659. I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say D’oh

Original airdate: April 7, 2019

The premise: When Llewellyn Sinclair is pushed out of directing the latest production at the Springfield Playhouse, Marge takes up the directors chair, putting on a Hamilton inspired musical about Jebediah Springfield, written by Lisa.

The reaction: Twenty-six years after “A Streetcar Named Marge,” one of the greatest episodes of the show, Jeff Martin (and his wife) have written this episode, not exactly a sequel, more like what would have happened if “Streetcar” were pitched and written today, made all the more depressing that it’s the exact same writer behind it. We start with the latest appearance of Llewellyn Sinclair, overbearingly directing his cast through their upcoming performance of Oklahoma! Eventually, the Springfield players get fed up and force him out, leaving Marge to fill the vacuum as director for some reason, leading her to direct a brand new musical written by her eight-year-old daughter, and later signs a contract with Krusty to air the musical live nationwide. So, yeah, “Streetcar” featured our favorite Springfield denizens as plucky small town folk thinking it’d be fun to act in a musical, willing to put up with an irrational, heated director to have a bit of excitement in their lives on the big stage. Marge herself was one such starry eyed optimist, thinking acting in the play would be an exciting escape from her mind-numbing home life. As usual, the situation itself was very normal and believable, surrounded by absurdist elements (the Streetcar play itself, which we’ll get to…) Marge’s journey in this episode is hard to pin down. She’s initially nervous about being a first-time director, which is mentioned again and again. This implies she’ll direct more, and that this is some kind of passion of her’s (???) As usual with Simpson-becomes-instant-success stories, we never see them doing any actual work. After her first day, Krusty finds Sideshow Mel rehearsing his lines, and decides to just buy Marge’s play outright, so we immediately cut to the negotiation, with Marge sitting with shades and a purple power suit smiling vacuously. The play itself is a Jebediah Springfield biopic musical in the style of Hamilton which is not only written by Lisa, but rewritten on the spot live when the venue floods. The songs suck and aren’t funny. We hear barely two songs from the musical, compared to snippets of five we get of “Streetcar,” but I don’t even feel I should bother cross-referencing these two because it’s not even fair. Making a musical out of A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the cleverest, more ingeniously executed ideas the show had ever done; the concept itself was a great joke, and the songs were all absolutely stellar, humorously written and performed. Speaking of, it was a joke in itself hearing the likes of Wiggum, Apu and Marge singing these songs, these goofy cartoon voices giving earnest performances. Here, the gag is that Professor Frink has Josh Groban’s singing voice, so it’s just a talented singer doing these songs perfectly… so boring. The episode ends with Krusty telling Marge the live show got huge ratings, and her winning an award. Who gives a shit? Really, what does it matter that the show was a hit? I don’t even know why Marge cared about to begin with. “Streetcar,” of course, was never really about the show, but Marge feeling unappreciated by her husband, and Homer realizing that in the end and expressing it to her. As ridiculous and insane as the show got in the classic years, it always came down to the believable emotions and internal struggles of our favorite family. In episodes like these, I don’t know what I’m supposed to relate to.

Three items of note:
– There’s a subplot (I use the term charitably) where Homer stumbles upon an incredibly popular Daddy-And-Me class, filled with horny fathers who only go to ogle the hot, young instructor. Homer initially is naive about what’s going on, but quickly he becomes just as openly pervy as everyone else, spending the rest of the show fantasizing about the instructor, one of which is interrupted by Marge in bed, who thinks he’s such a great father for going to those classes. In the end, the classes are cancelled when the instructor makes her choice of which father she wants to fuck, and then that’s it. Do I even need to further discuss how fucked this all is? Remember when I tried to defend “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy” for being somewhat progressive in its gender politics? Never mind, I guess. Instead of making Homer completely oblivious to obvious outside temptation, like “Colonel Homer,” or making the instructor not a total dumb dumb bimbo, the show just plays it out like Homer’s Kevin James from King of Queens or something. The icing on the shit sundae is they have a “sweet” cap on the story where Homer realizes Maggie liked hanging out with him for all the classes. How nice. And Homer’s favorite part was undressing the twenty-something piece of ass with his eyes and dreaming about her when in bed with his wife. C o o l.
– After he’s outsed, Llwellyn Sinclair appears a few times throughout, first begging Marge to let him back into her production, and then later to poach her star player Sideshow Mel for his own new show. But it really doesn’t mean anything, since all we saw of Mel was one scene where we learn he’s the lead, and then one quick bit of him rehearsing in his dressing room at Krustylu Studios. Llwellyn comes to gloat at the Simpson house where Marge is getting ready for what I assumed was one of their earlier production meetings, but then she admits the show is in three days and they have no understudy. In this episode about the production of a musical, we barely fucking see any of the production at all, unlike “Streetcar,” of course, where it was the primary focus, amongst other things, because the show could effectively multitask back then. Here, it’s a miracle when the show manages to have one complete plot with a beginning, middle and end that make sense.
– I knew it was only a matter of time, but it finally happened: we get a scene where Bart does the flossing dance. I feel like that gif is going to get isolated and rile some people up online… that is if anyone actually gives enough of a shit to actually watch this trash and actually make it. It may pop up somewhere… but honestly, who cares. It only stood out more to be because I just saw Shazam! which has Zachary Levi flossing and that was actually charming in context. Ehhh, fuck this show, go see Shazam!, it’s not spectacular, but it’s a fun, sweet movie that bucks a lot of superhero movie conventions, although it’s not without its tired, overdone tropey elements, the villain in particular.

One good line/moment: Over the end credits, we get a snippet of a music video by Okilly Dokillys, a real-life no-foolin’ metal band who all dress up like Ned Flanders and perform songs that mostly comprise of Simpsons quotes. It’s one of those things that it’s so absolutely absurd on every level that it’s amazing already, but their music is actually really well done, even if metalcore music isn’t really my cup of tea. Similar to using that 16-bit fan made couch gag a couple years ago, this felt like the show “officially” ordaining a fan work, but actually in showing such a fan work that really felt fresh, original and creative, just kind of stands in contrast with the tired, hollowed out husk of the show itself. At least this time they put it at the end instead of the beginning. Here’s the music video if you haven’t seen it.

658. Girl’s In The Band

Original airdate: March 31, 2019

The premise: Lisa is recruited into a youth philharmonic in Capital City, forcing Marge having to commute with the other kids back and forth each day and Homer to work the night shift at the plant to pay for the course. While Lisa excels, she becomes worried her success is coming at the cost of the rest of her family’s well being.

The reaction: There was a running theme in the flashback shows in the classic era of Homer sacrificing his own happiness for the sake of his family, and this feels like a belabored rehash of that same idea; you can track where the episode is going halfway through and you’re just waiting patiently for it to finally end. Following an extended intro featuring the life and times of Mr. Largo, Lisa is specially picked out by Victor, a fast-talking, no-nonsense musical instructor played by J.K. Simmons. The character is semi-based on the actor’s character in Whiplash, but with the mile-a-minute, jokey speech patterns as J. Jonah Jameson, as we’ve seen this show do with Simmons in his numerous previous guest appearances. It’s just funny that they chose to rip off another Simmons character, but can’t resist him doing his Spider-Man schtick. Simmons is fine in the role, but it’s shit we’ve seen him do so many times over, so who cares? Anyway, the characters are set in place in this plot within the halfway mark: Lisa is thrilled at being challenged musically for once, Marge, Bart and Maggie are bored and going stir-crazy by the long drives, and Homer is getting more and more sleep deprived by working nearly 24 hours a day (“Lisa’s Pony,” this ain’t, sadly.) Lisa witnesses Marge sobbing as Homer leaves for his next shift, “There’s nothing worse than being a parent of a kid with promise!” Lisa realizes how selfish she’s been, apparently… except we’re only thirteen minutes in, so we just kind of keep gliding on these same emotions until the episode’s over, where she blows her audition to the next level philharmonic for her family’s sake. I originally thought of Homer in the flashback shows having a similar moral dilemma, but this actually is very reminiscent of “Lisa’s Pony.” But rather than great moments like 8-year-old Lisa not realizing the adult realities of having her childhood dream be a reality, and Marge openly telling her she won’t make her get rid of the pony, that she needs to make that decision, we get… none of that. During her final audition, we just have an internal monologue from Lisa describing what she’s feeling, and then everything is okay. If they had bothered exploring Lisa’s lingering moral concerns, or had her interacting with the rest of the family and witnessing their harangued states at all, this might have been a decent story. Instead, it just felt very bland and paint-by-numbers.

