Hey everybody, let’s talk about the joys of astronomy and the Apocalypse! This is such a silly and fun episode.
Things start off with Principal Skinner teaching the kids during some sort of Science Week demonstration. Did anyone else have a principal that was as hands-on as Principal Skinner? He’s constantly doing stuff with the kids, and I don’t think I could pick any of my principals out of a line-up I saw them so infrequently. Whatever. He’s demonstrating a weather balloon, and doesn’t seem adequately shocked at how excited Bart is about the launch. And of course, since Bart was excited, a prank was afoot, and when Principal Skinner releases the balloon it ends up being revealed that Bart tampered with it to look like Principal Skinner flashing his butt. Skinner freaks out and offers that “whoever brings down that balloon doesn’t have to learn fractions!” which is hilarious. There’s then a bonkers scene where Willie tries to shoot the balloon, which alerts some passing military jets. Their instruments think that Willie is an Iraqi Fighter Jet, and fire rockets at him, which just end up blowing themselves up.
But after that minor military incident, Principal Skinner gets some common sense again and immediately blames Bart for the balloon prank. And luckily for Skinner, Bart actually has incriminating evidence on his person, clinching his guilt. So as punishment for ruining his science experiment, Skinner makes Bart help him out with his amateur astronomy at 4:30 the next morning, leading to the classic line “there’s a 4:30 in the morning now?” The next morning Bart wakes up before everyone else, and after walking past Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II, who apparently watch Lassie reruns while the humans are asleep, he bikes over to the school. Skinner is a huge astronomy geek, and teaches Bart about constellations while explaining that it’s one of his life-long goals to get a start named after him. He also tells a creepy story where he apparently killed the son of a rival principal, but let’s just skip by that. He and Bart continue to watch the sky, until Skinner finds the balloon float by and decides to chase after that, leaving Bart alone. So Bart immediately wrecks the telescope and starts goofing off with it. But when he’s done messing around, he looks through it, and happens to spot a new comet. And after a quick call to the local observatory, it’s confirmed to be a new find, and it gets named after Bart, crushing Skinner’s soul.
Later that day the family is sitting around the dinner table while Homer regales them in some story that ends with “and then I sped away without anyone seeing my license plate!” And once that little story is done, Bart tells the family that he found the comet and got it named after him, impressing them all. Then the next day, when he goes to school, Bart finds himself invited to sit with the nerd table, since he discovered a celestial body, and meets the “Super Friends:” Ham, E-Mail, Cosine, Report Card, Database, and Lisa. Bart awkwardly eats his lunch, and then informs the nerds that his comet is visible out the window. After not believing him at first, they check, and the comet is indeed barreling down toward Springfield. So Bart and the nerds head to the observatory to inform them of their impending doom. And sure enough, the comet is indeed heading for the town at a deadly rate.
And since there’s something catastrophic occurring, we of course get a town hall meeting. Mayor Quimby shows a simulation that the comet will destroy the town, especially Moe’s bar, and introduces Professor Frink, who has a plan. He’s going to fire a rocket at the comet, which will blow it up, causing rubble to rain down on the city and only destroy Moe’s bar. So everyone leaves the meeting happy, content that the comet is taken care of, even laughing at the comet.
We then cut right to the rocket launch time, where the whole town is sitting on their roofs to get a better view, including the Simpsons. Homer explains to the family that if the rocket doesn’t work, his plan is to sneak out of the city by using the bridge out of town, but his explanation is interrupted when the rocket launches. The whole town watches the rocket approach the comet, before missing it and blowing up the only bridge out of town, dooming Springfield. And pretty quickly the town gives up, even showing Kent Brockman release a whole list of everyone he knows is gay. But shockingly Homer isn’t worried about their chances, informing the family that the comet will burn up in their atmosphere and end up being the size of a Chihuahua’s head. But to make the family feel better, he says he’ll take them to their bomb shelter.
And not surprisingly, turns out the bomb shelter actually belongs to Ned Flanders, which Ned built big enough for both families, anticipating Homer needing it. So the two families sit in the shelter, waiting for the comet to destroy the town, when they hear a knock at the door. Flanders goes to open it, and finds the entire town waiting outside, wanting in. And since Ned is a good person/sucker, he lets everyone cram themselves into the shelter. But they find that with so many people inside, they can’t shut the door. I really love that when we see the huge pile of townsfolk there’s a Waldo up in the corner.
And since the door can’t shut, they have a pretty horrible thing to decide. Someone has to leave. So they debate for a while, trying to figure out who will be important in the new society they apparently have to create. And after much arguing, the consensus is that they won’t need left-handed stores, so Ned is the one chosen to leave. So Ned says goodbye to his family, and heads out to meet his doom while singing “Que Sera, Sera.” The crowd immediately gets depressed, and even Moe’s weird barnyard animal guessing game doesn’t cheer them up. So shockingly Homer is he voice of reason, and he finally says that he’s going to go leave and die with Ned. And once Homer opens the floodgates, everyone decides to leave. They all make their way to the hilltop that Ned is standing on, and the whole town gathers and sings “Que Sera, Sera” together. And as they begin to embrace death they see the comet finally barreling down on them. But when the comet enters Springfield’s atmosphere, it breaks up from the pollution, and ends up landing next to Bart, only the size of a Chihuahua’s head. So the town celebrates and head off to “burn down the observatory so this can never happen again!” But the Simpsons stay on the hill, horrified that Homer’s crazy prediction is exactly what happened.
This episode is so fun and silly. It’s a little scatterbrained, starting off as a Bart episode and then becoming a huge, town-encompassing story. But it really works great. It escalates perfectly, and balances a lot of tones to create a wonderful and classic episode. I love the astronomy gags in the beginning, and it’s always great to see Springfield panicking. They’re all such idiots, and any excuse the show can give to have a town hall meeting is always great, especially when it leads them to all think they’re doomed. And then, after all that goofiness, it ends with a pretty emotional ending. The town deciding that they will all die with Ned is so sweet, and I got oddly emotional seeing everyone get together and sing “Que Sera, Sera.” Just a great episode.
Take Away: Don’t trust observatories. And always have an escape plan to get out of your city.
“Bart’s Comet” was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Bob Anderson, 1995.