Original airdate: November 14, 2010
The premise: After discovering Marge was a straight-A student prior to meeting Homer, Lisa starts to worry that she might be destined to the same future as her mother. Meanwhile, Bart ends up king of the schoolyard after unintentionally incapacitating Nelson on multiple occasions.
The reaction: Talk about a Frankenstein’s Monster of an episode, with plot elements basically cut whole cloth from classic shows of years past. To start, you have Lisa’s devastation that she’s seemingly doomed to become a homemaker, a la “Separate Vocations.” The key difference between the two is that in that episode, Marge actually tried to prop up and encourage Lisa not to give up on her own dreams. Here, Marge acts like a scorned child, laying a tremendous guilt trip on her daughter (“Would it be so bad to turn out like me?” “Mom, I admire everything you do!” “But it’s not good enough, is it?”) It just feels incredibly out of character for Marge to be that vindictive, especially with no real build-up either. In an effort to keep herself focused on her studies, she evicts all of her extracurricular “distractions,” including her saxophone, which all makes no sense; wasn’t she worried about having more out-of-school activities two episodes ago to better her chances at getting into an Ivy league college? Whatever, after that, she just so happens to pass by a bus for a more affluent school and we spend the last third or so of the episode with her taking classes there; making fun of high-end, pretentious school for children is material that’s well-trodden for this show, and seen much better in the likes of “Bart the Genius,” “Lisa’s Sax,” “A Streetcar Named Marge,” etc. Lastly, our wrap-up. It turns out Marge was able to get Lisa admitted to the fancy school by agreeing to do all of their laundry; mounds and mounds of it piled up in the Simpson basement, with Marge working all night. Aren’t students typically responsible for laundering their own uniforms? And is the laundry bill that high to cover a full tuition? Anyway, a parent makes a huge sacrifice for Lisa’s happiness, and Lisa realizes it’s ultimately not worth it if her parent is suffering. “Lisa’s Pony,” anyone? What a shallow imitation, it’s barely even worth comparing in detail. In “Pony,” we see Homer degrading into a sleep deprived mess, and Lisa pondering her decision after being exposed to the truth. Everything in the episode is leading to this final end point. In this episode, we see that Marge spoke with the dean of the school in private to get Lisa in, but we’re kept in the dark about what happened until the very end, wherein Marge still keeps her scorned attitude toward her daughter (“It’s important to you that you don’t end up like me.”) So we see Lisa making up an excuse why she doesn’t want to go to the school anymore, then give her mom a hug with a sad expression on her face. Where “Pony” ends with Lisa appreciating her father’s sacrifice for her and the two happily walking into the sunset together, this episode ends with Lisa succumbing to her mother’s petty guilt trip and feeling sad. What a heartwarming finale!
Three items of note:
– Despite my grave issues with the actual story, this is easily the best episode so far in terms of humor and ancillary ideas. The beginning features Homer’s attempts to get Maggie a rare Happy Little Elves figure out of a whole collection of blind box toys. I frigging hate those things; if I want to get one particular figure, I just want to buy that one figure, it’s basically like gambling. Homer’s increasing anger and frustration of getting the same ones over and over is great, as is his earnestness to try to please Maggie, but the montage of him repeatedly wasting tank after tank of gas is not very amusing.
– The Simpsons happen to get lost driving around, and they end up going by Marge’s childhood house. For some reason, a box of Marge’s stuff is still in their attic, and her room is still somewhat furnished as it was decades ago, with cobwebs on the dresser and a peace sign poster on the wall. The owner appears to be a crazy person, admitting to having rummaged in said box, but nothing ever comes of this, of course.
– As if ripping off multiple past episodes in the A-plot weren’t enough, the B-plot feels like a sorry retread of “Bart the General,” where Bart lives in fear that Nelson is going to get his retribution, only to end up unintentionally knock him out time and time again. Toward the end of the story, Marge gives Bart the same advice she gave twenty-one years prior to just talk to Nelson and try to make nice. And it works. No subversion, no clever twist, Bart compliments Nelson’s bullying, and that’s the end. How anti-climactic.
One good line/moment: There were actually a few amusing moments in this one. Lisa confronts Homer about him seemingly being responsible for Marge’s academic dip, and he’s in the middle of creating a giant cigar out of fruit roll-ups and bubble gum. He then encourages Lisa to pick a vice, because it’s basically inevitable (“Just pick a dead-end and then chill out until you die.”) He then blows smoke from his sugary stogie, which creates a bubble gum smoke ring, which then floats down to the floor in a plop. It might have been a bit too uncharacteristically negative for Homer, but the scene had an chuckle-worthy rhythm to me.