“Kids have been doing that one since my day.” – Marge Simpson
Rather than get into the nonsensical pageant of the transmundane that was the last third of “Blazed and Confused”, I’d like to take a look at a small moment from the beginning that illustrates the general shallowness of this episode. Specifically, the way that Bart’s closet/skeleton “prank” fails as both a prank, a joke, and as a part of the rest of the episode, especially when compared with Bart’s similar actions in “The PTA Disbands”.
While the backstories differ considerably, the immediate situation in both episodes is remarkably similar. In each one, the kids have a new teacher about whom they know basically nothing other than, as Bart says, “They’re trying to teach”. Also in each, Bart has prepared an elaborate booby trap to welcome the newly unfortunate teacher. This is where the two episodes diverge.
In “Blazed and Confused”, Bart has hidden a remote control car and a skeleton in the closet at the back of the room. His plan is to bump the car into the door a couple of times to get the teacher to investigate; when the door is opened, the skeleton drops from the ceiling, presumably frightening the teacher.
This is, to put it mildly, a very pedestrian prank. It wouldn’t be all that hard to set up in real life. Unless the person involved was very high strung or this was being done late at night on Halloween or something, it probably wouldn’t frighten anyone so much as briefly puzzle them. For proof, look no further than “Bart Carney”, which did the exact same thing as an example of something that was indefensibly lame.
“That was just confusing.”
To be fair to Zombie Simpsons, upon seeing Bart’s hapless skeleton trick, Milhouse says that it’s only kinda scary. So they’re aware that this is not one of Bart’s masterpieces. But they still have him go through with it, thinking it’ll work. It’s Bart doing what so many characters do in Zombie Simpsons: act contrary to who he is. Similarly, later in the episode, Marge will blindly trust Homer to do something that the Marge of Season 6 would never blindly trust Homer to do. The situations and story requirements are so dumb that they require the characters to act like lifeless versions of themselves just to get from scene to scene.
Bart’s prank, which they show us twice, is something the Bart of “The PTA Disbands” would scoff at. He’s the kid who hung a giant log from the ceiling to smash some unsuspecting teacher back into the blackboard. It would probably be fatal in real life, but that doesn’t matter because this is a cartoon and nothing bad actually happens. Bart leaps to his mother’s rescue, and she, having nearly just killed, fondly intones that kids have been attacking their teachers Ewok-style since she was in school.
This is one of those multi-layer jokes that made this show so damned funny. There’s 1) the over the top violence of it, 2) the fact that little 10-year-olds are vicious enough to plan it, 3) that 10-year-olds have always been doing that, and 4) that all of this is considered so normal that nobody is even upset. And none of that even takes in the context: Bart having to be reminded of them by Milhouse, the list of already dispatched teachers, and Bart suffering the beginnings of the perpetual embarrassment of being one of his earnestly uncool mother’s students.
And Milhouse didn’t even have to stick his nose through the hole.
The blackboard shattering impact of the log isn’t any kind of stand alone joke or punchline. It’s a fast and necessary part of a complete scene where each element complements and exaggerates every other. The last line before it comes crashing down is Milhouse’s, “I meant the other bobby trap!”, a statement that wouldn’t make sense if we hadn’t already seen Bart brush the thumb tack off Marge’s chair, or rush up there in a panic, or the rest of the scene that explains what they’re doing.
By contrast, the last line before Season 26 Bart starts his effort at teacher warfare, is Bart saying, “I will not. Anything to delay a spelling test”. What spelling test? What is Bart hoping this hapless thing he once saw in a broken down carnival ride is going to accomplish? Cause this guy to run off screaming? Prime him for the most traumatic hose soaking of his life? We sure don’t know. He’s trying to get out of something the audience neither knows nor cares about, and what he’s doing wouldn’t work anyway. In and of itself, the prank is dumber and weaker, and outside of that it dangles (literally) in the middle of the scene with hardly a connection to outside events.
You can see this same isolation and lack of connection throughout “Blazed and Confused”. The scene where Jason shows up to murder the park ranger was just a random thing dropped into the middle of the episode. There are literally no characters at “Blazing Guy” other than Lassen. Everyone else in attendance is just a one note blip, on and off the screen for whatever reason they happened to be there. Lassen introducing himself in Skinner’s office hardly needed to be there. And, given that his face cutting was probably the creepiest thing he did, the episode likely would’ve been better off without that entire scene.
Zombie Simpsons never bothers to weave a joke or a scene together with everything else. They just stack a few things up and hope a couple of them land. And if Bart’s prank doesn’t work, who cares? Maybe the next thing will. The Simpsons didn’t do that. It made each part of the script, down to individual lines and words, aspects of a coherent whole that builds on itself. That intrinsic context and support can make a murderous “prank” hilarious, just as not having context and support can drain the fun from great ideas, and leave bad ones hanging lifelessly from a thread.