote, etc., and then I can start getting into the analytical stuff when I get to my review. This way, maybe I can avoid the rambling until I get to the section where that rambling would actually matter.

For the first act, there isn’t a lot that happens in regards to the episode’s main plot. A lot of it is just trying to get the story to the monster truck show, so Bart can see the daredevil, but that’s pretty standard affair when it comes to Simpson episodes. I enjoyed seeing Bart and Homer watch wrestling with their buddies at both home and Moe’s Tavern respectively and how a lot of their interactions seem to parallel each other, including them both being excited for the show and Truck-o-saurus. I think it’s a great set-up to how the story ends up in the final act and it was nice to see here. I also like when Homer is speeding down the road after Lisa’s recital and as he is driving through traffic, he’s humming the music from Lisa’s recital which shows a nice moment between Homer and Lisa when Lisa remarks “I reached him!” It shows that despite Homer’s behavior towards Lisa’s recital, something he didn’t really even want to go in the first place, he still went and it obviously still impacted him in some way, and Lisa is more than satisfied with that.

In the second act, we start to get into all the daredevil stuff and that’s where things start to pick up quite a bit. I absolutely loved the scene where we are introduced to Lance Murdock and as he explaining his stunt, we see that the pool he is jumping over is filled with so many dangerous aquatic creatures, and just to top it all off, they drop a freaking lion into the tank as well. It’s even more hilarious when Lance falls back into the tank after making the jump, just for him to get dragged back into the pool by the lion himself when he tries to escape. It’s incredibly silly, but I absolutely loved it as a kid and I found it very humorous now as an adult as well.

And last but not least, we have Act 3 when the Springfield Gorge comes into play and it’s probably the most engaging part of the episode. It’s when the story goes from being about some insane thing Bart has picked up into how his new hobby affects everyone around him with one insane stunt. It’s great to see Lisa concerned and Homer worried about the situation and how they play off of each other because of that. Lisa telling Bart that she had to tell their parents because despite the perks of receiving extra attention, she would miss him more is a great detail of their brother-sister relationship and the interaction between Homer and Bart at the Gorge is incredible. As for Homer plummeting off into the gorge? I’ll talk about that a little more in the next section, but I know as a kid I found that entire scene absolutely hilarious.

“You have guts? Try raising my kids…”
~Homer Simpson

My Review:
I feel like this is an episode that people really love or an episode where people look at the gorge scene and think, “Really? That’s where they went with this?” And you know, to the latter, I say “fair.” However, with that being said, I actually really like this episode and enjoyed watching it back. I don’t think it’s the best of Season 2 or anything, but I found the episode engaging on an emotional standpoint and a comedic one, and that’s something I can respect the episode for accomplishing quite well. It’s a good story of the entire family taking part in an activity, one of the family members going off on their own story branch, but at the same time, the rest of the family is still important and a core part of the overall plot as it always seems to return to them at some point, which I think is great attention to detail.

The Homer and Bart relationship is really expanded in this episode as well. You can tell that despite the friction they might have at some points, they still come together to be excited about going to the monster truck show, or in the case of the 3rd act, how much they love and care about each other. Bart really wanted to jump the gorge, but once his father threatened to do it instead, he not only promised not to do it, but also promised to stop his daredevil ways once and for all in a very emotional plea. That was really nice and I really enjoyed seeing that personally. It shows that regardless of how strict Bart sees Homer or how much of a handful Bart is for Homer, they can still reach common ground and be more like a family.

Getting into the gorge scene; not to be that guy that always proclaims, “It’s a cartoon, they can do anything they want without things making sense, it’s fine,” but I think there is a little bit of validity there, at least in the case of this episode. Yeah, Homer fell into the gorge (twice) and hurt himself very badly, almost in a comedic way for the viewers, or in a way to get people talking about the episode via shock value. However, I think its fine here because the story had reached a satisfying conclusion and wrap-up at that point. Bart stopped his dangerous ways, father and son had a touching moment; I felt the writers and producers did everything they needed to do to close out there story. Homer unintentionally attempting the stunt was really just a bonus that in a strange way, probably helped reinforce the resolution as it is. Imagine how Bart must feel after witnessing Homer getting badly injured and being transported away in a full body cast and bandages; I don’t think he would ever want to jump off of ramps on his skateboard ever again at that point.

In other words, I think a show, particularly an animated one like the Simpsons, can and should be able to get away with feats like this, as long as it supports what the main message of the episode is about. Not to say that every show needs to have that message, as shows like Looney Toons exist in the interest of watching silly, slapstick humor where a good guy outsmarts the bad guy and we watch the bad guy get incredibly hurt as a result. But in the Simpsons, a show with story, life lessons, character development; things that elevate it over being just a simple Saturday morning cartoon show, I think it’s important to have that strong message or focus backing it up if you are going to throw one of the main characters into a deep, rocky gorge twice and have them live to tell the tale, just so it doesn’t seem like mindless humor and shock value. It seems like The Simpsons has always kind of had that kind of stuff in check though, at least they did back during these days. As usual, I’m not going to get into the production of modern-day episodes, but in these early seasons, there seemed to be a lot of care and attention put into these episodes, and I think that’s way they generally rate way higher than the episodes that get shown today, and I think this episode is a good example of that. It’s entertaining, but it also manages to pull out some emotional feels as well, and that’s what I like about it.

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I think that’s going to do it for Bart the Daredevil, so looking forward to next update…we are going to be taking a look at “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” our first Marge episode since Life on the Fast Lane back in Season 1. I’ll see you guys then!

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