132. Bart Sells His Soul

(originally aired October 8, 1995)
This is another one of those episodes that ran on syndication a lot, and really sticks out to me. It remains one of my favorites, harboring a very interesting introspective journey for Bart, conjoined with one of the silliest B-plots ever, and despite it being completely unrelated, the episode still works completely. The plot goes like this: Milhouse rats out Bart for a prank he pulled in church, fearing the fate of his soul. When Bart chastises him for such a silly belief, Milhouse gets him to sell him his soul for five bucks, embodied on a sheet of paper reading “Bart Simpson’s Soul.” I love the very kid-like conversation the two have on the concept of souls, Milhouse claiming it can swim and is equipped with wheels to get to the afterlife. I also like his unusually vindictive turn on Bart when he returns later to ask for his “soul” back, like for once, the ball’s in his court and he’s going to savor each moment.

When the trade is made, Bart starts to experience a bizarre kind of emptiness, unable to laugh at Itchy & Scratchy or enter an automatic door, like something very important is missing… We get one of the most classic dream sequences of children and their souls rowing to a divine promise land, but Bart is stuck without a partner to oar with. All of this is dealt with very innocently at first, but grows more and more grave as Bart gets continually more desperate. He even attempts to acquire an unwitting Ralph’s soul, although the way in which he would do that isn’t exactly clear. Bart finds Milhouse sold his soul to the comic book store for ALF pogs (“Remember ALF? He’s back, in pog form!”); my favorite shot of the show is Bart in the fetal position sleeping in front of the Android’s Dungeon until it opens, it’s the perfect transition and depiction of how low he has sunk. CBG informs Bart his soul has already been sold, which eventually brings Bart to his last option… prayer. Evoking as much passion as his previous attempt at prayer in “Bart Gets An F,” his wishes are similarly granted, but this time by an eavesdropping Lisa, revealed to be the mysterious buyer.

