Along with it’s introspection and sometimes humorous observations on topics like religion over the years, The Simpsons’ writers also had no problems skewering a common, everyday thing that many adults often find themselves wrapped up in: Politics.
Whether it was aliens Kang and Kodos invading Earth during an election year, or Homer rallying Springfield’s brainless slobs with a bunch of crazy promises, they often found ways to think up the most ridiculous political concepts that today, seem to have become (terrifyingly) prescient!
Most often say that when it comes to political figures, they want someone that is honest, has integrity, and will lead by good example. Sadly, that doesn’t usually happen to be the case most of the time. In the season 6 episode Sideshow Bob Roberts, the writers not only brought back an entertaining supporting character, but spun a story about how the manipulation of facts and truth, could make people vote for a man against their basic principles.
As the show opens, we find Homer and a number of other people in Springfield, listening to Conservative talk show host, Birch Barlow.
Barlow quickly begins checking off a number of constants that Springfield seems unable to do anything about, including it’s 6-term Mayor, Diamond Joe Quimby.
Barlow claims that a bunch of ‘tie-dyed tree-huggers’ are to blame for the town’s ‘Quimby Quagmire,’ and that the time supporting the Mayor, could be better spent ‘locking up the homeless.’
Later on that day, Homer and Lisa are out for a drive and listening to Barlow (mainly at the insistence of Homer). Barlow soon begins taking calls, and a man named Bob calls in.
“Thanks for putting the ‘public’ back in the Republican Party,” cites Bob. “It’s time people realized we conservatives aren’t all Johnny Hatemongers and Charlie Bible-Thumps or even, God forbid, George Bushes.”
The deep tone of the caller’s voice suddenly hits Lisa, and she realizes that Birch is talking to Sideshow Bob!
Sometime afterward, we see Mayor Quimby visiting the Springfield Retirement Castle, trying to get the Seniors there (including Grandpa Simpson) to support his new expressway plan. Naturally, the Seniors won’t support such a proposal, unless there’s something in it for them. Upon hearing about what they like, the Mayor suggests calling it The Matlock Expressway, and the Seniors quickly warm to the proposal.
We then hear Bob call back to Birch’s show, and claim that he was falsely imprisoned (“‘attempted murder,'” sneers Bob over the phone, “now honestly, did they ever give anyone a Nobel prize for ‘attempted chemistry?'”).
Barlow claims that this is another example of liberal bias against intelligent conservatives, and incites a number of his local listeners to protest for Bob’s release.
Mayor Quimby is soon overwhelmed by protesters, and wanting to avoid further negativity from his constituents, fully pardons Bob.
We then cut to a meeting at the Republican Party Headquarters (held in an ancient castle!). With the Springfield mayoral election coming up, a number of the party’s local members (including Mr Burns, Birch Barlow, and even actor Ramier Wolfcastle!), are seeking a proper opponent for Quimby.
“We need a candidate with name-recognition and media savvy,” says Mr Burns. “A true leader…who will do exactly as he’s told!”
It is then that Birch introduces everyone to Bob, with Ramier Wolfcastle claiming that he ‘likes the human touch’ that Bob brings to the group.
After Bob is confirmed as a viable candidate, he and Mayor Quimby do a press appearance with the kids at Springfield Elementary, concerning education. However, Bob puts on a show attempting to make Quimby look incompetent, and most of the kids just eat up his act.
Bart and Lisa attempt to steer attention towards Quimby, claiming they heard him say that ‘kids are the most important natural resource we have.’
“Even more important than coal?” questions news-anchor Kent Brockman.
Seconds after the ‘publicity stunt,’ Bart is thrown into a limo with Bob and some henchmen, and whisked away.
“Oh, that was a big mistake, Bart,” growls Bob. “No children have ever meddled with the Republican Party and lived to tell about it.”
It looks like Bob may have Bart eliminated right then-and-there, but his men simply put ‘Vote Bob’ paraphernalia on him, and return him to the Simpsons’ home.
Even with the threat of Bob possibly coming after him, Bart works with Lisa to help Mayor Quimby’s election, despite Quimby’s own rickety track-record.
