312. The Bart of War

(originally aired May 18, 2003)
I’m trying to keep my level of exasperation down, but with episodes like these, it’s really hard. You have to wonder exactly what the writers and producers are thinking when they’re color screening these shows, that despite almost every single scene having a glaring issue, be it clunky dialogue, questionable characterization, or stupid plot turns, they deem it good enough to air as a Simpsons episode. I’d like to say that there’s a decent premise buried here, but that’s me being really generous. Bart and Milhouse get into some massive hijinks, in this case breaking into Flanders’ house and destroying his secret room of Beatles memorabilia. Why it had to be the Beatles is irrelevant and this is just the quick set-up to our story, except it takes the entire first act, so you realize that the writers were scrambling to bring this one to length. The two kids end up in separate youth groups: the Pre-Teen Braves, led by Homer, then later Marge, and the Calvary Kids, led by Kirk Van Houten.

The kids are in youth groups, which perform community service and promote wellness and responsibility amongst children. A kid like Bart is going to have no interest in something like this. Homer starts off as a predictably incompetent leader, but Marge soon takes the helm and shows the kids the wonders of the Indian peoples, winning them over immediately by showing them a smoke signal. From that point we hand-wave any contention the kids might have and they’re all super-psyched about spending their sunny weekends picking up litter. Bart’s fellow members are Nelson, Ralph and Database, and Milhouse’s are Jimbo, Martin and Cosine, one of the Superfriends. Nelson gets a few lines, and Ralph is literally used as a prop, but none of them feel like anything but utilities for this pathetic story. The older bully Jimbo in a community-minded organization with two big nerds? Doesn’t matter, just throw whoever in there. We’re at the point where the same faces get recycled over and over regardless of it makes sense; why waste time making new designs when you can regurgitate the old ones?

So the two groups have a tiff over who gets to clean up some Godforsaken field, which immediately creates their rivalry, instigated by Marge, of all people. At that point, it’s just a tired exercise of the two teams one-upping each other, until eventually they make amends in a grand fashion. Let’s just skip to the end: the Pre-Teen Braves impersonate the Calvary Kids, singing a botched National Anthem at Springfield Stadium, incising the crowd. The real Calvary Kids show up and a fight breaks out. Then for no apparent reason everyone in the crowd starts fighting each other. I know the town loves a good mob, but goddamn, there’s no impetus for this. Marge laments she just wanted to teach the kids good citizenship, despite the fact she went along with their petty rivalry, and starts crying. A cameraman turns and shoots her, for no reason, which ends up on the Jumbotron. Then Homer says the worst line of dialogue ever (“Oh my God, that’s my wife! And she’s crying!”) The crowd sings the Canadian national anthem and takes another crack at America, and the episode ends. I can’t even feel mad about this one, it’s just so pathetic and inept in all aspects. Like… whatever.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I guess in response to their “shot” at them, the show tackles South Park, except here, I’m not exactly sure what the parody is. They show the series has fart humor, and violence, and features celebrities, except they’re dated celebrities like Calista Flockhart and O.J. Simpson. I don’t quite understand what they were going for with this. The “Simpsons Already Did It” episode of South Park was so brilliant, and this is just a sad follow-up.
– I want to get to the point where I stop complaining about characterization, but they keep throwing shit at me. Flanders chastises his son for feeling good for doing charity (“Sin of pride, Roddy!”) then for apologizing (“Sin of regret,”) freaks the fuck out when he finds the house is busted up and goes to the padlocked panic room, then freaks the fuck out of his children as he posits the possibility of a killer using a blowtorch and getting in to slay them through song. It’s just as disconcerting as it sounds. Secondly, we get this brilliant piece of dialogue, when Homer tells Ned he never knew he was a Beatles fan (“Of course I am, they were bigger than Jesus!”) Now, current caricatured Ned, the psycho-Christian, you’d think he would have completely vilified the Beatles for such a statement. But I guess a line like that is supposed to be funny because it contrasts with the exaggerated character that Flanders currently has? I guess? But ultimately it doesn’t matter, since the Beatles stuff is nothing short of random, just killing time with stupid bullshit because there’s no story to be had here. All the time the artists must have spent laying out and designing that Beatles room for no point at all.
– This is the first show where we see Nelson’s emotional crippling due to his father having left him, even though we’ve seen him in the past in “Bart Star.” It’s nice that the show treats the devastating sadness and mania of a young child so callously and as a big goof. The second time it happens, Marge comments, “For God’s sakes, I can see why he left.” How wildly inappropriate and out-of-character.
– “What are we gonna do to that field!” “Clean it!” “And why are we gonna clean it?” “Liberal guilt!” CHECK OUT OUR BITING COMMENTARY, YOU GUYS!!
– “Those Calvary Kids are bigger credit hogs than the Red Cross!” AREN’T WE EDGY? WE CAN BE EDGY TOO!!
– Ralph, an eight-year-old, gets thrown through a window with a note taped on him, spouting a one-liner. At this point I declare his de-evolution complete, from slightly challenged youngster to brain dead one-liner-spouting prop.
– So did Homer inject each and every candy bar with laxatives? There were dozens and dozens of boxes? How did he do that? Oh, who gives a fuck…
– The only chuckle I got from this show was from the Junior Dandies (“Oh, the indignity!”)
– “Well, Bart, we’ve learned that war is never the answer.” “Except to all of America’s problems.” “Amen.” BITING COMMENTARY, GUYS!!


