Bart of Darkness
"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. It was written by Dan McGrath, and directed by Jim Reardon. 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 film Rear Window.
A heatwave in Springfield leads Bart and Lisa to persuade Homer into getting a swimming pool. Word soon spreads that the Simpsons have a pool and every child in the town comes to use the new facility. After being dared, Bart attempts an ambitious dive into the pool from the top of his treehouse, but gets distracted by Nelson, and falls and breaks his leg. This forces Bart to spend the rest of the summer wearing a cast and, unable to socialize with the other children, he retreats to his bedroom. Lisa loans Bart her telescope to entertain him. Soon, Bart hears a woman's scream next door, and witnesses Ned Flanders burying something in his backyard. He becomes convinced that Ned has murdered his wife Maude. During Bart's exile in his room, Lisa becomes popular with the other kids thanks to the pool, but soon loses her newfound popularity to Martin Prince, who gets an even bigger pool.
Bart asks Lisa to go and look for evidence of the murder while Ned is out of the house. When Ned returns, Lisa becomes trapped in the Flanders house. Bart makes his way over there, just in time to discover that Ned was actually storing an axe and not using it against Lisa. Maude is actually alive and had gone to Bible Camp for the weekend. The victim of Ned's "murder" was merely her favorite plant, and the woman screaming actually came from Ned. Meanwhile, Martin's pool is destroyed from being overcrowded and his friends abandon him, with Nelson pulling down his pants.
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 as 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 third act of the episode is largely a pastiche of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. As in the film, a wheelchair-bound Bart witnesses an apparent murder through his telescope, with musical cues from the film also being used. James Stewart's character, L. B. "Jeff" Jefferies, appears twice, caricatured as he looks in the film. The pictures on the wall of Jeff's room are the same as in Rear Window. The barn building scene with the onlooking Amish man is a reference to the 1985 film Witness. The Itchy & Scratchy episode's title is a reference to The Planet of the Apes, with the mutants being a reference to the Star Trek episode "The Menagerie". At the end of the episode Martin sings Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind". 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 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.
For season six, Fox moved The Simpsons back to its original Sunday night time of 8 p.m., 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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