264. Bye Bye Nerdie

(originally aired March 11, 2001)
Let’s talk about silly endings. As insane as episodes in the classic season got, they would always end in a way that was believable within the established context of the show, or at least worked as some kind of parody of something. But lately we’ve had a fair share of endings that are kind of random and stupid, and here it’s not just the end, but the entire third act devoted to this conclusion; it feels like one of those things that you’re either on the train or off the train for, and I was most certainly off. Lisa attempts to make friends with the new girl Francine, but only gets viciously bullied for her efforts. She attempts to make sense of why Francine only targets the nerdy kids, figuring there must be some logical explanation. The answer surprises her: it’s all chemical. She finds that the smartest among us emit a certain chemical, which she dubs “poindextrose,” that attracts physical attack from bullies. And yeah, that’s really the ending.

I do kind of like the first half of this show, that Francine is just this stone wall that Lisa cannot get through to or understand why she’s abusing her so violently. It is, however, an absolutely criminal waste of guest star Kathy Griffin, who gets maybe five lines, which boil down to maybe twenty words. I like her bully voice and screaming, and keeping her mostly mute works for her character, but if that’s the case, they could’ve had anyone do the voice. Instead they wasted a brilliant and funny comedienne with a nothing part. I also like Lisa’s consultation with Nelson, and seeing how organized and efficient the world of bullying is, their rules and regulations, their own code of ethics. Examining the psychological urges and motivations of bullies, but in an absurdist, comedic way could have been great. But I really can’t get on board with this ending; Lisa spraying herself with salad dressing stopping Francine from her lunge like a confused animal is just plain bizarre. The whole final act is devoted to this ridiculously preposterous finale; I wasn’t so much annoyed as I was bored, I felt like they could’ve come up with a better ending but were apparently quite tickled by this one. I guess.

There’s also a side story here, but not much to report on, really. After a visit from an eye-opening, but expensive, baby-proofer, Homer goes on a crusade to make the world a safe place for Springfield’s littlest ones. The reason? I’m not entirely sure, but you know that wacky Homer and all his crazy non-work-related adventures. There’s a bizarre scene before the baby-proofer shows up with him and Marge sitting at the kitchen table struggling to come up with something to talk about, with Marge about to point out that their marriage is suffering a bit before the doorbell rings. It’s a joke that kind of feels so sour and sad within this overly silly show. Be it filling a dangerous pool with Jell-O mix or bubble wrapping an entire playground, Homer is making waves in protecting youngins everywhere. So what’s the resolution? The answer is there isn’t one. Well, just barely. Homer sees on TV that many industries are being hurt by Homer’s crusade: Dr. Hibbert can’t afford a new boat because of healthy babies, the get-well-soon baby card factory has shut down, laying off hundreds. As such Homer takes to the streets, calling for all infants to do their part and get injured. It’s not really an ending, it’s just an incredibly bizarre joke. Both stories in this episode has completely ridiculous climaxes, but that really takes away from any emotional connection or attempt at realism the plots had at the start. This episode had promise, but any goodwill basically evaporates come the third act.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Itchy & Scratchy cereal commercial is kinda fun, but I feel it goes on a little too long.
– Good Homer line when Marge is shocked that he’s not at work yet (“They said if I come in late again, I’m fired. I can’t take that chance!”)
– I know we’re well past the point that I should be annoyed at overly cartoony stuff happening in this show, but seeing Otto and Marge drag race in the aqueduct system just made me kind of sad, like this is what this series has come to. This is believable now that Marge would do this. I kind of like the payoff though that Otto gets to the school, then forgets he had to pick up a new kid, and drives back around again, making it all for nothing. Then the kids wonder what the new kid is like, three thought bubbles that I guess the writers forgot to write jokes for.
– I do like how long and how much effort it takes the baby proofer to get the cap off the product under the sink, and her unphased conclusion to it (“You see how quickly your baby could have been drinking this… Similac Baby Formula?”) Wrapped up in the theatrics, Homer is horrified and stomps the bottle flat (“This is such an eye-opener. I always pictured the kids dying in the living room.”)
– From what we’ve seen of Homer’s past, I don’t really see him as being a bully. Also he seems to be pummeling a nerdy-looking Smithers.
– The scene at the lockers with Lisa and Francine sports some pretty great animation, the low angle of the spit-out Malibu Stacey head, the fluid motion and posing of Francine shoving Lisa in her locker, it all seemed particularly strong.
– I really like the interplay of Lisa and Nelson discussing bullying, and how serious they take it. I almost wish he played a larger role in the third act. Instead, Lisa uses him as an unwitting guinea pig when he swabs Drederick Tatum with nerd sweat. Then Nelson’s fists have minds of their own and begin punching him and giving him a wedgie. I can’t stress how dumb this is. Though I like Tatum’s non-plussed reaction (“Please don’t hurt me!” “You leave me little recourse.”)
– Willie’s penchant for secretly videotaping people comes out again as we see his lair (labeled ‘Keep Oot’) with dozens of monitors (“Why does the school need to watch us all the time?” “School?”) I also love his shock at seeing one of the men’s rooms (“That roll of paper towels is nearing the end! It’s on double red stripe!!”)
– I have to say, whenever I think about or sing along to “The Safety Dance,” I always sub in Homer’s lyrics (“You can dance! You can dance! Everybody look at your pants!”)
– The only thing I like about the nerd conference is the one voice in the crowd or murmuring scientists audibly saying, “Let’s not listen!” But then they use the clip again after Lisa’s experiment is a success. Absurd? Or lazy?

