Scullyfied Simpsons: “They Saved Lisa’s Brain” (Season 10, Episode 22)

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“Oh, a sarcasm detector. That’s a real useful invention!” – Comic Book Guy. Standout quote. Glad it came in this wonderful season!

Airdate: May 9th, 1999

Written By: Matt Selman

Plot: Springfield’s culture, never particularly highbrow, hits a low point when a contest asking contestants to embarrass themselves collapses into a full-blown riot. In response, Lisa pens an open letter begging the townsfolk to better themselves. That letter catches the collective eyes of Springfield’s MENSA chapter, who encourage her to join. Despite a bit of terseness in the group, their concerns about Springfield’s culture gain more prominence when they inadvertently cause Mayor Quimby to skip town. Following the town charter, they take over as a quasi-junta.

Review:

OK, 21 episodes down, two to go in the tenth season. Only took me about two years to do so. And after that complete and utter debacle of the last episode, these next two might close the season out on a high note.

There is a sort of bizarre coincidence, though, that I’ve noticed. Despite this season overall being quite focused on Homer’s increasingly bizarre antics, the debut and penultimate episodes of the season take a closer look at Springfield’s favorite intellectual, Lisa Simpson, and examines just where she fits into this strange society. Continue reading

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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.

Scullyfied Simpsons: "D’oh-in’ in the Wind" (Season 10, Episode 6)

Airdate: November 15th, 1998

Synopsis: While tracking down his middle name, Homer comes across a farm run by two former hippies, Seth and Munchie. Upon learning his middle name, and learning more about his rebellious mother and her interactions with said hippies (she painted a mural with Homer’s full name), Homer takes an interest in the carefree lifestyle of hippies, and becomes one… not understanding that Seth (Martin Mull) and Munchie (George Carlin) have moderated their practices, even embracing the capitalist aspects of the 90s.

Review (SOME SPOILERS, POSSIBLY FOR OTHER EPISODES): In hindsight, maybe the 60s counterculture was too good to be true. Intended as an anti-establishment movement meant to get humanity more in touch with Earth and the fellow man, as well as generate social reforms, ironically, not only has it become the defining image of the 60s (to the point of cliche), but arguably became absorbed and moderated by the mainstream itself. Not that this was a bad thing, though. However, there is an irony here.

In many regards, The Simpsons was a counterculture in and of itself, or at least represented a counterculture. After the seemingly conservative, politically and socially stolid 80s, where American morals and archetypes were reinforced, came this show that managed to lampoon (if not subvert) every single aspect of Americana. Unfortunately, episodes like “When You Dish Upon A Star” seemed to represent the show becoming mainstream. Here’s where the absorption of the counterculture in the mainstream proved to be detrimental – modern Simpsons episodes seem to run on cliche plots and hackneyed dialogue, attempting to be trendy and cool, and just coming off as a pathetic show that needs to be axed. Soon.

Now that that’s out of the way, “D’oh-in in the Wind” is, in all honesty, quite an improvement over the aforementioned last episode. (That’s not a hard feat, but still.) Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" (Season 10, Episode 2)

Airdate: September 20th, 1998

Synopsis: Reaching a midlife crisis, Homer becomes despondent on life. After a projector breaks down, Homer rhetorically asks “who invented this thing?” Lisa responds, and Homer has a new goal – be the new Thomas Edison. He becomes obsessed with the man… and, when it turns out that Edison invented something that Homer seemed to invent – a chair with an extra set of legs on hinges – Captain Wacky becomes hellbent on destroying Edison’s chair.

Review: Sounds like a Scullyfied Simpsons. Ain’t been reviewed onto nigh for two months.

Tsk, tsk, tsk – trouble a brewin!

Homer’s sorta pitiful life is the centerpiece of the greatest Simpsons episodes. Even when he is involved in something landmark (such as going into space), there’s this tinge in the writing that he got there by the thinnest of margins (aka, Barney going insane and falling off the top of a mattress factory). Despite this, he almost always maintained a love for the simple things you’d expect a 40-year old to love – TV, Duff, all that jazz.

Indeed, deconstructing his simple life by putting him in a midlife crisis seems like tough ground to tread. It doesn’t seem like Homer would be the one to encounter that, but I’d be willing to excuse that somewhat as a deconstruction of what his life has been.

Then Lisa brings up Thomas Edison, and the episode becomes… a tad bit more haphazard.

Look, Homer trying to invent something doesn’t seem like a bad idea… it’s just that it was done before. Can you say, “The Homer”?

For those unaware, in “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou”, Homer’s half-brother, Herb, is the founder and head of a floundering car company. After meeting Homer, he starts to believe/realize his fellow suits are trying to imitate the Japanese and European car makers, and commissions Homer to invent “the American car.” The end result?

The Car Built For Homer
“Whatever Homer wants… Homer gets….”

It cost $82,000 – far beyond the means of the average American, yet even those that could afford it probably wouldn’t touch the car with a 39.5′ pole. Worse, because it was promoted as the flagship/comeback car of the company, Powell Motors loses whatever credibility it had, is bankrupted, and Herb winds up taking residence under a bridge. It was realistic, had a coherent plot, and more than just two-dimensional, satirizing the auto industry and the perceptions of the “average American”.

Admittedly, though, the inventions that Homer considers could be taken as a satire on just how insane companies would go in attempts to make lives “simpler”, when in reality, their inventions would add more complications to their life.

If you watch The Simpsons for satire, it’s not bad.

However, as I mentioned in my discussion for “Oh, Brother”, this show used to do a damn good job at balancing both. Here, the writer decided to focus more on the satire rather than the character, and the end result is somewhat empty. In my opinion, to make a strong script, you need strong characters… and this episode doesn’t really have that.

Here… Homer exposits about Thomas Edison’s life, which seems unlike him; manages to comprehend complex math problems, and other stuff that seems unlike him. Jokes like “Women will like what I tell them to like” are a good satire on the seemingly sexist viewpoint on the marketing industry, but coming out of Homer, it makes him look more disturbingly misogynistic than ever before. (Didn’t the writers expose Homer as not especially misogynistic in “Homer Badman”?)

As for the rest of the characters, Marge is reduced to something of a doormat. Ignoring Homer’s wacky desire of the week, she seems to go a tiny bit soft with Homer when it comes with his stupid – if not outright dangerous – inventions. Remember, she told Homer to “shut up” over lack of theatre etiquette in “Colonel Homer”, so this seems somewhat regressive.

Bart, meanwhile, seems to act as a mere assistant in Homer’s schemes. While I don’t mind the idea, here, the execution is very dry – there’s little to bounce off each other. If I can recall, I did sorta like the season 17 episode “We’re on the Road to D’oh-where”, and it was probably because it had Homer and Bart bounce off of each other, and not have Bart serve as a mere sidekick to Homer. Granted, I haven’t watched the episode in a few years, but maybe I’ll check it out one of these days.

As for the plot… it’s pretty much just an excuse for “Homer acts like an idiot” jokes. The pacing is off, the twist at the end came out of left field, and the second act seems a bit vapid.

There’s more I could talk about, but in the end, this is an episode that I have mixed feeling over. It has decent satire, but I feel like it could’ve been better with character exploration – or at least, consistent characterization. Here… not so much.

Tidbits:

  • Personally, I found that getting William Daniels – the voice of KITT himself – to be a bad sign as far as character. It makes Homer out to be the centre of the universe, or something to that effect. Homer is supposed to be just this working class guy who occasionally got into strange situations (such as going into space), and who managed to get a realistic response from everybody. Getting KITT reneges on that in a sense.
  • This was also written by John Swartzwelder, well known for his relative reclusiveness amongst the writers. He actually wrote some of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the show – “Rosebud”, “Homer at the Bat”, and all that. He penned “The Cartridge Family”, which was known for it’s relatively neutral stance on Gun Control (Swartzwelder is a conservative, and pro Gun Rights). However, in 1994, he was allowed to submit his drafts from his home, what with the backlash against smoking. Thus, some have speculated that this gave the writers and showrunners free-reign to manipulate the scripts.
  • This was also the first episode to premiere in the 1998-99 season itself – the season that gave us Futurama and Family Guy. Some have speculated that the show’s shift into zanier territory was motivated by Family Guy. The timing, though, leads me to disagree somewhat.
Favorite Scene: Admittedly, I loved the scene with Homer at the school library. I don’t really know how Homer got into the school – although that might be because I live in world with stricter school security – but I liked his explanation on why he wasn’t at the public library. “There was some… unpleasantness. I can never go back.”
Least Favorite Scene: KITT’s appearance, for the reasons above.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 – the half point is for the Homer’s attempt to destroy Edison’s stuff.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 3 – was waffling between a 2.5 and a 3, but then I remembered just how boneheaded his inventions were, and the fact that the writers made KITT himself celebrate him, and bumped it up.
Score: 6 – mainly for the satire. Character… not so much.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 25: "Natural Born Kissers"

Nothing like your 11th anniversary to realize you have old cake in the fridge.

Airdate: May 17, 1998

Synopsis: It’s Marge and Homer’s 11th anniversary. However, recent events (such as having their anniversary dinner at a family restaurant) have them fear that the zest in their marriage has run out. While trying to get a motor for their freezer, the two get stuck in a muddy driveway in the middle of farm country. Hiding out in a farmhouse, the risk of the farmer catching them inside reignites the fire in their relationship, and the two realize that their relationship reignites when the risk of being caught in compromising situations increases.

Meanwhile, Bart and Lisa find Abe’s old metal detector. After finding tons of junk, the two eventually locate a copy of an alternate ending to Casablanca. Let’s just say, the ending isn’t what one would consider a classic.

Review: Shorter review than normal here, because there isn’t too much to dissect. Earlier episodes did the “zest in love life” plot better, added more pathos, more character development, and were funnier. It seems like this episode was just done to appeal to fanservice, as well as see how far the writers could “push the envelope”, and didn’t really bother to make that many other benchmarks in terms of quality.

It’s amazing that, by the standards of the show, this was one considered one of the more “risqué” episodes. Remember- around this time, “South Park” was stretching the boundaries of what a cartoon could show. It seems like this episode was constructed as a response- a more risqué, envelope pushing episode. Nowadays, it’s a relatively tame episode. Strip away the more “edgy” content, and what you have is a rather pedestrian episode- Marge and Homer have a marriage crisis, a plot point which would be a cliche of the Al Jean years. If you want to be “edgy”, at least have substance.

I don’t know- maybe 12-year-old me might have liked it because it was “edgy”, but with years gone by, I just feel like it’s a typical Scully-era episode- decent situation, zany buildup, zany ending. It’s far from the worst offender- it’s still a bit funny, and characterization was pretty decent, if milquetoast – but it’s not the most outstanding thing I’ve seen this show do.

The message of the A-plot? Don’t break the law. It’s too much trouble for everybody involved.

Strangely enough, I found the B-plot a bit more interesting than the A-plot. Bart and Lisa finding an old movie actually could’ve made for a decent A-plot in and of itself- sort of a remake of “Three Men and a Comic Book” meets “Lisa on Ice” meets “Day the Violence Died”. We could’ve seen some great character interaction between the two- something we really haven’t seen all season. Here, finding an alternate ending to Casablanca only allows for enough material for a B-plot, and with what little time it’s given, it’s executed very well.

In fact, that plot showcases the satire aspect of The Simpsons more than the original. In trying to find treasure, Bart and Lisa come across an ending to Casablanca that is far, far happier than the one in the movie. It’s pretty clear that the ending is a spoof on the strict standards set for movies well into the 70s- movies like All that Heaven Allows, for example, had to slip their depressing messages under a thin cover of “happiness”. Casablanca is well remembered because it’s ending wasn’t happy, and it’s characters didn’t just stick themselves within archetypes, and the movie was more than just a simple romantic drama.

This episode also reveals, rather ironically, that a bad ending can erase a lot of goodwill that a piece of media built up prior to the climax. If there actually was an ending like that, and it got slipped in, I doubt Casablanca would be as popular as it is now. Hear me, Simpsons writers? Finish strong- otherwise, you will encounter the wrath of geeks! (Ah, who am I kidding- they stopped caring years ago.)

The moral of that story? Metal detectors are time sinks, and cliches are awful. (Al Jean musn’t have paid too much attention to that last point.)

Game, set, match for season 9. Next up for our trashing? Season 10.

Tidbits:

  • I’ll admit right now- the setup to the A-plot is pretty funny. Marriage in a rut, plus old cake, plus forgetting to close the freezer? Brilliant. (Just wondering- why was the fridge also open? Ah, never mind.)
  • Gil’s back! Remember- he used to sell shoes? Now he sells cars… and can’t do that well at all. Methinks that’s going to be Gil’s character- an utter failure at everything he does. He probably wouldn’t have been used as much in later seasons if Phil Hartman hadn’t been shot. What a shame.
  • I just love the look on Maude’s face when she notes Ned’s obvious golf advice. It’s the face that shows, as happy as their marriage is, there’s still some small differences between the two of them, rather than Maude just being a female Ned. I love those subtle moments of character… when I catch them.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5- even with the ending, the episode is still relatively grounded.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 1. In fact, I think Homer is a bit milquetoast here. Calm before the storm? I hope not. (Hint: it probably is.)
Favorite Scene: Nothing too outstanding in this episode, but I found the “Casablanca Alternate Ending” brilliant enough to get this award.
Least Favorite Scene: Let’s face it- the second half of the A-plot was just an excuse to push the envelope. Oh, and Homer gets hurt a lot during that.
Score: 7. Barely. 
Now, to end the season (and other seasons of Scully’s era of The Simpsons), I’m not going to do a traditional “wrap-up”. Rather, I’m going to include that in a “Not Another Top (X) List” post. That post? The 9 worst episodes from Season 9.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 21: "Girly Edition"

“K-I-D-Z. Z for Zap! It’s a programme for ALL KIDS, made by ALL KIDS, and concentratin’ on all the subjects that ALL KIDS are into today!” (Damn you, Ben Elton.)

