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Recap / The Simpsons S 6 E 5 Sideshow Bob Roberts

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Episode - 2F02
First Aired - 10/9/1994

With help from the Rush Limbaugh-esque Birch Barlow (a conservative talk 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: 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".
  • Accuse the Witness: When Bart and Lisa discover that Bob won through voter fraud, they don't accuse him outright. Rather, they claim Birch Barlow did it and Bob was just his patsy. This works in their favor, as Bob's bruised ego compels him to confess to his crime and produce massive amounts of evidence proving he committed it.
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  • Actually Pretty Funny: Bart's opinion of the "Les Wynan" joke.
    Lisa: There's no Councilman Les Wynan.
    Bart: Good joke, though.
  • Arch-Enemy: Along with Bob, Bart evidently has one in the form of Dr. Demento.
  • As Himself: Dr. Demento; Larry King.
  • Author Appeal: Writers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein were very interested in the Watergate scandal and based a lot of the second act on that.
  • 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.
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  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Mayor Quimby's campaign jingle includes a list of Quimby's "achievements":
    Without a Mayor Quimby, our town would really stink.
    We wouldn't have a tire yard, or a mid-sized roller rink.
    We wouldn't have our gallows, or our shiny Bigfoot trap.
    It's not the mayor's fault that the stadium collapsed!
  • 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."
  • Caligula's Horse: Most of the Springfield Republican Party mistakenly assume the mayoral candidate they've chosen to back was a water cooler. They seemed to think it would make a fine representative.
  • Call-Back: Sideshow Bob exits the Springfield prison in the exact same manner as he did in "Cape Feare," only this time plummeting off the edge of the island.
    Guard: Boat's on the other side!
  • 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!"
  • Cardboard Prison: The fact that the Springfield prison system is made of them is highlighted by Bob in an Attack of the Political Ad (even pointing out that Quimby released him). The ad still manages to take it Up to Eleven by showing a prison full of methods for quick getaways, from a revolving door up to a ski lift that takes prisoners over the perimeter wall and lets them drop safely on the other side.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: The Springfield Republican Party appears with a Dracula/Frankenstein-style Supervillain Lair castle and cult-like procedures headed up by Mr. Burns. Bob's grand speech at the end even makes it clear that the whole In-Universe party and everybody that supports it are a bunch of megalomaniacs that want to rule with an iron fist and idiots that think they would have Happiness in Slavery.
  • Cassandra Truth: invokedBart telling Marge that he was told to bring in fireworks.note 
  • Caught by Arrogance: This is how Sideshow Bob's plot of rigging the mayoral election is revealed. Enraged at being accused of being only Birch Barlow's The Man Behind the Man, he flaunts in open court how the scheme was all his idea and his alone. Naturally, this gets him arrested.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Homer reads Archie Comics, while in the same episode, he is kicked out of Riverdale by Archie and his friends.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The Matlock Expressway, which Quimby promised to the old people to get their vote. Bob decides to actually build it, on top of the Simpson residence.
  • Continuity Nod: Lisa reminds Homer of Bob framing Krusty for robbery and his more recent attempts to kill Selma and Bart.
  • Creator Cameo: A caricature of Simpsons producer Richard Sakai can be seen in the pro-Sideshow Bob ad.
  • 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.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Once Bart and Lisa have proof Bob stole the election, they bring him to court and get this out of him via reverse-Appeal to Flattery.
  • Evil Is Petty: As soon as he is elected, Bob uses his power to make the Simpsons 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). He also has plans to kill Bart and Selma that he included in his political platform.
  • Evil Laugh: Sideshow Bob, of course, delivers a long, utterly hammy one after he wins the election.
  • Evil Virtues: Sideshow Bob shows responsibility in some aspects of his platform that induce people who otherwise have reason to loathe him into voting for him. Homer votes for Bob because, although he dislikes Bob's Bart-killing policy, he approves of Bob's Selma-killing policy. Krusty votes for Bob despite Bob framing him for armed robbery because he really likes Bob's proposed upper-class tax cut.
  • 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.
  • Flaw Exploitation: Bart and Lisa falsely accuse Birch Barlow of being the mastermind behind the electoral fraud, knowing that Bob's pride won't allow him to stand for being called a mere pawn in someone else's scheme.
  • Friend to Psychos: While he's plenty psycho himself, Mr. Burns lends some respectability to Bob by endorsing his campaign. Birch Barlow is a better example, since he really is a fool and has no idea what he's getting into.
  • 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 (Man in Motion)".
    Homer: Ooooh. I can't take it anymore! Let's switch back!
