Recap / The Simpsons S 3 E 16 Bart The Lover

Once in awhile, there will be the occasional sitcom episode where the moral seems to be that it is OK to bluff your way out of having to accept severe consequences after doing something incredibly wrong, stupid, illegal, immature, etc. This was actually lampooned once on another sitcom, Valerie, where one of the main character's sons realizes there indeed can be hell to pay for doing something wrong. note 

Some might view Bart the Lover as one of those episodes with a head-scratching moral: Bluff your way out and things will be OK.

And it all starts with a yo-yo. There had been a school assembly where a traveling troupe of yo-yo performance artists dazzle and wow the student body of Springfield Elementary School, and Bart is caught up in the craze. During a class break, Bart — having perhaps been told already, along with his classmates, that the yo-yo is an after school toy, not to be played with in the classroom — is showing off and being a general nuisance, and when demonstrating one of his tricks, he swings it too wide, and the plastic disk crashes into an aquarium. Mrs. Krabappel is justifiably upset and, after confiscating his yo-yo, gives Bart one month of detention.

Bart believes he is being unfairly punished and does not consider his antics to be that big of a deal, but there is no negotiating his way out of this punishment. After school, he sees that Mrs. Krabappel is sad ... not because she has to put up with Bart, but because she is lonely. Then, one afternoon, still refusing to reflect on his misbehavior in class and resolving to change his behavior, and still determined to one-up his teacher and show her that what he did wasn't that big of a deal — remember, in most of the real world, he'd also be made to pay restitution — he goes snooping through her desk to get the yo-yo back. It is there he discovers a personal ad, written by Mrs. Krabappel and ending "Object: SAVE ME."

And this ferments a dastardly idea in Bart's mind: Why not get some revenge on a teacher that you think unfairly punished you by answering her personal ad by mail? Great idea! So he creates this new adult male alter ego named Woodrow (after President Wilson). Mrs. Krabappel, unaware that Bart had sent the letter, is overjoyed that someone had taken the time to respond and sends a suggestive photograph. And thus, a series of response letters are exchanged, with Woodrow eventually revealing himself to be exactly what Mrs. Krabappel dreams of in a man, and eventually Bart — upon learning his teacher wants a photograph of "Woodrow" — sends her a photograph of NHL hockey legend Gordie Howe. Eventually, he asks to meet her in person at the Gilded Truffle, a five-star restaurant in Springfield.

Bart, one night having gotten out of the house and going to the movie theater, sees Mrs. Krabappel waiting for Woodrow at the restaurant and cackles evily, without soul or conscience. Of course, "Woodrow" never shows, and when Bart walks past the restaurant, it is almost closing time and Mrs. Krabappel is still at the table, on the verge of tears. Bart finally realizes that what he did was very wrong and feels guilty. Bart eventually confesses to his parents what he did. Homer (surprisingly) is very angry and wants to make Bart confess to Mrs. Krabappel and the administrative team, but here is where things go very much south.

While surely not happy, Marge tells Homer that Bart can't confess because the truth would humiliate Mrs. Krabappel. (Ya think?) Lisa suggests having "Woodrow" write a letter to tell her goodbye without hurting her feelings, and after several attempts they produce a romantically diplomatic letter where Woodrow says he must go, but will always remember her. Amazingly, Mrs. Krabappel's letter is a success, and while she is disappointed that "Woodrow" is gone, but still has her spirits lifted and hopeful that one day she will find the love and happiness that she is craving. She even suggests to Bart that they spend his last day of detention outside and he agrees to that.

And so, Bart gets away with something that, in the real world, would have his teacher not only humiliated, crushed and very angry, it would have gotten him (most likely) permanently expelled, sent to a psychotherapist for counseling and — if they're lucky — made to enroll in an alternative school for behavior-problem children. The real Aesop would have, in the real world, been, "Take your lumps like a man in the first place when you break school rules, and if you play a prank like this, you will suffer incredibly severe consequences."

