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Recap / The Simpsons S1 E2 "Bart the Genius"

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"Bart, we'd like you to try a kind of school that doesn't rely on grades and rules and bells and buzzers. A school without walls, where you do as much or as little of the assignments as you feel you need to. Does that sound good, Bart?"

Original air date: 1/14/1990

Production code: 7G02

Bart cheats on an intelligence test by swapping papers with class nerd Martin Prince, and soon finds himself transferred to an elementary school for genius kids, who don't see Bart as one of them, while Homer thinks otherwise and bonds with him.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Marcia Wallace's credit is misspelled "Marsha Wallace" in the original airdate.note 
  • Animal Motifs: One of the first examples of Homer being associated with apes and monkeys comes when Bart defines a "kwyjibo" as a fat, dumb, balding and chinless North American ape. Notably, Homer is holding a banana when he asks what a kwyjibo is.
  • Animation Bump:
    • The only reason that the show stayed on the air past the disastrous production of "Some Enchanted Evening" was that this episode's animation was closer to and more consistently in the style that the show runners were going for: cartoonish designs with consistent anatomy, animated economically.
    • Despite this, being an early episode, there are still some looser scenes. Homer's temper tantrum at the end of the episode is particularly expressive and cartoony.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: Mixing acids and bases does not cause explosions of gunk that dye you green.
  • Artistic License – Space: The second moon of Neptune is considerably smaller than the eighth moon of Jupiter, so no, a feather on the former would not outweigh a bowling ball on the latter.
  • At the Opera Tonight: Marge takes the family out to see a production of Carmen in Russian.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Increasingly in over his head at the smart kid school, Bart comes up with a very neat plan to restore Status Quo Is God without losing face: he proposes going undercover as a "regular dumb kid" at his old school in order to study his former classmates. Dr. Pryor is all for it and tells him to write a project proposal, but Bart quickly realizes he can't even hack that and writes a full confession instead.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Martin politely asks Mrs Krabappel if he can study outside after finishing the exam, primarily so he can pull rude faces at Bart from the window.
    • Similarly, the students at the gifted school act polite and studious in class, only to condescend and play pranks on Bart during breaks.
  • Blatant Lies: At the end of the episode, Homer, after learning the truth of Bart's test scores, chases him down to his bedroom, where Bart locks himself into. At an attempt to get him to come out, Homer claims that he wants to give him love with a big hug. However, Bart doesn't buy it for a single second, revealing that while he may be dumb in school, he's not that stupid to fall for Homer's trick.
  • Bookends: The episode begins and ends with Homer angrily chasing after Bart.
  • Can't Tie His Tie: Homer teaches Bart how to put on a necktie by presenting his clip-on: "The hook goes over the top, and these things go in there!"
  • Character Catchphrase: Marks the first use of Bart's "Eat my shorts!"
  • Characterisation Marches On:
    • Martin Prince is more of a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing in this episode, mocking Bart when authorities aren't looking. This is quite a contrast to the hopelessly naive bully magnet he ends up being in later episodes.
    • Though Lisa shows subtle signs of her later precocious personality here, she actually shares Homer and Bart's derogatory view of the opera and finds their heckling Actually Pretty Funny. In any season after she'd be as humiliated as Marge.
    • Heck, in any season after Lisa would be furious that her stupid brother is labeled a genius while her own sharp intellect continues to be ignored and neglected — but this is the second episode of the first-ever season, and that part of her character doesn't exist yet.
    • The idea that Bart could be a brilliant kid stifled by the academic establishment is presented as laughable in this episode, with Bart's otherwise bright idea for getting out of the genius school without losing face—proposing to go undercover at his old school as a social experiment—hitting a wall thanks to his inability to scratch out a basic project proposal at the sentence level. The show would later move into making him Book Dumb with a range of talents and Hidden Depths that don't map well onto what he's supposed to be doing in school.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    Skinner: I caught your son defacing school property this morning. We estimate the damage at 75 dollars, and frankly, we think it's terribly unfair that other taxpayers should foot the bill.
    Homer: Yeah, it's a crummy system, but what are you gonna do? (Marge whispers in his ear) Oh no! He can't mean that! (to Skinner) My wife thinks you want me to pay for it.
    Skinner: That was the idea.
    Homer: Oh. (grabs his wallet while giving Bart a hard Death Glare)
  • Couch Gag: The family sits on the couch and squashes Bart into the air. He comes back down during the TV scene.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • In the opening sequence, Homer does not scream when Marge almost runs him over.
    • This is also the only Couch Gag (repeated in "The Telltale Head") that continues into the shot of the television screen until "The Wreck of the Relationship" from Season 26.
