Bart the Genius

"Bart the Genius" is the second episode of The Simpsons' first season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 14, 1990. It was the first episode written by Jon Vitti. It is also the show's first normal episode, as well as the first to feature the iconic opening sequence, though this version is much different from the one used from the second season to the twentieth season. In the episode, Bart cheats on an intelligence test and is declared a genius, so he is sent to a school for gifted children. Though he initially enjoys being treated as a genius, he begins to see the downside of his new life.

"Bart the Genius"
The Simpsons episode
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 2
Directed byDavid Silverman
Written byJon Vitti
Original air dateJanuary 14, 1990 (1990-01-14)
Episode features
Chalkboard gag"I will not waste chalk"[1]
Couch gagThe family hurries on to the couch, and Bart is flung into the air. He comes down during the shot of the TV.[2]
CommentaryMatt Groening
James L. Brooks
David Silverman
Jon Vitti

It marks the first use of Bart's catchphrase "Eat my shorts". As the second episode produced, directly after James L. Brooks' personal displeasure at the animation of "Some Enchanted Evening", the future of the series depended on how the animation turned out on this episode.[3] The animation proved to be more to his liking and production continued.[4]


The Simpson family spend a night of playing Scrabble and Lisa reminds Bart that he is supposed to be stimulating his brain with various vocabulary if he hopes to pass his intelligence test. He cheats his way to victory by coming up with his own word, "kwyjibo", basing its definition on an insulting description of Homer. This angers Homer and he chases after Bart, much to the embarrassment of his family.

At Springfield Elementary School, Bart is busted for vandalism by Principal Skinner, who has been informed by class genius Martin Prince. Faced with the prospect of failing an intelligence test, Bart surreptitiously switches exams with Martin (as a way to pay him back for getting him in trouble). When the school psychologist, Dr. Pryor, studies the results, he identifies Bart as a genius, to the delight of Homer and Marge, who enroll him in a new school. However, Lisa is not fooled by his supposed genius and still believes Bart to be a moron; Skinner shares her belief, but takes advantage of Bart's departure from the school.

At the Enriched Learning Center for Gifted Children, Bart feels out of place among the other students with advanced academic skills. Meanwhile, Marge attempts to stimulate Bart with a little culture by taking the family to the opera. However, this proves disastrous as Bart and Homer are quite disruptive, much to Lisa's joy. Ostracized by his brilliant classmates, Bart visits his former school, where his old friends reject him because of his perceived intelligence. On the bright side, he enjoys newfound attention from Homer and he covers for them when Marge makes another attempt to stimulate Bart's brain by taking them to a film festival. After Bart's chemistry experiment explodes, filling the school lab with green goo, he confesses to Dr. Pryor that he switched tests with Martin. Dr. Pryor realizes that he was never a genius and has him readmitted to Springfield Elementary.

Bart returns home and tells Homer that he had cheated on the intelligence test, but he is glad they are closer than ever. Though Homer is touched by this sentiment, he is ultimately upset and angry at Bart for lying to him about the test and chases Bart through the house, only for Bart to lock the door of his bedroom. Lisa pronounces that Bart is back to being his normal, dumb self.


The concept for the episode developed from writer Jon Vitti coming up with a long list of bad things Bart would do for attention imagining the potential consequences. The only idea that developed into an interesting episode concept was Bart's cheating on an IQ test.[5] This idea was based on an incident from Vitti's childhood when a number of his classmates did not take an intelligence test seriously and suffered poor academic treatment because of it. Because Bart was already obviously unintelligent, Vitti reversed the problem for his episode.[6] Vitti used all his memories of elementary school behavior to produce a draft script of 71 pages, substantially above the required length of about 45 pages.

It was Vitti's first script for a 30-minute television program.[5] Bart's use of the phrase "Eat my shorts" was intended to reflect his adoption of catchphrases he had heard on TV; the creative team had told Vitti that he should not come up with original taglines for the character.[5] The scene where the family plays Scrabble was inspired by the 1985 cartoon The Big Snit.[7]

Director David Silverman had difficulty devising a legible Scrabble board for the opening scene which would convey the idea that the Simpsons were able to devise only very simple words.[8] The design of Bart's visualization of the math problem was partially inspired by the art of Saul Steinberg. The increasing appearance of numbers in that sequence derived from Silverman's use of a similar tactic when he had to develop a set design for the play The Adding Machine.

Each successive scene in the sequence was shorter than the one before it by exactly one frame.[8] The scene where Bart writes his confession was done as one long take to balance the shorter scenes elsewhere in the episode. It was animated in the United States by Dan Haskett.[8] There were a few problems with the finished animation for the episode. The banana in the opening scene was colored incorrectly, as the Korean animators were unfamiliar with the fruit,[7] and the final bathtub scene was particularly problematic, including issues with lip sync. The version in the broadcast episode was the best of several attempts.[8]

The episode was the first to feature the series' full title sequence. Creator Matt Groening developed the lengthy sequence in order to cut down on the animation necessary for each episode, but devised the two gags as compensation for the repeated material each week.[7] In the first gag, the camera zooms in on Springfield Elementary School, where Bart can be seen writing a message on the chalkboard. This message, which changes from episode to episode, has become known as the "chalkboard gag".[9] The other gag is known as a "couch gag", in which a twist of events occur when the family meets to sit on their couch and watch television.[9] Groening, who had not paid much attention to television since his own childhood, was unaware that title sequences of such length were uncommon by that time.[7] As the finished episodes became longer, the production team were reluctant to cut the stories in order to allow for the long title sequence, so shorter versions of it were developed.[8] The episode also introduced the characters Martin Prince and his parents, Richard, Bart's teacher Edna Krabappel and Dr. J Loren Pryor.[2]

Cultural references

In the opening scene, Maggie spells EMCSQU with her blocks, a reference to Albert Einstein's mass-energy equivalence equation. A picture of Einstein also appears on the wall of Dr. Pryor's office.[1] At one point Homer erroneously refers to Einstein as the inventor of the light bulb. Dr. Pryor compares Bart's proposed work among ordinary children to Jane Goodall's study of chimpanzees.[2] Goodall was pleased to be mentioned in the episode, sending the program a letter,[7] and Vitti an autographed copy of her book.[5] The conductor of the opera the family attends is named Boris Csupowski, a reference to animator Gabor Csupo.[1] The opera attended by the family is Carmen, by French composer Georges Bizet; the song that Bart mocks is a famous aria called the Toreador Song.[1] Students at the gifted school have lunchboxes featuring images of the 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited and chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.[2]

Reception and legacy

In its original American broadcast, "Bart the Genius" finished 47th place in the weekly ratings for the week of January 8–14, 1990 with a Nielsen rating of 12.7. It was the second highest rated show on Fox that week.[10]

Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, strongly praised the episode calling it "superbly written and directed, often a literal child's-eye view of education, the first Simpsons episode proper is a classic." They went on to say, "these twenty minutes cemented Bart's position as a cultural icon and a hero to all underachievers, and managed a good few kicks at hothouse schools along the way. Especially worthy of note is the sequence where Bart visualises his maths problem, the viewing of which should be a required part of teacher training."[2]

In September 2001, in a DVD review of the first season, David B. Grelck rated the episode 2 12 (of 5) and commented that the episode was "wacky and fun, very Bart-centered, it's easy to see with this episode why Bart became the figurehead for a few years of class clowns".[11]

Colin Jacobson at DVD Movie Guide said in a review that the episode "offered another decent but unspectacular episode" and "its early vintage seems clear both through the awkward animation and [through] the lack of appropriate character development."[12]

In February 1991, in an interview, Jon Vitti described "Bart the Genius" as his favorite among the episodes he had written to that point.[6] James L. Brooks also mentioned the episode among his favorites saying, "We did things with animation when that happened that just opened doors for us."[13]

The show received mail from viewers complaining that the throwing away of a comic book was an incident of censorship.[7] The invented word "Kwyjibo" in the episode inspired the creator of the Melissa macro virus[5] and the name of an iron oxide copper gold deposit in Quebec.[14]

Home release

The episode was released first on home video in the United Kingdom, as part of a VHS release titled The Simpsons Collection; the episode was paired with season one episode "The Call of the Simpsons".[15] In the United Kingdom, it was once re released as part of VHS boxed set of the complete first season, released in November 1999.[16]

In the United States, the episode would finally see the home video release as a part of The Simpsons Season One DVD set, which was released on September 25, 2001. Groening, Brooks, Silverman, and Vitti participated in the DVD's audio commentary.[17] A digital edition of the series' first season was published December 20, 2010 in the United States containing the episode, through Amazon Video and iTunes.[18]


  1. Richmond & Coffman 1997, p. 18.
  2. Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Bart the Genius". BBC. Retrieved August 5, 2007.
  3. Brooks, James L. (2001). The Simpsons The Complete First Season DVD commentary for the episode "Some Enchanted Evening" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  4. Groening, Matt (2001). The Simpsons The Complete First Season DVD commentary for the episode "Some Enchanted Evening" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  5. Vitti, Jon (2001). The Simpsons The Complete First Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Genius" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  6. Jankiewicz, Pat. "Jon Vitti." Comic Scene #17, February 1991.
  7. Groening, Matt (2001). The Simpsons The Complete First Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Genius" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  8. Silverman, David (2001). The Simpsons The Complete First Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart the Genius" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  9. Turner 2004, p. 71.
  10. Buck, Jerry (January 19, 1990). "ABC's 'Roseanne' takes first place in Nielsen ratings". St. Petersburg Times. p. 5D.
  11. Grelck, David B. (September 25, 2001). "The Complete First Season". WDBGProductions. Archived from the original on February 2, 2009. Retrieved September 15, 2011.
  12. Jacobson, Colin. "The Simpsons: The Complete First Season (1990)". DVD Movie Guide. Archived from the original on August 21, 2008. Retrieved August 29, 2008.
  13. Braun, Kyle. The Simpsons Movie Interviews Archived October 21, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on August 5, 2007.
  14. The Kwyjibo Cu-REE-U-Au-Mo-F Property, Quebec: A Mesoproterozoic Polymetallic Iron Oxide Deposit in the Northeastern Grenville Province
  15. "The Simpsons — Call of the Simpsons (1989)". Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  16. "The Simpsons — Season 1 Box Set [VHS]". Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  17. "The Simpsons — The Complete 1st Season". Archived from the original on May 25, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  18. "The Simpsons Season 1 - Amazon Video". Retrieved April 21, 2011.
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