In the final new episode before the new year The Simpsons brings back one if its most beloved characters.

In the pantheon of side characters Sideshow Bob stands out because Kelsey Grammer fills him with the wit and goofy elegance only he could bring. Adam Finley of the former TV Squad once wrote “that baritone voice, the Shakespearean delivery, and the ability to go from calm and collected to stark raving mad all within the same second make Sideshow Bob one of the best recurring characters on the show.” Grammer has been so good as the character that he even won an Emmy for Outstanding Voice Over Performance for his role in season seventeen’s The Italian Bob. Safe to say whenever he’s on screen its usually good.

The problem these days is how to get him out of jail. As Bob reminds us he’s currently serving 3 consecutive life sentences. So, rather than the usual breakout what we have here is Bob picking up garbage as part of a prison work gang. In the meantime the Simpsons are driving in a rental (for reasons unknown) and when Homer gets upset for leaving too much gas he go’s on a joy ride with Bart to bring it down out of spite. Bart having to pee goes off into the woods and falls into a forgotten missile silo.

PHOTO SOURCE: The Simpsons, Fox

Homer has to break the news to Marge that he’s lost their son, easing into it with the strategic feint about that sewing room she’s always wanted. The ensuing search sees Wiggum similarly attempt to ease Marge into the bad news, as he asks her gingerly, “Can you describe your son’s skeleton?” Springfield’s incompetent cops get even worse when we see that Wiggum has laid out his search grid with actual, searcher-crippling tripwires; a clever new way to be dumb.

Kent Brockman, always the alarmist, has a small funny bit where he does an election-style poll that proves Bart is definitely dead, moving on to a map and announcing, “Now let’s look at the districts where he’s deadest.”

Bart too, always in search for mischief, finds an old hand-crank phone in the silo and uses it to call Moe’s asking for “Tess T. Colls.” Fixing the fragile phone, he manages one more prank call to the grieving Marge, who answers his “Still married?” with an overjoyed, “Oh my God, he’s alive! And sassy!”

PHOTO SOURCE: The Simpsons, Fox

When the search party is called off because of Kent Brockman’s reporting Bob bellows to the heavens, “Lord, why do you kill things that I want to kill!? Take me now, vile rake!,” followed by Bob repeatedly raking himself and uttering that inimitable sound of utter contempt; classic.

It would seem all is lost for our intrepid villain but things have a way working out in the most unexpected ways.  Desperate enough to find the missing Bart on the power of loneliness alone, Millhouse immediately springs into action. Having found Bart his mission is derailed when Lisa turns to him for comfort and he gets to console her with hugs. After leaving the Simpsons residence he’s intercepted by Bob who secures his cooperation by threatening him with “light operetta.” “How light?,” Milhouse asks fearfully. This was easily one of the funnier scenes not least because of the odd coupling but more so for as it was a nod to Bob’s history of theatre. Bob cashes in on his threat by singing The Yeoman of the Guard.

Sideshow Bob has grown a lot in the years since he stuck his big feet in Apu’s Kwik E Mart to frame Krusty the Clown for robbery. He’s tried to kill, save and kill his arch nemesis multiple times, learning a new verse of light operetta for each thwarted attempt. Fast forward towards the end of this episode and Bob finally has Bart where he wants him. That is until he enters a fugue state where his obsession with Bart is represented to him in a kind of Alfred Hitchcock tableau. Bob will never fully reform but he does have a rational side to him underneath the mania. So he has a change of heart and lets Bart go. Hugging each other unexpectedly, Bart asks Milhouse warily if Bob’s stabbed him in the back, while Bob asks if Bart’s stuck a “kick me” sign on his. Neither has. Easily, one of the best feel good moments of this season.

The episode ends “many years later” with an ageing Bob living in a lighthouse somewhere. He berates the squeeky voiced teen mailman over the difference between his New Yorker and New York magazine showing that he hasn’t lost a step. Its revealed that he writes his long-ago tattooed threat “Die Bart, Die” on the beach for the tide to erase every day, advising the teen, “Life is short. Don’t spend it on foolish, empty revenge.” The epilogue doubles down on the ending and delivers yet another feel good moment as this scene genuinely captures an old Bob reflecting on his life.

PHOTO SOURCE: The Simpsons, Fox

Shaq guest starred briefly but it was forgettable. There was also a very good minor character in Bob’s evenly tempered prison therapist: “why do I keep giving them scissors.” All in all this was a good episode with good laughs a simple storyline and a surprising amount of heart. Its a perfect sendoff before the December break.

For those with attention to detail:

  • On the cover of Playdude in the silo, Agnes Skinner poses as ‘Miss Cold War’

New episodes of The Simpsons will return in January so make sure to keep it locked on TGON for all your reviews and analysis.