“Boy-Scoutz ’N The Hood” (season five, episode eight; originally aired 11/18/1993)
The unfortunately titled but utterly fantastic “Boy-Scoutz ’N The Hood” features one of the greatest, most-true-to-life depictions of a bender/drug binge in television history: Flush with money from an unexpected windfall, a pair of debauched revelers indulge their basest desires by stocking up on mind-altering substances, then going crazy “Broadway style.” Their minds and judgments cloudy, the partiers go on a lavish spending spree, demand V.I.P service from a local establishment they frequent, freak out during a production of Cats (a show that has the capacity to traumatize even the most sober and grounded of audiences), share some of their stash with a drunk (who, in a state of impairment even greater than their own, confuses them for a pair of magical pixies), and acquire regrettable tattoos. Waking up the next morning with crushing hangovers, they realize they’ve made terrible mistakes in a blackout state, the ramifications of which they must now deal with in a crushingly remorseful, sober state.
I’m guessing by this point that you’ve probably figured out (hell, that “Broadway style” line was a big giveaway) that the most hilarious and memorable big drug-binge montage this side of Eastbound & Down wasn’t devoted to a drug binge at all, but rather to Bart and Milhouse losing their goddamned minds after demanding that Apu make them a radical, experimental new Squishee made entirely out of syrup.
The genius of this scenario is that not only does it slip an extended psychedelic drug sequence past censors in 1993—it does so with children as the ones fucked up on what should be, but is not, an illegal substance The show managed a similarly neat trick when it later had Homer go on an epic spiritual quest after ingesting peppers that affect his body and mind exactly the way peyote would. These winking substitutions afford the show, its animators, and its writers an opportunity to get as druggy, psychedelic, and crazy as they’d like without having to deal with the baggage and hysteria and judgment that comes with actually depicting drug use onscreen.
This glorious pre-pubescent sugar freakout doubles as a loving, hilarious and eminently hummable parody of the “New York, New York” sequence from On The Town (at one point Bart and Milhouse are even joined temporarily by a sailor crooning “New York, New York” before Bart and Milhouse point him in the right direction). A recent AVQ&A asked for our favorite musical sequences in non-musical entertainment and I was tempted, like some of my colleagues, to nominate just a musical sequence from The Simpsons, but rather every musical sequence from The Simpsons, or at least all the ones from the show’s heyday.
In “Boy Scoutz ’N The Hood” the “Springfield, Springfield” number serves as a crucial narrative function by explaining how a dedicated ne’er do well like Bart ended up in the Junior Campers, an organization that is exactly like the Boy Scouts of America without actually being the Boy Scouts—but it does so much more than that. It gets the episode from point A to point B in the most spectacular, memorable manner possible.
“Boy-Scoutz ’N The Hood” opens with Bart at the arcade trying, in his own words, to be “in the game but not of the game.” As a child who spent altogether too much time playing arcade games around the time the episode aired, I loved the cultural specificity of Bart’s game ending with the bad guy plummeting from a building and the first President Bush kicking him while he’s down. The video Bush yells, “Winners don’t use drugs,” a hilarious nod to the many clumsily integrated anti-drug messages found in children’s entertainment during the “Just Say No” era.
Bart and Milhouse get ejected from the arcade after surveillance cameras uncover that they have run out of money. Meanwhile, back at the homestead, Homer lovingly ponders the final peanut in the bottle, one “overflowing with the oil and salt of its departed brothers,” to borrow Homer’s accidentally eloquent turn of phrase. Homer loses that last, sacred peanut, the one its brothers martyred themselves for, but finds a $20 bill. This vexes him, until his brain helpfully explains, “$20 can buy many peanuts.” When an incredulous, faintly irritated Homer asks his brain to expound on this assertion, it replies, “Money can be exchanged for goods and services.” Homer spent a fair amount of time having charged conversations with his brain in these golden years but they were seldom funnier than this exchange.
The $20 bill flies out of the Simpson household and a strong gust of wind carries it high over Springfield to the Kwik-E-Mart, where a bored Bart and Milhouse find it and use it to finance first the most decadent Squishee in existence. Their aforementioned crazed sugar freak-out ends with Milhouse waking up with a dirty word shaved into his head and Bart discovering he’s somehow joined the Junior Campers.
This does not please Bart one bit, even after Marge tries to assure him Junior Campers do “a lot of neat things like sing-alongs and flag ceremonies.” Bart is unconvinced until he discovers that a big component of Junior Camper life involves playing with knives. Bart is easily discouraged, however, so when scoutmaster Ned Flanders tells him he’ll need to read a book and pass a test to get his own knife, he storms off dejectedly, only to encounter a world where the answers to seemingly every problem, from opening the ribbon on a box of sweets to saving a man whose appendix is about to burst, can be solved through use of knives. “It seems like everywhere I look people are enjoying knives!” Bart complains dejectedly before biting the bullet and reading the manual on knife safety. The book—focused on a character named Donny Don’t—is a wonderfully convoluted guide filled with confusing advice like “Don’t do what Donny Don’t doesn’t.” Bart proves a quick study and soon makes a transformation from opportunist—only interested in Junior Campers because of the opportunities they afford him to skip class and enjoy knives—into a true believer whose enthusiasm approaches Flanders’ own.
Homer is insensitive under the best of circumstances, but his behavior in “Boy Scoutz ’N The Hood” veers into outright emotional abuse as he extensively mocks his son’s new interest in a nerdy preoccupation like camping. But the bad behavior Homer displays while mocking his son and his hobbies pales in comparison to his behavior on a big father-son camping outing that finds Homer, Flanders, Bart, and an unfortunate boy getting separated from the rest of the group during a rafting trip. They face seemingly imminent death from starvation once their raft floats away from civilization and into a watery nowhere land. When the battery of the Walkman Homer has been listening to “Sugar, Sugar” on—initiating a hallucination/dream sequence where he imagines he’s dancing alongside giant, sentient pieces of candy—dies, he angrily hurls the device into the water and sets about helping himself to what little rations remain as the group desperately struggles to survive.
If Homer is largely the villain of “Boy-Scoutz ’N The Hood,” he’s also the hero when his nose and placemat/treasure map of Krusty Burger locations leads the damned voyage in the direction of a Krusty Burger built on an off-shore oil rig. Meanwhile, Ernest Borgnine, the special guest celebrity dad to a Junior Camper, nobly leads the other campers through a gauntlet of harrowing dangers, which include bears and, climactically, a serial killer who ends the episode by killing the beloved star of Marty and From Here To Eternity.
“Boy-Scoutz ’N The Hood” prominently features a bender involving small children and the brutal slaying of an Academy-Award winning actor—as well as a whole lot of unforgivable selfishness from Homer. So if the episode ends with a soupçon of sentimentality in the form of Homer’s reconciliation with Bart and redemption (however bumbling or accidental), it is wholly earned for an episode that is pretty much comic gold from start to finish.
- Everything involving Borgnine is great, especially the children’s ecstatic response to him introducing himself as the star of From Here To Eternity.
- “Hair is not a right! It’s a privilege!”—the gospel according Principal Skinner
- I’m not sure Nelson would necessarily have the base of knowledge or frame of reference to call Bart an insult based on the Gary Cooper anti-war classic Sergeant York.
- “Mmmm… Floor pie”—Homer on one of the unexplored treasures of the culinary world.
- “I don’t know where you magic pixies came from but I like your pixie drink” is one of the all-time great Barney lines.
- I suspect that a fair number of people know Borgnine only from his amazing appearance here. That is unfortunate but understandable.
- Next up is “The Last Temptation Of Springfield.” If memory serves, that’s a good one.