Airdate: April 19th, 1998

Synopsis: With the FCC cracking down on educational TV, executives convince Krusty the Clown to add a ten minute news program hosted by kids to the end of his shows. Lisa and Bart are appointed as anchor and sports anchor, respectively. Bart’s goofy delivery impresses the executives more than Lisa’s straightforward delivery, and he is promoted to co-anchor. After hearing Lisa’s complaints about him, and after a brief consultation with Kent Brockman, Bart decides to go into more of a “sentimental” route, much to the chagrin of Lisa.

Meanwhile, Homer adopts a helper monkey, Mojo, to help him with his busy life- that is to say, getting food and sleeping. Marge is not amused.

Review: Now THIS is what “Trouble with Trillions” could’ve been: a satirical look at a particular organization or institution. In this case, the writers decide to take a huge bite out of the modern news media and traditional media in general, and it’s brutal enough to obscure any flaws that this episode has.

Let’s face it: with news fatigue and “social” news media on the rise, traditional outlets have to play the “tabloid” game even harder to try and retain viewers. The American news media does this especially egregiously- FOX News and the New York Post spin to the right, MSNBC spins to the left, CNN targets the lowest common denominator. It’s all in the quest for viewers- many of whom have simply stopped caring.

At the same time as this episode was being produced, the FCC cracked down on children’s TV shows on the networks. Believing that kids were getting stupider and fatter as a direct result of Ninja Turtles, the FCC began requiring that broadcast networks air three hours of “educational” TV. Basically, as long as it carried a message at the end, it got approved. The reason why this failed? Not only were kids just rebelling to cable TV, but strict advertising regulations made producing shows a loss for the networks.

This episode manages to hit two birds with one stone- exploring just how weak and phoned-in “educational” kids TV can be (hear me, Litton), while also taking a stab at the news media for covering “soft” news and sensationalism over hard news… even if it meant putting those that work for these companies in danger just to maintain their jobs.

As for characters… I actually can tolerate some of the characterization being a tad off… this time. In fact, I can’t say character here is too far off. One of the chief complaints against this episode is that Bart isn’t “proud” of being an underachiever here- he actually responds seriously to criticism. Yet, his response is far from genuine- it’s just an attempt to garner sympathy and prestige. That’s what American news media is, eh? Laying on the schmaltz and the flamboyance to get ratings.

Lisa, meanwhile, is often viewed by newcomers to the show as eons wiser and calmer than Bart. Episodes like these show why that viewpoint isn’t exactly correct. Sure, Lisa might be wiser and calmer, but the prospect of being one-upped brings out the absolute worst in her… and makes for some excellent character scenes. She’s far from irredeemable, shown when she comes to Bart’s defense at the junkyard, but the scenes where she sets Bart up for failure show a brilliant sense of short-sightedness in her.

This episode marks the second appearance of Lindsay Nagle. Nagle works best as a symbol of the callous executive- one that tries to stay hip, and one that likes the money, product be damned. (Ironic, innit?) Later episodes have received flack for overusing the character- a sign that the show’s well of ideas was on empty.

We also get our first appearance of the Crazy Cat Lady. Not a lot to work with beyond a joke or two, as funny as those are. For some reason, they gave her some episodes that tried to develop her character (running for mayor in “See Homer Run”, getting a backstory in “Springfield Up”, and injecting some pseudo-pathos in some Season 22 episode that I don’t remember), and the results were underwhelming.

But enough of that noise – let’s go to what everybody remembers about this episode… Homer getting a pet monkey! It’s cheesy, full of Homer acting like an insensitive child, and just hysterical. You see, Homer’s just childish enough to be lovable here- a limit that appears to have been overstepped in recent years. Seeing Mojo deteriorate under Homer’s “care” is pretty dark, yet is also hysterical. “Pray for Mojo”, indeed.

Overall, if this is the show’s last “above 7” episode, I’m not going to complain too much.

