Warning: Spoilers for The Simpsons season 34, episode 15
While The Simpsons season 34 has spent many of its episodes upending the formula that viewers expect from the long-running series, the latest outing returned to the earliest original premise of the show. The Simpsons has changed a lot since the show debuted in 1989. The anarchic animated family comedy began life as a series of comedic shorts featured in The Tracy Ullman Show, with the antics of the Simpson family soon proving so popular that the series gained a series of its own. Unlike contemporary episodes of the series, the first few seasons of The Simpsons were surprisingly cynical.
While The Simpsons season 34’s Schwarzenegger spoof proves the show still has a brutal edge, ever since season 3, The Simpsons gradually grew warmer and more light-hearted in its humor. Early seasons of The Simpsons were focused on subverting the cozy clichés that viewers associated with the family sitcom genre and, as a result, many episodes had unexpectedly bleak endings. However, this isn’t the only thing that makes early seasons of The Simpsons feel different from later outings. Originally, the show was going to center around Bart and his antics, but the creators of The Simpsons soon realized that viewers were more invested in Homer.
The Simpsons Was Originally About Bart (Not Homer)
Since The Simpsons was based on creator Matt Groening’s childhood, Bart was intended to be its main character. However, audiences connected with Homer and the writers of The Simpsons found him more interesting. As a fan-favorite character in The Simpsons, Homer became the show’s de facto lead character and Bart soon played a role no bigger than that of his sister Lisa. The Simpsons season 34, episode 15, ‘Bartless,’ imagined a version of the show where the titular family never included Bart at all and, in the process, proved that a lot has changed since The Simpsons season 1 opted to center Homer instead of his son.
The Simpsons season 1 included 13 episodes and, of this line-up, four were unequivocally centered around Bart, four definitively focused on Homer, four were split between the two characters, and one was about Lisa’s experiences. Although later seasons would diversify their roles in the series (and The Simpsons season 34 even swapped Bart and Lisa’s roles), early episodes focused on Bart more than Lisa since his trouble making provided conflict for the series. “Bartless” leaned into this idea, with the Simpson family living a comfortable, but dull and uneventful, existence without Bart’s influence. “Bartless” eventually reintegrated Bart into the family, since they wouldn’t really be the Simpsons without him.
The Simpsons Season 34 Proved The Show Needs Bart
While “Bartless” did prove that life without Bart was a lot more predictable and a lot less hectic, The Simpsons episode also showed that, without their son, the family would miss the conflict that drives the series. Although Homer is also an agent of chaos, according to The Simpsons season 34, Marge and Lisa’s sensible presence would ameliorate his antics if it weren’t for Bart’s role in the show. “Bartless” showed not only why the series needs his chaotic energy, but also that The Simpsons could give Bart a promising future if the character channeled his madcap antics into writing for children.
Bart’s doodles in the kindergartners’ schoolbooks led the kids to engage with reading in a way that mirrored Bart’s role in The Simpsons as a series. By providing some chaos, Bart made the bland textbooks livelier and easier for the kids to engage with. Marge and Homer were initially horrified by Bart’s vandalism of school property, but soon realized they had overlooked his creativity and its positive impact on the kindergartners and their attitudes toward reading. Without Bart adding some deranged flair, the kids had no interest in their assigned storybooks. Similarly, in a clever meta-joke from The Simpsons season 34, “Bartless” proved that without Bart, The Simpsons would be boring.
“Bartless” Showed The Simpsons Never Really Change
Like a lot of standalone episodes that portray an alternate canon for The Simpsons, “Bartless” eventually ended with the eponymous family returning to normal. Of course, the story of a Bart-free world turned out to be a dream but, more importantly, even within this dream, the Simpson family still accepted Bart into their fold. The family would be innately different without Bart’s presence, so it was equal parts inevitable and heartwarming when they welcomed him into their home even in this alternate reality. As a show, The Simpsons still can’t work without Bart, even if its characters did need a nightmarish interlude to remind them of this fact.
More: The Simpsons Season 34 Just Messed Up Its Own Meta Joke