724. My Octopus and a Teacher

Original airdate: April 24, 2022

The premise: The new fourth grade teacher causes Bart to act out in ways he can’t explain, triggered by a previous interaction he had with her. Meanwhile, Lisa directs a well-received documentary short about an octopus and its tragic end, however, she is actually keeping the creature in secret as a pet.

The reaction: I’ve talked about the awkward subject of replacing Mrs. Krabappel several times at this point. Nine years after Marcia Wallace’s passing, there’s been little movement in regards to creating a new permanent fixture in Bart’s class. Ned Flanders was christened the replacement a few years ago, but I think we’ve only seen him in that role maybe three times? If that? Considering he was married to Mrs. K in the end, you’d think that inheriting his deceased wife’s job and teaching his neighbor’s kid would have lent itself to some new or interesting story lines, but instead they just decided to do nothing with it. But hey, that’s fine, now they’re going to try again with an all-new character, Rayshelle Payton, voiced by Kerry Washington. Promotional articles about this episode have called this character “permanent,” so it seems this is the series finally being proactive in filling this hole in the cast. So who is Rayshelle? She’s an incredibly earnest and caring teacher who wants to help all her students do the best they can. Are you laughing yet? Her only “humorous” quirk is sometimes blurting out her unfiltered thoughts and stammering to backpedal them, like insulting her husband’s shitty musical abilities or calling Bart a problem child. Very funny stuff. So for her debut episode, she’s not giving that strong of an impression, but the story seems to be more on Bart’s reaction to her. When he first lays eyes on the woman, he gets a weird flashback to having seen her before, then proceeds to act absolutely bonkers in every scene with her going forward. It feels really awkward, like him just getting incredibly anxious and losing himself, making strange noises and smacking his head onto a piece of paper drowning in glue. But then his behavior turn to jealousy, destroying Milhouse’s model project after Rayshelle compliments him. All the while, I’m just waiting for them to finally reveal where Bart knows her from, as they teased from the beginning. I hate whenever they do this stuff, like are they expecting the audience to be glued to their seats wondering what the reveal will be? So it turns out that while sneaking into a fancy beachside resort, Bart almost drowned in their pool and was saved by Rayshelle. Embarrassed by having to be rescued, he shouts at her (“Why did you do that?! I was fine! I’m an amazing swimmer!”) and runs off. As he recounts this story to Homer, Bart feels remorse (“I feel awful. I ruined her dress, I yelled at her… She doesn’t recognize me yet, but when she does, she’s gonna hate me.”) All this feels so wildly out-of-character for Bart, even with it obviously heading toward the added “reveal” that Bart has a crush on his new teacher, as when he sees her interacting with her husband, he gains Hulk strength and rips the water fountain out of the wall. We’ve seen Bart feel vulnerable, we’ve seen Bart in love, but this pathetic, sniveling display here feels so off to me. He hides his head in his shirt as he eventually confesses his crush (“Barf emoji,” he concludes). Rayshelle uses this as a teachable moment (“You know, a crush on a teacher just means you’re coming to love a new part of yourself that I’m bringing out in you.”) Bart found himself actually doing homework and liking it, so I guess this is part of him learning to be a good student! Based on this episode, it appears that Rayshelle’s role as Bart’s teacher is to help him teach lessons about life and grow as a person. This also seems to be the motivation reflected in quotes from Kerry Washington and writer Carolyn Omine in the aforementioned articles about this episode. So… this is a show that’s lasted for over three decades. I don’t expect the series to stay exactly the same for its entire run. In fact, the best long-running series are the ones that shake things up to make things feel fresh. But the very ethos of this show is that it was the anti-sitcom, filled with miserable characters in a world full of misfortune and indifference. Springfield Elementary acted as a scalding critique of education in America, staffed by teachers who hated kids and an administration who cared even less. You could definitely work in a character of a teacher who actually wants to do their job in a world like this. You can even have them form a kinship with Bart in some way, it’s definitely possible. Instead, everything just feels incredibly sanitized. In the again aforementioned articles, Omine compares Rayshelle’s character to Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation, where the comedy comes from them being overly positive and super into their jobs. The humor from Parks also relied on characters like her grumpy polar opposite Ron Swanson and other weirdos butting up against Leslie, something we get none of here. Rayshelle is just the most caring and awesome teacher who’s gonna stick around and help all the kids with their problems! That ending scene with her and Bart is easily one of the most schmaltzy, cliche sitcom scenes this show has ever done. Again, I’m all for this show growing and changing in new ways. Even though I didn’t care for them, episodes this season like “A Serious Flanders” and “Pixelated and Afraid” were ambitious departures for this show in trying something different. But for the most part, any changes the show has done is to devolve more and more into a boring, traditional sitcom, and the additional of Rayshelle seems to be a pretty big indicator of such. What, is this going to be like Corey and Mr. Feeny? Boy Meets World had more fucking teeth than this show does now.

