The show itself
Cape Feare is still funny. It’s from The Simpsons’ fifth season in 1993, which could be said to be the third season of The Simpsons’ Golden Age, starting in season three and ending with season six.
The Simpsons’ Golden Age represents some of the best work ever placed on television. The combination of writers, directors, actors and producers all combined to make a show that could be perfect from script to screen. As contracts expired, better offers were made from other companies. The golden age ended, and now lives on DVD.
Cape Feare’s plot is a Simpsonised Cape Fear. Sideshow Bob, who Bart helped to arrest previously, is out of prison and looking to exact revenge on him. He harasses the Simpson family to the point that they move form Springfield to Terror Lake. He follows them, and a satirical psychological thriller ensues.
Feare doesn’t have many of the nineties references that can weigh down episodes from the period. Although it should be noted that this is because of the timelessness of the original, as opposed to the remake with Nick Nolte. An episode of television can be limited by the strength of its components, so something like a character boldly telling another to “don’t go there” induces groans where it once would be the highlight of a scene.
Overall, this episode is based on the strength of the guest voice actor Kelsey Grammer. The subtlety he brings to the role strengthens the villainy, which of course strengthens the whole story.
For this week’s quote, here’s Cape Feare’s tribute to 1993’s disastrous Chevy Chase show.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s “Up Late with McBain”. I’m your announcer, Corporal Obergruppenfuehrer Wolfcastle. And heeere’s McBain!
McBain: Ja, thank you, ja, that’s nice. Let’s say hello to my music guy, Skoey. That is some outfit, Skoey. It makes you look like a homosexual.
McBain: Whoa, maybe you all are homosexuals too!
Bart: This is horrible.
Lisa: The FOX network has sunk to a new low.
Its place in history
When the home video revolution hit in the 1980s, entertainment changed irrevocably. This meant that with the proliferation of the neighbourhood video shop and the home recorded cassette, the consumer had a far greater freedom in what they could watch and when they could watch it. They were no longer beholden to the networks or local cinemas. This allowed the budding film buff to become more acquainted with their favourite movie or recorded television show, available from the local shop or from a friend. The screen world was now at people’s feet.
The writing of “Luv” and “H?t” on Bob’s hands are an ideal example wherein the references take on their own life. How many who recognise this image can tell you of its origins in 1955’s Night of The Hunter? The chainsaw and hockey mask from Friday the 13th, the creeping laser from Goldfinger and the hands of Freddy Krueger are all present as references in this episode. Individual gags, reliant on recognition of the source material for full appreciation as opposed to a chuckle.
In effect, this became its own subcultural language. Look at the current enthusiasm for Community’s Doctor Who parody “Inspector Spacetime.” or the growing market for the comic book shirts worn by characters on The Big Bang Theory. References within references within tributes.