(originally aired November 23, 1998)
Similar to “Lard of the Dance,” this is a smaller Lisa story; these kinds of shows feel so alien amongst the bombastic conceits and wacky hijinks that seem to be running rampant lately. And while I have less problems with this one than I did with “Lard,” there’s still something about it that keeps me from full emotional investment, as the episode seems to go too far with its quieter premise with an over-dramatic conclusion. Roughly the first half of the story seems to work, starting with Lisa being forced to stay home sick by her mother. With nothing to do, she ends up getting addicted to playing video games, leading her to purposely extend her leave of absence and ignore her take-home assignment of reading The Wind and the Willows. It’s another great instance of showing how Lisa is still just a kid, and how even the most brainy, level-headed kids can get sucked into the tantalizing allure of platforming games. Though I’ll say it’s a tad unrelatable, because I’ve never blown off schoolwork in exchange for playing Paper Mario for weekends on end. Nope. Never.
Lisa returns to school only to face a test for the book she didn’t read, and she’s in deep, deep trouble. Her calling for a miracle leads her to Nelson, who holds hundreds of answer keys in his possession. It’s an interesting moral dilemma for her; upon receiving continuous accolades for her ill-gotten A+++, she goes from embarrassed modesty to a more seething displeasure. It isn’t long before she has to confess, which she eventually does when Skinner informs her that her high mark raised the school’s GPA to the state’s minimum standard, making them eligible for a basic assistance grant. Now, here’s where the episode starts to lose it for me. Aside from it being absolutely ridiculous that one student’s grade on an inconsequential test was enough to boost the school average, Lisa’s reveal at the end of act two changes the emotional dynamic. It’s not really Lisa vs. herself, it’s Lisa vs. Skinner and Chalmers, who want to keep her hush hush for the good of the school. They present a bleeding heart case to her about improving school conditions, but I’m sure Lisa’s fully aware of their intentions to squander it, especially considering the exorbitant electronic scoreboard taking up all the space in Skinner’s office.
Lisa coming clean at the end feels less of a personal vindication in the end, but would it have been better to keep her secret to the very end? Then we would have two whole acts of stuff building up to make her feel worse and worse; it’d be “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace” all over again. But I feel like there could have been a direction to go with this that could have added a new element to the plot and had Lisa’s remorse run in the background. While its title riffs off of “Bart Gets An ‘F,'” the main story holds more resemblance to “Bart the Genius,” with a Simpson cheating on a test and having to admit it at episode’s end. Maybe Lisa could have been moved up a grade, appreciated the new challenge and her new surroundings, but deep down know she was there under fraudulent circumstances. But the meat of the story is still pretty solid, albeit a little low impact. There’s also the B-story of Homer’s beloved pet lobster Pinchy, which is pretty aimless and stupid, but that’s exactly what you’d expect and want from that kind of premise. And who doesn’t love Pinchy? He blows Spider-Pig out of the water for title of Best One-Off Simpson Pet.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The free-sample supermarket set piece at the beginning is pretty laughless. I smiled at some of the Ben & Jerry-esque ice cream flavor names though (“Candy Warhol? Xavier Nugat?” “Nah, nothing made of dead guys.”)
– Both stupid gags, but I like Homer evening out the levels of salt in the fish tank to accommodate Pinchy and the fish, and the dumb callback to the supermarket in revealing he has a packet of cold tablets on a toothpick.
– Love the scene where Lisa first plays Dash Dingo, and her complete derision and lack of interest in the whole affair. Cut to not long afterward and she’s a girl obsessed. That’s how it works…
– Great nightmare illustrating Lisa’s paranoia, that her one bad test score denies her admission to Harvard (“Nasty business, that zero. Naturally, Harvard’s doors are now closed to you, but I’ll pass your file along to… Brown.”) What a silly dream. Almost as silly as one high test score affording a school a grant. …oh wait.
– My favorite part of the episode is Nelson’s makeshift bathroom office; his employee-of-the-month frame, keeping his files in the back of the toilet, and insisting the purity of his business (“These are study aids. They’re for novelty purposes only. If a few bad apples use them for cheating, I can’t be held responsible.”) Also great when he comes back in act two to further remind Lisa of her misdeeds (“Tomorrow’s fractions quiz. I’ll give you the numerators free, but the denominators are gonna cost ya’.”)
– Great bit on the bus illustrating the two mindsets of the Simpson children (“Cheer up, Lis. You got a good grade without even reading the book. That’s win-win!” “Can’t you see the difference between earning something honestly and getting it by fraud?” “Hmm, I suppose, maybe, if… no. No, sorry, I thought I had it there for a second.”)
– As dumb as the entire third act dilemma is, I do love that all the ruckus is about a basic assistance grant. Fighting for the right to be proclaimed merely average.
– Great stuff showing the poor condition of the school, from the Oscar Meyer periodic table (“Who can tell me the atomic weight of bolognium?” “Delicious?” “Correct. I would also accept snacktacular.”) and the school’s only computer, a rusty old Coleco. And of course, we have the immortal moment of Ralph saying Super Nintendo Chalmers, and “I’m learn-ding!”
– Part of me feels I shouldn’t like the Pinchy plot for the very reason I do like it, because it really is so dumb. But I do like Homer’s unusual affection toward the crustacean. The best scene is him dragging him along the beach and Pinchy getting schooled by a tiny hermit crab. Homer is incensed (“You don’t have to take that from no punk-ass crab!”) Runner up, of course, is the big finale when the lobster is accidentally boiled alive, and Homer must eat him in absolute misery (“Pinchy would have wanted it that way!”)
– The very end with the reveal of the phony ceremony before the real one is pretty stupid. And the fake Comptroller is voiced by Harry Shearer, but really does not sound like a voice Otto could have done. Plus such a realistic mask must have cost the poor, poor school a pretty penny, shouldn’t it have? But their ruse is pulled off and the real Comptroller hands Skinner his giant check (“I know a liquor store where we can cash this right now!”)