673. Hail To The Teeth

Original airdate: January 5, 2020

The premise: Lisa’s new braces leave her with a permanent grin, making her instantly more palatable to her fellow students. She decides to use this to her advantage by running for student body president. Meanwhile, Homer and Marge get invited to Artie Ziff’s wedding, and are shocked to find his bride-to-be is an exact copy of Marge.

The reaction: Things get off to a painful start when Lisa bumps into an old man on the street (“Hey, little lady. You’d be a lot prettier if you smile!” “What? Who are you?” “I’m a man, so I know what I’m talking about!”) Awesome writing right there. So I guess this is a feminist episode then? I think? I mean, I guess it is, but I don’t know. When Lisa gets the top half of her new braces installed, she’s left with an unflinching smile, which makes her instantly and immediately popular at school. No one really cares what she’s saying, as long as she looks nice doing it. It’s an idea we’ve seen in many other pieces of media, or in this very show, all the way back to the ending of “Moaning Lisa” where Lisa takes her mother’s advice to just bury her feelings and smile, making her a more amiable presence to be taken advantage of (“Why don’t you come over my house after practice? You can do my homework!”) Here, when it’s this simple idea across to an entire plot, where Lisa’s entire class is enraptured by her book report of Charlotte’s Web, it feels more of a stretch, but thankfully some tell-not-show inner monologue from Lisa helps us out (“Can it really be people are this shallow? And am I shallow enough to enjoy this?”) But we pivot from that to Lisa finding that since she can control the mushy minds of her classmates with her new grin, she can run for student office and use her powers for good. But there’s no real specific problem she wants to solve, it’s just stuff we see in Lisa’s quick fantasy, like a unicorn sorting a recycling bin and the bullies now reformed bookish types in a nice new library. The social aspect of Lisa embracing her new shallow popularity feels like it would be a richer vein to tap, but I guess not. Lisa is seemingly a shoe-in to win, but when she gets her bottom half of her braces done, she now has a locked grimace, costing her the election. It would be an unsatisfying ending if I actually cared about what was happening. If only the episode were about something specific Lisa really wanted to change, then we could be along on her crusade and understand it. Or if she found herself really caring about being popular, as fleeting or superficial as it were, and we can feel what she lost. But I guess Lisa was just after power for its own sake, and ended up losing big time. Who does she think she is, Hillary Clinton? (laugh track) This episode was written by Elisabeth Kiernan Averick, a new young writer who previously wrote for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It reminded me of Megan Amram, who wrote the feminist-themed “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” which I enjoyed for the most part, and I theorized maybe some fresh new blood in the writer’s room could potentially shake things up on the show. But then Amram was credited on the awful “Crystal Blue-Haired Persuasion,” and now we have this garbage mess. “Thanksgiving of Horror” might have slipped through the cracks, but thankfully, the writer’s room hive mind turning scripts into bland, homogeneous goop is still in full force. So much for that incredibly brief hope spot, I guess.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot is truly bizarre and unsettling. Artie Ziff as a character has never worked beyond “The Way We Was.” The idea of him being incredibly successful but still lamenting his past mistake of letting his high school crush get away is kind of interesting, but the problem is is that’s all there is to his character. He’s a rich jerk who still wants to fuck Marge, and that wears thinner and thinner with each ensuing appearance. Here, it’s ramped to absolutely psychotic territory when it’s revealed Ziff’s bride is actually a robot he built. He then reveals his secret laboratory with his dozens of failed Marge robots, telling the real Marge the expensive wedding and bachelor party was all just an elaborate ruse to win her over. Instead of running away screaming from this deranged, obsessive lunatic, Marge wastes her breath trying to cheer Artie up (“I think this crazy project actually had some brilliance in it!”) Artie caps the scene (“I finally give up! …or do I?”) Pretty good summation of this show’s dogged refusal to advance any of these characters forward one single inch. Just like we just saw with Sideshow Bob, these tertiary guest characters are stuck doing the same song and dance every couple years or so, no new ideas or innovative concepts allowed. The show ends with Marge trying to cheer Lisa up how things are slowly getting better for women, which I guess is trying to tie the two stories together thematically? But it’s revealed that that was just one of Artie’s Marge robots, who flies off with the old man who keeps telling Lisa to smile, prompting Lisa to cheer, rather than scream “HOLY FUCK MY MOM’S A FUCKING FLYING ROBOT.” The last scene is Artie dining with his Marge robots, hoping to have sex with them, so that’s a wonderful mental image to close out on. I can’t wait for Artie’s next episode, where he traps Marge in a VR simulation to trick her into loving him or some other bullshit nonsense.
– The video tape Lisa finds in the library, “A Gal’s Guide to Wowing the Workplace,” feels like a film strip the show would have absolutely killed in the past. But here, the jokes just feel so obvious and on-the-nose (“Let me touch your body and show you the problem!” “No need to ask!”) Also Lisa being mortified that this sexist notion of women being accepted solely for their appearance actually seeming to be accurate is actually a humorous idea. It’s like something South Park would take and run with, that the “wrong” lesson is learned and how the characters deal with it. But that concept is dropped almost immediately, so don’t think about that anymore.
– Over the end credits, we get a montage of pictures over Lisa’s life of her not smiling, from being on a roller coaster, going to prom with Milhouse, appearing on not-Oprah’s show to hawk a book about how smiling sucks. But we also get random shots of eight-year-old Lisa randomly inserted between adult Lisa, so it all feels weird and messy. I guess this is all connected to Marge saying how things will get better for women, and showing how Lisa is successful in her life without smiling? It just feels strange and sad, seeing snapshots of her whole life looking miserable and not giving a shit. Episodes like this make me miss classic Lisa so much, socially conscious, wise-beyond-her-years, but above all else still a little girl, prone to naivety and childish behavior.

One good line/moment: Nothing really. This one blew big time.