Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 17: "Lisa the Simpson"

Airdate: March 8th, 1998

Synopsis: After Lisa fails to solve a brain teaser that the other students got instantly, a series of unfortunate events (such as a diorama) begin scaring Lisa about the quality of her intellect. Grandpa eventually tells her of a trend that various Simpsons have, where their intellect declines over the years, calling it a “Simpson Gene”. A frightened Lisa tries to fight back against the suspected decline, only to fear that she’s becoming lowbrow and low-class.

Review *SPOILERS*: Is it possible for one scene to make an entire episode just seem mean spirited? It’s a pretty damn hard feat, but “Lisa the Simpson”, which seems almost perfect, just contains one little scene that drives me spare.

Yes, it’s a Lisa-centred episode. Some of the best Lisa-centred episodes focus on her relationship within the clan of The Simpsons: she’s probably the most down-to-earth of the group (Homer and Bart are Homer and Bart, and Marge is occasionally spacey). Even so, she’s portrayed as a bit aloof, reserved with her intellect in the dumb town of Springfield. So, an episode that seems to take her down a peg, show that she can still fall into the same traps as the rest of the town? That’s a good idea. We did see her take up an angry activist moment in “Lisa the Vegetarian”, where, in pushing her beliefs via pig-napping, made her little better than Homer “You don’t Win Friends With Salad” Simpson himself. However, to see this normally intellectual character enter a period of self doubt, thanks to family coincidence… that makes for an entertaining episode.

And, for the first two and a half acts, it is a very gripping episode. Having Lisa deal with the fact that she might be damned to the same amounts of insolence as the rest of the town of Springfield is surprisingly emotional. You see, she was slipped up by a mere brain teaser that the rest of the kids got in seconds. Is she overanalysing the brain teaser? Maybe. It’s Lisa Simpson: in a town of the average joes, she’s the one who looks too deep. That’s a really creative way to show that a character that’s normally an ace has her human flaws.

Led on by, well, Grandpa about Simpson history, and taking on more activities with Homer and Bart (i.e. watching When Buildings Collapse on FOX), Lisa enters a state of resignation, submitting her brain to “one last meal” at the Springsonian and the Jazz Club. It’s actually pretty damn emotional to see her try and fight, even going as far as to make a futile attempt to plea to the town of Springfield to increase their horizons. She knows it’s futile. She just needs to be heard.

Of course, there was the ending, where Homer brought in several of his relatives. It rotates between hysterical and heartbreaking, depending on what mood you’re in. The context of Lisa’s worst fears being confirmed truly contrasts with Homer’s relatives describing their careers as “I step in front of cars and sue the drivers” and “Jug Band Manager”. It’s truly fantastic.

Then the real ending happened, and I wanted to chuck my DVD out.

You see, Homer only brought in the Simpson men: the women are fantastic successes. Why? Well, apparently, it’s genetic: the “Simpson Gene” is apparently only carried on the Y chromosome – thus, only men are affected.

Translated: Simpson men are damned to be idiots, while women? Raging successes.

Let’s ignore that Herb Powell was a raving business success, who was only failed by the American buyer, who wanted everything in a car, yet wanted the design to take few risks (and to not have it cost $82,000). Let’s ignore that Abe is a fantastic military strategist, who is held back by his senility and his desire for a more active life getting the better of him. Let’s ignore that Homer has flashes of great intelligence, only held back by a weak upbringing and years of alcohol consumption. Let’s even ignore that Bart could be fantastic at anything– he merely has a short attention span, and maybe some other learning disability. Nope, now all Simpson men are just idiots.

Yup, this is apparently a happy ending. Why? Lisa was validated.

Look, I’ll get this off my chest right here and now: I am pretty pro-feminist (and yes, I am a male). I support equality of the sexes, I am in full support of the advancement of women’s rights, the objectification of women or the reduction of them into mere tools drives me up the wall, I feel that America (and to only a slightly lesser extent, the rest of the world) has quite a way to go when it comes to neutralizing sexism and objectification of women, and I feel that there is a dearth of well-written characters who are also female.

