284. Blame It On Lisa

(originally aired March 31, 2002)
Vacation episodes have pretty much gone to hell at this point; they’re more or less just an excuse to string together unrelated scenes of the Simpsons exploring their new environment and how wacky things are overseas. Oh, and sometimes there’s a plot in there too. Well unlike “Simpson Safari” or “Kill the Alligator and Run,” this show actually does have a story, and despite there being a fair amount of crap here, I actually like how they resolve the main plot and how it’s set up through the episode. So a $400 phone bill forces Lisa to fess up that she’s been sponsoring a poor little orphan boy named Ronaldo in Brazil. When she stopped receiving letters back from him, she tried calling the orphanage but they didn’t know where he was either. Upon seeing video of the precious little scamp, the Simpson family agrees they have to go to Brazil and find him. This is more or less as flimsy as a catalyst as “The Bart Wants What It Wants,” and how the family is able to afford to travel is basically hand waved. But whatever, the Simpsons are going to Brazil!

Act two is basically just them searching the town for this kid, which gives us all of our Brazil jokes. A fair amount of them actually are funny, like the risque children’s show (“Bert and Ernie left it to your imagination,”) the Brazilian relative of the “Yeesss!” guy, Homer and Bart on the beach, and the samba school, hard at work on their new dance, the Penetrada (“It will make sex look like church!”) But these are just isolated bits, the through-line of finding Ronaldo really doesn’t matter. The plot could have been anything; it’s just an excuse to get them to a foreign country. Now this kind of thing worked in “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” but the joke ratio was much higher there, so it got away with it. Here we also have some randomly jerky things by Homer like jumping on a nun’s back, commanding her to fly, and admitting to taking off his wedding ring whilst on vacation. We also have Bart inexplicably pointing out famous Brazilian landmarks (“It’s Copacabana Beach!” “It’s Carnivale!”) This happened in “Safari” too, it’s like they can’t figure out what to do with Bart in these vacation episodes, so they just throw him random lines.

Let’s get what I like about act three out of the way. It’s revealed that Ronaldo got a job puppeteering a giant flamingo in the kid’s show we saw earlier. It’s not exactly like you could figure out the “mystery,” but between that, and also earlier showing the dancing shoes he was able to buy with Lisa’s donations, it was subtly set up so the payoff is satisfying. It’s surprisingly competent in a season of such shit writing, that’s for sure. But most of the act revolves around Homer getting kidnapped, which is just very dull and silly. What I find is that when characters don’t treat a situation seriously, then there’s no reason we should. Bart very casually mentions the horrifying situation to Marge, Homer seems nonplussed by everything, as do the kidnappers at some point. Why even have this story if you’re not going to treat it seriously in any way. Why should we care? Ronaldo gives them the ransom money, they do the drop high in the sky on cable cars, Homer leaps onto the family’s car, causing it to plummet down a mountain side in a horrible wreck, but they’re totally fine and unbruised. And Bart gets eaten by a snake. And then that’s the end. I was surprised at how much I actually liked here, but the real lack of an interesting story and ridiculous third act keep me from giving this one just an ‘eh’ on average. Eh.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Some quick bits at the phone company pad the episode. I guess sentient robot switchboard operators exist in this universe. And though it was an easy joke, I like the telemarketer taking it gravely personal when he gets hung up on.
– Man, the writers fucking love Lindsay Naegle, and apparently now she’s both an alcoholic and a sexual predator.
– Homer getting shocked up the telephone pole is like the perfect scene showing the comedic leanings of later seasons: Homer gets hurt and is dumb and is funny. I remember way back when the show was up for Emmy consideration, this was the clip they used. …or maybe it was the Kids Choice Awards. One of the two, I always get them mixed up.
– Ronaldo kind of looks like a grown-up Pepi from “Brother From the Same Planet.”
– This episode is kind of notorious in that Brazil got really pissed at the representation of their country, mostly in relying on inaccurate stereotypes, like having characters speak in Spanish accents and mixing up their culture with other Latin American countries. I don’t blame them, really. If you’re going to parody something, at least do it right. But like most ignorant Americans, I don’t know jack spit about Brazil, so I didn’t notice.
– I like the two pilots (“The local temperature in Rio de Janeiro is hot, hot, hot, with a hundred percent chance of passion!” “Ronaldo, you make that joke every time!” “It was that joke that made you fall in love with me.”)
– Homer kicking his suitcase yelling, “Look at me, I’m Brazilian!” echoes “Look at me, I’m a scientist!” from “Simpson Safari.” Neither are funny.
– 13-year-old me really loved those Teleboobies segments. I’d love to see an entire show of that… for research purposes.
– The only bit with the kidnappers I like is when Homer’s trying to get the money. With the $1200 the family can scrounge up, Homer runs off a chart of what they’ll get (“That’ll buy you one of my legs, or something they call a Mystery Bag!”) He calls up Burns, who, high on sheep embryos, is willing to pay him if he can work it off. Homer promptly hangs up. A call with Moe only gets Homer owing fifty more grand, and a call to Flanders asking for a hundred grand gets him nowhere (“Well I don’t really have that much, but if you need it that bad, you’ll be in my prayers.” “Go suck a Bible!”) The quick pacing of the calls makes it even funnier.
– I don’t quite understand why Marge and the kids are standing right in the middle of the Carnivale parade, or why the fuck they’re just standing there dancing while Homer could be dead at the bottom of the Amazon.
– Ironic that Marge comments how a music cue is making light of the tense situation, when meanwhile the episode has done nothing but make light of the kidnapping “subplot.”
– The ending is very bizarre. After the cable car crash lands and no one even has a scratch on them, Homer gives the moral lesson of the episode… I guess? (“I learned that no matter how bad I screw up, you’ll always bail me out.”) Where did this come from? And this is a good lesson? Homer can be as ignorant and careless as he wants because the family will clean up the mess for him. It’s so out of left field I can’t even be mad at it. And I don’t even have time to settle before we see Bart eaten by a snake. I then remembered we’d seen this before to comic effect in “‘Round Springfield,” but there it’s actually funny.

