Original airdate: October 8, 2017
The premise: When assigned art therapy to help cope with her depression, Lisa, with the help of her mother’s artistic talents, creates the graphic novel “Sad Girl.” The comic becomes an instant hit, but a conflict arises when Marge feels Lisa isn’t giving her due credit for her contributions.
The reaction: Marge-Lisa episodes in recent years have always felt pretty sour to me. They’re two characters who don’t share many interests and sometimes don’t see eye to eye on things, but more than anything they have a deep love for each other. Despite this, the past few shows of this type has seen Marge either acting horribly or being incredibly petty and catty, with no real apology or sincere reconciliation by the episode’s end. This time, we see Lisa as the thoughtless one, as the show shoehorns in a contrived conflict halfway through. We open on our eightieth show about Lisa feeling miserable, and at the suggestion from a community college therapist, takes to drawing out her life through comic panels. Finding her daughter struggling artistically, Marge lends her abilities, and the two end up creating a visually and narratively stimulating representation of Lisa’s sad lot in life entitled “Sad Girl,” which sort of looks like a blend of “Ghost World” and Alison Bechdel’s work (Bechdel voices herself later in the show). In a “classic” case of Simpson-becomes-instant-success, the comic gets out and is a wildly popular hit with women everywhere. Lisa was initially mortified to find that her work was published without her knowledge, but when she sees young women and girls clamoring over “Sad Girl,” the notoriety goes to her head. Do we really find out why audiences are relating to Lisa’s story? Maybe she could have been the figurehead of disenfranchised youth? But this isn’t delved into; we see the likes of Lenny, Carl, Apu and Sideshow Mel reading the comic, and then instantly Marge and Lisa are at Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con, where halfway through the show, our character conflict shifts into gear, where we see Marge is discouraged that people aren’t giving her as much credit as Lisa. During their panel, they hammer this home multiple times (the scene ends with a booming announcement, “Lisa wins! Marge fails!”) Following this, Lisa smugly patronizes Marge’s request to include a storyline about her, and when Marge calls her out on her raw attitude, Lisa fires her. Act three introduces Martin Short as an eccentric flamboyant who wants to turn “Sad Girl” into a musical, but only takes inspiration from Marge’s visuals, discarding the story almost completely. So with the shoe on the other foot, Lisa proceeds to pout and moan about be unacknowledged, still not caring about her mother’s feelings. In the end, Marge is the one who extends the olive branch and sabotages the show for Lisa’s sake, while Lisa gets away with a paltry apology at the very end (following Marge’s own apology, of course). Character conflicts nowadays feel so manufactured and meaningless, and they feel even worse when they’re so one-sided like this. It’s not great when in shows like this, “Pay Pal,” “The Marge-ian Chronicles” and so on where you come off not liking Lisa or Marge; they’re the easier characters to get behind.
Three items of note:
– Shockingly, they actually utilized Comic Book Guy’s wife Kumiko in a plot line, after making only a few background appearances multiple seasons after her debut. She discovers the “Sad Girl” loose pages on the steps of the community college, and decides she’ll publish them herself. For no particular reason, mind you. It’s not like she thinks they’re great or anything, the dialogue is literally, “A graphic novel! I’ll sell this at my husband’s store.” She just decides to organize, clean-up, and self-publish this book within the span of a week. And I guess Comic Book Guy, despite knowing Lisa, didn’t really give much of a shit. When confronted by Lisa and Marge, Kumiko offers no explanation, makes a joke about harikari, and pledges she’ll burn the books “on a pyre and disperse them to the seven winds.” In her first notable appearance since her introduction, she continues to be nothing but a shallow, walking stereotype.
– Midway through the show, we get a montage of Lisa and Marge working together set to a parody of Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation,” reworked as “Collaboration.” Interestingly, it’s performed by Kipp Lennon, who is most famous in Simpsons lore as the singing voice of Leon Kompowski/Michael Jackson in “Stark Raving Dad.” He also did the shitty 30th anniversary Big Bang Theory theme parody opening from last season as well (no fault of his own, of course), and I also saw him perform “Happy Birthday, Lisa” live at the Simpsons Take the Hollywood Bowl show. It’s pretty sweet that the show has kept a relationship with Lennon after all these years.
– The ending features an animated “Sad Girl” sequence of a lonely Lisa being picked up by a happy Marge, which lifts Lisa’s spirits. And then a dance number. It reminded me of the ending of “Moaning Lisa,” which featured a similar dilemma. Marge initially imparts Lisa with the same awful advice her mother gave her, to bottle up her emotions completely, go along with what the other kids say, and “happiness will follow.” But, seeing firsthand how quickly Lisa is taken advantage of and undermined by her teachers and peers, Marge grabs her and takes it all back; feel whatever you have to feel, and no matter what, she will support her. And that’s all Lisa needed to hear. It’s a really emotionally complicated scene, and it feels like such a satisfying and earned ending. With this end tag, Lisa has a thought bubble, “I’m lonely.” Then Marge pulls up, and it’s changed to “I’m not lonely anymore.” I get this is a simplified end tag played after the story is over, but the resolution of this show, and most episodes, is basically just like this. Plots start and stop with characters just announcing as simply and directly as possible what they’re feeling, with no real regard or care as to why. Of all of these junky sad Lisa episodes, “Moaning Lisa” is still the gold standard they all must stand before.
One good line/moment: I thought the artwork of “Sad Girl” was well done, especially the sequences where the drawings become animated. There’s also some pretty good animation with Martin Short’s character. As much as I love Film Roman, I feel like there’s been a noticeable shift in the visuals, with a couple episodes from last season and just these first two episodes of this season sporting some bits of character animation and other sequences that feel like a little work was put into them. I guess the show is just being produced by FOX Animation now. I don’t know why Film Roman got the boot; was it a financial concern like (allegedly) Alf Clausen’s firing, or something else? But either way, it’s not like it’s a humungous step forward visually, and ultimately none of that means squat if the scripts are just the same old slop.
Sorry this is so late, I’ve gotten wrapped up a bit in a new job. I’ll try and post new reviews sometime within the week a new episode airs. I’ll see if I can get to “Whistler’s Father” sometime in the next few days.