    • Principal Skinner has a secretary and an intercom in this episode, both he is directly stated to lack in the gag for a later episode. Such a frivolity makes sense to be done away with in episodes after, where the school's lack of funding and competent resources is a large source of comedy.
    • Lisa is not the least bit miffed that her idiot older brother is mistaken for a genius while her sharp intellect continues to be neglected — mostly because that aspect of her character hasn't been established yet.
    • The backgrounds of this episode, as well as "Homer's Odyssey" and parts of "Some Enchanted Evening", used lots of gradients. The interiors of the Simpsons' house were also more nebulous and cartoonish, bearing little resemblance to the more familiar designs. There's also far more off-model or cartoony shots of animation in this episode, even by the standards of most of Season One.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Homer's stupidity (his inability to recognize the word "OXIDIZE" during the Scrabble game and his line about Albert Einstein turning all sorts of colors when he invented the lightbulb) and his anger (chasing Bart around the house twice).
    • Lisa is shown to be wise beyond her years when she plays "Id" as a word in Scrabble and is shown as the only member of her family to know what the word means (or even that it's an actual word, and not just her trying to sneak in "I.D.", as Homer initially assumes).
    • Bart's rebellious and inattentive nature is demonstrated when he repeatedly badmouths Scrabble, then when his turn comes, he plays the nonsense word of "Kwyjibo", then attempts to declare himself the winner and leave. It's further demonstrated when Homer irately demands to know what a "Kwyjibo" is, and Bart tries a non-too-subtle Stealth Insult towards his father.
  • First Day of School Episode: Bart is mistaken for a genius and transferred to a new school, his first day there taking up one scene.
  • Foil: Ms. Melon is calm and nurturing to her students and encourages independence and creativity in a pedagogically progressive environment, which heavily contrasts Mrs. Krabappel.
  • Funny Background Event: While the other Simpsons play Scrabble, Maggie can be seen spelling out "E=mc^2" with her toy blocks.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Bart cheating leads him not only to avoid botching the exam but get labelled a genius and sent to a gifted school where he ends up feeling miserable and out of place. He attempts to shrewdly return to his old school by disguising his intentions as a study of less intelligent kids, only for Dr. Pryor to put him at work with a complex proposal in response. Bart very quickly decides it isn't worth it and confesses the whole thing.
  • Handwriting as Characterization: Principal Skinner suspects that Bart is forging Homer's signature on permission slips because of the childish handwriting, but then he receives a check that Homer just signed, and it matches the "forged" signature exactly. This shows how uneducated and immature Homer is.
  • Hollywood Board Games: The family playing Scrabble is used to cement their personalities and intelligence level. Marge is average, as she has a good vocabulary but is unaware of more obscure words such as "ID". Lisa, the genius Bookworm, is winning the game with her ample vocabulary. By contrast, Homer ignores words such as "OXIDIZE" and is constantly telling his family to not engage in Scrabble Babble. Bart is equally ignorant and isn't even interested in the game, showing he is inattentive and Book Dumb. Also, he's willing to cheat because he does invent a word when it's his turn.
  • The Illegible: When discussion Bart's behavior with Homer and Marge, Skinner accuses him of handing in excuse notes that are "obviously childish forgeries", due to the terrible handwriting on them. Skinner then compares one of the so-called "forgeries" to the check Homer just wrote for him and realizes that Homer's handwriting really is that bad.
  • Imagine Spot: Bart has one while working on a math problem on the intelligence test.
  • Insufferable Genius: Martin apparently has an IQ of 216, as the school would have discovered if he hadn't earned Bart's wrath (and his inaugural use of an iconic Catchphrase Insult).
    Martin: Bart, I hope you won't bear some sort of simpleminded grudge against me. I was merely trying to fend off the desecration of the school building.
    Bart: Eat my shorts!
    Martin: Pardon?
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Played with. Bart desires to see Milhouse and friends at Springfield Elementary. But when he visits them, they turn him away, thinking he's still a genius.
  • It Runs in the Family: Subverted when Dr. Pryor explains that genius such as the one Bart allegedly has is genetic, but, considering how stupid Homer is, Pryor handwaves it as a total mystery.
  • I Will Show You X!: When Bart tries explaining what a "kwyjibo" is:
    Bart: Kwyjibo. Uh... (looks at Homer) a big, dumb, balding North American ape. With no chin.
    Marge: And a short temper.
    Homer: I'LL SHOW YOU A BIG DUMB BALDING APE! (knocks the table over and chases Bart)
    Bart: (runs away) Uh-oh, Kwyjibo on the loose!
  • Karma Houdini: Martin receives no retribution for his constant taunting of Bart.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Dr. Pryor is implied to be such, given he repeatedly misdiagnoses Bart, including using Craniometry, an outdated practice in measuring his intellect (see above), and shoots down any of Skinner's suspicions on the matter in favor of an immediate transfer. Bart manages to keep him oblivious to the truth until he finally caved in from the pressure of his studies and confessed himself.
