326. Smart and Smarter

(originally aired February 22, 2004)
Another episode that makes my mind hurt. When the core story is so ridiculous and illogical, it’s a shaky foundation, and then when you compound all the other absurd elements and laughless jokes, it’s head-rattling how bothersome the entire ordeal is. The Simpsons stumble upon a highly selective pre-nursery school, and are convinced that they should try to apply Maggie. I get the gag about our culture wanting to entrap children in the education system at earlier and earlier ages, but Maggie is a year old. She’s a baby competing against toddlers, it doesn’t make a lot of sense from the start, and continues being bizarre as the show goes on. The screening process is held by Simon Cowell, or rather a character who looks and acts just like him, who is actually voiced by Cowell. This has happened a few times (Stephen Colbert comes to mind) where they have a celebrity basically play themselves, but they’re not actually themselves. Cowell berates one-year-old Maggie for not being able to speak, and claims she has absolutely no future. Honestly, what an asshole. I thought it was bad when Declan Desmond viciously chastised Lisa, but this is a fucking baby, for God’s sake.

After an IQ test, Maggie is declared a genius, holding an even higher IQ than her sister by eight points. This completely disheartens Lisa, believing since she’s no longer the smartest in the family, her life has no purpose. What? What possible threat does Maggie have to her? It doesn’t affect her or her schoolwork or her life in any way whatsoever. Lisa tries out a variety of new personas, but finds that none of them stick. Then in a fit of petty, stupid jealously, she misteaches Maggie some flash cards, much to the shock of Marge and Homer, who come in full guns blazing to detriment her for it. I’m so completely confused at this point, there’s no real story here since I don’t understand why Lisa is driving herself into such a fit about this. Is she so ridiculously insecure with herself that she’s jealous of her infant sister? Apparently so, enough that she decides to run away and start a new life, eventually deciding on living in the natural history museum.

The climax consists of Homer, Marge and Bart being stuck in a gigantic model of the digestive system, that is fully functional and they’re in risk of being digested themselves. Lisa shows up at the nick of time to tell Maggie how to disable the machine, and she does. She’s grown to accept her sister and her gift, and vows to be helpful and nurturing. So there we go, conflict resolved right? Not quite. Cowell and the other bitch from the school show up and inform the Simpsons that there was foul play during the IQ test. Turns out Lisa was subconsciously giving Maggie all the answers with hand motions and body language. It makes no fucking sense whatsoever, but beyond the stupid explanation, why did they feel the need to end like this? First off, from the show’s beginning in “Bart the Genius,” we’ve seen that Maggie is of a higher intelligence, it’s a firmly established character trait that she’s a bright baby. Second, it completely undermines Lisa’s character growth, and I use that term incredibly fucking lightly given how dumb this show was. And third, what difference does it make if Maggie’s a genius or not? Why set the reset button for something so inconsequential? I really was more confused by this episode more than anything, if someone would like to take a stab at analyzing it themselves, be my guest.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We kill a minute and a half at the start with a cartoonish bathroom battle between Homer and Bart, then Homer takes the family for pancakes. They stand outside the building, then look behind them to see the pre-nursery school and a big long line. Not even across the street, but in the same goddamn parking lot. How did they not notice that? There’s no transition at all, Homer literally tuns his head and there’s the school, and he talks to Apu.
– Cowell just isn’t funny, he’s not, especially when he’s hurling insults at a one-year-old. From this, Marge frets that Maggie has no future, which makes a little more sense since she’s a susceptible, worrywart mother. But it’s still dumb.
– Marge tries to absolve Lisa’s identity crisis by reminding her who she is, with a piece of paper labelled, “You are Lisa Simpson.” Lisa flatly remarks she already has that, gesturing to a frame of the infamous paper and Mr. Bergstrom’s photo. More just pulling stuff from classic episodes; it’s almost insulting seeing it here in such a shit episode.
– Lisa apparently comes to school with a backpack full out outfits, trying out class clown, goth, cheerleader… whatever.
– The flashcard scene is absolutely painful. It’s so uncharacteristic to see Lisa try to deceive Maggie, but then Marge comes in immediately and yells at her for her misdeed, despite the fact she comes in from behind and would have no idea what’s going on. Homer piles on and calls her a disappointment through his Phonics Frog, causing Lisa to run off crying. It’s an absolutely bonkers sequence. But after that we get really the only good joke in the show, with Homer asleep clutching Phonics Fog, repeatedly holding down the ‘Z’ button.
– The police force is supposedly to be inept, but here they’re so completely unhelpful that you kind of don’t like them. Wiggum forces Marge to fill out a performance evaluation to start off their investigation (“‘Somewhat satisfied?’ I see. Well, maybe I’ll just somewhat find your daughter!”) Then when they get to the museum, and while the climax is happening, they’re just standing around fucking with optical illusions. I know they need to be kept out of it since Lisa and Maggie save the day, but you could immobilize or dissuade them in some other way. Instead, they seem to just not give a fuck.
– I like Lisa’s recycled pin dress. It’s a nice design. And as a concept, I like the gigantic digestive system body thing, I would love to see an actual version of that. Then again, what an elaborate museum this is; Springfield is a shitty town, and one that’s not very cultured to boot, why would they blow money on this place?
– Homer’s “Free Beer!” signs alerting Lisa is missing is another poor lift from “Lisa’s Substitute” (“SEX! Now that I have your attention, vote for Bart!”)
– The ending is really just so insulting, one of the worst in the whole series. It’s a one-two punch of it making absolutely no sense and there really being no reason to make Maggie not smart after going through the whole goddamn episode. Plus Cowell and bitch lady just show up at the house, covered with some joke about Moe being a butler, who also appeared for no reason whatsoever. Seriously, this fucking ending… it’s insulting that they expect us to swallow this shit up.