Three items of note:
– There’s not a whole lot to talk about with Lisa’s story, especially compared to Bart’s. The plot was clearly inspired by the Oscar winning documentary My Octopus Teacher, chronicling the relationship between a filmmaker and his octopus subject. While the octopus in the film naturally dies, the twist here is that Lisa’s film depicts the octopus being dragged off by shark, while in reality, she keeps the creature in secret, manipulating the narrative of the film in order to win an award. I guess we’re just supposed to think Lisa bonding with the little octopus is cute, but nothing happens and it’s just boring. She tries to keep the octopus safe in her room, then she overhears Homer giving Bart an uncharacteristic pep talk about accepting the reality of things no matter how much it hurts or fucking whatever and she decides to set it free. We see their tearful departure over the credits as Lisa lets the octopus go in the ocean as the music swells… hey, remember when this show was funny? Some of the writers were clearly touched by the documentary, so they decided to pay homage by just ripping it off.
– This episode really shines a light on how small the staff of Springfield Elementary is. Our focus has always been on Bart and Lisa’s classes, but in the classic era of the show, we used to catch glimpses of the rest of the faculty that filled out the school, just enough to make it feel like a real place (the teacher who jubilantly tells the kids we won World War II at the start of summer break, the burned out hippie teacher (“Did I ever tell you kids about the sixties?”), and of course, Mr. Glasscock). But as of the last twenty years or so, random background characters have been mostly exiled in favor of the sixty or seventy rotating members of the established cast. Rayshelle busts into the teacher’s lounge where we see Groundskeeper Willie, Miss Hoover, Mr. Largo, Lunchlady Doris (or Dora, whatever they decided to call her now), Mrs. Pommelhorst, and Coach Krupt. Only one of these characters is an actual academic teacher, alongside two gym teachers. Where the fuck is everyone else? There’s at least five grades being taught at this school.
– The promotional articles talk about Rayshelle being recurring to the same degree Mrs. Krabappel was, so I guess time will tell as to how her character will develop and ingratiate herself with the rest of the cast. They mentioned that her husband, the terrible oboist, could have a future plotline with Lisa, but who knows if they’ll actually do that. It’s too soon to call any of this, but if this episode is any indication, I can’t say I’m looking forward to her next appearance.

18 thoughts on “724. My Octopus and a Teacher

  1. Am I the only one who found Bart in the fountain scene to look incredibly off-model? Even aside from the exaggerated freakout, he had really weird limbs and posture.

  2. DAY 18

    Feeling or rather longing for the days when Bart was not a pathetic sadsack.

    Alright Zombie Simpsons, will you promise us that this new teacher lady character, as boring and forgetful as she is, will be the new official teacher for Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, Martin and the rest? You promised us with Ned Flanders four seasons ago and yet you did absolutely jack ‘n’ beans with him except in that godawful diary episode last season that was supposed to be an official goodbye to Krabappel. That Sofia Vergara military teacher from Season 27 was more memorable than this Mary-Sue teacher and she was not memorable at all. But hey, they finally tampered with the status quo, that’s something, right? Except that also happened when CBG married that manga artist 8 years ago and that episode was fucking horrible. Guess what? This one was too, because Bart was originally not a pathetic sadsack! His crushes on Laura and Jessica felt more in-character and believable than with Rayshelle. Here, he just feels awkward and insecure. But seeing Rayshelle actually being an inspiring and encouraging teacher to Bart makes me long for the amazing ending where Krabappel raises Bart’s test to a D- because he used applied knowledge after thinking he failed and would be held back. Oh, and Bart wasn’t a wuss when he cried over failing that test like he is here with his teacher-crush. That felt genuinely heart-wrenching and earned. None of the phony emotions in this episode feel earned at all. Oh, and the Lisa B-plot was crap, too. The second worst episode of the season, only losing to “Pretty Whittle Liar.” I think I’m going insaaaaane! HEEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEE NEXT EPISODE IS ABOUT THAT STUPID BITCH FROM THE MOST INAPPROPRIATE EPISODE EVER FUCK YOU SHAUNA JUST FUCK YOU AND FUCK THE EPISODE YOU CAME FROM AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA where’s my season 2 dvd i need to calm down and watch bart gets an f again apologies for the breakdown folks ❤

  3. “Boy Meets World had more fucking teeth than this show does now.”

    I know this was intended to be a shot at Boy Meets World, but that show was far better at doing what The Simpsons is known for than modern-day Simpsons. This show can’t write a character like Mr. Feeny anymore. If anything, modern Simpsons is closer to Girl Meets World than Boy Meets World.

    Also, I have no idea why they played “Sucker,” but I laughed when I first heard it because it caught me off guard. I don’t think anything will top the show using “Bootylicious” in terms of how bizarre it was, but at least I got something out of this episode.

    1. That actually wasn’t intended to be a dig, I think Boy Meets World was a pretty solid sitcom for its day, but it was the first example I could think of of an authority figure giving life lessons to a troubled student. I’m sure there plenty of worse examples that are still better than what we saw in this episode.

  4. They seem to have retconned Ned ever being the permanent fourth-grade teacher. At the end, Bart says “My last teacher had a little trick that seemed to work”, followed by him writing on the chalkboard.

  5. I think I’m in a minority, but I thought making Flanders Bart’s teacher was a good idea with a lot of potential. Leave it to this show to give up on that before they even really tried.

    1. It was only the natural choice, but they seemed to either forget that ever happened, or Ned just up and left and they never bothered to explain why that was. I know they don’t in this episode.

  6. Sounds like more shit. But people are going to praise it. Because it’s season 33 and apparently that’s a thing people do now.

  7. I don’t wanna get political or anything but I am seeing clearly the day, and that right soon, when criticizing Seasons 33+ will be demonized as MAGA/racist/whatever, because it’s made by super-progressive Mega-Corportation Disney and look at all the new diversity they added and bla-bla-bla.

    “I’m just saying it’s not funny” “Who cares, Martin came out as non-binary! Are you racist?”

  8. This show is becoming more and more perplexing with each episode lately…. and I do not mean that in a good way. Maybe Matt Selman replacing Al Jean isn’t such a good thing after all.

    I can’t think of many times I’ve cringed in my life harder than when Bart said “Barf emoji!” with his shirt over his head. What the fuck is this show becoming?

    On another note, the timing of this episode couldn’t be more ironic — I’m currently writing a story on Archive Of Our Own (AO3) called Forbidden Love, about a sixth grader who develops a crush on her art teacher, and I honestly am shocked that an amateur writer like me is writing a better, more cohesive story than the one in this episode.

    1. Honestly, the best thing about most new episodes is their embarrassing attempts to stay current. It’s the one part of modern Simpsons that’s genuinely hilarious, you know, in the same way The Room is hilarious. I for one welcome our Barf Emoji overlords.

    2. I’m not a Selman stan, but I really don’t think this episode would’ve been that much different had Jean’s name been attached. Though at the end of the day, I normally blame most of an episode’s faults on whoever wrote it with the credited showrunner still getting part of the blame. Though this episode is already proving itself to be another case of it being “Good” to most people simply because it’s Selman’s name that’s on it…

      How old are you? Because depending on how young you are it’d be all the more sad that what you’re writing for free comes off as less of an agnsty teen’s fanfic than something an actual adult was paid to write!

    3. Re: optimism, in fairness, I don’t watch new episodes. I’ve been slowly making my way through the series’ back catalog instead.

      But whenever I see a clip of modern Simpsons cringe, it always brings a smile to my face. They’re just so out of touch (but of course, it’s the children who are wrong).

  9. She only has a husband so as not to have a rehash of the UST between her predecessor and Skinner, which of course was (m)ucked up in favor of (d)ucking NEDNA. Speaking of, the husband’s presence also negates this New Token Sue from potentially becoming Mrs Flanders 3.0.

  10. Dude, you’re complaining about clichés but yet you use terms like “going forward” and “teachable moment”? Come on, man!

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