(originally aired January 14, 1990)
So in our first “normal” episode, we get a better look at Bart, the miscreant of the Simpson clan. From infuriating his father during a game of Scrabble to spray painting an unflattering caricature of his principal on school grounds, he’s perfectly portrayed as a fun-loving wiseass, not motivated by any kind of malice, but just a kid-like desire for crudity. When know-it-all classmate Martin Prince rats him out for his graffiti, he exacts revenge by switching their aptitude tests. Bart is soon after declared a genius, and is sent off to a school better suited for his supposed intellectual gifts.
The Enriched Gifted Center for Learned Children is just as pretentious and snobby as the name suggests. Full of students who speak in complex anagrams and engage in existential debates and a teacher who encourages her class to “discover their desks,” Bart finds himself a stranger in a strange land. He was penalized for his outbursts and breaking the rules at Springfield Elementary, but there he at least had a troupe of friends to cheer him on for it. Here, he’s stuck with a bunch of asshole smart kids who use intellectual queries to swindle him out of his lunch.
In the midst of all this is the reactions of the family. Feeling she hasn’t be properly nurturing her son’s gifts, Marge has the family attend more high-class events like the opera and film festivals. United by a mutual disdain for these things, Bart forms a greater bond with his father, who is extremely proud of his son’s alleged accomplishments. Eventually in his attempt to return back to his normal school, Bart is exposed as a fraud and comes clean to Homer about it. Whereas a normal sitcom father would warmly forgive his son, Homer goes into a rage and chases his naked son throughout the house and pounds on his bedroom door with reckless abandon.
These last two episodes were directed by David Silverman, who has worked with the Simpsons from the early Tracy Ullman shorts all the way up to directing the movie, and he knows how to animate these characters better than anyone. Utilizing a style that’s not incredibly visually interesting, he manages to not only create a great deal of interest in the animation itself, but make it a part of the story. One scene sticks out with me, and I’m still dissecting why: Bart is in Skinner’s office, in trouble of course, when Marge and Homer arrive. The frame cuts right at their necks, so right when they come in, you think of them not as their whole characters, but as Bart’s parents. First in is Marge, who walks in with a very slow dainty walk, turning the corner slightly to find her seat with a cordial greeting to Principal Skinner. Then comes Homer, who has a quick lumber with his large frame, fist clenched ready at the accuse with Bart. Small bits like that really stick with me, and it clearly, verbally and visually, sets up the dynamic of the scene and the views of these two characters to it. The rest of that sequence is great too; when the psychiatrist shows up and starts rattling on about Bart’s supposed genius, there’s a lot of wrapping shots of him speaking around the three Simpsons, who blankly follow along, still processing the information.
Bart has been painted many shades of the stereotypical “bad boy” over the years, but in this first episode showcasing it, he’s shown as just a fun-loving kid goofing around, something even most of the rest of his family appreciates. The family at the opera is a classic scene, where Homer and Lisa are very much amused by Bart’s joke lyrics and fart noises. As explored in many a future episode, the Simpsons, as much as they may be mystified or tempted by high class pursuits, have their feet firmly planted in the middle of the road, and that’s just the way they like it.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening scene is such a perfect way to start the episode. You get the impression that the family bought a game of Scrabble as a way to raise their intelligence, but are stuck playing words no longer than three letters. Lisa displays her budding intelligence with “id,” Bart of course bestows on us the immortal definition of a “kwijibo,” and Maggie is first hinted at being a baby savant by spelling “EMCSQU” with her blocks.
– “I don’t want you to worry, class. This test will have no effect on your grades. It will merely determine your future social status and financial success… if any.” That last bit was targeted at Bart, obviously.
– The dream sequence… what an amazing piece of animation. Firstly, it’s a fantastic mockery of those overly complicated “two trains leaving a station, x passengers get off and on” problems we had to slog through in school. As Bart thinks through the problem, things get more and more frantic, with numbers swirling around his head, and appearing in the background as armrests, train handles, and even the passengers. The energy just keeps building as Bart becomes more and more frustrated with the problem, with more and more quick, frantic cuts with wild animated takes until the two trains collide and Bart falls backward, literally, back to reality. It really is spectacular.
– A great exchange featuring Homer’s slow thinking.
[Skinner] I caught your son defacing school property this morning. We estimate the damage is $75, 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 going to do? [Marge whispers to him] Oh no, he can’t mean that. My wife thinks you want me to pay for it.
[Skinner] That was the idea.
– A great quick joke when Homer shows Bart how to put on a tie: just clip it on.
– Bart’s Krusty lunchbox is greatly contrasted by one of the genius kid’s Anatoly Karpov lunchbox, who apparently is a famous champion chess player.
– Homer learns he has to go to the opera with Bart: “But I’m not a genius! Why should I suffer?”
– The ending bit with Homer banging and scratching against Bart’s door is unbelievable. The raw fury of the animation and Dan Castellaneta’s voice acting completely sells Homer’s blind rage.