"Bart Carny" is the twelfth episode of The Simpsons' ninth season, originally airing on the Fox network on January 11, 1998. Homer and Bart start working at a carnival and befriend a father and son duo named Cooder and Spud. It was written by John Swartzwelder, directed by Mark Kirkland and guest stars Jim Varney as Cooder the carny.
When Marge unsuccessfully tries to get the kids to clean up the backyard, Homer runs into the house to exclaim to the family that the carnival is in town. After trying some rides, Bart gets himself into trouble by crashing a display of Hitler's limousine into a tree. Trying to repay the loss, Bart and Homer become carnies.
They meet up with carnies Cooder and his son, Spud. Cooder asks Homer to run his fixed game, but Homer fails to bribe Chief Wiggum (mainly because he was not deciphering Chief Wiggum's obvious hints at wanting a bribe), and Cooder's game is shut down. Feeling guilty, Homer invites Cooder and Spud to stay at the Simpson residence, much to Marge's dismay.
To express their gratitude, the Cooders give the Simpsons tickets on a glass-bottom boat ride. When the Simpsons return, they find that the locks have been changed, the windows are all boarded up and the Simpsons' name is crossed off the mailbox and replaced by 'The Cooders'. The Cooders have tricked them and taken their house. After Chief Wiggum, still angry at him for not giving him the bribe, ignores Homer's pleas for help, the family is forced to take up residence in Bart's treehouse.
Homer proposes to Cooder, that if he can throw a hula hoop onto the chimney, they get their house back. If he misses, he will sign the deed over to Cooder. Cooder agrees and steps onto the lawn to watch Homer's attempt. Homer stretches and warms up, as if about to throw, but instead he and his family suddenly rush into the house, leaving Cooder and Spud dumbfounded in the street. Homer has outwitted the Cooders and the Simpsons have their house back. However, Homer begins to feel sorry again, until Marge reminds him that the carnies ruined the ass groove in his couch which Homer immediately sets about remedying.
The carnival in this episode is based on the The Eastern States Exposition (currently known as The Big E) fair. As a child, Mike Scully went to the fair, and had hoped one day to be a carny. He thought carnies were the coolest people. This is the only episode that Mark Kirkland did not tell his parents to watch. This is due to Bart's line "Out of my way, I'm Hitler". Kirkland's stepfather was a lieutenant in World War II and was injured while in combat. Cooder was modeled after David Mirkin, the showrunner of seasons five and six and co-writer and the executive producer of two episodes in the ninth season. Spud's head shape is modeled after Bart's head. The "fisheye effect", when Cooder is looking through the peep hole was drawn by hand, not optically by assistant director Matthew Nastuk. Matt Groening said they had several endings worked out, including one where Homer made the hula hoop over the chimney.
The title of the episode is a reference to actor Art Carney. When Homer and Bart talk through their teeth, while holding the chickens, it is a reference to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movies. Some of the prizes for the ring toss game are a Def Leppard mirror, a Rubik's Cube and a Magic 8-Ball. The song being played, at the end when Homer fixes his "ass groove" is "Groove Me" by King Floyd.
In its original broadcast, "Bart Carny" finished 13th in ratings for the week of January 5–11, 1998, with a Nielsen rating of 11.9, equivalent to approximately 11.7 million viewing households, making it the highest rated episode of Season 9. It was tied with King of the Hill as the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following The X-Files.
The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, called it "one of the most dismally unfunny episodes ever, lifted only by the brief appearance of a talking camel and Homer's clever way of getting Cooder and Spud out of his home. Whereas most of the series' politically incorrect moments are funny and well-observed, this episode seems to be saying that fairground folk and travelers really are deeply unpleasant criminals who are both irredeemable and unworthy of help. Nasty-taste-in-the-mouth time." Despite the negative review from I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Isaac Mitchell-Frey of the Herald Sun described the episode as "brilliant", and highlighted it along with episodes "The Trouble with Trillions" and "The Joy of Sect" and it has been described by the other Simpsons writers in the DVD audio commentary as "criminally underrated".
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Bart Carny". BBC. Retrieved 2007-11-05.
- "Bart Carny". The Simpsons.com. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
- Gimple, Scott M. (December 1, 1999). The Simpsons Forever!: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family ...Continued. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-098763-3.
- Scully, Mike (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart Carny" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Kirkland, Mark (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart Carny" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart Carny" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 2006.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M..
- Associated Press (January 15, 1998). "NBC reclaims Nielsen ratings title". Sun-Sentinel. p. 4E.
- Mitchell-Frey, Isaac (February 11, 2007). "Comedy - The Simpsons, Series 9". Herald Sun. p. E12.
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- "Bart Carny" at The Simpsons.com
- "Bart Carny" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "Bart Carny" at TV.com