Bart Gets an "F"
"Bart Gets an 'F'" is the first episode of the second season of The Simpsons. It aired originally on the Fox network in the United States on October 11, 1990. In this episode, Bart Simpson fails four consecutive history exams and the school psychiatrist recommends he repeat the fourth grade. Bart vows that he will start to do better and attempts to get the resident class genius Martin Prince to help him. After that backfires, Bart prays to God for help. That night, Springfield is hit with a massive blizzard, and the school is closed, giving Bart another day to study.
|"Bart Gets an 'F'"|
|The Simpsons episode|
The "Snow Day" sequence was one of the most difficult sequences David Silverman had to animate, as it featured multiple panoramic shots and was hard to time coherently.
|Episode no.||Season 2|
Episode 1 (14th overall)
|Directed by||David Silverman|
|Written by||David M. Stern|
|Original air date||October 11, 1990|
|Chalkboard gag||"I will not encourage others to fly".|
|Couch gag||The couch falls through the floor as Homer says "D'oh!"|
James L. Brooks
The episode was written by David M. Stern and directed by David Silverman. Mayor Quimby makes his first appearance, and the episode was the first to feature a new opening sequence. "Bart gets an 'F'" was the third episode produced for the second season, but it was chosen to be the season premiere because Bart was prominently featured.
Due to the success of the first season of The Simpsons, Fox decided to switch the show's time slot to Thursday at 8:00 p.m. EST where it would air opposite NBC's The Cosby Show, the number one show at the time. Throughout the summer, several news outlets published stories about the supposed "Bill vs. Bart" rivalry and heavily hyped the first episode of the second season. Several critics predicted "Bart gets an 'F'" would do considerably worse in the ratings than The Cosby Show. However, the episode's final Nielsen rating was 18.4 and a 29% share of the audience placing it second in its time slot behind The Cosby Show with an 18.5 rating and 29% share. The episode finished eighth in the weekly ratings but was watched by an estimated 33.6 million viewers, making it the week's number one show in terms of actual viewers. It became the highest rated and most watched program in the history of the Fox network and remained so until January 1, 1995. It remains the highest rated episode in the history of The Simpsons.
"Bart Gets an 'F'" has received positive reviews from television critics. Entertainment Weekly ranked it 31st on its 1999 list of "The 100 Greatest Moments in Television".
Bart presents a book report at Springfield Elementary School on Treasure Island, but throughout his presentation, it is blatantly obvious he has not read the book. After school, Bart's teacher Mrs. Krabappel tells him his grades have been getting steadily worse and warns him about an upcoming exam on Colonial America. Bart does not pay attention and puts off studying. At school the next day, he feigns illness. That night, Lisa warns Bart he cannot evade his responsibilities forever, but he calls Milhouse for the test answers. After school the next day, an overconfident Bart hands in his test, only to get a poor score that is even worse than Milhouse's substandard test. This makes Mrs. Krabappel take remedial action.
Homer and Marge are called in to meet with Mrs. Krabappel and the school psychiatrist Dr. J. Loren Pryor. Dr. J says Bart is an underachiever and recommends he repeat the fourth grade. Homer and Marge consider that holding Bart back might not be such a bad idea. However, Bart is against it and vows he will start to do better and will pass. In desperation, Bart asks Martin Prince to help him get a passing grade. Martin is initially reluctant to help Bart. He only agrees to do so when Bart says he will show him how to become more popular. The boys help each other out initially, but Martin starts to take on some of Bart's poor character traits. He decides to quit being a bookworm and hang out with his new friends and go to the arcade abandoning Bart. Left with little time to study on his own, Bart prays to God and asks for a miracle to make him miss school the next day so he can have more time to study. That night, Springfield is hit with a massive blizzard, and the schools are closed.
After receiving word of the school closures, Bart prepares for a fun snow day. However, Lisa reminds him of his prayer, and Bart decides to make good with God by studying while everyone else is outside having fun. The next day, he finishes the test and asks Mrs. Krabappel to grade it immediately. She does so, giving him a 59, failing him by just one point. Bart breaks down at having failed despite all his efforts. Mrs. Krabappel is initially stunned and tries to console him, but when Bart compares his failure to George Washington's surrender of Fort Necessity to the French in 1754, Mrs. Krabappel is impressed at this obscure historical reference. She realizes that Bart has put in more effort and gives him an extra point for demonstrating applied knowledge. This pushes his grade up to a D-, a barely passing grade. An ecstatic Bart runs through Springfield exclaiming to people that he has passed, later when Bart returns home, he has his grade D- put on the refrigerator and the episode ends.
"Bart gets an 'F'" was the first episode of The Simpsons written by David M. Stern. David Silverman directed it. Over the summer of 1990, Bart was characterized by some parents and conservatives as a poor role model for children because of his rebellious nature. Several American public schools banned T-shirts featuring Bart's image with captions such as "I'm Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?" and "Underachiever ('And proud of it, man!')". Several critics thought the episode was a response to these controversies. However, executive producer James L. Brooks responded it was not but added, "we're mindful of it. I do think it's important for us that Bart does badly in school. There are students like that. Besides, I'm very wary of television where everybody is supposed to be a role model. You don't run across that many role models in real life. Why should television be full of them?" Sam Simon commented that "there are themes to the shows we did last year, important themes, I think it's a tribute to how well we executed them that nobody realized we had a point." Bart says "Cowabunga" for the second time (the first time being in "The Telltale Head"). This was commonly associated with Bart through its use as a T-shirt slogan. Mayor Quimby makes his first appearance in this episode, without his trademark sash that says "Mayor". The sash was later added because the writers feared viewers would not recognize him.
The episode was the first to feature a new opening sequence, which was shortened by fifteen seconds from its original length of roughly 90 seconds. The first season's opening sequence shows Bart stealing a "Bus Stop" sign; while the new sequence features him skateboarding past several characters who were introduced during the previous season. Lisa's bike ride was cut, replaced by a one-second whiplash pan of Springfield showing other characters, before Homer's car pulls up in the driveway. Starting with season two there were three versions of the opening: a full roughly 75-second version, a 45-second version and a 25-second version. This gave the show's editors more leeway. David Silverman believes the animators began to "come into their own" as they had become used to the characters and were able to achieve more with character acting. During the scene where Bart delivers a speech saying he is "dumb as a post", Silverman wanted to cut quickly from several angles to give a sense of anxiety. Martin Prince's design was changed several times during the episode. There was a different model with larger eyes and wilder hair designed for the scene where Martin betrays Bart and runs off. Silverman describes the "Snow Day" sequence as one of the hardest things he ever had to animate. It features several long pans that show many characters engaging in various activities that was difficult to time correctly. Bart's fantasy where he sees the founding fathers of the United States uses muted colors and variations of red, white and blue. Silverman also had to work hard to make Bart cry without making his design look too off-putting; for this reason he is shown covering his face with a piece of paper.
Move to ThursdayEdit
The first season of The Simpsons had finished as high as fourth in the weekly ratings and was the Fox network's first series to rank among a season's top 30 highest-rated shows. Bart quickly became one of the most popular characters on television in what was termed "Bartmania". Due to the success of the show's first season, Fox decided to switch The Simpsons' time slot hoping it would steal ratings from NBC's "powerhouse" line up, generate more advertising revenue, and lead to higher ratings for Beverly Hills, 90210 and Babes, which would follow the show. The show was moved from its 8:00 p.m. EST Sunday night slot to the same time on Thursday, where it would compete with NBC's The Cosby Show, the number one show at the time. Many of The Simpsons' producers, including James L. Brooks, were against the move. The show had been in the top 10 while airing on Sunday and they felt the move would destroy its ratings. Brooks commented: "Suddenly a show that was a hit is fighting for its survival, [...] We're not fighting Cosby, we just want to get healthy ratings. There have been two weeks in my life when a show I was associated with was number one in the ratings, and on Sunday night, we had a chance to be the number one show in the country. I don't think we have a chance on Thursday night."
"Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish" was the first episode produced for the season, but "Bart gets an 'F'" aired first because Bart was popular at the time and the producers had wanted the premiere to be an episode involving him. It aired opposite the fourth episode of the seventh season of The Cosby Show titled "Period of Adjustment", which saw the addition of Erika Alexander to the cast. The first 13 episodes of The Simpsons had been rerun several times through the summer, and Fox had promoted the first new episode heavily since May. News outlets had published stories about the supposed "Bill vs. Bart" rivalry.
