(originally aired May 4, 2008)
The Simpsons take on Sundance! Too bad South Park did it over a decade earlier sharper and smarter, and that episode ended with a tidal wave of human feces. So, yawn, Lisa takes up filmmaking, a hobby she becomes enamored and proficient with instantaneously, but this phenomena is nothing new. Encouraged by Principal Skinner, who lets her use their high-tech editing bay I guess the school can afford, Lisa gets to work on a full film, a documentary about her dysfunctional family. She submits it to Sundance, it gets accepted, and her film becomes a big hit, although its depiction of the family is not so favorable. Along the way, Skinner and Chalmers masquerade as movie big shots for no explainable reason, and independent director Jim Jarmusch appears to namedrop some of his movies that most of the audience hasn’t seen, and read lines on a script page to help Lisa with the dilemma she created for herself, leading to yet another non-ending.
So what’s our commentary on Sundance? They’re snooty, anti-Hollywood folks who appreciate what’s off-brand and bizarre for its own sake… s’about it. The end result is Lisa’s film ends up being way too personal and depressing, with the Simpsons as a broken family. Every time the show tries to paint them this way, it’s usually only showing Homer being a raging madman, one you can’t imagine that Marge and the kids haven’t run away from years ago. Lisa put together and edited the film without her family’s approval regarding the content, and she feels guilty about making them feel bad. But Jarmusch appears, praising her work, and ultimately shows her that there are families that are far worse off than hers, so she shouldn’t feel so bad. Was that the conflict? The episode was never really about Lisa’s rickety family life, so it doesn’t make much sense. Another failed attempt at social satire.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Lisa starts filming at a tailgate party seeing the beauty of everyday life. It’s her eye-opening realization of the creative possibilities of filmmaking, but it feels so sterile and lifeless… much like the rest of this show.
– This is more annoyingly smart Lisa, but I guess since the writers acknowledge that, it makes it okay (“What comes to mind when you think of drama?” “Well, according to Aristotle, drama contains six elements: plot, theme, character…” “Not the smarty-pants answer, I mean the drama in your life.” “Okay, but can I please finish the smarty-pants answer?”)
– Skinner concludes Lisa’s family is the source of drama in her life, and peruses through her files (“Your brother is Bart Simpson, one of Mrs. Krabappel’s 4th graders…”) What, is he reading official documents verbatim? Bart is the bane of Skinner’s existence as we’ve seen in episode like “The Debarted,” but for some reason here he speaks about him, and Edna too, like he doesn’t even know them. If anything, having Skinner exhibit a negative emotional reaction to Bart would help sell Lisa’s fractured family life. It’s such a bizarre choice to go with such a sterile read.
– Chalmers urges Skinner to submit Lisa’s film to Sundance (“The preeminent independent film festival held each January in Park City, Utah?”) Thanks for filling us in. They could have filtered that information and told it in a more natural way, or made a joke about the exposition drop, but… y’know, coming up with jokes is really hard work. Bad writing is a lot easier.
– The Sundance entry judges scene is the only moderately clever bit in the show, where they scan through submissions (“Paul Giamatti… is the world’s greatest super spy… who only exists in the mind of an overweight, agoraphobic jazz musician… played by Martin Lawrence in a fat suit.”) They gasp so loudly at Lisa’s entry that at such a high altitude at the summit, they all pass out, some even needing to be brought out in body bags.
– There’s a Shining shot as the Simpsons drive to Park City with ominous music… but there’s no payoff to the joke. It’s like they cut something out and forgot it left the joke hanging.
– Homer randomly knows who Jim Jarmusch is, and his gag involves being unable to eat an onion without crying. Funny?
– There’s lots of small moments in this episode that are just awful, over-explaining jokes making them even less funny. Marge deduces that jokes with innocuous titles like “Regularsville” contain racy content, so she must love “Chernobyl Graveyard”! She dashes in, and exits looking frazzled. That should be enough. Oh wait, she says, “I didn’t.” Really? I couldn’t figure that out from your haggard appearance. Later, Lisa tries to defend her film to the family saying it got butchered in editing. On screen, we see “Edited by Lisa Simpson.” But just to drive this home, we have a voice-over of her reading, “Proudly edited by Lisa Simpson!” This ruins the joke, and also vilifies Lisa even more.
– I honestly do not understand the “ChalmSkin” “subplot” where they’re approached by producers and end up acting like snobby big shots in front of John C. Reilly (yet another great talent wasted in a nothing part). If someone wants to decipher it for me, be my guest.
– Jarmusch’s dialogue is dreadful (“My movies, like Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law, are also about social misfits experiencing the dark side of the American dream.”) He’s not a very good actor, which is fine, but don’t give him a large amount of dialogue. I chuckled at his pathetic “Ow! That hurts!” when he literally fades out of frame at the end.
– “Life Blows Chunks,” Nelson’s film, is wrong in many regards. Firstly, Skinner trusts Lisa with his AV equipment, but Nelson? But most importantly, it’s nothing but a pale, empty imitation of “Pukahontas,” Barney’s film from “A Star is Burns,” tragic characters communicating their sorrow in film. But while “Pukahontas” was a brilliant send-up of art films, a logical, sorrowing, but ultimately hilarious character study, Nelson’s film just ends up feeling sad and hackneyed. The series seems to love making fun of Nelson for being poor and having a deadbeat mother, two unfortunate factors out of his control and I’m sure mirrors the situation of many, many kids out there. Barney’s alcoholism is a problem he created himself, and it’s a much different situation. A line like “Don’t cry for me, I’m already dead” is immortal, being self-consciously cliched, tragic and hysterical at the same time. But something like “I like to cry at the ocean, because only there do my tears seem small” is just plain shitty.