Original airdate: April 22, 2018
The premise: After some harsh words from Mr. Largo, Lisa finds herself discouraged from pursuing her musical talents. Perhaps an unintentional impromptu trip to New Orleans will reinvigorate her passion for jazz?
The reaction: Well, this is the first episode in a good long while I actually didn’t dislike. The premise was simple and thin enough, and almost the entire show was padding, but there was nothing really that actively pissed me off, and that’s a big leg-up at this point in the series. Our story kicks off when Lisa is discouraged by Mr. Largo and Principal Skinner, who inform her of the harsh reality that making it big as an artist and standing out among the crowd is a nigh impossible task; for every star that made it big, there’s thousands behind them who just couldn’t swing it. It’s a decent harsh reality to thrust upon this little girl, but it feels so needlessly vindictive on Skinner’s part to actively try and crush the hopes and dreams of his best student out of the blue. But this is enough to get Lisa to completely give up on music, finding herself physically unable to play anymore due to her own self-doubt and insecurities. There’s a section of the first act where Marge tries to be as supportive as she can in encouraging her daughter to keep playing, and it’s actually pretty sweet. She announces they’re all going to visit one of her elderly relatives (specifically mentioning they love music, urging Lisa further), but commotion on their plane flight leads the Simpsons to make a detour to New Orleans. Pretty serendipitous of course for Lisa to get her jazz groove back. Marge tries to help Lisa again, but oddly quickly pawns her off on Homer (“You’re good at cheering her up. I’ll take Bart.”) There goes that mother-daughter story, I guess. Oh yeah, there’s also a B-plot where Bart gets bullied at the beginning, then buys some voodoo dolls, but it doesn’t really matter at all. But surprisingly, Homer actually gives half of a shit, taking Lisa to a statue of Louis Armstrong, then later to a jazz club. Lisa’s mojo is rekindled thanks to Bleeding Gums Murphy’s nephew, who tells her how his uncle thought he was the most promising young musician he’d ever heard (“Kind of an insult to me, but he was pretty passive-aggressive.”) The resolution is a little rushed, but it felt genuine enough; plus we also saw the nephew character earlier in the episode on the street, his head turning upon seeing Lisa, so I appreciated that foreshadowing there (I also liked Kevin Michael Richardson’s Ron Taylor-inspired voice for the character.) This episode felt really refreshing for some reason, it wasn’t anything exemplary, but it at least felt like there was a hint of soul to it. Maybe that’s due to it being co-written by veteran director David Silverman. He’s been with the show since the very start, perhaps the heart of the series could be regained by the man who’s been drawing them since the beginning? I’m certainly not hopeful on the series in general, but I’d be interested to see another Silverman penned show.
Three items of note:
– We open with a “30 Years Ago” card, followed by a clip from the Tracey Ullman short “The Aquarium,” which actually aired in February 1988, but it’s one of the more famous ones, so I get why they’d pick it. But what’s this about? Last year they did the same opening but for the actual 30th anniversary of the characters with “Good Night.” I guess they’re in full self-congratulation mode leading up to finally surpassing Gunsmoke so they figured why not honor their 30th two years in a row? Then we get the opening clouds with the familiar chorus… except the incoming titles reads “The Flintstones.” Pause, rewind. Now it’s “The Stimpstones.” Rewind again. Now it’s “The Simpsons.” I guess I’m supposed to laugh at this? Also, when it pauses on the logos, it’s literally just a still frame. The clouds don’t move, there’s no jostling video effect or anything, it’s just a second or two of a still image. It felt like the laziest of padding for time.
– Marge’s great-half-step-aunt lives in Gainesville, Florida, which Homer is immediately turned off by, then we get a miserable montage of the family, everyone at the airport, and everyone on the plane just hating their lives for having to travel to that wretched place. Not quite sure the motivation for this potshot; I lived in Gainesville for four years in college, and I don’t quite see what the joke is aimed at. Are there college football fans on staff who just hate the Gators or something? It also reminds me that I originally started this blog right after I graduated… almost seven years ago. Hoooollly shit it does not feel like that long ago…
– Newer travel shows feel less like actually satire and more softball love letters to great cities and countries. New Orleans is lovingly depicted through beautiful background designs and showing off its landmarks and key locations, it’s like this episode is a travelogue. Homer falls in love with the boozy town, and we’re also “treated” to a literal one-and-a-half-minute montage of him listing off all of the amazing food you can get in New Orleans as he continuously stuffs his face. It’s all just wonderful, empty padding, but it just kept going and going and going. Also, there’s a lot of him eating sausages and po’ boys where he’s just sucking and slurping contently on this giant phallic object with his daughter standing in the background… I know my mind is completely sullied, but I can’t be the only one who thinks that imagery is slightly off-putting… The final insult is that after this endless montage, Homer is completely stuffed and asks a nearby Pimply Faced Teen if there’s any vomitoriums in town, which leads to another montage showing off five different puking establishments.
One good line/moment: There actually were quite a few good lines here. My favorite one was surprisingly in the limp B-story; while Bart looks at the wares of a voodoo shop, Marge prays for her son’s soul at a nearby small church. There’s a sign out front reading, “Closes At 5.” Next scene, Marge is in the middle of her prayer when he hears the priest locking up (“I need to finish this!” “All day you had!”) It’s a really funny line reading, and actually relies on the viewer having read the sign in the previous scene. This episode ain’t perfect, but it’s good, easily the best this season.