Episode - 7F03
First Aired - 10/11/1990
Airing on Thursday evenings at this point and successfully competing with the still-untouchable The Cosby Show, "Bart Gets an 'F'" would be a milestone in the history of The Simpsons. Not only was this new series entering its second season, but it was the start of a season that would solidify the success of what is now the longest-running animated prime-time series in television history. And this episode would mark the turning point for Animated Television as a whole, because after decades of turmoil and angry parent groups and low budgets, of countless Scooby-Doo clones and shameful toy tie-ins, Animated Television had truly come of age, and proven itself the equal of Theatrical Animation (which was already entering a new golden age thanks to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the subsequent Disney Renaissance), perhaps even acceeding it. Thus began the golden age of Animated Television.
And to think that one of the major reasons for the success of The Simpsons was the central character of this, the season premiere: Slacker, wisecracking bad-boy Bart, whose very personality traits result in this episode's crisis: Bart, unable to study, concentrate or perform well in the classroom on even routine assignments, falls into danger of being retained to the fourth grade.
The episode begins with Bart being asked to present his book report. He announces his subject as Treasure Island, but all his report is is ad-libbed bull, and when it becomes clear he did not read the book, his teacher, Edna Krabappel, confirms her suspicions by having him name the main pirate (Long John Silver), which Bart is unable to do. Mrs. Krabappel keeps Bart after school, and then tells him in no uncertain terms that if he does not improve his academic performance quickly, adding to his worries that there is a challenging test on Colonial America coming up, he will be in danger of flunking fourth grade; Bart is distracted and doesn't hear a word his teacher has said. Bart goes home and tries to study, but is continually distracted by such things as a video game and a monster movie on TV. The next day at school, Bart, realizing he is unprepared for the test, fakes an illness to go home early. He later calls Millhouse to get the answers to the test, but the information proves useless, as Bart gets his "F" with an apparently worse score than Millhouse. Homer and Marge are called to school to meet with Dr. Pryor and Mrs. Krabappel, all whom are concerned about Bart's poor academic habits and performance, and everyone agrees that it may be in Bart's best interest to repeat the fourth grade.
Bart, who is asked to be at the conference, objects to Dr. Pryor's recommendation and vows to do whatever he can to do better. To accomplish this goal, Bart asks his sworn nemesis, the nerdy Martin Prince, to tutor him. Martin agrees to help out under the condition that Bart promises to help make him cool. After a while, Martin decides to back out on his end of the bargain when he does become cool for the first time and discovering that being a slacker and prankster is more entertaining than studying. Left with no other alternative, Bart tearfully and earnestly prays to God to give him one more day to study.
God listens, and the next morning, a massive blizzard results in school being cancelled.
Bart celebrates and begins to dress up to go outside and play and join in all the revelry of this snow day. Lisa sees him and reveals that she heard him praying the previous evening for "one more day," and that he (Bart) had now better hold up his end of the bargain. Bart agrees with her and decides to change his plans. So while everyone else is enjoying the snow day, Bart tries his hardest to focus on the expected material for the test, and not always succeeding. The next day, Bart takes the test. Anxious about the outcome, he has Mrs. Krabappel grade it right away. She does and lo and behold, he gets a 59, 1 point below the passing threshhold.
Bart immediately breaks down in tears, telling Mrs. Krabappel that he honestly tried to study and he still failed. In the process, he blurts out that his failure is similar to George Washington's surrender of Fort Necessity to the French (in 1754). Mrs. Krabappel is stunned and pleased that Bart was able to successfully recall a relatively obscure historic event and its impact on Washington's future. She is so pleased by this development that she gives him an extra point on his test, meaning that he (barely) passed. Bart is extremely grateful, so much so that he kisses Mrs. Krabappel on the cheek and happily runs through Springfield to proudly state that he passed (he only stops when he realized that he kissed Mrs. Krabappel). Homer congratulates Bart for showing improvement and tapes the test to the refrigerator; Bart proudly states that part of the D-minus "belongs to God."
This episode contains examples of:
- Adults Are Useless: While everyone criticizes Bart's low test scores and laziness, none of the adults actually step in and try to help him study or stay focused.
- An Aesop: Failure is an inherent part of life. You can try to the best of your abilities and still fail at something, and hard work does not guarantee success.
- Art Evolution: The artwork and animation quality is much better-looking here than in season one, but it would take at least another season before it really improves.
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: This was the first episode to depict one of the root causes of Bart's perennially poor scholastic habits that being his inability to concentrate or prioritize his studies over his free time, which are wasted on video games, gorilla movies and just plain goofing off. Even when given an ultimatum to pass a final test or be retained to fourth grade, and given an extra day to study due to a sudden snowstorm, his attention span is shorter than that of a gnat. He has to resort to constantly slapping himself during his studying just to try and keep focus.
- Blah Blah Blah: Mrs. Krabappel tells Bart that his grades are getting worse and that there's a test coming up, then starts blahing, while Bart continues to respond "Yes, ma'am" until she asks him to verify what she's said. Later, Marge and Homer meet the school's psychiatrist about Bart's behavior, but Homer only hears blahs.
- Break the Haughty: Bart crying over his F. Then again, he didn't exactly do anything particularly nasty, heinous, or mischievous to anybody in this episode, so it seems more like a case of Break the Cutie.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: This usually applies to Bart, but it turns out that even though he worked harder than ever before, he still only barely got a high F (which got turned into a D- after Bart compared his failure to a failed battle George Washington led and Mrs. Krabappel saw this as a sign that Bart actually did learn something).
- Despair Event Horizon: Bart completely breaks down and believes himself to be a total failure when he gets an F on the test despite genuinely trying to study hard for it.
- Deus ex Machina:
- The blizzard that buys Bart one more day of studying could be explained away by perfectly normal means, but Lisa points out to Bart that it's the miracle he was praying to God for the previous night, and probably owes him for it.
- Bart quotes the Battle of Fort Necessity and Mrs. Krabappel arbitrarily raises his grade enough to pass.
- Downer Ending: In-Universe, with Gorilla The Conqueror. The film ends with Gorilla being put in a cage and set adrift at sea. Homer breaks down crying, finding the ending unfair.
- Evolving Credits: The opening sequence was re-animated and rescored starting with this episode. This animation would be used all the way up until the show went High Definition in Season 20, though the music would be redone again the next season.
- Facepalm: Bart's reaction when Martin paints a mural of Ms. Krabappel instead of a graffiti.
- Fictional Video Game: At the Noiseland Video Arcade, there is a green-pink Robert Goulet Destroyer, purple Eat My Shorts, purple Itchy Vs Scratchy, and purple Escape from Grandmas House.
- Gone Horribly Right: Bart's agreement to make Martin cool makes him so happy that he's no longer interested in helping Bart prepare for his quiz, despite agreeing to it.
- Hard Work Hardly Works: Played for drama. Even with all the grind work Bart undergoes prior to the day of the examination, he once again fails to score enough points to meet the passing threshold. It gets better for him, however, when Mrs. Krabappel compliments him for successfully demonstrating applied knowledge (after he comments about an obscure history event) and awards him an extra point, thus Bart barely passes.
- Held Back in School:
- The main part of the plot: Bart being told he is seriously being considered for retention due to his poor academic performance.
- An extreme example happens as an Imagine Spot, where Bart sees himself as being in the fourth grade 20 years later and one of his classmates is his son, Bart Jr.
- Otto also mentions being held back. Twice!
- Kick the Dog: Mrs Krabappel is right that Bart's not trying hard enough, but she doesn't exactly do anything to try and help him and just piles insults and criticism on him, right before he starts crying she openly says having Bart repeat the 4th grade will be hell.
- Killer Gorilla: It's Big Gorilla Week on the Million Dollar Movies channel. One film is Gorilla the Conquerer, whom Homer describes as "the grand-daddy of them all!" One film shown later on involves a giant gorilla in tap shoes.
- Mythology Gag: Dr. Pryor says that Bart's permanent record says he an "underachiever and proud of it", a reference to a popular slogan from Bart t-shirts.
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Even thought Bart was in danger of being left back, but manage to pass the fourth grade, the writers at the time had no idea that the series would last as long as it has, so they would constantly keep the children in the same grade, regardless of whether they pass or not.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
- Now honestly, when has Bart ever cared about his grades? Through, to be fair, he hadn't been in danger of having to repeat the fourth grade before.
- Edna trying to comfort Bart when the latter cried after seeing he really worked hard on trying to pass. She does end up passing him when he mentions something he did pay attention to.
- Pet the Dog: Despite everything in Kick the Dog, when Bart breaks down crying that he still failed despite trying so hard she tries to comfort him and then increases his grade to a D- when he shows that he did actually try to apply himself.
- Prayer Is a Last Resort: Bart prays for just one more day to study, as he struggles to study for his test. Lisa observes this and later reminds Bart of it when he tries to go sledding.Lisa: Prayer: the last refuge of a scoundrel.
- Reality Ensues: Of course someone who is "underachiever and proud of it" like Bart would have horrible grades, and even with all of his best effort at studying, Bart still gets an "F" when he takes the climactic test.
- Ridiculous Procrastinator: Deconstructed; Bart's inability to concentrate or start on something that isn't necessarily enjoyable to do takes center stage here.
- Self-Harm: Bart continuously slaps himself so he can pay attention to studying, which continues into a Match Cut where he's still slapping himself in class. (Could it be Nelson saw him doing this, and that's how he got his fondness for taunting his victims about how they are "hitting themselves"?)
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Sadly, all the episode ends up amounting to, knowing the show's reliance on Status Quo Is God and Not Allowed to Grow Up.
- So Proud of You: Homer says this to Bart at the end.
- That Man Is Dead: Cool Martin telling Bart the previous Martin no longer exists. He changes back to his nerdy self the next time we see him.
- Totally Radical: "Cowabunga!" This is actually the only time in the entire series(aside from "The Telltale Head") Bart says this.
- Unintentionally Sympathetic: In-Universe, Homer cries over the ending of Gorilla The Conqueror, finding the title character to be Not Evil, Just Misunderstood.
- Weather Saves the Day: Bart prays for a miracle to help him pass a test. The next morning, snow has fallen and school is canceled for the day, giving Bart extra time to study.
- Zeerust: The school of the future from Bart's Imagine Spot. The desks are equipped with built-in computers (with CRT displays, of course) as if the students couldn't just use their own laptops or tablets, and there's also a huge satellite dish on the roof outside, which was a standard way of showing futuristic interconnectivity before the days of the widespread Internet.