3.4 Bart the Murderer
Bart is hired as an errand boy by the local mafia. When Principal Skinner goes missing after punishing Bart, Bart is put on trial for murder.
This episode is heavily inspired by the movie, Goodfellas, which had come out a year earlier. There are so many hilarious moments that make this the strongest season three episode up to this point. Standout moments include Homer thinking Bart has taken up smoking when hundreds of stolen cigarette cartons are in his room, one of the mobsters saying he only knows how to make wine spritzers when Bart is late for work, and Reverend Lovejoy halfheartedly comforting Bart in his nightmare.
It’s more farce than satire in the first act, with Bart having an absurdly terrible morning that leads him to the basement of the Legitimate Businessman’s Social Club. His dog actually eating his homework, the sky suddenly pouring rain when he goes outside, the clock going backwards as he licks envelopes for Principal Skinner; it all lives in a more exaggerated place than The Simpsons’ narratives often have up to this point, and it’s a trend that will continue in following seasons.
The satire comes in the second act when Marge expresses concern about Bart’s job, saying he doesn’t want her son turning out to be a criminal. Homer responds with probably the smartest thing he’s said throughout the entire series, saying, “If my job poisons the water and pollutes the town, by your logic that would make me a criminal.” He’s absolutely correct, and it’s here that “Bart the Murderer” points out the hypocrisy of looking down on organized crime and not the business & environmental crimes carried out under the pretence of legal legitimacy.
I’m also a fan of the psychic hired by the police to find Skinner, who only seems to be able to predict which celebrities will split up. Besides me never having enough fun seeing ridicule pointed at new age woo-woo, I enjoy the subtle hint of “Hey so why do we overlook incompetence and/or abuse in socially accepted hierarchies (e.g. law enforcement) that we wouldn’t overlook in hierarchies that aren’t socially accepted (e.g. organized crime).”
The great thing about Springfield-as-Everytown, U.S.A. is that it’s so malleable in size and scope. In “Marge vs. the Monorail” the town is said to be small with a centralized population; in later seasons that population is revealed to be around 30,000. That’s hardly the kind of town that should have a sizeable Italian mafia, or Itchy & Scratchy’s headquarters, or visits from Michelangelo’s David, but it doesn’t matter. Springfield is like a black hole, in that time around it moves differently, and it’s so dense that its contents are theoretically infinite. Whether you need to explore elements of small-town or big-city America, Springfield is a place you can do it.
The episode ends in the Simpson house, with the family watching a made for TV movie about Bart’s story, with the names and events changed just enough to avoid having to pay any of the real people involved. How on point is that?
Best Moment: Skinner’s MacGyver-esque story of escaping from under a pile of newspapers.
Best Quote: “You ate my homework?! … I didn’t know dogs really did that.” -Bart