#13: Some Enchanted Evening

Season 1: Episode 13. Original airdate: May 13, 1990.

Sometimes, an occurrence is so serendipitous and perfectly-conceived that you can’t chalk it up to anything but divine intervention. Such is the case for “Some Enchanted Evening,” an episode of The Simpsons not famous for its story or jokes, but for the behind-the-scenes woes that troubled its production. Originally the pilot episode of the show, the writers shipped the script to Korea to be animated, but were horrified upon its return.

According to their accounts, the animation was horrifying, abysmal, and above all, unusable. Characters were drawn off-model, they followed no laws of the universe in their movements, and oftentimes the vocal track was out of sync. About 30% of the material from that original cut was salvaged and put into the episode America eventually saw, but the FOX executives were so upset by the quality that they issued an ultimatum—if the next episode, “Bart the Genius,” wasn’t up to snuff, the whole series would be scrapped.

Yeah. No Simpsons. Ever. Even if that inconceivable turn of events would have occurred at the end of this first season, we would still have a near-perfect season of television. To have it happen before The Simpsons would have had a chance to make it on the air is a terrifying notion. How could the animation have been fixed enough for the very next episode? Like I said, there are some things that can only be explained by miracles.

Now, before I get into the episode, I want to talk about that “horrifying” prototype version of the episode, because I’ve seen some clips from it. It appears as a special feature on the Season 1 DVD set, so after hearing the legends about the cut, I went into it expecting worse than the worst. Perhaps it was my skewed expectations, but I really enjoyed what I saw. Sure, Marge is definitely off-model in the clips, but the animation has a lot of life to it that the aired episodes just don’t have. The characters move freely, their facial expressions are much more diverse, and everything’s just more fluid. That aside, Season 1 is vastly more loose in its animation than those seasons to come, but it’s still fascinating that the FOX suits were so vehemently opposed to a more cartoony looking cartoon.

“Some Enchanted Evening” is good. It’s a solid first-season episode, and that’s about as critical as I can get with it. Its first act feels painfully exposition-y, but that’s a side effect of the production order shuffling. We’re introduced to the characters once again as types, without the shading and definition that’s been added over the past 13 episodes. Marge doesn’t feel that Homer appreciates her, so she calls a therapist hotline hosted by Dr. Marvin Monroe (who’s already been introduced in “There’s No Disgrace Like Home”) and complains about his lack of affection and attention for her. Homer hears this at work, where he hasn’t been promoted yet, and rushes to fix the marriage he just realized is crumbling.

Marge is waiting for him at home, ready to lay into him for years of negligence, until he arrives with rose in hand and reservations at a restaurant and seedy motel. They hurriedly arrange for a babysitter, and run off for an evening of therapeutic sex. The kids, who are well known at the babysitting service, are saddled with Ms. Botz, a terrifying, androgynous woman who is soon revealed as the notorious “Babysitting Bandit.” Her MO is robbing her clients’ houses after tying the children up, then escaping. Bart and Lisa catch on to her scheme, but are caught by Botz and bound with rope.

Homer and Marge’s night of marital bliss features the most glaring change from the original animation, in a dance sequence at a restaurant. The prototype dancing is fluid, silly, and fun to watch. What we ended up with is a boring setpiece without much soul. The fear of The Simpsons being pegged as a simple cartoon may have gotten in the way of some really great moments in these early episodes. Nonetheless, Homer’s effort to fix Marge’s qualms with their marriage works out very well for him, but after their wild waterbed lovemaking, Marge wants to check in on the kids. After getting no answer, she urges Homer to drive back to the house to check in.

When they arrive, Maggie has liberated Bart and Lisa from their bondage, and Bart has knocked Botz out, leaving her tied up in front of the TV. Homer is outraged, and despite his kids having left to notify the authorities, unties the babysitter and gives her triple her pay. The kids shortly arrive with the media and police, only to find that their father has released a notable fugitive. The episode ends with the family reunited, the central marriage intact, and a wanted woman on the loose. Would we want it any other way?

Truthfully, there was probably a second miracle at work in pushing this episode to the back of the season. It’s dark stuff for a pilot episode—a failing marriage remedied by wild sex, children being left alone with a killer, not to mention that killer being released and given money for the road. I can’t see audiences in 1990 jumping on board with this Simpsons thing after seeing only this. A light Christmas episode was a much better choice of introduction to this iconic family. As I move into Season 2, The Simpsons will get crazier, funnier, but it’ll retain the heart that made this season so special. While “Some Enchanted Evening” isn’t the best of the bunch, thank goodness it exists. Without its troublesome history, we may never have had over 20 years of one of the greatest television series of all time.

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