|The Simpsons episode|
|Directed by||Carlos Baeza|
|Written by||Jon Vitti|
|Showrunner(s)||Al Jean & Mike Reiss|
|Original air date||January 9, 1992|
|Chalkboard gag||"I will not carve gods"|
|Couch gag||The family bounces up and down on the couch|
|Guest appearance(s)||Sting as himself|
"Radio Bart" is the thirteenth episode of The Simpsons' third season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 9, 1992. In the episode, Bart receives a microphone that transmits sound to nearby AM radios. To play a prank on the citizens of Springfield, Bart places a radio deep inside a well and uses the microphone to trick the town into thinking a little boy is stuck in it. At first he is successful, but soon realizes that he left a "property of Bart Simpson" label on the radio and goes to retrieve it. Bart becomes trapped in the well and while the town decides to leave him there after finding out about the prank, his father Homer frantically tries to rescue him.
The episode was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Carlos Baeza. Musician Sting guest starred in the episode as himself, though the producers originally approached Bruce Springsteen to appear. The episode features cultural references to charity singles such as "We Are the World". Since airing, "Radio Bart" has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 14.1 and was the highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired. It was nominated for an Emmy Award, but lost to A Claymation Easter.
The Simpson family are busy preparing for Bart's birthday party. Homer sees a commercial on television for a prank microphone called the Superstar Celebrity Microphone that can be used to tap into localized AM radio systems and instantly decides to buy one for Bart. Subsequently, Bart experiences a crushingly disappointing birthday party when all his gifts turn out to be useless things like a cactus, a label maker, and a new suit. At first, he is also disappointed by the microphone, but later finds a use for it in creating practical jokes, such as tricking Ned Flanders' boys into believing that God is talking to them, listening in on Lisa and Janey's conversations about boys, and persuading Homer that martians are invading the Earth.
Bart plays a prank when he throws a radio down a well and speaks through it with the microphone, tricking the townspeople into thinking an orphan named Timmy O'Toole has fallen down the well. Although they are unable to get "Timmy" out, as the well is too small for any adult to fit in, the entire town offers moral support and do everything they can to give him hope. Krusty even gets musician Sting to join other celebrities in recording a charity single, "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well". However, Lisa catches Bart in the act and reminds him he put a label with his name on the radio. Bart falls into the well while trying to retrieve it after Eddie and Lou unintentionally untie his rope. When the townspeople find him, he admits that Timmy O'Toole does not exist. Angry at being tricked, the townspeople leave Bart in the well. After this, "We're Sending Our Love Down The Well" dramatically falls off the number one spot all the way down to 97, supplanted at number one by "I Do Believe We're Naked" by Funky C, Funky Do.
Despite efforts by Homer and Marge to mobilize a rescue operation, the entire town remains outraged at Bart and are disinclined to help. After Bart cries, Homer finally has had enough: he decides to dig a tunnel and rescue Bart himself. Groundskeeper Willie sees this and joins Homer, starting an excavation operation. Bart is finally rescued (with help from Sting and other residents) and Willie puts up a small warning sign near the well the next morning to prevent future incidents instead of boarding the well up.
"Radio Bart" was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Carlos Baeza, though series creator Matt Groening came up with the idea for it. The episode was based on the 1951 film Ace in the Hole, which sees the story of a down-and-out journalist exploiting a story about a man trapped in a cave to re-jump start his career. Vitti did not watch the film until after the episode had been written; "[Groening] came in out of nowhere and just gave me, start to finish, the whole story." Vitti said renting the film was the first thing he did after finishing the script. He remarked, "It's surprisingly hard to rent. It's really dark and funny and it's by Billy Wilder, so you think it would be in stores, but it's not. It was hard to find."
The producers approached singer Bruce Springsteen to appear in the episode because he had participated to the charity song "We Are the World", on which "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well" is based. Springsteen declined so the producers offered the role to British musician Sting instead. Executive producer Al Jean said Sting is one of his favorite guest stars that have appeared on the show and he "couldn't have been better. He was really funny." The Simpsons director David Silverman said Sting's appearance in the episode worked for his persona because he has campaigned for political and social causes in real life. Sting was staying in New York City at the time of the episode's recording so Vitti flew there to record the lines with him.
