Recap / The Simpsons S 6 E 5 Sideshow Bob Roberts
Episode - 2F02
First Aired - 10/9/1994

With help from the Rush Limbaugh-esque Birch Barlow (a right-wing radio personality), Sideshow Bob gets released from prison again and runs for mayor against "Diamond" Joe Quimby — and Bart and Lisa investigate how one criminal running for public office got so many votes while another criminal got so few.

This episode contains examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating:
    Kent Brockman: The results are in: for Sideshow Bob, one hundred percent; and for Joe Quimby, one percent. And, we remind you, there is a one percent margin of error.
  • Accidental Public Confession/Accuse the Witness: Bart and Lisa get Bob to confess by accusing him of being Barlow's front man. He immediately produces several binders and floppy disks detailing his "masterpiece of electoral fraud".
  • As Himself: Dr. Demento; Larry King
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor:
    Larry King: Now, a word to our audience: even though we're being broadcast on...Fox, there's no need for obnoxious hooting and hollering. (The audience does just that; King groans.)
  • Black and Grey Morality: The race between Quimby and Bob is basically this, parallelling common appraisals of Democrats and Republicans. Quimby is incompetent, stupid, and controlled by his vices, but he's not out to hurt anyone; he just wants to keep Springfield running. Bob, on the other hand, is a psychotic megalomaniac who wants to rule like a king and kill anyone he has a grudge on.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The bats in the public library.
    • Homer gets thrown out of Riverdale for reasons unknown. When he drives Bart and Lisa to meet the unknown informant in the parking garage, Homer stays in the car, reading Archie Comics, muttering, "Lousy stuck-up Riverdale punks! Think they're too good for me."
  • The Cameo: Archie and his pals Jughead, Reggie, and Moose from the Archie comics make a cameo, throwing Homer from their vehicle and telling him to "Stay outta' Riverdale!"
  • Cassandra Truth: Bart telling Marge that he was told to bring in fireworks.note 
  • Celebrity Paradox: Homer reads Archie Comics, while in the same episode, he is kicked out of Riverdale by Archie and his friends.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: The reaction to Bob's below-mentioned evil laugh? "And just look how happy he is!"
    • If you hear well, it sounds like everyone is laughing with him.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Bob goes for ballot-stuffing in an election where Quimby may have actually had a 0% Approval Rating. Justified, as he didn't know how guaranteed the race was, and his rant at the end shows he didn't expect Springfield to vote Republican even if they secretly wanted to.
  • Evil Laugh: Sideshow Bob, of course, delivers a long, utterly hammy one after he wins the election.
  • Expy: As noted, Birch Barlow is one of real-life conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh.
  • Evil Is Petty: As soon as he is elected, Bob uses his power to make the Simpson family as miserable as possible, planning to mow down their house to make room for the new Matlock Expressway, and sending Bart to kindergarten (being a class flunky however, he only ends up enjoying this).
  • Fair Weather Friend: Except for the Simpsons, everyone with Quimby at his campaign headquarters leaves as soon as Sideshow Bob is announced as the new Mayor.
  • Falsely Reformed Villain: Sideshow Bob pretends to go straight so he can get paroled out of prison and rig the election campaign for mayor.
  • Gilligan Cut: Lisa asks Homer if they can listen to something else. He replies that, as the driver, he chooses the radio station. When she drives, then she can choose the station. Cut to Lisa driving and listening to "St. Elmo's Fire."
    Homer: Ooooh. I can't take it anymore! Let's switch back!
  • Handwaved: Lisa can have the results of the votes and the voters identity because no one cares. This is vital to find out Bob stuffed the ballots with dead people.
  • Homage: The entire second act, including the bird eye shot of Lisa studying in the library, is an homage to All the President's Men.
  • Horned Hairdo: Quimby inadvertently sports one during the mayoral debates after he runs his fingers through his sweat-soaked hair, leading the news team to electronically demonize him in their broadcast.
  • Hypocritical Humor
    Announcer: Mayor Quimby supports revolving door prisons. Mayor Quimby even released Sideshow Bob, a man twice convicted of attempted murder. Can you trust a man like Mayor Quimby? Vote Sideshow Bob for mayor!
    • Also, Homer had earlier in the episode stated a low opinion about people who vote but he's later seen voting for Sideshow Bob. (He approved Bob's "Selma-killing policy".)
  • Insane Troll Logic: Sideshow Bob runs on this, as seen in his aforementioned campaign ad.
    Sideshow Bob: I am presently incarcerated. Convicted of a crime I didn't even commit. "Attempted Murder", now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for "Attempted Chemistry"?
  • I Take Offense to That Last One!
    Birch Barlow: There are three things we are never going to get rid of in this town. One, the bats in the public library; two, Mrs. McFuly's compost heap; and three, our six-term mayor - the illiterate, tax-cheating, wife-swapping, pot-smoking spendocrat, Diamond Joe Quimby.
