676. Bart the Bad Guy

Original airdate: March 1, 2020

The premise: After seeing an advance copy of the latest blockbuster “Vindicators” sequel, Bart abuses his nerd privilege by getting people to do his bidding lest he spoil the movie for them. The other Simpsons worry about Bart taking this too far, while Hollywood takes their own step to ensure Bart’s silence.

The reaction: Making specific pop culture references basically means you’re dooming your show to be dated within a few years. This isn’t to say that you should never do it, but I consider something like a MAD Magazine-level “parody” like Avengers/Vindicators to be very dull and uninspired, rather than something a little broader and more substantial. None of the Vindicators material in this episode is really saying anything about blockbuster movies, it’s just recreating stuff from real-life: people being emotionally moved by the tragic ending of Avengers: Infinity War, and then being bummed they have to wait a whole year for the conclusion in the sequel. So they’re literally just doing their satirical take on the last two Avengers movies… but then where’s the satire? There’s plenty of criticisms one could make about the films of the MCU, both creatively as movies themselves, and regarding the big business media juggernaut behind them. They approach a bit of the latter with the two movie executives (voiced by the Russo brothers) talking about how imperative the box office of their movie is to the global economy, but by that point, the episode is basically over. So all the Vindicators stuff is mostly just empty referencing and meaningless filler. What are we left with? A story where Bart acts like a dick, only to mend his ways thanks to manipulation. By means I won’t bother explaining here, Bart watches an advance copy of the new Vindicators movie, and uses his spoiler knowledge to get people to do anything he wants, which we see as him taking everything from Comic Book Guy’s store, and ultimately forcing the entire town to build him a giant treehouse. I know the episode is called “Bart the Bad Guy,” but Bart’s not just a little scamp pulling pranks because it’s funny, he’s actively abusing people to do his bidding for no real reason other than he’s just a shit. I guess the episode is about the crisis of Bart’s morality, as clearly spelled out by Marge toward the end (“Bart’s soul is at stake!”) The ending involves the Vindicators executives kidnapping Bart and trapping him in a VR simulation where he discovers his actions have caused his beloved Vindicators to be in danger of being defeated by the sinister villain Chinnos (get it, because Thanos has a big chin? BRILLIANT WRITING YOU GUYS). Rather than team up with him, Bart chooses to defeat the evil villain, and everything is all good. So he learns the errors of his ways via massive hallucination and manipulation by a huge corporation? That feels like an ending that shouldn’t be played so straight. We end on the executives, satisfied Bart won’t blab spoilers anymore, disarming the explosive device under Homer and Marge’s bed, in a knee-slapping jab at their new Disney overlords. Any sort of bite-the-hand humor the show used to excel at goes right out the freaking window after this embarrassing mess. After this episode-length Avengers commercial, I can’t wait to see what new synergistic effort Disney’s got cooked up next.

…I guess I didn’t have to wait long.

Three items of note:
– “Vindicators: Crystal War” is a Marble Studios film, but when characters are talking about “Marble movies,” it really just sounds like Marvel, which makes me wonder what the fuck is even the point of doing the whole legally distinguishable charade. Disney owns this shit, why not have it actually just be Marvel Studios and the Avengers? Who gives a crap?
– Embracing his spoiler powers,  Bart arrives at school acting cool as the other kids are terror stricken, set to the music used in Spider-Man 3 when Venom-infected Peter Parker is strutting his stuff down the New York City streets. My knee jerk reaction is to complain about such a dated reference (we are thirteen years out from Spider-Man 3) at this point, just in case you wanted to feel old today), but considering Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame are more contemporary and those references also suck, it’s basically a no-win scenario. But this is all stuff I’ve talked about numerous times: this is literally as fast as their production cycle can go in terms of contemporary references, and in the age of memes and satire on the Internet, you’re inevitably going to miss the boat bagging on the hot new movie or cultural moment if you wait more than a week. But also, as the show in its prime knew well, a reference doesn’t mean shit unless it’s funny outside of its context, or is adding or subverting something from the source material. What’s the point of using the Spider-Man 3 music? I haven’t a clue, other than please laugh at reference.
– One of Bart’s spoiler victims is Principal Skinner, who gets robbed of his hairpiece. I remember on an early DVD commentary, Matt Groening talking about how he was adamant against the idea of Skinner wearing a toupee, because he felt it was a very cliche trope for a humorless principal character. The only time I recall a mention of this was in one of the very first Simpsons comics, where we see Skinner gluing his hair on his head to ensure the toupee doesn’t budge. But here we are nearly thirty years later, and we finally circled back to this idea, and I guess Groening didn’t give a shit anymore, or was too busy relaxing in his solid gold mansion with his rocket car to notice this addition. Not that I really care either, it’s just an interesting thing I noticed.

