I said yesterday that this week is going to be full of absurdly mediocre episodes. And today’s episode is maybe one of the most forgettable episodes I’ve ever seen from the Simpsons. I watched it three days ago and legitimately forgot just about everything about it. So do your best not to fall asleep while reading this!
The episode begins with the people of Springfield being terrified at how high Mr. Burns will be hiking their electricity rates this year. This is apparently an annual tradition, and he’s having a huge press conference with media attention to announce it. And, because Mr. Burns is a lunatic, he decides that the best way to deliver this information is to pin a bunch of different percentages to some economists, have his hounds attack them, and choose whichever rate the dogs bring back. And the dogs decide it should be 17%.
Springfield is less than pleased with this massive rate hike, and people immediately start panicking. The whole town begins planning for this huge new expense, and decide that they’re going to have to start rationing electricity so they don’t all go broke. Hell, Springfield Elementary is even having to play their terrible educational videos on a projector that’s powered by potatoes. Which, as you may assume, doesn’t go well.
But it’s fine that the movie gets shut off, because Edna is then invited to come to an emergency meeting with the other teachers. They all pile into the teacher’s lounge so that Superintendent Chalmers can give them the bad news. The school district is broke. So broke in fact that one of the schools in the district is going to have to be closed, and they’ve decided the only way to decide which school gets shut down is to have every student take an aptitude test, and whichever school gets the lowest average will be shuttered.
So, several days later, some proctors arrive with a test that will decide the future of all of these children. There’s obviously a whole lot of stress involved, and the kids of Springfield Elementary just barley hold their sanity, but by the end of the day they manage to finish the test. And, not surprisingly, Springfield Elementary did the worst on the test, and will therefore be shut down.
They then start dividing the kids up, telling them that they all have to start going to different schools now, and they have to say goodbye to each other while boarding new buses. However, as the kids are waiting in line to figure out where they’ll now to be going, Lisa makes a startling discovery. Bart shows up and lets her know that he actually ditched that day to play with a bug he found in the woods, and didn’t take the test. This blows Lisa’s mind, and she races back into the school to tell Skinner. Because if Bart didn’t take the test then there’s a slight chance the school can get a better average.
Yep, the fate of Springfield Elementary and all of its students and faculty will now all be up to Bart. And people are not confident. Especially when it becomes clear that Bart has no interest in studying that night. But, the next morning, they still go through with it, and Bart arrives at the school while every other student gives him a pep talk, hoping he does halfway decent. However, when he gets to the room he starts to panic, and realizes that he messed up. He tells Skinner that he’s not ready, and implies that Skinner will need to pull a fire alarm and get the test cancelled so he can have another night of studying. And, against his best instincts, Skinner pulls the alarm, and Bart gets another chance.
Oh, but before we see how Bart deals with this stress I guess I should get the incredibly half-baked B-Plot out of the way. Because earlier in the episode we saw Homer head to the dump to get rid of the family’s needless electric gadgets, and while there stumbles upon a broken parking meter. Homer steals the meter, and begins dragging it all around Springfield, hiding it places and getting pocket change from people.
It actually works pretty well though. Homer rakes in a whole shitload of dimes, and considers himself a success. Although it’s clear that Homer doesn’t know what to do with all of this change, because his best ideas seems to be going to a bus station to use their change-operated TV’s. And while watching the news he learns that Chief Wiggum is hot on the trail of this mysterious parking meter bandit, so later when Homer is out hiding his meter around town, he gets caught. Homer gets the meter into the car, and tries to flee from Wiggum. Until the meter falls onto Homer’s groin, incapacitating him and causing him to get into a car accident that destroys the meter. And that’s really it.
Anyway! The night of the fire alarm incident Bart heads home, and decides he needs to at least try to study. But then immediately just starts goofing off. Which isn’t going to fly with Lisa, who storms in and starts yelling at Bart, telling him to take it seriously. But as Bart is getting yelled at he somehow manages to fall asleep, and ends up having a weird dream where Springfield is the dumbest town in the world, and it’s all thanks to him closing the school.
Bart awakes from this dream, and realizes that it’s up to him to save the day. So he asks Lisa for help. And Lisa knows that it’s impossible to teach Bart everything he needs to know for the test, and instead teaches him how to take tests. She gives him all sorts of tricks, and the next day Bart arrives at the school, nervous but ready to take the test. And, after suffering through the grueling test Bart has to turn his test in, without finishing the last second. Luckily the bug that Bart was playing with earlier in the episode arrives, and sits on the missing answer, which gives Bart just enough points to pull Springfield Elementary’s score up, saving the school. Yay!
I don’t know what it is about this episode, but it just does absolutely nothing for me. We’ve seen Springfield Elementary in jeopardy before, we’ve seen the kids be stressed out over huge tests that will decide the fate of the school before, we’ve even seen Bart needing to study for a test and goofing off instead. We’ve seen all of this. Maybe not in this exact configuration, but there’s really nothing new about this episode. The only thing that’s even sort of fresh is the Homer B-Plot, but that this is so vestigial and brief that it barely counts. It’s just one of those episodes that doesn’t work for me, at all. There are a few good gags I suppose, but they’re sandwiched by a bland, been-there-done-that plot, and one of those versions of Bart where he’s just completely malicious and uninterested in helping people.
Take Away: Even if you don’t care about something, have the decency to help others.
“A Test Before Trying” was written by Joel H Cohen and directed by Chris Clements, 2013.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons