Compare & Contrast: Pranking the New Teacher

The PTA Disbands16

“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.

Bart Carny5

“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.

The PTA Disbands15

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.

32 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Pranking the New Teacher”

  1. 1 Try-N-Save
    19 November 2014 at 12:54 pm

    That pic looks pretty suggestive.

    • 2 Frank
      19 November 2014 at 2:38 pm

      i can see why you would think that, but it’s more a testament to our inability to differentiate tender intimacy from sex.

      Personally every time I saw this scene it took me aback, but more because it was rare for me to see this this type of intimacy on TV, on such a raw level.

      it’s a very tender moment, that’s for sure.

      • 3 Stan
        19 November 2014 at 8:43 pm

        What pic? What sex? You’re nuts or what?

        • 4 Tom S. Fox
          20 November 2014 at 9:14 am

          Stan, do you ever say something worthwhile?

          • 5 Stan
            20 November 2014 at 2:06 pm

            There is no sex connotation in that picture whatsoever. You’re all idiots.

            • 6 Frank
              20 November 2014 at 8:28 pm

              it’s because the first comment mentioned that the pic looked suggestive.
              “Suggestive” usually means something like “having a sexy twist”.

              but like i said, it’s just pure unadulterated love of a boy for his mother, and we’re not used to that

      • 7 torbiecat
        20 November 2014 at 8:48 am

        Perhaps that log adds a certain symbolicism that makes the above moment come across as sexual. Tee-hee.

  2. 19 November 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Probably pointing out the obvious here, but Julie’s reading of this line is great. Sounds so tender and nostalgic.

  3. 10 Stan
    19 November 2014 at 8:45 pm

    The log joke itself was very borderline. It made sense only in the show, and would’ve never made sense in real life. ZS just took something from real life and inserted it into the show because laugh, dammit. Then they went further and ties two plots into one huge mess at the end, just like they did with Y.O.L.O. The result is high Marge with dilated pupils. Very fucking funny.

    • 11 Angelm Young
      20 November 2014 at 12:10 am

      Eh, outside of some good jokes, The PTA Disbands was a weak episode. And the log prank is no different than what Bart would have done in the episodes from seasons nine to eleven, when the show tried to be shocking and gross like South Park in its prime.

      As for this week’s write-up: My eyes glazed over as soon as I got through the first sentence. Wouldn’t it be easier just to Mad Lib most of these, since they all sound alike…if you haven’t done so already. It’s about as phoned in as any current episode.

      • 20 November 2014 at 8:44 am

        Yeah, to be honest, I’m surprised at how much praise The PTA Disbands is given. I think part of it relates to that freaking “That’s a-paddlin'” instance Jasper gives, which actually sort of annoys me because I think that there were other moments in the series that I think Jasper was funnier, but no one seems to focus on because of that scene.

        • 20 November 2014 at 10:10 am

          I personally will always have a soft spot for The PTA Disbands, because it was the first episode I ever saw. But even on its own, I still think it’s a fine example of typical Season 6 – clever social satire exaggerated to outrageous degrees, but never to the point where it stops being funny.

      • 14 Frank
        20 November 2014 at 10:23 am

        wait, didn’t this episode have Bart flying a kite at night and Lisa going absolutely bonkers until someone graded her? And Kearney distracting Marge with that terrible dance? And the “clever” way they get Skinner to go to his office? And purple monkey dishwasher?

      • 15 Frank
        20 November 2014 at 10:25 am

        Well, the log prank by itself wasn’t the joke, it was the increasing intensity of each prank and Bart thinking he covered them all, only to find out by Milhouse that he was talking about the “other” prank…

        • 16 torbiecat
          20 November 2014 at 10:31 am

          I agree with you about that. It’s the build up that made this funny, and the log prank would have been a little too much if it had only occurred in isolation.

        • 17 Stan
          20 November 2014 at 2:14 pm

          When I said “joke” I meant the whole joke, not the “prank”. You just don’t hang a motherfucking wooden log in the middle of the classroom. I mean, it’s absurd, makes no sense, and thinking that a 10-year-old could do it (considering the setup was done by Bart alone) is borderline absurdity. But it was a bit funny for me because it only lasted a couple of seconds. They didn’t needlessly extend this whole thing beyond proportion like they do today, but even during The Simpsons era I’ve seen some shit in some episodes in which the absurdity really took over the humor. Itchy and Scratchy robots going haywire to flash is one such example.

      • 18 Joe H
        20 November 2014 at 1:41 pm

        Uh, no? While The PTA Disbands! isn’t among the best episodes ever, it’s not even close to last week’s ZS episode. That had literally nothing to say about the school system and made zero effort to even make S.E. operate like half-way believable faculty. Plus the satire was still leagues above anything else ZS was able to come up with during the past several years.

        And how is the log gag gross? It was intended to be a very brief Wile E Coyote type gag showing the increasingly elaborate and potentially dangerous pranks he was playing on teachers. Also, probably some Home Alone influence there as well. That gag was nowhere South Park-ish

  4. 19 Stan
    20 November 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Another very absurd joke that I actually didn’t even laugh at the first time I saw it was that joke when Homer yells at a giant walking egg for no reason. “You better run, egg!” I mean, what the flying fuck?! Were they talking about eggs prior to it? I don’t think so. Did Homer mention something ever remotely relative to eating eggs? Nope. He was talking to Lenny (I think), then he just fucking up and yells at the guy. This is where the level of absurdity beats the level of humor.

    • 20 Stan
      20 November 2014 at 2:23 pm

      Even in Family Guy, when Peter’s face gradually turns into Mickey Mouse, they were at least alluding to Disney bugging everyone for copyright infringement. It was also out of the blue, but the joke made sense.

    • 21 Joe H
      20 November 2014 at 5:18 pm

      The egg-man always baffled me. I always figured it was a reference I never got.

    • 25 Brad M
      20 November 2014 at 8:42 pm

      It’s not as random as you’re remembering it. This is the scene:

      “Lenny tells Homer that he can only join Stonecutters if he saves the life of a Stonecutter. Homer responds by grabbing the egg salad sandwich that Lenny was eating and throwing it on the floor. He tells Lenny that the eggs could have killed him by cholesterol. Lenny is unimpressed and claims that eggs only contain a bit of cholesterol, to which Homer replies, “So one of those Egg Council creeps got to you too, huh?” Lenny attempts to defend himself by explaining that “it’s not like that”. The egg hears what Homer said about the “creeps” and runs away. Homer shouts at him, “YOU’D BETTER RUN, EGG!”” – http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/The_Egg_Council_Guy

      • 26 Shane
        20 November 2014 at 9:12 pm

        Its also a nice callback to Mr. Burns in Burns’ Heir saying perhaps he should donate his entire fortune to the Egg Advisory Council because ‘eggs have got quite a bad rap lately, you know’.

      • 27 Stan
        20 November 2014 at 10:15 pm

        Yeah, I went to read that too and figured it out. It’s a bureaucratic joke. But to me it seemed so random the first time I saw it, that I didn’t even find it funny.
        I also haven’t seen the episode for what, 5 years?…

  5. 29 Stan
    20 November 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Or when Bart turns into a rat and starts nibbling wall corners. I know that it was in kinda Homer’s imagination thing, but why would the real Bart do that?

    • 30 Unkie Herb
      20 November 2014 at 3:53 pm

      Ah, who could forget dear Rat-Boy? Lol, love that scene!
      Another joke I never understood was the one where Bart says “I guess I’ll just have to get into the crawl space again.” and Marge says “I hate when he gets in there” and starts smacking the wall with a broom. I believe this was in “PTA Disbands” also?

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