Here’s an episode that I watched a lot as a kid. We start off with a great discussion between Homer and the kids where he teaches them the virtue of butt-kissing. There’s also some great sibling bickering. While I just grew up with a little brother, I don’t always relate to some of the brother-sister dynamics, I still think that the show really nails general sibling dynamics. They fight and tease each other just like real little kids do. And yet, even though they fight the whole morning, as soon as some kid at school starts giving Lisa crap, Bart jumps into action to save her. It’s pretty sweet that the rest of the episode is predicated on the fact that Bart will defend Lisa’s honor. He never really implies that he wishes he hadn’t defended Lisa, which is really great.
But he did defend her, and that got him in trouble with Nelson. I love Nelson, and this was a pretty great introduction for the character. There weren’t really bullies at any of my schools growing up, but I love how infamous Nelson is around the Elementary School. He’s a legitimate villain. Plus we get another classic Simpsons line “you made me bleed my own blood.” I also realized that I miss Nelson’s little weasel guys. He doesn’t really have henchmen anymore, and they made him seem even more like a supervillain. I was also curious if any one ever had a principal that just mingled around with the students like Principal Skinner does. He’s always just walking around, talking to the kids and watching over them. I don’t think I would even have recognized any of the principles I had in school. Just seems kind of weird.
Bart’s fantasy about his funeral was super dark. “The school nurse did a good job reconstructing his little face.” Jesus. That’s seriously jacked up. Anyway, Bart gets beat up, and goes home all messed up, ending up crying in the bathtub where Homer finds him, and gives him fighting advice. Homer also dries Bart’s tears with a hair drier, which was a great visual gag. Homer’s advice is essentially to fight dirty, and not be afraid to go for the “family jewels.” This was definitely the first time I ever heard that term, and had to ask him grandma what it meant. That was an awkward explanation. But, Bart tries out the dirty fighting advice, with little success. I love the little mental image of Homer reiterating the advice, then shrugging when it didn’t work. After Bart gets beat up again, Lisa advises him to go as Grandpa for help.
We then see Grandpa writing some crazy letter to an editor about TV being too racy nowadays. It’s a pretty great introduction. Grandpa starts to give some advice about standing up to bullies, just to have a very out of character Jasper come in and bully Grandpa. So he decides Bart needs to meet Herman. Herman, is a bananas character. The weird military antique dealer, with a missing arm, a perpetually limp cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and a weird George Bush Sr. voice. He’s great. And he gives Bart some insane advice. He essentially convinces Bart to lead a military attack on Nelson, using Elm street, since that’s the key to Springfield. “The Greeks knew it, the Carthaginians knew it, and now you know it.” Herman is nuts. But Bart is able to find enough kids in the school who are sick of Nelson to form a little makeshift army, and with the help of Grandpa and Herman, they plan an attack and train. We also see Herman use a bayonet during the training montage, because once again, this dude is nuts, and should not be around children. But the plan goes off without a hitch, the kids soak Nelson and his cronies with water balloons that say “Happy Birthday” instead of death from above, and they eventually tie him up, and make him sign an armistice agreement. And just like always, the episode ends with the stakes being reset, and everything returning to normal.
Then we get a weird PSA from Bart like this was a “very special episode,” where he tells us about the seriousness of war, and that we can go to our local libraries to see gory picture books, and learn about the only three good wars, The Revolutionary War, World War II, and the Star Wars trilogy. An odd ending.
One last thing I want to mention is that this is the first episode written by John Swartzwelder, my favorite Simpsons writer. I may write a whole post about the man, because what little is know about him is nuts, and he was the first person that I ever really understood was a writer on the show. I realized that most of my favorite episodes were written by him, and it really influenced me that being a comedy writer was a real job, and honestly, as much as the Simpsons have influenced me creatively, John Swartzwelder may be the most influential.
Take Away: War is hell. And the key to Springfield is Elm Street. Hey, they all can’t be winners.
“Bart the General” was written by John Swartzwelder and was directed by David Silverman
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons