620. Springfield Splendor

Original airdate: October 8, 2017

The premise:
When assigned art therapy to help cope with her depression, Lisa, with the help of her mother’s artistic talents, creates the graphic novel “Sad Girl.” The comic becomes an instant hit, but a conflict arises when Marge feels Lisa isn’t giving her due credit for her contributions.

The reaction: Marge-Lisa episodes in recent years have always felt pretty sour to me. They’re two characters who don’t share many interests and sometimes don’t see eye to eye on things, but more than anything they have a deep love for each other. Despite this, the past few shows of this type has seen Marge either acting horribly or being incredibly petty and catty, with no real apology or sincere reconciliation by the episode’s end. This time, we see Lisa as the thoughtless one, as the show shoehorns in a contrived conflict halfway through. We open on our eightieth show about Lisa feeling miserable, and at the suggestion from a community college therapist, takes to drawing out her life through comic panels. Finding her daughter struggling artistically, Marge lends her abilities, and the two end up creating a visually and narratively stimulating representation of Lisa’s sad lot in life entitled “Sad Girl,” which sort of looks like a blend of “Ghost World” and Alison Bechdel’s work (Bechdel voices herself later in the show). In a “classic” case of Simpson-becomes-instant-success, the comic gets out and is a wildly popular hit with women everywhere. Lisa was initially mortified to find that her work was published without her knowledge, but when she sees young women and girls clamoring over “Sad Girl,” the notoriety goes to her head. Do we really find out why audiences are relating to Lisa’s story? Maybe she could have been the figurehead of disenfranchised youth? But this isn’t delved into; we see the likes of Lenny, Carl, Apu and Sideshow Mel reading the comic, and then instantly Marge and Lisa are at Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con, where halfway through the show, our character conflict shifts into gear, where we see Marge is discouraged that people aren’t giving her as much credit as Lisa. During their panel, they hammer this home multiple times (the scene ends with a booming announcement, “Lisa wins! Marge fails!”) Following this, Lisa smugly patronizes Marge’s request to include a storyline about her, and when Marge calls her out on her raw attitude, Lisa fires her. Act three introduces Martin Short as an eccentric flamboyant who wants to turn “Sad Girl” into a musical, but only takes inspiration from Marge’s visuals, discarding the story almost completely. So with the shoe on the other foot, Lisa proceeds to pout and moan about be unacknowledged, still not caring about her mother’s feelings. In the end, Marge is the one who extends the olive branch and sabotages the show for Lisa’s sake, while Lisa gets away with a paltry apology at the very end (following Marge’s own apology, of course). Character conflicts nowadays feel so manufactured and meaningless, and they feel even worse when they’re so one-sided like this. It’s not great when in shows like this, “Pay Pal,” “The Marge-ian Chronicles” and so on where you come off not liking Lisa or Marge; they’re the easier characters to get behind.

Three items of note:
– Shockingly, they actually utilized Comic Book Guy’s wife Kumiko in a plot line, after making only a few background appearances multiple seasons after her debut. She discovers the “Sad Girl” loose pages on the steps of the community college, and decides she’ll publish them herself. For no particular reason, mind you. It’s not like she thinks they’re great or anything, the dialogue is literally, “A graphic novel! I’ll sell this at my husband’s store.” She just decides to organize, clean-up, and self-publish this book within the span of a week. And I guess Comic Book Guy, despite knowing Lisa, didn’t really give much of a shit. When confronted by Lisa and Marge, Kumiko offers no explanation, makes a joke about harikari, and pledges she’ll burn the books “on a pyre and disperse them to the seven winds.” In her first notable appearance since her introduction, she continues to be nothing but a shallow, walking stereotype.
– Midway through the show, we get a montage of Lisa and Marge working together set to a parody of Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation,” reworked as “Collaboration.” Interestingly, it’s performed by Kipp Lennon, who is most famous in Simpsons lore as the singing voice of Leon Kompowski/Michael Jackson in “Stark Raving Dad.” He also did the shitty 30th anniversary Big Bang Theory theme parody opening from last season as well (no fault of his own, of course), and I also saw him perform “Happy Birthday, Lisa” live at the Simpsons Take the Hollywood Bowl show. It’s pretty sweet that the show has kept a relationship with Lennon after all these years.
– The ending features an animated “Sad Girl” sequence of a lonely Lisa being picked up by a happy Marge, which lifts Lisa’s spirits. And then a dance number. It reminded me of the ending of “Moaning Lisa,” which featured a similar dilemma. Marge initially imparts Lisa with the same awful advice her mother gave her, to bottle up her emotions completely, go along with what the other kids say, and “happiness will follow.” But, seeing firsthand how quickly Lisa is taken advantage of and undermined by her teachers and peers, Marge grabs her and takes it all back; feel whatever you have to feel, and no matter what, she will support her. And that’s all Lisa needed to hear. It’s a really emotionally complicated scene, and it feels like such a satisfying and earned ending. With this end tag, Lisa has a thought bubble, “I’m lonely.” Then Marge pulls up, and it’s changed to “I’m not lonely anymore.” I get this is a simplified end tag played after the story is over, but the resolution of this show, and most episodes, is basically just like this. Plots start and stop with characters just announcing as simply and directly as possible what they’re feeling, with no real regard or care as to why. Of all of these junky sad Lisa episodes, “Moaning Lisa” is still the gold standard they all must stand before.

