626. Mr. Lisa’s Opus

Original airdate: December 3, 2017

The premise:
As an eighteen-year-old Lisa writes her college essay to Harvard, we flash back to moments in her past, where she was at times unacknowledged by her family, and later saved her parents’ marriage.

The reaction: Seems a decent amount of people actually kind of liked “Barthood,” so just as they churned out another crap future show after “Holidays of Future Passed,” now we get a spiritual sequel, only this time focusing on Lisa. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence, I don’t know how much the writers really care about audience feedback at this point. If I could give “Barthood” a little credit, at least I understood the point of it, whereas this second outing feels even more aimless. We jump about in time as Lisa is writing her essay, first back to her seventh birthday, being devastated that no one remembered, then flashing forward to fourteen when she intervenes in her parents’ crumbling relationship. We get a really uncomfortable sequence of Homer angrily leaving the table to go to Moe’s and Marge crying alone in the kitchen, which even after all these years is still hurtful to see, but there’s no real regard to do anything with this dramatic beat or treat it super seriously. Lisa deduces her father needs to make a permanent change, proposing he give up drinking. AA buddy Ned Flanders talks him through the twelve-step program, and then he’s cured! It was as easy as that, huh? There’s no sort of epilogue showing how he kept his promise, no Marge calling bullshit on something she’s surely heard a hundred times before, a huge life decision done just like that. But this is Lisa’s story, and ultimately, what have we learned? The first part goes over how she was unacknowledged for her seventh birthday, so each year after the family overcompensates. How about a future where the family does this all year round, afraid of making Lisa upset again, so teen Lisa gets frequently annoyed at her clingy parents doting over her? Something new, something we haven’t seen before? No? Unlike “Barthood,” which felt like it was at least trying a little bit, this feels like a half-assed future episode, complete with our obligatory future gags, which once again feel like rejected scraps from Futurama and are completely ridiculous (in just six years into the future, King Toot’s has a time machine and Moe has robotic spider legs). Al Jean penned this one, having frequently citing Lisa as his favorite character, but it’s pretty clear after over fifteen years of stagnant storytelling, he’s got no life left in him to communicate anything new.

Three items of note:
– The writers try to shoot for nostalgia points with the random reappearance of Leon Kompowski (still voiced by Kipp Lennon) as he and Bart add new lyrics to their song for Lisa’s fourteenth birthday. Never mind that in our current floating time line, Michael Jackson has been dead for nearly Lisa’s entire life, but that doesn’t really matter. The question I ask again and again about moments like this, who are they appealing to? What longtime fan is going to lose their shit at the out-of-nowhere cameo appearance by a character from over twenty seasons ago? And they don’t even do anything new with him, the song sounds exactly the same. Speaking of, the tag features a new version of “Those Were the Days,” a song the show parodied twenty years ago in “Lisa’s Sax,” which itself was parodying “All in the Family” twenty years before it. Ugh. But now Homer and Marge are waxing nostalgic about their youth growing up in… the 90s (“And we have real heroes then/Jar Jar Binks and Qui-Gon Jinn/Mister, we could use a man like Richard Simmons again!”) I guess this is for all those “That ’90s Show” enthusiasts out there. Ever get the feeling that sometimes the writers really hate the hardcore fans?
– A Harvard security guard yells at Homer to move his car with a “hilarious” Boston accent, which Homer can’t interpret so he has him slowly repeat himself. Didn’t this show blow through all of its Boston jokes already after that show last season? I guess not.
– The show ends with Lisa feeling discouraged by her overachieving college roommate. She’s lifted up with some encouraging words for Bart, and then ends up cheering up her other roommate, who she walks in the room on crying. These were honestly two pretty effective scenes, actually kind of genuinely sweet. For as dull and meaningless as the rest of the show was, I got a glimpse of an ending that felt like it should have been tagged onto another show. But for the entire scene of Lisa and Other Girl, I was just waiting for the punchline that she was going to be a lesbian. I knew they were going to do it, and at the very, very end, just when I thought we were in the clear, they just couldn’t help themselves. Lisa’s inner monologue cries, “I have a friend!” Then Other Girl holds her hand and winks at her (“Ohhh… maybe more than a friend!”) Cue laugh track. It just feels so incredibly lazy. A sexuality bait-and-switch can work as a punchline, just look at the reveal at the end of ParaNorman. But that joke worked because there were multiple reasons why it was funny, none of which explicitly having to do with the fact the guy was gay. Here, the entire gag is “she’s a lesbian!” And yeah, how great of them to callback the quick gag in “Future Passed” where we see Lisa in succeeding Christmases from college bring home a guy, a girl, then two girls. At least that was framed as an “experimenting in college” quick joke, not a capper at the end of the emotional climax where the sexuality is the punchline.