Reruns of The Simpsons that aired in the Thursday time slot against new episodes of The Cosby Show were ranked as low as 73rd in the weekly ratings (compared with third place for The Cosby Show). Several critics predicted "Bart gets an 'F'" would do considerably worse in the ratings than The Cosby Show. Greg Dawson of the Orlando Sentinel wrote he would "bet dollars to plain-cake doughnuts (a Homer pet peeve) that even a fresh Simpsons won't come within five rating points of Cosby, which could get a 30 share in a power blackout." Fox executive Peter Chernin said they were hoping to establish a foothold on Thursday night and "if we're really lucky and very fortunate, we're going to come in second place".
Early overnight ratings figures for the original broadcast of "Bart gets an 'F'" in 24 cities projected that The Simpsons had a 19.9 Nielsen Rating and 30% share of the audience, while The Cosby Show had a 19.3 Nielsen Rating and 29% share. However, the final rating for the episode was an 18.4 and a 29% share of the audience. This placed it second in its time slot behind The Cosby Show, which had an 18.5 rating and 29% share. At the time, NBC had 208 television stations, while Fox had only 133. It finished eighth in the weekly ratings, tied with Who's the Boss?, while The Cosby Show finished seventh. The rating is based on the number of household televisions that were tuned into the show. Nielsen Media Research estimated that 33.6 million viewers watched the episode, making it the number one show in terms of actual viewers that week—The Cosby Show was watched by 28.5 million viewers and finished seventh. It became the highest rated and most watched program in the history of the Fox Network. It remained in that position until January 1, 1995, when a National Football League playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears achieved a Nielsen Rating of 21.0. It remains the highest rated episode in the history of The Simpsons.
Bart's slapdash book report was on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island, while Martin presents Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Later on, Martin makes remarks about the forecastle of the Pequod in reference to Moby Dick. During "Snow Day", the citizens of Springfield sing "Winter Wonderland". The scene where everyone in Springfield gathers around the town circle, holds hands and begins singing is a reference to How the Grinch Stole Christmas! "Hallelujah", the chorus from George Frideric Handel's Messiah, can be heard when it starts snowing.
The episode has received positive reviews from television critics. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, wrote, "A cracking opener to the second season – especially memorable for the sequence in which Bart prays for school to be cancelled the following day only to find himself exiled from the ensuing winter wonderland." Virginia Mann of The Record felt it was "not as wildly funny as last season's best episodes, [but still] well-done, humorous, and, at times, poignant." The episode was praised for its emotional scenes. Tom Shales wrote the episode is "not only funny, it's touching" and praised it for the scenes where Bart prays, writing "There are few if any other entertainment shows on television that get into philosophical matters even this deeply. The Simpsons can be as thoughtful as a furrow-browed Bill Moyers pontification – yet infinitely more amusing." The Miami Herald's Hal Boedeker felt it "pulls off a finale that's thoughtful without being preachy, tender without being sappy. Despite the tears, the show keeps its edge. And the way TV usually smears on the schmaltz, that's quite an achievement." Phil Kloer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote "The episode does a good job of emphasizing the importance of studying without getting gooky. For all the talk about the anarchy of The Simpsons, the show sometimes has smuggled in an occasional message, as it does again." In his book The Gospel According to the Simpsons, Mark I. Pinsky writes "Bart gets an 'F'" offers the most detailed portrayal of the dynamic of prayer on The Simpsons." Steve L. Case later included the episode in his book Toons That Teach, a list of 75 cartoons that help teach biblical lessons.
The episode was ranked 31st on Entertainment Weekly's list of "The 100 Greatest Moments in Television", with Bruce Fretts noting it "stands as classic irreverent family TV". In 2007, Larina Adamson, a supervising producer on The Simpsons, named "Bart Gets an 'F'" as her favorite episode of the series. In 2010, the BBC named "Bart gets an 'F'" as one of the ten most memorable episodes of the show, calling it "insightful and poignant".
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