294. Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade

(originally aired November 17, 2002)
I got no intro in me for this one, so let’s just jump right into it. We start with the Simpsons finally getting a satellite dish, because I guess they can afford it now. At least they give the courtesy of explaining how with a joke; Homer claims he can get one with “no risk.” Smash cut to him at the track winning his bets on the dog “No Risk.” Wouldn’t it have been funnier if he lost though? But whatever, so satellite means an endless opportunity for TV gags, but all of them pale to the stuff we saw in “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment.” Endless viewing options keep Bart occupied for two whole weeks, when he should have been studying for a grade school aptitude test. When the test is done and the results are in, there are two startling announcements: Lisa has done so well she’s being bumped up to third grade, and Bart has done so poorly he’s being bumped back to third grade. So Bart and Lisa in the same class? That’s an idea that could possibly work. Maybe?

Things are sensible at the start: Bart is actually doing well, though only because he’s been through it before and has memorized answer keys, while Lisa is struggling a bit with the new challenge and is slightly frustrated. Their teacher is voiced by, surprise surprise, Tress MacNeille, and unlike Krabappel or Hoover, has no real discernible personality. I don’t even know if she has a name. The only thing I got is she’s apparently a bitch since she scolds Lisa for being upset and raises Bart’s grade out of pure spite. The class goes on a field trip to Capitol City, where the identity of where Springfield is is obscured even further (“The time has come to redesign our state flag. This Confederate symbol is an embarrassment, particularly as we are a Northern state.”) They are assigned to create a new flag in groups, leading Bart to sabotage Lisa’s efforts and greatly offend Governor Bailey, who we haven’t seen since way back in season two, here voiced by… guess… Tress MacNeille! Who sounds less like Bailey and more like Joan Rivers! Maggie Roswell was back on staff, why not get her to do it again? Honestly, MacNeille is very talented, but not at creating distinct ancillary characters. At a point, they all start sounding the same.

Bart and Lisa get into a scuffle right as the bus is about to leave, leaving them stranded. Then they start wandering around in the woods and get lost. But… what? They were right outside the capitol building when they tumble down a hill, then see the bus drive away. They could easily climb back up and go into the city and ask anybody for help. But instead they just wander around the wilderness for some reason. Why? I guess because this gives us the chance for the two to have a heartfelt reconciliation that lasts one scene and feels obligatory rather than sincere. And then the two are saved by some unkempt hillbillies who were lost on field trips and decided to just live in the woods. These characters with an insane back story show up and we only have two minutes of air time left. What is happening? So they’re reunited with their parents, and Skinner literally announces that status quo is God and has Bart and Lisa put back in their normal grades. This was just the writers throwing up their arms going, “Yeah, there’s no reason to make things go back to normal, but we’re doing it anyway.” Why not keep Bart and Lisa in the third grade? Develop that teacher character a bit more, throw in some new kid characters, why not? Oh yeah, that would require some work and creative thinking. Never mind. Yet another clunker.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We open on Animal Survivor, which is like Survivor… with animals. Some of these TV parodies featuring animal casts have kind of bothered me, like this, Monkey Trauma Center, the When Dinosaurs Get Drunk special, the parody aspect get washed when the show seems completely asinine, or just impossible to film. Definitely in the case of the dinosaur one, but what is Monkey Trauma Center? Is it just monkeys they put in doctors outfits and have them roam around a hospital? But then the title card makes them have human mannerisms? I think I’m thinking way too into this…
– “If I wanted reality, I’d finally have this lump looked at!” You mean one of those anger lumps from “I Am Furious (Yellow)”? Come on guys, that was only like ten episodes ago.
– As a completely beaten down housewife, Marge just sighs and submits to slicing pie into her husband’s mouth as he lies on the couch in his own filth.
– Bart’s sleep deprived hallucination seems to go on too long. Like the “Hava Naglia” could have been shaved by half. Just killing time…
– The “M.C. Safety and the Caution Crew” stuff is fine, but pales to what South Park did in their “Butt Out” episode, which had the twist on top that the assembly made the boys want to smoke so they wouldn’t be as lame as them.
– The Capital City Goofball is apparently in politics, and still in costume. And colored incorrectly, and not voiced by Tom Poston. I am not pleased.
– What kind of third grade field trip has the kids stay overnight at a hotel? And provides Bart a child-sized robe?
– When Skinner announces that Milhouse has taken Bart’s place as class clown, the writing is on the wall for the awful ending. Again, why bother complaining about character motivation through all this? Skinner certainly wouldn’t do this, nor would he bump Bart back up a grade for no apparent reason. And Lisa, the girl who pressured her mother to try to get Skinner to get her pushed into the third grade by any means necessary, apparently is fine with being a big fish in a small pond in second grade. So rather than tackle a challenge, she slinks back to the easy and familiar? That is not Lisa Simpson. To echo the final line of the show, “That’s just sad.”

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9 responses to “294. Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade

  1. I have mixed feelings on this episode. It has some good moments, but it pretty much just repeats what has already been done before. Actually, one of the good episodes from Season 15 repeats this plot point, but does it much better.

    BTW, your review got me thinking, how come Bart and Lisa (and Maggie) are still the same, yet, the Octuplets seem to have gotten older?

  2. This is the second of three episodes in the latter half of the DABF production line where they make fun of reality shows. They seemed to think it was the funniest thing in the world in 2002.

    Yeah, the character motivations in this episode have always rubbed me the wrong way – major plot points happen just because the writers need them to for the story to work. And again, it feels like Al Jean is throwing in more references to the classic era just for the sake of fanservice, and forgetting to actually have them make sense. What’s the point of bringing back Mary Bailey and the Capital City Goofball, other than for the fans to go “Oh hey, I remember those episodes”?

    The hillbillies who show up out of nowhere to back the writers out of the corner they’ve written themselves into…yeah, that’s pretty damned stupid. But I have to admit, I always laugh at Hank Azaria’s “Roar roar roar! Nobody understands you, she-bear!”

  3. The premise is something that could -only- happen in a sitcom (well, the “sending a kid -back- a grade” aspect), and as a result feels pretty contrived and phony. That said, there are some laughs in the first two acts… until the third act comes along and just ruins the whole episode with its outlandish field trippers from years back. And I agree about Lisa’s final line; it feels very out of character for her to reject a challenge.

    Funny moments not listed:
    -“Me not PIG!”
    -“She’s not so great! She got diarrhea when we went to Carlsbad Caverns!”
    -“Does everyone have their buddy?” “Yes.” “Ah the buddy system, it never fails. Floor it, Otto.”

  4. I think they make fun of Tress Macneille’s constant use on this show in a later episode where Bart and Homer say (on separate occasions) “That sounds like Tress Macneille.” Can’t remember the episode, but you’ll probably get to that one.

  5. It’s the episode from 19 where Bart falls in love with a cow so he does not want it to be slaughtered and ends up nearly marrying one of Cletus’ daughter. I know this because I watched Season 19 today.

  6. Either the staff who assigns voices REALLY loves Tress MacNeille, or there’s something in her contract that either forces her to get a certain amount of dialogue per episode or she works more cheaply than any of the other female actors. Whatever the reason, something’s odd when she replaces an actress who’s already on staff.

  7. Something else I forgot to mention and that ties into the writers not remembering stuff from a few episodes ago. Last year Lisa earned SIXTEEN college credits, yet now she’s struggling in the third grade?

  8. I found this one moderately forgettable accept the stuff with Lisa.
    When not a preachy cause junky, she has no integrity, great! that’s the Lisa we know and love, —- or at least it isn’t accept for the one post season twelve.

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