Skinner's Sense of Snow
"Skinner's Sense of Snow" is the eighth episode of The Simpsons' twelfth season. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on December 17, 2000. In the episode, a snowstorm traps the students with principal Seymour Skinner and Groundskeeper Willie in Springfield Elementary. When Skinner uses his army skills to control the students, they overthrow him and take over the school. Meanwhile, Homer and Ned set out to rescue the children using Ned's car.
"Skinner's Sense of Snow" was written by Tim Long and directed by Lance Kramer. While the episode's premise is based on an occurrence in Long's childhood, the setpiece came from staff writer Matt Selman. Because the episode takes place in winter, Kramer found it difficult to animate. It features references to Smilla's Sense of Snow, The Deer Hunter and Kristi Yamaguchi, among other things. In its original broadcast, the episode was seen by approximately 8.8 million viewers, finishing in 33rd place in the ratings the week it aired. Following the home video release, the episode received mostly positive reviews from critics.
While the Simpsons attend a French Canadian circus called "Cirque de Purée", a wild blizzard hits Springfield, turning it into a snowsquall overnight. However, Springfield Elementary School stays open regardless of the storm, even though every other local school closes. Only some students, including the classmates of Bart and Lisa, show up while Skinner and Willie are the only faculty members at the school that day. To pass the time, Skinner plays his professed favourite film, a very low-budget, long-running, 1938 holiday movie called "The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, But Then Was". When the kids try to leave school, however, snow has piled up, trapping the kids inside with Skinner and Groundskeeper Willie, much to their horror.
Skinner tries to keep the children under control, forcing them to stay together in the cafeteria and eat apples, relish and (only if they behave well enough) mayonnaise and will not let them go home until the snow melts. After Nelson tries to escape, Skinner unearths his U.S. Army memorabilia and is reminded of the days when he commanded respect from his troops. Skinner tries to command respect from the students, and briefly succeeds after threatening to hang them in their clothes on hooks on the wall if they rebel. Bart tries to tunnel his way out, but Skinner stops him, and after Willie refuses to destroy the tunnel, Skinner tries to, but is stuck in the resulting cave-in. The students rebel and eventually tie Skinner up in a dodge ball bag. They then set about 'going nuts' such as racing trolleys in the school hallway, even burning numerous books in the school's library.
Meanwhile, Homer, with the help of Ned Flanders, sets out to rescue the children but crashes Flanders' car into a fire hydrant, which sprays water that freezes the car in place. Homer's repeated gunning of the accelerator causes carbon monoxide to flood the front of the car. Flanders and Homer get high from the fumes and wildly hallucinate. While the trapped children go wild with power, Skinner uses the school hamster, named Nibbles, to get a message to the outside world. Nibbles makes it to Ned and Homer, breaking the window and reviving them: they crash into a salt silo, melting the snow around the school and badly rusting the car but freeing the kids in the process.
Superintendent Chalmers appears and is ready to blame Skinner for the school's current poor state when Bart takes the place, amending things with Skinner. As he and Lisa leave with Homer and Ned, Homer starts hallucinating again making him see Lisa as a camel and Bart as a dancing girl. Homer tries to kiss Bart, who tries his best to escape, causing the car to lose control and crash, and camel Lisa, then says "Merry Christmas from the Simpsons"!
"Skinner's Sense of Snow" was written by Tim Long and directed by Lance Kramer. It was first broadcast on the Fox network in the United States on December 17, 2000. The idea for the episode came from Long. One winter during his childhood, Exeter, where Long lived, was hit by a blizzard. Much to his dismay, Long found out that all schools except Exeter Public School, which he went to, got closed. Eventually, Long and his classmates were snowed in with the school's staff. "It was hellish, but then became a sweet thing", he said. "A couple of the dads braved the cold and brought us food on snowmobiles. So it was sweet." Two years after Long pitched the premise, staff writer Matt Selman pitched the episodes setpiece, which revolves around the Simpsons' visit to Cirque du Purée. "I pitched [the setpiece] to Tim [Long] when we were pitching around ideas", Selman said in the episode's DVD commentary. "And I said, 'What about a Cirque du Soleil parody?'" The staff then decided to combine the two stories, and production on "Skinner's Sense of Snow" ensued.
In order to make a faithful rendition of the circus, director Kramer asked the animators to watch a showing of Cirque du Soleil in Santa Monica, but they declined the offer. Regardless, executive producer and former showrunner Mike Scully found that the animators did an "amazing" job animating the setpiece. Because the episode takes place in winter, the animators faced some challenges that they would not have with any other episode. "It just adds another element", Kramer said about episodes taking place in winter, "People's clothes have to get tugged in the wind if it's windy. And you have to make sure the snow is consistent because [...] It's like a character. If it's a big snowflake in one scene and then tiny ones where it's snowing too hard in the next scene... It's not gonna work." The scratches and bad quality of "The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, But Then Was" were added in by the Post-Production Department, led by Alex Duke. "Our Post-Production Department never gets enough credit," Scully said, "But they'll take a film like ['The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, But Then Was'] and make it all scratchy and make it look really old. They always do a great job." The woman in "The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, But Then Was" was portrayed by Tress MacNeille, while the clown in the Cirque du Purée was voiced by Hank Azaria. The song that plays when Homer and Ned are driving to the school is "Feel Like Makin' Love" by English rock band Bad Company. Originally, the series' staff wanted to use "Rock and Roll All Nite" by American rock band Kiss, but they failed to obtain the rights to use it.
