Simpsons Episode Review: Bart Sells His Soul (Season 7, Episode 4)

Also, Moe opens a family restaurant!

Bart Simpson
Bart Simpson. Fox

Probably the best sign of a classic Simpsons episode is that it includes many standalone memorable moments, but also has a memorable story that still resonates with people who saw it that first Sunday night on Fox and couldn’t believe The Simpsons went there. There are so many great things about this episode.

 

Start with the introduction, Bart playing a prank on the church by swapping the hymns with “Inna Gadda Da Vida,” cleverly titled “In the Garden of Eden.” This works on so many levels.

How many biblical phrases did the writers try before they found the perfect fit? Or was “In the Garden of Eden” divine inspiration? They get through the whole song before Reverend Lovejoy realizes it, but Homer and Marge recognize the song and even reveal they used to make out to it, but go along with it. It still makes me laugh that Lovejoy calls it “rock and/or roll.” I don’t know why. I don’t know what “rock and/or roll” means but it sounds funny to me. 

 

After being punished along with Milhouse (for snitching), Bart asserts he does not believe in a soul, so he’s not worried about divine repercussions. He goes so far as to sell his soul to Milhouse, and so this becomes a profound episode that shows just what The Simpsons can do. It takes this ridiculous idea of a child selling his soul to his best friend, and make us really believe Bart lost his soul and wants it back.

 

It is a religious satire, from the hymn prank to Lovejoy’s overt dig on single mothers.

Remember in the ‘90s, Dan Quayle was attacking Murphy Brown for having a baby, so The Simpsons were pretty sharp to portray the church as biased. They call out religion for profiting on fear-mongering, yet they’re pretty sincere about what a soul means spiritually. The Simpsons gets to have it both ways satirically.

 

 

Bart spends his five bucks on one of those foam sponges that was supposed to grow when you wet it. His fantasy of growing a giant dinosaur that eats Lisa comes crashing down in a sad reality many of us kids knew too well. Lisa, normally wise beyond her years, has a very childlike reaction to Bart’s money. “Where'd you get five bucks? I want five bucks." Her wisdom returns as soon as Bart says he sold his soul. She knows what a soul means. 

 

The ramifications of Bart’s soullessness are fairly subtle. The automated door at the Kwik-E-Mart doesn’t open for him, and he can’t breathe on the ice cream freezer to write dirty words on it. It’s enough to make Bart realize that maybe he does need a soul, and he wants it back. By now Milhouse has the upper hand. He tries to sell it back for $50, but ultimately trades it to Comic Book Guy for pogs. I never had pogs so when Milhouse bragged about his Alf pogs, it was already random and ridiculous to me in the ‘90s. 

 

The soul is not just about pranks though. Marge, a sweet mother, assures Bart that he’s not a monster. This despite all the bad things he’s done, but a mother’s love is still pure. Bart has a dream about souls, and while it’s surreal and ridiculous, you really feel the solo Bart is left out.

 

 

Nancy Cartwright gives an Emmy worthy performance when Bart prays to have his soul back. It’s really sweet that Lisa comes through for him, but The Simpsons will never get too sappy. Bart takes his soul literally, eating the piece of paper it’s written on, while Lisa explains philosophy. Also, the fumigator’s reaction to Bart looking for a piece of paper is classic deadpan.

 

“Bart Sells His Soul” also has one of the greatest subplots as Moe turns his bar into a family restaurant. His french fry song is a classic, as is Moe’s frustration with kids. “That was funny, taking away my dignity like that.” He teaches the Flanders kids the F word, “Ow, my freaking ears!” and you’ve got to love Lenny’ s sincere passion for the dank. Check out the books Moe reads too. Bennigan and Fuddrucker wrote the book on gimmicky restaurants!

 

 

This is one of the all time great Simpsons episodes, a next level satire with emotional weight, and full of classic lines and gags. If you’ve never seen it, be sure to catch it next time it’s on FXX or in the seventh season DVD, and if you have seen it, watch it again. I’m sure you’ll find new levels on which to appreciate it.