Welcome to Welcome to Springfield, a OneOfUs column that re-examines The Simpsons series episode by episode to establish what made it a cultural icon, and to determine what went wrong. It’s a lofty goal, but Andrew is just the man to do it.
Episode title: “Bart the Genius”
Airdate: January 14th 1990
Bart is a genius, at least according to his aptitude test. After switching his test with Martin Prince’s, Bart is offered enrollment at a school for the gifted. While he is found out very quickly by his fellow students, his parents are ecstatic about his new found genius. In an effort to nurture him, Marge takes the family to the opera, which goes awry when Homer, Bart and even Lisa start making fun of the performance. Conversely, Homer tries to bond with Bart by spending more time with him and really giving him attention that makes him feel special.
Back at school, the jig is up after Bart blows up the lab, and while meeting with the guidance counselor Bart writes up a confession. At home, Homer is trying to comfort Bart over his failures as he helps Bart wash off the chemicals. When Bart finally confesses to Homer that he isn’t a genius and how he’s appreciated the time they’ve spent together over the last few days, Homer chases him around the house for lying to him.
This is the first episode to focus on Bart. Even though Bart is supposedly a dumb kid, I found that maybe he’s just a Simpson. In the opening game of scrabble, none of them can make a word that isn’t more than two letters, and that includes Lisa (although she maybe downplaying her intelligence a bit). Evidence that they aren’t much for using an expanded vocabulary comes in the fact that they use their copy of the dictionary to level their off-kilter couch.
The test Bart is given is a scathing commentary on schools and the ridiculous expectations they place on children at a young age with Edna (Krabappel) explaining that it will determine their future social status and financial success. In some ways the episode is anti-academic in the sense that characters who excel at school (Martin Prince and Bart’s genius class) use it as a way to bully Bart and act superior to their peers and only when people believe Bart is gifted does he get a better treatment, Principal Skinner even puts a display case and rope with Bart’s I.Q. over his graffiti from earlier in the episode.
This episode also made me like Lisa more. Lisa, while an intellectual herself, is humble about it, even laughing at the jokes Bart and Homer make at the opera.
This episode is the first time that we see the show’s opening titles. And while the reason for the length of the title sequence was to make things easier on the animators and writers, it does a perfect job summarizing The Simpsons even if you’ve never seen an episode.
As the first “regular” Simpsons episode, it’s a great commentary about the special treatment of children perceived to be intelligent as well as the ridiculous expectations put upon children at a young age by schools; pretty deep material at the time.
Final score: 4.0/5.0
Thanks for reading another post from Welcome to Springfield. I’m Andrew Semkow, and it has been a pleasure.
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