Bart on the Road
"Bart on the Road" is the twentieth episode of The Simpsons' seventh season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on March 31, 1996. In the episode, Bart makes his own fake driver's license. He rents a car with it and takes Milhouse, Martin, and Nelson on a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee. In Knoxville, however, the car gets destroyed, and they are stranded without any money or transportation. To get Bart home, Homer orders equipment for the power plant and ships it via courier from Knoxville, with the boys stowed away inside the crate.
The episode was written by Richard Appel, and directed by Swinton O. Scott III. The idea of a road trip was "so exciting" that the writers immediately knew they wanted to write it. This features cultural references to the 1991 film Naked Lunch, American singer Andy Williams, and Look magazine. Since airing, the episode has received positive reviews from television critics, and Central Michigan Life named it the eighth best episode of the show. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 7.2, and was the fifth highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
Principal Skinner closes school the day before spring break and sends the children on a "go to work with your parents day" in order to take a trip to Hong Kong. Bart is forced to go to the DMV with his aunts Patty and Selma, and Lisa decides to go to the nuclear power plant with Homer, where she bonds with him. At the DMV, Bart makes himself a fake driver's license, which he, Nelson, Martin, and Milhouse use to hire a rental car with $600 Martin earned in the stockmarket. The boys tell their parents they are going to attend the "National Grammar Rodeo" in Canada, but secretly take the rented car for a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee after finding a brochure for the 1982 World's Fair. During the car ride, chaos ensues as they stop in Branson, Missouri to see Nelson's favorite singer Andy Williams, and Nelson later manages to provoke an agitated father of a Canadian family traveling to Cape Canaveral to turn around and head back to Winnipeg.
In Knoxville, however, they find out that the fair was held fourteen years earlier, and that its featured attraction, the Sunsphere, is now being used as a warehouse for a wig shop, now called the Wigsphere. The boys' car soon gets destroyed by the Sunsphere being toppled by a rock Nelson threw, and they are stranded without any money or transportation. They sign up as couriers and then go to Hong Kong. Bart places a collect call to Lisa, who has spent the entire spring break with Homer at work, to ask her for advice. Lisa obtains Homer's promise that he will not get upset and she reveals Bart's predicament, causing Homer to scream in his safety helmet. To get Bart home, Homer contacts a power station close to the boys' location, and orders a new command module for the power plant, after spilling soda over the current one, and ships it via courier from Knoxville, with Milhouse, Nelson, and Martin stowed away inside the crate and Bart as the courier.
The ending credits begin with an unsuspecting Marge getting phone calls from Principal Skinner (who spotted Bart in Hong Kong), the Tennessee State Police (who inquire about the crushed rental car), and the courier office (which has an assignment for Bart). Homer snickers at these calls, which leaves Marge furious.
The episode was written by Richard Appel, who wanted to do an episode that had two things; a "go to work with your parents day" and Bart getting a driver's license. The "go to work with your parents day" idea appealed to Appel because it was something he "lost the right" to do when he went from public school to private school as a child. Appel considered those days to be his favorites because he "didn't have to do anything" at his parents' job. The idea of having a driver's license was something that Appel dreamed about when he was younger.
The writing staff had never done a spring break episode before so they thought, "What would Lisa and Bart do on spring break?" and came up with the road trip plot. Bill Oakley, the show runner of The Simpsons at the time, said that road trips were something that the writers liked to write stories about. The idea of four children going on a road trip was "so exciting" that they immediately knew they wanted to write it. There was a debate over where the children would go, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was first suggested, but the writers eventually decided to have them go to a "funny unlikely place". Oakley's show runner partner, Josh Weinstein, said that the writers were always looking for combinations of characters that had not been done many times on the show. Homer and Lisa had not been done "too often" and they wanted the two characters to bond and get closer to each other.
The episode was directed by Swinton O. Scott III. It was difficult to animate because the animators had to draw completely new designs for the locations outside of Springfield, such as Knoxville. The car scenes were also difficult to animate. At the time, The Simpsons was using traditional animation without computers, but they had to get one for a scene where the camera spins around the car from above. The car was difficult to animate because it had to "look real" and not "boxy like a truck". The car was based on a 1993 Oldsmobile car with rounded edges. The Simpsons animator David Silverman said that the episode was "probably the most difficult one" Scott had to direct on the show.
When Lisa and Homer are playing with the radiation suits, Lisa says "Houston, we have a problem- Homer 13 is spinning out of control!" This is a reference to the Apollo 13 incident, where an onboard oxygen tank exploded, causing the spacecraft to temporarily lose control.
Bart and his friends use Bart's fake license to see the R-rated 1991 film Naked Lunch, an adaptation of William Burroughs's novel dealing with heroin addiction, homosexuality, and hallucinogens. Nelson's muted "I can think of at least two things wrong with that title" afterwards reflects the fact that the film has a titillating title but is very much a dark, bleak, un-erotic arthouse film.
The boys also go see an Andy Williams concert in Branson, Missouri, and the marquee advertising it outside reads "Wow, he's still got it – Look magazine", Look having been out of business for years when the episode aired.
In its original American broadcast, "Bart on the Road" finished 63rd in the ratings for the week of March 25 to March 31, 1996, with a Nielsen rating of 7.2. The episode was the fifth highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following The X-Files, Cops, Party of Five, Martin and Melrose Place.
Since airing, the episode has received positive reviews from television critics. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, said that it "contains some superb touching character scenes between Homer and Lisa, a fascinating glimpse of Marge's insecurities, and some nice touches that take it above the show's very high average." Dave Foster of DVD Times said that "Bart on the Road" is an episode which is built upon a "frankly ludicrous" idea which if the writers were to "stumble upon" now, "we'd simply see Bart happen upon a license and skip town without anyone noticing, but here they do give the setup a great deal of consideration both on and off the screen." He thought the story was "partly believable, though the opportunity when Bart hits the road is largely wasted with only a few well constructed jokes to speak of." Foster thinks "what saves the episode is the opportunity to see Lisa and Homer connect, once again displaying what a strong season this is for Lisa as we see the two share some wonderfully tender moments, alongside some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson enjoyed the episode and said that he "loves" the children's experiences at their parents' jobs, "and when they head out of town, the fun continues. Any episode that sends the kids to the site of the World's Fair is OK by me." Jennifer Malkowski of DVD Verdict considered the best part of the episode to be when Patty and Selma explain their job at the DMV: "Somedays we don't let the line move at all. We call those weekdays." The website concluded its review by giving the episode a grade of B+. John Thorpe of Central Michigan Life named it the eighth best episode of the show. Robert Canning of IGN in a Flashback Review gave the episode a 9.5 saying it was "Outstanding" and also stated ""Bart on the Road" is a fun trip and very funny, but it's the way everything comes together that really makes it memorable".
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M..
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Bart on the Road". BBC. Archived from the original on 2008-12-08. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
- Appel, Richard (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart on the Road" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Oakley, Bill (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart on the Road" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Weinstein, Josh (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart on the Road" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Silverman, David (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart on the Road" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- "Nielsen Ratings". The Tampa Tribune. April 4, 1996. p. 4. Retrieved on January 6, 2009.
- Foster, Dave (2006-02-25). "The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season". DVD Times. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
- 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, Judge (2006-01-16). "The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
- Thorpe, John (November 15, 2000). "Top 10 Simpson's episodes ever". Central Michigan Life. Archived from the original on 22 January 2009. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
- Canning, Robert (July 22, 2009) The Simpsons Flashback: "Bart On the Road" Review IGN Retrieved May 30, 2010
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