The premise: A new financial windfall in Springfield’s economy leads to the opening of a brand new STEM Academy. Lisa is initially thrilled to receive an accelerated education in the gifted class, but soon grows suspicious to the true motives behind the school’s operation.
The reaction: It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve had a “big topic” episode this vacuous. For an episode that is ostensibly supposed to be satirizing STEM education, job automation, the future job market, and so forth, the “takes” in this show, there’s very, very little in the way of actual commentary here. Springfield’s new STEM Academy is a technological wonderland where Bart is thrilled to indulge in VR simulations for the cosmetic rewards and achievements, while Lisa revels in being singled out for the gifted class, where she learns about… stuff. We’re never really shown what exactly her education is, save one mention of her at the dinner table talking about science, and computer science. Things start to unravel when Lisa discovers the rest of the children at the school are being trained to perform menial tasks for side hustles like ride sharing and food delivery. The big reveal is that the school is only gearing these kids up to get ready for a world of minimum wage, low-level jobs? That’s basically all that Springfield Elementary has been doing for over thirty years, so no new satire there. And at this point we’re almost to the end of the episode, and this is all we’ve gained so far. So much of the show is just repeating the same bullet points and throwing around buzz phrases like “gig economy” rather than actually build a purpose around them. Ultimately, the head of the academy consults the almighty algorithm regarding what viable careers the future holds, and they are shocked to find there’s only one job left that hasn’t been assumed by machines: elder care. And there’s the big punchline, I guess. Funny? The school is quickly destroyed, and the episode ends with Bart and Lisa feeling crestfallen by their hopeless future prospects. Actually, it really ends with future Bart and Lisa being abused by robot drink machines forcing them to pour their own sodas. What an absolutely pointless exercise.
Three items of note:
– The opening features an extended look at the life of Springfield’s resident grizzled old sea captain, Captain McAlister, starting with his past in discovering a Springfield treasure map with his future wife, transitioning forward forty years and his fruitless attempts to unearth the booty. This show has previously seen surprisingly success in highlighting the never-before-seen private life of secondary and tertiary characters in recent past, particularly Mr. Largo on more than one occasion. I wish I could say this was a similar situation, but the glimpses at McAlister as a character we get are either too fleeting (apologizing to his wife for not having children) or too meta (admitting he pretended to be a “flimsy, one-note character” to keep people off the scent of the treasure) to really be satisfying. Also they repeatedly use the Pirates of the Caribbean score, which gets annoying real fast, and distracts from any attempts to humanize this goofy side character. In the end, McAlister’s wife betrays him by tipping off Quimby about their find, and altering the border of the town so that he can claim the treasure. What is she getting out of this? Just a big fuck you to her awful husband? Ehhh, whatever. Outside the Town Hall meeting to discuss what to do with the town’s new ill-gotten gains, we see McAlister passed out drunk in a ditch. Happy ending? Might as well leave him there to die if this is the best they got for him.
– Marge is the one who proposes a new STEM school (I don’t mean to repeat this point so often, but Julie Kavner’s voice just sounds so, so tired here. I feel really bad…) and to drive her point home, she’s invited her friend John Legend to sing a not-funny song about it! And his wife Chrissy Teigen is here too, and they talk about her Instagram and stuff! I know it’s pointless to complain about random celebrity appearances at this stage, but it feels like it’s been a while since we’ve seen one this egregious, that Marge just randomly got two mega celebrities to come to Springfield on a whim to help her out. And what great jokes they have for them, talking about the launch party for their couple’s perfume and how Teigen posts pictures of her kids every fucking day. I don’t even follow her on Twitter and I see her posts all the time, how is that possible? Just completely awful and pointless, one of the worst instances of stunt-casting this show has done in a while.
– There’s a kind of B-plot where Homer is terrified that his and everyone else’s jobs at the power plant are going to be taken over by robots. But… I seem to remember an episode where that did happen. Season 23’s “Them, Robot” featured the entire staff getting replaced by automatons, leaving Homer the sole human employee left. I know it was eight years ago, but did everyone on staff just forget that this thing that Homer’s paranoid about happening and no one believes him… already happened? Homer’s main target of scorn is the break room’s new automated soda machine, and he tries to one-up it by pouring soda himself, and… fuck, it’s so boring and stupid. Even though he passes out in his attempts, he’s quickly revived and announces that everyone’s jobs are safe, and everyone cheers for some reason. Then we pan over and see Burns is unleashing new robot workers into the plant. And that’s the end. What the hell is this? Again, we already did that episode, and it was a piece of shit.
One good line/moment: Nothing to speak of here. Total snooze fest, this one.