186. Lisa the Skeptic

(originally aired November 23, 1997)
I gotta tell you, we’re barely into season 9 and I’m kind of bumming about the road ahead. At least for the next season or so; it’s just that there’s so much good about these episodes but for some reason or another it doesn’t work as a whole. It makes me marvel at the amazingness of the earlier seasons more, that now if a few elements are removed or dampened the show becomes that less memorable. Lisa arranges an archeological dig on the site of a future mall to make sure no important artifacts are being paved over, and makes a shocking discovery: a human skeleton with wings. The townspeople immediately leap to it must be an angel, a notion that Lisa scoffs at. Homer absconds with it, keeping in his garage and charging admission to see it, but soon it disappears. It turns up elsewhere in Springfield with a foreboding inscription: “The End Will Come at Sundown.” Everyone save Lisa awaits the apocalypse, but ultimately the angel is revealed to be a prop in a cheap publicity stunt for the newly opened mall. But with 20% off everything, including rat spray, the people of Springfield don’t seem to mind.

Premise-wise, this episode is a slam dunk. Heartless corporate entities exploiting a poor gullible populous with their faith to make a few bucks selling loofahs and cheap vases? Perfect. The ending is the best part of the whole show (“Prepare for the end! The end of high prices!”) With the suspenseful tone and dramatic music through the entire episode, it’s just such a stupid but brilliant reveal that almost makes up for everything else. Almost. The running theme before the ending is basically science vs. religion, as blatantly stated in the third act. As such we get fair play by Flanders and Lovejoy, both who are very staunch in their beliefs and frankly kind of act like jerks to Lisa. Once more she’s the town pariah, the bearer of bad news. But I felt it should have come full circle; where are their reactions at the reveal in the end? With all that build-up, you’d think there would be something, but no, the two are running off with the rest of them to lap up sweet, sweet commercialism. Just seemed like kind of a let-down.

There’s also an attempt for a more personal conflict within the story, where Marge puts her faith into the angel, only to be met with confusion and scorn by her daughter. I get what they’re going for, but the result really rubbed me the wrong way. Marge tells Lisa that if she can’t make a leap of faith, she feels sorry for her. Really? To an eight-year-old? Marge never has anything close to a negative thing to say, especially that unprompted. Meanwhile, Lisa, staunch on her beliefs, acts quite horribly to her mother (I always cringe when she rebuts, “Don’t feel sorry for me, mom. I feel sorry for you.”) But, their reconciliation at the end makes up for it, right? Eh. (though because I’m a big wuss, I do like, “Any time, my angel.”) So while the storytelling and some of the characterization sits on shaky ground, there’s some parts of the show that work. We get to see Lionel Hutz again after a long absence, I like the dumbness of the sting at the beginning, and while a completely random-ass guest star, I enjoyed how they made Stephen Jay Gould an asshole for no discernible reason. All and all, I love the idea of this episode a lot more than its execution, but it still ain’t terrible.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer’s in complete idiot mode in falling for the police sting: responding to Marge’s valid suspicions (“You’re the most paranoid family I’ve ever been affiliated with,”) requesting a yellow boat “with extra motors,” screaming about his boating arm upon being cuffed, and after all that, still demanding he get his boat. Cut to him bitterly driving home. When asked where the boat is, he claims the mast had termites.
– I guess the mall planners must have had the angel skeleton in place already made for the building, but impressive that they came up with the ruse of burying it presumably on the spot like that. Clever bastards.
– Great bit where Skinner announces the archeological dig to be a simultaneous reward and punishment depending on the student. I also like Bart shoveling mounds of dirt down the shorts of a sleeping Martin. Crude, but hilarious.
– Moe always seems to be prominent in crowd scenes, the perfect lowbrow dope to sway the mood of the crowd, here shouting that “Lisa” confirms it’s an angel. When she protests that it isn’t, he gives an articulate response (“Well if you’re so sure what it ain’t, how about telling us what it am?”)
– Hutz’s appearance is brief, but he gets in a classic line (“It’s an thorny legal issue alright, I’ll need to refer to the case of ‘Finders vs. Keepers.'”)
– Homer’s safe deposit closet is full of relics from older episodes. Curiously the Dancin’ Homer outfit is hanging on the wall. Guess he must have dug it up. Also another reference to Billy Beer (“We elected the wrong Carter.”) I also like Bart’s response to Homer’s plan of hoarding the angel to wait for it to increase in value (“It’s probably a million years old dad, I think it’s as valuable as it’s going to get.”)
– Love Homer’s horrible decorative arrangement of the angel, with Christmas lights and fuzzy dice, and his recorded anthem (“Here’s the angel, see the angel, it’s my angel, no one else’s, next to the rakes!”)
– Lisa on Smartline is a pretty good scene (“Miss Simpson, how can you maintain your skepticism despite the fact that this thing really really looks like an angel?” “I just think it’s a fantasy, if you believe in angels, then why not unicorns, sea-monsters and leprechauns?” “That’s a bunch of baloney Lisa, everyone knows that lepreachauns are extinct!”)
– There’s a Ned line that I love, but feels kind of forbearing (“Science is like a blabber mouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends. Well I say that there are some thing we don’t wanna know. Important things!”) Kind of like “Homer’s Enemy,” it works in the science vs. religion context of this episode, but I can’t help but be reminded of how Flanders would soon devolve into a super-staunch conservative close-minded Christian caricature, and that line fits him to a T.
– The last act is really so heavy-handed. Look! The angel on the hill! Look! There’s a message! Heavy dramatic music abound. At least we got the great ending, but it’s a real heft to get there. I like the quick bit in Vatican City though, with the Pope cavalierly reading the paper in a lawn chair (“Your holiness, there is word from America, they say an angel has foretold the apocalypse.” “Errmm… keep an eye on it.”)
– Having Smithers kiss Burns kind of pushed it too far. At that point they should have just stopped all Smithers gay jokes, because really, where could you go from there? Might as well show him banging a dude. Though I do like Burns’ questioning look when afterward he admits the kiss was “merely a sign of my respect.”
– I keep praising the ending, but one thing to tear it down a bit. I get they had to hide it, but not only is there twine or rope holding the angel up, but it’s also on a giant aerial track that nobody ever saw? Come on.


7 responses to “186. Lisa the Skeptic

  1. I wish they’d kept Stephen Jay Gould’s complete line at the very end of the episode: “I’m gonna be honest with you, Lisa. I never did the test. I had important work to do.” Without that last sentence, it feels like a cop-out that they never bothered to fix. With that sentence, though, it becomes a pretty good joke about how ridiculous the whole premise was.

    I used to hate Lisa in this episode, because I felt she was being an insufferable asshole to everyone in town for no reason. Then I looked more closely and I realized everyone in this episode is an insufferable asshole. It still doesn’t make Lisa’s behavior any less obnoxious, though – rather than being reasonable, she’s still just as high-‘n-mighty as everyone else, just in the opposite direction.

  2. You know, I like the line as is, just because it doesn’t make any sense. He took whatever money Lisa had to do the test, then admits he never did it and walks away. Stephen Jay Gould is an asshole, and I love it. …rest in peace.

  3. Lisa the Vegetarian did to Lisa’s character what Homer’s Enemy did to Homer; it opened a can of worms that would never be closed. Oh sure, she’s always been a feminist, but there was always a childlike innocence to her character. She could complain about sexism with Malibu Stacy, and then ask her mom for some candy. Starting with Lisa the Vegetarian, she developed this “I’m right and you’re wrong, and if you don’t agree then you’re an idiot” attitude, and it’s quite unattractive. Just like Homer, she stopped being a character and started being a caricature. People talk about jerkass Homer, and they’re right, but there’s also jerkass Lisa, who’s in full force in this episode.

    • I agree with you. Lisa the Vegetarian created Lisa as the voice of the morality, not in a funny naive way like Marge, but more of a big mouthed liberal. Lisa the Vegetarian itself is a great episode, but before that Lisa was the voice of the reason in a more subtle, resigned (ergo, funny) way. Every time she raised opinions about some issue she never got heavy on the problem, she used to be more of a curious child, with a rational approach and resigned dissatisfied conclusions(like all the smart people have).
      Anyway I disagree about Lisa being in a full jerkass mode here, if only because every character of the town is a jerkass too. It is an interesting but too heavy-handed episode from many point of view.

    • Agreed. Self-righteous protestor Lisa is unbearable. Lisa the Vegetarian was a great episode because her change of heart made sense in the context of the story, and it was clear that, whether or not her viewpoint was morally superior, she was handling it inappropriately.

      Now it’s like, “Looking how liberally enlightened she is! She holds all the “correct” stances and lectures or yells at anyone who disagrees.” Awful

  4. I love this episode. It’s a good mix of a lot of elements: Science vs. religion, mob mentality, superstition causing people not to think rationally, hypocrisy (“Pfft. Science. What has science ever done for us? TV OFF.”/”I’m paralyzed! I only hope medical science can cure me!”), and corporations basically doing whatever they want. It manages to be quite funny while doing all this, too.

    One continuity goof that bugs me, though: When the angel begins to speak, Lisa puts her arms around Marge’s legs in fear. A minute later, Marge said that when the angel started to talk, Lisa was squeezing her hand pretty hard. Uh, not according to the footage I saw! She was only hugging her! How did they let that slip through?

  5. “Lisa the Skeptic?” More like “Lisa the Bitch!” Good god is Lisa a little bitch in this episode. She treats everyone with such utter disdain for no reason as if they took a part in killing Snowball I. What she says to Marge in the kitchen at one point is utterly disgusting and she should have been spanked for talking to her mom like that. When did she suddenly have an issue with angels existing? We’ve never seen anything to hint that she doesn’t believe in a god, so why is she unable to buy anything here? Of course, it also serves her right for acting the way she did to the shopping mall people.

    I’m sorry, this episode might have some funny lines, but it is one of the worst atrocities to hit The Simpsons at this point in time. None of it makes sense and the characters, especially Lisa, all act out of character.

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