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Recap / The Simpsons S1 E8 "The Telltale Head"

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Original air date: 2/25/1990

Production code: 7G07

Cornered at the town square by a pitchfork and torch-wielding mob, Bart tells the rioting townspeople the story of how he stole the head of town founder Jebediah Springfield to impress some local thugs, Dolph, Jimbo Jones, and Kearney.

This is one of four episodes The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has a writing credit on.

This episode contains examples of:

  • An Aesop:
    • It's not worth it to do something bad for the sake of popularity.
    • Be careful of the advice you give, especially to your children.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Is the Lincoln Memorial just a statue?! Is the Statue of Liberty just a statue?!"
  • Bland-Name Product: The Aztec Theater makes its first appearance in this episode. A parody of the "Egyptian Theatre" cinemas that started to pop up in America in the 1920s.
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  • Characterisation Click Moment: The first glimpse of Smithers' affection towards his boss.
    [after Bart puts the head back on the statue]
    Mr. Burns: I love you, Smithers.
    Smithers: The feeling's more than mutual, sir.
  • Couch Gag: The family sits on the couch and squashes Bart into the air. He comes back down during the TV scene.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • Apu makes his first appearance in this episode; at the time he was not intended to be anything more than a one-off topical joke about immigrant workers at chain retailer stores.
    • Sideshow Bob appears in this episode briefly on Krusty's show, and again as part of the crowd at the end.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The statue of Jebediah Springfield does not have his motto, "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man", engraved on it. The motto itself would not debut until Season 7.
    • Shoplifting is referred to by Dolph as "Five-Finger Discount", while in subsequent episodes they call it "Four-Finger Discount" due to everyone in the show having Four-Fingered Hands.
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    • This episode opens with a Couch Gag that continues into the shot of the television screen ("Bart the Genius" also used this gag). The next episode to have this is "The Wreck of the Relationship" from Season 26.
  • Sideshow Bob is shown to be more or less happy working on Krusty the Clown's show, and you'd never guess he was harboring any of the resentment that would drive him to frame Krusty for armed robbery and become the show's most prominent recurring villain (though "Krusty Gets Busted" had something to do with Sideshow Bob's change in personality). And with the exception of one really brief scene Sideshow Bob's hair looks completely different than it normally does, instead looking closer to Krusty's replacement sidekick, Sideshow Mel.
  • Easily Forgiven: Given just how eager the crowd was for Bart's blood, they're charmed off their game awfully fast. Particularly true in the revised version, which throws in a Lampshade Hanging courtesy of Homer.
    Homer: Good going, son! But remember, most lynch mobs aren't this nice.
  • Episode Title Card: One of the rare Simpsons episodes to have its title in the opening credits.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Dolph, Jimbo, and Kearney may be petty thugs, but when they hear that someone defaced the statue of Jebediah Springfield, they want to bash his face in, explaining that what they said about wanting to deface the statue themselves was just "cloud talk". Oddly enough, they seem happy enough to cut it off in the revised intro some seasons later.
    • It may be a case of Early-Installment Weirdness, but Mr. Burns — the Charles Montgomery Burns — actually cries at the sight of the headless statue and joins the angry mob in retaliation.
    • Sideshow Bob is among those seen smiling in gratitude after Bart restores the head to the statue. (Granted, at this point he hasn't undergone his Start of Darkness yet.)
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Bart's crime of stealing the statue's head plunges the town into gloom and is treated as an atrocity the like of which no one has ever seen. No matter what your feelings are on statue vandalism, sending a lynch mob out after a 10-year-old is probably a little much.
  • Five-Finger Discount: Dolph, Jimbo, and Kearney make off with a bunch of stuff from the Kwik-E-Mart while Bart is buying Squishees from Apu. Dolph even uses the trope-naming euphemism.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: When Homer was Bart's age, he "pulled a few boners" (in this context, a "boner" is a slang term for a mistake, not a Raging Stiffie. The "mistake" definition of "boner" is not used much these days).
  • Hearing Voices: A guilt-ridden Bart hears Jebediah Springfield's voice in his head when he buries the statue head in the backyard.
  • Healthy in Heaven: The Sunday school class discusses heaven, and Bart brings up what happens to people with amputated limbs (apparently not for the first time).
    Bart: Um, ma'am, what if you're a really good person, but you're in a really, really bad fight and your leg gets gangrene, and it has to be amputated. Will it be waiting for you in heaven?
    Teacher: For the last time, Bart, yes!
  • Heaven: Discussed in Bart's Sunday school class. Bart stumps the teacher by asking her who/what will be there. Lisa is told a flat "No" when she asks if pets go to Heaven, and Milhouse gets the same answer when he asks about cavemen.
    Teacher: (exasperated) The ventriloquist goes to Heaven, but the dummy doesn't. (Bart raises his hand) Bart?
    Bart: What about a robot with a human brain?
    Teacher: (frazzled) I don't know! All these questions; is a little blind faith too much to ask?!
  • Heel Realization: Homer has one when his advice to Bart (being cool is the most important thing in the world) backfires on him after Bart reveals he was the one who cut off the statue head. Though in his defense, he had no idea why Bart wanted advice.
  • In Medias Res:
    • The episode begins with Bart and Homer carrying the statue's head and being chased by the angry mob. After they're cornered, Bart convinces the townspeople to allow him to explain How We Got Here.
    • The use of the latter trope is parodied when, after Homer agrees to come with Bart to put the head back on the statue, the opening sequence repeats until the mob interrupts the story, saying they already know that part.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: The first appearance of Sideshow Bob (and, if you wanna get technical, the first time he tries to kill Bart, although as just one member of an angry mob). Also, the first intimation of Smithers' feelings for Mr. Burns:
    Burns: I love you, Smithers.
    Smithers: The feeling is more than mutual, sir.
  • Insult Backfire: Bart refers to Kearney and Jimbo as "the worst kids in school", prompting the latter to eagerly reply, "Thanks!".
  • Kid Has a Point: In the original ending, the mob has this reaction to Bart's speech about how they've taken Springfield's heritage for granted, with Moe saying this line almost verbatim.
  • Knew It All Along: Homer angrily proclaims this after Bart confesses to him and Marge he was the one who beheaded the statue.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: In church, Homer's listening to the football game on headphones. Homer's football team scores, causing Homer to jump up and shout, "It's GOOD! It's GOOD!" The whole congregation stares at him, and he adds more, "It's... good to see you all in church". Nobody buys it.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Marge takes away Bart's headphones before heading into church. When she's not looking, Homer swipes the headphones for himself and listens to them in church.
  • Limited Animation: In the third act, when Marge says, "Homer...", her mouth only has two unique frames: Open and closed. And it only opens and closes once, whereas a double syllable word like "Homer" should've at least opened and closed twice. See here.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is a parody of "The Tell-Tale Heart".
  • Medium Awareness: Bart tells the mob his story will take 23 minutes and 5 seconds to tell. note 
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Bart says, "Oh, what have I done?" after sawing off Jebediah's head.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Marge holds Homer responsible for inspiring Bart of his popularity advice that caused him to commit the crime in the first place. She also called him out for setting a bad example earlier in the episode.
  • Not So Stoic: Mr. Burns, who cries over the decapitated statue of Jebidiah Springfield.
  • Off-Model: When Sideshow Bob appears in the middle of the episode his hair is a giant red afro. At the end of the episode it's in its normal palm-tree style.
  • Revised Ending: In the original broadcast, Bart's speech to the mob at the end was longer. Later broadcasts cut a section of it out, drew out the "repeated opening scene" gag a little longer, added incidental comments from Dr. Monroe and Otto about the statue after Bart puts the head back (note how Barney has a white shirt and his original yellow hair during this part), and added Homer's "most lynch mobs aren't this nice" line.
  • Shaming the Mob: "Well, that's my story, and if you still wanna tear apart this young Sunday school student as he stands on the brink of salvation, I await your wrath." In the original ending, it's not this line that dissuades the mob from killing Bart but his additional point that none of them realized how they'd been taking Springfield's heritage for granted until he decapitated the statue, meaning that they're also guilty of disrespecting their founder's legacy.
  • Special Edition Title: Downplayed in that the Title Sequence had Bart fall past the screen during the "Created By/Developed By" part (due to the Couch Gag having Homer force Bart out of the couch).note 
  • That Cloud Looks Like...: One of the things Bart, Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney do is stare at clouds that looks like disturbing and violent things (like a school bus crashing or a man stabbed in the back with a switchblade). One looks like the Jebediah Springfield statue without its head, which inspires Bart to cut it off to impress the others.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: First appearance of the Springfield Angry Mob, when they chase Bart and Homer with the head down the street.
  • Trilogy Creep: Space Mutants 4: The Trilogy Continues.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Marge gets angry at Homer for telling Bart that being popular is all that matters, leading him to cut off the head of the statue out of a desire to impress the bullies.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Of how Bart stole the head off the statue and his motivations for doing so.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Most of Springfield, it would seem—though, ultimately, their softer sides win out.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: While the rest of the mob were willing to kill Bart, you can hear Otto saying "Lay off the boy".