The Simpsons: Bart the General   Rewatch 
February 9, 2023 9:17 PM - Season 1, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Bart becomes a target of school bully Nelson Muntz and must find a way to fight back.

Aired: February 4th, 1990
Written by: John Swartzwelder
Directed by: David Silverman
Production Code: 7G05

The cupcakes Lisa made for her teacher were destroyed by a flunkie of elementary school bully Nelson Muntz. Bart stands up for Lisa, and accidently gives Nelson a nosebleed, causing Bart to be Nelson's target every day after school. After a failed attempt at fighting back, Bart meets Herman Hermann at Herman's Military Antiques. Herman strategizes with Bart to find a way to fight Nelson. Bart wins against Nelson after recruiting and training his peers. Bart and Nelson sign a peace treaty which protects Bart and his fellow students and allows Nelson to keep his fearful reputation.

I call the big one “Bitey”
HOMER: So the next time this bully thinks you're going to throw a punch, you throw a glob of mud in his eyes! And then you sock him when he's staggering around blinded!
BART: Yeah!
HOMER: And there's nothing wrong with hitting someone when his back is turned.
BART: Gotcha.
HOMER: And if you get the chance, get him right in the family jewels. That little doozy's been a Simpson trademark for generations.

GRAMPA: Dear advertisers, I am disgusted with the way old people are depicted on television. We are not all vibrant, fun-loving sex maniacs. Many of us are bitter, resentful individuals who remember the good old days when entertainment was bland and inoffensive. The following is a list of words I never want to hear on television again. Number one, bra. Number two, horny. Number three, family jewels.

HERMAN: Strategy. Hmm. How many men do you have?
BART: None.
HERMAN: You'll need more! And you'll need to train them. Hard! Now! Let's see. [lays out a map] The key to Springfield has always been Elm Street. [stabs the map with a bayonet] The Greeks knew it. The Carthaginians knew it. And now you know it.
  • This is John Swartzwelder's first writing credit on The Simpsons. He wrote 59 episodes of the show, leaving in 2003. He gave an interview to The New Yorker in 2021.
  • In the commentary, Matt Groening jokes that Herman Hermann was based on Swartzwelder, and the voice sounded a little like George H. W. Bush. Herman was going to have a different explanation for what happened to his arm every time he was asked.
  • A child dressed as a sailor kisses Lisa in a scene that parodies V-J Day in Times Square, a famous photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt on Victory over Japan Day, or V-J Day, on August 14th, 1945 in Times Square, New York City. Numerous people claimed to be the sailor and dental assistant in the photograph. Greta Zimmer Friedman, the woman many believe was kissed in the photograph, describes her story in a 2005 interview on the Library of Congress website:
    Well, I was working in a dental office on Lexington Avenue for two brothers, JD and JL Burke, and all morning long people would come in and say there seems to be rumors that the war is ending. And since I wasn't very far from Times Square, I could just walk over there and see for myself. And so after my bosses came back at 1:00 from their lunch hour, excuse me, I went straight to Times Square where I saw on the lighted billboard that goes around the building, V-J Day, V-J Day, and that really -- that really confirmed what the people have said in the office. And so suddenly I was grabbed by a sailor, and it wasn't that much of a kiss, it was more of a jubilant act that he didn't have to go back, I found out later, he was so happy that he did not have to go back to the Pacific where they already had been through the war. And the reason he grabbed someone dressed like a nurse was that he just felt very grateful to nurses who took care of the wounded. And so I had to go back to the office, and I told my bosses what I had seen. And they said, Cancel all the appointments, we're closing the office. So they left, and I canceled all the appointments and went home.
  • In the commentary for this episode, Matt Groening mentions that the X's on Bart's eyes in his funeral daydream indicate that the scene was fantasy.
  • The producers also mention that TIME magazine "panned" (text) the show. By the middle of the second season, the show made the cover of the magazine in their TIME's Best of 1990 issue.
  • The battle with Nelson was planned to be set to Edwin Starr's "War" (Invidious, YouTube). Instead, they let the battle stand on its own. Music from Patton was used because Fox owned the copyrights (Invidious, YouTube).
  • Many war movies were referenced in the episode, including Full Metal Jacket (Invidious, YouTube), and Patton (Invidious, YouTube).
I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder
  • The lip syncing is off when Herman is explaining how he lost his arm. David Silverman mentioned that, out of multiple takes, this was the best one.
Worst. Episode. Ever.
The Simpsons, a real cartoon, is actually much closer to recognizable human life. Family members are not depraved or offensive, just a little dim. Homer, the father, works at the local nuclear power plant and gets no respect at home. His wife Marge, her blue hair piled into an otherworldly beehive, is a scratchy-voiced simp. The only real live wire is Bart, a bratty fourth-grader whose vocabulary includes such bons mots as "Eat my shorts." Created by cartoonist Matt Groening, The Simpsons has a good deal of savvy wit. One episode, in which Bart is mistakenly labeled a genius, sharply parodies a class for gifted children, where a "learning coordinator" leads the grade schoolers in discussions about free will and paradox. The Simpsons, however, is strangely off-putting much of the time. The drawings are grotesque without redeeming style or charm (characters have big beady eyes, beaklike noses and spiky hair), and the animation is crude even by TV's low-grade standards.

— Richard Zoglin, "Video: Home Is Where The Venom Is", TIME Magazine, Apr. 16, 1990
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posted by chinesefood (3 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I figured this episode referenced war movies but we didn't watch war movies in our house so all the references were and are lost on me.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:05 PM on February 10, 2023

OTOH it made me revisit Patton.
posted by whuppy at 6:51 PM on February 11, 2023

Ooh, nostalgic for this one, as it was the first episode I saw. I had been out of the country during the first season, when I got back a friend informed me I had missed two new shows, Twin Peaks and the Simpsons.. I shrugged; I liked Groening's Life is Hell well enough but the Simpsons sketch on the Tracey Ullman show didn't do much for me.

He had this on videotape; we watched it; I admitted the errors of my ways. It's really hard to remember but the sort of knowing metahumor running through the Simpsons was super rare back then; this felt so new.

The slapping incident (as I assume most people know) was based not just on the scene in the movie Patton but two real events.
posted by mark k at 9:15 AM on March 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

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