I tried not to have a cow, man. But I almost did when I found out “The Simpsons” would kill Bart on Sunday.
I don’t think I can tune in for the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episode to watch Sideshow Bob finally off Bart. I know it’s just one episode. He won’t die for good. But I’ve never wanted to see Wile E. Coyote catch the Road Runner or Tom slaughter Jerry. Not once. Some things, you just don’t do. Not in family cartoons, not even Halloween episodes. You can dance on the edge of darkness. But you never give in.
Two years ago, “Family Guy” dared to run over Brian and went as far as replacing him in the credits with a new dog. I cried real tears. Yes, over an animated pet. And then I got mad — along with over 100,000 other fans who signed a petition. I watch cartoons for fun, not emotional trauma. That’s what Shondaland is for.
“We were all very surprised, in a good way, that people still cared enough about that character to be that angry,” show creator Seth MacFarlane told Entertainment Weekly. “We thought it would create a little bit of a stir, but the rage wasn’t something we counted on. It did what it was designed to do — it reminded people this is still a show where anything can happen, despite the fact it’s been on for a while.”
The show brought Brian back a month later. And “Family Guy,” in its 14th season, has no plans to ever get rid of him again.
Kansas City artist and “Simpsons” enthusiast Donald “Scribe” Ross thinks the Bart plan reeks of desperation.
“I hope they aren’t feeling the pressure to take it up a notch,” he says. “I am worried it is a sensational attempt to turn wandering eyes back at the expense of the youth. My heart hurts that kids will see it. My favorite part of ‘The Simpsons’ was that a kid always won over the adult. Kids really get preyed on at times, and I think killing Bart touches a dark place.”
There was a time when “The Simpsons” was one of the most-watched shows on television, garnering 33 million viewers. Last week, it snagged 3.6 million. It’s just not the show it once was. “South Park” and “Family Guy” are inspired by the edgy, animated “Simpsons” blueprint laid out in its 1989 debut. But now, it’s almost funnier to watch Cartman and the Griffins steal from the Simpsons than to actually watch Homer and the fam.
We’re talking 27 seasons in Springfield, where Bart Simpson is the symbol of childhood rebellion. Bart isn’t angelic. He’s not the good kid. But there’s an innocence in his whimsical mischief. Would anyone have wanted to see Dennis the Menace slaughtered? No way. There’s a freedom in the fact that Bart always escapes the deadly and jaded grasp of Sideshow Bob. And the show is ruining it.
“You never saw the Road Runner lose. This time you do,” “Simpsons” executive producer Al Jean told Entertainment Weekly. For Sideshow Bob, “his whole life has just been about killing Bart, so what’s next? We deal with how Bob would really feel once he accomplished this goal he’s had his whole life. … There’s a betting pool on the manner of death. What I’m going to say is: Everyone in the pool is going to win because he gets killed so many times.”
This is nothing short of a publicity stunt, says Fox 4 film critic Shawn Edwards.
“It’s horrible,” he says. “I believe ratings are the driving force behind it, and it’s not cool. In today’s world of competing platforms of entertainment I can understand the desperation of the creators to do something like this, but there is something morally wrong with killing Bart. Due to his iconic nature, they shouldn’t even tinker with it. The innocence is totally compromised.”
But this is the “Treehouse of Horror” episode, the annual Halloween theme that goes all dark and daring, says longtime fan Melanie Rambo Isenmann of Mission.
“They kind of go into weird storylines for those episodes. Like, groundskeeper Willie was killed with an ax in all three acts one year. What’s your concern with it? The fact that a creepy guy who has been stalking a 10-year-old boy for years kills him? Because when you think about it that way, it is kind of messed up.”
Even by “Simpsons” standards, she says, this is a step too far.
“It’s only one episode and it’s their fantastical Halloween ep, but it is messed up. I think the show is purposely stirring up controversy lately, and it seems kind of desperate and sad to me. Like Marge and Homer separating and supposedly Harry Shearer (who voices Mr. Burns, among other characters) not coming back and then changing his mind at the last minute.”
I told her maybe this was a sign that it’s time to drop the anvil not just on Bart, but the whole animated city of Springfield forever.
“True,” she says. “And yet I can’t imagine a world without ‘The Simpsons.’ ”
I hear you, Mel. But we’re talking about America’s longest-running prime-time series of all time. That makes Bart our country’s oldest cartoon kid. And the show wants us to watch him die a dozen ways.
Ay caramba! As Lisa Simpson says, if anyone wants me, I’ll be in my room.
Where to watch
▪ “The Simpsons” “Treehouse of Horror XXVI” airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on Fox.
▪ Watch every “Treehouse of Horror” episode every day through Halloween, starting at 3 p.m. Sunday, on FXX (1128 on U-verse, 109 on Time Warner, 259 on DirecTV and 390 on Dish). Visit SimpsonsWorld.com for the complete daily schedule.