266. Trilogy of Error

(originally aired April 29, 2001)
I was getting a little worried before re-watching this one, but thankfully the episode was as clever and well-executed as I remembered; the solitary season 12 gem I was waiting for. I’m even more shocked that in a season where they can barely tell a single story competently, here they manage to string together three of them occurring on the same day, weaving between each other until they reach a mutual conclusion. Parodying the structural concept of the movie Go, this show follows the events of an oddball day through the eyes of one character per act: Homer the first, Lisa the second and Bart the third. An accident in the kitchen leaves Homer with a severed thumb, resulting in Marge having to rush him to the hospital. This leaves Lisa without a ride to school, so she hoofs it, but ends up at the unusually similar West Springfield Elementary. Meanwhile, Bart and Milhouse uncover a cave filled with illegal fireworks, and end up working as informants for Chief Wiggum to track out their supplier: Fat Tony.

So Homer’s whole story is told in the first act, and we see Bart or Lisa, but things happen without explanation that will be filled in later. Marge seemingly deserts Homer at Moe’s, Cletus’ truck gets stolen, Dr. Nick’s office explodes, and the grand capper of them all, Lisa’s grammar robot explodes off in the distance, leaving Homer in mourning. It leaves you completely hooked in, as you want to know how all the pieces fit together. Even with all the choice interactions and elements between stories, the episode never comes off feeling too gimmicky, it strikes the right balance. Lisa’s story hinges on her desperately trying to get to school, with her running montages set to the score of the great film Run Lola Run. Her story ends with Bart coming out of a manhole, which immediately perks your interest since we don’t know a thing about his exploits at all yet. Then by Bart’s story, all the blanks slowly start to get filled, culminating in an amazing finale on why Linguo blew up, and we have an ending that satisfies everyone. Except Mr. Teeney, he’s pretty pissed.

