640. Bart’s Not Dead

Original airdate: September 30, 2018

The premise:
Bart ends up in the hospital after being dared to jump off the Springfield dam. To keep from getting in trouble, he asserts he went to Heaven and met Jesus while in his coma, a story which catches the attention of Christian filmmakers looking to make Bart’s story into a movie.

The reaction: I’ve scrolled past a handful of articles on Twitter of entertainment sites commemorating the 30th season of the show, almost customary to acknowledge the milestone of the increasingly irrelevant series, as they previously had done with their Gunsmoke-breaking record last season. But my heart goes out to these writers, as well as anyone who has to actually cover these new episodes, because really, what the fuck is left to be said about this show at this point? I guess I should know more than anyone by now. I’ve seen the show attempt to buck convention, to try new things from time to time, but with very, very rare, fleeting exceptions, this show has been the same variety of ramshackle for the last decade plus, and I don’t really see them doing any major repairs any time soon. This premiere takes aim at exploitative Christian cinema when Bart BS’s a sob story about meeting our Lord whilst in a coma, catching the attention of money-hungry pious producers. The premise is cribbed from the novel-later-film Heaven is for Real (and its less fondly regarded cousin The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven), stories meant to inflame one’s faith with tales of present day, “real life” miracles. I’ve never seen one of these Christian films, but from what I’ve read of them, they seems like very ripe breeding ground for satire, but, per usual with this show, they seem as content as ever to keep things in first gear, with softball critiques like “They keep all the money for themselves and not the church!” There’s a personal component here of Lisa acting as Bart’s guilty conscience as his lie grows bigger and bigger, and Homer’s guilt for encouraging him to take the dare and encourage his initial lie in the first place, but it’s all very surface level and nothing we haven’t seen before (Homer’s insistence Bart follow schoolyard protocol felt reminiscent of “Bart the General” or “The Telltale Head,” except if you replaced human characters with cardboard cutouts.) So, yeah, nothing really flagrantly awful, but just a very bland episode with a good amount of missed potential. Again, there’s really only so much I can say that hasn’t already been exhaustively covered in the other six hundred and thirty nine reviews… but as long as this show keeps plugging away, I might as well keep on tailing this shambling, barely-functioning jalopy, inhaling and critiquing its noxious exhaust until I die. Onward, season 30!

Three items of note:
– The bullies dare Bart to jump off the dam, which he does, plummeting hundreds of feet before smacking head first into the outcropped ledge below him. Now, the title may claim otherwise, but Bart should be dead… right? I know almost all realism has been completely thrown out the window at this point, but this feels like way too much. If falling from his treehouse in Bart of Darkness landed him with a broken leg, this stunt should have cracked his skull open. Last season finale he got struck by lightning and was in a coma for days, but here, he appears to be in no pain and awakens with no problem at all.
– Marge grills Bart for proof he’s not making up his come to Jesus story, so he tells her he also spoke to her father, Grandpa Bouvier. Overcome with emotion, Marge believes him, excusing herself. She then proceeds to remain absent for most of the rest of the episode until Bart reveals he lied, save one scene where she tells Lisa she coasts through life on blind faith and getting wine drunk. It’s a stretch to me, but if Marge really believes her son actually spoke to her dead father, don’t you think she would want to know more? That it would have really affected her? That she would have told her sisters? Even after 30 years, we barely know anything about Mr. Bouvier and his relationship with his daughters; an episode really examining Marge’s thoughts on her dad and learning more about him could be incredibly interesting. But that sounds pretty tough to write, so I’m certain they’ll never do it. But putting the Simpsons on another reality show? That sounds like a draft someone could bang out on their lunch break.
– I honestly and truly don’t go into these episodes trying to nitpick (do you really think I care enough to pay that great attention at this point?), but each episode usually has some “wrong” stuff that leaps out at me. Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot auditions for the role of Lisa, and they don’t even make a joke about how this full grown woman is auditioning for the part of an eight-year-old. Was it cut for time? Bart is played by what looks like a little person (he comes up to Gadot’s midsection), voiced by the 5’11” Jonathan Groff, so I don’t know what that’s about. Also, that framegrab above is from the finished movie, where we can clearly see the ceiling and stage lights of the sound stage. But it’s not a joke; we previously saw the exposed set in a previous scene during filming, so they probably just directed this scene the same way and either didn’t realize or just forgot. Again, these seem like nitpicks, but moments like these really stand out to me. Back in the 90s during the advent of VCRs, this show used to reward you for paying attention, where every line of dialogue, background sign, every element of the show was there to add to your viewing experience, not detract like in examples like these. I have no doubt the entire staff of this show works very hard, but somehow a lack of care seems to come out in the end that really baffles me.

One good line/moment: Two things I actually genuinely liked: Emily Deschanel auditioning for Marge doing her Julie Kavner impression (ruined slightly by the tortured running gag of Homer thinking she’s actually his wife), and Jesus beating up Bart in his dream, a well done use of shock humor.

Bonus (unrelated) thoughts:
Originally I thought I’d write a paragraph or two of my thoughts on Matt Groening’s new Netflix show Disenchantment, but five or six weeks since its release feels like an eternity to me now, and I don’t know how much care I have left to give about it. Sadly, the ten episode first season failed to make much of an impression on me. The show felt very much like season 1 Futurama, setting up this new fantasy world and establishing the core characters and their relations with each other, but unlike Futurama, doing it incredibly half-heartedly. The world of the series feels very static and uninteresting; from the trailer, I thought after escaping her arranged marriage, Princess Bean and her two new weird friends would travel the lands and she would try to find a sense of purpose, but instead, they just kind of bum about the kingdom doing fuck all, until the last three episodes decides it wants to be serialized, but by that point, the show hadn’t made me give much of a shit about its characters, so what’s the point? It’s not an awful show, I got sporadic laughs from it, most coming from Elfo, who was my favorite character, thanks to a great performance by Nat Faxon. But his refreshing characterization of his lovable naive openness to this strange, new world (“I like war, but I wouldn’t say I love it”) quickly takes a backseat to his unrequited crush on Bean, a boring and overplayed trope. There’s not enough about the show I liked to really recommend it, but I think it’s possible to be salvaged in its second season… but I wouldn’t hold my breath over it.

16 thoughts on “640. Bart’s Not Dead

  1. Welp, here we go. The 30th season. I watched saw that Deschanel clip on a Youtube preview and yeah, she did a pretty good Marge impression. But yeah, Homer thinking that it was really Marge killed it, and just in case you don’t get it, Flanders was there to explain the joke. But then again, this is nothing new. By the way I’m really looking forward to seeing what “E My Sports” is. My guess is that it’s going to be about a Simpson becoming an instant prodigy at E Sports.

    1. Because of course it has to be a Simpson.

      Nobody’s ever going to accuse Zombie Simpsons of creating new bad habits, because the whole show is full of bad habits, but it seems like episodes over the past few seasons are written in the concept that the show MUST involve a Simpson as the central protagonist, and the idea of a show built around secondary characters with minimal interaction with a Simpson is scary and frightening for the writing staff. Season 26 was the last season I can think of in which they had something resembling a nutsack in using their vast roster of characters.

      One of the advantages the show had over other programs, including their live-action counterparts, was the fact that you had a whole plethora of backup players who had nuances, only for the show to turn them into bit players who could be copy and pasted to make a funny, and then they decided that was too much effort and the show must consist of a 60/35/5 ratio of Simpsons/Guest Stars/Everybody Else.

  2. I’m surprised you already have this review out. I thought it was far better than last year’s “Serfsons” premier, but still not great by any means. I did laugh a couple times though, so that makes it better than a lot of the more recent episodes. I did get out a chuckle of Marge’s wine and faith comment, but I think my favorite scene is when Lisa first comes to talk to Bart and she started doing this weird thing with her eyes. I also did laugh at the scene when Homer asks the movie execs if the money goes back to the church and they just stare at each other.

    On the other hand, I feel like I’ve already seen this plot before and done better. Though, maybe I’m thinking of a different show. Either way, not a great premier, but I’ve seen much worse done.

    1. Well, “Bart gets into an accident and has a coma” was literally the Season Finale last year! I’m wondering if the next episode will feature Bart falling into another coma when they reach the hotel and he falls into the dumbwaiter for some reason.

  3. Anyway, you commented on “Disenchantment”, and I feel roughly the same. When it was being bounced around, people were warm to the idea because they thought it was gonna be another “Futurama”. I was wary of the project because I thought it was gonna be another “Futurama”.

    The reason why I say that is that Futurama, at its worst, was merely a show that ignored its rules and setting just so they could make a contemporary joke or something (like one episode where the Planet Express crew decide the best way to solve their financial woes was to become a crappy 1960s airline company), and this new show is more of the same, except instead of “Sci-Fi”, it’s “Fantasy”, and even though the show starts out like most shows do where the first few episodes are inconsequential and merely introduce the way the show operates, the progression of the characters as well as the setting slow to a crawl. Like, the very beginning was supposed to satire Game of Thrones in which Bean’s husband-to-be slices himself on the Iron Throne, with the joke being “hurr hurr, it’s a throne made of swords!” and then later it’s “hurr hurr, he’s not dead!”

    I dunno; even though I’m slightly older than the show’s proper run (September 30, 1989 versus December 1989), I feel like I could be yelling at clouds at this point.

    Anyway, have you considered a Patreon or a Ko.Fi to allow us stuporous funkers to compensate you for pain and suffering for enduring Modern Simpsons?

    1. I haven’t watched the show yet, but I’ve been told by several of my friends that it was down right boring until the last two episodes, which doesn’t sound fun at all.

    2. I’d considered a Patreon after noticing other writers and podcasters were utilizing it (especially those like Talking Simpsons that use the same review-every-episode format), but I thought it might be a little much. The Ko-Fi tip jar model is an interesting option though; I’m incredibly flattered that you would want to compensate me for this. I’ll think about it.

  4. Tuned in out of curiosity and was greeted to some more bland noise to add to the series. Seriously, how much more dull can this show get?

  5. At first glance I thought the episode title was reference to that “Dead Bart” creepypasta from some years back.

  6. The episode wasn’t great, but I was rolling when Jesus was beating up Bart. It just so came out of nowhere that it was hilarious, especially the extra kick at the end.

  7. Can someone explain how this episode got 10s on IMDb? I can’t believe that people are still defending zombie Simpsons!

  8. this fell flat for me, near-death experience -an intriguing and valid topic-reduced to “Christian” silliness just flogs the show’s usual targets. Celebrity refs also a fail.

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