479. The Scorpion’s Tale

2215
Original airdate: March 6, 2011

The premise:
On a field trip, Lisa discovers a type of flower that renders dangerous scorpions completely docile. This discovery is caught wind of by a pharmaceutical company, who hopes to synthesize it as a drug to make crotchety old people more carefree. Unfortunately, the miracle drug comes with one unforeseen side effect: dislocated eyeballs.

The reaction: I honestly don’t really get what this episode was about, so I might as well go through it beat by beat. Grampa is kicked out of the retirement home for being too irritating, and proceeds to aggravate the rest of the Simpsons living with them. So Homer doses him with Lisa’s flower extract she discovered and it peps him right up. In an aggravatingly expository scene, Lisa confronts her father about it, and Grampa reveals he’s just fine with it, that he wants to live his later years feeling fun and fancy free. So, this is something Grampa is absolutely fine with, and earlier we’d seen Lisa and the rest of the Simpsons living on edge over Grampa’s crotchety mood, so where is the downside to this? Lisa was fine testing on the scorpions, so is this like an issue of messing with a human’s free will, even if the subject is complicit? Beats me. She flushes her sample vial down the toilet to dispose of it, which is an absolutely fantastic idea. This dangerous chemical that can alter behavior, let’s let it into the water supply! But despite dramatic music playing when it enters the ocean and fish come into contact with it, nothing comes of it. Instead, a pharmaceuticals guy just happens to be at Moe’s and convinces Homer and Grampa to mass produce the chemical as a drug. But ultimately it ends up being circulated by the elderly of Springfield, and it results in their eyeballs popping out. Yup. Not since Sideshow Bob’s entire face peeling off have I seen something this aggressively cartoonish from the series. The point of all this, I guess, is that the seniors view their dangling eye tendrils as an acceptable cost to their improved mood, but it’s just so goddamn silly. And then the very end of the show involves Grampa doing an about face that they’re all of the greatest generation and they NEED to be crotchety and focused to pick up the mess of their children. This all happens in the last minute or so of the show out of nowhere, and I don’t really know what to make of it. They even lampshade it with Lisa not exactly sure what the lesson is. Me too, kid. Me too.

Three items of note:
– The opening field trip is pretty annoying. First, it’s a mix of the second and fourth grade students basically just so we have Lisa and Ralph in there, chaperoned by Principal Skinner. And, of course, Chalmers is there too. I’m going to be shocked when we get to an episode where we see Skinner by himself. The rest are just a series of pointless scenes, including one where Nelson walks behind a cactus to seemingly jerk off to some ye olde nudie photos the boys find? Gross? The opening feels like something the show used to do in the past; establish a setting or an emotion or some kind of thing that will lead to the start of the plot with a bunch of one-off gags. The difference is they used to be able to burn four or five jokes in like a minute and a half. The field trip lasts three and a half minutes before we get to Lisa and the scorpions; everything before it just feels like killing time by any means necessary.
– So the pharma guy gives Grampa some prototype pills before they hit the market, warning to not let them fall in the wrong hands, lest they be sold off. Cut to Bart walking around with a little suit selling them to everyone in town. His motivation is not quite clear; Bart’s money hungry for no real reason. He’s a kid, what does he care about money unless he wants to buy something specific? Like that stupid dirt bike from a few shows ago? It all feels so unnecessary; I still feel like Lisa should have inadvertently been responsible for spiking the water supply of the town by flushing her sample down the toilet. I feel you could get more mileage from a premise like that.
– The ending truly baffles me. Homer encourages Pharma Guy to let the seniors have their drug, claiming their generation has got everything under control. He then claims he’s off to get drunk, gets in his car, and drives over the parking spikes. He proceeds to poorly jack his car, and then Lenny and Carl show up in frame for no reason to give him bad advice. This all felt like a bit that was going on way, way too long, but then by the end of it, we see Grampa looking on in disgust, which leads to his speech convincing everyone to get off the drug and stay malcontent. But then when the geezers start approaching the car, Homer smiles and nudges Carl before they proceed to fix the mess they had created. So was this his plan all along? Why would Homer care about wanting the seniors off the drug? We establish there’s no real problem, but we reset the status quo regardless. I’m still at a loss.

One good line/moment: The childproof door of the pharmaceutical building was pretty amusing, but it did run a little long with Homer’s continuous struggles to open it.

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2 responses to “479. The Scorpion’s Tale

  1. Really a confusing and disturbing episode.
    So Cartoony.

  2. For me, cartoony is fine. A cartoony style has worked brilliantly in countless Simpsons episodes (Mr Burns the ‘alien’, shook-up beer making the house explode, ). After 20 seasons, if the changes to the Simpsons had just been to make it more surreal and over-exaggerated, it could still be a great show; though never the same as it was.

    The problem is it makes the cartoony moments bizarre but in a really tonally off, played-straight way. The eyeball-popping is too weird and stupid to be funny as a one-off joke in a Halloween special; to make it the turning point of the episode, the entire third act, the resolution to the plot? That’s the act of people who have no idea what they’re doing.

    One of the worst episodes, though I’ve seen very few since it.

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