The television commercial for the Superstar Celebrity Microphone that Homer watches, was inspired by a popular Ronco Mr. Microphone commercial from the late 1970s, in which a boy becomes popular and "scores with the girls" by using his microphone to be on the radio. Both commercials feature a boy riding by in a car full of friends saying, "Hey, good-looking, we'll be back to pick you up later," a line the staff thought was "hilarious". In the Superstar Celebrity Microphone commercial, the boy sings the 1975 song "Convoy" by C. W. McCall into the microphone. The producers originally wanted him to sing "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot, a song about the sinking of the bulk carrier S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. However, according to Vitti, Lightfoot's licensing arrangement would have required the producers to get permission from the families of the twenty-nine crewmen who died on the ship, so "Convoy" was used instead.
"Radio Bart" features several pop culture references. At the beginning of the episode, Homer watches the show Soul Train and its host Don Cornelius on television. The Wall E. Weasel pizza restaurant that Bart celebrates his birthday at is a parody of the family pizza restaurant franchise Chuck E. Cheese's. The episode also parodies charity singles. The song "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well" is a spoof of "We Are the World", and the idea of celebrities singing it is based on USA for Africa, the name under which forty-five famous artists recorded "We Are the World". Funky-See, Funky-Do with their hit "I Do Believe We're Naked" resembles the music style of Milli Vanilli.
This episode is similar to an incident involving Jessica McClure, who fell into a well and received support from citizens and celebrities. One citizen suggests using chocolate attached to a fish-hook to save Timmy, a reference to a character from the 1975 film Jaws. Kay McFadden of The Seattle Times used "Radio Bart" as an example of the Simpsons writers ability to predict the future. He said "Radio Bart" aired more than five years before Princess Diana's death that "provoked the exact same celebrity posturing and media panic" as seen in the episode. Timmy's story is eventually bumped off the front page when the media discovers a squirrel who resembles Abraham Lincoln. Kay said Princess Diana's death was "bumped by a fund-raising imbroglio involving Vice President Al Gore, a political figure who resembles oatmeal, which squirrels sometimes eat."
In its original American broadcast, "Radio Bart" finished 31st in the ratings for the week of January 6–12, 1992, with a Nielsen rating of 14.1, equivalent to approximately 13 million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week. The episode was nominated for an Emmy Award in the "Outstanding Animated Program" category, but lost to Will Vinton's A Claymation Easter on CBS. "Radio Bart" was submitted for consideration because it was the staff's favorite episode of the season. Executive producer Al Jean said they thought this episode or an episode of Ren & Stimpy would win and they were "absolutely floored" when neither did. The Simpsons director David Silverman said he thinks The Simpsons and Ren & Stimpy split the vote, allowing A Claymation Easter to win the Emmy.
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It was named the second best episode of The Simpsons by Kirk Baird of the Las Vegas Sun and the third best episode by Sarah Culp of The Quindecim. DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson commented: "Despite the potential for some heavy-handed moralizing, 'Radio Bart' provides a terrific show. From Bart’s crappy birthday to his pranks to the public reaction to Timmy’s trapping, the humor flies fast and furious in this excellent episode. It’s one of the better ones." The Daily Telegraph characterized the episode as one of ten best episodes of The Simpsons. DVD Times's Chris Kaye said "Radio Bart" is "another demonstration of the series' knack for cultural references, parodying the Billy Wilder movie Ace in the Hole." Entertainment Weekly ranked "Radio Bart" as the twentieth best episode of The Simpsons and commented that "it's a media parody so sharp, we're still stinging a bit."
Monsters and Critics's Trent McMartin praised Sting's guest performance, calling it "humorous". Total Film's Nathan Ditum ranked his performance as the 11th best guest appearance in the show's history. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, commented that "The Police had a song called 'Canary in the Coalmine' (the episode contains a scene where a canary dies in the well, but is later determined by Dr. Hibbert to have died by "natural causes"), and Sting had made a point of campaigning for good causes, which explains why he was singled out in this sharp critique of celebrity posturing and media panic." Tom Nawrocki of Rolling Stone rated the "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well" song as one of the best musical moments in the history of the show.
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- Nawrocki, Tom (November 28, 2002). "Springfield, Rock City". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-12-07.
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