  • Handwave: 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.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: After Smithers is revealed to be the Deep Throat-esque Mysterious Informant who starts Bart and Lisa's path to revealing Bob's fraud, he gives a speech that heavily implies that Bob is one of these, so he's helping the kids to prevent whatever punitive measures Bob may bring to the Springfield gay population (and Smithers in specific).
  • Homage: The entire second act, including the bird's-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? [Hushed and rushed] 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".)
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Describing the perfect mayoral candidate for the Republican Party, Burns states they need someone with media savvy and name recognition, "a true leader, who'll do exactly as he's told."
  • Insane Troll Logic: Sideshow Bob runs on this, as seen in his aforementioned campaign ad.
    Sideshow Bob: ...I'm 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!
  • Just for Pun: In the scene where Homer argues with Lisa about radio channels, their dominant hands are different — right and left, respectively. (They're in the driver's and shotgun seat of an American car, respectively.)
  • Kevlard: Homer grabs onto the wrecking ball to stop it from tearing down the Simpson's house. The MythCrackers showed that his heft actually protected the house in this instance.
  • Landslide Election: Exaggerated. Bob wins the mayoralty by a margin of at least 99 percentage points, but Quimby is reinstated when Lisa and Bart expose Bob's cheating.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Barlow's is having Bart and Lisa accuse him of being The Man Behind the Man for Bob's electoral fraud.
    • Bob is arrested immediately after revealing he's been massively corrupt.
  • Laughing Mad:
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Homer is thrown out of Riverdale by the Archie Comics gang.
  • Lesser of Two Evils: Mayor Quimby is outright stated to be this by the Simpson children, though see Protagonist-Centered Morality.
  • Lesser Star: Bart and Lisa invoke this in their plan to get Sideshow Bob to confess to rigging the mayoral election, by accusing him of playing second-fiddle to Limbaugh expy Birch Barlow.
    Bart: You were just Barlow's lackey!
    Lisa: You were Ronnie to his Nancy!
    Bart: Sonny to his Cher!
    Lisa: Ringo to his rest of The Beatles!
  • Lighter and Softer: Subverted. Although Bob doesn't try to murder anyone onscreen (and children who meddle with the Republican Party get the Faux Horrific fate of having Republican buttons pinned onto their clothes and unceremoniously sent home), he openly advocates killing both Bart Simpson and Selma Bouvier in his platform, and warns the Simpsons that if they don't vacate their house within 24 hours, he will blow it up along with any remaining family members.
  • 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 campaign for him. It's also why people like Homer and Krusty vote for Bob, even though they both have reason to loathe him.
  • Made of Iron: Homer can somehow cushion a wrecking ball from hitting his house and doesn't even flinch.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Played with when Bart and Lisa shift the accusation of the rigged election to Birch Barlow to get Sideshow Bob to confess.
  • Mayor Pain: The whole episode is a battle between the evil variety and the incompetent variety.
  • Meaningful Name: "Birch" is likely meant to be a reference to the infamous John Birch Society, a radical conservative/Conspiracy Theorist group formed during the 1950s.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: The minimum-security prison that Bob is sentenced to features canoe races between Yale and Princeton alumni. That, and a gate left wide open.
  • Mysterious Informant: Parodied; the informant of this type Bart and Lisa meet in a parking garage is blatantly Waylon Smithers, even as he stands in the shadows wearing a trenchcoat and smoking a cigarette (his distinct hairstyle is clearly noticeable, along with slightly disguising his voice)... and well before Homer confirms this by shining his car headlights on Smithers.
  • Never My Fault: Bob is introduced in this episode complaining about being imprisoned for attempted murder, specifically saying that he's false imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Quimby has flu at the time of the debate, so Bart gives him medicine — specifically, extra-drowsy medicine, which just impairs his performance even more.
  • The Nicknamer: Birch Barlow makes pejorative nicknames for anything remotely liberal, using alliterations and portmanteaus.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: As noted, Birch Barlow is one of real-life conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: Archie and his friends are drawn in their own style when they make their cameo.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • 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.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Maybe Homer has other reasons to vote for Bob, but the one that we hear him approve of out loud is Bob's campaign promise to kill his sister-in-law Selma if he's elected.
  • Open Secret: Apparently who you voted for mayor is not anonymously done and everyone can learn it.
  • Parking Garage: Parodied when Bart and Lisa go to meet an informant (who turns out to be Mr. Smithers) in a garage. He goes to great lengths to conceal his identity (wearing a trench coat, smoking, standing in the shadows, etc.) but the effect is ruined when Homer drives up, turns on his headlights, and loudly greets him.
    Smithers: [Annoyed] Well, you might as well give me a ride home now...
  • Parody Assistance: Bart plays with a Flintstones toy phone, which features Henry Corden as the voice of Fred Flintstone.
  • 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.
  • Pompous Political Pundit: Birch Barlow is a caricature of Rush Limbaugh that labels Quimby as one of the biggest obstacles in the improvement of Springfield as a city (he's right, of course, but his delivery is as ham-fisted an Attack of the Political Ad as it gets) to the point he endorses and helps a convicted criminal, and when it comes to asking on debate night, well:
    Birch Barlow: Mayor Quimby, you are well known, sir, for your lenient stance on crime. But suppose for a second that your house was ransacked by thugs, your family tied up in the basement, with socks in their mouths, you try to open the door but there's too much blood on the knob
    Mayor Quimby: What is your ah, question?
    Birch Barlow: My question's about the budget, sir.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: While Bart and Lisa have completely legitimate reasons to want to keep Bob out of office, the fact that Mayor Quimby has openly admitted to embezzling funds to fund the murder of his enemies means he's done far worse than what Bob has managed to successfully accomplish.
  • Rambling Old Man Monologue: Abe unleashes one on Bob, who in fairness brings it on himself by saying he'll patiently spend the entire afternoon listening to him and his housemates in the Springfield Retirement Castle in exchange for their votes.
    Abe: Not many people know, I owned one of the first radios in Springfield. T'weren't much on the air then, just Edison repeating the alphabet oooover and oooover. "A", he'd say. Then "B". "C" would usually follow...
    Bob: [annoyed grumble]
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: As it turns out, graveyard votes, votes cast by people who are deceased, is a common form of fraud still used today.
  • 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.
  • 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 John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon's 1960 TV debate.
    • The "about the budget" question appears to be a reference to the 1988 presidential debate, where Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis if he—hypothetically—would still refuse to 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 its depiction in 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?
    • There are a number of striking parallels to the "Penguin-for-Mayor" main plot of Tim Burton's Batman Returns: a killer runs for municipal office despite having no previous political experience and does surprisingly well; the incumbent mayor is (hypocritically) accused of being soft on crime; research is conducted at the Hall of Records; and the mastermind behind the campaign is an energy-sector tycoon who is sabotaged by a seemingly mousy underling.
  • 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.
  • Skewed Priorities:
    • Homer votes for Bob because he promises to kill Selma despite also wanting to kill Bart.
    • Krusty votes for Bob for the tax cuts for the upper class despite Bob framing him for armed robbery.
    • Lisa declares that It's Personal after Bob used her dead cat as one of the fraudulent votes. Bart indignantly reminds her that Bob tried to kill him.
  • Special Guest: Henry Corden as Fred Flintstone;note  Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob; Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Homer starts to hear Barlow's broadcasts because he feels a kind of kindred spirit connection with Barlow. Just as he says this, we cut to Barlow inside of the recording booth and he's gobbling down on donuts in a similar fashion to Homer.
  • 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.
    • Of course, even though the episode was meant to spoof both Democrats and Republicans (but especially Republicans, as Matt Groening is a left-leaning Democrat), he revealed this episode attracted many right-wingers who invited him to join their political groups/organizations.invoked
    • Also, disappointment was expressed in the DVD Commentaryinvoked of the episode that Lisa would listen to "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)".
    • Apparently, Mayor Quimby got sick right before the debate due to shaking hands with old people.
  • Tempting Fate: Just before the disastrous debate, Lisa wonders if Quimby's flu will effect his performance. Bart assures her that he'll be fine, having taken dozens of anti-flu capsules. Then he sees they're an "extra-drowsy" formula.
  • 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").
  • Ungrateful Bastard: After being pardoned by Mayor Quimby, Bob not only runs against him for the opposing party, but runs a rather nasty (read: slanderous) attack ad claiming Quimby was soft on crime, seeing as he had pardoned a convict who was twice convicted of attempted murder — Bob himself. Bob won the election after rigging the votes, even though he would have won legally since he apparently got 100% (or some figure traditionally rounded up to 100%) of the vote.
  • The Unreveal: Bart and Lisa's Mysterious Informant contact is blatantly Mr. Smithers. Even if the show had hid his distinctive haircut, his voice (albeit slightly disguised) is still a dead giveaway before Homer bungles everything up.
  • Vote Early, Vote Often: Sideshow Bob's victory in the election is swiftly undone when he's revealed to have rigged it even though he probably would've won legitimately.
  • 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.
  • Worst News Judgement Ever: After Bart and Lisa expose Sideshow Bob and send him back to prison, the newspaper headline reads "Toddlers Topple Mayor."
  • You Can't Handle the Parody: "...No truth handler, you! Bah, I deride your truth-handling abilities!"


Video Example(s):


Quimby's Ad

Quimby's Ad is less than flattering, highlighting many of his...polarising achievements.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / DamnedByFaintPraise

Media sources:

Main / DamnedByFaintPraise