That being said, in my opinion, this ending is less a testament to feminism and more outright misandristic. Basically, Homer and Bart are openly told that, because they are male, they are basically damned to failure. Yet, this is a happy ending. Why? Well, Lisa can solve the damn puzzle.

I’m just hoping that the scientist that told Lisa about the truth about the gene was just lying to save Lisa’s sanity. Even then, the fact that the men are presented as idiots yet the women are presented as successes still comes off as a bit sexist, eh?

It’s a sign of things to come: later seasons of The Simpsons have had troubling gender-related politics, trying to present itself as a feminist, progressive show, when in reality, creating female characters that were little more than props or satellites for other characters.

I don’t really know what to think about the main plot. As good as most of it was, the ending just threw me. Even the very last two lines in the episode can’t really save the ending for me. It’s a major dent in the quality of the episode.

Oh, and Jasper gets trapped in a Kwik-E-Mart freezer, and Apu and Sanjay turn the mart into a tourist trap. It’s a pretty good subplot.

Tidbits:

  • This is the last episode not produced by either Mike Scully or Al Jean in some form (until Season 22-ish), and the second to last one for four years to not have Scully at the helm. Eh, can’t always end on a high note.
  • This episode was also written by Ned Goldreyer. He did some work on the UPN’s adaptation of Dilbert, one of the most underrated animated sitcoms of all time.
  • Give Dan Castellaneta credit: the fact that he can do all of the voices of the male Simpsons? No wonder why he’s getting about $300,000 a year as of late!
  • Oh, and I apologise for the long hiatus/vacation. For some reason, I just couldn’t motivate myself to put something down on paper… that, and there was that Simpsons marathon on FXX.
  • Also, Gravity Falls will be back in September. I might be able to put down a few more Scullyfied Simpsons episodes… or, I might return to Red Dwarf. Maybe.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 1
Zaniness Factor 1.5. Having an old guy survive a freezer? Eh, not stupid.
 
Favorite Scene: Lisa’s plea to the town of Springfield really shows the power of the writing this show once possessed. It’s gut-wrenching, funny, awesome… it’s just sublime.
Least Favorite Scene: The ending, though, just left an awkward taste in my mouth.
Score: 7

Gravity Falls Review: Season 2, Episode 3: "The Golf War"

“We are the Golf Balls, Golf Balls are we!
We work at a golf course right near a few trees!”

Airdate: August 11th, 2014

Synopsis: Driven spare by Pacifica one too many times, Mabel challenges her to a putt-off at the Mini-golf center at midnight. Whilst practicing strategies on victory, the twins come across a bunch of Golf Ball people, the “Lilliputtians”, who control the golf balls. However, each “hole” is in something of a conflict with each other hole. Thus, Mabel offers a deal: whoever helps her the most in defeating Pacifica gets a sticker-trophy. Of course, they take this to extreme lengths.

Review: “Scaryoke” and “Into the Bunker” were ventures into the dark side of Gravity Falls: both of those episodes featured elements that wouldn’t be out of place on, say, The X-Files. So, after reading the premise of this episode, I thought, “Hey, Gravity Falls is taking a turn back into light-hearted speculative comedy! This should be a nice, easy episode.”

I was half right.

Sure, the plot seems light and amusing: a bunch of golf-ball people control the mini-golf courses. Yet, when I looked deeper into the episode, I noticed something about this episode, something that’s a bit more symbolic.

But, I’ll get to that in a second.

The Lilliputtians are (quite clearly) a reference to the nations of Lilliput and Blefuscu from Gulliver’s Travels, considered one of the founding novels of speculative fiction. As their name suggests, they are practically humans (with golf heads) on a 1:12 scale of humans. Yet, why were they sent-up in this episode? The answer lies in one of the center conflicts in Gulliver’s Travels. In that book, the Lilliputians are great mechanists. However, they wind up trapped in the center of two conflicts, one over what the best way to crack an egg is, and the other over what types of shoes one wears. That itself was a mockery of the European wars between the Catholics and the Protestants, especially in 1640’s England, as well as the fighting between the two major British parties, then the Whigs and the Tories, respectively. (Boy, Jonathan Swift was ahead of his time).

