The reaction: In the classic era, flashback shows always had a purpose, an underlying motive for why we’re looking back at our characters’ pasts. How Homer fell in love with Marge, the birth of their children, even “Lisa’s Sax” highlighted Lisa’s upbringing and how the saxophone became her creative and intellectual outlet. This episode is about how four-year-old Bart and two-year-old Lisa didn’t get along. I can recall plenty of times these two get on each others’ nerves in the present, so I don’t quite know what has changed. We see the two kids fighting endlessly, then later they end up lost, and engage in dialogue that makes absolutely no sense for a two and four year old (“I guess you should be in charge, Lisa. You’ll always be half my age, but you’ll always be smarter than me.” “Don’t worry, Bart. You’ll always think you’re in charge, even though I secretly will be.”) In the end, Bart saves Lisa after putting her in danger, and then the conflict is resolved when she just gives up, deciding there’s no point fighting with her dim-witted brother. So, that’s our resolution, I guess, two-year-old Lisa throws up her hands and gives up. Yay? Another big part of flashback shows is lampooning the past, along with seeing how different the citizens of Springfield were. We got great material out of the 70s and 80s, but now thanks to this show’s floating timeline, this memory takes place in the far-off year of 2009. The show keeps this as ambiguous as possible (Marge narrates, “The president of back then was the president, the popular music of those times was all the rage…”) but it only serves to make this feel more like an exercise of futility. Nothing about this past feels different than the present. Honestly, this whole story could have been done in the present; Bart and Lisa fight about something, their parents get fed up, they run off and get lost, and eventually have to work together to get home. A worthless excuse for a flashback episode.
Three items of note:
– The impetus of the story is that Homer finds a long undeveloped roll of film in his jacket, and the family gathers at Moe’s to see the photos, which are all Bart and Lisa fighting. Here’s Marge and Bart right before our set-up (“Well, it’s quite a story, a story of a special bond between a brother and a sister.” “I’d say our story’s a tragedy, like the Planet of the Apes. The tragedy being they can never stop making them!” “Hey, come on, the first and eighth movies were pretty darn good.”) The dialogue on this show is overall awful, but sometimes you get exchanges like this that make my brain curl even more. This sounds like canned interchangeable banter from a D-grade variety show, and it’s delivered as lifelessly as one. Marge later realizes why they never developed the film, because it would bring back these memories of the kids. But, Homer just randomly found the roll of film… ah, whatever. Who has the mental capacity to remember what happened four minutes ago, huh?
– The plot progression of the flashback is weird. Flanders invites Homer and Marge out for a brunch date and offers babysitting services. When getting ready to go out, the two decide to fuck instead, as they role play as a seagull and a trash can (don’t even ask), and meanwhile we see Bart and Lisa being watched by Grandma Flanders at the same time. Later, we see that Homer and Marge ultimately made it to brunch as they drive back home. So how long were they keeping the Flanders’ waiting while they were screwing? Two, three hours? By the end, Homer and Marge randomly find the kids sitting atop the tire fire. Homer saves them by bending a tree branch to get them down, but then it ends up snapping back, sending the kids flying through the air across the town. But not to worry, they end up flying through Bart’s open window and land comfortably on the clown bed. Good thing this is a cartoon, where there are absolutely no stakes whatsoever!
– More attempts at fan service as we get a reappearance of Bart’s creepy clown bed from “Lisa’s First Word.” Then Grandma Flanders shows up, spouting, “Hello, Joe!” I really don’t get it, are there people who actually like when this happens? I guess there’s two ways to think of it, I would think that writing the show now, you wouldn’t want to remind people of the classic years, but I guess these little injections of nostalgia are enough to convince some people they’re not watching a pile of garbage wearing the skin of a loved one.
One good line/moment: The therapist, wanting nothing more to do with Homer and Marge, proposes a trust exercise, and has the two close their eyes. When they open two seconds later, she has already bolted, her chair slightly swiveling in her absence.