465. Elementary School Musical

(When I rebooted the blog a few years ago to continue barrelling through the rest of The Simpsons’ seemingly endless run, I barely got through a season. I considered it all to be a moot point; to me, the show had reached a plateau of quality where all the points I could complain about seemed to be covered, and bitching and whining about it even more seemed pretty fruitless and repetitive. But every now and again since then, I found myself drawn to wanting to cover the last seven or so years, like a moth to a yellow flame. So yeah, I’m gonna try it again. And yeah, I’m sure I’ll cover well trodden over ground and remake a lot of the same points. And I can’t even guarantee I’m not going to throw my hands up and stop mid-way through again. But the urge is striking my fancy at the moment so let’s see how long this crazy train can stay a-rollin’.)

Original airdate: September 26, 2010

The premise:
Lisa spends a week at an arts camp and has her creative spirits lifted, only to come crashing down once she has to return to a harsh reality. Meanwhile, Krusty drags Homer and Bart to Europe to accept a Nobel Peace Prize, only to find the reward was only a ruse to put the clown on trial for his multitude of overseas crimes.

The reaction: So, “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation” comes to mind as a direct comparison, and that “Musical” has an even more inept story than one of the worst episodes ever, that’s pretty astounding. Firstly, we spend the first few minutes of show with the Krusty story before Lisa is dropped off at camp with no real set-up whatsoever. The only bit we get is her complaining about being the overlooked middle child, which is not so much sympathetic as it is whiny and self-righteous. So here’s your problem: Lisa spends the back half of the episode missing the artistic freedom she had at the camp, when we barely saw any of it. After she gets dropped off, we get our opening number with the cast of Glee (FOX synergy at work!), and then we meet our guest stars, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, who, like Simon Cowell, Stephen Colbert, and others in the past, are basically just playing their TV personas, despite being billed as new characters. After that, we get two scenes that are basically poor attempts to do Flight of the Conchord-style interplay, and Bret and Jemaine at the campfire, singing a song about art that says and means nothing, but inspires Lisa anyway for some reason. Homer’s dream of being a rock star made no sense, but at least we spent an entire act there and got a sense of what the camp was. Lisa is disillusioned by her drab normal life, so she goes to “Sprooklyn,” the Springfield arts district, only to be shocked that Bret and Jemaine are actually depressing starving artists. Her childlike hopes dashed and her supposed idols exposed as frauds, she pleads with her mom to take her home, but then tells Bret and Jemaine “I’ll try again when I’m older,” which I don’t quite understand. Try to strike it out as an artist when she’s older? What? It’s like they ran out of time and just had to end the episode. It’s yet another instance where the writers try to have their cake and eat it, where Lisa has the intellect and cultural knowledge of a forty-year-old, but is also a painfully naive child who buys into Bret and Jemaine’s indistinct empty pleasantries hook, line and sinker.

Three items of note:
– Way, way back, I bitched about the new HD opening titles, but seeing them again after all these years, it continues to really bother me. I guess you can consider the “slower” pace of the original titles outdated, but I think that’s better than them shoehorning jokes into every little moment, like Lenny and Carl doing a pratfall behind Homer at the plant or Otto eating the nuclear carbon rod for whatever reason. Stuff like that you may smirk at, at best, the first time you see them, but having to see it each and every week, you get sick of it real quick. We also get two new changing elements to the opening titles, something that flies by the clouds at the very start, and a sign gag right before we enter Springfield Elementary. Ironically for a show that at this point feels like a joke drought, the opening titles is like an exercise for how much we can cram into a minute so the audience won’t get bored. Also, the chalkboard gag, “When I Slept In Class, It Was Not To Help Leo DiCaprio,” it took me a good while to realize it was an Inception reference. Glad that joke held up.
– There are three campers who are voiced by Glee cast members, whose names I can’t be bothered to look up. Their opening number is so, so, so bland and sterile, lyrically and visually. The song is a “parody” of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” with Lisa doing the chorus as “Art, art, art and education.” When you can’t think of jokes and need to fill time, I guess repetition is your next best bet. It’s just so boring, and ultimately leads to nothing anyway, since act two features the campers doing nothing artistic at all other than dancing to Bret and Jemaine singing. Again, “Strummer Vacation” was a piece of trash, but at least I have an idea what the rock-and-roll fantasy camp was, with scenes of all the rock stars talking about writing songs, creating an image and averting the paparazzi. I haven’t the foggiest clue what “Expressions: A Performing Arts Camp” is supposed to be. The best we get is a camera slideshow from Lisa at week’s end as a joke-filled recap of shit we never saw, including guest appearances from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Elaine Stritch and a performance of Angels in America, where the joke is basically someone just redrew the poster for the HBO miniseries and added Lisa to it.
– There’s not much to really say about the B-plot. Krusty brings Homer along for “being the easiest laugh I know,” and Bart tags along just because. Despite his many, many crimes, the judge decrees Krusty will be exonerated if one can cite one contribution he made to Western society. Bart saves the day by presenting a clip from 1990 of Krusty being a primadonna and refusing to play a gig in South Africa, and that three days later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. That makes sense, right? They don’t even bother making a joke about it being illogical. Bart barely finishes the line before the judge turns around and clears Krusty of all charges. I had to rewind because it went so fast and I could barely figure out what was happening.

One good line/moment: I actually smirked at a couple of gags, but my favorite moment was an unintentional laugh. One of the campers is a kid in a wheelchair, I guess as a reference to Glee (?), and in the wide shot toward the end of the opening song, you just see him alone in the corner spinning in a circle. It’s kinda sad, but I laughed at it all the same.

7 thoughts on “465. Elementary School Musical

  1. Nice to see you writing again. That wheelchair kid was a reference to Glee, but also: it’s a bit of the ol’ “who cares” by this point.

  2. Welcome back, Mike. It doesn’t matter how long you keep this up; this blog and DHS have already done a great service for the disillusioned wing of Simpsons fans.

  3. I read through this whole blog around the time it was coming out, and then again when I rewatched the Simpsons a year or two ago. It’s weird and wonderful to have it back in my life.

    I had actually started rewatching Futurama in sync with “Review, Rewatch, Recycle,” but that turned out to be a hilarious mistake…

  4. Welcome back mate. Since I really respect your opinion and I almost always agree with your view, I tried to look at your other blogs, and believe me, they are very entertaining! I only disagree on Disney stuff, where we clearly have a totally different opinion(I rarely find an 80s-nowdays Disney\Pixar\Dreamworks movie on par with anything made 30s-70s at Disney studios).
    Besides that, this Simpsons blog will always be the favorite of us all, cause WE NEED smart people like you (or DHS) to open people eyes, and raise up their standards about Teevee’s shows.

  5. The High School Musical came out in 2006. Zombie Simpsons with yet another hip reference to pop culture yet again!

  6. Hurrah, glad to be back (btw I also commented previously as somebody),
    A little sorry to miss the futurama rewatch but hay.

    Actually this episode, cruddy as it was had a couple of bits that amused me.
    The art song was sort of funny, both in its upbeat and downbeat variants, actually a lot more witty than the much longer and boringer (which is a perfectly cromulant word), good vibrations parody.

    One bit I liked was during the depressing version, we cut to Crusty in prison, where he says “Artists go to jale on a life time hitch, the only way out is to become a prison snitch” whereupon two prisoners turn around and start thumping him.

    Also, while the jokes about holland not even half arsed, and all the “euroguards, take him away in “eurocuffs” thing was particularly dull, I did smile slightly when the judge said “the hague” and crusty then questioned “the Hague?” to which the judge replied in a very grim tone “the hague!”

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