518. A Test Before Trying

Original airdate: January 13, 2013

The premise:
District budget cuts call for the closure of the school with the lowest standardized test scores, and the fate of Springfield Elementary is the only student who skipped out on taking the test: Bart Simpson.

The reaction: Have you ever felt like watching a retread of “Bart Gets An F,” but worse? Well, I’ve got just the episode for you. Despite their differing set-ups, the meat of the back half of each of these shows are the same: everything rides on Bart getting a good grade on a big test, and for once, he actually cares about doing well. The motivation for “F,” obviously, is Bart not wanting to be held back a grade. We see him as a kid who earnestly tries to study, but is easily distracted and waylaid by other matters at home. He’s a sharp boy, but not really suited academically, and it’s a deep-seeded source of embarrassment to him, as we see in his outburst at the meeting with Dr. Pryor. I could go on and on about how brilliant “F” is, but the point is that we see exactly why Bart cares so much about passing that last test, we can get behind him and root for him for the rest of the show. In this episode, Bart getting a good grade will save the school from being shut down. So, why exactly would Bart care about this? We’ve seen on multiple occasions his daydreaming of the school’s utter destruction, much to his pleasure. There’s even one in this very episode, featuring Skinner’s hung body from the flagpole, which Bart chortles to himself at. So why should he care? Lisa effectively browbeats him into it multiple times throughout the show, resulting in Bart being scared straight by a weird nightmare of Springfield being the world’s dumbest city, or something. So we finally get to test time. How does Bart do? In “F,” in one of the earliest examples of sitcom convention subversion, he flunks it, but by demonstrating applied knowledge of a historical battle in a tearful outburst, Krabappel boosts him to a passing grade. By the skin of his teeth, Bart earned his happy ending. In “Trying,” Bart also barely passes, but as a result of a bug flying onto his scantron sheet over an oval. The proctor grades it by just looking at it, and I guess her eyesight is real bad because she can’t tell a penciled-in oval from a bug, so she gives it to him. So, the episode is Bart takes a test, he passes by a fluke, and the school is saved. How exciting. They should just remake all the old episodes as hollow, sorry versions of their past selves.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot also feels like a bit of a retread. Homer finds a parking meter at the dump and concocts a scam to bilk drivers out of a few quarters by placing it on curbs across town. Homer being so giddy over a plan that yields him very little money reminded me of the auto-dialer from “Lisa’s Date with Density.” That B-story at the time felt like an ominous precursor to years and years of wacky Homer-gets-a-job schemes and hi-jinks, but it was a cute little story for what it was. This time, it just feels pretty dumb. It seems like so much effort for so little reward, but it seems that overtime he’s amassed a humongous sack of quarters. He’s caught by Chief Wiggum, Homer bails and crashes his car trying to escape, busting the parking meter in the process. But then nothing happens with that. The ending involves Marge catching Homer with the money, him not really confessing to where he got it all, and then him ending up throwing all the coins down a wishing well. So, is this a happy ending or a sad ending? It’s an ending, that’s enough.
– Bart’s nightmare about a moronic Springfield is really weird, but what disturbs him the most is what has become of Springfield Elementary. It’s now a spinach farm, with fields of crops being tended to by an army of Popeyes. Bart laments, “What have I done?!” I don’t understand this. Is this like a dream non sequitur thing? I’m quite confused.
– Before the test, Marge runs into the female proctor at the Kwik-E-Mart and tries to appeal to her humanity. At the end as she’s leaving, Marge runs into her again, wondering if she gave Bart any extra help to get by. I guess this is meant to imply that she actually saw the last answer just had a bug on it but she let it slide anyway? It’s never made clear. It’s not like the proctor had any kind of character that she would need an arc to go through. The two of them barely had a conversation at all about it earlier. Marge then demurely asks if she’d like to go out for coffee or dinner, which is odd. It’s like she’s feebly trying to make a new friend (or asking her out?), except it wasn’t really set up earlier or anything. It just struck me as weird and out of place.

One good line/moment: The bug flying onto Bart’s test at the end was a callback to earlier in the episode, where we see Bart skipped out on the test the first time for more stimulating pursuits: lying around a field playing with said bug until nightfall. It was pretty damn adorable watching him play with that bug. Like last episode with him and Lisa at the fun zone, it’s pretty great seeing them actually behave like kids for once.

11 thoughts on “518. A Test Before Trying

    1. Yeah, I guess the story could have done without that scene. But if you like Valerie Harper or the Rhoda series, be glad she came back in Frink Gets Testy, if you thought that episode was okay like I did. I miss Russi Taylor and Valerie Harper a lot already. It’s a strange coincidence that they both died a few months after Season 30.

  1. The thing is, Bart’s nightmare in this episode is totally something I could see Classic Bart fantasizing about as a positive outcome.

  2. I don’t understand the need for bashing every single episodes through an unfair compare-and-contrast with the golden days. This episode was, for once, not totally appallingly boring. Not everyone has the same semi-obsessive memory about every single scene of the previous episodes as the reviewer. Seen by itself, without thinking to the past, this episode was actually watchable. And the scene with the Popeyes had in my opinion a hint of psychedelic that I enjoyed!

    1. I agree. Finally, someone else who likes A Test Before Trying! It was way better than How the Test Was Won, that’s for sure. Yes, we should not compare every new episode to a golden-day episode with a similar plot to it. I don’t even know what Mike Amato saw in this that he didn’t like other than your aforementioned compare-and-contrast. A Test Before Trying and Dark Knight Court and Dangers on a Train are all Season 24 episodes of The Simpsons that I found very good to watch by themselves.

    2. Plus, I have seen a few other websites that put A Test Before Trying in their best modern The Simpsons episodes.

  3. Mike, I think you were looking at A Test Before Trying the wrong way for 2 reasons.
    1. Not every episode that reminds you of another stronger early episode needs to be compared with it that way. I can still see Springfield Splendor as a good episode when it doesn’t live up to the gold standard of Moaning Lisa.
    2. A new The Simpsons episode doesn’t have to be “as amazing as the classic era” to be objectively good. New things can be a lesser good in their own new…modern way regardless of showrunner. Holidays of Future Passed shouldn’t have to be as good as Lisa’s Wedding for you to pass it, but when you still can’t consider it good when you still say it’s the best thing The Simpsons had in a long time…it’s just very troubling to me.

    1. As you’ve been spamming the comments sections across the entire site for months now, when you say I’m looking at episodes “the wrong way,” and that my opinion is “very troubling” to you, I don’t know what you want me to say. These are my personal opinions on these episodes, I’m not the supreme decider of what is good or bad. Yes, a new episode can still be “good” even if it’s not as “amazing” as a classic era show. Yes, a new episode can still be “good” even if it shares a similar premise or idea as a classic era show. But in those specific instances, and in the case of the handful of episodes you consistently keep bringing up like “Springfield Splendor,” “Dark Knight Court,” “A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again,” and so on, I personally did not like them and explained why I don’t. If you enjoy them, that is perfectly fine, but you commenting the same points over and over and over again isn’t going to change how I feel.

      1. That’s true. I know, we can like episodes you don’t, and you feel differently about the new Simpsons from me, and I know you are not the supreme decider on what is good or bad. Maybe I was just ticked off a bit because other people in the comments were bashing them more than you were.

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