Scullyfied Simpsons: "Lard of the Dance" (Season 10, Episode 1)

Airdate: August 23, 1999

Synopsis: At the dawn of a new school year, Lisa has to meet up with a transfer student. Unlike the previous transfer student, this new transfer student, Alex Whitney (Lisa Kurdow, Friends), is a fashion-oriented, modern “adult”-like child in the same grade as Lisa, who still enjoys the pursuits of childhood.

Meanwhile, Homer gets the first of many, many, many jobs this season when he realizes the market value of grease. He and Bart try and usurp grease from various sources… including the school.

Review: The tenth season premiere is, in some ways, a bit of a “Deja Vu” moment. By which, I mean, it’s all but a remake of “Lisa’s Rival” – Lisa meets a new girl and has a rocky relationship with her, and Homer enters a money-making scheme.

It’s how these two episodes execute their plots, though, that differs vastly, and in the case of the “Homer” plot, makes this episode weaker in comparison.

Lisa’s plot revolves around what seems to be an attempt to treat children like tiny adults in society. It was relevant then, and it’s relevant now. We see children given access to cell phones, allowed to operate credit cards, dressing up in styles more suited for adults, etc. It’s a bit concerning, given that the mind of a child is not as developed as the adult mind. I’m glad that the show addressed this. Honestly, this shows that even the Scully era – one lambasted by reviewers for transitioning the show to a mindless sitcom – could tackle social issues. It’s early yet in Scully’s tenure, though.

My problem, again, comes from the execution, which seems a tad bit uneasy.

On one hand, I can appreciate the idea that Lisa does have a more “childish” streak – we’ve seen it in earlier episodes, and it makes the character more believable. However, here, it seems like they stuck in traits that the writers thought second graders like Lisa had. The end result is an ending monologue that has some issues with character – I don’t really buy into Lisa supporting the idea of “talking in church” and “chewing with her mouth open”.

I also find her being appointed manager of the school disco and her bouts of maturity including watching The McLaughlin Group, while somewhat funny, to be a bit of a harbinger of her future characterization as an overt political activist who acts like a college student… which is a bit ironic, if you think about it. Of course, it could be (and probably is) a stab at the aforementioned show, but I just thought the coincidence muddled some of the comedy.

Otherwise, I think that it was relatively “color by numbers” – Lisa is unpopular, and there’s something like a “be yourself” message at the end. Granted, this is more complex than “Lisa Goes Gaga”, in that it takes on a social issue, but still. I think “Summer of 4’2” was an overall more inspired, unique take on the idea, with a somewhat more “involved” plot involving sibling rivalries and the dynamic of geekery. Here, it’s a bit… simpler. Lisa is ostracized for being uncool, but is right all along because the cool kids don’t know the first thing about the “adult” things they’re supposed to do.

But, because I l want to end the discussion of the plot on a positive note this time, I will say that Alex Whitney is actually a fresh twist on the old “uptown girl” cliche – she’s sweet, not actively harmful, and seems to be more unaware of the realities of a new demographic than anything else. She’s sympathetic, and Lisa Kurdow does a fantastic job playing her. (I’ve never really watched Friends, but now I’m tempted to watch a bit on Netflix.)

Bizarrely enough, the title of the episode comes from the B-plot. A harbringer of the “Homer Gets A Job” cliche, Homer (and Bart, because writing) try and make money off of recycling grease. Minor in the grand scheme of things, it’s still quite a bit lackluster. It’s full of the typical “Homer Gets A Job” cliches – Homer acts like a jackass or an idiot, does something that is obviously not going to make him money, and gets hurt while doing so. “Lisa’s Rival”, again, handled this in a better light,

What bugged me is the idea that this behavior was normal. Even in episodes like “Deep Space Homer”, Homer’s trip into space was treated realistically, with other characters acting like real people despite the zaniness of the situation. Here, Homer is all but egged on by the entire universe. Back in my review of “Lost Our Lisa”, I mentioned that Homer’s rant at the end showcased that the character was being transformed into something of a Mary Sue – one that the writers would use as a vehicle for their fantasies. It isn’t too bad here – he doesn’t come out the victor, is relegated to the B-plot, and doesn’t meet a celebrity.

Still, to see Marge suggest somethings for his “zany scheme” is a tiny bit out of character, and shows the universe start to bend to his will. In the show’s defense, Marge’s suggestion of an “emu farm” indicates something that is relatively tame. I think – I don’t know much about Emu farming. Oh, I also forgot to mention Homer gets hurt – he’s beaned with a shovel, punched, strangled with a hose, and having an eyeball pop out. That last part, I did not make up. That’s something I’d expect out of a show made by Seth MacFarlane. He survives all of this with nary a scratch.

Again, because I want to end on a positive note this time, I will say that the episode had quite a few great jokes:

  • “North Kilt-town”
  • Skinner recognising right off the bat that Lisa’s probably the only person raising her hand – a tad bit silly, but whatever.
  • Homer takes note of the large amounts of grease on the fast food worker’s forehead. “My god, you’re greasy!”
  • Homer forgot to attach the barrels to the car before his trip to the school.
  • Even Lisa’s paramecium insult her by pairing up.
  • “Acne Grease and Shovel”
Despite this, the episode is relatively lacklustre, and not one I would be too quick to watch again.
Tidbits:
  • In an age where mobile phones are commonplace, it’s worth noting that having a cell phone was seen as something of a “white collar” thing during the 90s – as in, generally speaking, people who primarily made decent money in the finance sector had cell phones. This stands in something of a contrast to today, where most people have cell phones. Thus, the allure of Alex having a cell phone is much stronger if viewed from a “1998” perspective.
  • There’s something a tad bit confusing about Groundskeeper Willie using the school’s kitchen as a sort of shower. I know he lives on school grounds, but at first, it seems like he was just there because the plot needed a conclusion. However, given that he’s the only janitor at the school, he might be doing some overnight cleaning work (or at least, on the clock for it).
  • This was the last episode directed by Dominic Polcino. Not the greatest way to leave.
  • This episode actually aired as a special episode. Y’see, in America, broadcast TV shows are normally contained from September to May, when the ratings system is most active. The reason, according to Wikipedia, was to get a good lead in for the pilots of That 70s Show and a Holding the Baby. The former became something of a cultural icon – ironically enough, it launched the career of Mila Kunis, who became the second voice of Meg in oft-accused Simpsons ripoff Family Guy. Holding the Baby’s success can be measured in that it’s Wikipedia Page barely has information on the show, and according to it, the show didn’t live to see whether President Clinton would be acquitted or not. (Oh, and it was based off of a somewhat – at least – obscure Britcom.)
Zaniness Factor: 2, mainly from the cartoonish fight between Homer and Willie.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3. Zany job, virtual invincibility to pain, and pulling Bart out of school to work a blue collar job? Yeah.
Favorite Scene: Have to go for Lisa trying to force Milhouse to go with her to the dance as a date… before realizing what she’s become. Even if the rest of the art in the episode is somewhat dry, the reflection in the glasses is a good, if slightly cliche, film/animation direction technique.
Least Favorite Scene: The entire third act has several scenes, but it’s a dead heat between Lisa’s somewhat uncharacteristic end monologue, and Homer and Groundskeeper Willie’s overtly cartoonish fight.
Score: 6.5.
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