505. A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again

Original airdate: April 29, 2012

The premise:
Bart seeks to dispel his recent ennui with a family vacation on a luxury cruise, but when he realizes his perfect week is only temporary, he schemes a plan to make the vacation last forever.

The reaction: The Simpson family once existed in a world where everything sucked. When they watched commercials for seemingly amazing attractions or products that seemed to be too good to be true, they usually ended up being huge let-downs. The show was a satire on all aspects of modern life, and no subject matter was safe from its masterful ridicule. Nowadays, whether it be celebrities who play themselves delivering softball jokes at their own “expense,” or showing the family at elaborate events and new locales based on the writers’ seemingly wonderful SoCal lives, it seems at times the show isn’t as interested in ripping on things as it is glorifying them. This may be the crowning example thus far, an episode that seems like an extended commercial for the cruise industry. When Bart sees the ad for the cruise line, he’s immediately won over. It looks like the funnest things to ever be fun in the history of fun-dom. Then the family takes the cruise, and it’s the best thing ever. Everything about it is great. More fun than anything else ever. Fun fun fun. Did the writers get a free vacation out of this? The cruise industry seems like such a ripe target for ridicule, but they just let this one slip by. In the context of the story, there’s no room for satire though; the episode is about Bart’s inexplicable melancholy, and his realization that while the cruise is enthralling now, it, like all things, is only temporary. I’ll give the episode some credit, we go into some really dark places with Bart, with him imaging himself on his death bed mourning a wholly unexciting life. There are a few sequences that come close to holding real weight, but ultimately, I’m left not entirely sure why Bart is feeling this way. This type of depression about one’s future seems weird for someone as young as Bart to have; Lisa’s bout of sadness way back in “Moaning Lisa” made sense because she’s always been wise beyond her years, and we see why she feels this way, from her unappreciative school and home life. No matter how many times Bart talks about how unhappy and unfulfilled he feels, I never understood why that was. There are elements of this show that feel like they actually could work, but by the time we get to the third act where all hell breaks loose on the ship that ends up with the Simpsons in Antarctica, it just becomes the same nonsensical slop we always get every Sunday.

Three items of note:
– The opening act is full of sequences I’ve come to expect from this show. To raise the money to go on the room, Bart sells everything in his room in a yard sale. Everything. His bed, his furniture, all of it. This all happens without Homer or Marge saying anything about it, it’s just a set piece where they can kill a little time. The next day, Bart is shocked to find that his funds jar is completely full, like magic! Marge announces that each family member sold one beloved item each, so then Lisa, then Marge, then Homer wait their turns to give their respective joke lines about what they sold. Like the kids talking in the movie theater in “Cheating Bart,” it’s all this super hacky set-up, pay-off style of sitcom writing that this show used to make fun of.
– Bart tricks his fellow passengers that there’s been a virus outbreak on land so they must stay out at sea, creating panic and pandemonium. We get a panoramic view of the ship that mirrors the one earlier in the episode, except all the attractions and amenities are in ruin. Everyone is miserable, everything is dirty and run down, nothing works, but for some reason, Bart doesn’t seem to care. He’s deluded himself into thinking this is all still fun, but it doesn’t play out like a delusion. Like, why is he still psyched? This could have played into some realization that it wasn’t the superficial fun stuff on the ship that was making him happy, it was seeing the rest of his family enjoy themselves that he liked. Instead, we don’t get that confession out of him until the end of the episode. Speaking of which…
– So, the Simpsons end up stranded in Antarctica with a few minutes of show to spare. They run into a hoard of penguins and Bart and Lisa make some observation about how life is about enjoying those fleeting fun moments, blah blah blah, whatever. It all feels so arbitrary. The family is stranded in a freezing cold environment, but when they see the penguins sliding down the hill, they decide it’s time to exposit the meaning of tonight’s episode.

One good line/moment: I actually really liked Steve Coogan as the cruise director. The gag in his introductory video where it keeps cutting to him leaning against different guard rails as he gives his spiel gave me the first genuine, hearty laugh I’ve gotten out of this show in a long time.

18 thoughts on “505. A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again

  1. Check out the American Dad episode The Vacation Goo as its mocking of the cruise industry is rather passive-aggressive.

  2. Also it seems that according to this episode it’s perfectly okay to be in Antartica in normal regular ol’ clothes, okay then…

  3. I have a strange feeling about this episode. I definitely acknowledge everything that’s wrong with it like Bart being depressed without explanation for the most part and the ridiculously far-fetched prank Bart pulls… but I really can’t bring myself to hate it. I feel that the episode does have plenty of good moments to offset all that, given me in the end something I’m more neutral about, but I can still enjoy on the whole.

    Some stuff worth mentioning:

    – I do like Marge and Homer’s conversation as they get ready to get intimate. (“Ocean sex rules! Go to hell, land sex!”)

    – It’s really, REALLY stupid, but I did laugh when, after the musical number, Bart starts walking on deck talking to himself and passes next to a sign that says “7:30 – On-Deck Soliloquies”, followed by several guys doing the same thing.

