Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Bart the General

My least favorite episode of the first season, "Bart the General", graces today's #ElevenSeasons. The problem I have with "Bart the General" is mainly the plot overall. I'm not a fan of all the war movie references because when I first saw the episode, I was too young to see any of them. Now that I'm older, I know the references but this episode was really the first that went over my head and I think was the first episode where the writers knew that they could be more than just a cartoon but an animated series.*

We open "Bart the General" on the Simpson house where Marge is baking cupcakes for Lisa to take to school. Bart reaches into the oven to grab one but is scolded by Marge. Bart becomes upset that Lisa isn't sharing with the family. The bus pulls up and Bart tells Otto the bus driver that Lisa won't share her cupcakes. Otto, initially on Bart's side, is swayed when Lisa gives a cupcake to Otto, saying that there's an extra one. A question I have now that I am in my 30s is why are the cupcakes brown with brown frosting? They look more like muffins than cupcakes. I don't care that the cake part is brown but shouldn't the top be a different color than brown?

Anyway, Bart calls Lisa names like apple polisher, butt kisser and honor student while Lisa makes a deal with Bart. Say something nice about her and she'll give him something. Bart comments on her generosity and ability to give. The bus makes an abrupt stop and one of the cupcakes falls onto the floor. Lisa picks it up and give it to Bart who gladly eats it.

Now at school, one of Nelson's toadies takes the box from Lisa and begins taking one bite out of each cupcake before throwing it away behind him. Bart comes to Lisa's rescue but Nelson comes to the toady's rescue. After a brief fight where Nelson is just holding Bart while Bart flails his arms, Bart is able to land a punch causing Nelson to have a nosebleed.
"I am bleeding. You made me bleed my own blood."
Nelson threatens to get Bart after school when Principal Skinner shows up. The school bell rings and Nelson threatens again. Skinner just brushes off the threat with "Oh, he'll get you all right" and ushers Bart off to class because "there's learning afoot." Bart begins to have daydreams about Nelson including one where arrows and missile launchers have no impact on him.
It's here we first learn about the code of the schoolyard where essentially you can't tattle on anybody no matter what and you have to fight your own battles. Bart also imagines his own funeral complete with his eyes sown into Xs.
I also like that he's being buried with his Krusty lunchbox.
During this dream, close friends and family pay their respects. Otto remarks at how lifelike he is while Skinner admits that Bart was right: "All that homework was a waster of your time." Milhouse and Lewis thank Bart for giving them a day off from school. Homer also thanks Bart for giving him the day off from work. Lisa gives Bart a cupcake, setting it on his forehead and Nelson comes up and then eats the cupcake before punching Bart in the stomach.

After school, Bart attempts to get away but runs right into Nelson. Bart gives up and is repeatedly punched right in the face by Nelson.
He actually takes the punches pretty good.
After Bart is knocked down, Nelson and his toadies throw Bart in a trash can, threaten to get him tomorrow and then roll the trash can down a hill which conveniently stops rolling right in front of the Simpson house. When Bart goes inside, he gets advice from Homer who tells Bart to fight dirty and especially go for the "family jewels" which was the first time I had ever heard that area of the human body referred as. Marge's advice is bit more practical--tell Principal Skinner but after Homer reveals the code of the schoolyard, she suggests Bart befriend Nelson. Bart tries everything the next day but still ends up getting beat up, shoved in a trash can and rolled down a hill.

Lisa suggests to Bart that he go see the toughest Simpson alive. Grandpa. When Bart arrives, Grandpa is writing one of his famous letters, this one to advertisers where he informs them that he is "disgusted with the way old people are depicted on television. We are not all vibrant, fun-loving, sex maniacs. Many of us are bitter, resentful individuals who remember the good old days when entertainment was bland." Bart then asks Grandpa to teach him to fight but after losing a newspaper tug-of-war with Jasper...

...Grandpa takes Bart to Herman's where you can buy Hitler's teeth for $25. Herman helps Bart draft a declaration of war so that everything he does is perfectly legal and then we get a long montage of Bart training the schoolyard kids in water balloon offensive tactics.
"I got a B in arithmetic.
Would've got an A but I was sick."
The day finally comes as the kids have tracked Nelson and his toadies to the Kwik-E-Mart and are walking home after buying Squishees ("What flavor did you get?" "Blue."). The kids attack and Nelson is easily defeated and captured. Unfortunately, Nelson threatens Bart if he is ever released. Knowing that he can't keep Nelson forever, Herman helps them draft a peace treaty where Nelson has no real power is still considered a threat to the neighborhood.
The treaty is approved and lasts for the remainder of the series, Nelson is untied and everyone celebrates with one of Marge's cupcakes. At the end, Bart tells the audience that war is neither glamorous nor fun and that in war there are no winners only losers with three exceptions: The American Revolution, World War II and the Star Wars trilogy.

Peace, man.

*Interestingly, in The Complete Directory to Primetime Television Series, 1946-Present by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh lists The Simpsons as a cartoon while "plagarisimo" Family Guy is classified as an animated situation comedy.