The subplot is a Swear Jar-based story about Homer's habit of swearing every time things don't go his way, annoy him, etc. This happens most prominently as he is (ahem) attempting to build a doghouse for Santa's Little Helper. Todd is playing outside, overhears Homer swearing, and picks up the habit. When he says "Hell no!" and "I don't want any damn vegetables!" to his parents, Ned punishes him swiftly and surely. Ned eventually realizes that Todd was picking up his new habit from Homer and asks him to stop. Marge steps in and suggests putting loose change in a swear jar every time he uses profanity. Eventually, Homer is able (temporarily, at least) to curb his habit and there is enough money in the swear jar to buy a professionally built doghouse.


  • Achievements in Ignorance: Homer manages to solve two problems simultaneously, each one solving the other! When trying to build a doghouse, he hurts and injures himself, causing him to cuss a lot. Marge suggests a swear jar. After several days of trying to build the doghouse using the swear jar, he eventually stops cussing, and gains enough change this way for Marge to buy a doghouse. (And a six pack of Duff.) In other words, the doghouse project helps him stop swearing and the swearing helps gain a new doghouse!
  • All Just a Dream: In-universe with "A World Without Zinc".
  • Angrish: Most of Homer's swearing turns into this.
  • Bad Boss: The manager of the Twirl King Yo-Yo Company performers.
    Boss: Get your worthless butts in the van. We got three more schools to do! Let's go, go, go!
    • In this case, the boss is correct because his assembly crew and all other sorts of assemblies like this one do multiple schools in one day.
  • Bee Afraid: One of Homer's swearing incidents is caused by a beehive suddenly falling on him while he's relaxing in a hammock. We then cut to a hand covered in bee stings putting change in the swear jar.
  • Berserk Button: Due to the sudden yo-yo craze, Edna develops a hatred of them.
    Edna: That's it! [slams book onto her desk] I am getting sick and tired of talking about yo-yo's. From now on, I will not accept any book reports, science projects, dioramas, or anything else on yo-yo's or yo-yo-related topics. Am I making myself clear?
    Bart: Yo!
  • Bizarrchitecture: Homer's "attempts" to build a doghouse.
  • Blatant Lies / Implausible Deniability: When Bart accidentally breaks the aquarium with his yo-yo, he tells Krabappel, "I didn't do it" while still holding the yo-yo.
  • Broken Aesop: It is better to let someone down easy after you've pulled a cruel, perhaps unforgivable prank on them. That is what Homer and Marge decide should be Bart's punishment for writing prank love letters to Mrs. Krabappel, rather than be real parents and force him to admit to both her and the principal, and possibly the superintendent as well what he had done and accept what surely would be severe consequences.
  • Bungled Suicide: Played for laughs. Jimmy from "A World Without Zinc" is so horrified that he gets a gun to shoot himself in the head. He pulls the trigger, but nothing happens. He learns the firing pin was made of, you guessed it, zinc.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Bart's detention is him doing things Groundskeeper Willy should be doing like the plumbing and waxing the floor.
  • Costume-Test Montage: Mrs. Krabappel tries a different outfit for her date.
  • Curse Cut Short: Several from Homer ("Da-", "You sunofa-", "You dirty bast-," and "Aw..."). According to the DVD commentary for this episode (the first one, not the secret one), Dan Castellaneta actually went on several foul-mouthed tirades in Homer's voice during recording and the tirades were cut short on the track.
  • A Day in the Limelight: For Ms. Krabappel.
  • Detention Episode: Bart gets a month's detention when he plays with a yo-yo in class and accidentally breaks the fish tank.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Bart, rather than take responsibility for damaging school property and accept Mrs. Krabappel's punishment (which wasn't that severe), plays a cruel prank (creating a fictional love interest and writing fake love letters to her). That said, one could argue that Mrs. Krabappel's punishment was straddling the lines of this, although most likely the severe punishment she levies (a month's worth of detention) was out of exasperation from her being fed up with Bart's increasing misbehavior; after all, this is a guy who did things such as smuggle a knife into school, synthesize laxatives into carrots and stuff a lighted firecracker down a classmate's pants.
  • Educational Short: Memorably parodied in the short Mrs. Krabappel shows the class about "A World Without Zinc". Trully a terrifying dystopia.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: The family sees Bart writing a love letter, and assume he has a crush.
