The Simpsons are known for having some of the most memorable and talented recurring guest stars. There is Joe Mantegna who plays the role of Fat Tony, the late, great Marcia Wallace who played Edna Krabappel and John Lovitz has starred in a number of guest roles and appearances as well. However, as amazing as all of those performances are, there is one guest voice who always manages to catch my attention and bring the nonstop laughter, and that voice is none other than Phil Hartman. Why is this relevant? Well, the next episode we are taking a look at is “Bart Gets Hit by a Car,” which just so happens to be Lionel Hutz’s first appearance, and Phil Hartman’s first credit as a voice actor on The Simpsons.
“Bart Gets Hit by a Car” is the tenth episode of Season 2 to be written and air on television. It debuted on January 10th, 1991, making it the first episode of 1991. The chalkboard gag is “I will not sell school property,” and the couch gag features the entire family coming in to sit on the couch, but Homer takes up all the room, so the rest of the family ends up sitting on the floor instead.
Bart: “Is there anything I can do to avoid coming back here?”
Satan: “Oh, sure, yeah. But, eh, you wouldn’t like it.”
Bart: “Oh, okay! See you later then.”
Satan: “Remember; lie, cheat, steal and listen to heavy metal music!”
Bart: “Yes, sir!”
The story starts with Bart Simpson skateboarding around town. When he reaches an intersection, he gets struck by a car being driven by Homer’s boss; Mr. Burns. While laying on the ground unconscious, Bart has an out-of-body experience as he ascends to the sky and rides an escalator up to Heaven. After spitting over the side of the escalator though, Bart’s destination is changed and ends up in Hell. After reviewing Bart’s files, the Devil decides that Bart is not due for damnation just yet as he starts to come to and wake up in a hospital bed. He is surrounded by his entire family and a strange, nicely-dressed man.
The man introduces himself as Lionel Hutz, an attorney of law, and he wants to pressure the family into getting monetary compensation from Mr. Burns for causing this accident. The family is reluctant to take him up on his offer because the medical bills aren’t too extravagant, but he still gives Homer his business card just in case. The next day at work, Mr. Burns holds a meeting with Homer and after talking to his lawyers, Mr. Burns decided to pay Homer off with $100. While Homer does appreciate the thought, he remarks that the amount isn’t quite enough to cover the medical bills and Mr. Burns takes back the offer immediately due to anger. While leaving his office, Homer takes another look at Mr. Hutz’s business card and decides to pay him a visit. At their meeting, Mr. Hutz promises Homer a huge cash settlement of $1,000,000, which Homer is very ecstatic about.
In order to cash in on this amount, Mr. Hutz takes the Simpson family to a crooked doctor, Dr. Nick Riviera, who exaggerates the severity of Bart’s injuries and puts him in more bandages and a wheelchair. Then, back at the Simpson house, Mr. Hutz runs through court case scenarios with Bart, telling him what to say and how to act on the witness stand. Lisa and Marge notice that Mr. Hutz is trying to make Bart look more injured than he actually is, but their concerns are deflected by Hutz and they move forward with the plot and sue Mr. Burns for one million dollars.
During the trial, in addition to the plan working like a charm, Mr. Burns also manages to make himself look more like a villain in the process, due to his stingy and evil nature in general. Because of this, the jury and people do not resonate with the old man’s story at all and it looks like Hutz and the Simpson family is going to win the case. In order to not lose the trial, Mr. Burns invites both Homer and Marge to his mansion to discuss a cash settlement. Burns lands on $500,000 as a compromise and leaves Homer and Marge to discuss the matter while he spies on them through a hole in a nearby painting.
Marge wants to accept the offer in order to stop the court room drama that has consumed their lives over the past few days, but Homer doesn’t want to, knowing that they are in a good position to win the case anyway and feels like Mr. Burns is only wanting an easy way out of paying the one million dollar fine. In this discussion, Marge blurts out that she thinks Dr. Nick Riviera is a phony, which is all the information that Mr. Burns needs, so he comes out of the room, rips up the offer and tells them to leave. The next day at court, Mr. Burns lawyer dramatically calls Marge Simpson to the stand.
Marge is questioned by the blue-haired lawyer on what she thinks about Dr. Nick. Marge tells the truth that she doesn’t think much of him, and if anything, doesn’t think he was even a doctor to begin with. From this revelation, Hutz’s case continues to unravel as Marge reveals that Bart’s condition is not as bad as they made it seem. In victory, Mr. Burns makes one last offer to Homer; a grand total of $0. Homer is absolutely devastated by the loss of the case and feels completely betrayed by Marge.
