This week, The Simpsons focuses on Bart’s connection to one of the minor characters who rarely gets the spotlight: Superintendent Gary Chalmers. Besides his trademark “Skiiiiiinner!” yell and a few minor facts that have trickled down over the many, many, many years that this show has been on the air, Chalmers has never really been at the center of an episode. And now, he has. One can see where Chalmers might make a better teacher than most of the regular cast (although Disco Stu is still an unknown quantity), and his severity and military bearing make him the best candidate for a closet Teddy Roosevelt buff. So good job, Simpsons writers.
After Bart causes his trademark mayhem at Springfield Elementary’s charity auction, which has been given the nautical theme “Drowning In Debt,” Principal Skinner challenges Chalmers to take over Bart’s education. After a particularly groan-worthy flashback to The Breakfast Club, Chalmers tries to reach Bart through the magical awesomeness of Teddy Roosevelt. This tactic is quite effective, although Bart’s imagined Roosevelt is a bit more creepy and fascistic and superhuman than the actual T.R.
Pretty soon, Chalmers is opening up to Bart, Milhouse, and the school bullies about how education fails boys in the vein of Raising Cain. He takes the kids on a weekend camping trip to Springfield Park, where Roosevelt supposedly lost a pair of spectacles once. Nelson finds them but falls down a cliff while recovering the spectacles. Nelson’s mother decides to sue the school system, and Chalmers is fired by his superior for his negligence. This sequence leads to a few questions. First, as superintendent, Chalmers should have some influence over the curriculum and teaching standards. If he feels that the education system is failing the boys of Springfield, he actually has the power to do something about this. Second, Chalmers may be swept away by the thrill of reaching students, but his many, many, many years of superintendentry should have prepared him for liability that he was taking when he planned that camping trip. Third, who is his boss? Did they say? Perhaps I am taking this too seriously. The scene where Chalmers boards the bus and tells Otto to “just drive” is worth all of this trouble.
The firing of Chalmers leads Bart, Milhouse, and the bullies to once again take over the school. The best sight gag here is a Ralph Wiggum For Student Body President poster that features poor Ralph with wet pants. A close second comes when the media circus out front includes a Fox News helicopter with a Romulan cloaking device. Anyway, the occupation is short, and Chalmers is reinstated as the super-duper-intendent in time for the closing gag, where Milhouse freaks out because he skipped his nap.
The Simpsons episodes that strive to have a little heart without going overboard are generally going to work better than the random-gag episodes, at least at this point in the storied history of The Simpsons, and “Bart Stops To Smell The Roosevelts” has enough wee little heart to see this episode through. Just about all of these plot points, however, hearken back to older, although not necessarily better episodes. The need to reset the scenario at the end means that Chalmers will go back to being Chalmers, and Bart and his Rough Rider bullies will go back to being bored adolescents, so really, the major question is whether the jokes worked. For the most part they did. I even laughed out loud when Otto drove into a tree, a pretty fun twist on the hackneyed “just drive” situation. There were a number of jokes that didn’t work, Milhouse’s final scene in particular, but the episode had a steady stream of gags to push through the lean times. And that’s all we can ask for.
- Board gag: It’s not too early to speculate about the 2016 election.
- The couch gag by John Kricfalusi was quite eye-catching. Good on The Simpsons for giving that man some time on a major network, too.
- “They always come up with such catchy ways to make us pay for things we don’t need for kids we didn’t want.”
- “Why do I believe everything I hear in a British accent?”
- Grandpa Simpson likes Stephen Colbert, but that is because, as he helpfully explains, he doesn’t get the joke.
- “The dude really knew how to rock some jodhpurs.”
- “School failed me? Does school have to go to summer Jimbo?”
- Saying ‘Yes’ To Saying ‘No’ To Saying ‘Yes’ To Drugs
- “We’ve got a 30 year mortgage on that photocopier!”
- Special Guest Voice: Teddy Roosevelt