Original airdate: May 15, 2011
The premise: The Simpson family dig through an old drawer filled with the brim with old keys and all go on their own mini-adventures to see what they open, the most prominent of which involving Lisa uncovering a mystery at Springfield Elementary.
The reaction: I really wasn’t quite sure what to make of this episode as I was watching it, waiting for an actual plot to kick in. I’m still not entirely sure, but it feels like they tried to do something in the vein of “Trilogy of Error,” but instead of three plots running concurrently, it’s basically one plot with three other teeny tiny plots that serve as deus ex machinas for the main plot. The primary narrative is Lisa discovering a hidden room underneath the school, an immaculately advanced classroom, but everything in it is fake. As more clues are gathered and testimonies are heard, it starts to unravel, but it’s all just really really boring. And the reveal is just as dull: the school lost their grant money, so they had to create a farcical photo shoot to make sure they didn’t come under scrutiny. And then told Otto to drive a bus full of rented dummies back to the store… except he sank the bus, and thought they were actual children. So what was the plan, exactly? It doesn’t really matter. Meanwhile, Homer breaks into the Duff Brewery and steals the Duff Blimp (a “Lisa the Beauty Queen” callback?), then he just flies it, and then picks up Lisa toward the end. Bart tries to cause mischief with a bunch of keys and fails, and that’s it. The worst is Marge, who’s left with a key for a flatulent wind-up toy that ends up traveling across the whole town. Marge could easily outrun it, or bend over and pick it up, but instead she just follows it everywhere. And eventually it knocks over a tree that saves Homer and Lisa. So look, they all connect! Set-up! Pay-off! I remember thinking that Da Vinci Code mystery episode a few seasons back was kinda unremarkable, but it’s a thrill ride compared to this. Zzzzzz…
Three items of note:
– For the opening gag over the clouds, we get the grand reappearance of Hank Scorpio flying in a Globex Jet, voiced by Albert Brooks. One of the greatest and richest characters ever to come out of the series, returning thirteen years later, his awesomeness diluted to a quick three-second goof done in the name of fan service. Look, it’s Hank Scorpio! Slap your fins together, you neckbearded superfans!
– Chalmers tells Skinner that he oversees fourteen schools, which could have fucking fooled me. This whole season, he’s been glued to Skinner’s hip, in school and out. I get that’s the “joke,” and I know I’ve mentioned this many times, but his character’s presence has been completely diluted at this point. When Chalmers would show up and yell “SKINNER!!”, you knew shit was about to hit the fan. His appearance meant something was gonna happen, and his interplay with Skinner would be really funny. Now, the two just show up as a poor comedy act/codependent relationship, or whatever the fuck.
– The dramatic climax is particularly confusing and annoying. Homer and Lisa splash down into the lake with all the other mannequins, and then after staying afloat to do a back-and-forth joke, then sink under the water and are apparently trapped under there. But… there were only like 25 mannequins. And we see at least two shots where there’s only like a small mass of them. Just swim around them. You can easily see open water, just swim around them. But it all happens so quickly and haphazardly that I can’t even tell for sure that we’re supposed to think Homer and Lisa are in grave danger. Soon after they go under, we get that goddamn pooter toot thing that comes in and saves the day, so I’m not sure if I was supposed to be worried or not.
One good line/moment: The returned wedding cake outlet “I Don’t” was a surprisingly amusing set piece. Like, it may be the most clever thing from this whole entire season. But then for some reason, they decide to have a thrilling minute-long action scene after that with Homer driving home on a cliff edge. Ugh.