Tidbits:

  • “The Mattel and Mars Bar Quick Energy Chocobot Hour” is one of the greatest send-ups to 80s merchandise-themed cartoons ever. “That’s barely legal as is!”
  • Just wondering- how did Bart avoid punishment for effectively stealing half a shipment of Creamed Corn?
  • Here’s the deal- Season 12 has an episode that sends up the British sci-fi drama The Prisoner. I’m not too worried about it, since at the pace I’m reviewing The Simpsons, the show will finally be cancelled. Still, I’m thinking that, during the 17 episodes before “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes”, I’ll also post reviews of The Prisoner alongside those reviews. If that goes through, expect the first Prisoner review to go out with “Faith Off”.
Zaniness Factor: 1.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2. No matter what, dragging his father in to get a monkey stretches the character’s likability, even by Scully’s standards.
Favorite Scene: Mojo steals donuts, and proceeds to hoard them. No wonder why Homer developed a callous to his health, and was relatively unmoved by dropping him off.
Least Favorite Scene: OK, I’ll admit that Lisa’s speech at the end of the episode was pretty over the top.
Score: 8.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 18: "This Little Wiggy"

Airdate: March 22nd, 1998

Synopsis: After noticing that Ralph is constantly bulled due to his “off” character, Marge arranges a meetup between Ralph and Bart, much to the latter’s chagrin. As Bart realizes the power his father lords as the chief of police, such as having the master key, Bart begins to use Ralph to break into various places, like a toy store, a bakery, and a local jail.

Review: If ever I were to pick the best “valentines day” episode of any show ever, it would probably have to be “I Love Lisa”. Not only does it have a simple yet compelling story between the ditzy yet soft-hearted Ralph and the intellectual yet occasionally aloof Lisa, but it also showcased that Ralph was more than just a prop character, a “kid in the back”. He was a loner, ostracized because of his ditzy behavior, yet was an utter savant when it came to the stage. It’s probably my favorite “holiday” episode of The Simpsons by quite a margin. If ever you need proof that the classic seasons of The Simpsons were able to craft some of the most fantastic characters in TV history, watch that episode.

I bring that episode up because, again, Ralph is the center of an episode revolved around him. You can feel the difference in the two episodes. One gives him natural character development that pulls at almost every emotion imaginable, whilst not being overly sappy. The other tries too hard to be funny, and as a result, it seems to reserve its characters to joke fodder. Continue reading

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

Airdate: March 8th, 1998

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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 overanalyzing 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 apologize 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

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

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 11: "All Singing, All Dancing"

Airdate: 4 January, 1998

Synopsis: Homer claims to hate musicals, revealing his disdain after renting a musical that Homer thought was a Clint Eastwood western. The rest of the Simpsons note the irony of this, stating the mere fact that the family (and the entire town) tend to break into song on a semi-regular basis. Meanwhile, Snake tries his hand at robbery… and reveals his distaste for musicals.

Review: This will be a short one; it’s meh. It’s a clip show; what more do you expect? I’m not really going to go into depth here, though.

First, let’s get this out of the way; the clips themselves are sublime. The first eight seasons of the show featured some damn good music. My favorite would have to be a tie between “In the Garden of Eden” from “Bart Sells His Soul” and “We Do” from “Homer the Great”.

Now the original material. It starts out great: “Paint Your Wagon” was pretty damn funny. However, by the start of the second act, it runs low on gas. While most of the characters are, well, in character, for some reason, I just can’t see Snake backing off as easily as he does. Maybe it was an attempt at character development. Maybe they just realized they needed something to keep the plot moving. Who knows?

It’s also worth noting that not even the writers wanted to do this episode; the ending makes this pretty clear. Worth noting that this episode came out shortly after the release of the CD Songs in the Key of Springfield. Thus, I blame FOX executives for the dryness of this episode.

That’s really how to sum it up: it’s just a largely forgettable episode. I’ll give it a pass, but only because it wasn’t as nonsensical as “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace”, and it reminded me of more entertaining episodes. If you want to watch a good clip show, watch “So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show”, “Another Simpsons Clip Show”, and “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular”.

Tidbits: Just two.

  • At the end, a shotgun is fired during the credits. Two blasts are heard on one occasion. Said occasion is when Phil Hartman’s name comes up. Five months and change after this episode aired, Hartman’s wife shot him dead before turning the gun on himself.
  • David Mirkin was credited as the executive producer. For once, Mike Scully is absolved of blame.

Favorite Moment: “Gonna paint your wagon, gonna paint it good…” SING ALONG!

Least Favorite Moment: Snake leaves because he figures that the family would not make good hostages… because they sing. Just seems a bit off for him.

Zaniness Factor: 1.5, mainly for the singing.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 1. (That’s a first, I think).

Score: 5.5.