Bart the Mother
"Bart the Mother" is the third episode of the 10th season of The Simpsons, originally airing on September 27, 1998. The episode was written by David X. Cohen and directed by Steven Dean Moore. It was the last full-length episode Cohen wrote for The Simpsons before leaving to work on Futurama. The original idea for the episode was intended to be a B story, but because it was too difficult to work into other episodes, it eventually became a primary plot. The episode contains the final appearance of character Troy McClure and is dedicated to the character's voice actor, Phil Hartman, who was murdered by his wife on May 28, 1998, four months before the episode aired. In the episode, Bart Simpson accidentally kills a mother bird with a BB gun, and decides to hatch and take care of the two eggs he found in the bird's nest.
In its original American broadcast, "Bart the Mother" finished 58th in ratings for the week of September 21–27, 1998, with a Nielsen rating of 7.4, translating to 7,355,600 households. Nancy Cartwright, the voice actor who portrayed Bart, described the episode as one of her favorites. Several reviewers, who called the tenth season of The Simpsons one of the series' less humorous seasons, chose "Bart the Mother" as one of its better episodes. Bart's moral dilemma and soul searching moments near the end of the episode was praised by some as a refreshing turn of events for the series, and a number of reviewers also called "Bart the Mother" a memorable episode.
When Marge takes the family to the Family Fun Center, she notices Nelson acting like a bully, especially when he knocks Milhouse off the track and wins a BB gun from prize tickets. Bart and Nelson attempt to be friends, but Marge forbids Bart to hang out with Nelson. Bart goes to Nelson’s house anyway and starts using Nelson's new BB gun. When Nelson pressures Bart to shoot a bird in a nest, Bart accidentally kills the bird. Marge is furious that Bart killed an animal, but instead of punishing him, she refuses to have anything to do with his destructive ways. After Marge leaves Bart with Nelson, Bart discovers two eggs in a bird's nest. Since he does not want the babies to die like their mother, he decides to hatch the eggs, and secretly keeps the eggs warm in his treehouse. After Bart spends more time in his treehouse, Marge starts to suspect he is up to something. After Marge finds out what Bart has been doing, she tells him she is proud of him. With Marge's help, the eggs eventually hatch, but the Simpson family is shocked when instead of birds, a pair of lizards emerge from the eggs, who Bart names Chirpy Boy and Bart Jr.
Bart and Marge take the lizards to the Springfield Birdwatching Society. Principal Skinner, a member of the society, explains that they are Bolivian tree lizards, a type of lizard that steals a bird’s eggs and leaves their own eggs to be watched after by the mother bird, which is then eaten by the offspring once they hatch. Skinner says the lizards must be killed by law, because they have killed many bird species. Bart escapes and runs away with the lizards, but before he can get away, Skinner catches up to him and they both struggle on top of the building. Suddenly, the lizards glide to the ground, where they start to eradicate pigeons in Springfield. Since the town considered the pigeons to be a nuisance, they are delighted with the fact that the lizards have eaten all the pigeons. As a result, Bart is thanked and honored by Mayor Quimby with a loganberry scented candle. Lisa worries that the town will now become infested by lizards rather than the pigeons, but Skinner assures her that they will send in Chinese Needle Snakes, then snake-eating gorillas, and then "when wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death."
"Bart the Mother" was the last full-length episode David X. Cohen wrote for The Simpsons. Shortly after the episode aired, Cohen teamed up with The Simpsons' creator Matt Groening to develop Futurama, where he served as executive producer and head writer for the series' entire run. Cohen's idea for the episode started out as a B story for Homer. In the original concept, pigeons nest outside Homer's window at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Mr. Burns exterminates the pigeons and Homer climbs out onto the ledge of the window, in the middle of a blizzard, to nest the eggs. Cohen said the idea "[did not] fit in anywhere," so he decided to pitch it as an A story instead, with Bart nesting the eggs instead of Homer. The Simpsons writer George Meyer thought the idea of Bart shooting the bird and simply nesting the eggs was too straightforward, and he did not think it had "enough of a twist" to be a good episode. Cohen and Meyer eventually decided that the eggs should be lizard eggs. Cohen thought that the twist was what ultimately made the episode both "touching" and "interesting."
Producer Ron Hauge came up with the idea of someone shooting a bird and feeling guilty about it. Hauge told the staff a few weeks before Cohen started writing the episode that when he was 13 or 14 years old, he accidentally killed a bird after he got a Wrist Rocket slingshot, and took a shot at a bird that he thought was "far, far away." Hauge said his friends were excited about it, but he was "dying inside." For the scene in which the bird is killed, Cohen received further inspiration from an episode of The Andy Griffith Show entitled "Opie the Birdman." The writers were trying to figure out a way to have Bart kill the bird without actually wanting to kill it, and decided to give the gun a crooked sight that Bart would be unaware of, so that when Bart intentionally takes a shot at the right of the bird to avoid it, the bullet would still hit the bird. After Bart kills the mother bird, he imagines himself before a bird court with a vulture, an eagle, and a toucan as judges. This sequence was added to "liven up the visuals", because the writers thought the episode tended too heavily towards extreme realism and because most of the scenes in the episode were taking place in and around the Simpsons' house. Then-show runner Mike Scully had done the same thing with an episode he wrote for season seven called "Marge Be Not Proud." In that episode, Bart gets caught shoplifting, and writer Bill Oakley suggested the addition of a fantasy sequence to get away from the realism in the episode.
The Family Fun Center that the Simpson family visits is based on a real family fun center in Falmouth, Massachusetts that Cohen went to as a child to play video games. The Bolivian Tree Lizard is a fake species, but Cohen based it on real animals, including the dinosaur species Oviraptor, which was originally thought to eat eggs. The species is also based on the cowbird and the cuckoo, which lay their eggs in other birds' nests, and Draco, a genus of gliding lizards. Cohen also received inspiration from the Cane Toad that started "taking over" Australia in 1935.
"Bart the Mother" marked the last guest appearance of Phil Hartman on The Simpsons as Troy McClure. On May 28, 1998, four months before the episode aired, he was shot and killed by his wife Brynn. "Bart the Mother" was dedicated in his memory in response to this. Rather than replace Hartman with a new voice actor, the production staff retired McClure from the show, along with Hartman's other recurring character, Lionel Hutz.
In its original American broadcast, "Bart the Mother" finished 58th in the ratings for the week of September 21–27, 1998, with a Nielsen rating of 7.4, translating to 7,355,600 households. Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, called it one of her favorite The Simpsons episodes, along with "Bart Sells His Soul" and "Lisa's Substitute". The Toronto Sun's Bruce Kirkland wrote that "Bart the Mother" was one of the "classic episodes" of the series' tenth season. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood wrote, "We particularly like the moral dilemma at the end, as underlined by Lisa, regarding the eventual culling of the lizards that will need to take place. A good romp, this one, with some nice laughs at Homer's expense." Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide said, "The show generates decent heart as it shows Bart’s attempts to make up for his misbehavior. The show becomes reasonably enjoyable if not especially memorable." Jesse Hassenger of PopMatters named the tenth season of The Simpsons the series' "first significant dip in quality, a step away from its golden era [...] with broader gags and more outlandish plots". However, Hassenger enjoyed "Bart the Mother", and wrote, "[The episode] explores the show’s sweet and dark sides simultaneously as Bart, remorseful after killing a bird, tries to care for orphaned eggs that turn out to hold ravenous lizards." DVD Town's James Plath described "Bart the Mother" as an episode that viewers would either love or hate, because of Bart's rare moments of soul searching, and he found the episode to be a memorable one.
- Rohan, Virginia (1998-09-23). "Tributes To A Star And His Voices". The Record. p. Y8.
- "Bart the Mother". The Simpsons. September 27, 1998.
- Cohen, David S. (2007). The Simpsons The Complete Tenth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Mother" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Hauge, Ron (2007). The Simpsons The Complete Tenth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Mother" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Scully, Mike (2007). The Simpsons The Complete Tenth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Mother" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt (2004-12-29). Fresh Air. Interview with Terry Gross. National Public Radio. WHYY-FM. Philadelphia. Archived from the original on 10 June 2007. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4249835. Retrieved 2007-06-09.
- "Weekly Nielsen Ratings". The Stuart News. 1998-10-11.
- Oakes, Keily (2004-07-30). "Voice of Bart Simpson steps into limelight". BBC. Retrieved 2009-02-03.
- Kirkland, Bruce (2007-08-10). "Funny 1998–99 season of The Simpsons out in a box set loaded with extras". The Toronto Sun. p. E11.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian. "Bart, The Mother". BBC. Retrieved 2008-12-03.
- Jacobson, Colin. "The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season (1998)". DVD Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 1 January 2009. Retrieved 2008-12-03.
- Hassenger, Jesse (2007-08-07). "The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season". PopMatters. Archived from the original on 6 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-03.
- Plath, James (2007-08-17). "Simpsons, The: The Complete 10th Season [Special Edition]". DVD Town. Archived from the original on 6 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-03.
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- "Bart the Mother" at The Simpsons.com
- "Bart the Mother" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "Bart the Mother" at the Internet Movie Database
- "Bart the Mother" at TV.com