316. The President Wore Pearls

(originally aired November 16, 2003)
This show has had its fair share of memorable tunes, but only one episode I could categorically call a musical, “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala-D’oh!-cious.” Along with “Pearls,” they’re both musical parodies, with their stories and general melodies lifted and modified. The great difference here is contextual adaption. This episode tries to tackle “Evita,” with Lisa subbing for Eva Peron and their rises and falls from positions of power. Now, I have not seen “Evita,” but I know the generalities of the story, that she was a spiritual leader in Argentina, beloved by the people, but scorned by people of government for coming from the lower classes. Lisa, meanwhile, is a social outcast, with little to no friends; what people are going to adore her? She wins the election for student body president via musical number, then next scene Skinner worries about how the students of the school will follow her every word. What? No one has ever given two shits about Lisa in that school, now all of a sudden she’s their savior. It just doesn’t gel well.

Anyway, Skinner is pissed because he’s got an evil scheme brewed up that he feels Lisa will interfere with, so the entire faculty dissuades her with getting her a flashy object and distract her with exclusive privileges like all-access to the study hall. Ultimately, she ends up signing and approving the removal of gym, music and art classes from the school without even knowing it, and when news of this gets out, she’s cut down a peg with her people. The entire faculty, the little of it we have at this school, is shown here, from Lunchlady Doris to Otto, all helping transform Lisa and assist Skinner. But why do these characters care? We’ve seen the entire faculty is as eager for the bell to ring as the students, they don’t want to be there at all. Without those extracurriculars, maybe it means they can get bigger paychecks? It’s just so sporadic, Krabappel is thrilled to get Nelson’s answer key to the real estate license exam (“My ticket to freedom!”) then later she’s helping Skinner with his plot. Next, there was no need for Lisa to sign the agreement of course, it was all just to discredit her in the eyes of the students. But what a backhanded and horrible thing for Skinner and the others to do, to vilify their top student, an innocent little eight-year-old, who barely has any friends to begin with? It really casts a dark shadow over Skinner, a character who has never been completely unfavorable before.

Outraged at her betrayal, Lisa calls for a student strike, one that escalates until the move is made to transfer her to another school, forcing her to leave her people behind. She’s supposedly devastated, but walks off the bus with a smile at Springfield Magnet School, a high-minded, intellectual institution. But then Homer drives up and says she can’t go, as he doesn’t feel like taking the forty-five minute trip to get there. It’s as abrupt as an ending as you can fucking get, and the “Evita” parody just screeches to a halt. Protesting her father about staying at Magnet, she cries, “But this is my dream!” Lisa never cared about her fellow students, she just wanted to go to a better school. That’s why this episode doesn’t work, because the parody doesn’t fit. “D’oh-cious” involved Mary Poppins coming in to make the Simpsons model citizens, and failing. There’s no bit of Homer being Dick Van Dyke and learning to be a better father, since that doesn’t fit; in the end, they acknowledge status quo is God, and they’re happy just as things are. Here, they crammed in the “Evita” stuff even though it didn’t fit the characters. Lisa is never popular and Skinner is not an pure-blood antagonist. It just doesn’t work.