The three concurrent story structure leads to all new opportunities for gags, and setting up gags. The best may be the one revolving around 123 Fake Street. In act one, scared she might go to prison for her accidental thumb-cutting, Marge gives Wiggum the phony address, which of course he buys. In act two, he asks Mr. Teeney for directions to said address. Then in act three we see Bart and Milhouse run into a safe house, which before we even see the address, we know what it is: 123 Fake Street. Another great reveal is when Lisa overhears Wiggum’s stakeout in act two, where he blows his informants cover over the radio and seemingly gets him shot dead. Later in act three when we see it was Bart and Milhouse, it feels even worse; obviously we don’t think they’re going to get shot, but the comedy is even darker in that Wiggum almost got two ten-year-olds killed. Then we find the gunshots were actually fireworks Bart and Milhouse used as a distraction to escape. The episode is literally filled with these kinds of moments, and this experimental format is utilized to its fullest. Again, I’m stunned that they were able to pull off this kind of episode given what shit we’ve seen this season, but I appreciate them for trying something new, and even more so for putting so much care in it and succeeding.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Those two gags at the start of the episode must have been tough to write, since they are repeated two more times at the start of each act. Any gag is going to lose its luster the third time around, but “Son of a diddly!” and the newspaper headline (“First Day of Spring: Ants, Picnicers Reach Last-Minute Accord”) are pretty good jokes.
– Homer ruins Lisa’s project by pouring beer down the robot’s throat, but it doesn’t feel so jerky here; he acting more out of naivety than anything (“I’m sorry, I thought it was a party robot!”) It also gave us a Lisa line for the ages, which I use quite often (“This is why I can’t have nice things!”)
– Storytime at the Flanders’ (“And Harry Potter, and all his wizard friends, went straight to Hell for practicing witchcraft!” “Yay!”) Then he throws the book into the fire. This is right before Flanders became a parody of any insane conservative religious type, and this kind of joke still kind of fit his character.
– Dr. Hibbert is of no help to Homer (“Your HMO doesn’t cover this type of injury.” “But I have finger insurance.” “A thumb is not a finger!” “Isn’t there anything you can do?” “Well, I could cut off the other thumb for a sense of symmetry.”) Upon leaving, Marge comments, “Hibbert’s really losing it,” a seemingly conscious line given how much wackier and less professional he’s gotten over the last two seasons.
– Love Homer attempting to hitchhike and not being able to figure out why it isn’t working.
– Great Dr. Nick line regarding his exploded office (“‘Inflammable’ means ‘flammable’?! What a country!”)
– The first act break is fantastic (“Linguo… dead!” “Linguo… is… dead…”) And Homer shutting the robot’s eyes is a brilliant touch.
– Lisa has some difficulty with her creation upon repairing it (“Almost done, just lay still.” “Lie still.” “I knew that. Just testing.” “Sentence fragment.” “‘Sentence fragment’ is also a sentence fragment.” “…must conserve battery power.”) The eye shift on the robot just makes it.
– The whole thing with West Springfield Elementary being exactly the same building, or even existing at all, is a little silly, but given the silly episode, it doesn’t faze me. We have the “en francais!” laughing to show for it, and that’s enough for me. There’s also Thelonious, Lisa’s intellectual star-crossed love. Voiced by Frankie Muniz, he’s another throwaway guest star, but is nice for the scenes that he’s in (“You can’t sacrifice grades for romance. That’s not the girl I fell for.” “Will I ever see you again?” “Of course you will. At the magnet high school. Now go!”) I’m only bitter because his show Malcolm in the Middle usurped Futurama‘s 8:30pm slot, effectively dooming it to cancellation. Fuck that show. Fuck it up Muniz’s ass.
– Marge sees Lisa and says she’d give him a ride but she has to wait for Homer. Then when she hears his drunken Blue Man Group ramblings inside, Marge figures she’s got a few hours to kill.
– Bart and Milhouse horsing around with the fireworks is a great montage. I especially love where they attach four to the front wheel of their bike, which causes it to shoot off down the street. It’s really visually neat, and plus that has a purpose as it shoots into Dr. Nick’s office, causing the explosion.
– God, I love the ending with Linguo, overloading with grammatical errors from Legs and Louie’s stereotypical gangster talk (“They’s throwing robots!” “They are throwing robots.” “He’s disrespecting us. Shut up-ah you face!” “Shut up your face.”)
– Ironic that the episode ends with Mr. Teeney screaming about how the plot made no sense, when it basically made the most sense of any plot this season. By a wide margin.

14 responses to “266. Trilogy of Error

  1. The appeal of this one lessens every time I see it. If it weren’t for the experimental structure, the episode wouldn’t be nearly as memorable. I enjoyed every bit involving Mr. Teeny (“Hey, we’ve got the same hat!”) but I do agree with him that the plot made no sense (Wiggum would have two children take part in an undercover operation? Homer can have his thumb detached all day and still have it be fine at the end? Legs just happens to reattach limbs and is welcomed into an elementary school science fair? Marge just steals cars now?).

    The one thing that bothered me the most was the timing. Nearly everything lines up, except for Bart’s story, unless we are to believe he was running away from Fat Tony for hours, instead of the few seconds they showed.

    I do see this as a gimmicky episode. It’s still better than the rest of the season, but it’s not an episode I enjoy returning to.

    • All valid points, but I found a lot of that easier to swallow than a lot of the other crap we’ve seen this season. As for the large gap in time with Bart, I read about that afterward, and I have to say I didn’t even notice while I was watching it. At that point I’m wrapped up and waiting for the resolution so it didn’t matter to me. Also I’m a big dummy, so that doesn’t hurt either.

  2. This is one of the few season 12 episodes that I have fond memories of (the other’s being “New Kids” and “H H Homer”.)

  3. Interesting episode, one of the last ones they ever did that was “experimental” at all — the only episode that really fucked with the structure since then is probably season 19’s “Eternal Moonshine”. Not the funniest episode in the world but definitely memorable and intelligent.

  4. This episode is definitely in my Top 10 favorite episodes of all time (and is actually probably in the top 3) and it is the only reason I am going to keep my Season 12 DVDs while I sell off 11, 13, and 14 (and tomorrow I’ll be watching Season 20, so I might not even keep that one).

