TV Review / Recap: “The Simpsons” Imagine a Life Without Their Only Son in Season 34, Episode 15 – “Bartless”

Having been born in 1979, I was exactly Bart Simpson’s age when The Simpsons first premiered as a half-hour animated sitcom on the then-fledgling FOX network in the late 80s– that means Bart would be 43 right now if he aged in real time instead of being forever frozen as a ten-year-old, but that’s beside the point.

Being a ten-year-old myself at the time, I remember Bart being considered such a bad influence on kids that Simpsons t-shirts were banned in elementary schools and families were discouraged from watching the series by America’s First Family, who encouraged us to watch The Cosby Show instead– and look how well that turned out.

Anyway, some three-plus decades later, and Bart Simpson (voiced, as always, by Nancy Cartwright) is still a prankster and a bad influence, so much so that his parents Homer (Dan Castellaneta) and Marge (Julie Kavner) freak out when he helps a group of kindergarteners deface some children’s books, writing themselves into the stories. But when the teachers reveal they’re actually supportive of this creative idea during a parent-teacher conference, Marge and Homer realize that while they do love their son Bart, they don’t actually like him. That night in bed, Homer and Marge imagine a world where Bart had never been born and instead of living on Evergreen Terrace, they’re up in the posh Springfield Hills living an idyllic life in the house from Parasite, for some reason. In Bart’s absence, Homer has landed himself a cushy dream job as the guy who runs the sound effects and scoreboard for the Springfield Isotopes baseball team, while Marge works at a veterinarian hospital inspired by soapy Shonda Rimes dramas like Grey’s Anatomy. The latter is a running gag that never quite lands, mostly because it doesn’t go along with the game of the dream-world’s conceit, but that’s emblematic of this episode as a whole– it’s got a clever premise but doesn’t ever quite figure out what to do with it.

Case in point: this alternate universe where Bart doesn’t exist, and where Principal Seymour Skinner (Harry Shearer) is now a cool-dude ladies’ man, is only allowed to breathe for a few minutes before a amnesiac Bart is once again reintroduced. Homer and Marge accidentally hit him with their car while he’s skateboarding, and we’re never really given an explanation for how exactly Bart came to be in this world, but we do see what would have happened if Bart didn’t exist for the first ten years of his life, and then suddenly did exist? I dunno, it’s kind of a fumbled handling of this idea pretty much right off the bat– I would have loved to have seen this timeline expanded upon at greater length, It’s a Wonderful Life-style, but we’re only given a few odd examples of how this universe is different before the family starts learning their lesson. I guess it makes sense that Lisa (Yeardley Smith) is now an OCD neat-freak who keeps her Malibu Stacy dolls mint-in-box, but I think the writers of this episode could have brainstormed a way to flesh that kind of thing out to fill more story time before bringing Bart back into the mix… though I’m still not convinced he should have popped up in the other life at all. Regardless, this feels like another missed opportunity in a season that’s been pretty scattershot throughout. There was a way to use this concept to demonstrate the positive role that Bart plays both in his family life and as a presence around Springfield, but I was left feeling unconvinced of that notion. And while this wasn’t enough of a misstep to make me propose a t-shirt ban, I suppose you could say that while I do unconditionally love The Simpsons, I didn’t particularly like this episode.

New episodes of The Simpsons air Sunday evenings on FOX.

Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.