Homer goes off to Moe’s, unaware that Marge decided to follow him. Marge tries to apologize for “doing the right thing” and costing him $1,000,000 dollars. Homer tries to change the subject, saying that he’s not devastated by the loss of the money, but moreso that he’s not sure if he loves her anymore since she ruined his one big chance. Marge, in fear and worry, tells Homer to look her in the eyes and find out if he does still love her before he makes that declaration. Homer hesitantly tries to look Marge in the eyes, but when he finally does, he realizes that he does love Marge and they reconcile and kiss in the tavern.
Lisa: “Excuse me, Mr. Hutz. Are you a shyster?”
Mr. Hutz: “How does a nice little girl like you know a big word like that?”
This episode was on my Simpsons VHS tape, but I have to admit that as a kid, a lot of the stuff in this episode kind of flew over my head, as a lot of the adult humor and storytelling tends to do in these early episodes. Heck, if anything, I always thought the Simpsons were in the right by suing Mr. Burns, just because they do really make him look like a villain in this episode. If anything, it kind of puts the episode in perspective because they really didn’t have to try very hard to incriminate him. However, I’ll get more into that when I get to the review section. I just remember as kid finding the scenes of Bart’s out-of-body experience and the personal re-telling of the events of the accident really intriguing as a child.
Lawyer: “My client has instructed me to remind you how rich and important he is and that’s he’s not like other men.”
Mr. Burns: “I should be able to run over as many kids as I want!”
Judge: “Mr. Burns, I must warn you that if you continue to disrupt the court in this way, I will have to cite you for contempt.”
Mr. Burns: “You wouldn’t dare!”
Judge: “Well, no, um, I guess I wouldn’t.”
I said it in the Introduction, and I’ll say it again; Phil Hartman is an amazing actor. Although I wouldn’t say this was his best showing of Lionel Hutz, just because this was the introduction of the character and they wanted to put a little more emphasis on the storytelling as opposed to humor, he does really sell you on the idea that he is a crooked lawyer. He may not be as flashy as Saul Goodman, but he gets the job done and I look forward to his future appearances. Phil Hartman also had the role of God in this episode, a voice over role that happened while Bart was ascending the escalator to Heaven in his out-of-body experience, which was also just another great inclusion of his awesome voice.
While on the subject of that scene, the out-of-body sequence that happens before Bart wakes up in the hospital is also just a very nice sequence of scenes in general. You get to see long-lost relatives of the Simpson family that we never got to meet the original Simpson cat Snowball (1) as Bart is ascending to Heaven, and then get to witness Bart’s first (but not last) meeting with the Devil. It’s funny to think that spitting over the escalator’s railing was the true straw that broke the camel’s back and sent Bart to Hell. Plus, in general, it was just really nice to see the writers and animators interpretations and designs for Heaven and Hell. Sure, they weren’t incredibly unique designs, but it’s always nice to get some insight and world-building into these shows.
I don’t have a lot to say about the second or third acts, just because they do focus a lot more on storytelling and driving the plot forward. Phil Hartman does continue to keep things very interesting as the crooked lawyer, especially when he starts working over Bart to make their case go well, and trying to avoid or step around the very legitimate questions and concerns from Marge and Lisa. I said this in the previous section, but I also really enjoyed Bart and Mr. Burn’s retelling of the events from the day of the accident; how they are both just completely stretching the truth and falsifying the events to make the other party look bad. I think one of my favorite parts is watching Mr. Burns during his retelling where he is kissing Bart’s forehead and screaming “No! Take me; I’m old!” to the heavens and has just the most stupid grin on his face when the story returns to reality and nobody is buying his story at all. I also really like when Homer and Marge are meeting with Mr. Burns and after serving Homer some alcohol, he asks, “Mr. Burns, are you trying to get me drunk?” to which Mr. Burns responds with a very confident “Yes!” before moving on to his offer.
For the final act, there’s not really anything major I want to highlight or talk about. Overall, I suppose the episode does have a good, moral message, and that message is that the truth will (or should anyway) win out over the lies that you tell. Marge stuck to her ground and did what she thought was right, and that’s something you have to respect her for. Yeah, she lost the family a $1,000,000 settlement, but if she didn’t and Hutz won the case, the family would have honestly been no better than Mr. Burns, who was already a very nasty person in this episode, even when you consider the fact that the family’s testimony was completely exaggerated. It was just a nice way of showing that lying does not pay and only the truth will set you free and show you the way, which is a pretty unoriginal message, but a message nonetheless.
