Original airdate: December 11, 2011
The premise: We get a glimpse into life during the holiday season thirty years into the future. A deadbeat Bart tries to reconnect to his kids while dealing with his wife remarrying, and Lisa struggles with how best to deal with her aloof, online addicted teenage daughter.
The reaction: This episode first hit my radar when I heard the high praise attached to it, much higher than anything I had heard from the show in a good long while. And while this is easily the best show of the season, I certainly wouldn’t call it good. I don’t even think it’s better than the future episode before this, “Future-Drama.” We focus on the parental troubles of a grown up Bart and Lisa returning home for the holidays. First up is Bart, who living in the dilapidated elementary school and trying to look like a fun dad to his two estranged sons. I don’t really care for this constant characterization of future Bart that he’s never matured beyond his ten-year-old mentality (and literally says as such at the emotional climax). “Lisa’s Wedding” showed the most believable Future Bart to me, working in demolitions and promoting local tough man contests on the side; he was always a street-smart kid, so I can easily accept this future vision. But every other future show has him as a pathetic mooch who has done absolutely nothing with his life, which makes it hard to feel any kind of sympathy for him. His plot line features the kids getting along better with Homer, who proves to be a fun grandpa, which is a pretty adorable idea I wish they’d spent more time on, and he ends up sparking the resolution with Bart and his kids, which feels pretty empty and cloying. Meanwhile, we see Lisa has ended up marrying Milhouse, another future concept I hate, but as we saw last season, the writers just can’t step away from shipping those two. Her conflict and make-up with Marge and her daughter is a little more satisfying, but nothing super notable. Surrounding these stories is an endless parade of future jokes, many of which feel like stuff picked up off the Futurama writer’s room floor. There are some amusing moments, but so much of it just seems too goddamn fantastical for just thirty years into the future. Remember how sensational but pragmatic “Lisa’s Wedding” appeared, with picture phones, VR headsets, and the Rolling Stones still on tour? Here we get sentient talking trees, shrink rays, hyper-evolved dogs and cats, and Flanders marrying Maude’s ghost. All and all, is this one of the best episodes the show has had in the last decade? Oh yeah. Is that saying much? Nope.
Three items of note:
– Also coming home for Christmas is Maggie, who is now an international singing sensation. She also doesn’t speak in the episode, because of course she doesn’t. It was a joke played to perfection in “Lisa’s Wedding,” we hear from Homer that she’s a chatterbox, and Dr. Hibbert that she sings like an angel, but she is always interrupted before she gets to speak. Here, she gets a lot more screen time than in “Wedding,” and the contrived explanation of her staying mute is that she’s pregnant, and future women need to stay quiet for the health of their baby. What? So she ends up at the airport, and then later in Kearney’s cab when she goes into labor, and then checks into the hospital, all without saying a word? Isn’t she like a hardcore rock star? And we don’t get a peep out of her? When she walks in at the very end with her new baby, she still says nothing. It felt like the writers trying to continue the joke from “Wedding” without realizing the new context for Maggie not speaking makes absolutely no sense.
– We get to see a lot of Springfield residents and what they’re up to in the future, some of which feel kind of crow barred in. In “Wedding,” they felt a little more natural and relevant to the story, or surprising, like seeing Quimby driving a cab working for Otto. Cabdriver Kearney isn’t as interesting. Neither is an entire clone army of Ralph killing themselves, nor is Lenny and Carl switching brains, continuing the endless confusion about what the fuck their relationship is. The Bart and Lisa stories might have been more successful if they were a bit more developed, so devoting so much time to these character sidebars felt like a squandered opportunity.
– Lisa virtually enters the Internet to find her daughter, which arguably is one of the slightly more plausible future things we see here, but it’s incredibly reminiscent of the Internet we saw in Futurama. There’s also a throwaway gag about Martin Prince now being Marcia Princess, which feels very odd. There was a similar “joke” in the past Martin episode of his fantasy of being a buff basketball player with male and female groupies, and him taking a good long look at the former. Are we supposed to laugh at the idea of Martin being gay or transgender? You could make jokes about these subjects, but if the joke is just “he’s gay!” or “he’s now a she!” it just seems kind of shallow and gross.
One good line/moment: The scene of Bart and Lisa drinking up in their treehouse I thought was incredibly effective. The two felt very natural and believable as they bitched about their problems and reassured each other. It’s easily the most effectively human scene this show has done in years. Not even the talking tree bullshit that ends the scene could ruin it.