One good line/moment: Lisa gets her Harvard acceptance from a drone waving the college flag. Upon acceptance, the other reject college drones above go into a laser fight to the death.

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15 responses to “626. Mr. Lisa’s Opus

  1. Seriously, this season is just trying real hard to be like, ‘HEY LOOK!! WE’RE FANS OF THE CLASSIC ERA TOO!! DO YOU REMEMBER THIS EPISODE? WE DO!!! HEY, WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING TO US? HEY, LISTEN! HEY, LISTEN!”

    It’s down right pathetic. I don’t even understand what the story to this episode was trying to tell. It felt like they just stitched together a bunch of deleted scenes and threw in the Michael Jackson song just to fill up the time. Hell, Lisa even looks at her watch at one point during the song. It was awful. What was the narrative trying to tell? I don’t get it.

  2. Still amazes me how the AVClub is still giving such positive reviews to this slop.

    • I’m not considering those morons completely tore apart The Raven from the first Halloween special along with a few other classic episodes that are top notch.

      • Wait what? What did those bunch of retards do? They didn’t like The Raven, but they are still giving good reviews to modern episodes? Must be a joke

      • “The episode concludes with the weakest segment, a frustratingly straight reenactment of “The Raven” with Bart in the role of the taunting bird and Homer in the part of the grieving gent tormented by a mocking bird (though not a mockingbird). The animators throw in lots of visual gags and Dan Castalenetta does his damnedest to make antiquated poetry funny but there’s only so much they can do. The show acknowledges the difficulty of making the Gothic poetry of the nineteenth century scary and relevant to contemporary kids raised on Freddy Krueger by having Bart complain about how non-scary Poe’s work is but this meta-textual commentary just highlights the segment’s fatal fault. The Simpsons take on “The Raven” is faithful all right, but not particularly funny or scary and at its best, “Treehouse of Horrors” manages the formidable feat of being some of the funniest and scariest TV around, animated or otherwise.”

    • did you expect anything else from AVClub of all sites?

  3. I really enjoyed this episode, but that probably doesn’t mean much considering Lisa is also my favorite character yet.

  4. Wasn’t it established in previous episodes that Lisa was heading to Yale?

    • Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, don’t confuse the writers, they are too busy bringing back moments from the first few seasons.

  5. Apparently, December 10’s episode was called “Gone Boy.” These days I’m 1000% more interested in this blog’s updates than the episodes themselves.

    Mr. Meblog, when can we expect your review? I am *not* a crackpot.

    • I wasn’t planning to actually watch this season, at least right away. That was the whole reason I started watching the show from the beginning back in August. However, Mike is the sole reason I am watching them as they air.

  6. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Julie Kavner’s voice in this episode. It’s been getting rougher over the past couple seasons, but it sounded really bad this episode. And then at the end when she tries to sing, it’s downright painful. Poor Julie may have to retire before the show is done, because her voice clearly isn’t holding up.

    • The problem is exactly that she voices one of the core members of the Simpson family. If any of them die or is forced to retire, they’ll have to end the show, considering they had written out every character whose VA has died. And from the looks of it, Julie may well be the first to go.

  7. “Ever get the feeling that sometimes the writers really hate the hardcore fans?”
    Considering it’s us hardcore fans that point out the many problems with current episodes, probably.

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