    Mayor Quimby: (as he's watering a marijuana plant in his office) Hey, I am no longer illiterate!
  • It's Personal: Lisa states this after finding out one of the dead people and pets that "voted" for Bob was her long-deceased cat, Snowball I. Bart, understandably takes offense at this:
    Bart: Um...he did try to kill me!
  • Laughing Mad: Bob, after being elected mayor.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to the previous Sideshow Bob episodes. "Sideshow Bob Roberts" is more of a humorous political satire where Bob doesn't try to murder anyone.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Quimby is a sleazy and corrupt politician, but at least he isn't making it his mission to destroy the Simpsons' lives like Bob is, which is why Lisa and Bart try to campaign for him.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Played with when Bart and Lisa shift the accusation of the rigged election to Birch Barlow in order to get Sideshow Bob to confess.
  • Made of Iron: Homer somehow was able to cushion a wrecking ball from hitting its house (similar to what happens, years later, on The Simpsons Movie, only Homer actually felt pain when he hit the rock and a bar called "A Hard Place". On this episode, Homer doesn't even flinch).
  • Mayor Pain: The whole episode is a battle between the evil variety and the incompetent variety.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: The minimum security prison that Bob is sentenced to features canoe races with Princeton.
  • Noodle Incident / Riddle for the Ages:
    • What did Homer do to get thrown out of Riverdale? Better yet, how'd he get there in the first place?
    • And what did Bart do to gain the enmity of Doctor Demento?
  • Not Hyperbole: When Birch Barlow says Springfield will never get rid of Mrs. McFuly's large, disgusting, compost heap, he's not just exaggerating. She guards it madly with a shotgun.
  • Open Secret: Apparently who you voted for mayor is not anonymously done and everyone can learn it.
  • Paste Eater: When Quimby and Bob come to Springfield Elementary:
    Skinner: Now, students, I want you to be on your best behavior for this carefully-choreographed media event. Now this means there is to be no wising-off, no face-making, and no grass-eating. This means you, Ralph.
    Ralph: (mouth full of grass) Yes, sir.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: As it turns out, graveyard votes, votes cast by people who are deceased, was a common form of fraud.
  • Rigged Contest: The mayoral debates have Barlow giving Bob easy questions from a nonexistent "Les Wynan", and Quimby a rambling, disturbing question about his family being kidnapped and murdered by thugs that's somehow about the budget.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Subverted. Smithers alludes to being gay when, in previous episodes, it was heavily implied that he was either sexually confused or straight, but had a crush on his boss.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Politicians using the votes of people who passed away happened earlier in American history.
    • Quimby and Sideshow Bob's TV debate is a reference to Kennedy and Nixon's 1960 TV debate.
    • The "It's about the budget, sir" question appears to be a reference to the 1988 presidential debate, where Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis if he would support the death penalty for a criminal that had murdered and raped his wife.
    • Sideshow Bob posing in front of his election poster references Citizen Kane.
    • The entire second act is a parody of the Watergate scandal, specifically spoofing All the President's Men.
    • The commercial described in Hypocritical Humor is a parody of the infamous "Willie Horton" advertisement by the George H.W. Bush campaign during the 1988 presidential race.
    • The episode's title is a reference to the satirical political mockumentary Bob Roberts.
    • Sideshow Bob tries to demolish the Simpson family home to make way for a bypass. Why does that sound familiar?
  • Special Guest: Henry Corden as Fred Flintstonenote ; Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob; Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: A TV ad for Quimby ends with: "It's not the mayor's fault that the stadium collapsed!"
  • Take That!: This is the first time the show really takes stabs at the Republican Party, which garnered a lot of complaints from viewers (particularly the ones on who were used to seeing the show skewer both political parties (or only focus on local politics and not national stuff). Of course, considering that Mayor Quimby is the episode's representative of the Democratic Party, it does even out somewhat.
  • Title-Only Opening: The second FOX airing and the DVD version goes from the Simpsons cloud title straight to the executive credits on the TV, while the original airing and the syndicated version had couch gags that were used in other episodes (the original airing had the couch gag from "Boy Scoutz 'n The Hood"note  while the syndicated version had the oft-used one from "Rosebud"note ). This is one of the few times they did this after season one and before the high-def episodes from season 20 on (barring the special episodes, like the Treehouse of Horror episodes and the two Troy McClure-hosted episodes: "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular" and "The Simpsons Spinoff Showcase").
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, who were all killed on "The Day The Music Died", are among the dead people who allegedly voted for Sideshow Bob. Holly and the Big Bopper were both buried in Texas, and Valens was buried in California, neither of which borders one another.
  • You Can't Handle the Parody: "...No truth handler, you! Bah, I deride your truth-handling abilities!"