Permanent Record: Dr. J. Loren Pryor

Bart the Genius9

“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:

Bart the Genius8

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.

14 Responses to “Permanent Record: Dr. J. Loren Pryor”

  1. 1 Al Gore Doll
    14 January 2013 at 9:46 pm

    The old Simpsons have the foolish authority figure down to a T, and it’s hilarious whether it’s Dr. Pryor, Chief Wiggum or Homer. I just watched a King of the Hill episode where their only idiotic authority figures are all new-age liberal freaks. Mike Judge is a genius but you can’t just put two people of different beliefs in a scene and expect comedy to happen. With The Simpsons the conflict is from human characteristics and experiences any one of us could have.

    • 2 Anonymous
      14 January 2013 at 11:32 pm

      The first 4 or so seasons, when Hank was allowed to be wrong (and often was, but rarely learned it), were much better.

  2. 3 Stan
    14 January 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Charlie, are you seriously going to do this for every Springfielder now?

    • 4 RaikoLives
      14 January 2013 at 10:21 pm

      I expect that a quick, yet detailed look at the “new, important” character from each episode as the anniversary comes along is quite feasible. Especially for one as enlightened (en-Simpsoned?) as Mr. Sweatpants. Of course, being season 1, everyone’s “new” but as was apparent in “Bart the genius” Pryor was the “important” new character who pushed the story along and go the most characterisation. If anyone was new and important enough in the episode to warrant an article upon them, as well as being a telling microcosm of the show itself (which, really almost all characters are in SOME way) the Dr Pryor fits that bill here. For something like Bart the general, perhaps a look at Bart’s various friends in a more general way would be more apt? (Saving Milhouse for later, of course)

      • 6 Stan
        15 January 2013 at 2:08 am

        What he actually compares here is the way the Simpsons introduced characters back in the day and the way they do it now (though it’s not apparent from the post, such is most likely the will). Per se there is no need of extra commentary, as there is no need to be specific on whom is introduced and when. One can simply watch a handful of old episodes to see the presentation of a would-be society very similar to real life. All characters, perhaps even the Simpsons themselves, can easily relate to real life people. This psychiatrist guy, or whomever he is there, can perfectly exist in our world. Now remove that thought and picture the lady from this week’s episode who buys five bottles of vodka, doesn’t have any personal traits even close to being remembered, and ends up being myopic despite working with test (she doesn’t even see the bug!). I guess this is hardly a character who lives next door, unless you live in a nuthouse, but perhaps a very possible stand up comedian role/persona.

        My two cents.

  3. 7 Frank
    15 January 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Even looking at the snippet of script that you provided – you can tell that it’s from the earlier days of the Simpsons. Could you imagine what a conversation between Bart and a therapist would be like? It’d be chock full of pop references, sarcasm and attempted trendiness stuffed into 5 seconds of dialog designed to extract the highest volume of (cheap) laughs.

    That’s my biggest problem with ZS – they try too hard to be cool and trendy, relying on current events and memes. It’s no longer about – As Al Gore Doll mentioned – inter- or intra-personal issues that are timeless, now it’s all about what’s cool and who’s cool now.

    The direction would rather get a bucketful of canned laughter instead of a sincere smile or awed reverence (as was mentioned in a different comment somewhere else).

    It’s like every single line has to have a laugh.

    • 8 Stan
      15 January 2013 at 2:04 pm

      Dr. J. Loren Pryor: Tell me, Bart, are you ever bored in school?
      Bart: Why, not at all my good sir, especially not with Principal Sucker’s intercom messages
      Skinner (looking through the window on the right): Sigh, I guess Bart’s right, I AM a failure (takes out his belt)
      Agnes (outside, from a window up above): Seymour! Are you trying to hang yourself on a drainpipe again?
      Skinner (hastily puts the belt back): Err no Mother, just doing some… Err S&M!
      Agnes: Good!
      Back at the office:
      Dr. J. Loren Pryor: Mmm-hmm, ever feel a little frustrated?
      Bart: All the time, sir. Wouldn’t know whom I got this from…
      Homer (on the left, trying to sharpen his pencil): Why won’t you sharpen… Arghhh why you little (grabs a pair of clippers and tries to strange the pencil).
      Dr. J. Loren Pryor: Do you ever dream of leaving your class to pursue your own intellectual develop- MR SIMPSON! Stop burying that pencil in my flower pot!
      Homer (next to a pot, making a little papier mache tombstone): Sorry.

      • 15 January 2013 at 5:26 pm

        Lol, if that’s dialogue you wrote Stan, you could be a writer for the show! And that’s probably what the current writers and producers, directors of ZS would want you to write, possibly :)

        • 10 Stan
          15 January 2013 at 8:56 pm

          That would resume in pretty much betraying everything I now stand for, but yeah, I guess I could. Thanks.

      • 11 Frank
        17 January 2013 at 4:03 pm

        oh man, you hit this right on the head!

  4. 12 D.N.
    16 January 2013 at 1:38 am

    Anyone else notice how, in “Bart the Genius” and “Bart Gets an F,” Dr J. Loren Pryor had a voice that was close to that of Monty Burns, but when he showed up much later in “Lisa’s Sax,” he sounded more like Smithers?

    • 13 Orangutanagram
      18 January 2013 at 12:14 pm

      I don’t know about him sounding like Smithers, but at the time Bart the Genius was recorded, Harry Shearer wasn’t the voice of Mr. Burns. Only later that particular voice became associated with Burns.

      • 14 D.N.
        18 January 2013 at 10:31 pm

        Well… I think Shearer used, for Pryor, the same voice he would later use for Burns, and when Pryor was brought back years later, Shearer had to change the voice to make it less Burns-like.

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