The Simpsons, Seasons 21-31. Season 21, Episode 2: “Bart Gets a Z”

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It’s Monday, which means it’s time for a second installment of “John reviews the last 10 years of Simpsons episodes one week at a time.” I know, it’s almost too catchy of a title. If you missed last week’s you can check it out here. Without further adieu, let’s talk about “Bart Gets a Z.”

“Bart Gets a Z” (First aired October 4, 2009)

Did Shary Bobbins become a permanent part of the opening credits and am I just noticing it now? The answer to the second part of that is yes, I am just noticing it now. The first part will forever remain a mystery, unless I pay attention while watching the next one. I really like the billboard for the Kwik E Mart that says “Porno: Now on Lower Shelf.” I am going to state right now without evidence that The Simpsons lifted the “switching out the billboard in the opening credits” gag from Futurama but I don’t mind it because it’s a good bit and who says Groening can’t borrow from himself? Somebody probably says it but it’s not me. Anyway, I dug it. There’s also a dumb chalkboard bit where they do a play on waterboarding and an equally dumb couch gag where the family are cowboys having a shootout. Oh well, can’t win ’em all over the course of 30 years.

The plot of this episode is so simple that I am going to break it down in a single paragraph. Edna Krabappel wakes up frustrated but hopeful and heads to Springfield Elementary to teach her 4th grade class. Every kid in the 4th grade has a mobile device and she’s having no luck getting them to pay attention so she confiscates all of them. The kids devise ways to make Edna loosen up and they land on “get the teacher drunk,” so they gather up an insane amount of alcohol and spike her coffee. Edna gets wasted, makes a huge scene and disrupts an assembly. Skinner fires her. Bart feels terrible and he should because he got a teacher drunk and then fired just so he could play with his phone in class. What a piece of shit. He wants to get Edna her job back but then they get a hip, young new teacher named Zachary Vaughn (a M.Ed. from Tufts!). Mr. Vaughn only wants to communicate using mobile devices so all the kids love him. You know what, let’s do two paragraphs instead of one.

Bart keeps trying to cheer up Krabappel and next uses a book called The Answer to help get Edna out of her funk. By employing “The Answer,” they determine that Edna’s dream is to open a muffin shop, Edna’s Edibles, which she does. Bart’s “index card of fate” says “flame vision” which is more of a work in progress. Bart figures now that Edna’s found new happiness it’s okay to reveal that he’s responsible for her losing her job, so he does and whoops…turns out she’s not all that cool with it! See, Edna’s real dream was teaching and Bart destroyed that, so now she’s deep in debt and FOUR new muffin shops just opened on the same block as hers: H.R. Muffinstuff, R. Crumb’s Keep on Muffin’, ‘Muff Said, and Muff * Mart (plus coming soon: Muffin Store). Edna goes off on Bart and delivers possibly the most withering line that can be said to a child. She tells him that she used to think he only had a rough exterior but it turns out that “he’s bad on the inside.” There’s no good in him at all. If somebody, especially an adult, said that to me at 10 I’d still think about it every day thirty years later. Yikes. One more paragraph to finish the plot off? Okay, one more.

Bart decides he wants to get Edna her job back because he now feels like the smallest person on Earth so why not employ the same plan as before? Time to get Zach drunk. Bart is about to add booze to Zach’s energy drink but then thinks better of it, and instead tells Skinner the entire truth. Unfortunately, Skinner’s hands are tied because you can’t just fire a good teacher. You can’t even fire an adequate teacher. You can’t get rid of a teacher if they aren’t touching anybody. Luckily, at that moment Zach starts making a huge scene in the hallway (not touching related). The man is drunk! Drunk on his own concoction of vodka and energy drink and the truth comes out “I hate children, I hate children. Children suck, children suck.” That’s the end of Zach. Edna gets reinstalled and the 4th graders have to eat her stale muffins.

Did The Simpsons dispense with B and C plots entirely? This is the second episode in a row with only an A plot. I’m not going to dwell on this every review, but until it changes I’ll keep mentioning it on occasion. It seemed like a bit late to do a parody of The Secret in 2009, when the book came out in 2006. Or one would think, until you do some Googling to find out when The Secret was released and the first result is a movie version of The Secret, which was released on July 31st of this year. So good job Simpsons getting the parody in under a decade. The mythology of The Answer had some fun little bits that I didn’t include in the plot summary so I will talk about them now. The sequence of “The Answer” being passed on to humanity went as follows: Ancient Greece–>Knights of King Arthur–>Pat Sajak. The man does seem like he’s had it all figured out for awhile. The list of historical figures who knew “The Answer” is also a solid bit of work: St. Peter, Charlemagne, Jack the Ripper, Colonel Sanders, Barry Bonds, the Guy Who Married Brooke Shields, Santa Claus, You? Excellent tag too, when the commercial for The Answer lists all the things the Answer will bring you: a bunch of synonyms for money, and finally “tainted home run record.” Finally, the call back to close the episode after Edna passes out the stale muffins with Santa Claus, Barry Bonds, and Charlemagne looking on approvingly from the playground was a nice button.

There was a very odd shot immediately following Edna confiscating the cell phones (by the way, nice phone variety in the classroom. A lot of flip phones and Blackberries.) Krabappel collects the phones in a Laramie cigarette box and dumps them in a desk drawer with the biology frogs. When the show cuts back to the class there are broken smoking phones on the students’ desks. They’re gone in the next shot. I did a quick Google search and didn’t find anything so I’m going to go with my theory. I think there was a communication problem with their Korean animators and cell phones + a box related to smoking turned into “smoking cell phones.” Or maybe they cut some frames. I really don’t know. It was weird.

See? This is post confiscation. Weird.

One more thing before I get to the rating and final bits. The episode title feels like it makes sense but I actually doesn’t. Apart from the title referencing earlier Simpsons episodes like “Bart Gets an F” it doesn’t really mean anything. Apparently that’s because when Mr. Vaughn is drunk in the hallway and taking shots at the kids and Skinner he gives Bart a Z. They cut it but the episode title remained.

Best Joke: “Give me one night Dewey I’ll get you off Broadway.” -Drunk Edna to Mr. Largo suggesting she can turn him straight

Worst Joke: Even though the list of “historical figures” was solid doing a parody of The Secret felt like the wrong choice. Given the build up it seemed like they were heading more in a How Stella Got Her Groove Back type direction and I don’t think The Secret occupied that same realm for middle aged women. Then again I’m not a middle-aged woman so I have no idea what I’m talking about. I am a middle-aged man though and hoo boy does it suck!

Rating (out of 5 D’ohs): 3.5 D’ohs. I’m afraid to go too high early because we haven’t seen the full range of quality yet. This is a dumb episode concept but there are at least a half dozen good jokes in it.

Stray Bits:

  • “Only alcohol can make life bearable. You must drink, always drink.”
  • “They’re gonna eat you alive at Cal Tech, boy.”
  • “Maybe Mrs. K would be nicer if we Irish up her coffee?” “Put blood in it?”

That’s it for “Bart Gets a Z!” I’ll be back next Monday with “The Great Wife Hope.”

I don’t have much to promote but if you’ve got 3 bucks in your pocket and feel like reading an 80s pop culture nostalgia horror short story I wrote, you can get it here. You have to take the three dollars out of your pocket first. Or don’t and just use a linked credit or debit. card.

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