Tidbits and Quotes
– It’s casino night at Springfield Elementary, which of course means another gag about Marge’s gambling. I fucking hate when they do this. In “$pringfield,” the fact that Marge becomes a gambling addict is not presented as funny, it’s everything around it that is. It was treated with a real severity, an uncomfortable issue with an open-ended non-solution. Now it’s just treated as a goof, where Marge going crazy on betting and splashing a drink in Ralph’s face is presented as comedy, instead of just being horrifying.
– Homer’s repeated D’ohs as the wheel spins is rather annoying. In fact, this whole episode he’s basically a humungous moron, prancing around the house with a tutu, making figures on two sets of stamps “make out,” musing about never having married a businessman… the Scully seasons had Jerkass Homer, now we have Braindead Homer.
– I could be wrong, but I think this is the first time we’ve seen Lunchlady Doris since her last appearance after Doris Grau’s death. Thankfully, they kept her silent, until a few seasons later she’d randomly appear with Tress MacNeille attempting her voice. Aside the fact that it’s kind of disrespectful to break her silence, I just think of how completely unnecessary it was. How difficult is it to design a new cafeteria worker? It’s not like she’s a major character, make a new disgruntled employee, have Hank or Tress do a voice and be done with it. Instead they stepped all over poor, poor Doris. But that’s not this episode.
– I do like the Lisa vs. Nelson conceit, that it’s all just a big popularity contest, because that’s exactly how school elections are. And to some extent, general elections. Zing!
– Superintendent Chalmers appears to reside at the school in this show. He’s always there, glued to Skinner’s side. Doesn’t he have other schools to attend to? Also they’re really abusing the “Skinner!!” gag at this point.
– Skinner tricks Lisa into signing his orders, but then she returns wanting to read what she signed. Skinner shuts the door on her. Lisa returns again to complain, then Skinner shuts and locks the door. Lisa opens the door with the skeleton key he gave her and he groans. Scene over. So, wouldn’t Lisa have gotten to read the form and be outraged at that point? At least end your scene properly, guys.
– Why in the holy mother of fuck does Bart care about gym, music and art being cut from the school? And how does he know that Skinner is using Lisa? He’s been absent almost this entire episode, he just kind of shows up and gets a few lines in some songs.
– Willie ripping the art room off the school building is as bad as Homer stealing Flanders’ guest room, but at least he’s hauling it off on a tracker here. With the kiln still running.
– The kids inexplicably have signs made at the protest that just started, Homer and Marge randomly appear at the school, the police show up on the drop of a dime ready to beat children, Michael Moore appears for a worthless cameo… the only thing in the third act I like is the title of Kent Brockman’s news segment “Alphabet Coup.” But the rest sucks. But at least it matches the rest of the episode.

22 responses to “316. The President Wore Pearls

  1. I’ve never seen Evita ever, did not know this was meant to be a parody of it, but the entire episode I was just starring at the screen, shouting, “What the fuck is this?” The episode is just down right awful.

  2. The Scully years are looking pretty good right about now, aren’t they, Mike? 😉

  3. *breathes a sigh of relief* this is just beautiful. It one thing to remember the disappointment of a terrible episode. It’s another to realize that this might as well be fanfiction, cuz I never saw it, and it occupies no real estate in my brain,

  4. There’s a scene in the auditorium where the kids stare at Lisa, unamused; I could swear there’s a nod to Mafalda in a black-haired girl with a red dress and bow sittin’ in the audience. Argentina and all.

  5. I think Lunchlady Doris appears laughing at Homer when he’s stuck in the fountain on My Sister, My Sitter.

  6. I remember thinking “Skinner’s not this big of an asshole, why is he acting like one?” I got the Evita parody, but like you mentioned, a parody doesn’t work if you have to make your characters completely different in order for it to fit.

    The only other thing I remember about this one is that Groundskeeper Willie is in like seven or eight scenes. The only laugh I can remember getting is from “I’ve fallen in the pool!”

    • Willie owns this otherwise mediocre episode. His rant about the mine disaster that ends with “No one survived… NOT EVEN WILLIE!” followed by awkward silence and no acknowledgement of what he said is just fantastic.

  7. This is the first time in your 300+ reviews where I think you’re being too harsh. I got the parody, and basically saw this akin to a Halloween episode. Now if you argue Lisa and the staff are still not in-character, consider the times various characters were turned into murderers to serve the story. Skinner would be reprehensible here if what he was doing would have any real, lasting impact, but to serve the Evita plot at school he’s a good choice.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not a good episode, and not nearly as inspired as the Sherry Bobbins one. I just believe it falls into the forgettable category rather being offensive to the true nature of the characters, because here they’re basically just putting on a play. And I did actually enjoy Willie taking away part of the school with his tractor. It’s so mean, absurd, and he takes such delight in it. Nelson singing the opening to Iron Man is funny too, a very authentic moment for a kid like that

    • Even in a Halloween show, I still need to believe in the characters and their motives. Homer’s no insane murderer, but in the context of “The Shinning,” I buy into it; no TV and no beer is a funny contextual parody of that movie. Skinner cutting the budget we’ve seen before, but what doesn’t work for me is how content and smug he seems about it. It’s not like he would relish in depriving students of these classes, so it just feels kind of wrong to me when they show him crowing about his evil plan. But hey, agree to disagree.

