“For the next week, I stayed alive by eating my mother’s delicious preserves; and maintained my sanity by dribbling a nearby basketball with my one free hand. I made a game of it, seeing how many times I could bounce the ball in a day, then trying to break that record.” – Principal Skinner
There are usually a lot of easy to spot differences between something that’s done slapdash and something that’s done with creative care. Among the more subtle, are the little, inconsequential details that let you know that the people behind something genuinely gave a shit about what they were doing. There are plenty of these in “Bart the Murderer”, but I wanted to quickly point out two of them.
The first is the look on Bart’s face above. After being force to lick envelopes for the PTA, Bart correctly pointed out that seeing how many he could lick in an hour and then trying to break that record was “a pretty crappy game”. But there’s Skinner, every inch the earnest dork we know and love, following his own advice in a much worse situation. Bart, manacled and in no mood for lessons from Skinner, rolls his eyes and gives it a classic “whatever” look.
Bart’s reaction is on screen for about two-tenths of a second, and it isn’t the least bit necessary. The callback is plenty, but because the writers, animators and director cared about every frame, we get a lighting fast Bart reaction that probably no one noticed until their second or third viewing.
The other comes during the mob summit, as we pan across the over-boss’s league of goons. First we get the arsonist and the guy stabbing the table:
They both look like tough and unscrupulous characters, and they perfectly set up Goon #3, who is playing the most intense game of jacks ever:
This guy is on screen for about two seconds while we hear his boss castigate Fat Tony. Like Bart’s reaction, it doesn’t in any way need to be there. But it’s quick, unobtrusive, and gives the scene and the episode just a little more depth. Finishing touches like that pervade great Simpsons episodes, helping each one to be far more than the sum of its parts.