Sounds a little thin to take up 22 minutes? Well you’d be right, and do I have the B-story for you. Moe decides to cash in on the recent craze of family-friendly restaurants by turning his rundown tavern into a T.G.I. Fridays-esque eatery, Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag. Boy do I love everything about this subplot… the classic moments are endless: “But Moe, the dank! The dank!”, his navy owned fryer than can flash fry a buffalo in forty seconds (“But I want it now!”), his furious straining to maintain a grin during his commercial… All so great. And of course his million dollar birthday fries! That and all the other crazy over-descriptive names for simple foods (try the southwestern pizza fingers, they’re awesomely outrageous!) The restaurant doesn’t last long, of course, as Moe’s short temperament gets the best of him. What I like is that there’s really only two scenes at Uncle Moe’s, but the end of Moe losing it is set up in the first one, which leads in his frustration building and building in the second scene, only to be unleashed at an innocent girl in perhaps the greatest Moe line, “Your teef hurt? That’s too freakin’ bad! You hear me! I’ll tell you where you can put your freakin’ sodie too!!” How brilliant this show is that they can maintain two stories that couldn’t be more different tone wise, but never clash and feel like a whole. Amazing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Bart’s “In The Garden of Eden, by I. Ron Butterfly” prank is amazing, of course, with Homer naughtily reminding Marge about how they used to make out to this “hymn,” and Lovejoy’s slow realization, “This sounds like rock and or roll!”
– Bart assures Milhouse that the soul was just made up to scare kids, “like the Boogeyman or Michael Jackson.” Milhouse responds, “But every religion says there’s a soul, Bart. Why would they lie? What would they have to gain?” Cut to Lovejoy sorting out a wave of change from the collection plate. Pitch perfect social commentary.
– The role of Hibbert’s kids basically lost its purpose when the show was no longer up against The Cosby Show; I’m probably wrong, but this may be the last time we see them. I always laugh at Hibbert’s daughter’s innocent comment, “Daddy, this place smells like tinkle,” and the kids’ exciting suggestions of crazily named restaurants to eat at (including the mouthful “Professor P. J. Cornucopia’s Fantastic Foodmagorium and Great American Steakery.” I want that to exist so I can go there right now). Also great is the classic Barney line, “Natural light! Get it off me!”
– I love that Bart bought those growing foam dinosaurs, since I did those all the time as a kid… and occasionally as an adult. I like his fantasy of the dinosaur growing to actual size and chewing up Lisa (“It’s dripping funny-smelling water all over me!”), but of course, in actuality, the piece of foam just floats into the street drain.
– This episode’s full of great quick lines: Rod and Todd’s “Thank you, door!”, Jimbo’s “Way to breath, no-breath!” and Apu’s “Sanjay to the entrance with the Windex… Sanjay to the entrance with the Windex.” Three classic lines in one scene!
– As I said, every Uncle Moe scene is great: the entire bar is being renovated, with everything covered with sheets, including Barney. Homer throws out two possible names (Chairman Moe’s Magic Wok, Madman Moe’s Pressure Cooker) which Barney likes, then Moe suggests, “Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag,” which Barney hates.
– Like I said, I love how merciless Milhouse is, toying with a clearly despondent Bart; the quick jerk animation and the “Yeeeeeesss?” when Bart first comes up to him (then followed by “Noooo”) is hilarious, as is his feeble attempt to do an evil laugh.
– Moe’s commercial is hilarious, especially the end with the poor jingle (“Come to Uncle Moe’s for family fun, it’s good good good good, good good good!”) and the hysterical animation of Moe attempting to hold his grin to the camera, which is definitely physically hurting him.
– Very sweet moment when Marge can tell something’s wrong with Bart, and attempts to decipher it with hugs. She boils it down to he’s missing something, and when Bart suggests maybe it’s a missing soul, Marge chuckles off her son’s amusing joke (“Aw, honey, you’re not a monster.”)
– I love Moe losing it at a water gun happy Ralph (“What the hell are you doing, you little freak?!”) and his hasty mea culpa (“Sorry, kid, sorry. I’m not used to the laughter of children. It cuts through me like a dentist drill. But no, no, that was funny, that was funny taking away my dignity like that, ha ha ha.”)
– Hilarious act break when Bart runs out of the restaurant, and Homer’s brain urges him to support his son so he can eat his spaghetti and Moe-balls. And he does, with his mouth stuffed (“Run, boy! Run for your life! …..boy!”)
– That last Uncle Moe scene, I could just quote the whole thing, it’s one of my favorite scenes of the entire series. But I’ll just quote one line: “Ow! My freakin’ ears!” Another use of Rod and Todd as overly impressionable youngsters. And Ned’s indignant “I’d expect that kind of language at Denny’s, but not here!” is fantastic. Total burn, Denny’s!
– Totally random addition of the maniacally vindictive street sweeper who drives his vehicle down a subway station… but I love it’s there.
Brilliant performance by Dan Castellaneta as the raving derelict, who talks so fast that you can barely make out what he’s saying. Neither can Wiggum (“Who’s been stealing your thoughts?”)
– I love how cranky Kirk Van Houten is, perhaps justified that it’s 2am (“Milhouse, give him back his soul, I’ve got work tomorrow!”) Also great scene capper after Bart runs out screaming (“Close the door, you’re letting the heat out!” “Shut up, shut up, shut up!!“)
– Yep, this is the season Comic Book Guy began to rise… he gets a one scene wonder here (“Excuse me, no banging your head on the display case, please. It contains a very rare Mary Worth in which she has advised a friend to commit suicide. Thank you.”)
– Incredibly satisfying end note with the follow-up to Bart’s dream: with his soul back, he’s able to row to nirvana comfortably, but not before knocking over Martin’s boat, almost drowning Martin’s soul. That mischievous scamp…

Completely unrelated note: updated my Disney Animated Canon blog with Tangled.

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5 responses to “132. Bart Sells His Soul

  1. This is maybe my favorite Simpsons episode… At times it’s unsettling enough that it doesn’t even feel like a comedy. Also, despite how different the B-plot is from the A-plot, I wouldn’t say they’re TOO far apart in tone. Moe’s plot is definitely the funny one of the two, but it’s still pretty dark humor—there’s a lot of tension in the air as he unravels.

    I can also thank this episode for introducing me to the criminally underappreciated Scorsese movie, “After Hours,” which has since become a favorite of mine. The part where Bart runs through the dark city in search of his soul is directly inspired by “After Hours,” and Moe’s scenes are in keeping with it as well. The whole movie is buzzing with tension and anxiety. I’d highly recommend you check it out.

  2. You know the Simpsons has seeped into your mind when you refer to the Cheesecake Factory as “The Texas Cheesecake Depository.”

  3. The funniest bit of this episode for me was watching it in sunday school.

    Teacher: What lessons did you learn from this programme?
    Kid: Don’t try to turn a bar into a family restaurant!

  4. “geez, you’re pretty uppity for someone who eats bugs all day.”

    I still say that to my cat sometimes

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