  • Epic Fail: Homer building a dog house with no door to it. While it is physically possible to do something like that, the fact that Homer did (without noticing it before) shows the true depth of his ineptitude.
  • Face Palm: Reverend Lovejoy has a glorious facepalm when his wife informs him that Ned Flanders is on the phone. Lovejoy would prefer to enjoy his dessert in peace and not to deal with Ned's latest "crisis."
  • Forged Message: Bart creates a boyfriend for his teacher Mrs Krabappel and writes her letters based on his parents' old loveletters, pretending to be a guy called "Woodrow".
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Gordie Howe's hockey stats at the end of the episode.
    • Earlier, Todd holds up a figure that looks a bit like Toad.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Todd, after learning swear words from overhearing Homer.
    Maude: Would you like some mixed vegetables?
    Todd: Hell no.
    (everyone else gasps)
    Maude: What did you say?
    Todd: I said I don't want any damn vegetables.
    Ned: Oh that's it, young man! No Bible stories for you tonight!
    (Todd runs upstairs, crying)
    Maude: You were being too hard on him?
    Ned: You knew I had a temper when we married.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: An epic one from Homer, when he's mentally conditioned not to swear.
  • Hidden Depths: It's Homer, of all people, that thinks of the ending for the love letter: "With a love that will echo through the ages."
  • Idiot Ball: Couldn't Mrs. Krabappel recognize "Woodrow's" handwriting as being too similar to Bart's? And presuming that she has reasonable pop culture awareness, didn't she recognize the photo of "Woodrow" as ice hockey icon Gordie Howe? And what about his family not catching on that Bart wasn't exactly penning letters to a love interest?
  • Innocent Swearing: When Todd Flanders first hears Homer's profanity, at dinner Todd Flanders says the swear words, not knowing how bad they are (he gleefully says "I said I don't want any damn vegetables!") But then Ned punishes Todd ("No bible stories for you tonight!"), and Todd, unaware of what he did wrong, starts crying as he goes to his room.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition:
    Mrs. Krabappel: (in deep thought, while looking at Woodrow's picture) "When I read your letters, I feel as if you are right here watching me." (puts the picture down to see Bart in his desk staring at her) Bart, eyes down!
    Bart: Yes, ma'am!
  • Love Letter: Bart and Edna write several love letters to each other. Bart asks for tips from his whole family, and Marge shows Bart a love postcard she got once from Homer.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Homer does this after training himself out of swearing. Stepping on a nail, he says "Fiddle-de-dee. That will require a tetanus shot."
  • Momma's Boy: When Bart asks why she doesn't try dating Skinner, Edna remarks "His mommy won't let him out to play."
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Bart is guilt-stricken when he sees how upset Mrs. Krabappel is.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Harry Shearer based "Woodrow"'s voice on Ricardo Montalban.
  • Prank Date: Bart's very cruel "no show" practical joke he pulls on his teacher.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Homer displays quite the foul mouth in this episode.
  • Swear Jar: Marge makes Homer put money in it for foul language because one of the Flanders little boys picked it from him. Eventually, the family just buys a doghouse with the money from the swear jar.
  • The Stinger: The episode ends with a trading card-style rundown of the hockey career of Gordie Howe, Woodrow's face; this was a creative way of filling a slight time under-run.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Homer goes through all sorts of painful humiliations and misfortunes as he tries to build the doghouse, among other thing, and loses a lot of money to the Swear Jar in the process. It ends up paying off when Marge uses the money put into the swear jar to just buy a new doghouse, alongside some beer or Homer.
  • Two Words: Added Emphasis: Homer's suggestion for a break-up letter for Mrs. Krabappel is "Three simple words: I am gay."
    Marge: For the last time, I'm not writing that!
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Marge calls Bart out for writing a fake love letter. Homer tries to do the same thing by telling Bart to tell the truth about the letters, but Marge tells Homer that they can't do that since Edna would be humiliated (never mind the fact she already was humiliated). Homer only said it because he thought Marge would expect him to.