Well, here we are, already in season 2! And really, I feel like this is where the show really kicks into gear. There was some great stuff in season 1, but it’s not quite there yet. The voices aren’t right, the animation is a little off, and the humor hasn’t found itself. It probably won’t really become the show we all know and love for a little while later, but I feel like season 2 was a huge improvement over 1, and it was already at a high bar to begin with. Right from the beginning we see that this new season is a little different, since we have some slight changes to the intro, making it the classic one that we know. We have Smithers and Burns replace the weird sandwich guy, there’s actual people we know when Bart rides through town, and they took out the part with Lisa riding a bike with too many books. I heard that in recent years they changed the intro again, but I guess we’ll find out about that in like…a year. Oye.
Anyway, we start with Bart’s class presenting their book reports, starting with Martin’s crazy reading of the Old Man and the Sea. He’s in costume and everything. It’s hilarious. Bart then has to go up, and gives an amazingly half-assed presentation on Treasure Island. He pretty much just tries to guess what the book is about based on the pirate on the cover. He can’t even guess the pirates name, even though his brain shuffles a few possibilities. Bart gets nagged at by Mrs. Krabappel, tuning her out and guessing that what she was talking about was telling him to straighten up and fly right. But her message is pretty clear, Bart better start doing better in class, or he’ll be in serious trouble. There’s a test on colonial America coming up, and he has to do good on it. So Bart heads home and gets studying.
Psych, he goes to an arcade and plays a ridiculous game called Grandma’s House, that appears to be about fleeing from your creepy grandma. So Bart heads home and tries to actually study, but quickly gets distracted and gives up, joining Homer in watching some crazy killer ape movie. We then cut to a great gag of the end of the movie having the evil ape being sent off in the ocean in a cage while Homer is weeping. “it’s so unfair, just because he’s different.” But when the movie is finally over Bart tries to study…and pretty much immediately falls asleep. Which is super relatable. So many college classes had books that acted like Ambiens.
So Bart wakes up the next morning, having learned nothing the last night, and heads off to face the music. He asks Otto to crash the bus, which is apparently against the rules, but as Otto says, “But hey, maybe you’ll get lucky.” Desperate for help, Bart tries to schmooze Sherri and Terri into giving him the answers, to some pretty disastrous results. They give him some ridiculous answers, but Martin was a pretty good guy, and lets Bart know that the info the twins gave him was complete bullshit. So left with no alternative, Bart fakes that he has some horrible disease, and for some reason everyone just believes him, so he gets to go home without taking the test and get waited on hand and foot. He thinks he’s crafty by calling up Milhouse to get the answers to the test, but of course Milhouse is just as dumb as he is, so he ends up bombing the makeup test, and having to have a parent-teacher meeting. Those were never a good thing in school. Even the yearly ones they make you do, when you know you’ve done nothing wrong, are nerve-wracking.
Then the episode gets super emotional. Krabappel and the school counselor from “Bart the Genius” tell Marge and Homer all about Bart’s academic short comings, leading him to break down and start yelling that he’s dumb. It’s super depressing. The show usually shows Bart as generally apathetic towards his school performance, and it’s really sad to see him cut through the crap and say he thinks he’s dumb. I can’t imagine being a kid whose been told his whole life that he’s stupid. Everybody has times where they feel stupid, but it would be another thing to actually get told you are. Poor Bart. But Krabappel and Pryor threaten that if Bart doesn’t do better, he’s going to have to repeat the fourth grade. Even though he’s still in the fourth grade, and it’s been 25 years, but that’s irrelevant. I do love Bart’s fantasy that he’ll still be in the fourth grade when he’s a grown ass man and his own son is in the class.
Desperate to finally pass a test, Bart decides that the only way he’s going to do it is to have Martin tutor him, in exchange for teaching Martin how to be cool. We then get a fun montage where Bart teaches Martin how to be a bad kid, and Martin teaches Bart how to be good. I particularly love Martin’s realization on why you should sit in the back of the bus, class, and church. “The potential for mischief varies dependent on the proximity to an authority figure.” Oh Martin, what a spaz. But apparently Bart is a better teacher, because Martin welches on the deal, and becomes a cool kid, and Bart is still unprepared for the test.
So Bart throws his last Hail Mary play, and prays for something, anything to cancel school. And lo and behold, it starts snowing. I always find it funny that as cynical as the show is with religion, it still does stuff like this that seems to imply that prayer can actually do something. The next day the snow is bad enough that everything gets canceled, school and Homer’s work, so the family decides to have a fun day together. And Bart is all set to have fun in the snow, until Lisa calls him out of the fact that he apparently caused a miracle, and is planning on wasting it. So Bart decides to actually spend the day studying, and after witnessing the whole town frolicking and getting along, he locks himself in the basement to actually study.
But unfortunately Bart still can’t concentrate, so he ends up having a weird daydream about the Continental Conference, when it begins snowing in the dream and everything is ruined. “Look, John Hancock is writing his name in the snow!” is possibly my favorite goofy history joke on this show. So Bart faces his destiny, and goes in for the test. He asks Mrs. Krabappel to grade the test right then and there to see how he did, and unfortunately, he still gets an F. And breaks down. He starts weeping, admitting that he tried his best, and apparently his best wasn’t good enough. It’s some heavy shit. Mrs. Krabappel starts freaking out, understandably, because it must be super uncomfortable to have a student cry. I know I cried once in elementary school because I didn’t understand some math thing, and my teacher definitely freaked out. But then Bart tosses out a tidbit about George Washington, so Mrs. Krabappel gives him an extra point for the applied learning, giving Bart a D-, letting him pass. He won’t repeat the fourth grade, except for the next two and a half decades! So Bart, starts dancing around the room, excited, briefly kisses Krabappel and runs through the school proudly proclaiming “I passed, I passed, I passed! I….KISSED THE TEACHER!”
So Bart goes home and the happy family put his D- on the fridge, proud of Bart’s accomplishment. This was an amazing episode guys. And super emotional. It was legitimately moving the see Bart break down, unable to cope with his inadequacies. I feel like there’s a lot of things that can really break a person, but I think feeling dumb has to be one of the worst. It’s such a racking sense of inadequacy that can really mess a person up. I was never good with math or science, and felt a lot of shame about it. In sixth grade I was for some reason put in “advanced” math, and did so poorly that I had to break down crying to my parents, and get put back in regular math. It’s no fun, having to admit that you just don’t get something. And the show really nailed it. It’s what makes this show so beautiful. We sympathize, and empathize with cartoon characters. What other show would have the ostensible main character break down weeping, especially a comedy? It’s amazing.
Take Away: Even when you do your best, sometimes you won’t be good enough. That may be my most bleak take away yet…but it’s kinda true, and something that you have to deal with in life. And really, what more can you ask from a show than to teach you a serious, hard fact?
“Bart Gets an F” was written by David M. Stern and directed by David Silverman
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons