This week we’re going back into the well to look at another classic episode! If there was a top ten list of Simpsons episodes (possible future post? Stay tuned) this season six gem would most certainly be on it. It’s funny and engaging with a simple story line and includes some lines that have now attained legendary status.
What a lot of people may not know was the difficulty in actually getting this episode to air. Back in the early 90’s the US had put in place stringent censorship laws. As a result Fox told the show runners that they had to drastically reduce the amount of airtime that Itchy and Scratchy got. Their response? Make an episode dedicated to the duo and make it as violent as possible. Luckily for us they stuck to it and we have one of the best episodes in the show’s cannon.
Vacation episodes are usually good ones since it takes the family out of their comfort zone and into uncharted territory. The result is that they all bring out the craziness in each other. The opening scenes where Bart and Lisa try to convince their parents to go are classic family dynamic. Homer immediately refuses being preoccupied with the Bible, Marge offering the bird sanctuary instead (much to the kids horror) and the kids desperate ploys (Bart’s dead!). Marge and Homer are convinced when they hear of Parents Island.
What follows is a road trip scene which I’m sure every family has experienced in some form or other. We’ve all either been Bart and Lisa bored in the backseat or waiting for the next ‘Flickeys’ which is 25,000 miles away or Homer and Marge trying to get to their destination as soon as possible taking dubious shortcuts. I’m sure we haven’t all been Homer though trying to smuggle fruits and vegetables.
We finally arrive at the park where the episode turns into a veritable buffet of funny bits and cool animation. The first being the helicopter pilot when he says: “Welcome to Itchy and Scratchyland, where nothing can possib-lie go wrong… Uh, possibly go wrong… That’s the first thing that’s ever gone wrong.” The awkwardness was palpable. Then when Marge is concerned about the overt violence she has this exchange with one of the staff:
Marge like most parents continues to be amazed at the bizarre nature of the amusement park yet she tries makes an effort for the kids. Her reading of the map is one of those uniquely Marge moments that capture both her concern and curiosity (torture island, explosion land, searing gas pain land, and unnecessary surgery land). She then tries to order off the menu at the restaurant but doesn’t exactly heed Bart’s advice; she orders the baby guts which is actually veal, much to the disgust of the waiter. Finally, after the log ride that nearly cuts them in half she proposes, in the most diplomatic way, that the two groups go their separate ways.
On their own the kids go to the gift shop and this leads to the line that has achieved legendary status among the fans:
The gag returns later, when an employee manning Itchy & Scratchy Land’s underground control room says, “We need more ‘Bort’ license plates in the gift shop. I repeat, we are sold out of ‘Bort’ license plates.” The interesting thing is that the joke appeared to be inconsequential. In the DVD commentary, creator Matt Groening and showrunner David Mirkin don’t bother to mention it. The Simpsons has always been adept at satirizing American culture. But the show’s most enduring trait may be its ability to take something utterly inane and render it endlessly quotable. This one in particular is one of those quotes that only The Simpsons can make. Anytime Bort is mentioned in real life its like a secret handshake of sorts bringing out joy in those who know it.
The episode continues with quick gags and we’re treated to some funny scenes in Parents Island. The sight gags here are also top notch: ‘Itchys 70s Disco Est. in 1980’ with a ‘look alike’ John Travolta. Interestingly, this episode came out before Pulp Fiction so Travolta’s career was actually quite dormant at the time, making this joke quite on point. We then have a scene inside T.G.I. McScratchy’s Goodtime Foodrinkery where its constantly new years eve. Marge remarks how it must be wonderful to ring in the new year over and over to which an employee responds “please kill me”.
Bart and Lisa take in a little history at the Roger Meyers Story where they found out that the creator was “the gentle genius behind Itchy and Scratchy, loved and cared about almost all the peoples of the world. And he, in turn, was beloved by the world, except in 1938 when he was criticized for his controversial cartoon, “Nazi Supermen Are Our Superiors”.
In the meantime Bart is also periodically abusing the staff in costume with his ‘lil bastard travel kit’ but eventually gets caught. He gets taken to the underground control room where Homer is also there for doing the same things. We then cut to a scene where Marge’s greatest fears hilariously come to the fore:
Marge: I want all 5 shirts to say best vacation ever! Announcer: Attention, Marge Simpson, your son has been arrested. Woman: I’d be terribly embarrassed if I were that boy’s mother (Marge hears from this and feels embarrassed) Announcer (louder): Attention, Marge Simpson, we have also arrested your older, balder, fatter son. (Marge groans)
She goes and picks them up berating them for being an embarrassment (Homer tries to defend himself saying he was a political prisoner) all the while the park scientists are running their tests on their machines.
The climax ensues when Professor Frink miscalculates the the uprising of the Itchy and Scratchy robots. The family are stranded alone in the park after everyone else evacuates but are saved when they figure out that the flash from their cameras scrambles their circuits. The kids of course loved every second of it and proclaimed it their best vacation ever to which Marge disagreed. But Lisa rationalizes the days events by tying everything back to her mothers original conditions. It could’ve been worse, a quick cut to the Bird Sanctuary has everyone running for their lives from the birds.
The ending sees Professor Frink wonder whats going on at Euro Itchy and Scratchy Land where we cut to an empty park and one employee famously saying “my last paycheck bounced, my children need wine” followed by some incomprehensible French.
This episode is notable not merely because there are many jokes and gags but also because of the underlying themes. One of which is made quite explicit by Lisa towards the end when she rationalizes the trip being the best one yet. Marge realizes they accomplished all the goals she had for their vacation—it just didn’t happen the way she pictured. That speaks to the fact that success and happiness can occur in unexpected ways. This ties into another theme, which is an overarching one, of loving your family despite their faults. Bart and Homer can’t tame their outrageous behavior but it turns out to be the very thing that saves them. They unintentionally made the trip a memorable one.
I’m sure there’s much more that could be said and indeed there are a lot of smaller gags and jokes that could be mentioned but such is the legacy of one of the best episodes in the show’s history. Re-watching it made me fall in love with it more and I am now determined to get a Bort licence plate of my own.
The Simpsons returns March 11 with brand new episodes but in the meantime keep it locked on TGON for all your Simpsons reviews, analysis and cool content.