  8. Agreed, the further ruination of Skinner (my favorite character.. besides Raphael!). Just stupid and pointless. BAD episode.

    I think it’s this season or next season and I can’t remember the name of it right off hand but there’s an episode where Homer gets arrested for drinking and driving… sorry, he WOULD HAVE *spoilers, hah* gotten arrested, but he puts a somewhat drunk Marge behind the wheel. I can’t wait for you to eviscerate that one, it and THAT 90’S SHOW and… actually, maybe this one… are 3 episodes that are not only conceptually inept, but also completely devoid of any kind of humor. Have fun!

  9. Thanks to the ridiculously slow schedule of DVD releases, we’ve reached the point where I haven’t seen any of these episodes in years so my memory of them is very fuzzy. I remember liking this episode quite a bit, though. Something about it felt more like a Mirken-era episode than anything we’d seen in awhile. Maybe Skinner is a bit too much of a jerk here, but I don’t think they stretched reality past the breaking point here. This is the same school that serves the children old gym mats and malk in the cafeteria, after all.

  10. Interesting bit of trivia that I may have shared elsewhere on this blog: I actually own the script of this episode, and I had it a year before it was broadcast. I think most of the fun of this episode came from reading it on the night it aired and seeing the changes they made. Some of the more notable ones:

    *Michael Moore’s role was apparently going to be played by Martin Sheen originally. No idea why he dropped out, but fortunately he already did a guest voice before. Unfortunately, it was that one episode.
    *Kearney was running for president instead of Nelson. I guess they figured that would require Kearney having a part, and we can’t have that!

    Beyond that, there’s a few jokes they added and some lines they changed, but most of it was the same. Terrible episode, but it was fun watching it when it came out (for reasons aside from the episode itself.)

    • Thrillho: I experienced more or less the same thing with “The Italian Bob”. I worked at Nickelodeon Movies as an intern in spring 2005, and one of the spec scripts floating around the office was for that episode. The script was pretty bad, and sadly wasn’t improved upon much in the version that aired later that year.

      • What was a Simpsons script doing at Nickelodeon?

      • Patrick: Might’ve been there as a writing sample from John Frink. Writers do that; they don’t necessarily have to be submitting a script for something the studio produces, they just want to get their foot in the door wherever they can.

        There was also the pilot script to Fox’s short-lived “Action” in the same office. I was laughing just reading that thing.

  11. Willie is the only thing I laughed at in this episode.

    “I’m so drunk I can barely see!” (mows the dirt on the baseball field)
    “I’ll be cookin’ mah lean cuisine in your kiln tonight! ahahahahaah!”

  12. “Michael Moore appears for a worthless cameo… ”

    In the TV guide synopsis of this episode they always use the description “Film-maker Michael Moore helps Lisa with her protest.”

    He’s onscreen for about three seconds.

  13. Kaiju no Kami

    I just don’t get this episode. It seems like it wants to be a musical, but only has like 2 songs, and none of the actions that are happening make any sense. Yeah, Skinner’s an ass in this, but how is that any different from what he has done in the past like steal someone’s identity?

    That’s all I really have for this episode as everyone is so out of character but I really don’t care.

  14. I sort of enjoyed this episode for what it was, even without watching Elvita. There is plenty of debate on how out of character everyone is, and I will admit I did not see how poorly this parody play fit the characters, since I do not understand The Classic Simpsons well enough to say anything about that. At least I thought most of the songs were catchy. Glad to see everyone respect Lisa enough for a change and want her to be Student Body President.

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