Bart Simpson was arbitrarily declared 32 years old today by Twitter trends, a designation that had something to do with the release of the first episode of The Simpsons in 1989 plus Bart's age, which has always been ten years old. Except the show debuted on December 17, 1989 as its own series, and the Simpsons themselves have existed conceptually since they appeared on April 19, 1987 on the Tracey Ullman Show. Nor does Bart have an official birthday as mentioned in any Simpsons episode, and the year of his birth has been cited within the show as anywhere from the early '80s to the mid-'90s -- after all, the show's been around for 22 years now, and Bart is still ten. Nevertheless, there seems to be no evidence to support or even to suggest that today is Bart Simpson's birthday, no matter what Chris Rock says.
Still, what with the hoopla, it seems as good a time as any to look back upon the evolution of Bart, who may not have aged during his de facto 24-year lifespan so far, but has certainly changed. Initially, Bart was the character most based the creator -- the Simpsons characters were hastily drawn up by Matt Groening, who based them on his own family casting himself as Bart (an anagram of "brat"), in the office of James L. Brooks; after he realized he would have to sell the rights to his already-popular comic Life in Hell, he just created some new characters real quick. And it's pretty bizarre to look back on that first episode, in which all the characters are smarter but the show is a lot dumber.
We also forgot how much TV sucked in the '80s. Interestingly, in those early shorts, both Bart and Lisa were cast as troublemakers, while Bart was perhaps the more thoughtful of the two, with a hand-wringing existential streak that disappeared by the time the show made its debut on Fox. By then, too, the animation was looking quite a bit smoother, though the jokes were just as lame.
By the time the show really hit its stride in the early '90s, Bart -- not Homer, who is mostly the focus now -- had become its star character, spawning endless catch-phrases ("don't have a cow, man," "ay, carumba," "eat my shorts," et. all) and merchandising tie-ins, like this early Butterfinger spot with Marvin Monroe, an early angry psychologist character (negative experiences, Matt Groening?) who was thankfully killed off within the first couple of seasons.
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And, of course, the prank calls. This one, from the "Flaming Moe's" episode in 1991, represents a turning point of sorts, where the prank call went from just a gag to the self-referential wit emerging as a hallmark of what was then just becoming a great show.
Now, if you'll excuse us, we'll be in the men's room, looking for a Hugh Jass.