Bart of Darkness
|"Bart of Darkness"|
|The Simpsons episode|
|Episode no.||Season 6|
|Directed by||Jim Reardon|
|Written by||Dan McGrath|
|Original air date||September 4, 1994|
|Chalkboard gag||"Beans are neither fruit nor musical"|
|Couch gag||The Simpsons sit down in midair; the couch builds itself on top of the family and makes them fall.|
David S. Cohen
"Bart of Darkness" is the first episode of The Simpsons' sixth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on September 4, 1994. In the episode, Bart breaks his leg and becomes increasingly isolated in his room. He starts spying on neighbors with a telescope and begins to suspect that Ned Flanders has murdered his wife. The episode was produced during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which delayed production by a month, and is largely a parody of the Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window.
A heatwave strikes Springfield, so Bart and Lisa persuade Homer to buy a swimming pool. When word spreads that the Simpsons have a pool, all the neighborhood children arrive to use it. On a dare, Bart attempts an ambitious dive into the pool from his tree house, but falls to the ground and breaks his left leg after getting distracted by Nelson.
Bart is forced to spend the summer wearing a cast. Unable to socialize with other children, he retreats to his bedroom. Lisa loans Bart her telescope, which he uses to spy on the neighbors. After Bart hears a woman's scream and sees Ned burying something in his backyard, he suspects Ned has murdered his wife Maude.
Bart overhears Ned tell Rod and Todd their mother is "with God" and they will soon join her, making Bart think he plans to murder them too. While Ned is gone, Bart sends Lisa to search his house for murder evidence. When Ned returns, Lisa is trapped in the Flanders house and hides in the attic. Despite his broken leg, Bart crawls to Flanders' house and makes his way to the attic. When Bart and his sister see Ned wielding an axe, they think he intends to harm Lisa and yell for him to stop. Suddenly aware Bart and Lisa are in his attic, Ned merely returns the axe to its proper place and faints when he learns they suspect him of murder.
After the police arrive to investigate, the Simpsons discover Maude was "with God" at Bible camp and is alive, having returned home. The victim of Ned's "murder" was her favorite ficus plant, which he killed by watering too much. When the police unearth it from the Flanders' backyard, Ned emits a high-pitched scream which sounds like a woman's voice.
During Bart's exile in his room, Lisa becomes popular with the other children thanks to the swimming pool. She loses her newfound popularity to Martin when he gets an even bigger pool. After Martin's pool collapses due to overcrowding, his new friends angrily abandon him and Nelson snatches his swim trunks as a final insult. Standing naked and alone amid the wreckage, Martin sings "Summer Wind" as the sun sets.
Dan McGrath was chosen to write the episode, while Jim Reardon directed. The episode was originally produced as the season finale of the fifth season, but was held over and aired as the premiere of the sixth. This was because, along with "Lisa's Rival", the episode was in production at the time of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The earthquake damaged much of the Film Roman building in which The Simpsons writing and animation staff worked, forcing them to move out for three months and continue production in a temporary building. The only staff members that came in expecting to work were future show runners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein. As a result, the staff was given a month more than they would usually have had to work on the episode, which Reardon described as "greatly benefiting" it. Having been a director on the series for five years before this episode, he believed that this "was closer to what [he] was trying to achieve as a director than [he] had done before". He credited this to the extra time, and used it to insert little details, such as having Bart get stuck on the fabric of the chair he was in, and wearing his underwear instead of a swimsuit.
Many of the heat wave jokes at the start of the episode were based on past events of the crew's lives. The sitting in front of the fridge-freezer joke, came from McGrath, who had done a similar thing as a child. The Springfield Pool-Mobile was based on a similar vehicle from David Mirkin's childhood, where a truck with a "spinning cars" fairground ride on the back would often come around his neighborhood. Flanders' feminine scream was performed by Tress MacNeille and not his regular voice actor Harry Shearer. Krusty's mispronunciation of Ravi Shankar's name was an ad-lib, that Mirkin kept in after the editing process because he liked it so much.
- The episode title is a reference to Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella Heart of Darkness.
- Springfield's wax museum features models of The Beatles and the cast of M*A*S*H, and Bart plays Stratego on his own.
- The barn building scene with the onlooking Amish man is a reference to Peter Weir's 1985 film Witness.
- The pool dance scene sees Lisa in a role like those of Esther Williams, while Bart's play has similar elements of the works of Anton Chekhov.
- The Itchy & Scratchy episode title references The Planet of the Apes, with the mutants being referencing the Star Trek episode "The Menagerie".
- The third act is largely a pastiche of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. As in the film, a crippled Bart witnesses an apparent murder through his telescope, with the original musical cues also being used. James Stewart's character, L. B. "Jeff" Jefferies, appears twice, caricatured as his initial film appearance. The pictures on the wall of Jeff's room are the same as in Rear Window.
- In the final scene, Martin sings Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind".
For season six, Fox moved The Simpsons back to its original Sunday night time of 8 pm, having aired on Thursdays for the previous four seasons. It has remained in this slot ever since. In this original American broadcast, "Bart of Darkness" finished 44th in the ratings for the week of August 29 to September 4, 1994, with a Nielsen rating of 8.9 and an audience share of 17. The episode was the third highest rated show on the Fox network that week.
Mike Duffy praised the episode, stating it showed that The Simpsons was "just as strong and funny as it ever was".
Elaine Liner of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times praised the writing as "crisp, hilarious and multi-layered", praising its many cultural references and noting the "biting commentary" of Maude Flanders' line, "I was at Bible camp learning to be more judgmental". Later reviews shared these sentiments.
Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, found that the "eventual explanation for [Flanders'] murderous behavior is hilarious".
Tim Knight called it "a terrific opener to the season".
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia (eds.). The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. pp. 148–149. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M..
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Bart of Darkness". BBC. Retrieved 2007-07-25.
- Mirkin, David (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Sixth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart of Darkness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Reardon, Jim (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Sixth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart of Darkness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Sixth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart of Darkness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Daniels, Greg (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Sixth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart of Darkness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Reiss, Mike (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart Gets an F" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Duffy, Mike. "Fifth Season Finds 'The Simpsons' Still Fresh, Funny". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. C-8.
- Associated Press (1994-09-09). "How They Rate". St. Petersburg Times. p. 12.
- "Nielsen Ratings". The Tampa Tribune. 1994-09-09. p. 4.
- Elaine Liner (1994-09-04). "Bart Starts Off The New Season with a Fresh Cast". Corpus Christi Caller-Times. p. TV3.
- Knight, Tim. "The Simpson: The Complete Sixth Season (1994)(4 DVD Set)". Reel.com. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
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