First Aired - 5/13/1990
After Homer hears Marge call a radio psychology show about how she feels unappreciated by her husband, Homer decides to make it up to her by taking her out on a romantic evening at a roadside hotel. The trouble comes when Homer hires a babysitter for the kids whose last jobs were a prisoner of Springfield Pentitentary and a "guest appearance" on Springfield's Most Wanted as a wanted fugitive.
This episode is notable for being the very first episode of the post-Tracey Ullman incarnation of The Simpsons to be produced, and was intended to be the show's pilot; however, it ended up being the last one in its season to be aired. This was because there was heavy miscommunication between the executive producers and the animation studio over what animation style the show should take; Groening preferred a quasi-realistic style while KC wanted something more cartoony. AKOM, the overseas studio, was caught up in this conflict, likely getting conflicting directions from stateside, and naturally sent back an inconsistent mess (a sampling of problems include fluctuating character designs, sparse backgrounds with continuity issues, turning the saccharine "Happy Little Elves" into a violent Subverted Kids Show, and an overall rubbery style that was not what Groening was going for). As a result, the show's premiere was delayed from a fall 1989 premiere to a winter one and the season was heavily reorganized to give the producers time to revise this episode's animation, a task so daunting at the time (given that it 70% of it needed to be redone from the ground up) that even after it was placed at the end of the season, it wasn't completed until the last minute. Quite a way to start off one of the biggest juggernauts in western animation, eh?
This episode contains examples of:
- Adult Fear: The babysitter Homer hires to watch over his kids is a wanted criminal.
- And I'm the Queen of Sheba: In the original cut, the babysitter receptionist gives a sarcastic "Riiiight" when Homer defends the Simpsons on the phone.
- Animation Bump: The episode was extremely erratic in terms of animation quality, largely due to the exported studio doing a poor job and the worst scenes being ordered to be redone. Even the style of the show is not quite perfected yet (certain shots such as that of Ms. Botz's Tranquil Fury threat towards Bart are done with unusual fluidity and rubbery-ness than ever seen in the series). Though one could argue that the rubbery-ness (animated by animation master Dan Haskett) looks more creative and fluid than the overall conservative animation from the series later on. See here.◊
- Babysitter from Hell: Justified with Ms. Botz, as she's actually a wanted criminal who tied the kids up and is planning to rob the family blind, so the Simpson kids team up to get rid of her.
- Badly Battered Babysitter: The Simpsons kids (at least in this season) are so bad that no babysitter from the "Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers Babysitting Service" wants to care for them (they also don't like Homer — or, as they call him, "that big ape father"), so Homer has to change his name to Sampson to trick the agency.
- Buffy Speak: Homer refers to Marge's negligee as the "blue thing with the things."
- ...But He Sounds Handsome: While trying to convince the "Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers Babysitting Service" that he's "Homer Sampson" instead of "Homer Simpson", Homer defends "Simpson" against the bad things they say about him.
- Characterization Marches On: A lot of the characters express traits that are at odds with the more established personalities they would develop in the future.
- Homer is described as usually only drinking one quick beer at Moe's before leaving. Alcoholism is now one of Homer's many vices.
- Moe acts very concerned for Homer when he sees him looking despondent, and gives him some very brutally honest advice on how he should go about fixing things with Marge. Moe would later be characterized as not knowing the first thing about how to interact with women, and too surly and self-centered to ever want to get involved with his patrons' lives. He also only threatens to kill Bart when he gets prank-called, which sounds awfully mundane compared to the more colorful and hilariously over-the-top threats he would issue in the future.
- Continuity Nod: When she calls Dr. Monroe, Marge says she's 34 years old, and when Ms. Botz raids the Simpsons' homemade pickled beets, Bart attempts to drop a bowling ball with "Homer" engraved on it. Both are elements from "Life on the Fast Lane" (Marge had her 34th birthday in that episode, and Homer gave her that bowling ball as a present), which of course weren't in the original cut of this one — or, at least, the Homer bowling ball wasn't, as Marge's age was 34 even in the original work print of the episode.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment:
- The kids hogtie Ms Botz and force her to watch "The Happy Little Elves".Ms. Botz: Please turn off the TV...
