In 1987, an 18-month-old girl named Jessica [=McClure=] fell down a narrow well casing and remained trapped inside for 58 hours. Her story, and the rescue effort mobilized to rescue her, got national headlines and made Jessica the darling of the media.

About 4 1/2 years later, in the fictional world of Springfield, Bart pulls a prank by finding his inspiration in the Jessica [=McClure=] story by fooling the town into believing a little boy had fallen down an uncapped abandoned well.''.

The whole story begins at Wall E. Weasel's, a place known for mediocre pizza, ill-maintained animatronics and bad video games. The birthday party there is even worse: Bart is annoyed at Wall E.'s attempt to sing him "Happy Birthday," the guests aren't who Bart wants at his party (Martin is one of the invitees) and he is especially disappointed in the gifts. One of those gifts (which Homer bought earlier after watching a TV commercial) is a microphone called the Superstar Celebrity Microphone, which can tap into localized AM radio systems. Homer persuades Bart about the Superstar Celebrity Microphone's potential ... and eventually, Bart realizes it can indeed be ''lots'' of fun, especially with his knack for creating practical jokes. He tricks Rod and Todd Flanders into believing God is talking to them, while he gets his dad to believe that martians are invading the Earth.

Then, one day while bored, Bart gets an idea: He thinks that, by throwing his transistor radio down narrow well shaft and while keeping it tuned to the correct frequency he can get people to believe that a little boy had fallen down the well. Which he does. When he begins a "crying for help" act and gets a response, he tells his potential rescuers that he is an orphan named Timmy O'Toole has fallen down the well. A rescue operation is mobilized but it quickly becomes a circus, with people setting up a carnival, and they realize they can't get poor Timmy out. Meanwhile, Krusty the Clown gets musician Music/{{Sting}} to join Springfield celebrities in recording a charity single, "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well." The charity single soars to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Late one night, Lisa happens to be walking by Bart's room when she overhears him doing his "Timmy" act and then getting into a fight with Santa's Little Helper over the microphone. Lisa realizes that Bart is playing a cruel practical joke on the town and warns that he will be exposed. Bart after hastily explaining [=SLH=]'s growling scoffs, until Lisa reminds him that he used a label maker (one of the gifts he was bored with) to put his name on the radio. Bart knows that someone will probably find the radio and that he would be in big trouble if it were found beforehand, so he sets out to get it. As he's descending the well, Bart slips and loses the grip on his rope. The rope falls to the bottom ... and now, Bart is trapped for real.

Bart yells for help, and when he explains his predicament to the initial responders, Bart is forced to admit that Timmy O'Toole doesn't exist and that he was playing what he thought was a funny joke. The townspeople are outraged and decide to teach him a lesson by leaving him trapped there. At the same time, "We're Sending Our Love Down The Well" dramatically falls from No. 1 to No. 97, while Bart becomes the butt of jokes in town. The actual crisis is ignored by both the media and the police, prompting a frustrated Homer to finally take action and mobilize a crew of his own to rescue his son. Although nobody helps at first, Groundskeeper Willie decides that saving a life is more important than festering on anger and decides to help Homer; other residents including Sting realize they must do the right thing and eventually are able to excavate Bart out of the well.

Bart is truly regretful and has learned [[AnAesop a lesson about how practical jokes can have serious consequences]]. But has the town? Instead of capping the well or having it removed, Willie decides a simple warning sign next to the well will suffice in preventing future accidents.