22 thoughts on “326. Smart and Smarter

  1. Your recent reviews make me realize something I never even thought of before: Whoever was writing the show around this point and time decided to just make everyone — not just Homer, but EVERYONE — an asshole. Lisa being jealous of Maggie, as you said, is pointless and… kinda shitty, honestly. When did everyone turn into a jerkass?

    …The only cool thing about this episode was the gigantic digestive system, if only because I wondered what that would look like in real life.

    …….God, I still can’t wait for your review of the episode where Homer frames Marge for drunk driving. I am drawing a blank on the title or season but I know it’s coming up shortly. It might be the worst episode ever, along with That 90’s Show.

    1. Well, after some quick googling, I found out the episode in question is “Co-Dependent’s_Day”, and it’s episode 15…. of season 15. Hah! So, looks like you’ll be getting to the worst of the worst shortly. Enjoy….

      1. To be soon followed by Marge and Homer abandoning their kids in Florida so they can have sex with each other, and Skinner getting dumped at the altar and trying to win Krabappel back in a catsuit (worst episode ever contender). Next week’s going to be a fun read.

      1. I have wondered about that before. Because I also remember reading the Simpsons stopped doing cutaways/flashbacks because of Family Guy (though there were indeed some cutaway scenes on the recent episodes of Zombie Simpsons). I find it odd that a show that used to march to its own beat would be inspired — or, maybe a better way to put it, CHANGED — because of Family Guy. Craziness.

  2. I remember nothing about this episode, aside from the fact that Simon Cowell was in it. And thus began the writers’ disgusting trend of trying to keep the show relevant by piggybacking on the success of other FOX shows. It got even more blatant later when Bart meets Jack Bauer, Moe becomes an American Idol judge, and Lisa goes to music camp with half the cast of Glee. (This is still going on, too – Zooey “New Girl” Deschanel is becoming a recurring guest star in Season 24, reprising her role as Mary Spuckler from “Apocalypse Cow” in at least two episodes. It’s pathetic.)

    1. Hey, you leave “24 Minutes” alone! That is the greatest Simpsons episode since “Trilogy of Error” and one of the best episodes of the entire series.

      1. Yeah, I don’t think Bart meeting Jack Bauer is much more offensive than Homer meeting Mulder and Scully; in both cases they’re at least making fun of how ridiculous the other show is.

        The Glee and American Idol stuff does come off as cross-show advertising though. Which is also the case with Jay Sherman in A Star Is Burns, but that gets a free pass because The Critic is awesome.

      2. Well, the Jay Sherman episode also gets a pass because it was mandated and the characters spent much of the episode deriding the crossover.

  3. The “digestive system model” scene wasn’t even that original. The shelved Looney Tunes short “Museum Scream” from 2003 did the scene in half the time and had a much funnier pay-off gag (“Are you OK, putty tat? You look -pooped-!”).

    I do agree Lisa being insecure because her baby sister is smart just didn’t work. And anyway, whatever happened to the Lisa that actively nurtured Maggie’s intellect? I guess we had to ignore that in favor of Lisa trying on different outfits. Meh.

    I realize Simon Cowell acting like an asshole to Maggie is the writers’ way of satirizing his shtick, but it just went too far. And why didn’t he just play himself, since the character looked and sounded almost exactly like him? It was like “President Schwarzenegger” in the film except in reverse.

  4. It was a common trend for the first two or three years of American Idol’s existence for the judges to go on other shows spoofing themselves. Problem is it got old very fast and basically reminded the public that they were just one-note caricatures. Thank god those days are over.

  5. I haven’t seen it in ages, but I remember thinking this one is decent. That may be due to the with Homer and the Phonics Frog though since it’s the only thing I really recall.

    I can’t say I mind the trend of celebrities playing characters that are essentially themselves. If a character is going to have a central focus in an episode I’d rather they be a new character based on a celebrity than actually be that celebrity. The recent episode where Lady Gaga comes to Springfield was one of the most painful things I’ve witnessed.

  6. I think another problem with this episode is that it’s just difficult to make your A-plot complex or funny when the main character can’t speak. In the classic era, the only story where Maggie was the main character was the daycare plot in A Streetcar Named Marge, and that was essentially just a light bit of silent-movie-era pratfalls. There’s a reason they didn’t go back to that well very often. Hell, even classic episodes that are supposedly about Maggie (And Maggie Makes Three, Rosebud, etc) are actually focused on the adult characters. Maggie just works better when she’s a part of inconsequential jokes in the background.

  7. Perhaps the worst characterization of Lisa in the series? (though Dude Where’s My Ranch gives it a run for its money). Nice to know Lisa thinks her only important trait is her IQ, and she only values her intelligence for the sake of how others perceive her.

  8. I think it is surprising just how similar the show’s format has been for the last 10 years. An episode from season 5 was nothing like one from season 10 or 11. Here, 10 years ago, the jerkass Simpsons family, deferential treatment of a guest star and random (unfunny) events that move on the plot are identical to the ingredients of an episode in 2012. I don’t think there is another show in history that has been this stale for this long!

  9. Would it have been so fucking hard to let Maggie be smart?

    At this point, they’ve already established her as a diabolical plotter, superhumanly physically strong, and a world-class sniper.

  10. I didn’t think this one was too bad. It’s not exactly great, and I don’t get the point of Simon whatever, but there were some good moments in it. I did like the scene when Lisa sneaks into the giant mouth, lays down grumbling and then notices she is on the bitter side of the tongue. That was funny.

  11. BTW, is there a reason why I suddenly have to put in my email and name every time I got to post? It no longer just saves my information.

  12. Oh, boy. I liked this episode a bit at first. It is not as bad as The Great Louse Detective, but it belongs to the same category of episodes with a lot of unlikable problems that this blog analyzes. I can almost look past the clumsy plot-starter, but Lisa giving Maggie the answers to all the questions undermines a lot of the rest of the story and makes the setup look stupider.
    Lisa being bitter to Maggie on the Bitter side of the digestive system’s taste buds and then not being that after she watched where she was and moved to the Sweet side and crying about living alone from her family – I know what the joke is, but I also see the problem with…playing the same scene for comedy and sympathy at the same time, and even within the context of the bitter Lisa-sweet Lisa joke, this is a much earlier example of what the Friends and Family post was talking about: characters who start and stop having emotions on a dime, performing like soulless marionette for whatever the plot needs them to be.

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