Simpsons Did It!: “Bart The Genius”


Well, looks like I’m still doing this.  Granted, this is only the second episode, but as I said, I do not expect to finish this run-through.

Today’s episode:  “Bart The Genius”

A friend from college had a Simpsons theory worth repeating today.  He said that many shows evolve over time, where a character the creators initially assume will be the big break-out often isn’t, and the focus changes to the actual break-out character.  His example?  Bart was originally the main focus of The Simpsons and its humor, until everyone involved realized the real comedy gold came from Homer.

There may be something to that.  Bart is the first member of the Simpsons family to appear onscreen in the opening credits, seen for the first time with this, the first official episode.  Homer is second, but first its Bart.  Bart, arguably, gets the most screen time in the opening as it is, riding his skateboard around town, and steeling a bus stop sign.

He’s also the primary focus for this episode.

“Bart the Genius” has a scenario where Bart switches IQ tests with teacher’s pet Martin Prince and getting sent to a gifted school, a scenario that initially thrills him but soon becomes his worst nightmare.  He obviously confesses in the end and the status quo returns Bart to Springfield Elementary, Mrs. Krabapple, and Principal Skinner.  Also, Martin is still there.  Martin comes across as a a rather insufferable little boy in this episode, the sort of kiss-ass no one likes in any scenario.  You’d think Bart would have maybe told everyone who actually did get that super-high score, then maybe he wouldn’t have to deal with Martin anymore.  But no…

I gotta say:  I am an educator by profession, and how that gifted school and everyone involved with it, including the other students, expected Bart to know how to do complex math and philosophy with zero instruction…I don’t care how high your IQ is, if no one has shown you how to do a differential equation or whatever, you aren’t going to be good at it.

The Simpsons as a series has always been interested in the family dynamic.  The relationships between the members of the family are important.  Contrast that with the (at best) benign neglect the Griffins dish out on Family Guy and it becomes clear that there is no emotional connection between the Griffins to compare to the Simpsons.  No wonder the crossover episode (written by the Family Guy staff) was so darn ugly.  As much as Homer may engage in strangulation of Bart when the boy mouths off, at least there’s a sense Homer loves his son, which you can’t say about Peter and Meg Griffin.

So, perhaps seeing Homer wanting to connect to Bart once he gets ahead in life (even if it was through cheating) was a sweet moment, and the only good Bart got out of the whole deal.  He was being treated as dumb by his new classmates, he couldn’t hack the schoolwork, his old friends wanted nothing to do with him, and Marge’s efforts to improve him were clearly wrongheaded…to say nothing about the basic stereotype that smart people like opera.

Homer’s got a ways to go, actually.  He really does care about the family’s image at this point, and while he’s clearly not that bright, he’s not the level of stupid we’re going to see.

On a side note, it is nice to see the entire Simpson family appears to be as good at the game of Scrabble as I am.

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