Original airdate: October 3, 2010
The premise: Lisa decides to anonymously invest in Nelson’s small business of modding bicycles, but becomes horrified when he decides to drop out of school once business starts to take off. Meanwhile, Homer discovers a way to temporarily live the high life by purchasing extravagant items and returning them for full credit a few days later.
The reaction: This was a pretty dry and lifeless one. It’s especially hard to care when your A-story kicks in literally half-way through the episode. Or rather, there was one plot for the first half, then it became the B-plot in favor of the Lisa story. When she’s looking up microfinance and investing in a business, I certainly thought the episode was going to take a much larger turn, which at least might have been a little interesting. Instead, the episode is about Lisa giving Nelson $50 to start a business. Which from that paltry cash, he completely pimps out his garage and is able to pay employees $11/hr. How much business could he have possibly done? So Lisa initially donates anonymously, but eventually breaks and tells him, mostly because she is so satisfied with herself and wants to hear praise directly from him. So when she’s shocked to find out Nelson is dropping out of school and that’s the thrust of the story, it’s hard to care because she had been so smug before, and also, who cares? Her attempts to sway Nelson backfire, and ultimately he’s done in when he finds out he hasn’t been using water soluble epoxy on the bikes. So… buy different epoxy and you’re all good? I guess ultimately the message is that he would have known that if he had gone to school, but he’s gonna get a shitty education anyway at Springfield Elementary, so what’s the point? The episode just felt like a cobbling together of elements from past shows (the Lisa-Nelson relationship, Grampa giving out his inheritance, Marge’s awkwardness with high-class) strung together with a limp plot.
Three items of note:
– The Itchy & Scratchy at the start is a “parody” of Up, which of course means a recreation of the opening montage of the film using exact copied shots and the exact same music, with the only differing thing in it being Itchy gunning down Mr. and Mrs. Scratchy at the end. Like all of the show’s references to the animation studio, it just feels like them holding up a giant “WE LOVE YOU PIXAR” sign. Looking up at the clouds, Scratchy points out images of Buzz Lightyear, Mike Wazowski and WALL-E. These aren’t jokes, I guess the audience is supposed to smile and clap their hands because they recognize those characters? The worst part is is that they could have actually done something actually clever with the material. The Up opening scene contains some genuinely heartbreaking moments that could have been deliberately and humorously sabotaged by over-the-top violence. Maybe you play the whole thing straight up until the end, an elderly and enfeebled Scratchy having just buried his wife returns home only to be abruptly killed by a manic Itchy, who laughs and scurries from the room.
– I don’t really have much to comment about the A-plot, then B-plot. It starts as a “Scenes of the Class Struggle” retread, then becomes Homer just buying expensive shit and getting caught. Well, he kind of gets caught, but then there’s no resolution to the story. At the start of the story, Marge feels cornered into buying an expensive purse by snobbish brow beaters Helen Lovejoy, Bernice Hibbert, and… Julio. I gotta say, I thought his character was slightly amusing at first, but now I cringe whenever he shows up. It’s basically just Hank Azaria doing his character from The Birdcage, except Julio has no character or purpose within a story, he’s just a flat gay stereotype, a literal card-carrying one, as he presents Marge with a dual calling card of “Sassy Gay Friend” and “Scheming Gay Enemy.” We’ve come a long way since “Homer’s Phobia,” baby.
– Unlike the classic years where celebrities who appeared on the show were subject to a fair share of good-natured ridicule, nowadays it’s like a promotional platform for them to look awesome. Nowhere is this better exemplified than the inexplicable appearance of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. There’s plenty of rich material you can get out of privacy concerns or how social media has affected IRL relationships and the weird exacerbated social conditioning of it all, but the show is interested in none of that, and the only joke is that Zuckerberg speaks in Facebook statuses. What a riot! Like the Pixar segment at the start, it really feels like the show isn’t interested about making jokes about things, but would rather use their massive audience to advertise stuff they think is cool.
One good line/moment: Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus is another disposable guest appearance, and while he didn’t really have a lot to work with, you can tell he had a lot of fun recording his lines. His fading “Goodbyyyyyeeee” when he left the computer screen was just adorable.