!!This episode provides examples of:
* AnAesop: Practical jokes may seem cute and funny, but they can have serious consequences, especially if you [[AGodAmI pretend to be God]] in order to get your neighbors to give you what you want and later trick the entire town into panicking over a child's safety.
* AsHimself: Music/{{Sting}}.
* AssholeVictim: Bart deserved to suffer some karmic retribution because of the prank, true, but this trope is somewhat deconstructed in the same act because a whole town full of people (initially) deciding to leave a kid to die as payback for making them look like fools is an act a whole lot more cruel in comparison.
* BlackComedy: Marge knits Bart a sweater to wear in the well, which is too big for him, to which Homer replies "You'll grow into it," much to Marge's chagrin.
* CharityMotivationSong: "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well." The bulk of the profits go to the benefit of its many expensive celebrity singers; the rest gets tossed down the well.
* CryingWolf: People who play unfunny practical jokes, lie, etc. all the time -- as Bart has done -- tend to be ignored when a real crisis arises.
* CuttingTheKnot: The townspeople come up with all sorts of weird ideas for how to free "Timmy", ranging from using a fishing line baited with chocolate, to having him carried out by a falcon, to even cryogenically freezing him. In the end, Homer is the one who comes up with the simplest and most obvious solution-just grab a shovel and ''dig'' Bart out of there. As Willie lampshades:
-->'''Willie:''' Now why didn't I think of that?
** This could also apply to Bart as he could have dug a hole and announced that he freed "Timmy" instead of climbing down into the well with a rope.
* DisproportionateRetribution: ''A little boy'' makes you all look bad with a prank, is genuinely sorry for having made said prank, is suffering karmic retribution from said prank, and is ''tearfully begging for help because he doesn't wishes to die in the well''? Well -- and perhaps because Springfield residents are well aware of some of the pranks Bart has pulled in the past -- he can ''rot'' down there!
* DistractedByTheSexy: Homer gets so distracted by the sexy dancers on television that when Lisa asks for money to buy Bart a birthday present, he gives her over $110.
* EpicFail: The song "We're Sending Our Love Down The Well" gets a literally meteoric fall down the hit charts thanks to the discovery that Timmy O'Toole is a fake, all the way to rock bottom. Creator/CaseyKasem (making a cameo on his role as the narrator of ''Radio/AmericanTop40'') mentions that this is something he's never seen before.
* FakeInteractivity: The birthday stage show at Wall E. Weasel's.
-->'''Wall E. Weasel:''' Hey there, I hear it's your birthday. How old are you?\\
'''Bart:''' Well, Im--\\
'''Wall E. Weasel:''' ''(interrupting)'' That's great! Would you like us to sing you a special song?\\
'''Bart:''' Hell, no.\\
'''Wall E. Weasle:''' You've got it!
* FastTunnelling: When Bart falls down a well, the townspeople dig a parallel hole to get him out.
* FictionalVideoGame: Among the arcade games at Wall E. Weasel's are ''Larry the Looter'', ''Touch of Death'' and ''Time Waster''.
* GoneHorriblyRight: Homer wanted to get Bart a birthday present that he'd greatly enjoy; looks like Bart enjoyed his present a little TOO much!
* GoodbyeCruelWorld: The Itchy and Scratchy cartoon has Scratchy find a suicide note of his roommate, Itchy, with the exact phrase goodbye cruel world. When Scratchy tries to prevent Itchy's suicide by jumping in a well, Itchy kills him for no reason.
* HilarityEnsues: In the real world, the police and fire crews ignoring Bart's real crisis after he actually does become trapped in the well would have left them open to huge lawsuits and criminal charges. Nobody seems to suffer any legal consequences here.
* HollywoodToneDeaf:
** The awful rendition of "Happy Birthday" (called "You're the Birthday Boy or Girl") by Wall E. Weasel and his cast, both the singing and the musical score. The robots are so bad that Wall E.'s mouth is clearly just moving up and down while the synthesized speech chip is playing.
** Homer's (usual) off-key rendition of C.W. [=McCall=]'s "Convoy."
* ICallItVera: Willie has a shovel he named Agnes.
* InventedIndividual: Timmy O'Toole, the HeartwarmingOrphan trapped in the well. The drama Bart endures on the third act comes from the murderous hatred the rest of Springfield feels from discovering they were fooled.
* IronWoobie: Discussed {{in-universe}}. Lisa doesn't believe that merely enduring suffering makes someone a hero, and Homer does.
* LaserGuidedKarma: Bart falls in the same well he fools the town into thinking he fell into earlier, complete with a large rock falling on his leg so can't be pulled out, like in the story he concocted.