8 responses to “284. Blame It On Lisa

  1. I recall not liking this episode, mostly for the kidnapping shit, and the forth wall breaking. It’s like they know it’s shit but saying it is makes it okay! stupid…. In hindsight, though, the kidnapping stuff is pretty spot on for some places in latin america. I thought it was over the top at the time.

    The Simpsons did ‘bad stereotypes for comedy’ routine with Australia, and it was hilarious there, but it takes a vaguely racist tone when you do it to South Americans.

    Teleboobies and associated fleshy content was definitely the highlight of the episode when I first saw it. Apparently they thought they could string along a whole episode that way later with Large Marge (an episode I was both incredibly disappointed in and disgusted with but at the same time could not look away from. stupid hormones.)

    Lindsay Nagel being a sex offender is one of the few moments I’ve laughed at that character.

  2. “I learned that no matter how bad I screw up, you’ll always bail me out.”

    This really typifies how the writers on this show don’t know a damn thing about writing good television. A show like The Simpsons, which treats itself like a real show rather than a cartoon, only works if the characters can actually get into trouble. In the early episodes, there were a lot of times where the family had money problems or otherwise had to sacrifice in some way. But when the writers come out and admit that no matter what Homer does he’ll be okay in the end, then the show ceases to work on a dramatic level, and thus becomes a Looney Tunes cartoon. Episodes like Homer’s Triple Bypass and One Fish Two Fish work because Homer is in real danger, and he knows it. By the 13th season invicible Homer would have treated a triple bypass with a “ehh I’ll live.” And that does not make for good television.

  3. I only caught the second half of this episode on its original broadcast, but imagine my surprise when I turned on “All Things Considered” the next day (yeah, I listened to NPR at age 15; I was surprisingly mature compared to my classmates) and heard them talking about it. At the time, I remember thinking “Sheesh, Brazil, lighten up, it’s just a show.”

    As far as vacation episodes go, this is a hell of a lot better than the last one they did. It has its shining moments (I too love the whole run of Homer calling for the ransom money), but its meandering nature does grate on me too. It’s solidly average.

    It was also around this point that it finally dawned on me that the writers have no damned idea how to end an episode anymore.

  4. I love Homer’s book “How to Loot Brazil”

  5. “This episode is kind of notorious in that Brazil got really pissed at the representation of their country, mostly in relying on inaccurate stereotypes. I don’t blame them, really.”

    This is bullshit. Whats wrong with stereotypes? Everything is a stereotype, since the stereotype is just a generalized version of a given thing. I find more stupid using anti-stereotyped characters (nowadays shows\movies are full of them). They are so obviously intentionally subverted that is impossible not to see those characters forced and dull.

    • I don’t actually care much for stereotypes (I’d be finding Street Fighter offensive if I did), it’s just that they pretty much just go for easy targets. It’s kinda like this:

      “In Brazil, there are three important things you must know: The Samba, the Mulata, and the BUNDA!” (attributed to Arnold Schwarzenegger – that last word means “buttocks”, BTW)

  6. “Your father would have loved this; the drunkenness, the ambiguous sexuality… *sobs* I’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE!”

  7. As a Brazilian, I don’t really feel offended by the episode. In fact, I don’t feel anything, even though I know I should be offended with the monkeys roaming the streets of Rio, which is somehow right next to the Amazon jungle when it should actually be about 1,200 miles away (there is, though, the Atlantic Forest around there, which is a similar but much more devastated bioma), or people speaking Spanish (seriously, is Portuguese that hard to grasp?), or the smutty kids show (actual kids show hosts here weren’t sluts per se, but they were sex symbols for a lot of people and, mainly around the mid-to-late 90s have had musical acts in their shows whose songs had dirty lyrics and choreography – stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in Krusty, now that I think about it – and still happened to be FM radio hits). The kidnapping plot is a sad reality, although the matter-of-fact way it’s handled kinda undermines it (although I did smirk at Homer’s reaction to being kidnapped in the taxi: “Then I don’t need to pay the fare? Woo-hoo!”), but that aside, everything else was just window dressing to say “Hey, here’s another vacation spot for the Simpsons!” or whatever. Dreadfully dull tourist stereotyping.

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