OTH: The Simpsons- "Bart Gets an F"/"Simpson and Delilah"

The animation is starting to smooth itself out, but is the writing?

Season 2, Episode 1

Aired October 11, 1990

Directed by David Silverman

Written by David M. Stern

I hate how much I can relate to Bart. Granted, I did do better at school than he did, but it was always a struggle for me to sit down and study. Part of it came down to attention issues, but I’ve just never been a fan of the general cirriculum that is taught. Not that the show is interested in questioning the school system this week, but it’s worth noting.

So Bart has ADHD. Right? Without looking ahead, or thinking about a particular later episode, it’s fair to assume that this is the case, and that diagnosing the symptom wasn’t as sophisticated a process in 1990 as it would be today, or even, say, 1999. Granted, looking into this myself, ADD, with or without hyperactivity, was added into the DSM in 1980, while ADHD was added separately in 1987. Frankly, I’m not sure, aside from knowing that Dr. Pryor is not a great school psychiatrist. Although he may be right about Bart needing to repeat the fourth grade.

I feel this in that I’m not sure if I agree with his analysis of Bart’s defeatist attitude being to blame, when I think his issues stem more from a lack of concentration. We see in the episode that he wants to do better and does try to buckle down, but gets too easily distracted to sit down and put the work in. And it’s that inability to concentrate that I relate to all too well, which is why “Bart Gets an F” does so well for me.

What I really like is seeing how the rest of his circle reacts to Bart’s efforts. Homer and Marge understand that Bart is trying, but also recognize that Dr. Pryor may be right about how repeating the fourth grade may be good for him. While in other episodes, it’s harder to back Homer’s love for his son, this week it’s more apparent that he loves and even understands how Bart functions. It helps that Bart likely got his attention issues from him. Marge meanwhile has consistently shown that she understands how and why Bart is wired the way he is, and is more often than not able to work with him in that regard. She and Homer make for a good pair of parents here.

Lisa doesn’t get as much to do this week, which I’d argue is fair, as I’d hate to have my sister be a part of this conversation (a younger one, at that!). But I do like how the show is beginning to define her character as it goes on, with her increasingly becoming the smartest Simpson, and a respectable voice of reason all of her own. She gets one of the best moments in the episode when she tells Bart to follow through on his wish, bringing up her religious beliefs in a way that’s true to her character. I like seeing Bart and Lisa fight, but moments like this when we see them at their most vulnerable prove why they have a great dynamic, one that’s already blossoming.

And I also really like the time we spend with Bart and Mrs. Krabappel. What stands out to me is that while Edna is understandably tired of Bart’s hellraising and attention issues, she does seem to recognize that there’s more to him than how he reacts. The pity point she gives Bart to not fail (even though a D- sounds like a failure to me) is evident of that. Although only to an extent, as there’s only so much leeway you can give Bart.

But man, is Marcia Wallace good as Edna. She hits the right balance between warm and cynical throughout, helping to give the character some shade that she otherwise wouldn’t have received. The voice acting is especially excellent in this episode. Nancy Cartwright makes Bart’s disappointment feel genuine, and particularly knocks out his crying scene when the animation struggles to not make him look creepy. The rest of the cast slap here, but I also want to mention the recently departed Russi Taylor, who you can tell has a lot of fun making Martin’s downward spiral come to life. She’s also enjoyable as Sherri and Terri, but Martin is the side character MVP this week.

It’s well remembered that Fox pushed The Simpsons from its cushy Sunday night spot to Thursdays starting with the second season, where it was set to compete against The Cosby Show, at the time the highest rated series on TV. There was plenty of publicity written up about Bill vs Bart as the fall was coming, with media analysts predicting that The Simpsons would lose heavily to The Cosby Show. However, while Cosby did win in terms of ratings points (ie total households tuning in) the week “Bart Gets an ‘F’” premiered, the episode had a higher total viewing average, and helped to make it not only the top broadcast of the week, but the highest rated Simpsons episode in history. Cosby would ultimately outrank Simpsons, but it would take a dip in its Nielsen rankings, which shows the power of Bart.

It’s also known among Simpsons fans that “Bart Gets an ‘F’” was the third episode produced for the second season, but was picked as the premiere to lead in with an episode prominently featuring the breakout star. That makes sense, and I think this was a good premiere. A great one, really, as this is probably the best episode we’ve hit thus far.

Season 2, Episode 2

Aired October 18, 1990

Directed by Rich Moore

Written by Jon Vitti

So the animation is really starting to streamline itself here. The characters look closer to the versions of themselves we the audience are so familiar with, and the movement is smoother than we’ve seen in the past. It’s a pretty nice episode to look at, for sure. Not that the earlier animation style isn’t appealing, as I do like its roughness, but this is a sign of the show finding its groove.

Which is good, because “Simpson and Delilah” is a weird episode otherwise. I can’t say that it’s weird in a bad way, but I’d also struggle to call it a true classic.

The concept is what makes me iffy. Homer is bald, and of course I can understand his melancholic state about it. I would be too if I lost almost all of my hair well before 40. And it’s hard to knock the ending where Homer’s presentation fails entirely due to his baldness, as it’s classic Simpsons cynicism. But I have a hard time connecting to Homer’s rise and fall due to his hair growth being what drives the episode. It’s just a… weird idea. Although I do appreciate the episode’s wild take on cheating medical insurance.

This one lives and dies on Harvey Fierstein’s performance as Karl (or is it Carl? Episode subtitles give him a C, while information I find online go with a K. I’ll opt with K for now). His fascination and dedication to Homer makes virtually no sense, which is what makes the character so appealing as a one-off.

And I think Karl’s passion is in a good contrast to Smithers’ jealousy, which isn’t entirely unfounded. We haven’t seen too much of Smithers yet in terms of personality, aside from a very brief hint as his love for Mr. Burns in “The Telltale Head”, but here we see a little more of what he has to deal with by helping Burns, and his material is generally entertaining as counterbalance towards Homer’s undeserved promotion.

I also like Mr. Burns this week. He has good material throughout the episode, but I especially like the heart to heart he has with Homer at the end, offering a rare moment of human connection. The character isn’t full-blown evil yet, but you could fool me otherwise. This is also the first time Harry Shearer takes over the role of Mr. Burns, which isn’t too far away from Christopher Collins’ take just yet, but he does add some additional inflections in that the character needs.

The other character moments I like, besides Homer who I intend to get to in just a moment, come from Marge, who we’ve already seen loves Homer despite, or perhaps in spite of his flaws. The change we see in Homer do excite her, but it’s evident that Marge isn’t lying when she says that she loves Homer as is, and her ending rendition of “You Are So Beautiful to Me” is lovely, even if her voice is intentionally nasally.

It’s funny, I don’t remember this episode at all. I may not have even seen it, honestly. I’m not sure if I missed when this episode would air in syndication, or if it just didn’t air that often. So on one hand, I do like getting one more new (at least to me) classic Simpsons episode, and this has plenty of good. But “Simpson and Delilah” isn’t one I expect to come back to all that much. Nor is it one that I have much to talk about, really.

Stray Observations:

  • Chalkboard gag wars- “I will not encourage others to fly” vs “Tar is not a play thing.” Well, the latter is clearly wrong, so…

  • Couch gag wars- the couch falling vs the family doing an Egyptian dance. Woo, new animation!

  • I used to be a fan of Doug Walker and his Nostalgia Critic videos. But one thing that bothered me even back then was that he had a tendency to not pay as much attention to his content as he should. He did a Best Simpsons Episode list where “Bart Gets an ‘F’” ranked at #1, in which he kept calling Bart stupid, which I don’t think is fair or entirely the episode’s point. And that has always rubbed me the wrong way. Especially as we see in later episodes that he’s a little more clever than given credit for.

  • “Bart, you haven’t been paying attention to a word I said!” “Yes, ma’am.” “Then what did I just say?” “Uh… ‘straighten up and fly right?’” “That was a lucky guess.”

  • I wanna watch the tapdancing ape.

  • I like how Long John Silver shows up in Bart’s mind twice, but he still can’t name him in either instance.

  • It’s funny to see Jacques, Princess Cashmere, and Cowboy Bob hold hands alongside actual regulars. All of these one-offs will show up in the background for years to come, but after seeing their debuts for the first time in ages, it is a little weird to see. Especially seeing Jacques in the opening credits.

  • Speaking of opening credits, check out the new set! I do miss a couple of the little bits cut from the original, like Lisa’s bicycle hop, but I won’t lie, it’s nice to see the scene I know and love from over the years.

  • The moment where Homer sees and dances with the other Dimoxinil user is a nice little moment.

  • But I really love the moment where Patty and Selma’s eyes widen when they see hairy Homer.

  • Homer saying resume, lol

  • “And what does my little girl want?" “An absence of mood swings and some stability in my life.” “Uh… how about a pony?” “Okay!”

  • The executive washroom is an appealing backdrop, but it’s unfortunately just used in this one episode. Homer never really receives this kind of position at the plant again, so it makes sense.

  • I’d be just as scared as Bart was when he learned that baldness is hereditary. Luckily, that’s not a problem I have to deal with in my bloodline.

  • So yeah, remember this.

  • New Character Column- This week we meet Mayor Quimby in all of his Kennedyisms. Sashless, though.