Bart of Darkness
"Bart of Darkness" is the first episode of The Simpsons' sixth season, which originally aired September 4, 1994. It was written by Dan McGrath, and directed by Jim Reardon. In the episode, Bart breaks his leg and grows increasingly isolated in his room. He starts spying on the 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. To avoid months of persistence, he gives in instantly. 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 him to spend the rest of the summer wearing a cast and, unable to socialize with the other children, he retreats to his bedroom. His isolation slowly makes him more and more irritable and paranoid. 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 and screaming "I'm a murderer!" He becomes convinced that Flanders has murdered his wife Maude, and vows to reveal the truth.
Meanwhile, Lisa basks in the glow of her new popularity. However, Martin Prince gets a larger pool, and everyone abandons Lisa, leaving her inside the empty pool with no idea of how to get out. After Lisa apologizes to her brother for neglecting him, Bart asks Lisa to go and look for evidence of the murder while Ned is out of the house. When Ned returns early, Lisa becomes trapped in the Flanders house, eventually being cornered in the attic; Bart painfully makes his way over there by himself, just in time to discover that Ned was actually storing an axe and not trying to threaten Lisa with it. Maude, as it turns out, is actually alive, and had gone to Bible Camp for the weekend, to learn to be more judgemental. The victim of Ned's "murder" was merely her favorite plant, and the woman screaming actually came from Ned himself. Meanwhile, Martin's swimming pool breaks after being full with too many kids, and everyone abandons him, although Nelson steals his bathing suit first. As the episode ends, Martin sadly sings Summer Wind to himself as he stands naked in the wreckage of his pool.
Dan McGrath was chosen to pen 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 Northridge earthquake of 1994. 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. David X. Cohen came in the weekend after the earthquake to see what had happened, and was told that "it was no more dangerous than it was before the earthquake," as the building was "a ninety year old, decrepit shack." 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 title of the episode is a reference to the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. The third act of the episode is largely a pastiche of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. As in the film, a wheelchair-using 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. Also, the pictures on the wall of Jeff's room are a racing car accident and a plane, the same as in Rear Window. The barn building scene with the onlooking Amish man is a reference to Peter Weir's 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", as well as Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Itchy's sealing of Scratchy behind a brick wall alludes to Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Cask of Amontillado. 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, called it a "fine episode" and 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.
- Cohen, David (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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