545. The War of Art

Original airdate: March 23, 2014

The premise:
When the sailboat painting above the couch is destroyed, Marge buys a replacement piece at the Van Houten’s yard sale. When they discover the painting is actually worth a fortune, Homer and Marge debate whether they should inform the Van Houtens, or keep the information to themselves.

The reaction: We start off with a five minute section (no opening theme this time) of Lisa wanting, then getting her own guinea pig, which is ultimately pointless other than being the reason the sailboat painting gets damaged. There’s a lot of that stuff here; later, Homer and Marge try to buy Milhouse’s silence with cartloads of toys when he overhears their plan to sell the expensive painting they bought from the Van Houtens, but that one minute is immediately wasted when the angry parents show up at the door after Milhouse squealed. They don’t even give him a funny line on what happened (“I’m sorry, Mr. S! I cracked!”) And of course, the show is full of characters just recapping the story and their feelings over and over, especially Marge, who is the dissenting opinion of the whole painting fiasco, and never lets anyone forget it, again and again (“That painting has torn the town apart, destroyed Kirk and Luann’s marriage, and everyone’s very worried about Milhouse!” “That picture has brought out the worst in everyone!”) When the true ownership of the painting falls into question, Homer ventures to a tropical island off the coast of somewhere to find out the truth. Inevitably, he discovers that the piece is actually a fake, painted on the island by a local artist, voiced by Max von Sydow, famous for his incredibly accurate fakes. He debates Lisa on why what he does is okay (“Beauty is beauty. My forgeries give pleasure to people all over the world. The only real question to ask about art, whether it’s in the Louvre, or on a freshman’s wall at Cal State Fullerton, is did it move you?”) This, accompanied with a montage of various peoples enjoying art in different ways, is actually kind of stirring. His whole scene, though full of more expository dialogue, I actually really enjoyed. It’s just too bad that the episode was never really about any of the things that he’s talking about; if the groundwork had been laid to lead to this ultimate meaning, it would have been more effective. But seeing the very ending, with Homer coming back to Marge with a new sailboat painting done by the forger, I thought that was nice. With that and the final end tag sequence of Sydow talking about the horrible locally brewed Stuppo, it was probably the best three minutes I’ve seen from this show in a long, long time. Too bad everything before it was as ramshackle as always.

Three items of note:
– As I’ve mentioned before, this show has a habit of taking something that is or has the potential to be funny, and then driving that shit into the fucking ground. The worst example I’ve seen yet is Lisa’s trip to the guinea pig rescue; with so many fuzzy friends to choose from, she goes on overload, going up to each one with childlike glee. It’s a really adorable performance by Yeardley Smith, and the scene seemed to have a button with a Homer joke. But then it just keeps going… the same joke with Lisa going nonstop… still going as night falls, the family drives to the motel next door to stay the night for some reason, and then them returning in the morning, with Lisa never stopping for a second. It’s just… they killed it. I actually was enjoying myself for a few wonderful seconds, which then was ruined when they dragged me through the cactus field for another forty seconds of the same extended joke.
– There’s a plot element involving the town being divided about the painting issue once the Van Houtens pay Kent Brockman to do a hatchet piece on Homer and Marge. Outside the auction, half the town are pro-Simpson, and the other half pro-Van Houten. But in the end, nothing really comes out of this. And again, if this was somehow turned into some kind of debate or something derived from the painting itself and how people were affected by it, or relating to something about the supposed real artist, it would have better set up the ending with the forgery and the discussion of art’s true authenticity. Instead, like the guinea pig opening, it just feels like more stuff to fill time.
– The Van Houtens are split when an old fling Kirk had when they were separated reappears, claiming she actually owned the painting. Luann is upset with Kirk, as he claimed he was never with anyone when they were apart. Fair enough, I guess, but she’s incredibly pissed at him, repeatedly smacking him with the auction paddle. I’m sure Luann got plenty of action during their separation, what’s the big deal? Later, Kirk is planted on the Simpson couch because of course he is, and then a scene later, we get a joke with a despondent Milhouse involving him playing DDR without the TV on, which we see right after Bart explains the entire joke beforehand. Kirk was just in that room, is Milhouse visiting his dad or Bart? Or both? Despite Marge’s outrage, the show is barely concerned about the Van Houtens and their problems; splitting up and getting back together again is basically their thing now. They used to do it with Skinner and Krabappel, now it’s their turn. Kirk’s lying and Luann’s overcritical nature don’t really matter; in the end, a family portrait is enough to keep them together for one more week. Yaaaaaay.

One good line/moment: Like I said, I do really like elements of the ending, even if they’re surrounded by garbage juice. I also like Homer’s constant protection of the precious painting: he buckles it in with two seat belts, he chains it to a chair at the dining room table, then brings it to the auction wrapped in bubble wrap.

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6 responses to “545. The War of Art

  1. As a lawyer, it’s actually an interesting legal question. Under French law, if that was an authentic painting by a recognized artist, the Van Houtens could get the painting back from the Simpsons. The sale from the Van Houtens to the Simpsons would be declared void. I don’t know how it would work under US law.
    You’re welcome for that bit of trivia. I mean, can you imagine a world without lawyers?

    • Aaron Grierson

      (Lionel Hutz shudder)
      By the way, what ever happened to the guinea pig? It’s been 3 years now and we’ve seen nothing of him.

  2. This is the best episode of the season.

  3. Your phrasing of “surrounded by garbage juice” elicited a genuine chuckle from me. Which is more than any current Simpsons has gotten out of me.

  4. There are three episodes this season I genuinely enjoyed. “Steal This Episode” was the first, and this is the second one. I agree mostly with your points about it, with the ending being the best part (My favorite bit was the artist asking Lisa if she even cared about the painting until she thought it was valuable, and she’s at a loss of words).

    I thought the scene at the auction with the divided town was interesting, if only to see who sided with who. Among the people siding with The Simpsons are Moe (obviously), Apu (kinda confused about this at first but justified when he said “No refunds”) and Mr. Burns (I understand his position on the matter, but I don’t think he’d even care to be there in the first place).

    • I thought the scene at the auction with the divided town was interesting, if only to see who sided with who. Among the people siding with The Simpsons are Moe (obviously), Apu (kinda confused about this at first but justified when he said “No refunds”) and Mr. Burns (I understand his position on the matter, but I don’t think he’d even care to be there in the first place).

      I suspect you put significantly more thought into that than the writers did…

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