Bart the Daredevil
"Bart the Daredevil" is the eighth episode of The Simpsons' second season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on December 6, 1990. It was written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky and directed by Wes Archer. In the episode, the Simpsons go to a monster truck rally that features famous daredevil Lance Murdock. Bart immediately becomes enamored and decides that he wants to become a daredevil as well. Bart's first stunt ends in injury, and despite the family and Dr. Hibbert's best efforts, he continues to attempt stunts.
Bart decides to jump the Springfield gorge, but Homer learns about Bart's plan and makes him promise not to jump it. However, Bart breaks his promise and goes to jump the gorge. Before the act, though, Homer stops him just in time and gets Bart to swear that he will stop being a daredevil.
Series creator Matt Groening said that the episode is his favorite of the series, and it is also considered among the series' best by television critics.
The Simpsons family attends a monster truck rally featuring Truck-o-Saurus, a giant robotic dinosaur which ultimately crushes the Simpson family car. The rally's grand finale features a death-defying stunt by "the world's greatest daredevil", Lance Murdock. Despite the fact that the act leaves Murdock badly hurt and hospital-bound, Bart is enamored by his performance and dreams of becoming a daredevil. Bart quickly injures himself during his first skateboard stunt by trying to jump over the family car. At the hospital, Dr. Hibbert shows Bart a ward full of children who have been hurt from attempting stunts. Nonetheless, Bart is persistent and continues to pursue his daredevil interest by jumping over a swimming pool and Homer on his hammock. On a class trip to Springfield Gorge, Bart announces that on Saturday, he will jump the gorge on his skateboard. Lisa talks Bart into visiting the hospital to see Murdock, hoping that the daredevil will talk him out of the dangerous stunt. Unexpectedly, however, Murdock encourages Bart to continue on his legacy. Bart plans to do it against the wishes of Homer, who insists that it is too dangerous.
Even after a punishment, several orders, and a "heart-to-heart talk" with Homer, Bart still goes to the gorge and tries to jump it. He is stopped at the last second by Homer, who decides to jump the gorge himself to show Bart what it is like to see a family member needlessly risk their life for no good reason. Bart, not wanting to see his father injured on his account, promises to never jump the gorge and never try to be a daredevil again. However, when Homer goes to hug Bart to make up their misunderstanding, the board rolls down a hill and flies over the gorge, with Homer on board. Although it briefly appears as though Homer will make it safely across, he loses momentum near the middle and plummets to the bottom, progressively becoming severely injured with each fall towards the jagged rocks, and receiving multiple fractures and wounds. A helicopter winches Homer out, slamming his head against the side of the gorge several times in the process before he is loaded into a waiting ambulance, which immediately crashes into a tree as it starts to leave for the hospital. The gurney carrying Homer rolls out of the back, and Homer once again falls to the floor of the canyon. Having arrived at the hospital he is put in the same ward next to Lance Murdock, where he tells him, "You think you've got guts? Try raising my kids!"
The episode was written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky and directed by Wes Archer. The character Lance Murdoch was based on Evel Knievel, an American motorcycle daredevil and entertainer famous in the United States and elsewhere between the late 1960s and early 1980s. Kogen, Wolodarsky, and many other members of the Simpsons' staff were fans of Knievel's stunts, and Wolodarsky named "Bart the Daredevil" as his favorite episode among the episodes that he wrote for The Simpsons, because it is "near and dear to [his] heart".
Dr. Hibbert makes his first appearance on the series in the episode. In Kogen and Wolodarsky's original script for "Bart the Daredevil", Hibbert was a woman named Julia Hibbert, who they named after comedic actress Julia Sweeney (Hibbert was her last name, through marriage, at the time). When the Fox network moved The Simpsons to prime time on Thursdays to compete against the National Broadcasting Company's (NBC) top-rated The Cosby Show, the writing staff instead decided to make Hibbert a parody of Bill Cosby's character Dr. Cliff Huxtable.
The episode has been referenced in numerous clip shows and flashback episodes throughout the series. In particular, the scene of Homer plummeting down Springfield Gorge has become one of the most used The Simpsons clips. In the scene, Homer falls down the cliff on the skateboard, bouncing off the cliff walls and finally landing at the bottom, where the skateboard lands on his head. After being loaded into an ambulance at the top of the cliff, the ambulance crashes into a tree, and the gurney rolls out, causing Homer to fall down the cliff again.
In the season thirteen episode "The Blunder Years", when the family is trying to find out why Homer cannot stop screaming after he is hypnotized, Homer flashes back to his greatest moment: jumping the Springfield Gorge, only to be interrupted by Lisa saying "Everyone's sick of that memory," referring to the fact that the scene has been referenced so many times.
The scene was first featured outside of "Bart the Daredevil" in the season four episode "So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show". When the clip is shown in that episode, additional footage is seen of Homer bouncing down the cliff the second time, and after he lands at the bottom, the gurney lands on his head. Contrary to popular belief, the second fall down the gorge (ending with Homer getting hit by the gurney) was not a deleted scene from "Bart the Daredevil", but rather a scene animated exclusively for "So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show".
The scene is also referenced in the season fourteen episode "Treehouse of Horror XIII", in which a large number of Homer's clones created in the episode fall down the gorge. "Bart the Daredevil" was once again referenced in The Simpsons Movie when Bart and Homer jump over Springfield Gorge on a motorcycle, and when they land on the other side, the ambulance from this episode can be seen in the background (still smashed against the tree).
At the beginning of the episode, Lisa, Bart and Bart's friends watch professional wrestling. The Russian wrestler in the ring, Rasputin, is named after mystic Grigori Rasputin. The monster truck at the rally, Truck-o-saurus, is a parody of the Robosaurus monster truck. In the hospital, Dr. Hibbert shows Bart a patient that tried to fly like Superman, and he also mentions the "three stooges" ward. Lance Murdoch is a parody of famous daredevils such as Evel Knievel and Matt Murdock, the alter ego of the Marvel Comics superhero Daredevil. Bart's attempt to jump over Springfield Gorge is a reference to Knievel's 1974 attempt to jump Snake River Canyon at Twin Falls, Idaho, with a Skycycle X-2. Bart appearing at Springfield Gorge in the distance is based on Omar Sharif's entrance in Lawrence of Arabia.
In its original American broadcast, "Bart the Daredevil" finished 20th in Nielsen ratings for the week of December 3–9, 1990, making The Simpsons the highest-rated television series on the Fox network that week. To promote The Simpsons Sing the Blues, the music video for the album's lead single, "Do the Bartman", premiered shortly after this episode's first broadcast. In an interview conducted by Entertainment Weekly in 2000 celebrating the show's tenth anniversary, Groening named "Bart the Daredevil" his favorite episode of the series, and chose the scene in which Homer is loaded into an ambulance and then falls out of it as the funniest moment in the series.
Since airing, the episode has received positive reviews from critics. Michael Moran of The Times ranked it as the third best in the show's history. DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson enjoyed the episode, and referred to its opening by claiming that "any episode that starts with the brilliance that is Truckasaurus has to be good." He liked the decent morals explored in the episode, and called the conclusion a "great one", making it a "consistently fine episode". Jeremy Kleinman of DVD Talk considered "Bart the Daredevil" one of his favorite episodes of the season. He found the daredevil scenes to be funny, but also appreciated the episode's scenes with "true heart". Kleinman concluded by noting that the episode helps The Simpsons stand apart from other animated and live action sitcoms by focusing more on the relationships between the characters than "just a humorous weekly plotline". Writing for the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky noted that "Bart the Daredevil"'s sequence in which Homer falls down the gorge is the one that "everyone remembers", noting that "he's getting much stupider by this point." In his book Doug Pratt's DVD, DVD reviewer and Rolling Stone contributor Doug Pratt chooses the episode as one of the funniest of the series.
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