  • Know When to Fold Them: When Bart gets tricked into giving away large portions of his lunch in exchange for significantly smaller ones due to his classmates exploiting his ignorance of unit conversion, Bart immediately gives up his desert before they could rip him off again.
    Ian: Bart, would you wager your cupcake against my—?
    Bart: Save your breath.
  • Literal Metaphor: When Bart is caught with red spray paint on his hands, and Martin Prince tells Principal Skinner "[He] might say [he] caught him red-handed".
  • Naked People Are Funny: The ending has Homer furiously chasing a naked Bart through the house, after he confesses that he cheated on the intelligence test while having a load of green goo washed off of him from a chemistry experiment that went wrong. The resulting sight is met with complete apathy by Marge, Lisa and Maggie as the two charge through the living room.
  • Nobody's That Dumb: After Bart locks himself in his room, Homer feigns having forgiven him for cheating and asks him to come out so he can comfort him. Bart simply tells Homer he's insulted by that pitiful attempt to outsmart him.
  • Noodle Incident: Bart makes faces at Martin and Mrs. Krabappel asks Bart "Are those naughty dogs back again?" No other details are given other than the fact that two dogs supposedly mated in full view of Springfield Elementary's fourth-grade class sometime in the past.
  • Nothing Personal: Martin insists he only told on Bart to fend off the desecration of the school building. After Bart tells him to stuff it, he tattles on him again and taunts him from outside the classroom.
  • Only Sane Man: Skinner and Lisa are the only ones suspicious of Bart's test results. Skinner even advises having Bart retake the exam, but when Pryor insists on moving him to a new school, he excitedly relents.
  • Playing Catch with the Old Man: Bart is going to confess to Homer that he is only in a gifted school because he switched tests with another student, but when Homer invites Bart (for the first time) to play catch in the backyard, Bart decides not to confess.
  • Rejected Apology: Bart has been on both the giving and receiving end of this in this episode.
    • Martin tries to talk to Bart after snitching on him, hoping there are no hard feelings, only for Bart to respond with his first-ever usage of "Eat my shorts!".
    • After Bart confesses to Homer that he cheated on the test at the end, he apologizes to his father for his act. How does Homer respond? He attempts to strangle him, only for Bart to run into his room to avoid his father's wrath.
  • Scrabble Babble: The former Trope Namer of "Kwyjibo".
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: The teacher at the gifted school writes "r-cubed over three" on the board and asks for the derivative, which the rest of the class laughs at in amusement, but Bart doesn't understand. She then explains the solution can be written as "R D RR" or "Hardy Har Har!". Doubles as a Genius Bonus if you know enough about algebraic formatting to know that "RDRR" would never appear that way using proper formatting, and you would have to purposefully go out of your way to write out the expression the wrong way to make the joke work.
  • Special Edition Title: Downplayed in that the Title Sequence had Bart fall past the screen during the "Created By/Developed By" part (due to the Couch Gag having Homer force Bart out of the couch).note 
  • The Stool Pigeon: Bart switched papers with Martin largely to get pay back for his constant snitching.
  • TV Genius: Bart's new school turns out to be filled with this trope. All the students speak in Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness and delight in discussing theories about the paradoxes of human nature. Subverting the tropes' usual social status, it is Bart that ends up isolated, since the students quickly figure out he's no genius and begin trolling and ostracizing him.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Both Lisa and Marge react this way when a furious Homer chases a naked green-colored Bart through the house at the end:
    Marge: (knitting) What's going on out there?
    Lisa: (watching TV) I think Bart's stupid again, Mom.
    Marge: Oh. Well...
  • Visual Pun: Homer is holding a banana when he tells Bart to define what a "kwyjibo" actually is.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Bart's initial purpose for switching tests was to get back at class snitch Martin, though the consequences this has on him are never revealed. The original script included a scene where Dr. Pryor talks to Martin's parents about his failing the IQ test and needing to go to a school for children with mental disabilities. When you think about it, Bart fessing up at the end should have meant that Martin ended up at the genius school, yet he remains Bart's classmate to this day. But then, Bart only admitted generically that he cheated on the test, without revealing that it was Martin's answers he stole in particular.
  • Wild Take: Homer throws a particularly expressive tantrum after Bart locks himself in his room and mocks him for his attempts to get him out at the end of the episode, yelling at him in Angrish and repeatedly clawing at and banging his head repeatedly against the door.
    Homer: (not-so-subtly acting calm) Son, if you don't come out, I can't hug you, and kiss you, and make you feel all better!
    Bart: (sipping from a drink cup as he reads a comic book) You think I'm dumb enough to fall for that? I'm insulted!
    (an irate Homer screams and mashes at Bart's door in a rage)


Video Example(s):


Mix acids and bases

Bart mixing acids and bases causes the whole class to be completely drenched

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / CoveredInGunge

Media sources: