Here we have two classic episodes in which both Bart, and his beloved best friend, Santa’s Little Helper, work tirelessly to get a passing grade. But success seems hopeless.
Airdate: October 11, 1990
Writer: David M. Stern
- Bart gets a 12 on a State Capitals test
- Lisa has several “A” papers on the Simpson family fridge, while Bart has one measly drawing of a kitty from 1st grade.
- Bart speaking to Martin on how to be cool: “Only geeks sit in the front of the bus.” Milhouse can be seen sitting front row center.
- Bart wears a purple shirt in this one, instead of his trademark orange. Not that noteworthy, but I just like it when they wearing different clothes. Perhaps his lucky red cap got mixed in with the wash again.
- Praying for a snow day. Boy does that take me back. Love Bart and Homer listening for cancellations the next day. I remember what it was like when I would hear my school’s name. Best. Feeling. Ever.
- Love the animation in the scene below.
- They’ve really captured what it’s like to be a kid and having to stay inside and study while everyone else is out having fun. The contrast from the drab, boring looking text books Bart’s nose is buried in to the bright, vibrant, colorful winter wonderland that’s taking place outside his bedroom window which ultimately drives him down to the even more dark and drab looking basement is executed perfectly.
And finally, we get one of my all time favorite scenes when Bart breaks down to Edna after he has failed the test yet again. Bart has never been this human before.
I consider this the moment where the Simpsons separated themselves from the rest of their sitcom brethren. In most shows, Bart’s hard work would have paid off. His studying would have resulted in an A or B grade. Bart would have learned the lesson that hard work and studying pays off, and we the viewer would get the typical forced, contrived, everything’s okay in the end sitcom schmaltz that was so common during that period in television. But instead, Bart fails. Again. And he breaks down in tears. Because sometimes hard work isn’t enough. You still fail. And in this, The Simpsons give us a much better lesson. They don’t emphasize the results of Bart’s test, but rather the effort that he puts in. And because of that effort, Bart is able to correctly answer one extra credit question which results in Edna changing his grade and allowing him to pass the 4th grade.
Now, would that happen in real life? Would a teacher really do that? Maybe in elementary school. But not in anything higher than that. Perhaps teachers wouldn’t do that for a student, but maybe they should. Fiction doesn’t always have to show us an exact replica of how the world works, just the way it ought to.
Bart’s tears of frustration quickly change to tears of joy as he exuberantly kisses his teacher and proudly runs through the schoolyard shouting, “I passed!”. Thanks to the writers not taking the easy route and going down the typical sitcom path of having Bart go from troubled student to ‘A’ student, the episode evokes a genuine emotional response from the viewer. Or at least it did in this viewer. Especially when I was Bart’s age. I could never relate to all those other happy families on TV at the time with their picture perfect endings where everything works out in the end. Here, it doesn’t work out the way Bart planned but because he put his best foot forward, and with a little help from a good teacher, he was able to pass.
Airdate: March 7, 1991
Writer: Jon Vitti
- When the Simpson family speak, Santa’s Little Helper hears only gibberish. Oddly enough, at one point in the previous episode, when Edna speaks to Bart, Bart also only hears gibberish. Great minds think alike. Santa’s Little Helper really is his owner’s dog.
- Love Lisa’s confusing Bart with circular logic:
Bart: No way, she’s faking it! If Lisa stays home, I stay home.
Lisa: If Bart stays home, then I go to school.
Bart: Wait a minute. If Lisa goes to school, I go to school, but then Lisa stays home so I stay home, so Lisa goes to school….
Marge: Lisa, don’t confuse your brother like that.
- Homer: “Oooh….maca-ma-damian nuts.”
- Marge (on Homer’s new sneakers): I thought we agreed to consult each other before any major purchases. Homer: Well, you bought all those smoke alarms, and we haven’t had a single fire.
- And finally, this is the first example I can recall of a Simpsons episode actually making me tear up.
When I was 10 I had to give my dog away because he barked too much and the neighbors complained. Stupid Flanders! I tried everything to train him, but nothing worked. He was a black and white sheltie-collie named Socks. And much like Santa’s LIttle Helper’s destructive behavior, his barking was out of control.
Luckily my Mom’s boyfriend at the time took him in. We lived in a small enclosed neighborhood, which in retrospect was no place for a growing dog like him. He needed somewhere he could run and be free to be a dog without any stupid Flanders neighbors complaining. And he got that. So in the end, it’s what was best for him. But I was devastated.
This episode of the Simpsons, specifically the scene where Bart plays with Santa’s Little Helper for what he believes will be the last time, always gets to me.
The episode remains one of my favorites all these years later, and I still find ways to relate to it. A few years ago I lost another furry friend of 14 years. A tabby cat named Boo Boo. He was the best. I will remember saying goodbye to him for the rest of my life.
- Bart: “I thought we were gonna be together forever, boy. But we’re gonna have to say goodbye.”
That line kills me every time.
You son of a bitch! Good show!
“Bart Gets An F” & “Bart’s Dog Gets An F” both get an A+ in my books. But this tournament is designed to be all killer & no filler, which means only the best against the best, nothing past season 8. And so I have a difficult choice to make. One of these classics has to go. They both pack an emotional punch, although as an animal lover “Bart’s Dog Gets An F” hits a little closer to home for me.
But, in honor of the late Marcia Wallace, and because it’s such a pivotal episode in the series and in the development of the Bart/Edna relationship, I’m giving the nod to “Bart Get’s An F”.
In memory of Marcia Wallace
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