(originally aired February 26, 2006)
Previously in “The President Wore Pearls,” the show tried to tackle an Evita parody, but came up short because they weren’t mindful of their characters, just shoving them in this situation to match the musical even when it didn’t make sense. This is another musical parody, and it works a thousand times better because the borrowed story and songs still work within the context of the show and its cast. Taking off of My Fair Lady, Lisa attempts to turn slovenly drunkard Willie into a proper gentleman as her entry into the science fair. Well… that aspect doesn’t entirely make sense, but it doesn’t really matter. When Willie’s shack is destroyed, he stays the night at the Simpsons, and he resolves that he would like to better his lot in life. With some effort, Lisa completely transforms Willie to be completely refined, eventually becoming maitre ‘d at the Gilded Truffle. But like everyone in Springfield, he finds that where he was the happiest was right back where he started, so Willie gives up his proper trimmings for his life in festering squalor.
As I said before, this parody works because it fits the characters: Lisa was shoehorned into the role of Eva Peron, but Willie as Eliza Doolittle makes more sense. The songs are also quite good, and all serve to move the story along. The first one kicks the plot off, then another during Willie’s teachings, then another when he’s completely reformed, and then a final one as he is forlorn for the life he once had. They’re all riffs on songs from My Fair Lady, which helps to make them more memorable, but I definitely think they stand out on their own. Also great is Castellaneta as Willie, giving a heartfelt performance as Willie proper, and also proper Willie, altering his voice to sound more dignified, but still maintaining the character. There are a fair amount of bits that don’t work, and a mostly uninteresting B-plot about Homer’s pants, but this is a pretty good episode, with great music and ultimately a great character study. After “Pearls” and so many other examples, I thought the show had forgotten how to properly do parody, but I guess I was wrong. Though I’m sure it won’t take long to be proven right once again.
Tidbits and Quotes
– We haven’t seen Mrs. Pommelhorst, the gym teacher that often. She dates all the way back to “The PTA Disbands,” unseen but mentioned by the girl stuck on the handlebars (“Hellloo! Mrs. Pommelhorst! I’d like to get down now!”) She was in “Little Girl in the Big Ten,” and I’m sure a couple other ones. But here we start with the big joke: this masculine, tough woman is going to get a sex change and be Mr. Pommelhorst! Hilarious, right? It just feels too obvious.
– Bombardment, bombardment, bombardment… boy, that dodgeball schtick grew old instantly, and it’s the only joke for the first four minutes of the show. And it just feels cruel to a point too, this grown man viciously pummeling children in the face with dodgeballs. They then attempt a Full Metal Jacket parody with Bart brandishing an evil grin holding the iced ball with the teacher screaming, “What is your major malfunction!” That ball could easily have killed him, but I guess I can overlook it since Bart probably isn’t smart enough to have thought that through.
– I like the false start to the first song, showing Willie’s low expectations for life (“All I want is a place somewhere…” [beat] “And?” “That’s it.”)
– Nice flashback of Willie’s father yelling and screaming at him minutes after he’d exited the wound. The reveal was pretty obvious, but it was still funny (“Would you like to cut the cord?” “Let him cut it himself! It’s time he learned life ain’t one big party!”) Baby Willie with his shaggy unibrow is pretty adorable too.
– The bullies enact their own parody of Around the World in Eighty Days. For some reason. Chalk them up as characters the writers have absolutely no clue how to write for anymore.
– “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain” has become “What flows from the nose should not get on my clothes.” Willie swinging Bart and Lisa around by their nostrils is a wonderfully gross sequence, and Lisa singing her next line all nasally is pretty great.
– I actually felt for Willie in the episode. The final number “The Shack Where I Lived” leading up until the end I thought were very sweet. The shack is rebuilt with one final touch, a “Home Sweet Home” picture frame Lisa put up. Willie appears touched, but when Lisa leaves, he rips it down in disgust (“I liked it the way it was!”) A sweet ending with an amusing capper to end the episode? I’m shocked how competent most of this show is.