    – It’s pretty hard to believe Bart’s prank of tricking everyone to believe there’s a virus on land actually worked. He used the scene of a movie he found in his room to pull it off, and nobody recognized it. But then, after he confesses, they show that the lead actor of the movie was on board all along and even he couldn’t tell (“I make a lot of movies”). At that point it just gets so absurd that I can’t really hate it. Also, this episode was the first time I ever heard of Treat Williams, so kudos on using a relatively obscure actor, I guess.

    – Finally I definitely agree Steve Coogan as the Director is the best thing about the episode. In addition to the great intro video, he does a pretty good job with the song, but I specially love his delivery on the best line of the episode (“Speak, passenger, son of… passenger!”). It’s one of those lines I hope to sometimes use in real life… but I’ll probably never have a chance.

    1. The beginning WAS your explanation for Bart being depressed about boredom. It was an easily missable moment of “show, don’t tell.” He was bored of doing the same things at school every day for an entire week. It’s not like young pranksters like him can’t have feelings.

  4. “…the writers seemingly wonderful SoCal lives.”

    Holy shit, you are so on the money here. It’s very clear the modern writers of this show have never led lives that are anything close to the lower middle class suburban lives the Simpsons are supposed to lead. So they write shit like this because it’s all they know.

    1. I don’t even know if it’s because that’s all they know, so much as it’s the glamorous life they fantasize about having themselves. They don’t mock celebrity consumerist culture, they envy it.

  5. “Look, our dear Simpson family visited every continent! They’re awesome!” – That’s what the writers wanted with this episode.
    The “emotion” was also forced and depressing.

    1. Have the Simpsons ever gone to the *continent* of Asia, though ? They went to Japan and Bart went to the Hong Kong International Airport BUT neither of those are on the continent of Asia (the Airport is located on the island of Chek Lap Kok (thanks Wikipedia !)).
      I seem to recall that Homer went to India in an episode I have never seen but even if that is correct, there would still remain 4 Simpsons family members who never went to the continent of Asia, by my recollection.
      I am seriously asking 🙂

      1. Thanks Dillon! It would have been surprising if they never went to the largest continent in 600+ episodes.
        So they did visit every continents. And Australia. And Japan. They also went to Israel, apparently. And Maggie is only one. Yep just you’re average American family.

  6. Mike, I gave you a warning. Now it’s time to pay………….

    Actually, I had watched the episode again just to make sure I wasn’t biased towards it. While I did have more problems with it (Bart’s prank could have worked in the moment, but then to have the actor of the movie show up while not recognizing his role was really dumb), I feel like this is one of those times where modern Simpsons tells a coherent story and the characterization is consistent throughout. I love Bart in this episode. Sometimes, people go through periods of boredom and depression, and then wonder if they’ve wasted their entire lives. Bart feels relatable to me because we all want to enjoy the fun things in life while we can but then before you know it, it’s back to the same old thing every day. I don’t think Bart was wildly out of character here. He just wanted a break from the norm and the cruise ship provided that. Was it too perfect? Yeah, it was. But what I liked was that everyone was having fun. The cruise allowed a chance for not only Bart to be genuinely happy, but the rest of the family. He even realized that at the end when he talked about how much the family was enjoying a perfect vacation. It was a genuine moment to me, and showed that after all these years, there’s that passing episode where the show suddenly remembers what it used to be. An episode like this can’t work on, say, Family Guy because we don’t give a damn about those characters. It’s easy to build up sympathy for Bart because of how much we like him, and we genuinely want to see him succeed. The script could have used a little more tuning up, but in all honesty, this was a genuinely good episode. It actually made me care about Bart as a character again, and for at least two-thirds, it felt refreshing to not be bored or annoyed or confused about anything.

    -The “Boy from School” sequence was absolutely hilarious, and it had the perfect ending of Bart falling off the skateboard, almost like he was just giving up on life. It’s rare that a modern Simpsons episode makes me laugh that much, but that was legitimately funny.

    -Homer complaining about vacations was pretty damn funny too. I’m getting kinda tired of Family Guy’s “Isn’t this funny because it happens in real life?”-type observational humor so to see it done well here was satisfying.

    -Getting all those upgrades was pretty ridiculous, but I guess it had to be done for the story to work.

    -Steve Coogan’s introduction video was great too. I lost it when it cut to him leaning against the rail just for him to say absolutely nothing.

    -Like I said before, it was great seeing the whole family so happy. I know the Simpsons are meant to be a bunch of lovable losers, but I liked seeing Homer and Marge so romantic while Bart was able to get out of his funk and Lisa was in her element with the genius kids.

    -Bart’s realization that he’s going to live a crappy life and him on his deathbed looking at all the depressing pictures was genuinely sad. In that moment, I really did feel bad for him.

    -Marge’s disgust at Bart using a direct-to-video movie.

    -I found it weird how the cruise ran out of supplies and became a post-apocalyptic nightmare world in less than two weeks. I mean, maybe that was the joke, but American Dad did it way better two years later.

    -Seriously, I really liked Bart’s characterization near the end. It honestly felt like he extended the vacation for the whole family and not just himself. Also, Homer’s line about having fun instead of thinking about it was perfect. It almost made the ridiculousness of the family being stranded in Antarctica worth it.