Three items of note:
– This episode was penned by Nancy Cartwright, making her the third main cast member to take a stab at writing. The chalkboard gag reads, “I AM NOT A GRANDMOTHER,” referring to Cartwright recently becoming one. The concert hall Lisa practices in in Capital City is Daws Butler Hall, referencing the famous Hanna Barbera voice actor, who was also Cartwright’s mentor. I remember reading her autobiography as a kid; the only things I remember are her describing driving onto the lot and being told Phil Hartman died, and an entire chapter devoted her to drooling over when Mel Gibson came to record. Whoo boy. Cartwright is also a devoted Scientologist, who recorded a now-infamous robo-call as Bart to shill for a Scientologist event, and has given millions upon millions to the dangerous, brain-washing cult. Ay caramba.
– The first five minutes of the show are devoted to Mr. Largo, giving us a more in depth look at his life than we’ve ever seen. Starting on a nightmare of his graduating with honors from the Springfield Academy of Music and going nowhere with it, we see his spirits lifted once he’s informed that Victor will be attending the latest school recital. He goes into double-time to make his student orchestra the best it’s ever been, but his dreams are shot to pieces when Victor tells him he’s only interested in Lisa. When Lisa excitedly tells him the good news, Largo musters a smile for the young girl (“I’m really glad you get to represent us. It’s like a little piece of me has taken a baby practice step.”) It’s a genuinely sweet moment. I knew the episode was going to pivot to a Simpson eventually, but I really wished we could just continue watching Mr. Largo. His home life, the dynamic between him and his boyfriend, all much, much more interesting than the show that followed.
– Boy, do I love cultural references! This show does parody so well nowadays! In figuring out how to pay for Lisa’s class, Homer alludes to being like Walt in Breaking Bad, but then it turns out he meant they would sell their beloved boxed DVD set. But then Homer just says a bunch of quotes from the show, takes a Heisenberg hat and goatee out of the nightstand as the theme plays, and we get a commercial break card themed off the show’s opening title. As I’ve mentioned over and over and over again, these are references. All a segment like this tells me is how much the writers love Breaking Bad, which at this point feels even stranger than their previous shout-outs given the series concluded six years ago now. What, are they gunning for Vince Gilligan to write an episode or something? Later, we get a sleep deprived hallucination from Homer at the plant where he eventually finds himself at a fancy bar with the attending bartender trying to get him to kill his family. Not only is this, of course, material the show utilized much better twenty-five years ago, the referencing continues once Homer’s back to reality where we literally see Jack Nicholson with an axe heading toward the reactor core (Burns chortles, “There goes our head of human resources now!”) This transparent reference-based comedy is already lazy enough, but to do this when “The Shinning” exists felt even more foolish.

One good line/moment: Again, the five minute Mr. Largo opening. As I’ve said many times before, I would love to see more devotion to the other Springfield denizens, but I’m sure we never will. I don’t remember if we saw Largo’s boyfriend before, but I thought their interplay was fun (“Oh darling, you’re cursed with the memory of an elephant, and the wrinkles to match!” “Can’t you just wake me with a slice of melon and a drop of affection?!”)