One good line/moment: I thought the artwork of “Sad Girl” was well done, especially the sequences where the drawings become animated. There’s also some pretty good animation with Martin Short’s character. As much as I love Film Roman, I feel like there’s been a noticeable shift in the visuals, with a couple episodes from last season and just these first two episodes of this season sporting some bits of character animation and other sequences that feel like a little work was put into them. I guess the show is just being produced by FOX Animation now. I don’t know why Film Roman got the boot; was it a financial concern like (allegedly) Alf Clausen’s firing, or something else? But either way, it’s not like it’s a humungous step forward visually, and ultimately none of that means squat if the scripts are just the same old slop.

Sorry this is so late, I’ve gotten wrapped up a bit in a new job. I’ll try and post new reviews sometime within the week a new episode airs. I’ll see if I can get to “Whistler’s Father” sometime in the next few days.

22 thoughts on “620. Springfield Splendor

  1. You used the premise of “The Serfsons”.

    I really enjoyed this episode. This season is already better than the previous one, even though “Whistler’s Father” has been mediocre.

    And for once since season 26 I’m looking forward to a THOH Simpsons, which looks interesting this year.

  2. But back on topic, the moment the Bechdel test was mentioned it was so obvious there was gonna be a bit of Marge talking about Homer. Such an easy, lazy set-up for an incredibly lame joke. The scoreboard bit afterwards was just a painfully unfunny and self indulgent capper on an already limp joke. And most likely filler.

  3. There are only two positives I can give this episode:

    1. It was a vast improvement over The Serfsons, but so is taking a nail to the foot.

    2. The Sad Girl animated sequence was pretty cool and had a Noir feel to it.

    Aside from that, this show suffered the same issues as every other modern episode has done, being boring. The sequences with the psychiatrist were pretty meh and I don’t get why they had to go there with her teacher being the father. Was that meant to be a joke about something? IF so, I forgot to laugh.

    I also don’t get Marge’s big depression over not getting attention. That happens to most authors and artists. Or even directors compared to the writers for movies. That is just how it works.

    The animation was cool I guess for the play, especially when the Millhouses started to go wild, but not much else. Hans Zimmer’s studio is no replacemet for Alf though. I am usually a fan of Zimmer’s music in movies, but here, it seems as dull as the episode.

    1. This episode was more interesting than you think. I found it to be a much better Marge x Lisa-focused episode than most of the other recent episodes about them, and it worked out much better than the ending of their plot in A Father’s Watch, that’s for sure. I know Rachel Bloom didn’t have much to work with in this, but she had a lot more to work with in Friendship is Magic’s Sounds of Silence. I thought Springfield Splendor was great, but I found Sounds of Silence to be thrice as good. At least Rachel got to sing an amazing song in Sounds of Silence.

  4. I actually didn’t mind this one. Sure it was problematic but it’s crazy how much a little nice animation can really liven up an animated show. The animation on the playwrite was really evocative of the style used in the Movie.

    1. Thing is, this seems to follow the “We have good animation, that’ll save us!” rule badly written animated movies seems to take. Which is sad because this did have some okay moments (Lisa’s inability to draw hits somewhat close to home), and it’s nice they remembered Marge was an artist. But as a whole the episode suffered most of the same issues the series has had in the recent years.

      The only difference is its marginally improved animation and Hans Zimmer and his company doing the music.

      1. First of all, this wasn’t “marginally improved animation.” The animation on this show, particularly in the late-twenty seasons is nothing short of the worst, stiffest, most boring animation possible. The animation in this ep was at times exceptional, and not just by Simpsons standards. That’s literally going from worst to excellent, that’s not marginal.
        Secondly, granted I don’t think good animation saves a show if it has bad writing, which this episode obviously had, but presentation can play a huge part into getting audiences invested. Also certain shows like Adventure Time are entirely animation driven to the point where they don’t even have scripts. I’m not saying that that’s the kind of show The Simpsons is, but it shows just how important animation actually is in drawing you in if it’s effective.

        But yeah, writing was objectively bad obviously, but seemed a little better than usual. The emotional beat of Marge holding up the panel of Lisa in her comic thinking “I don’t even have control of my own life” was surprisingly effective I thought. It’s a pretty real sentiment for preteens and the like. Granted Lisa’s younger than that, but she’s precocious so

      2. Adventure Time doesn’t use scripts? No wonder that show sucks beyond just its horrible lazy animation.

      3. Yeah, most CN shows are board-driven. It’s why Steven Universe manages to have abysmal animation almost all the time.

      4. I think Steven Universe has very good animation with the exception of a hit-and-miss first season.

      5. Yeah, I think they are awful. Give me series that actually serve a purpose like Justice League, Gargoyles, Samurai Jack, or Spectacular Spider-Man.

  5. “Moaning Lisa” is to me one of the greatest pieces of television ever made, maybe its absolute peak. So I wont comment on this one; and for “one” I mean one of the greatest pieces of crap ever made.

  6. Minor nitpick here: Whether a series is board-driven or not is no indicator of animation quality. All it means is they draw out the scripts instead of writing a script and then boarding from the script. Remember, all theatrical cartoons in the “golden age” were board only, and I don’t see too many complaining about the animation quality on those cartoons.

    1. Yeah, the implication I got from those two moments is that Kaiju No Kami and Jebus seem to believe that any cartoon that uses storyboards is inferior to one that uses a script. And that’s REALLY makes no damn sense.

      1. I never said that. I just said that explains why I don’t like Adventure Time. Of course, teh animation is still the biggest issue for me. I can’t stand this cheap looking animaton that looks like a child drew these shows. Regular Show, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, the new Ducktales, Rick and Morty, the new Ben 10, the new Spider-Man, etc.

      2. I’d argue the Simpsons style is more simplistic than some of the shows you listed. What cartoons within the last twenty years or so do you consider well designed?

      3. For American, Batman The Brave and the Bold, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Transformers Animated, Samurai Jack, Star Wars Rebels, Voltron Legendary Defenders, Justice League/JLU, Avengers, X-Men Evolution, and Batman Beyond.

        For anime, Gankutsuou, Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, Speed Grapher, Code Geass, Psycho Pass, Tiger & Bunny, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Gundam 00, Gundam Unicorn, Iron Blooded Orphans, and One Piece.

  7. I generally agree with the blogger’s comments (as much as I don’t always appreciate his use of profanity). Sometimes his comments are indeed too lenient, considering the pathetic quality of many episodes… In this case, like in a handful of others though, I disagree with his evaluation, and with the comments by some other users. I found some liveliness in the story, and some funny, (mildly) dynamic irony in the switch from Marge gets ignored to Lisa gets ignored, that I appreciated.

    1. Thanks, Enrico! I disagree too. I love this episode as much as you do, despite Kumiko still being a shallow, walking stereotype when this episode finds a way to contribute her to the plot. Good episodes focusing on Marge and Lisa as a pairing are very hard to find in any era of The Simpsons, and I will take what I can get because not every sad Lisa episode has to be nearly as good as Moaning Lisa. And the episode is less shallow than the blogger is making it out to be.

      The resolution of this episode is not like the simplistic Sad Girl ending that follows because we know why Lisa is sad about the Sad Girl play through her tone of voice in what she says about the play, and how she looks before Marge draws Lisa’s face on a spotlight so she can be back in. Lisa doesn’t say “I’m sad, now I’m not sad” in the resolution of the main story. The blogger lied to us!

  8. Look, I know Springfield Splendor isn’t Moaning Lisa, but I still found the conflict of creative differences and one person’s part being valued more than the other by different audiences to be very believable and relatable. It’s less “manufactured” (whatever that means) and meaningless than you think, and the problems you have with it might not exist at all if it came out in say, Season 5 or 6 with different older art but everything in the story remains the same.

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