Mr. Burns: “Go, go! Bottoms up. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
Homer: “Mr. Burns, are you trying to get me drunk?”
Mr. Burns: “Yes.”
As you can see, I didn’t really have a lot to say about my favorite moments in this episode, and honestly, that’s just because I just don’t really have very many of them. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I dislike this episode, but it’s not really an episode I would find myself bending over backwards to watch either. Let’s start with the good stuff first. For one, Phil Hartman is an incredible actor who is fun to watch and listen to. Two, the out-of-body scenes and fantasy/recap sequences were great. Three, this episode does have a very good message at the end of the story and it is nice to see the voice of reason, Marge, finally open up about her feelings and try to get things on the right path, even if it nearly destroys the family in the process. Basically, there are some good things here and I definitely wouldn’t call it a bad episode because of those things.
However, I do have a lot of problems with this episode as well. For one, although I definitely can’t sympathize with Mr. Burns, I can’t really sympathize with Homer and Lionel Hutz either. They got way too greedy with the one million dollar cash settlement, and more than that, they didn’t even need to go along with the charade or all of the theatrics that came with it either. Pardon my french, but Mr. Burns was a complete asshole in this episode. $100 bucks is definitely not enough to cover medical bills, he opens up the trial by saying “I can run over any kids that I want,” and even considers firing Homer as soon as the case is even brought up to him in the first place. This was not a hard to case to win, so why even try to overdo it and risk it to such a high, monetary degree? I understand that the point was to show how much of a “shyster” Mr. Hutz was in the first place and that he was only trying to entice Homer with a deal he couldn’t refuse, but the further I got into this episode, I have to admit that I just didn’t care for Homer’s actions here. I get that Homer feels like he’s in a dead-end, low-paying job that he can’t exactly leave because he has a family to support, so in a sense, he really wanted and felt like he needed this breakthrough to make his life better. At the same time though, it just wasn’t worth jeopardizing his relationship with Marge, especially when it doesn’t really even seem like he learned a lesson here. So yeah, it was just a really hard thing for me to stomach in this particular re-watch.
I think in general my biggest problem of this episode though is the ending, and by the ending, I mean Homer telling Marge that he isn’t sure he loves her anymore, followed by an extremely quick realization that he does love her as he tries to take everything back. Like, I get what the writers were going for here; again, they were trying to show how miserable Homer is at his low-income job, so much that he felt like Marge could have gone along with the lie to make both of their lives better and easier. However, Homer was foolish for 1) thinking that this was the way to do it and 2) expecting that Marge would not be true to her own character and be dishonest. However, I don’t think that’s shown very well and I personally feel the ending suffers from that lack of detail.
I just think the writers were a bit too ambitious with this ending. They wanted to introduce a marriage crisis at the very end of the episode, to show how dangerous the subject of money can be to a marriage, but then when they looked at the clock and realized they were on the last minute of the episode, there just wasn’t enough time to fully develop that plot line and they didn’t exactly know what to cut out from the rest of the episode to explore that element further. This makes the ending feel more like a “sweep under the rug” type of ending as opposed to an actual conflict resolution, which I guess wouldn’t be too out of left field for The Simpsons so far, but after the Homer and Marge endings of “Life on the Fast Lane,” and heck, even “Homer’s Night Out,” (an episode I disliked) it’s just so much harder to believe that the issue got resolved here. It is kind of sweet that Homer realizes he does love Marge more than anything after looking deep into her eyes (and I am normally a sucker for that kind of thing), but because he had just come to the realization that he wasn’t sure he loved her anyone…it just seemed like too quick of a turn, if that makes sense.
Perhaps I’m just looking at it too hard or am missing something vital here that is not allowing me to move past this ending, but that’s at least the impression I got from this particular watch. Maybe it wasn’t so much that Homer felt like he didn’t love Marge anymore, but more that he was conflicted on what to feel after losing the case and maybe his own guilt caught up with him and confused him for a bit? This is why i feel like there just wasn’t enough time left in the episode to explore those angles and the ending just feels rushed because of that. I think it definitely could have worked, but when you are halfway into the final act and Marge is still on the stand giving her testimony, you don’t exactly have a lot of time to explore those post-trial emotions, and that’s the stuff that really needed to be conveyed to make the ending work.
I think that’s going to do it for this episode. We have some heavy hitters coming up in the next two weeks, starting with next weeks episode, “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish,” and continuing with “The Way We Was.” After next week we will be at that halfway point for Season 2 as well, so I hope you guys are ready for that!