(originally aired May 9, 1999)
It’s kind of strange at this point that I feel the need to praise the show just for telling a competent, cohesive story and having consistent characterization, but I guess that’s the point we’re at now. There’s a few minor issues with this one, but most are pretty much absolved by being a pretty damn solid episode. Springfield’s role as a town inhabited by impulsive, mindless retards is re-solidified at the start as a riot breaks out at a radio station gross-out contest, which absolutely mortifies Lisa. She writes an open letter to the paper regarding the dumbing down of society and emphasizing the joys of intellectual pursuits, but no one seems to take notice, or so it would seem. Before long, she is sought after and inducted into the town chapter of MENSA. The group is comprised of regular characters we’ve seen before, who all make sense as to being there, and they have an interesting dynamic. They’re not the most tight knit group, there’s a fair amount of squabbling between them, but they at least acknowledge that if nothing else they’re leaps and bounds above the common folk intellectually.
Lisa is quite pleased to be in a group of like-minded smart types, but they are still hindered by the restrictions of their slack-jawed troglodyte town. I like how the group is all talk and no game, as none of them exhibit the gall to go ask a bunch of drunkards to vacate their reserved gazebo. They do however bring this news to Mayor Quimby, who, upon thinking they have even more incriminating evidence, flees the scene, and possibly the country. The town charter dictates that the smartest among them shall govern the town in the mayor’s stead, so MENSA takes over. This leads to a finale in which the group each proposes their own edicts upon the town, which has them squabbling amongst themselves and the lower life forms quite incensed over these sudden changes. A riot ensues, as all season 10 episodes need an action ending, and Lisa realizes in the end that everyone has their own version of a perfect world, and you can’t push your ideals and impressions on others so hastily.
So yeah, it’s an episode with a pretty solid story, and it’s equally engaging throughout the whole show. The only gripe I can think of is that normally in episodes where Lisa feels she’s the only bright bulb in a sea of morons, Marge’s role needs to be diminished. We have her encouraging Bart’s stupid, dangerous stunt at the beginning, and then later we see her and Homer in the angry mob that eventually tries to tear down the gazebo with her daughter inside. Just kind of bothered me. But small potatoes; this episode gives us a lot, the MENSA collective, the sarcasm detector, Grandma Plopwell, and guest star Stephen Hawking, who actually is one of my favorite guests, partly because having such a brilliant, high-minded person on the show further solidifies the series’ genius and wide-range appeal. Even the B-plot with Homer’s erotic photography works; none of the scenes go on too long, Homer remains pretty dim and modest, and it has a great payoff. Funny throughout, with a memorable story and nice stuff with Lisa, this is a pretty sharp episode amidst a very trouble season.
Tidbits and Quotes
– More than “Ethnic Mismatch Comedy #644,” I like the promo screen for it with the two actors dancing on a white background, just because I’ve seen that done on many a network. FOX included, now that I think of it. It’s this weird marketing thing where if you show characters are having a grand old time, you’ll want to watch their show, I guess?
– I like Homer’s stunt of his popcorn suit, though I think the title he’s announced by is too clever to have been thought up by him (“It’s Homer Simpson and his Amazing Reddenbacher Dreamcoat, with a number he calls, ‘Kernel Knowledge!'”)
– Don’t get why Burns and Smithers are at the contest, being two halves of a horse. But I do like Kirk Van Houten in a diaper getting clocked in the head with a urinal cake. Doesn’t get much funnier than that.
– Great that Madeline Albright is one of the judges at the gross-out contest, and even better is her feral turn she makes during the riotous food fight.
– Homer gleefully shows off his wares to Lisa (“Look! I got runner-up prize!” “You won second place?” “No, but I got it!”) He gets in a quick “Stealing is wrong” before he goes off to see his prize: a free boudoir photography session. Homer is intrigued. He looks up ‘boudoir’ in the dictionary. Then ‘photography.’ Then ‘boudoir’ again. It’s a well timed scene.
– Lisa’s letter is pretty amusing (“We are a town of low-brows, no-brows, and ignorami. We have eight malls, but no symphony. Thirty-two bars, but no alternative theater. Thirteen stores that begin with ‘Le Sex.’ I write this letter not to nag or whine, but to prod. We can better ourselves!”)
– Great bit with Reverend Lovejoy’s Book Burning Mobile. It can’t be very safe for him to be driving around with an open flame in the back. Much later in The Simpsons Road Rage video game, you can play as Lovejoy driving the mobile.
– Riveting discussions at MENSA regarding the town library: they’re replacing the English literature section with a make-your-own sundae bar (which honestly sounds pretty delicious.) I also love Hibbert’s shocking reveal regarding the reference desk being cleared for an air hockey table (“Even the microfilm?” “Even the microfiche.”) Lisa is impressed (“My family never talks about library standards.”)
– Of course the photographer is Annie Lebowitz, who is oh so disturbed by every aspect of Homer. This subplot is filled with great bits: her Vaseline tub at the ready to slab all over the lens, “Light is… not your friend,” Bart and Milhouse at the window, and Homer’s horror at Marge being more interested in the decorations in the photos than of its erotic nature (“But I was gonna score!” “No you weren’t.”)
– Love Wiggum mistaking the MENSA group’s renaissance costumes as being a bunch of she-males. He’s of no help at all. Hibbert is annoyed (“Why do we live in a town where the smartest have no power and the stupidest run everything? Maybe I should just move back to Alabama.”)
– Quimby’s staff shredding documents, then shredding the shredder, then him taking off on a horse into a private jet to take off, and ejecting the horse out by parachute is pretty great classic wackiness. I also love the lifted sound clip “Faster, you moron!” of Quimby apparently yelling at the horse.
– The MENSA changes to the town are all great: the revised jury duty summons (“You have been chosen to join the Justice Squadron, eight am Monday at the Municipal Fortress of Vengeance. Oh, I am so there,”) and keeping only yellow and green lights (“Stay yellow, stay yellow! Man, I’m making record time! …if only I had some place to be.”) Comic Book Guy takes note of their accomplishments (“Springfield has moved up to #299 on the list of America’s most livable 300 cities. Take that, East St. Louis!”)
– Comic Book Guy dons his Star Trek uniform with a proclamation to his people (“Inspired by the most logical race in the galaxy, the Vulcans, breeding will be permitted once every seven years. For many of you, this will be much less breeding. For me, much, much more.”) The crowd isn’t pleased, especially Willie, channeling a fellow Scotsman (“You cannot do that sir! You don’t have the power!”)
– Hawking is accompanied by the “[celebrity name!]” namedrop that’s been common as of recent, but he’s got so many great bits: calling the town a Fruitopia, “I don’t need anyone to talk for me, except this voice box,” his boxing glove function, and wanting to steal Homer’s idea of a donut shaped universe. My favorite is probably this exchange (“Don’t feel bad, Lisa. Sometimes, the smartest of us can be the most childish.” “Even you?” “No. Not me. Never.”) I also like Homer referring to him at Lisa’s “robot buddy.” Innocently offensive coming out of him.
– Best bit in the whole show is right before the mob tears down the gazebo. Carl is revved up (“Let’s make litter out of these literati!”) Lenny counters (“That’s too clever, you’re one of them!”) before punching him in the face.