TV Recap / Review: In “The Simpsons” 35th Season Finale “Bart’s Brain,” Bart Adopts a Brain In a Jar

Tonight saw the debut of The Simpsons’ 35 season finale, entitled “Bart’s Brain” (possibly a reference to the infamous Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain”), and below are my brief recap and thoughts on this installment of the long-running animated sitcom.

Due to last year's Hollywood writers’ strike, The Simpsons’ 35th season turned out to be an abbreviated one, with four fewer episodes than usual– not too bad considering the strike went on for five months. And the finale of that season is an interesting one, which begins at the Springfield Retirement Castle, where Homer (voiced, as always, by Dan Castellaneta) and Marge (Julie Kavner) surprise “Grampa” Abe Simpson (also Castellaneta) with the news that he’s moving into a smaller room that has recently opened up. And while this isn’t great news for Abe, it’s better for the rest of his family, who get to save money and also help him narrow down his possessions. During this process Bart (Nancy Cartwright) inherits a box of Grampa’s old war relics (which war did Abe fight in, exactly, at this point in The Simpsons’ ever-shifting timeline?) and immediately proceeds to sell them to Herman (Harry Shearer) down at the town’s Military Antiques store– I love seeing this character, who dates back to the show’s earliest days, pop up in his very irregular appearances– in exchange for an honest-to-goodness brain in a jar that he has on a shelf.

There are some great gags in the Military Antiques sequence, and that scene leads directly into a clever twist on The Simpsons familiar opening titles, the iconic tableaus of which have all been reconfigured to include Bart’s new brain. And then naturally we find ourselves at Springfield Elementary School, where Bart has promised his friends that he will be using the brain to pull the ultimate prank– one that necessitates two industrial hoses to vacuum up all the resulting vomit and finally breaks Groundskeeper Willie (Castellaneta again), who now just rides his tractor around in a circle sans clothing. So the ultimate prank requires the ultimate punishment, but Principal Skinner (Shearer) and Superintendent Chalmers (Hank Azaria) are one-upped by Mrs. Peyton (now-regular guest star Kerry Washington), who suggests that Bart be reprimanded by having him watch over the brain like a parent, much in the way schoolkids are required to look after eggs for home-economics projects. But now that Bart has had his fun with the brain, he doesn’t want anything to do with it, especially anything that necessitates a demonstration of responsibility.

So Bart persuades Homer to babysit the egg and goes over to Milhouse’s (Pamela Hayden) to play video games, but everything he sees– including the game’s extreme gore and Mrs. Van Houten’s (Maggie Roswell) delivery of boiled cauliflower snacks– reminds him of his newly adopted fake son. Meanwhile at Moe’s Tavern, Barney Gumble (Castellaneta yet again) announces he’s about to receive a liver transplant, which triggers another night of debauchery for the barflies, culminating in Homer accidentally switching out the jarred brain for a jar of boiled eggs. This causes Bart to follow a trail of clues and retrieve the brain from the town bullies, who were about to put an M-80 in the jar and blow it to smithereens. Here’s where things start to feel just slightly out of character for Bart, who becomes so attached to the brain that he names it “Buddy” and takes it everywhere with him, even after the school project comes to an end and he gets a grade of A+ on the completed journaling assignment. Marge begins to worry that everyone in town will think Bart is a weirdo, and this is confirmed during Homer’s trip to the supermarket to buy sugary cereal, when he overhears a number of Springfieldians gossiping about “Brain Boy.”

After an embarrassing dinner out at Luigi’s restaurant where they are forced to eat in the freezer, the big climax of “Bart’s Brain” comes when Homer, Marge, Lisa (Yeardley Smith), and Maggie decide to go to church without the youngest male member of their family. But Bart arrives on his own and goes on a rant about how everyone should accept him for who he is– brain in a jar or no– until Herman’s label falls off the jar and underneath it’s revealed who the brain once actually belonged to: a nerd with whom Bart believes he has nothing in common. So Bart disowns the brain, sending it down a ramp to Springfield University and into the hands of Professor Frink (also Azaria) and Marge insists to the rest of the town that this was only a phase for her son. This was a funny and very strange episode to end a season on, but it’s also full of memorable moments such as Sideshow Mel (you guessed it– Castellaneta) finally revealing where the bone in his hair came from (it’s a kangaroo femur gifted to him by Australian actor Yahoo Serious). I wasn’t sure how I felt about the message here and whether or not the show agrees with Marge’s concerns about Bart becoming “Brain Boy,” but I’m going to conclude that the writers disagree with her based on the fact that she also– kind of shockingly– believes Lisa is going to hell for being a vegetarian. Anyway, they’ll never stop The Simpsons, and unless something very drastically changes over the next four months or so, I’ll see you right back here in the fall for more.

The Simpsons will return for its 36th season in the fall 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.