“This time, he’s the lesser of two evils,” says Lisa, as they attempt to hand out bumper stickers and pins.
Just like Quimby, Bob also attempts to win over the Seniors at the Retirement Castle. He sweetens the Matlock Expressway deal, promising to build it, AND, spend the afternoon listening to the Seniors’ ‘interminable anecdotes’ (a move he quickly regrets).
Next, Bob and Quimby have a televised debate. While Bob seems confident, Quimby has caught a cold and has taken medication to combat it. However, his unkempt appearance and drowsy demeanor, makes the effervescent Bob quickly win over the audience.
When it comes time to vote on the candidates, some are willing to forgive some of Bob’s more glaring crimes.
“I don’t approve of his Bart-killing policy,” notes Homer. “But I do approve of his Selma-killing policy.”
“Well, he framed me for armed robbery,” thinks Krusty, “But man, I’m achin’ for that upper-class tax cut.”
Final election results are soon released on the local news, showing Bob winning 99% of the votes, and Quimby just 1% (“and we remind you there is a one-percent margin of error,” adds Kent Brockman).
After he wins, Bob makes good on (quickly) fulfilling his promise to build the Matlock Expressway…which is re-routed to go right through where the Simpsons’ house is, with Bob giving the family 72 hours to vacate.
Bart is also affected by the election, when Bob has him sent back to kindergarten (much to the delight of Mrs Krabappel).
As the family faces the loss of their home, Lisa begins to question the final election results.
“I can’t believe a convicted felon would get so many votes, and another convicted felon would get so few,” she thinks aloud.
Going to the Hall of Records, Lisa pores over the election results, but soon falls asleep. When she wakes up, she finds a letter telling her to go to a parking garage that evening.
Lisa brings Bart along, and the two come across a shadowy figure, who refuses to reveal who he is….until Homer turns on the car’s headlights, revealing the secret informant to be Mr Smithers!
The Simpsons then drive Smithers home. On the way, he mentions his misgiving about some of Sideshow Bob’s ‘ultra-conservative views,’ claiming they ‘clash with his choice of lifestyle.’
Wanting to help, he tells them to look for the name, Edgar Neubauer.
The kids check the phone books and the public library, but find no trace of Edgar. However, they are soon surprised when Bart sees the name on a tombstone in the local cemetery.
“Oh my God,” he exclaims. “The dead have risen and are voting Republican!”
Lisa tells Bart that in truth, Bob most likely solidified his win by rigging the election, and having a number of dead persons vote for him.
The list even uses names from the local Pet Cemetery…including Lisa’s dead cat, Snowball 1!
“Alright Bob,” she angrily cries out. “Now it’s personal!”
“Hey! He did try to kill me,” notes Bart.
With the information the two have obtained, Bob is put on trial, but attorney Lionel Hutz seems unable to get Bob to confess.
Lisa and Bart then step forward. Playing to Bob’s ego, Lisa claims that Bob was nothing more than a pawn in a scheme, run by Birch Barlow.
Bob’s hubris gets the better of him, and his calm demeanor breaks! He confesses to not only rigging the election, but also provides documents (that he conveniently carried in with him!) that tell of his plans.
“But why?” asks the judge, looking over the files.
“Because you need me, Springfield,” says Bob, grandstanding before the jury and the rest of the courtroom. “Your guilty conscience may tell you to vote Democratic…but deep down, you long for a hard-nosed Republican to raise taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That’s why I did it: to save you from yourselves! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to run.”
However, Bob’s verbal outrage is enough to have him placed under arrest, and Quimby wins the election by default.
This also means construction on the Matlock Expressway is halted, sparing the Simpsons’ home (but angering the seniors at the Retirement Castle). Bart is also returned to the fourth grade.
As Bob reads the headlines, he vows to escape from his prison…which should be relatively easy, since he’s been placed in the Springfield Minimum Security Prison. Unlike a regular prison, it has no no fences, and it’s own rowing team of Ivy League educated prisoners.
Sideshow Bob Roberts marked Bob’s third major appearance on the show, and seemed to cement him as a constant thorn in Bart Simpson’s side, as each new season was rolled out.
Given the political nature of the episode, the show writers really play around with the absurdity of campaigns. In one television ad, a narrator tells how Mayor Quimby let Sideshow Bob out of prison, before telling the viewers to vote for Bob.
Even back in the early 1990’s, I and a lot of other people were often surprised when the show would poke fun at it’s own network.
This comes across during a debate, hosted by Larry King (voicing himself).
“Even though we’re being broadcast on…Fox,” he grumbles, “there’s no need for obnoxious hooting and hollering.”
And just like telling a child ‘not to do something,’ the audience takes the warning and just completely ignores it.
The Simpsons was often known for making film and pop-culture references in their episodes, and with this one, they also made reference to a real-world event.
The investigation into Bob’s rigging of the system, is largely inspired by the Watergate Scandal, which was exposed by Washington Post writers Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Lisa even mentions them by name in the episode). Their work was shown in the film All the President’s Men, and several scenes in the episode mimic ones from that film. Even two of Bob’s henchmen that are constantly seen by his side, are based on Nixon staff members at the time: John Ehrlichman, and H.R. Haldeman.
The episode’s title is also a reference to a film from 1992, titled Bob Roberts.
Tim Robbins wrote, directed, and starred as that film’s title character: a conservative who sings folk songs, and attempts to run for public office in Pennsylvania. However, he seems to be hiding a number of political secrets, let alone trying to slip subversive messages into his numerous public song performances. At one point, he even goes on a popular late-night television show, and goes off-script to deliver his own message.
There are also references to Citizen Kane, A Few Good Men, the Kennedy/Nixon debate of 1960, and strangest of all: Archie Comics!
The Archie reference really has nothing to do with the overall political scope of the episode. We first see several of the characters dump Homer on the front lawn, and warning him to “stay out of Riverdale.” This is later followed by a scene of Homer angrily reading an issue of Archie, while Bart and Lisa meet their mysterious informant.
Why the writers included this reference in the story…I’ve never been able to figure out.
Word was at the time of the episode’s release in October of 1994, a number of Conservative persons felt the show was painting them in a very negative light. Even so, it is noted on the audio commentary included on the Season 6 DVD, that the writers claim that the episode pokes fun at many across the political spectrum.
It is notable that at the time of the commentary recording in 2005, several of the writers felt certain elements of the episode seemed to feel very similar to the political climate at that time.
I guess it’s the sad truth about politics: As much as people want things to change, it’s a neverending struggle to make things better for people.
When it came to films released in the early 1990’s from Walt Disney Pictures, the studio really seemed to look at their 1992 feature film Aladdin as a major cash-cow.
Following it’s release in the winter of 1992, the film became the first animated feature to gross over $200 million at the domestic box-office (largely buoyed on by Robin Williams’ supporting role as the Genie of the lamp).
The studio had had some success expanding on The Little Mermaid in television form (albeit set before the events of the film), and seemed to think they could have similar luck with Aladdin. And so, in the fall of 1994, the film’s characters found themselves appearing in the company’s new television series!
New locales were introduced, as well as a host of new characters. In terms of villains for the series, most seemed pretty set in their ways, except one: a young woman named Sadira.
Much like Aladdin’s introduction in the 1992 film, the character of Sadira is first seen evading Razoul and the Palace Guards in her introductory episode, Strike up the Sand.
Seeing her leaping and jumping to evade the guards, Aladdin sees a kindred spirit in the girl, and steps forward to cover for her. Unluckily for Al, his kindness and good looks instantly cause Sadira to develop a crush on him. However, she is soon saddened to hear that she has just been saved by Princess Jasmine’s future husband.
Sometime later, Sadira accidentally stumbles onto a hidden chamber under the city. The abandoned locale turns out to be the inner sanctum, of the long-forgotten Witches of the Sand. After going through a number of magic scrolls in the sanctum, Sadira soon gets to work learning the ancient magic, and thinks it can get her what she desires most.
