(originally aired February 17, 1994)
I think with Lisa episodes you really need a B-plot; most of her stories are emotional, moralistic endeavors, and 22-minutes of that would feel… I dunno, rather un-Simpsony. So to balance this show’s satire of crass commercialism and sexism, we have a bunch of Grampa being a silly old person. Our set-up is Abe realizing he’s not long for this world, so he decides to gives away his prized possessions to the Simpson family, who then go off to the mall to spent the valuables. Abe tags along, and complains and rambles the whole way. It’s there that Lisa buys the new talking Malibu Stacy doll, whose repertoire of phrases includes “Let’s bake some cookies for the boys!” and “Thinking too much gives you wrinkles!” I’ve not much knowledge over the history of Barbie, but I’m aware of the various watchdog groups that have attacked the doll’s persona for providing a negative role model to young girls. Afterwards, they gave Barbie more proactive job titles, and later divorced Ken, ’cause she don’t need no man to make it in the world. That was a news article on CNN, I believe. But I could go on about that forever; the point is that this is a spectacular exaggeration of this pop culture icon, and Lisa crusades to put a stop to it.
When a trip to the Malibu Stacy factory (or rather, the PetroChem Petrochemical Corporation) proves fruitless, Lisa pays a visit to the recluse creator of the doll Stacy Lovell (voiced by the great Kathleen Turner), a defeated drunkard who has holed herself up in a replica of the Stacy Dream House, only to have Lisa reignite the fire and agree to take action. They set to work on making a new doll, one which is a bit more proactive, with phrases like “When I grow up, I’m keeping my own name!” The great thing about the show is it hits both sides, where Lisa’s version of a doll sends a better message, but is so hamfisted in its delivery. The conclusion to the story is extraordinary: to combat the release of Lisa’s doll, Malibu Stacy is given a re-release, but with a new hat. The swarm of girls (and Smithers) are instinctively bowled over, buying the updated doll en mass. It’s a pitch perfect take on so many things, from useless toy variants to the commercial illusion of something being new and improved. So we don’t feel too bad for Lisa, a silver lining is drawn as she witnesses one little girl, smiling with Lisa’s doll in her hands. Not so bad after all.
Back to the Grampa plot: he tries to make an effort to not be a useless old person and get a job. He ends up at Krusty Burger, I guess a reference to how back in the 90s McDonald’s was making a point to hire up the elderly. It didn’t feel like this plot had much energy in it, it was mainly just an endless parade of old jokes at Abe’s expense, which are funny when utilized once and a while, but not for an entire subplot. They tried to tie it into Lisa’s story in the middle when the two are musing that no one will listen to them being too young and too old, which leads to Homer briskly walking in, delivering a classic line: “I’m a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are!” (he proceeds to take out from the cabinet a can of Nuts & Gum “Together at last!”) While some of the Grampa scenes are funny (“This sandwich just took a bite out of me!”), it didn’t really amount to much. I think it would have been better if after the Simpson family leaves Grampa rambling to himself in the car, he’s gone from the episode, like his usefulness has run out and that’s the joke. But hey, what do I know. I don’t make ’em, I just watch ’em.
Tidbits and Quotes
– As an avid Dracula fan, I do like that Grampa had been writing numerous annoying letters to Boris Karloff back in the day.
– I like how Grampa’s ramblings start as long winded stories, then toward the end just because disjointed annoyed remarks and quips (“I’m thirsty! Ew, what smells like mustard? There’re sure a lot of ugly people in your neighborhood. Oh! Look at that one. Ow, my glaucoma just got worse! The president is a Demmycrat!”)
– The ultra-violent Sergeant Thug’s Mountaintop Command Post playset apparently utilizes actually explosive technology; Bart launches a missile out the window and an explosion is seen in the distance.
– I love Lisa’s furious breathless rant about her new doll to an unreceptive Bart (“Millions of girls will grow up thinking that this is the right way to act, that they can never be more than vacuous ninnies whose only goal is to look pretty, land a rich husband, and spend all day on the phone with their equally vacuous friends talking about how damn terrific it is to look pretty and have a rich husband!!”) Also great direction on the camera turn as she furiously throws the doll out the window.
– Classic bit with the one girl’s doll’s defective voicebox (“My Spidey senses are tingling! Anyone call for a web slinger?”)
– There’s some subtle character stuff here with Marge, who seems to be torn with supporting her daughter and her internal belief to not cause a fuss (“Lisa, ordinarily I’d say you should stand up for what you believe in. But you’ve been doing that an awful lot lately.”) She’s stopped in her tracks when one of her Stepford Wife-esque phrases is revealed to be one of Stacy’s (“Now let’s forget our troubles with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream!”)
– The Malibu Stacy tour is filled with great bits: the beyond disgruntled assembly line workers, the origins of the doll initially being made of dried onion meal, the revelation that Smithers owns the largest collection in the world (which of course raises further questions), and the reveal of the acceptable sexist environment of the company (“Don’t act like you don’t like it!”) Also nice animation bit with the tour guide closing the door with her ass.
– Speaking of questions, we get more disturbing stuff from Smithers’ with the classic Burns screensaver (“Hello. Smithers. You’re. Quite. Good. At. Turning. Me. On.”) How much time must that have taken to splice together?
– I love Stacy Lovell, who appears to have mirrored the life of her doll, with her dream house mansion and ex-husbands such as Ken and G.I. Joe, who shows up later (“I must have you back. Just come for a ride with me in my Mobile Command Unit.”) Also her revelation of being forced out of the company in the 70s (“They said my way of thinking just wasn’t cost effective. Well, that, and… I was funneling profits to the Viet Cong.”) And the great scene where she claims she’s too drunk, and continues sipping her drink.
– There’s some great self-deprecating lines in here as well, from Lisa (“I’d be mortified if someone ever made a lousy product with the Simpson name on it”) and Ms. Lovell admitting the Simpson family has hideous hair… from a design point of view.
– The greatest bit in the show is Krusty’s in-and-out recording session. Each part of it is brilliant: his golf outfit, his cavalier, all-business attitude, his lifeless read, and inability to remember his sidekick’s name (“Hey, here comes Slideshow Mel! Again, here comes Sideshow Mel!”) And the kicker where Krusty hauls ass out of there before the technician has even put in the reel.
– I like how Kent Brockman’s daughter basically has the exact same hair as him, as well as the fact that she apparently convinced him to report on the Berlin Wall.