Strangely enough, I think the inclusion of the Lilliputtians in this episode is also somewhat timely, given current events. Now, one could make an argument that this episode has a general anti-war message, but I prefer to liken this to events going on in Europe.

For those unaware, elections to the European Parliament were held in 2014. Amongst the election results was a sharp rise in Eurosceptic parties, parties that generally believed that their nation could stand with less powers given to a united Europe. These parties ranged from mildly Eurosceptic (Sinn Fein) to borderline neo-nazi (Golden Dawn). I bring this up because each Lilliputtian “hole” seems to be reminiscent of a country: the Dutch, the French, the British, etc.

If we take this episode as an allegory on the European Union and the modern Eurosceptic parties, well, this episode mocks both sides. On one hand, when the Lilliputtians unite, they do so for reasons that are still selfish and neurotic. However, when pitted against each other, their sabotage against each other leads them nowhere. Where is the happy medium?

In fact, why the hell am I talking about European politics when I should be reviewing a cartoon about sentient golf balls? (It was probably a coincidence, anyway).

This episode has slightly less of a focus on character whilst compared to “Into the Bunker”… but that’s not saying a whole lot. Indeed, this episode begins peeling away at the layers of Pacifica Northwest, showing the rather distant relationship she has with her parents, and that her general behavior might not be merely out of malice, but rather out of aloofness brought on by her upbringing. However, as others have brought up, her development was limited by a need to reintroduce the character. Hell, Alex Hirsch actually didn’t intend for her to get a lot of development: the writers just gave in to fan requests. Thus, most of the development that Pacifica received just feels a bit old-hat.

Other characters also got some rather interesting development. Dipper, for one, made several comments that seem to reflect a knowledge of politics. Dipper notes that Pacifica’s wealth, in his own words, helps her “cheat at life”. Once realizing how wealthy Pacifica is, Dipper notes that Mabel should’ve charged Pacifica for a taco they shared. While people could argue that Dipper is a bit young to have a political ideology, previous episodes did tend to show Dipper as very savvy when it comes to intellectual pursuits… which might involve politics and current events. A convincing argument could be made that Dipper is developing a politically center-left ideology. Of course, I could be looking too deep into throwaway comments, and, well, it is Pacifica. Still, it’s interesting to note.

Mabel, strangely enough, was revealed to have been a mini-golf virtuoso when she was younger. This seems to contradict her statement in “Little Dipper”, where Mabel notes that Dipper is normally just a tad bit more of an “ace” when it came to various competitions. Two conclusions could be made from this statement. One is that Mabel tends to excel at athletic/physical “competition”, whilst Dipper tends to excel at more intellectual feats (the activities that Mabel noted that Dipper beat her at in “Little Dipper” included chess and chequers- ping pong notwithstanding). Another interpretation is that, deep down inside, Mabel might have lower self-confidence than originally thought. Again, I might be looking too deep into throwaway comments, but it’s still interesting to note.

The rest of this episode’s aspects are pretty good, if not Gravity Falls at it’s uber-best. The plot is quirky and light, the humor is wide-reaching and timed to hit… this episode even has some dark individual moments. (Big Henry, anybody?) Really, it’s only faults are that some elements from this episode feel a bit too rehashed from other TV shows, specifically the Pacifica scenes.

Still, it’s a nice return to Earth compared to the dark tones of the last two episodes, with nice breezy humor and a light take on the show’s mythology.

 

Tidbits:

  • Gotta give props to the animation, for the most part. The use of color, the “camera” angles, the depth of the sky… it’s fantastic.
  • Well, Robbie is officially seen for the first time in Season 2. He’s just as much of a moron as he was at the end of Season 1, what with spray-painting at a golf course in daylight and flipping off (or making some other obscene hand gesture) the mattress man. His breakup with Wendy last season, in hindsight, was inevitable: it was the way it went down that makes anything that happens to him (so far, at least) utterly cathartic.
  • Well, Xyler and Craz are back in Mabel’s dreams. It really is a testament to the show’s strong sense of continuity that they didn’t just disappear after “Dreamscaperers”.
Favorite Moment: Favorite line? Easily goes to Stan’s comment after he realizes the possibility of a late-night entry into the golf park.

