346. On a Clear Day I Can’t See My Sister

(originally aired March 6, 2005)
Seems like we’ve had a Bart/Lisa show for every season, and the writers just aren’t up to the task in writing a believable conflict and resolution for them, this episode being the rustiest example of all. After being humiliated by her brother’s pranks on a field trip, Lisa decides she has little recourse than to issue a restraining order on him. In place of the rest of the family reacting to this, we have a videotape explaining restraining orders, which stars Gary Busey, and is kinda disturbing. Homer wrangles together a twenty-foot stick to keep his kids apart, which Lisa uses, and quickly abuses to poke and bother Bart relentlessly. I thought this would be kind of interesting, that now Lisa would become as big of an irritant as Bart was to her without realizing it. But the show never really acknowledges it. We get a montage of Lisa abusing Bart and him feeling crestfallen, then we’re in court where Judge Harm increases the distance in the restraining order after Bart makes fun of her. They just drop that angle completely; Bart whiplashes from sullen to busting the judges ball’s for some reason.

The new distance is so great that Bart now must live in the backyard, which I guess Lisa and the others are perfectly fine with. This eventually renders Bart into a wild animal, seeing as how he now basically lives outdoors. Finally acknowledging that this is just madness, Marge urges her daughter to lift the restraining order, but Lisa still feels slighted by Bart. Marge tells her to remember all the good things her brother has done for her, and Lisa cops that if she can think of three things, she’ll free him. Marge lists two, one which actually counts, then Lisa sees Bart building a giant Lisa statue of straw in the backyard, which I guess he can do, much to her delight (“It shows he misses me! And this is the third thing!”) What a fucking arbitrary resolution. It’s like a video game, collect these three items and you win the stage. And plus, Lisa seriously can’t remember any of the nice things Bart has done for her? What about taking the fall for her in “Separate Vocations”? The flashbacks in “Lisa on Ice”? I could go on and on. Ultimately it turns out Bart was actually going to burn her sister’s visage in effigy, but Lisa forgives him anyway (“And I was kind of a pill. I guess.”) Aside from blatant cop-out endings like “The Great Money Caper,” this might be the laziest ending I’ve seen yet. A boring, ridiculous episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Skinner/Krabappel drama goes on; it’s given an unusual amount of screen time like it’s actually going to develop into a story, except the writers don’t know where to go with it, so it ends with Skinner making out with a mummified corpse. Why have they turned him into such a pathetic sad sack?
– Liberal mouthpiece Lisa is in full swing here; the class arrives at Springfield Glacier only to find it’s a pile of slush in the middle of a lake. Lisa immediately leaps that the culprit is global warming, and sermonizes her schoolmates (“How can you stand there eating snacks and being children when the world’s glaciers are vanishing?”) It casts her in such an annoying, rabble-rousing light, which is definitely something you don’t want for a lovable character like Lisa.
– I don’t even want to bother with the Homer subplot. We’re back to Sprawl-Mart again, the first time we see it, there’s a banner reading “Not a Parody of Wal-Mart.” No shit? Dead Homers did a great write-up about how corporation and brand parodies in the past were so strong because they weren’t about one specific company, that they could be applied to a wider spectrum. Krusty Burger can represent all fast food or low-end restaurants, Duff can be all beers, Laramie can be all tobacco companies, etc. Sprawl-Mart can only be Wal-Mart, and the entire plot here of Homer becoming a greeter for some reason, the company abusing its illegal immigrant workers by locking them in the store overnight, all of it is specific to one thing. It’s lazy, uninspired, and ultimately just a piss poor piece of satire. Wal-Mart managers are dickholes and abuse their workers! Why? They’re eeeevil! Or something!
– Lisa pokes Bart so much to the extent that he has nerve damage in his arm, and she’s never reprimanded for it. That’s why it felt like the episode was turning into Lisa being as much of a terror to Bart as it was vice versa; it looks like it’s getting there, then it takes a wild turn into craziness at the end of the second act.
– I hate the second act break; I hated it when I first watched it, and I still hate it now. It might be one of the worst “jokes” in the show’s history. Bart is now forced to live out in the backyard, which is now a big woodland area for the sake of the episode, leaving him cold, alone and scared. This is after we see how much his life sucks due to the restraining order, so we really feel bad for him. He posits that at least his family must miss him. Cut to inside, the other Simpsons are joyously playing instruments, which I guess they can all play now. Two big reasons why this is fucking awful. First, it tears down the characters; wouldn’t Marge be livid about this situation, considering how she fought to have the restraining order lifted? Even Lisa, even fucking Homer, must be able to see how fucked up this all is. They all care about Bart, but for this one quick joke, let’s show that they don’t. Which brings me to my other point, it makes the family spiteful. One thing that sets this show apart is that the Simpsons are really a loving family, even in times when they squabble, they’re behind each other one hundred percent. It’s different than like, say, Family Guy, amongst its many, many problems, at many times, it feels like the Griffins just don’t like each other, and that’s not very fun to watch. For this one joke, they make it like the family could get a rat’s ass that Bart is alone and terrified, and that defies a big theme of the entire series. And then just to specifically piss me off, they end the episode by bringing in the goddamn instruments again! I fucking hate this episode. So much stuff in it perfectly exemplifies how much of this series is fundamentally broken at this point.

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15 responses to “346. On a Clear Day I Can’t See My Sister

  1. Totally agreed on all points. The characterization in this episode was all off (particularly Marge celebrating that Bart’s relegated to the backyard), and I didn’t like how Lisa couldn’t think of three nice things that Bart did for her. I mean, come ON.

    Regarding the Wal-Mart parodies, I much prefer the way they did it in King of the Hill, with Mega-Lo Mart. An episode like “Propane Boom” is MUCH stronger than this pathetic subplot.

    Next to Cookie Kwan, Judge Harm has to be one of the worst new characters introduced in the series, and I really resented how they kept using her over Judge Snyder. She’s never been funny. Ever.

  2. I hate this episode, too, but I don’t think a quick cut to them playing instruments automatically suggests that they don’t love/miss Bart… I mean, Marge can’t stare out the window 24/7, looking depressed — you know? They accepted the situation and are making the best of it and ar…. eh. Wait, I was about to put more thought into it than the writers of this episode did. Nevermind. You’re right, it’s fucking stupid, a quick gag that undermines the whole premise yet doesn’t even WORK as a joke, period (it’s easy to overlook continuity errors, glitches, plot holes, whatever, if a joke WORKS, but this, you know, isn’t even a joke) — oh, and I guess Lisa taught her parents how to master an instrument overnight? And Homer is so interested in learning music now because Bart’s not around, and Marge I guess said, “Eh, fuck it, Bart’s living in our backyard, hungry and sleepy and in danger… time to rock!” Fucking stupid.

    …Having worked at Wal-Mart, I was kinda excited to see a proper Simpsons send-up (while Wal-Mart criticism has existed for…ever…, wasn’t this subplot specifically inspired because of the boring anti-Wal-Mart documentary “High Cost of a Low Price” that came out a while before this but was hyped for a loooooooong time beforehand as some kind of be-all/end-all expose?). But, yeeeeeeeeah. It said nothing new, it wasn’t funny, and it was actually kind of… wrong?

  3. I remember this one being pretty bad but enjoying the Gary Busey videotape. Knowing the way we’ve seen him in recent years, it is kind of disturbing, but he at least gets to make fun of himself.

    Also, the show already did a much better (and more subtle) send-up of Wal-Mart type superstores a decade earlier with Try-N-Save.

  4. Yeah, this is one episode I simply cannot defend. Wish there was something nice to say about it, but… I can’t find anything.

    As far as “Nice things Bart did to Lisa”, there was also him buying the Bleeding Gums Murphy record in “Round Springfield”, also him standing up for her after one of Nelson’s thugs ruins her box of brownies all thway back in “Bart the General”.

    • Valerie Cunningham

      It was cupcakes, not brownies.

    • Half this series is Bart doing nice things for Lisa (usually after having majorly fucked up, but still). As Mike observes, that’s why the Simpsons are a great, realistic family. They frequently do shitty things to each other, but when they do, they feel bad about it and go to hilarious lengths to do right.

      The fact that Lisa couldn’t even think of three is, in my opinion, a testament to what a petty! selfish person she has become.

      Or more likely, the.writers either not giving a shit or not understanding the characters they write.

  5. And yet another episode I keep forgetting exists. Huge chunks of Season 16 have simply vanished from my memory, despite the fact that I know I watched every episode. I remember nothing from this one, save for the stupid instrument “joke”, and even that had slipped out of my head before I saw it again in the Simpsons World book. So much of this season just goes in one ear and out the other.

    I can’t help thinking of something Frank Conniff said in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode guide, about how the movie “Mighty Jack” was so soul-crushingly terrible, yet he had no memory of it whatsoever after he had finished watching it. He said something to the effect of “It reminded me of several blackouts I’d had in my college days, which is an odd thing because a blackout is defined by the fact that you don’t remember anything that happened while you were blacked out. How can I be reminded of something that I wasn’t even awake to experience? I don’t know, but this movie brought back some painful memories. Memories I’m not even sure I have.” And this describes Season 16 of The Simpsons to a T.

  6. I hate how they suggest that Bart has been nothing but a terror to Lisa for her entire life. Just like Homer’s “times he’s done something crazy like this” counter being at 300 in ‘Barting Over’, it’s an example of the writers acting like the characters have *always* been the way they are now, but in this case “now” means “this episode alone”.

    Even in the post-classic era, Bart was mainly just a playful irritant to Lisa, not the uninhibited monster this episode believes he is. Off the top of my head, I can think of 2 downright awful things Bart has done to Lisa: destroying her centerpiece by accident and refusing to apologize in ‘Bart vs. Thanksgiving’ and destroying her science fair project in ‘Duffless’. I’m sure there are others, but these instances are the exceptions, not the rule.

    But worst of all, this episode basically retcons all of the nice things that Bart has done for Lisa over the years. Special mention should go to him spending $500 on a Bleeding Gums Murphy album in ”Round Springfield’, which is one of the sweetest Bart/Lisa scenes in the entire series for me.

    And what kind of clinically insane judge grants an 8-year-old a restraining order against her 10-year-old brother who lives in the same house as her? Screw this episode.

    • This post made me think of something… I know even in the classic era, the Simpsons were in court a lot, but it seems like around the time the Judge Judy type was introduced, whole episodes like this — or at least the b-plots of them — started existing that would revolve around stupid and insane judgements.

      I wonder…is it because of that one SEMIfamous judge whose name I can’t remember who was making headlines by coming up with “creative sentencing”, like the case where he sentenced that guy who partied and stayed up all night and generally bugged his neighbors with loud rock music and whatever…. I guess his punishment was to listen to Mozart full blast for however long… true story…

      Anyway, I’m sure someone knows what I’m talking about. And now that I think about it, I’m sure that probably inspired at least 3 horrible Zombie Simpsons episodes at the top of my head (which means there’s probably thirty overall). “Creative sentencing”. Why should the fans be punished…

  7. They should take a class in “Creative Writing” 🙂

  8. I hate this episode. And I really hate how the Simpsons backyard can change its size. Yeah sure, they have done jokes before of Homer driving all the way to work, only to have the parking lot behind their backyard, but this was just ridiculous. I mean, their backyard now has its own ecosystem with a river, a forest, and wildlife?

  9. My mum keeps telling me this was the episode was the one that made her give up on The Simpsons. She hates it with a passion. For some reason I was able to last a little bit longer, but it didn’t get any better. The Simpsons were pretty hit-and-miss between Seasons 9-15 (admittedly more miss than hit near the end), but S16 was the point where the show descended into pure unwatchability.

  10. What really bothers me is the whole “nice things Bart’s done for me” bit would have worked fine if they added a time frame, say, the past month. The way it plays out not only steps all over the history of the show but spits in the face of fans who have seen the show and care about its history. And, if interviews with Al Jean are any indication, this may be intentional.

  11. Hate this episode so much. Yes the retconning of everything nice Bart has done for Lisa is annoying. However what bugs me is Lisa’s blatant abuse of the restraining order. I might not know law all that well, however I do know that following the person you have the order on around is not proper usage. You can’t force a person out of a place because you have an order out on them. You can’t enter that space until they leave it. Lisa acted far worse than Bart in this episode yet she can’t see she’s become worse than him (the part were she forces him out when he’s trying to have a heart to heart with Marge really annoyed me). If I were Marge I would have sent Lisa to Patty and Selma.

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