Bart the Fink
"Bart the Fink" is the fifteenth episode of The Simpsons' seventh season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 11, 1996. In this episode, Bart ruins Krusty the Clown's career by accidentally exposing Krusty as one of the biggest tax cheats in American history. Driven to despair, Krusty fakes a suicide in order to start life anew as a sailor; feeling guilty for what he did, Bart convinces Krusty to become a television clown again.
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder and Bob Kushell, and directed by Jim Reardon. American actor Bob Newhart guest starred in it as himself. The episode's title is a play on the 1991 film Barton Fink. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews by television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 8.7, and was the fifth highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
After the death of great aunt Hortense, the Simpson family attends a will reading. Each member of the family discovers they will receive $100 to do with as they like, but only after spending the night in a haunted house (which is surprisingly pleasant). Though Bart wishes to buy a hundred tacos from the TacoMat and Lisa to contribute to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Marge has them open bank accounts at the Bank of Springfield. Bart is excited with his new checking account, and begins writing checks for his friends.
Bart attempts to get Krusty the Clown's autograph, but Krusty is having a new sandwich named after him and has to leave. Just before he does, Bart slips a check for twenty-five cents into Krusty's pocket, figuring that he will receive a copy of it endorsed with Krusty's signature with his monthly bank statement. However, when Bart receives the check, it is endorsed with a stamp ("Cayman Islands Off-Shore Holding Corporation") instead of a signature; dismayed, Bart takes the check back to the bank so that they can force Krusty to sign it. A suspicious bank teller investigates, and five minutes later, Krusty is arrested for tax fraud.
The IRS takes control of Krusty's assets and his show (renaming it Herschel Krustofsky's Clown-Related Entertainment Show and turning Krusty Burger into IRS Burger, with meals named with tax-related terms and a six-to-eight-week wait to the customers, who apparently must report their income with every order as Homer asked Marge how much she lost on gambling), reducing his lifestyle to that of an average citizen. One evening, as the town watches, a depressed Krusty pilots his airplane into a mountainside. He is later pronounced dead.
A memorial service is held for Krusty at which Bob Newhart offers condolences. While everyone assumes that Krusty is dead, Bart believes otherwise when he begins to see a Krusty look-alike all over town. With Lisa's help, he soon discovers that Krusty has gone into hiding under the disguise of Rory B. Bellows, a grizzled old longshore worker. With Krusty leaving on a boat heading for the ocean, they supposedly convince him to return to his former life. However, Krusty had insured the life of his pseudonym and rigged his boat with explosives; returning to shore with Bart and Lisa, "Bellows"'s boat explodes, allowing Krusty to collect the insurance cash and end his tax woes.
"Bart the Fink" was written by John Swartzwelder, but Bob Kushell came up with the idea for it. The episode was based on the "big tax problems" that American country singer Willie Nelson had at the time. The idea of Krusty faking his own death was an idea the production team had wanted to do for a long time, and it was inspired by the rumored fake death of American actor Andy Kaufman. Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, the show runners of The Simpsons' seventh and eighth season, thought the beginning of the episode in which the family spends the night in a haunted house would have been "the cruddiest beginning of any cruddy thing", if they had not added the twist that the family did not encounter any ghosts in the house and had their "best night's sleep ever". The twist was Oakley's idea and he thought it "worked out great".
The episode was directed by Jim Reardon. Consultant David Mirkin suggested that the animators should add "some funny things" to the episode to "spice it up", such as the gorilla suit that one of the bank employees wear. After the audio recording of the script by the Simpsons cast, the episode ended up too long. Weinstein said one of the reasons for it was that Krusty talks very slowly, which drags out the time. They were only allowed to send twenty minutes worth of audio to Film Roman for them to animate, but the audio track for the episode was twenty-six minutes long. American actor Bob Newhart guest starred in the episode as himself. Oakley said Newhart also talked very slowly and they had to cut out more than half of his recorded lines. Many of the writers were big fans of Newhart and everybody wanted to see him record his lines. Oakley and Weinstein decided to shut down production so that the whole writing staff could go to the recording studio. The episode was recorded in a big room so everyone had to be really quiet. It took Newhart two and a half minutes to record his first take, and, as no one was allowed to laugh during that time, there was an "explosion" of laughter in the room when he finished. Parts of Phil Hartman's appearance as Troy McClure were also cut from the episode due to time limits.
The episode's title is a play on the 1991 film Barton Fink. After losing his show and money, Krusty takes the bus home. An advertisement on the bus reads "Are you missing Mad About You right now? NBC Must See TV Sundays at 8 p.m." Krusty's airplane, "I'm-on-a-rolla-Gay", that he uses to stage his death is a spoof of the Enola Gay B-29 airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city Hiroshima in World War II. Krusty's illegal Cayman-Islands "accountant" is modeled on the actor Sydney Greenstreet, particularly on his role in the film Casablanca, considering his line "Oh, it's too hot today!" Swartzwelder is seen attending Krusty's funeral, who appears with a Kermit the Frog puppet on his hand.
In its original American broadcast, "Bart the Fink" finished sixty-fourth in the ratings for the week of February 5–11, 1996, with a Nielsen rating of 8.7. The episode was the fifth highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following Melrose Place, The X-Files, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Married... With Children.
"Bart the Fink" received generally positive reviews from television critics. DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson called the episode a "winner" and praised it for the "one hundred tacos for $100" joke. Jennifer Malkowski of DVD Verdict said that the best part of the episode is when Homer comforts Bart after Krusty's death by assuring him that he, too, could wake up dead tomorrow. In the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Unofficial "Simpsons" Guide by Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, they comment that "Bart the Fink" is "very fast and very good, with plenty of gags and effective set pieces. Bob Newhart's eulogy to Krusty is especially memorable." The authors of Media, home, and family, Stewart Hoover, Lynn Schofield Clark, and Diane Alters wrote that "Krusty ultimately expertly proves the truth about the IRS: ruining the financial and emotional life of many [people]." William Irwin, author of The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer also praised the use of IRS in "Bart the Fink" to convey the message that "none of us can escape the unavoidable taxes". In addition, Chris Turner claims "Bart the Fink" offers a "pointed answer to the question of why such a manifestly miserable world of phonies and cheats would be so enticing to many."
- Richmond & Coffman 1997, p. 195.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Bart the Fink". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
- Oakley, Bill (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Fink" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Weinstein, Josh (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Fink" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Coehn, David (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Fink" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Fink" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Reardon, Jim (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Fink" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Williams, Scott (February 16, 1996). "NBC Easily Wins Weekly Ratings". Rocky Mountain News. p. 36D. Retrieved on January 5, 2009.
- Jacobson, Colin (2006-01-05). "The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season (1995)". DVD Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
- Malkowski, Jennifer (2006-01-16). "The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
- Hoover, Stewart M.; Lynn Schofield Clark, Diane F. Alters (2004). Media, home, and family. Routledge. p. 136. ISBN 978-0-415-96917-8.
- Irwin, William (2001). The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer (8 ed.). Open Court. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-8126-9433-8.
- Turner 2004, pp. 384-386.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. Created by Matt Groening; edited by Ray Richmond and Antonia Coffman. (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ASIN 0060952520. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M. ISBN 0-06-095252-0, 978-0-06-095252-5.
- Turner, Chris (2004). Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation. Foreword by Douglas Coupland. (1st ed.). Cambridge: Da Capo Press. ASIN 0306813416. OCLC 670978714. ISBN 0-306-81341-6, 978-0-306-81341-2.
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