16 responses to “312. The Bart of War

  1. Episode sucks for all the reasons you mentioned, but I thought the ‘South Park’ O.J. Simpson-“Now I’m gonna find the real killer!”-after-the-decapitation was pretty memorable (spot-on SP-ish animation on that part), and I liked how the Beatles drinks included Mango Starr and John Lemon. That’s… about it…

  2. I definitely agree with Ned’s characterization. It’s all over the place; first, he’s a super-strict Christian for criticizing his son, the next he practically worships The Beatles. Make up your mind.

    And yes, that Homer line at the end is just painful. Such forced dialog. We can -see- Marge is crying; you don’t have to tell us like we’re idiots.

    One thing you didn’t mention: What’s with the out-of-nowhere, depressing Milhouse line in the beginning? “Sometimes I wish a cat would eat -me-.” Is that supposed to be funny, that we’re laughing at a kid who’s got emotional issues? It’s like the “joke” in “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” when Bart says he’s angry all the time and Homer just ignores him. Not funny.

    Regardless, I do like:
    -“Good Heavens”: “Jesus called today.” (excitedly) “He -DID-?!”
    -All of the scenes involving Chief Wiggum busting Bart & Milhouse. Those get some honest chuckles out of me.
    -The twist that the laxative candy was a hit with the seniors
    -“Chicks really dig you when you’re the last of something.”
    -“Someone already cleaned our field!” “Its awful- it looks like Wisconsin!”
    -“Hey treadmill, how do you like -this- incline?!”

    • [QUOTE]One thing you didn’t mention: What’s with the out-of-nowhere, depressing Milhouse line in the beginning? “Sometimes I wish a cat would eat -me-.” Is that supposed to be funny, that we’re laughing at a kid who’s got emotional issues?.[/QUOTE]

      Yes, because the writers don’t care. I hope they come down with suicidal depression — see how “funny” that is. Bunch of insensitive bastards.

  3. I’m out of things to say, so let me just say this, I just sold my Seasons 10, 11, 13, 14, and 20 DVDs/BDs to a second hand store yesterday and was glad to take the $33 they offered me for all five seasons.

  4. I agree that the South Park parody felt more like what somebody envisioned the show to be like from word of mouth rather than how somebody who actually watched the show would parody it, but I did like Bart’s line about how “I wonder how they keep it so fresh after 43 episodes.” (Especially since Butters said in that one episode “I’ve seen all 150 episodes of The Simpsons twice.”)

    Apart from that, I liked Bart’s novelty soda trip, but that’s about it. Even better than the Ralph brick scene is when he says ‘Will you be my mommy?” to a wolf, and the wolf carries him away. The writers seem to think that just having him spout a random one liners is enough to be funny, but it really isn’t.

  5. The Simpsons poking fun at South Park doesn’t work because, by this time, South Park was better…a lot better. And so it just comes off as an old man yelling at the kids to stay off his damn lawn. It’s pathetic. If this show had ended after season 9 (or 8, but definitely 9 at the latest), then the show would pretty much have immunity from anybody. But since they decided to keep making shitty episode after shitty episode, they forfeited the right to make fun of others who make fun of them. It’s not funny when an inferior product makes fun of a superior product, it’s just sad.

    • Here is the thing, if Simpsons had ended with 8, we would never had gotten the NYC or Homega Man episodes, so I am glad it didn’t.

      However, I have never found South Park to be all that funny outside of a few episodes. In fact, I’ll take even the worst Simpsons episodes over most of South Park. I can count how many South Park episodes I like on my hands.

      • Yeah, South Park never really excited me very much, though there have been some truely great episodes here or there. I would hate to see what the episodes they’re airing this year (?) are like, though… “ROMNEY EATS A GUY’S FACE AFTER SMOKING BATH SALT!” or something, I’m sure.

    • I think NY, Lisa’s Sax, Cartridge Family were all great s9 episodes but now that I think about it, I’m sure they were holdovers from season 8 because they all feel completely different than the rest of season 9.

      • HMS pinafore

        Ny was a season 8 holdover, Sax was done as a part of Al and Mike’s 4 episode run that lasted between seasons 8 and 9. Cartridge Family was actually a season 9 scully episode though.

      • I actually do not like The Cartridge Family. If it had come before “Who Shot Mr Burns,” and then one where Marge becomes a cop, maybe, but after, it seems redundant. I still cannot believe that Al Jean was one of the previous show runners of my favorite season of the show (4) and his episodes have been nothing more that glorified crap since he took back over.

  6. I watched this one not that long ago and I still couldn’t remember most of the plot points until you brought them up. It has to be the least memorable episode of the series up to this point. I get the sense on a lot of these shows that they were just trying to fill their episode count. I’d hate to think anyone put any real effort into making a show this mediocre.

  7. forbidden donut

    I really like the basic premise of the episode. The idea of parents organizing their children into safe structured activities to curb their behavior, only for them to end up fighting with each other anyway, seems like it’s ripe for satire. However, it’s botched pretty badly in execution; all I could think of is how forced and out-of-character everyone is, like you went over.

  8. In addition to everything else this episode has against it, it also inaugurates one of the dumbest running gags in the show’s history – Bart and Milhouse linking arms and dancing in a circle while singing merrily about something totally inane. It shows up again in “My Big Fat Geek Wedding” and “All’s Fair in Oven War” and it makes less and less sense each time.

    But yeah, I have no idea what this episode was trying to accomplish. Not a single thing works from beginning to end. Bleh.

  9. ‘cavalry’, not ‘Calvary’.

  10. The only entertaining part of this episode was Moe with his fists up, wondering how he ended up fighting Drederick Tatum. Pretty ridiculous but I liked how Moe was completely done for 😀

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