    I loved how it reminded me of Jackie Brown when it first aired, and then I never got to see the episode again until the DVD was first released. I just watched it about a week ago when I watched the entire DVD set, and I was worried because Season 12 was so awful that I thought my memories of this episode were off. I was glad to see they weren’t, but it also means I am keeping an entire season for 1 episode (well, I guess 2 since HOMR wasn’t bad). I

  5. “Ironic that the episode ends with Mr. Teeney screaming about how the plot made no sense, when it basically made the most sense of any plot this season. By a wide margin.”

    Wow, just rewatched this one, and … good point…

    Hmm. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter..

  6. When Homer says,”Linguo dead?” It is referencing “Your Show of Shows” comedy bit ,”Boardrooms of Hollywood” in which Sid Caesar’s “The Professor” character says,” Wolfgang dead?”

  7. This one is pretty good and yeah it’s amazing how in a season with such disjointed and nonsensical plotlines they managed to make 3 fit.

    “Shut up your face” is something my sister and I would say a lot.

  8. It’s not really a surprise that West Springfield Elementary School was built on the same plan. I don’t know about elementary schools in real life, but three high schools in my area were built on the exact same plan. It might just be a public school thing.

  9. The structure makes the episode looks better than it really is, with many points that make no sense, and the time randomly calculated. Still, it’s full of funny moments and many characters crammed in a way that makes sense, which is impressive at this point. And that boy, Lisa’s romance, he’s so funny and perfect with her, could have had an episode or a plot around him, and been the best Lisa’s romance since Nelson.(I’m sorry Mike, but Malcolm in The Middle was way better than the new Futurama episodes)
    Anyway, it is probably the best episode of the season.

  10. I’m a little sad. Today I watched this episode expecting it to have the same greatness it had when I last watched it 5 years ago and what I got was a meh experience. Unlike “22 Short Films,” which I always find something new or even more enjoyable with each viewing, this one I seem to like less and less every time I watch it. It just wasn’t as great as it was last time and I’m not sure if the charm is wearing off or maybe it wasn’t really that great to begin with. Maybe it was because I didn’t watch anything else to Season 12 that I didn’t find it to be as great as before. Perhaps it is because I did watch “22 Short Films” yesterday. I don’t know, but what I do know is that I didn’t find it all that great.

    I kind of agree with John in some aspects. I mean, how did Lisa get from the wrong school to Marge just in time to hitch a ride on Cletus’ truck? Also, Bart manages to play with fireworks, get caught by Wiggum, get wired up, and then go to Fat Tony all in less than 5 hours? Speaking of which, why wasn’t Bart in school if it was clearly a school day?

    Ugh, I’m thinking way too much about it and that may be where the problem lies. I’m actually trying to think about the episode rather than just letting it go through its motions.

    Now to one thing you questioned Mike, the school design. I’m a substitute teacher, so I work at many different schools, and there are only three different styles between the 25 schools in my district. As such, several of the schools will have the same layout, albeit some might be a mirror image (like the teacher’s lounge might be on the right side instead of the left). Thus, I see no reason why the schools in Springfield would be any different.

    My favorite bit is when Linguo goes crazy from Tony’s goons speaking.

  11. The fact that is a Season 12 episode is astounding. It’s always been a memorable one for me and the simple fact that they could tell three coherent and interesting stories and tie them together so perfectly is amazing by this point in the series. All three plots are funny and clever and the payoff is always so rewarding. Plus the episode holds up well no matter how many times I see it.

    It’s definitely my favorite of the season and one of my all-time favorites.

  12. Don’t hold Malcolm in the Middle against Frankie Muniz’s guest appearance here! That’s rude. But I understand your bitter feelings about it taking over Futurama’s time slot if you didn’t like Malcolm in the Middle to begin.

  13. I’m weird but when I first saw this Chief Wiggum’s “knifey wifey” line made me laugh out loud harder than probably any other Simpsons line.

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