Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bart the Genius

This is the first episode of The Simpsons that has the famous opening title sequence that we all know and love which means that it is also the first couch gag and it's a simple one. The Simpson family cannot all fit on their couch which squeezes Bart out. Bart flies up into the air and passes by the TV as the credits roll.
I think it's daring to do that, obscuring the creators on the first episode of your show. It's like that backwards episode of Seinfeld in the later seasons. An episode like that would not work in the first two, maybe three seasons. I love a good credits roll but enough about them and let's get on with the episode.

We open on The Simpsons playing a rousing game of Scrabble, something I don't think we ever see them do again. Meanwhile, Maggie is on the floor playing with blocks that spell out EMCSQU while the rest of the family can barely eke out three-letter words for their game.
Homer, humorously, has the letters to spell 'oxidize' but instead opts to spell 'do' despite also being able to spell 'ox' thus getting extra points for the X. Marge spells 'he' and Lisa spells 'id' which begins a challenge whether 'id' is really a word. Marge suggests getting the dictionary which Homer doesn't know they have and that's being used on the short leg of the couch. Bart, clearly bored ("As in 'this game is stupid") spells the now-infamous 'kwyjibo' using up all his letter, landing on a triple-word score and winning the game. The game abruptly ends when Homer tells Bart to define kwyjibo and he says it's a "big, dumb, balding North American ape with no chin."

The next day at school, Bart is caught spraypainting an image of Principal Skinner on a brick wall saying "I am a weiner." I have to admit that it is pretty bold to be spraypainting this wall in broad daylight and at recess. But then again, Bart was a pretty bold kid in the early seasons. These early episodes make me miss Bart's friends, Richard and Lewis. Honestly, I miss all the kids at Springfield Elementary because it seemed more real to have all these background kids instead of the same half dozen that make all the jokes now. Back in class, Ms. Krabappel gives the children an aptitude test which also, I guess, doubles as an IQ test. The first question is a story problem about a train going some direction at whatever speed and another train going the other direction at another meaningless speed. It's a good joke on how complicated and problematic story problems can be especially if you can't visualize it. When Bart tries to visualize the problem, he gets confused, is taken away because he doesn't have a ticket and winds up getting into a train wreck.
The animation on the dream sequence is great. It's like an even simpler
Simpson animation.
Instead of finishing the test, Bart decides to change Martin's name on the test and put Martin's name on his. When Marge and Homer arrive to talk to Principal Skinner about the wall vandalism, Skinner begins talking about how much of a problem Bart is and even criticizes Bart's poorly handwritten, obviously forged excuse note.
Obviously a blatant forgery.
I have admitted to everyone that I don't have the best handwriting and I'm sure that if I wrote my son an excuse note, it would look like a kid did it. I will admit that did some note-forging while in high school and it worked until the assistant principal had the gall to compare the handwriting and saw that they didn't match.

The school guidance counselor, Dr. J. Loren Pryor, then comes in under the pretense of discussing Bart's constant troublemaking and, based on his aptitude/IQ scores, determines that Bart is just a bored genius. Fulfilling the criteria of ignorant guidance counselor who doesn't understand that each child is their own individual, unique creation, Dr. J. Loren Pryor deems that Bart should go to a gifted school which Skinner happily agrees with. I'm glad that Dr. Pryor wasn't a character that stuck around. I could easily have seen him becoming a kind of co-principal with Skinner. I'm glad that didn't happen because he just does not pop as a character.
Hate the man. Love the animation.
In real life, wouldn't automatic retesting happen? If only to make sure that it wasn't a fluke? "I think we should have him retested." "No, no. We need to send this kid, who has never shown any sign of being a genius in the five years I've been his guidance counselor to another school." Even better."

I think what's interesting is that I believe Lisa was originally supposed to be an average kid and that her intelligence was added later on. All through the first season, Lisa is shown to not be an overachiever. She does her work and gets good grades, sure, but being smart was not one of her initial traits. I say this because of the upcoming opera scene where she is happily joining in with Homer and Bart's snarking and Homer saying during breakfast that Lisa should eat the Krusty-Os because "it could be one of these chemicals in [the cereal] that makes [Bart] so smart". Might as well have two geniuses in the family in case Bart's brain blows out.

Homer then takes Bart to the gifted school where he meets a bunch of smug-ass little ants who speak in palindromes or backwards syllables and are going to dissect their pet hamster next week. The first day doesn't go well for Bart who winds up losing his lunch by making bad trades with the students ("I'll trade you the weight of a bowling ball on the eighth moon of Jupiter from my lunch for the weight of a feather on the second moon of Neptune from your lunch.") I always enjoyed this scene because it's very well written and shows that The Simpsons is much smarter than your average animated series but also because it shows what jerks smart people can be.

Aside from the Scrabble scene and the scenes at the gifted school, the opera scene is another one emblazoned in my head. Why Marge thought going to the opera would be a good idea for anyone involved is beyond me. I still use a lot of quotes from the opera scene in my day-to-day life and I love that Lisa joins in on Bart and Homer's mocking reminding everyone that she is still just a kid which is something present-day Simpsons forgot years ago.
The boys had to do something to keep the boredom away. There's no guy with
peanuts. No beer. No opera dogs.
Following an explosion at school that turns him green, Bart confesses that he cheated on his test and is sent back to Springfield Elementary. Confessing to Homer isn't as easy. Homer gets upset and chases Bart from the backyard into the house. ("What's going on out there?" Marge asks after Bart runs by, still green and naked from the bath he was getting to get the stained lab experiment off of him. Homer then runs by. "I think Bart's stupid again, Mom," Lisa says. Marge's only response is "Oh. Well..."

Bart locks himself in his bedroom while Homer furiously beats on the door, screaming for Bart to let him in. This episode is truly a classic and I wonder if it would be as classic as "Some Enchanted Evening" if that episode had aired first like originally intended. "Some Enchanted Evening" is a great finale--showcasing Marge and Homer's ever-in-trouble marriage and the kids being smarter than the adults but "Bart the Genius" has all the elements of a good Simpsons episode.