14 responses to “264. Bye Bye Nerdie

  1. You know, that dance wasn’t as safe as they say it was.

  2. In terms of basic laughs, this is one of my preferred episodes from Season 12. Like you mentioned, there are good lines throughout. “I can’t take that chance” and “You leave me little recourse” are two of my favorites, as is the exchange in the scene where the bullies huck tomatoes at a trussed-up Martin (“Why you throwin’ tomatoes at yourself?” “Your very question is faulty.” “YOU’RE faulty!”) or the chat between Lisa and Milhouse when they’re both stuck in lockers (“It’s not so bad, I’m standing on Ralph.” “We’re a totem pole! Heya hiya heya hiya…”) But the plot is indeed ridiculous, and I’m checked out by act three.

    This was the first of a handful of episodes directed by Lauren MacMullan, and holy crap, I wish she’d done more. With her dynamic camera angles, daring use of colors and shading, and expressive character animation, she gave this show more life than it had had in years. Even after the switchover to digital animation in Season 14, her episodes still looked great. (Such a shame that the writing still sucked…)

  3. This one reeks of wasted potential. The first two acts of the A story, while not outstanding, was a fairly decent story and had an acceptable amount of laughs, but then we get nerd chemicals? What? So I guess we can throw out all the psychological reasons why people bully others; it’s just chemical and they can’t control it! Please.

    And I’m sorry, I know it’s a cartoon, but Homer would react with a LOT more pain after being impaled by nails.

    • While the “nerd chemical” thing may seem silly, it actually fits with how The Simpsons writers used to mock serious problems with silly solutions. If they went with the “bullies pick on others because they have psychological/self-esteem/social issues,” it’d be just like every other sitcom out there that has done a bullying story.

      • Not really. They always added a twist, but it used to be silly, funny and believable (somewhat cynical), not an absurd twist that makes no sense and it is not funny like this one. As much as the next episode is horrendous, the ending of that chimp researcher was more like that classic Simpsons twist you mentioned: absurd but makes sense (that typical silly sense of the Simpsons universe).

  4. “The only thing I like about the nerd conference is the one voice in the crowd or murmuring scientists audibly saying, “Let’s not listen!””

    PI IS EXACTLY 3!!!!!!

    Have to agree, though, that Scully and co wasted Kathy Griffin. They could argue that Elizabeth Taylor only provided one word in “Lisa’s First Word”, except that there was a very good reason for that.

  5. Okay, serious question, why do people think Kathy Griffin is funny? I find her grating and dull, but there are tons of people out there who LOVE her. What is it?

    • You could also ask why people thought the late Joan Rivers (see Mike’s latest review but one) was funny.

      But with respect, that’s kind of beside the point. The point is, if you have a pretty big guest star/voice like Kathy or Joan, and you don’t give them more than twenty words, then there had better be a VERY good reason for this – like there was with the aforementioned Elizabeth Taylor.

      Mike gives out a lot about Tress MacNeille voicing so many female characters in the Zombie years – but having *her* voice Francine would have been better than wasting Kathy. Not by very much, mind, but better all the same.

      • Oh, no doubt. I don’t disagree with the broader point. It makes no sense to bring in celebrity guest stars and then give them practically zero lines. (Except, you know, early South Park, where George Clooney voiced Stan’s gay dog and Jay Leno was Mr Kitty).

        My question was meant to be somewhat OT. I just completely don’t see her appeal.

  6. Bleeding Gums Murphy

    The beginning of the episode, with Lisa and Bart being late and missing the bus, is another example of how cartoony the show had become at this point. Way back in “Homer Alone”, we also had the kids missing the bus, and Marge being forced to drive them to school, and it didn’t need a cartoonish scene of Marge dressing the kids and making them eat fruits.

  7. The silliness and absurdity of these latest episodes(like this nerd chemical, or the boy band’s used for Navy recruitment) feel really like South Park’s typical stuff, especially the silly theories of its early years. I think this is another example of how the show started to change and mimic other more extreme shows (SP, Family Guy). That’s sad, really.

  8. “Are you mad Frink ? put down that science pole!”

  9. Excuse me, Mike Amato, but what would you classify as a “nothing role”, and what would the difference between that and a role where a guest voice playing that character actually had something to work with would be? I still agree with you on Kathy Griffin being wasted on a character with only five lines; it’s like the Family Guy episode Tom Tucker: The Man and His Dream, where the girl Chris is dating who looks like Lois Griffin is voiced by Ellen Page, who only has four lines as her. I counted. Yeah, Lindsay had a much smaller part in the episode than that episode’s writer and caster realized.

    • Compare Francine and the use of her voice actress with the likes of Lyle Lanley, Hank Scorpio and Rex Banner and the uses of their respective voice actors.

      And I know I’m mentioning Elizabeth Taylor once again, but compare her use in “Lisa’s First Word” with Kathy’s use here.

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