Using a magical amulet, she conjures up a sand creature and commands it to bring Jasmine to her. it is notable that the sand creature tells Sadira that he could easily ‘smash’ Jasmine (destroying things brings him much joy!), but Sadira refuses to allow this, showing she is not as vengeful as her creation.
We soon see Sadira hasn’t fully thought through her magical actions. Once she has Jasmine kidnapped, Aladdin and the others show up, and the sand creature wants to smash them as well. Sadira isn’t sure what to do, leading to the creature getting angry at her indecisiveness, and taking the amulet away from her. Without Sadira’s control, it sets out to finish them all off.
Needless to say, Sadira feels remorse for getting everyone caught up in this mess, but Aladdin helps them formulate a plan to get back the amulet. Once it is destroyed and the sand creature disintegrates, Sadira apologizes for her actions.
Aladdin claims that while he likes her, his real love is for Jasmine. Jasmine even shows a willingness to forgive Sadira, and invites her to come to the Palace. However, the young woman declines, claiming she wants some time to be alone.
After they leave, she looks through some more sand-magic scrolls, and finds one about ‘shifting the sands of time,’ proving that she still harbors thoughts to try and snare Aladdin.
Shortly after her introductory episode, Sadira attempted to get Aladdin again…this time, with a more intriguing sand spell.
In the episode Sandswitch, she uses a special “memory sand,” allowing her to switch places with Jasmine, making everyone believe Sadira to be the Princess of Agrabah, and Jasmine a lowly ‘street rat.’ However, the spell only works on Genie and the humans of the city, leaving Iago, Abu, and Rajah as the only ones who realize what’s happened.
It is notable that even though she is again trying to fulfill her own wants and desires, Sadira continues to not be totally vindictive towards others. When she realizes Rajah did not fall under the sand spell, she decides to use some magic on him, but apologizes for what she is trying to do. Fortunately for Jasmine’s pet tiger, Abu and Iago help him to escape.
There’s even a little ‘continuity payback’ Sadira gets, when it comes to the head of the Royal Guards, named Razoul. In Strike up the Sand, Razoul was leading the guards in trying to capture her. Here, he is made to bow and give in to her demands. They also make a joke about his name, as Sadira keeps confusing it with other things that sound familiar to it.
In the end, Aladdin and Jasmine’s love is strong enough to break Sadira’s spell. However, even though she’d been thwarted a second time, she wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
Sadira next appeared in the episode, Dune Quixote.
Running into Aladdin in the marketplace again, she invites him back to her place for some pomegranate juice. Aladdin tries to politely decline, but when Sadira claims that Jasmine “has him on a short leash,” Aladdin won’t let this slap against his masculinity stand!
Once at her place, Sadira quickly puts Aladdin under a sand-spell, wherein she makes him believe he is a Dragon Slayer, who must ride forth to vanquish a dragon, rescue his beloved Princess, and give her a kiss.
However, before Sadira can finish her spell (with her as the beautiful princess in the story), Jasmine and the others show up to stop her. Despite Genie’s protests, Jasmine has him use his ‘genie-magic’ to stop Sadira’s ‘sand-magic.’ This altercation messes up the spell, leaving Abu trapped as a monkey-type horse, and Aladdin still believing he has to slay a dragon.
Sadira claims that because of the spell, the final parts of the story have to play out, which means Aladdin has to slay a dragon and kiss her. Jasmine doesn’t believe her, but thanks to his magical knowledge, Genie confirms that Sadira is correct.
As the story goes on, we see Sadira and Jasmine put aside their animosity towards each other, and try to get Aladdin and Abu back to normal. With Genie’s help, they manage to whip up a false dragon, and upon ‘defeating it,’ Aladdin kisses Sadira (much to Jasmine’s ire).
Once everything is fixed, Sadira apologizes to Jasmine for how she has acted, and it seems she is willing to give up on her obsession over Aladdin.
The episode ends with the two girls going off to peruse the marketplace, leaving Aladdin confused as to why he kissed Sadira (with Iago eager to spill the beans!).