One good line/moment: Nothing to be had here. Man, this one was an absolute dud. It was aggressively boring more than anything, maybe second worst of the year after the Todd Flanders episode.

22 responses to “676. Bart the Bad Guy

  1. I’m sure I’m probably stating the obvious here but the reason Zombie Simpsons keeps doing so many pop culture references no matter how out-of-touch it makes them look, is because it’s the only way they can survive. Like a marooned castaway feeding on wildlife. If Zombie Simpsons attempted to do simple realistic run-of-the-mill scenarios that the average viewer could relate to, boom. An axe. Let’s hope they get that axe come 2021.

    “It was aggressively boring more than anything, maybe second worst of the year after the Todd Flanders episode”

    This is definitely the worst episode for me this season so far, and while I don’t agree with you on the Todd episode being the #1 worst, it is, as I’ve mentioned before, the most disappointing episode in the series whole.

  2. My best guess for the name changes is that it gives them the freedom to change the content. That if they actually used the Avengers name and movie titles, they’d have to make sure the content showed matched the movies exactly. I know none of us feel that way, but I’m sure in the ass-kissing world of Hollywood they do.

  3. I actually have high hopes for that short. The Longest Daycare was done completely in pantomime, so everything was show-don’t-tell. No exposition, no explained jokes… and it was very cute and terrifying at the same time, on purpose, told through the perspective of a baby in a very creative way. Since they’re saying Maggie is “speechless” again, I hope the next one is just as good.

  4. Wow, this episode was, uh…interesting. Not good, but not boring either. Characters’ reactions to the Vindicators Crystal War and Bart’s morality were way too on-the-nose like stating the obvious was meant to be a joke. I still liked this episode’s angle on the consequences of spoilers in the Vindicators virtual reality.

    • Yes, I know that stating the obvious like that is a joke that a bunch of other modern The Simpsons episodes do and I should expect this from that. No need to remind me. I’m just saying that I didn’t find this episode too forgettable, so I am a bit ashamed that this blog could not find any good moments from it or from Woo-Hoo Dunnit.

  5. Seriously, can they Just stop making episodes about Bart being an asshole and suddenly he redeems himself? Like seriously, one episode he is fine torturing or manipulating someone, destroying the school, etc. Then later he is like : “oh, I went too far, can you forgive me?”

    He literally can do anything wrong and when he makes a life less apology, all of them are ” sure dude, you did nothing wrong”

  6. That Pixar/Simpsons crossover article…honestly, I felt a small portion of my soul shrivel up reading it. We’re at the point where a single company owns over half the most notable TV and cinematic IPs and is merely shoving them together for no discernible reason save for mindless, threadbare fanservice and transparent self-promotion and the only point the article can raise is that ‘it should be better than that terrible Frozen short’? Corporate synergy’s delightful stuff then, huh?

    At least the article gave me something of substance to comment on though, which this episode lacked almost entirely, unless a 22-minute compilation of tedious, unfunny Marvel references floats your boat somehow. “Radioactive Man”, wherefore art thou?

    • It’s not a crossover. It’s a short that will air before the movie. Have you ever seen “Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare”? That actually was released with the fourth Ice Age movie, but had nothing to do with the Ice Age movies. And as said before, it actually got some praise, even from Dead Homers Society, who hasn’t been impressed with the show since “Behind the Laughter”. Mostly because, as I mentioned, it’s done almost entirely in pantomime and uses “show, don’t tell” narration, unlike the show today.

