Escape From Springfield, Season 6: Bart of Darkness

Sorry, it’s been a minute.

There’re a lot of lessons you need to learn as a young writer, and one of the most important ones I ever learned came from someone I could scarcely call a mentor. I was in one of her larger classes, the kind where no reasonable instructor would be able to closely know all the students, but we’d spoken a few times, short and infrequent conversations compared to the numerous other people in the same department who poured massively more time into me, but still something. We were at some kind of luncheon, speaking to college students interested in starting down the path of creative writing at the college level. I was a senior, committed to start my MFA in the fall, and thought I had all the answers in the world, and this professor told the students a version of, “The ones who make it aren’t the best. They’re the ones who won’t give up, who persevere, and just keep writing.” I backed her up, thinking at that time I knew what she was talking about. Now, five and half years on, and only having semi-made it myself, I think it’s starting to sink in.

This is supposed to be a monthly column about the Simpsons. And writing, comedy specifically. But sometimes you don’t have anything funny to say.  Or informative. Sometimes you watch a VICE documentary about the history of the show, all the tumult that birthed it, and you start to feel like a part of the No Homers Club. It gets you thinking about the process of reading and writing and submitting and trying to keep up with the literary world on top of your real job and the column, and the life you’re trying to live outside of all that, full of normal people shit. You wait a few days before starting to watch the next season. Days become weeks, weeks become months. You start to wonder if you’ve persevered enough, if it’s time to call the project a failure and move on.

As I write this column, I’ve still got a few episodes left to watch in the sixth season. Life got in the way a little. But after a while, we’ve got to get our nose back to the grindstone, and just keep trying to think and be funny. And maybe wave goodnight to any worries of inadequacy.

This season’s marquee episode is kind of hard to nail down here for obvious reasons. If you’re a fan of “Lemon of Troy,” check this video out. But I’ll pick the premiere “Bart of Darkness.” I felt pretty deeply connected watching this episode, to the feelings of being on the out of the pool (having experienced it both somewhat literally as a child, and metaphorically in other ways throughout my life). We’ve seen flashes of pathos from Bart in earlier seasons, but this is really one of the better dives into his drives as a character. Bart, like all of us, wants to be loved, wants to be in on the fun. He wants to experience the reprieve of summer, the escape from the doldrums of doing the right kind of thing, of being serious, of resting and being well. He just wants to sit in the sun, pull some pranks, have a good laugh. And maybe solve a murder or whatever. It’s an episode that’s delightfully silly, but really stuck with me for how sad and simple it is, despite how complex all the plot machinations are. And you have to hand it to the Simpsons writers for pulling it off again here. Hopefully we’ll be back in the pool much sooner next time. Thanks for reading.

Ben Shahon is a writer whose work can be found across the web, serves as the Simpsons columnist for The Daily Drunk, and is EIC of JAKE. He learned to write at ASU, and holds an MFA from Emerson College. Ben lives and teaches in the Boston area. But Ben always falls asleep at his station.

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