Holy crap. I love this episode. I really do. I mean it has it’s flaws – probably I’m too happy right now to really think about them – but this is legit one of my favorite episodes ever. Maybe because it’s one of the first ones I saw in it’s entirety or maybe because it’s just effing awesome. I don’t know and I don’t care a hell of a lot either. This one’s amazing and there’s so much I could talk about I’m just hoping I can keep this under two thousand words (and to think once upon a time the prospect of writing a two thousand word anything seemed like torture). But okay, enough stalling. Let’s transform and roll out on this sucker.
The Simpsons, season one episode five – Bart the General.
Lisa bakes cupcakes for her teacher’s birthday (interesting tidbit – here she’s Mrs. Hoover. I know for a fact that later she’s Ms. Does that ever get explained? I can’t remember). Her batch gets stolen by a bully crony, and after Bart literally launches himself into battle to defend his sister he winds up tangled up with head bully Nelson Muntz, in his first of many Bart-bullying episodes. Bart ends up getting beaten up day in and day out, worrying his family. Homer un-successfully tries to teach Bart to defend himself, and at the end of his rope, the oldest Simpson child reaches out to the oldest Simpson, Grandpa. The two of them together reach out to local lunatic and army surplus store owner Herman, who schools the Simpsons in the art of warfare. What follows is an amazing montage where Bart recruits, trains, and readies his army to lead against Nelson. I love everything about this montage. Especially their weapons of choice.
An epic battle commences, and the rallied children of Springfield manage to defeat Nelson and his cronies. There’s just one problem – the second they release Nelson his retribution will be swift, his wrath terrible. A peace treaty is ultimately drawn up, and with all parties satisfied, celebratory cupcakes are had by all.
There’s so much of this bad boy I want to talk about, and I don’t really know where to start, so I guess I’ll go chronologically, which brings us to the relationship between Bart and Lisa. And man, I am LOVING how they present it in this episode. The two are brother and sister, and they have a ‘regular’ brother and sister dynamic in that they’re at each other’s throats a lot. Bart tries his damndest to steal a cupcake, Lisa ends up giving him one that fell on the floor, and the sibling rivalry moves ever forward. But they’re still family that cares about each other, and I will admit the one thing I always seem to forget about this episode is how Bart literally launches himself into a fight the second someone starts messing with his sister. It’s one thing for the two of them to mess with each other, but as soon as a bully comes into the picture and starts, all bets are off.
What I probably love the best about it? He never seems to regret it for a second. Days of beatings later and he never blames Lisa, never gets angry at her for any of it. It’s a sweeter side of their relationship that I’m not sure ever really shows up again like it does here, but it works so damn well in this spot.
Which reminds me of something else – Nelson’s cronies in this episode, and a few other odds and ends. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the cronies that to my knowledge never ever appear again!
Aren’t they so memorable? Beyond that I feel like the animation’s improved in this episode. I mean it’s still not quite the quality of later episodes, but there are little things. Homer’s design, for example, doesn’t look so… well, here’s a picture from an earlier episode.
Here’s one from this episode.
See what I mean?
On the subject of Homer, I wanted to touch on the advice he gives Bart in this episode. This may be a bit of a disclaimer, but there’s no doubt that the advice he gives his son is absolutely, 100% terrible. That said, it’s also 100% hilarious, especially this little nugget: “And if you get the chance, get him right in the family jewels. That little doozy’s been a Simpson trademark for generations!” But beyond the advice being terrible, there’s also a certain amount of sincerity behind it. Homer really does think he’s looking out for his son, and that’s largely because he understands the pressures of being a kid, the ‘Code of the Schoolyard’ they call it. He gets the pressures on a kid to not be a tattle-tale and not bring authority figures into the mix, even for bullying, so he tries to get his son to solve the situation without pressuring him to step outside of the social confines that kids find themselves in. Like I said, it’s not good advice, but it comes from a well-meaning place, so that’s something at least.
And now, the training montage. There is so damn much in this I want to talk about, but I’ll try to stick to the high points. Except everything in this montage is such a high point! Curse this quality storytelling! For starters, I love that it’s a montage without it being a straight 80’s montage complete with, for lack of better term, ‘montage music’. It’s still a montage because there’s a lot going on here being condensed into a small space, but it doesn’t have quite that Rocky training montage feel, which I think works in it’s favor (not that I don’t love the Rocky movies, I do). Beyond that, the bits and pieces that make it up are absolutely wonderful. The marching chant that it keeps cutting between is fantastic…
Not to mention the physical training we see the kids doing…
And the part where Bart slaps one of his soldiers, which leads to what I think is the line of the episode from Grandpa Simpson: “You can push them out of a plane, you can march them off a cliff, you can send ‘em off to die on some God forsaken rock, but for some reason… you can’t slap ‘em. Now apologize to that boy right now.”
Alright, I could go on forever, so I better cap it here while I’m still around my usual word count. See y’all next time!