      If this short is done similarly, it may have the same effect. And honestly, I don’t think Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was a bad short, it’s just a 22-minute short had no place being before Coco. Hopefully this will be only a few minutes, as Longest Daycare was.

  7. This is just sad now.

    The old Simpsons would have made shot after shot about how Disney took over their brand; now that Disney’s big enough to squash them on contact, their comedic wit is palatably dulled to Abe Simpson-aged viewers.

  8. This was the very first sentence you posted on this blog:

    “The Simpsons is my favorite show. Always has been, and always will; I’ve been infatuated with many different shows over the years, but no series has provided me with more entertainment and laughter than that of our favorite yellow-toned family.”

    Is that statement still true to you, even after all of the toilet-tier episodes you’ve seen?

    • No amount of shitty modern episodes can take away from the series’ golden era. Whenever people talk about the Simpsons being one of their favorite shows, I feel there’s always the implicit asterisk that they mean the first ten seasons or so.

      • I don’t really consider seasons 9 and 10 part of the classic era, especially not season 10, which is home to the god-awful “Kidney Trouble” and “Make Room for Lisa”.

      • I have to agree with him. Although I find Seasons 9-11 as good, they’re not as much as the previous 8 seasons to me. But, still better than Seasons 12 and beyond.

      • Kaiju no Kami

        For me its 1-9 only because there are still some solid episodes in Season 9, plus, I feel like Trash of the Titans could have been the series finale.

  9. Vindicators to be in danger of being defeated by the sinister villain Chinnos

    Why don’t we call it “Everybody Hates Raymond”?
    ::Room laughs::
    Well, we stayed up all night, but that was worth it!

  10. This’ll be “Season 28. part 2,” isn’t it?

  11. I can only be reminded of that great joke from Futurama: “We resemble but are legally distinct from the Lollipop Guild”

  12. Kaiju no Kami

    Well I was bored and watched this episode along with the latest one on my DVR. It kind of relieved my boredom by making me wonder why I was even bothering with this episode because it was… well… boring.

    How long as Milhouse gone for his check-up? I mean, Bart got through a 3 hour movie and Milhouse still wasn’t there.

    I will be honest though, I did kind of chuckle at Bart’s scene with Comic Book Guy because CBG was acting like people who I know that can’t seem to not read spoilers regarding a movie or a TV show. I just don’t get the mentality of not waiting if you are really into it. I can get looking at some spoilers if you are unsure about something, or just don’t care, but nothing beyond that. Perfect example is Better Call Saul is my favorite show on TV these days. The only thing I will look up regarding the new seasons when they are about to start are the episode titles. Beyond that, I don’t even like watching trailers or commercials for the new season. I want to go in as blind as I can outside of those titles as I like to think what the title could mean and see if my thoughts match the episode when it actually airs. 🙂

    Anyway, the only reason I did find what Bart doing to be funny was because I did that very thing last year to my students. I told them that if they misbehaved I would start writing spoilers on the board. It made for a very fun activity to keep them quiet for the first week.

    With that said, I’ve really got nothing else to add regarding this episode as I’ve already forgotten most of what it was about and I just watched it.

  13. There’s actually two really good bits not mentioned I enjoyed:

    First off, when Lunchlady Doris mentions her boyfriend is taking her to the movie at the $2 theater… then, much later, after you have forgotten it, Moe says the same thing about his girlfriend. It’s a Brick Joke, and they don’t hammer that into your head. I half-expected Bart to gasp and say, “Moe is dating Lunchlady Doris?” (or Dora or whatever her name is now) or for Moe to look at a picture of her or something, but no. They left it to the audience to figure that out.

    Also, Bart’s attempt to manipulate Homer involved him trying to talk the latter into talking Marge into letting him put soda in his cereal. Much later, when the family eats breakfast, Bart does just that, again, no one points it out. (They didn’t even go for a grossout gag.)

    For everything this got wrong, it’s like they knew exactly how to play out these jokes, timing them perfectly and not overexplaining them like they usually do.

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