Well, here’s the first regular episode of the series. And it’s a great one. “Bart the Genius” is one of my all time favorites, with classic lines I still regularly quote with my friends and confused strangers. First of all, we get the first opening sequence! Even though it’s strange, and off model, kind of like the rest of the episode. It’s a pretty great Chalkboard gag too, “I will not waste chalk.” Not one of their best, but it’s it’s a good first one. It’s also funny to see the little differences from the opening sequence that we will come to know and love. When Homer is in the nuclear plant we see some dude eating a sandwich instead of Burns and Smithers watching him, and we see Lisa riding her bike with a bunch of books bouncing around.
We then jump right to the family playing Scrabble in the living room. We also see one of my favorite recurring jokes from the early seasons, Maggie is a secret genius, while she’s sitting there playing with blocks that spell out e=mc2. Then we get the great Kwyjibo joke. The big, dumb, balding North American ape with no chin. Such a classic joke. My friends I still say Kwyjibo whenever we play Words with Friends. Bart then goes to school where he’s busy spray painting some grafitti making fun of Principal Skinner, but while Milhouse, Richard, and Lewis are having fun, Martin comes and narcs on them. I love it so much when Martin talks about the alternate ethnic spellings of the word wiener, where Skinner says it’s a good point. Harry Shearer’s delivery is always so dry and fantastic as Skinner.
The whole plot of this episode is a little strange to me. To the best of my memory, I don’t remember ever taking this sort of aptitude test, especially in elementary school. I know when I used to watch this show as a kid, I always wanted to be Bart, but in reality, I was never the dumb troublemaker, so it’s hard to relate to some of the stuff he goes through in this episode, with everyone being so mean to him. Althought I’ve always loved how bitterly cruel Mrs. Krabappel is to Bart. Although, I will say that I completely sympathize with his hatred of those weird “a train leaves Santa Fe at 3:00” math problems. Those still don’t make sense to me. I was never a math guy, and that stuff always just flies right over my head. Bart’s plan is pretty great though. Pretty sure it would never work, but switching names on his test with Martin’s is great. I was also met with the realization that I was kind of a Martin growing up. I was certainly not a genius or anything, but I was definitely the type of kid who would want to go read a book under a tree after taking a test.
Because of the wiener prank, Marge and Homer are called into Principal Skinner’s office to pay for the damages where Skinner talks about how horrible Bart is. I love that Bart has his own drawer in Skinner’s file cabinet. And the joke with Homer’s handwriting being as bad as a child’s imitation. Of course, in true sitcom fashion Bart’s name switching idea goes exactly as planned, and the district counselor comes to tell the Simpsons that Bart is a genius, and suggests he should go to a school for the gifted. The show then really got me thinking about gifted kids. The show really makes a fun point about a gifted kid and a slow kid having similar experiences in school. I feel like kids are all so different, that it’s almost impossible to judge this kind of stuff.
And the school Bart goes to is so funny. The kids are so insufferable and horrible. They’re so pretentious and obnoxious, just like all the kids I’ve ever met that were told they were gifted and better than other people. The whole school seemed like a competition to one-up each other. And so snooty about comic books…and clearly that rubs me the wrong way. Anyway, we then get the second classic joke that I still think about. To this day, “you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t” is my favorite way to explain a paradox. So great.
I also love that Marge and Homer go full on-board with nurturing Bart. The opera they see was also pretty much my only mental image for opera until I went to college. There’s a lot of things that I never experienced in childhood that I really only understood in terms of the Simpsons. And when I actually did see Carmen, I was pretty much giggling the whole time. “Don’t spit on the floor, use the cuspidor, that’s what it’s for.” Wonderful. Homer and Bart playing catch and bonding was also really emotional. I love their relationship, and that they worked this hard on the relationship this early in the series.
Then of course we have the great science experiment gone wrong when Bart turns green, which leads to the conclusion of this story. I’ve always loved that pretty much every episode of the Simpsons ends in a way that resets any complication, and here was the first one. Bart confesses his misdeeds, and is put back in his regular class. Although I do love his attempt to bullshit with the counselor and convince him he wanted to study the “regular” kids. But he ends up confessing instead, and returns to his status quo, with Lisa’s great line “I think Bart’s dumb again.”
That’s right guys. Bart’s dumb again.
Take Away: I think for this episode, the take away is that it’s easy to bullshit people. I got degrees in psychology and criminology in college, and if there’s one thing I really learned from these degrees, it’s that if you argue well enough, you’re right. You can trick or bullshit people to get your point of view across. And Bart is the master of bullshit.
“Bart the Genius” was written by Jon Vitti and directed by David Silverman
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons