Bart Gets an "F" is the first episode of Season 2. It originally aired on October 11, 1990. The episode was written by David M. Stern and directed by David Silverman. The episode ranked 31st on Entertainment Weekly's 1999 list of "The 100 Greatest Moments in Television."
Mrs. Krabappel warns Bart that his grades are slipping, and that if he fails another test, he may probably have to repeat the fourth grade. In a last-ditch effort to avoid being held back, Bart enlists the aid of the class brain and nerd (Martin Prince) to help him pass a history test.
When Bart presents his book report at school on Treasure Island, it is clear to everyone that he has not read the book. Mrs. Krabappel tests Bart by asking him to name the main pirate in the book, which he cannot do. She warns him that his grades have gotten steadily worse since the beginning of the term, and that there will be an exam on Colonial America the following day. Bart, however, does not pay attention to a word she says. He tries to study, but he repeatedly procrastinates until late at night, whereupon he falls asleep over his textbooks.
When he wakes up the next morning, he is worried he will flunk. He goes to Sherri and Terri for help while riding to school, and they offer him false answers in hopes that he will fail the test. Martin warns Bart of the faulty information he has received, so, right before the test, Bart "collapses". He goes to see the nurse, who suggests that Bart stay home because she believes he has amoria phlebitis. At home, Bart procrastinates again and calls Milhouse to copy his answers on the test. When he takes the test, Mrs. Krabappel tells him that he did worse than Milhouse. Homer and Marge have an interview with Mrs. Krabappel and the school's psychiatrist, Dr. J. Loren Pryor, who sees Bart as an underachiever and suggests that Bart be held back a grade. Bart, however, is strongly against this idea, exclaiming "As God is my witness, I can pass the fourth grade!" Homer then says, "And if you don't, at least you'll be bigger than everyone else."
With Bart worried he might be held back, he looks to Martin for help. He helps Bart study, and Bart reciprocates by showing how to be more popular, which encourages him to take on some of Bart's bad attitudes. Bart reminds the "new" Martin about the test the following day, but he ignores it, and now Bart must study on his own. He prays to God that something will happen to make him miss school the next day so he can have more time to study. That night it snows and schools are closed the next morning. Bart immediately rushes downstairs to go outside and play in the snow. After Lisa reminds him of his wish, he decides to study for the rest of the day, while everyone is outside having fun. Bart actually concentrates while he is studying. However, even Bart's studying is a distraction; as he tries to picture himself as a member of the First Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 witnessing the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he then pictures it somehow snowing in July, to which the signers then go out and have fun in the snow (In the background someone comments about John Hancock writing his name in the snow). Bart forces himself to pay attention by slapping himself in the face repeatedly (he does this until the next day when Mrs. Krabappel tells him that the test is over). As soon as he finishes the test, he asks Mrs. Krabappel to grade it immediately. She gives it back to him and he sees that he got 59%, another F. Extremely upset at this failure after his honest effort, Bart bursts into tears. Mrs. Krabappel is surprised to see Bart cry; she always thought that he was used to failing her class. As she tries to comfort him, Bart laments that now he knows how George Washington felt when he surrendered Fort Necessity to the French in 1754. The stunned Mrs. Krabappel, realizing that he did study after all, gives Bart an extra point for demonstrating applied knowledge, pushing his grade up to 60%, a D-, the lowest passing grade. Bart becomes so joyful about passing that he gives his teacher a kiss on the cheek and runs out shouting out about passing, then realizes that he kissed his teacher. At home, Homer proudly hangs the test on the fridge, and Bart states: "Part of this D- belongs to God."
When the FOX network decided to show The Simpsons on Thursday at 8:00 P.M. EST against NBC's highly-rated The Cosby Show, many were expecting this to be a war for ratings. Surprisingly, this episode of The Simpsons drew higher ratings in its first airing than The Cosby Show, and it would lead to The Cosby Show's cancellation in 1992.
The episode was ranked 31st on Entertainment Weekly' list of the 100 Greatest Moments in Television.
It marked the first time that The Simpsons aired at the same time as The Cosby Show on NBC. It averaged an 18.4 Nielsen Rating and 29% of the audience. In the weeks ratings, it finished tied for eighth behind The Cosby Show which had an 18.5 rating. However, an estimated 33.6 million viewers watched the episode, making it the number one show in terms of actual viewers that week. At the time, it was the most watched episode in the history of the Fox Network. At the time, NBC had 208 television stations, while Fox only had 133. It is still the highest rated episode in the history of the show.