Now that it seemed that Sadira had given up her obsession with Aladdin, the show’s main cast (almost) seemed willing to hang out with her.
This is revealed in the episode, Witch Way Did She Go. However, while Jasmine seems to believe Sadira has changed, Iago and Aladdin still have some doubts about her. Things don’t get better when Sadira serves her friends some soup, and her sub-par cooking skills accidentally turn Iago into an hourglass.
The spell eventually wears off, but the group grows more suspicious when a large sand snake menaces Iago and Abu!
Sadira is immediately the prime suspect, but Jasmine rushes to her defense. Unfortunately, her attempts to explain why the others suspect Sadira, ends up sounding like she’s accusing Sadira.
Angered at being accused, Sadira storms out of the palace and returns to her sanctum, only to find three ancient sand witches there (the ones who conjured the snake). The trio (Shakata, Razili, and Farida) have returned to their former home from The Realm of Mists, and are intent on taking control of Agrabah, and the Seven Deserts!
They attempt to get her to help them, but Sadira rushes back to the palace, to warn the others. Unfortunately, she overhears them once again claiming she’s bad, and returns to the witches, seemingly willing to help them take over the kingdom.
The others return to Sadira’s place (intending to apologize), but find the witches at work! Surprisingly, Sadira stops them from attacking the trio. After a scuffle that almost stops the witches, Sadira recommends that Aladdin and his friends be banished to the Realm of Mists.
The three witches open a portal to the ancient realm, but Sadira attempts to double-cross them! Razili and Farida end up being shoved in easily, but Shakata grabs hold of Sadira, attempting to drag her down with them!
Aladdin and the others rush to her aid, but Sadira falls into the mists below, and the pit disappears!
Everyone feels remorse for ever doubting Sadira…but a few moments later, she manages to escape, sealing off the witches for good! The others quickly embrace her, and it seems all traces of doubt about her character are gone.
After Witch Way Did She Go, Sadira never appeared again on the series. However, like many characters in the show, she was given a small ‘curtain call’ appearance in 1996’s direct-to-video film, Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
During the scene where Aladdin and Jasmine walk past a number of guests, one can see Sadira dressed in pink (see screenshot above).
While her character was not as memorable as the show’s more villainous characters like Mozenrath or Mirage, Sadira was definitely noticeable for being a very “gray-area” character.
Most of the time, she did things out of selfish desire, but it was interesting to see that she still held some moral principles. A good example is that she could have had Jasmine offed in one episode, but she was never that vindictive.
My guess is that after four episodes, the showrunners felt there was little more they could do with her, story-wise. It did feel like three episodes was enough for them to play out the “magical stalker” characterization (I’ve seen some anime series that would gladly stretch that type of character arc out over multiple seasons).
Over the years, I have questioned the scene where she falls into the Realm of Mists, wondering if they had originally meant for her to “disappear” from the series forever in this manner. It would have been a very dramatic end, given the others realizing how wrong they were to judge her as they did. Plus, in several episodes, the showrunners actually did have a few characters die!
Sadira’s storylines also expanded on the series’ ‘lore,’ by introducing ‘sand-magic.’ What Genie can do was soon classified as ‘genie-magic,’ and it was soon established that to mix the two magic-types, was very dangerous (as demonstrated in Dune Quixote).
Unlike Linda Larkin’s more ‘regal’ vocal tones as Jasmine, Sadira’s voice had a more bubbly, all-American girl vibe, courtesy of actress Kellie Martin (see right).
Most probably know Martin’s voice work from A Goofy Movie, where she voiced Max’s crush, Roxanne. She brings a bit of that tone to Sadira, but she gets to play a wider range of emotions as Sadira.
Of course, Sadira wasn’t the first reluctant villain the studio created. There was also the character of Bushroot in the Darkwing Duck TV series. After being turned into a plant-duck hybrid, Bushroot would sometimes be involved in evil schemes, but most of the time, he just wanted a friend, or to be accepted.
By the end of Aladdin, it seemed being accepted was all Sadira wanted as well. It is a shame that they never found a way to bring her back and assist the group with her sand-magic on another adventure.