“Ah, finished already? Principal Skinner will be very interested to . . . oh. . . . You know, you misspelled ‘confession’.” – Dr. J. Loren Pryor
Even at its earliest stages, The Simpsons was always careful not to pass up comedy opportunities. Whether it was minor characters, secondary locations, television shows, or anything else, the show made sure to populate the universe of Springfield with people, places and ideas that were just as delightfully twisted as the main family. A school psychologist evaluating troublemaking Bart could easily have been portrayed as a straight ahead public servant, a caring individual who tries to help steer the wayward young man. But that wouldn’t have been any fun, so instead the show gave us Dr. J. Loren Pryor, a book smart quack who can’t see past his own glasses to the obvious fact that Bart Simpson is scamming him.
This is the first episode with “Dr J.”, and while he pops up a few more times in the show, this is his definitive performance. Consider his first interaction with Bart. The show lets us know right from the get go that this guy is not nearly as smart as the tie and vest would have you believe. Not only is he measuring Bart’s head with calipers, but he’s getting quickly, thoroughly and easily had:
Sir, phrenology was dismissed as quackery a hundred sixty years ago.
Dr. J. Loren Pryor: Tell me, Bart, are you ever bored in school?
Bart: Oh, you bet.
Dr. J. Loren Pryor: Mmm-hmm, ever feel a little frustrated?
Bart: All the time, sir.
Dr. J. Loren Pryor: Do you ever dream of leaving your class to pursue your own intellectual development on an independent basis?
Bart: Wow, it’s like you’re reading my mind, man.
Look at those questions! Bart’s sold a lot of adults on a lot of crap in his time, but Pryor is such a sucker that all Bart has to do here is agree with him.
This is only the second episode, but the societal nihilism that underpinned so much of the show’s satire in later years was already apparent. The only person who sees through Bart’s con is Lisa. Everyone else, from his parents to the principal to the “learning coordinator” are all fooled. Pryor, the supposed expert, is the worst offender, and we get further payoff from his academic obtuseness at the end.
Sitting in his office, which is adorned with a picture of Bart next to a picture of Albert Einstein, Pryor falls hook, line and sinker for Bart’s plan to return to his regular school. Even after the chemistry explosion, Pryor still doesn’t understand that Bart isn’t a genius. Indeed, he leaps at the Jane Goodall comparison and rushes from his office to put Bart’s plan into action. It isn’t until Bart literally spells it out for him in his confession that Pryor finally realizes how big a fool he’s been.
Though he’s only a small part of the episode, “Bart the Genius” leaves no doubt about the fact that Dr. J. Loren Pryor is a nebbish idiot. So as the series progresses we understand why he can be so callous in telling Lisa that a homemaker is “like a mommy” or careless when he gets mixed up and thinks that Bart is the kid with the “flamboyant homosexual tendencies”. He’s a doctor, but he’s also a dolt.