10 May 2013

The Long Halloween Vol. IV: Simpsons Edition - Whacking Day

Here we go again, folks, with our latest edition of The Long Halloween. Each month we're taking a different holiday and highlighting the best Themed TV Shows to watch on that day. After some years of celebrating Mother's Day and Cinco de Mayo in early May, we ran out of shows and movies to highlight. Luckily, this year we are in full on Simpsons mode, and what better day do we have than the Springfield Original Holiday, Whacking Day!
Every time I watch this I am impressed by that flip

That's right, today, May 10th, as seen in the twentieth episode of Season 4, "Whacking Day", is the day where people everywhere, from young children to Richard Nixon gather to bash snakes in the head. It's kind of a bizarre episode, inspired by real-life events such as Rattlesnake Round-Ups in Texas and the Midwest, that doesn't really find its eponymous theme until its second act, but such is the development of many Simpsons episodes.

The episode has promising bookends centering around the biggest troublemakers of Springfield Elementary, Bart, Nelson, Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney. Principal Skinner locks them in a closet during a visit from Super Nintendo Superintendent Chalmers (his first appearance!) to prevent further mischief. Bart escapes and then runs Willie's tractor into Chalmers ("Ride me, Bart! MWAH AH HA HA HA!"). Skinner expels him and we're then treated to Mrs. Simpson's Home Classroom, where Bart actually learns a few things.

It's an interesting side note here that Marge is actually an adept teacher, and is able to reach her son academically in a way that Ms. Krabappel or Skinner never really could. It's almost a shame that by the episode's end in demonstrating his learning potential, Bart is "rewarded" with being sent back to public school, where he will inevitably retreat to his previous delinquency. Probably the best moment from this sequence is the quick moment of Homer pulling into the garage with his car, everybody screaming, and then a fast cut away.

Hovering in the background of all this is Whacking Day, which slowly emerges to the forefront of the episode. Whacking Day has a tremendous degree of public support within the town of Springfield and the people see it as a true celebration of their heritage. It's a barbaric ritual, though, even though people may think that snakes are icky. The episode offers a great appearance by Larry Barry White, who shows up to serve as the Grand Marshall the Opening Ceremony only to leave in disgust when he finds out what they're gathered for. After all, he loves "the sexy slither of a woman snake." That's right.

So Bart puts his new knowledge of snakes and soundwaves to the test by enlisting the great Bass voice of Barry White to lure all the snakes into 742 Evergreen Terrace to keep them safe ("Anything...for a lady." OK, it's Lisa.) Once the angry Springfield mob shows up, Bart reveals his research that found that Whacking Day was really just made up in 1924 as an excuse to beat up the Irish, which is likely another Conan O'Brienism. Once again we see the mob mentality of Springfield that can turn on a dime, as the townspeople immediately forsake Whacking Day and turn on Quimby, who shows up too late with handfuls of pre-whacked snakes.

There are plenty of other epic moments in this episode, from Ralph Wiggum asking "What's a battle?" ("Oh so you hear r's as b's?"), the Itchy and Scratchy JFK episode directed by Oliver Stone, and Bart's soda drinking fantasy ("pleasing taste, some monsterism"). The best line may be the most obvious joke that the writers mostly avoided ("Gentleman, start your whacking!") although the repetition of "I am evil Homer!" comes close. We're also introduced to Fort Sensible, whose men sacrificed their captain to spare their own hides and Grampa's strange time as a German cabaret singer during World War II. Actually, "Das ist not eine boobie" may be the line that still gets me to crack up the most from this episode.

It's always strange to compare these sorts of flashback moments to Grandpa's badass times as a Flying Hellfish in "Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in 'The Curse of the Flying Hellfish'" (S7;E22). There is of course very little internal consistency in The Simpsons, but the latter is one of my favorites because it does give Abe some great moments of honor. Many more episodes seem to end with Grandpa being transexual or at least riding off somewhere in non sequitur, such as "Cape Feare" (S4;E2) and "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming" (S7;E9). Actually those were both Sideshow Bob episodes.

Since it is close to Mother's Day, I'd be remiss not to mention a fairly appropriate Simpsons episode for the occasion, "Mona Simpson" (S7;E8), which is really filled with some of the more touching moments in the show's history. The episode recounts Homer's reunion with his long lost Hippie Mother, Mona Simpson, and if you can't giver your mom the gift of sex on Mother's Day, this ep ought to be the next best thing.

So that's it for Whacking Day. Remember to give those mountain bikes to the kids in the basement, and if they don't take those, then ride, ride to Mexico - and FREEDOM!

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