- Ms. Botz threatening some unknown punishment is enough to make even Bart behave.Ms. Botz: You're going to do what I say or else I'm going to do something to you. And I don't know what that is because everyone has always done what I say.
- The kids hogtie Ms Botz and force her to watch "The Happy Little Elves".
- Couch Gag: This episode is notable in that it has no Couch Gag. The family rushes in, sits on the couch, and that's it. As this was meant to be the pilot, the intent was to play the scene straight, then start playing with or subverting it in every subsequent episode, thus giving birth to the Trope Namer.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The original script (and deleted scenes) had Marge start the day optimistic and with expectations of a cheery, friendly morning with her family, and then calls a hotline after receiving slightly unaffectionate behavior from Homer and the kids, ready to give him a Toilet Seat Divorce. The final episode fixes this by depicting Marge as clearly haggard and downbeat, implying she had been through this for quite a while already.
- Early Installment Character-Design Difference: Moe has black hair instead of grey, while Barney has yellow hair, which was later changed to brown in order to differentiate the character's hair color from that of his skin.
- Establishing Character Moment: Given that this was supposed to be The Pilot, the opening breakfast scene introduces us to the Simpson family (Homer eating from a box of doughnuts, Bart and Lisa fighting over the box, Maggie watching back-and-forth and a worn-out Marge sips her coffee).
- "Home Alone" Antics: The Simpsons kids are left with a Babysitter from Hell (a serial, Springfield's Most Wanted-caliber thief called "The Babysitting Bandit") while Homer and Marge are out celebrating their anniversary and they knock her out.
- Jerkass: In the opening scene, Homer is particularly thoughtless towards Marge.
- Karma Houdini: Homer frees Ms. Botz, who gets away seconds before Bart returns with the cops. In the season 8 episode Hurricane Neddy, Ms. Botz is seen in a mental hospital cell. Maybe they finally caught her and she copped an insanity plea?
- Knight of Cerebus: When Ms. Botz appears, things drift a lot further into Black Comedy territory.
- Little Miss Badass: Maggie manages to untie Bart and Lisa and acts as a lure to get Ms. Botz off her game long enough to knock her out.
- Mickey Mousing: Unusually for the series, there's some in the third act when Maggie is crawling through the house.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Homer has this reaction when a TV news crew informs him that he just let loose a wanted criminal.
- Off-Model: Scenes from the original version of the episode look rather distorted than the reanimated scenes (the original version can be found as a special feature on the season one DVD set for the show).
- Perma-Stubble: Enforced. Homer's five o'clock shadow grows back less than ten seconds after he shaves it off.
- Special Guest: June Foray as the voice of the "Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers Babysitting Service" receptionist; Penny Marshall as Ms. Lucille Botz a.k.a. "The Babysitter Bandit"; Paul Willson as the florist
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: When Homer persists in getting a babysitter.Receptionist: Rubber Baby Buggy Bumper Baby-sitting Service.
Homer: Hello, this is Mr. Sss...Sampson.
Receptionist: Did your wife just call a second ago?
Homer: No, I said Sampson, not Simpson.
- Take That!: Miss Botz is named after a babysitter Matt Groening once had as a child who used him as a guinea pig for a child psychology class she was taking.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: While waiting for Homer to get home from work, as Marge thinks about how mad she is, the background slowly starts to shift to match her anger, becoming a rather hellish setting.
- Toilet Seat Divorce: As mentioned above, the original cut made it look like Marge was ready to leave Homer just for not being affectionate during breakfast.
- Unexpectedly Dark Episode: The plotline involving the Babysitter Bandit is played very seriously.
- Would Hurt a Child: Ms. Botz.