 

“I don’t know. We’d have to break in, and JUST KIDDING! LET’S BREAK IN!”

Least Favorite Scene: More an aspect, but they could’ve used Mr. Northwest’s character a bit more. What a waste of Nathan Fillon. Oh, and by the way, who voices Mrs. Northwest? Anybody?

Score: 8.75

Edit 21/7/15: Score originally 9. Adjusted.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 16: "Dumbbell Indemnity"

Airdate: March 1st, 1998

Insert joke about remembering when The Simpsons used to be good here. (Image stolen from Wikipedia).

Synopsis: Moe has been entering into something of a depression: he has no companionship. While initial attempts at getting Moe a girlfriend at a local disco ultimately prove fruitless, he winds up meeting Renee (Helen Hunt), a local flower seller, and the two hit it off. When Moe wants more money to keep treating her to the finer things in life, he decides to commit insurance fraud… with Homer as his “guinea pig”.

Review: The Mike Scully years of The Simpsons featured some awkward character development. As our primary characters were either phased into the background or turned into wacky, centre-of-the-universe type characters, the secondary characters were seemingly fleshed out to try and show more than just their identifiable features- Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders, for one, were seemingly transformed into characters with hidden hearts of gold, or ones that had deep-seated “white-bread” lives. However, the scripts were haphazard, and the characters lost a lot of their humorous traits. In effect, the characters flattened as the show slowly transformed into one that wouldn’t be out of place on a cheesy Saturday morning cartoon. (I kid: at least some Saturday morning cartoons around this time had well-written characters!)

It didn’t hurt Moe Syzlak as bad (initially): it would be understandable to see his deep-seated loner tendencies, and try and show why he keeps failing to make friends or find romance. Again, this would degenerate as the scripts became more haphazard, but it’s more tolerable here. Continue reading

Gravity Falls Review: "Into the Bunker" (Season 2, Episode 2)

“This baby is called the Withstandinator. It can take a six megaton blast. No more. No less.” -Herman, The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror VIII”

Airdate: August 4th, 2014

Synopsis: Dipper is at the end of his wits when it comes to his relationship with Wendy: he needs to confess, yet also refuses to. A botched attempt at a confession drives Wendy into one of Dipper’s investigations: exploring the bunker under the tree where 3 was first found. As Dipper, Wendy, Mabel, and Soos dive down into the bunker, events conspire that drive Dipper closer to the breaking point, the duo to what seems to be a figure of local lore, and the quartet close to their demise.

*WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK*

Review: Last time the writers dedicated an episode to the faux-supercouple of Wendy and Dipper, the relationship between the two bottomed out. For those unawares, after Wendy broke up with Robbie, Dipper tried to get Wendy on the rebound. Wendy responded by blasting Dipper and Robbie’s misogynistic, self-serving maneuvers, before running off distraught.

That episode was “Boyz Crazy”, which was my favorite episode when I first reviewed it. Its dark themes in both its plot and subplot were striking, yet also realistic. They showed a darker side to our favorite characters.

“Into the Bunker” seems to be an attempt to finally put something of a confirmation to where Dipper and Wendy stand. In so doing, they have made an episode that further reaffirmed just how far the writing for the show has gone. Continue reading

Gravity Falls Review: “Scaryoke” (Season 2, Episode 1)

Airdate: August 1st, 2014

Synopsis: With Gideon finally secured in a local prison, the Mystery Shack holds a mixer to try and celebrate something of a return to the status quo. Pretty much the entire town is invited to the party. However, Stan’s activation of his device in the basement alerts the federal government to the town. Dipper tries to convince the feds that the town is strange… to the point where he raises the dead and wrecks the party.

*WARNING: SOME SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON. READ AT OWN RISK*

Review: To quote Red Dwarf’s Dave Lister… “SHE RIDES!”

Gravity Falls comes back, and it comes back with a bang! I’ll put it this way: it was worth the year-long hiatus. Want more? Well, so do I!

Want more? Well, so do I! Continue reading