* OhCrap: Bart when he realized he left a clue in the well linking him to the prank (the radio that has a "Property of Bart Simpson" label on it).
* OperatorsAreStandingBy: The commercial Homer watches for the Superstar Celebrity Microphone, urging him to buy now since (*gasp*) "supplies are limited!" ("LIMITED???!!! AHHHH!!!) [[note]](Of course, supplies aren't exactly limited, nor are the toys exactly flying off the shelves.)[[/note]]
* PapaWolf: Homer is the first one to grab a shovel and try to dig Bart out.
* RefuseToRescueTheDisliked: Practically everyone in town is so upset at Bart's prank they refuse to rescue him.
* TheReveal: This is the first episode to show Willie's [[ClarkKentOutfit muscular build under his shirt]].
* ShoutOut:
** Bart scares Homer with his radio broadcast into thinking that Martians have landed, in reference to the MoralPanic that errupted after the famous 1938 radio broadcast of ''Literature/WarOfTheWorlds'' by Creator/OrsonWelles.
** ''America's Top 10'' -- Creator/CaseyKasem hosts the program, announcing "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well" reaching No. 1, and then its record-setting fall nearly off the charts.
** Walter Cronkite: Kent Brockman's announcement about the Lincoln squirrel being assassinated is copied nearly frame for frame including a shot with Brockman removing horn-rimmed glasses while reading the news flash with the CBS News anchorman's announcement that President UsefulNotes/JohnFKennedy had officially been pronounced dead.
** Chuck E. Cheese's: What else Wall E. Weasel's.
** Superstar Celebrity Microphone -- Based on "Mr. Microphone," a real-life version of a microphone, which could be broadcast on AM frequencies, was marketed, also via a TV commercial with 1-800 number to order.
** The tough sailor offering to bring the boy back to the surface is a reference to Quint from ''Film/{{Jaws}}''.
** "We are the World" by U.S.A. for Africa -- "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well" and its music video is a parody.
** When Homer hears Bart crying, he exclaims, "[[{{ComicStrip/Popeye}} That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!]]" before grabbing a shovel and starting to dig a tunnel to reach Bart.
* StatingTheSimpleSolution: When Homer finally decides he can't put up with the town's coldness and lack of effort in rescuing Bart, he just grabs a shovel and starts digging on his own.
-->'''Willie''': ''(seeing Homer digging)'' Ach, now why didn't I think of that?!\\
''(goes back into his shed briefly)''\\
'''Willie''': ''(to his shovel)'' Agnes...we've got work to do! ''(rips off his shirt and top part of his overalls)''
* StockFootage:
** The clip of Homer and Marge in bed is taken from "[[Recap/TheSimpsonsS3E9SaturdaysOfThunder Saturdays of Thunder]]"
** The footage of Lou and Eddie visiting Homer and Marge is taken from "[[Recap/TheSimpsonsS2E7BartVsThanksgiving Bart vs. Thanksgiving]]"
* SuckECheeses: Wall E. Weasel's. Downplayed, as the place isn't egregiously bad, but it does have ill-maintained animatronics, crummy video games (cf. Bart playing "Larry the Looter" and losing after a shop owner shoots off his head), and a short scene shows that it's stupid easy to cheat at skeeball (Nelson standing on the game and dropping the balls in the center hole).
* SuddenlyVoiced: This was the first speaking role, or rather singing role, for Sideshow Mel.
* TheUnreveal: We never find out what Lisa bought for Bart with the money Homer gave her.
* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: Bart's "joke" about a boy falling down a well casing is inspired by the real-life events involving 18-month-old Jessica [=McClure=] becoming trapped in a narrow well.
* WholePlotReference: The concept of this episode evokes ''Film/AceInTheHole'', a Creator/BillyWilder-directed movie in which an accident trapping a shopkeeper in a cave sparks a media frenzy. Both stories even involve someone making a pop song about the victim, and a carnival becoming formed at the site of the disaster.
* WingedSoulFliesOffAtDeath: Happens to Scratchy in the ''Itchy & Scratchy'' cartoon. Or it would, if not for Itchy waiting for him at the top of the well with a shotgun.
* WorstNewsJudgmentEver: This episode provides the trope image with the Lincoln Squirrel. And later on, as the town proceeds to dig Bart out of the well, Kent Brockman reports, "This just in: the Lincoln Squirrel has been assassinated!"
** Adding to that, Brockman claims that the station will stay with this story all night if they have to. That was the exact case with the Kennedy assassination as the networks provided roughly 77 hours of coverage from around 1:30 PM Eastern time on Friday, November 22, 1963 to the following Monday evening.
* WouldHurtAChild: The town was perfectly willing and able (up until Homer took things into his own hands) to leave Bart in the well, sentencing him to a slow and painful death and an equally ignoble eternal rest, as payback for his prank.