353. A Star is Torn

(originally aired May 8, 2005)
Beyond some psychopathic Homer characterization and its dull-as-dishwater premise, this is actually a pretty nice Homer-Lisa show. Its trappings are kind of odd, but I found I could forgive most of it as the core of the story was so sweet. Through an ultimately inconsequential opening, we learn Lisa has a pretty good singing voice, and when Krusty announces he’s holding a “Li’l Starmaker” competition, the family urges her to compete. She ends up high in the running, with Homer as her coach and song writer, which is logical considering his history with the BeSharps. The competition is clearly an American Idol knock-off, which they openly joke about, because the rule now is that if you steal an idea, just admit you did and it will be funny. The fact that it’s being held by the hacktacular Krusty saves it a bit though, even though I’m not sure why he’d hold a competition like this. Idol winner Fantasia Barrino guest stars as Lisa’s top competitor… except not really. Her fantastic rendition of the song Lisa sang earlier ends our first act, making it seem like she’d be a big part of the plot, except she’s not at all. She sings that song, then we don’t see her again until she’s eliminated from the top three.

Homer becomes a ruthless stage dad during Lisa’s tenure on the show, but there’s not much reason to it. He just straight out attacks people without engaging in a dialogue with them, culminating in him strangled Pimply Faced Teen in front of his family, threatening to kill him. He’s a ruthless sadistic maniac, but only made slightly less bothersome that his motivations in wanting to help Lisa are pure. The third act focuses on the rift created between the two of them. Homer has now agreed to coach Lisa’s competition Cameron, a petty, childish move from Jerkass Homer, but surprisingly we see glimpses of how broken Homer is. The scene where he sheepishly gives his daughter advice on stage while rehearsing with Cameron is unusually touching; his timidness there compared to his insane rage earlier is so stark, but for some reason it works for me. For the finale, Lisa sings a sentimental song for her father, then Homer reveals he’s sabotaged Cameron with a ballad insulting the audience, much to Lisa’s delight. Despite some weird elements, this has got to be the most emotional episode I’ve seen a good while. Two good episodes in a row? What is this madness?

Tidbits and Quotes
– Not a fan of how casually the Simpsons react and do nothing to Apu being robbed at gunpoint. Then they frequent Cletus’ vegetable stand right by the curb. I feel like if they were going that far, they should have went all out and had a gunshot and a body hitting the floor, while the family continues to do nothing. Then later we see Apu and Snake during Fantasia’s song, and he could have bandages on his abdomen and they hug. Also, Cletus and Brandine are so unfunny at this point. Every time they show up, I know what the joke is. He holds up that burlap sack, I knew there were going to be babies in it. In the “Snitch” show, during the Shelbyville musical with the bum Springfield caricature, Lisa comments that it makes Springfieldians look like hicks. Who do we pan to? Cletus and Brandine. It’s all become so obvious now.
– The winner of the competition gets animated into an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. Lisa dreams of what that would be like, and wouldn’t you know it, she complains about animal cruelty and promotes PETA! Again, these set-ups make it easy to predict jokes.
– The girl.. .what’s her name… who cares, Fantasia is supposed to be like ten, but she sounds like an adult. They couldn’t have raised the pitch up a little in post or something? It doesn’t matter, this all just smells of FOX cross-promotion anyway. But it’s nowhere near as egregious as later on when they actually do American Idol and have all the judges on, including Ryan fucking Seacrest. I’m happy to say I’ve never seen that episode. Very happy.
– It’s bothersome how insane Homer acts, but it’s one of those things where it’s so over-the-top and ridiculous, I don’t really hate it completely. Plus the jokes along with it are pretty good (“You don’t need to help me by humiliating people!” “Oh-ho-ho! You love sausage, but you hate to see it getting made!” “I don’t love sausage!” “Then would you like to see it getting made?”) Then later when everyone gets out of the car and hoofs it, Homer screams like a maniac, “Wait, come back! I’m calming down!!!” and drives off with the doors flapping open. Then we cut back to the house and the doors are still open. It’s bipolar Homer, but it still permeates as funny to me.
– Lisa’s song at the end is really touching, and then Cameron’s is wonderful as well, an incredibly pompous, fuck-you to the audience, “Privileged Boy” (“Then I’ll go to Yale, because I am a legacy! I’m better than you!”)

20 thoughts on “353. A Star is Torn

  1. I didn’t like the episode quite as much as you, but ‘Privileged Boy’ was a fantastic song, made the whole episode worth watching.

  2. “which is logical considering his history with the BeSharps”

    …not to mention writing a hit song about hating Ned Flanders, and being a country-western manager and… I’m sure there’s a thousand more. Kinda funny that Homer is always “off” when singing with others (“Monorail song”, “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart”, etc.) yet he’s apparently a music guru… with managing and songwriting…. Eh?

    …But yeah, I kinda forgot this episode existed, too, but looking back, I remember thinking at the time that it didn’t seem offensively bad for the most part. I mean, they were at least trying with this one… I guess it’s just unfortunate when I watch something like “Principle Charming” — episode 30-ish — and see how well they managed to combine wall-to-wall laughs, with drama, atmosphere, character development, good jokes, sight gags, parodies, perfect musical cues, and.. uh.. art! (the last few shots of the episode are amazing well-done) It’s so magical and it’s only season 2. To even get 1 or 2 drops of that magic in the zombie-era is rare. but sometimes they do a few things right. Sigh…

    A nice surprise to see two semi-positive reviews in a row! … heh heh heh… can’t wait to see your thoughts on “Thank God, It’s Doomsday”…

  3. I can’t honestly agree or disagree with this review, because I don’t remember a damned thing about this episode, other than Fantasia Whats-Her-Name being in it for a minute and a half. Everybody seemed to think she was going to be the next Kelly Clarkson for a while there, and then she just dropped off the face of the earth like almost every other American Idol winner.

  4. i was startled at how hard i laughed at the “not affiliated with american idol, WE’VE NEVER EVEN HEARD OF AMERICAN IDOL.” it’s been a long time since the show gave me a that good a laugh

  5. yeah i like this episode too actually. as you said it is very sweet and actually genuinely funny. unfortunately it’s a downhill slope for homer/lisa episodes now…

  6. Usually I hate overly-angry Homer, but I remember laughing my ass off at him screaming while driving with all the doors open. Unfortunately, it’s also the only thing I remember about this episode.

  7. I don’t really like this one at all. The only thing I remember loving is Homer screaming: “We’ll have family fun! FAMILY FUUUUUUNNNNNN!!!!!” 😡

    Oh, and the “jazz hands” during the credits was cute, I suppose.

  8. Forgot one other thing I liked: Homer’s “Yes no yes no yes no!” when he was unsure if he was going to vomit or not. Lisa’s reaction of “STOP IT!” was great.

  9. To be honest, it often seems to me like you just randomly pick and choose which episodes you like and which ones you don’t like, possibly determined by what mood you’re in when you watch the episodes. Homer is far more sweet and likable in “See Homer Run” than he is here, yet you pan that episode and like this piece of garbage episode, where Homer is in his absolute most pathetic, disgusting characterization in the series? Yes, he upset Lisa in that other episode by not caring about her present she made for him, but he did his best to atone for his actions after that part. In this episode, Homer is a self-absorbed asshole who repeatedly hurts and threatens to kill innocent people, and who heartlessly dumps his daughter at the drop of a dime after getting criticism from her, and who makes it up to her with a paltry act of kindness which once again hurts other people, only emotionally this time instead of physically. I suggest you rewatch the two episodes and you’ll see how much better “See Homer Run” is than this one.

    1. Totally agree.
      It could have been intresting Homer’s being an asshole for her duaghter’s sake but the show, as usual, began exaggerated and incoherent: Homers behaviour was not a real problem anymore, but only the Homer-Lisa broken realtionship. I mean, he makes the other kid lose on porpose but now nobody gives a shit(even the super perfect moralist Lisa) since every Simpsons is happy again.
      And anyway, the “sweet parts”, even if refreshing in those empty seasons, are too “sugary” and almost sickening in their inability to balance emotions with humour(thats what the golden era was great at) making the show a little confusing.

  10. “The fact that it’s being held by the hacktacular Krusty saves it a bit though, even though I’m not sure why he’d hold a competition like this.”

    You’ve said it many times even in classic episodes that Krusty is whatever sort of entertainer the script requires of him. I don’t think this is any more outrageous than any other things he’s done 😉

  11. What really shocks me in this one is to hear just how much Yeardley Smith’s voice has deteriorated. You can’t tell when she’s speaking, but compared to Lisa singing in the classic years her depth and range is just gone, indeed the skit where homer shoots a glass while she sings is just plane sad given she’s singing at such a low range.

    Apart from that, this one is sort of meh, if a little amusing in places, was amused by “his smile bought a puppy back to life” and the buz colar hole which is revealed still has the losing kids in goodness knows how many weeks later?

    I also did wonder if the lady from american idol just wouldn’t cooperate with parody so just sang, rather like Britney spears spot earlier, but hay even if she had it would’ve been pretty much the same.

    Again not the worst but not one I care to see again.

  12. Your review was not at all what I was anticipating, Mike. I’m kind of let down. No mention of how out of character it was for Lisa to be okay with her dad cheating to get her a win?

    I didn’t think episode was all that great. I didn’t hate it, but it was as exciting to watch as American Idol. We never actually saw why the black girl lost, she just does off screen. In fact, we never even see the competition until the last two, which is just dumb. What was the point of that girl in the first place when she held no meaning to the episode whatsoever? Was it supposed to be funny that she was seen as Lisa’s competition in the first act and then to have nothing come out of it?

    Now I do agree that it makes sense Homer can write a song in a matter of minutes, but I wish I knew what he plagiarized to make it. Even The Simpsons World book doesn’t specify.

    As for the opening when Apu is getting robbed, how deaf is Snake? Can he honestly not hear Apu and the Simpsons whispering loudly to each other? That sequence was retarded.

  13. That was actually a clever bit of misdirection with the guest star; you would think that the winner of American Idol’s 3rd season would be Lisa’s competition in the final 2, but Fantasia Barrino only got to the final 3 and Lisa has to compete with an entirely different boy. I agree though, having her in for a couple of scenes is a much more blatant cross-promotion for FOX than bringing Mary Spuckler from Season 19 back in 2 Season 24 episodes when Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl was on.

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