Scullyfied Simpsons: "Lisa Gets an A" (Season 10, Episode 7)

This grade is wrong, but not for the reason you might think…

Airdate: November 22nd, 1998

Synopsis: Lisa falls ill after being stuffed in a freezer to try and get some ice cream (no prizes for guessing who did it). Rather than study, she gets sucked into a video game, “Dash Dingo”. She gets so hooked into the game, she forgets to read The Wind in the Willows… and comes back to a quiz on the book. (“Game over, mate!”) Bart gets Nelson to hook her up with test answers, and she passes the test at such a level that the state no longer considers the school absolutely pathetic, and is willing to give them money.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned fridge-stuffer gets a pet lobster at the same supermarket. By “gets a pet”, I mean Homer prevents Marge from cooking Pinchy, a lobster that the family brought for dinner.

Review (SPOILERS): Lisa Simpson is one of the more divisive characters in the Simpsons canon. This stems from the trend during the “double digit” seasons to have Lisa as the mouthpiece for the generally leftish writers, with little reasonable dissent or critique of said positions. While I see where they come from, my opinion of Lisa stems from the early seasons of the show – as it should. And while she did have moments where she seemed overtly opinionated, they were just part of her role as a wiser, more mature eight-year old, who still fell victim to the same weaknesses that eight-year olds have.

“Lisa Gets An A”, surprisingly, has her fall victim to a trap that students tend to face – that of cheating. Not a bad idea, although does this episode execute it well?

Almost.

The idea itself isn’t exactly original, per se (“Bart the Genius”, anybody), but the proper tools can make something that seems cliche at first glance come off as rather well-done. This isn’t just an average kid deciding to cheat because of his or her laziness – this is Lisa Simpson (read, girl who only got one B… so far) getting so sucked into Dash Dingo, that she outright forgot that she had a homework assignment.  While one would question this lapse in judgement, I think it works to show that even Lisa isn’t infallible from everyday life. She’s eight years old – she’s going to have those moments where her judgement lapses.

It also fits into her perfectionist tendencies. When she got the aforementioned “B” in “Kamp Krusty”, she almost had a meltdown. (Yes, I am aware that The Simpsons has a wonky continuity.) Fearing that failing a test would have her banned from Harvard and sent to Brown fits in very, very well – Lisa isn’t the most pragmatic person out there. When push comes to shove, she’s willing to throw her ethics out the window… albeit not willingly.

Of course, episodes that focused on characters having to wraggle with themselves on their own failings have been done quite a few times – “Bart the Genius”, again. This episode decides to shift the focus somewhat from “Lisa cheats” to “Springfield Elementary is a cesspool”. Admittedly, this is a bit of a swerve in focus, but it does force Lisa to swallow her ethics even further.

The third act is kind of interesting, speaking from the keyboard of an aspiring teacher. The focus on Springfield Elementary’s finances is brought in again – episodes such as “The PTA Disbands” touched on it before. This time, there is an analysis of how financial grants and funds are spent. Springfield Elementary was doing so poorly in terms of grades that they were denied assistance from the state – seemingly keeping the school in a cycle of pathetic academia, technical lag, recreation decay, and funding drought.

Yet, when the school gets the grant – $250000 – Skinner proceeds to blow it on scoreboards, outdated tech (even by 1999 standards), and, most damningly, liquor for the teachers. The grant is thus kind of self-defeating, and at best, only serves as a short-term ailment to grave problems Springfield Elementary faces.

This actually raises quite a few questions – should education funding be punitive, or should there just be grants for better schools? Should there be more oversight on how the schools spend their funds? Are private resources in schools dubious? “Lisa Gets an A” does a good job at putting these ideas down on the table.

Here’s where the episode gets a little wonky. First off, the fact that Lisa’s A+++ managed to get the school a basic grant is a bit out there. It could work to show just how bad the rot is at Springfield Elementary, but the out there-ness stands. Secondly, there’s the entire concept of how the school was able to pull off a second awards ceremony to throw the State Education Comptroller.

Also, the first act of the episode seemed a bit light on the laughs. Not bad, but when you’re focusing more on comedy like Scully seems to be doing, you kinda need the laughs.

Before I go… the B-plot. It’s stupid, has Homer as a bit of an idiot… and I love it. It’s actually a very fun, cute plot, what with Homer coddling his pet lobster and treating it like a dog. That, and the end of that plot is one of the best examples of dark, tragic comedy in the show’s history.

After a rather rough start to the season, we seem to be getting back on track. Two good episodes in a row? Maybe Season 10 won’t be so bad after all…

Tidbits:

  • For the uninitiated, Dash Dingo is a send-up of Crash Bandicoot, a PlayStation game which is actually set in Australia. And yes, there are quite a few Australia jokes in Dash Dingo. Thing is, I can’t help but feel that this was the start of the show’s transition from parodying concepts for the sake of mocking and deconstructing them to simply referencing them with a few word changes. (Mapple? Really, Jean?)
  • Oh, wait, there is “Ken and Harry’s”. So, yeah, anytime you catch newer Simpsons episodes using “Mapple” and “Funtendo Zii”, this episode has some blame.
  • Gil reappears. This seems to be all his sthick is – just a down-on-his-luck salesman who needs to go take business classes. I mean, I don’t hate him, but that may be from nostalgia – The Simpsons: Hit and Run and the ability to buy stupid cars off of him. Still, I don’t think he’ll ever be as brilliant as Lionel Hutz. (I think he gets a lot of scorn because his first appearances came when the show was in the midst of a decline – that, and he starred in the widely disliked “Kill Gil” episode.)
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 – the third act is a bit stupid, but otherwise, not too bad.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2 – the point is mainly for sticking his daughter in the freezer to get some ice cream, plus the borderline neglect of his kids once Pinchy comes into the picture.
Favorite Scene: I loved seeing how utterly decrepit Springfield Elementary is, but the gold moment has to be Mrs. Krabappel using a periodic table provided by Oscar Meyer.
Least Favorite Scene: Did we really need to see the entire second grant presentation?
Score: 7.5. Would’ve gotten an 8, but the relatively joke-free first act brought it down a bit.
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