(originally aired August 23, 1998)
Here’s an episode that I always thought was of ‘meh’ distinction, and I pretty much still do after a re-watch, but some big things kind of rubbed me the wrong way about it. The main story is simple: Lisa feels ostracized as a trendy new girl Alex usurps her friends and sweeps them into the mature world of fashion, make-up and dating. Act one ends with her being abandoned, and next Lisa is complaining to her mother that her friends were stolen. We’ve seen Lisa hang out with girls before, but we’ve also seen her isolated by her fellow classmates due to her intellect a lot more. She’s an established social outcast already, how is this situation any different? I could say the same for the randomly reappearing Alison, except they basically just made her a generic girl character. But then why didn’t they just make her a generic girl then? I guess they just figured it would be better to put in a familiar face. Or easier. But why would she and Lisa be hanging out with Sherri and Terri who are two grades older then them? Grades never intersected in elementary school, everybody knows that.
The foundations of the plot are very shaky for me, and since Lisa is already a loner as it is, this premise about her losing her “friends” doesn’t hold much weight to me. I get the basic idea, that Alex represents the new wave of youth who are much more inclined to try to act older like teenagers, and there’s genuine humor to be mined from that. They nab a few good jokes out of it, but something else bothers me about applying this mentality to characters this young. These eight-year-olds, including Lisa, are tarting themselves up in mini cocktail dresses trying to seduce boys to go to the dance… part of me just felt icky about watching it. Again, I get what they’re going for, but it just felt like a premise that maybe would work better for kids a little older. But even with all these complaints, the story itself flows logically, and there are some amusing jokes to be had. Lisa Kudrow does a pretty good job as Alex, where she’s actually an important character with a personality, unlike later celebrity-voiced classmates we would have.
Now we have our sub-plot, featuring Homer and Bart becoming grease bandits. I feel like this was the season where Homer really went off the deep end, one particular avenue of that being giving him wacky job after wacky job after wacky job. Where “Simpson Tide” was the good recent version of this trope, this feels like its polar opposite: Homer is wildly impulsive and abrasive when it comes to this new hair-brained scheme, against all sense of reality or logic, dispensed by his sidekick… er, son Bart. When he gets sixty-three cents for all his toils, he’s still happy as a clam. Wouldn’t Homer get upset that he didn’t get the riches he felt he was owed? No, because here he’s braindead Homer, with a one-track mind and one last flickering brain cell. Then we end with a silly all-out brawl in the school air ducts with Willie, a finale that at least ties the two plots together in an amusing and satisfying way. Like the A-story, I can at least say I laughed at a few points, so it’s not all bad. I got a lot of gripes about this episode; a fair amount of jokes managed to sop up some of the negativity, but not enough for me to feel like rewatching this any time in the future.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I always loved Milhouse’s pathetic forlorn crush toward his best friend’s sister. I like here it’s clear that the attraction’s basically skin deep, and he really doesn’t connect with her at all (“Did you have a nice summer? Don’t you hate that we have to go back to stupid school tomorrow?” “I like school.” “Me too! We have so much in common.”)
– I like this bit with Skinner over the intercom (“Attention please, I need a volunteer for a thankless chore. …shall I assume the only hand in the air is Lisa Simpson? Thank you, Lisa.”) She basically becomes Skinner’s helper monkey through the whole episode, which I guess would bother me more if the core of the other two stories didn’t already bother me enough.
– It could have been easy to make Alex kind of a bitch, but they didn’t. I like that she’s a pretty nice person; she apologizes to Lisa for ditching her, reassures her about finding a date, it adds a bit more dimension to her one-off character. The dichotomy between her and Lisa couldn’t be more stark though: while Alex sprays on “Pretension” by Calvin Klein, Lisa is crowing about the new Malibu Stacy doll with an achievable chest.
– I guess the writers thought it was funny to have Homer drag his son around on his zany schemes and keep him out of school, but I just felt bad for the kid. And it would fluctuate; one scene Bart looks forlorn out to all the kids in the school yard, then he seems pleased as punch to tell his father about all the grease there is at Krusty Burger. Also, Marge may put up with her husband’s stupid new “occupation,” but no way would she let him keep Bart out of school. No way.
– Funniest bit in the whole show is Homer staring down the greasy-faced kid at the cash register (“My God, you’re greasy…”)
– Like that Homer’s competition is aptly named “Acne Grease and Shovel.” Homer bemoans his failure (“I can’t believe those goons muscled me out of my grease business. I’ve been muscled out of everything I’ve ever done. Including my muscle-for-hire business.”)
– The Donner Party Supplies store, with “Winter Madness Sale!” in the window is very inspired. I also like the name of the trendy youth store “Dingo Junction” with the manic marsupial logo. I also think that’s the same model of the Crash Bandicoot rip-off later this season in “Lisa Get An A.”
– When Marge suggests Homer take up another “far-out money-making scheme” like starting an emu farm, it really felt like the writers were conscious of how dumb this was and were delving into parody at that point. But we’ve got over ten seasons more of this kind of stuff, so I guess they later realized they had more mileage.
– I like Homer’s attempt to make peace with the Lord before his last big grease score (“I know You’re busy, seeing as how You can watch women changing clothes and all that. But if You help us steal this grease tonight, I promise we’ll donate half the profits to charity.” “Dad, He’s not stupid.” “All right, screw it, let’s roll!”)
– Nice visual with a dissatisfied Lisa sitting outside the gymnasium, getting lit up with disco lights and hip music as each happy couple enters.
– Another season 10 staple: Homer getting hurt… a lot. I guess it wasn’t enough that he gets pummeled by Willie, they had to add the dumb bit where his face gets sucked in the tube and his eye bulges. Hilarious, right? Willie gets some laughs in, with his childish shriek backpedaled to a manly “Ach!” and his excitement to meet a fellow North Kilttowner. And of course “My retirement grease! Nooooooo!!”
– Lisa posits to Alex the beauty of being young (“We’ve only got nine, maybe ten years tops where we can giggle in church, and chew with our mouths open and go days without bathing! We’ll never have that freedom again.”) Even this feels wrong. Lisa chewing with her mouth open and not bathing? I get she’s a kid, but this doesn’t sound like her at all.
– I do love the end with the kids playing in the grease like it’s snow (Milhouse tastes and comments, “It’s like a hamburger milkshake!”) It’s kind of a sweet ending, complete with Nelson inadvertently calling Luigi a greaseball (“Hey! Luigi bring-a you kids-a free pizza! Why do you hafta make-a the fun, huh?”)