Among the most prolific of Simpsons writers is one John Swartzwelder. Swartzwelder has written many of my favorite episodes of the series, so I wasn’t overly surprised when I realized one of the few season one episodes I really enjoyed more than the rest was one of his.
That would be “Bart the General”.
“Bart the General” features the first appearance of Nelson Muntz, the bully who often makes Bart miserable and has a rather memorable laugh. He doesn’t use that laugh here, but he does terrorize Bart with the help of a pair of rarely seen since cronies.
Why does Bart get chosen? Well, he stops to defend Lisa for once, and then gives Nelson an accidental nose bleed while throwing wild, blind punches. Nelson’s surprise at bleeding his own blood would probably make Dodgeball‘s White Goodman proud, but it sure leads Bart to nightmares, oblivious authority figures, bad fight tips from Homer, and eventually right to the toughest Simpson alive, Grandpa. He put up quite a fight when they put him in the old folks’ home.
Up to this point, the episode features some really surreal animation, goofy dreams, and outright funny jokes. Nelson’s order to Bart to “put ’em up” doesn’t lead to Bart raising some fists for a fight but to toss his arms straight up to try and surrender. Homer, appearing to Bart in a dream balloon to remind Bart of his various fight tips, winces in empathic pain whenever Bart gets punched one off-camera.
What can Bart do? Well, Grandpa takes him to see one-armed wannabe warrior Herman, who has Bart recruit all the kids in town to make an army. Combine music from Patton with training sequences from Full Metal Jacket, and you have some great humorous homages to old war movies.
Perhaps best of all, after Bart and an tied-up Nelson negotiate a peace treaty in the Simpson living room and share some fresh cupcakes, Bart takes time to explain war is bad like some sort of Simpson-ized life lesson…except, of course, for the American Revolution, World War II, and the Star Wars trilogy.
You gotta make some exceptions here and there.