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Tag Archives: Bart SImpson
The Simpsons: Reinvention, Acceptance, and Why “Summer of 4 Ft. 2″ Is One of the Show’s Greatest Episodes
When The Simpsons parodied The Great Gatsby this season, it tapped into one of the novel’s major themes — the uniquely American desire for reinvention. For centuries, people have come to the United States, or sought unspoiled frontiers within it, in the hope that new surroundings would allow them to become new people. Regardless of whether that’s an attainable goal or a false fantasy, the impulse to start anew is buried deep within the American psyche.
But it’s also within an eight-year-old girl struggling to overcome her innate nerdiness and make a few friends. As I discussed on The Simpsons Show Podcast, “Summer of 4 ft. 2,” is one of the series’s best and most resonant episodes because it captures that universal desire to remake ourselves, and yet realizes that in the personal, affecting tones of a lonely kid with the simple want of friendship. Even in a family full of unusual people, Lisa Simpson is a misfit, and that makes her quest for her first real friend(…ship bracelet) an undeniably poignant one.
One of the great things about the Simpsons as characters is that they can pretty much do anything or be anything. You can put Our Favorite Family in whatever kind of story you’d like, from a standard domestic squabble to a world-threatening catastrophe, and for the most part, the characters are so universal and recognizable that they’ll still fit regardless what sort of narrative they’re dropped into. It’s part of what makes the show’s Treehouse of Horror franchise work — these characters can be slotted into any number of spoofs, pastiches, and homages, because they’re firm but malleable enough for it to click no matter the setting or plot.
But as I discussed with Robbie and Matt on The Simpsons Show Podcast, I often find that my favorite episodes of the show draw back to the quieter and more relatable stories for these characters. I warm to the ones where they feel like real people going through trials that we can all understand, accented with that trademark Simpsons irreverence.
That’s what’s so striking about “Marge Be Not Proud.” In a series that can claim some of its greatest triumphs in the guise of monorails gone awry, and city-threatening comets, and town-hopping, knife-wielding, Machiavellian maniacs, The Simpsons makes such an impact in this episode by stepping back from the commedia dell’arte-style flexibility of its characters, and focusing on the specific and down-to-earth story of a boy and his mom experiencing one of those moments that makes them see each other in a different light.
“I’m not gay. I’m not anything yet.” Bart Simpson’s nerdly friend Martin said those words in a Season 16 episode and reminded us that the children of Springfield have had a surprisingly robust romantic life for a pack of eight-to-ten year olds. Very few cartoon characters age, and for most animated shows, that’s not much of a problem. But when the audience has been watching a show’s adventures for more than two decades and yet the characters technically haven’t aged a day, a certain disconnect develops.
That’s why it’s a little strange that the premise of The Simpsons Season 24 premiere, “Moonshine River,” is a wistful look back at Bart’s halcyon, prepubescent loves. We’ve seen the characters on The Simpsons have a sizable number of adventures and go through a healthy dose of character development in the 500+ episodes the show has aired so far. Yet the status quo is supposed to be roughly the same as when the series started.
Granted, the blink and you miss it cameos from Sarah Michelle Gellar (Gina from “The Wandering Juvie”), Natalie Portman (Darcy from “Little Big Girl”), Anne Hathaway (Jenny from “The Good, the Sad, and the Drugly”), and Sarah Silverman (Nikki from “Stealing First Base”) portend that this episode was not meant to be a particularly deep look back at Bart’s nascent yet prolific love life. But it’s still a bit odd to watch Bart reminisce about his collection of old flames as a wee fourth-grader.
Parodies are often a gamble. You have to hope that the audience understands the reference, and enjoys the in-jokes and homages to other works. If not, you have to hope that the story or characters you’re referencing are solid enough to provide the backbone of an episode on their own, otherwise you are asking for a call-and-response that the audience doesn’t know how to answer.
This was the biggest problem with tonight’s episode of The Simpsons, “The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants.” The episode is essentially one long reference to AMC’s Mad Men, the award-winning drama about advertising executives in the 60’s. In this episode, Homer becomes the accounts manager for the power plant, wearing under the daily grind of glad-handing and schmoozing with the plant’s clients. The homage is replete with a guest appearance from Mad Men’s John Slattery as the outgoing account manager. Unfortunately, despite the fact that it has been on my list for some time, I have never seen Mad Men, and it made the episode feel a little threadbare to me.
Someday, The Simpsons is going to end.
As a diehard fan, even one who has some significant misgivings about the current state of the show, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The Simpsons has been on as long as I’ve been watching television. Even at its lowest lows, it’s been the small screen version of comfort food for me, and sooner or later our favorite family will sign off for the last time.
If show runner Al Jean is to be believed, that might not be for another twenty-five years. Still, the day is going to come, and I think it’s close on the horizon. With the recent contract negotiation, standoff, and finally renewal through Season 25, the end of the show appears to be on the minds of those who work on and produce it. Whether it’s threats to pull the plug in order to prompt salary cuts or requests for a share in the back end profits of the show, those involved seem to have a not-too-distant endpoint in mind.
This begs the question – how do you end a show that will have been on television for a quarter of a century and produced more than five-hundred episodes? How do you sum up, honor, and conclude twenty-five years worth of adventures? It’s a tall order to say the least.