    1. Well, I can give you that this episode is written decently(only for ZS standards though), and that Bart feelings are genuine, but they are totally out of character, and I found them the typical inability to write for him(and any other character, really). They just wanted to do a Bart episode, which they know they can’t, so they used Bart for this idea.

      The whole story is the perfect Classic Lisa story, especially the 1st, 2nd, 3rd season Lisa (among the best characters ever seen on tv); the little blues girl, usually forgotten by her “always focused on Bart’s troubles” family, with a perceptive young brain and a deep sensitive soul.
      Bart is surely more than just a troublemaker kid, but he’s no this romantic whiny boy(I said “whiny” cause it’s out of character for him, and cause it’s how they’ve now made any bad\scum bag male character on the show).

      And don’t start putting it as an “examination of Bart character” please; making him a different character cause they don’t know how to write for him, is not character development.

      1. When I think about Bart being out of character, I think about episodes like “Lard of the Dance” or “The Bart Wants What It Wants” or “Bart the Mother” or “Love is a Many Strangled Thing” where he acts nothing close to how he usually does. He’s either whining about something with little to no motivation or he just randomly becomes a sociopath willing to let his own father die. No one’s saying that Bart should be more like Lisa and always have these sensitive, emotional moments. That’s not who he is and I’m not advocating for that. But does it really hurt, after more than 500 episodes, to experiment with your characters and see them in different situations? It’s not like Bart was crying during the whole episode and writing sad poetry because of how upset he was. He just needed excitement in his boring life and got worried when he realized that he couldn’t make the vacation last.

        When you were a kid, didn’t you want your school breaks to last forever and not want to go back to school because you knew your life would go back to sucking? That’s how I looked at Bart in this episode. Of course, this could have worked with Lisa, but we’ve seen her go through this before. Does this characterization make sense for Bart to have every episode? No, not really. But he just seems to have hit a rut to me and can’t get out. Besides, it’s not like this show hasn’t been able to have Bart and Lisa act in different ways from the norm and make it work. As mediocre as the show is, I have to give the writers credit for making me give a shit about Bart. If we can relate to how he’s feeling, does it really matter that much if it’s temporarily inconsistent?

      2. Well, excuse me for not thinking only Lisa could feel that way! Characters with different personalities are allowed to feel the same emotions for different situations. This never felt like “they just used Bart for this idea” any time I watched it. Bart loves having fun and making mischief, of course he would worry about not getting many chances in his life to do fun, unboring things.

  7. This one wasn’t terrible I did like the director and his desperate ” “fun is all we have!” during the post apocalypse section, it was also nice to see people having fun for a second and not being arse holes to each other as is par for the course in most zs.

    but in general I agree with Jp.

    To me, this is the stage where the Simpsons went from zombi to toxic, from, where its done a complete U turn and instead of satirising the status quo, props it up and tells us how great having money and being a celebrity is.
    This hit its nadir in the lady Gaga episode, but its fully on display here.

    1. You are being too pessimistic. This is way better than the Lady Gaga episode because A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again did not ruin Bart’s character or other characters, it had a good lesson about enjoying the moment, and shows me how The Simpsons can have episodes as good as they used to be when they fix their broken clock by making it work a new way. That is what Mr. Sparks did with the broken clock in Make Way for Noddy, but clearly Mike is one of those skeptics who liked the Simpsons clock better the old way.

  8. I agree with The Anonymous Nobody. You are not giving this episode enough credit, because you are expecting too much if you want it to be satire of fun, expensive cruises. Some things in the world don’t need to suck, and the point of the story is that Bart wanted to get away from his monotonous life at school for a week. It had a good moral lesson about enjoying the few perfect experiences we have in the moment. You would probably like this episode a lot more if it came out in Seasons 3 or 4 and the script was exactly the same. As long as they keep the characters consistent, The Simpsons can rip on or glorify aspects of modern life whenever the writers want to, and they chose the latter in this instance.

    Stuff like A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again or the Family Guy episode Pal Stewie always showed me that not everything that seems to good to be true has to be because the conflict can come from something else. In A Totally Fun Thing, Bart didn’t want his fun cruise to end and he also wanted the rest of his family to continue their fun. In Pal Stewie, Hudson was truly a good friend to Stewie that made him not want to do evil things, and Stewie only thought Hudson didn’t invite him to his birthday because Brian hid the invitation and thought he would not be friends with Stewie.

  9. The Simpsons doesn’t have to be all about satire anymore. Your “super-tacky set-up, pay-off style of writing The Simpsons used to make fun of” where the family pitches in to help Bart pay for their cruise, and Bart sabotaging the cruise so their fun will never end is stuff that you often criticize in other The Simpsons episodes that work in this episode. Bart is a mischevious kid who likes to have fun, so it does not go against his character to want one week away from the everyday. If you don’t know why Bart feels the way he does about having a boring life, you missed the beginning of the episode. I bet you wouldn’t have any of those problems with this episode if it aired 2 decades earlier and had the exact same script as it does now with no changes.

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