Original airdate: January 7, 2018
The premise: Lisa falls for gifted pianist Brendan (voiced by Ed Sheeran), leading ex-boyfriend Nelson to compete with him musically. Meanwhile, Bart is interested in chemistry for some reason.
The reaction: La La Land feels like a thing of the past at this point (being a frivolously enjoyable, but ultimately meaningless ode to Hollywood circle jerk probably doesn’t help things), but thanks to the show’s long production schedule, we get yet another movie “parody” a year after its cultural relevance. Of course the show doesn’t get much farther than glorified references, with the new boyfriend slightly resembling Ryan Gosling, and the opening recreating the film’s highway musical number, but nothing in the vein of actually critiquing or making any actual commentary on the source material. It’s a love letter to another love letter. The episode itself is another Lisa-gets-a-boyfriend episode, who is slowly closing in on her brother for greatest number of disposable, personality-less love interests voiced by celebrities who are playing children but still sound like adults. Brendan the child savant musician wins Lisa over immediately thanks to an inner monologue explaining it, per usual (“In a lesser musician, that boy’s attitude would be needy masquerading as arrogance. I’m leaving if he can’t sing.” Then he sings. “Oh God. He’s one small step away from destroying all my logic and reason.” Then his pupils turn into music notes and she swoons. I guess the final step was hallucination?) I’ve said it time and time again, this show is crippled by its reliance on tell, not show. Because this show can’t write believable characters doing things to affect the story or other people, we need to have the characters openly explain what’s happening and what they’re feeling to make our plot progress. Midway through, I don’t know why Lisa likes Brendan other than she told us, and that he’s a musician, I guess. They play together, but we don’t get any sense of them enjoying it or why they like each other. But who cares. Midway through, we see Nelson targeting this kid because he’s jealous and ends up singing his heart out to win over Lisa. Even he can’t explain why he’s doing this, being motivated solely because “Lisa’s Date with Density” exists and it’s a reference to a classic episode we can make. But I know why. They wanted to do a La La Land show, they had to come up with a riff on the title, and someone pitched “Haw-Haw Land,” ergo, Nelson had to be involved in the plot. I guarantee that’s exactly what happened.
Three items of note:
– The B-plot is one of those premises where I feel like I’m zoning out while watching because I honestly didn’t understand what was happening. While being dragged to a STEM conference, Bart is courted by some smart science guy, who shows him that chemistry can lead to explosions and creating multi-colored goo. Or something. Bart then gets an interest in conducting experiments in his treehouse, which later leads to Homer and Marge growing concerned about what the hell this newfound interest is really about. The finale of the episode is at the talent show, where many suspect Bart is going to perform some kind of dangerous prank, but he actually creates some kind of cool light show? And then he causes pink goo to flood the school. Not a lot of screen time is devoted to this, and it’s a B-plot that felt the opposite of tell, not show, where we’re given so little information that I really wasn’t sure what the point of it was. It certainly wasn’t funny, I can tell you that.
– Lisa is torn between Nelson and Brendan, but after a dream sequence of Lisa marrying Nelson at a strip club and her bringing their baby to visit him in prison, she easily picks Brendan. But Brendan’s performance at the talent show is interrupted when Chalmers and Skinner narrate that he actually isn’t in the school district and must go to another school. And so, Brendan gives Lisa a pat on the shoulder and disappears behind the curtain. I know this show is completely hollow and bereft of any kind of emotional resonance, but is this really the best they could do? I mean, I know it isn’t, but this feels like an especially cheap and shoddy resolution, even by their standards.
– The episode ends with another ancient-feeling reference where Marge addresses the audience that the episode was actually meant to be a Moonlight parody, alluding to the Academy Awards snafu last year where Faye Dunaway announced the wrong winner for Best Picture. Does the general audience really remember or care about that? And who’s laughing at this joke? Marge informs Homer they can watch the movie at home, but he wants to watch X-Men Apocalypse instead. Sigh. This bit will hold up well in five years. I feel like in the classic years, even when they directly referenced films that have fallen into obscurity, they were still contextualized enough that the bits were funny beyond your knowledge of the source material. Like in “Selma’s Choice,” Marge waxing nostalgic of the carefree days her and her sisters spent swimming at the lake by her aunt Gladys, then recalling that was actually from Prince of Tides. I don’t know a thing about that movie, but the joke still works because it’s about how the emotional resonance of mass media can affect our memories and cause fiction and reality to blur. It’s still an effective joke twenty-five years later, whereas in this case, they just needed Homer to say a recent brainless action movie, so they picked X-Men.
One good line/moment: Nothing this week. This one was a real fuckin’ bore.