Although the episode's title is a reference to the Danish mystery novel Smilla's Sense of Snow, there are no other allusions to the book in the episode. In the episode's setpiece, the Simpsons visit a circus called Cirque du Puree. The circus is a reference to the Canadian entertainment company Cirque du Soleil. In the film "The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, But Then Was", one of the hobgoblins has a similar singing voice as American singer Nelson Eddy. Having just found out that they are trapped in the school, Skinner says "I don't care if you're Kristi Yamaguchi - no one leaves the building". According to Long, the line was written by either Dana Gould or George Meyer, both of whom are former staff writers. While wreaking havoc in the school, Milhouse can be seen doodling a mustache on a picture of Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States. While ordering Skinner to humiliate himself, Bart says "Di, di, mau". This is a reference to the 1978 drama film The Deer Hunter, in which the Vietcong says the line to their captives. One of the books that the children burn in the school's library is the 1944 children's novel Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes.
Release and reception
In its original American broadcast on December 17, 2000, "Skinner's Sense of Snow" received an 8.7 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, translating to approximately 8.8 million viewers. The episode finished in 33rd place in the ratings for the week of December 11-17, 2000, tying with an episode of the ABC sitcom The Drew Carey Show. Since its broadcast, the episode has been released twice on home video. On November 2, 2004, it was released along with "Homer vs. Dignity", "Dude, Where's My Ranch?" and "'Tis the 15th Season" as part of a DVD set entitled The Simpsons - Christmas 2. On August 18, 2009, the episode was again released as part of a DVD set called The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season. Matt Groening, Mike Scully, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Tim Long, Matt Selman, David Mirkin, Max Pross and Lance Kramer participated in the audio commentary for the episode.
Following its home video release, "Skinner's Sense of Snow" received mostly positive reviews from critics. In his review of The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season, DVD Verdict's Mac McEntire wrote that, while he prefers "down-to-Earth" episodes, the more "outrageous" episodes like "Skinner's Sense of Snow" are the ones that are "standouts". He added that the episode "provides a lot of solid 'cool kids versus dorky adults' comedy", and that the setpiece was the best part of the episode. Matt Haigh of Den of Geek described the episode as "gold", and considers it to be one of the season's best episodes. The staff of The Journal, while reviewing The Simpsons - Christmas 2 DVD set, described the episode as "memorable", and John McMurtrie of the San Francisco Chronicle cited it as "great". Elizabeth Skipper, another reviewer for DVD Verdict, wrote that most episodes that center around Skinner are "a sure thing", and that "Skinner's Sense of Snow" is no exception. Both Aaron Beierle and Jason Bailey of DVD Talk argued that "Skinner's Sense of Snow" is one of the best episodes of the season. On the other hand, giving the episode a mixed review, Colin Jacobsson of DVD Movie Guide described the episode as "mediocre". Although he found the children's revolt against Skinner amusing, he argued that the premise was not used to its full potential. He concluded his review by calling it "a fairly average program".
- Long, Tim. (2009). Commentary for "Skinner's Sense of Snow", in The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Selman, Matt. (2009). Commentary for "Skinner's Sense of Snow", in The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Kramer, Lance. (2009). Commentary for "Skinner's Sense of Snow", in The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Scully, Mike. (2009). Commentary for "Skinner's Sense of Snow", in The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Pross, Max. (2009). Commentary for "Skinner's Sense of Snow", in The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt. (2009). Commentary for "Skinner's Sense of Snow", in The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Associated Press (December 20, 2000). "Prime-time Nielsen ratings". Associated Press Archive.
- McEntire, Mac (September 9, 2009). "The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season". DVD Verdict. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
- Haigh, Matt (October 9, 2009). "The Simpsons Season 12 DVD review". Den of Geek. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
- "Rent". The Journal (Trinity Mirror). December 16, 2005. p. 40.
- John McMurtrie; Mick LaSalle; Walter Addiego; Carolyn Jones (November 21, 2004). "DVD reviews". San Francisco Chronicle (Frank J. Vega). p. 40.
- Elizabeth, Skipper (December 24, 2004). "The Simpsons Christmas 2". DVD Verdict. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
- Beierle, Aaron (October 27, 2004). "Simpsons Christmas 2". DVD Talk. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
- Bailey, Jason (August 18, 2009). "The Simpsons: The Twelfth Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
- Jacobson, Colin (September 2, 2009). "The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season (2000)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
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