Have The Simpsons writers been reading TGON lately? If you recall from last week my main gripe about the premiere was its sub-par story. This week The Simpsons delivers with, you guessed it, a great story.
In Springfield Splendor, Lisa sees a student therapist to combat nightmares and is prescribed art therapy. Marge steps in to help her draw Lisa’s daily life and when they create a graphic novel out of it (Sad Girl) they become famous. Artistic differences drive a wedge between the two culminating in a theater production that fails miserably. The experience brings the two back together.
The episode works well because of its focus on the family dynamic. The scene where Lisa narrates to Marge her daily experience at school is both stylistically unique but also quite melancholic and emotional. Lisa wants to feel like she’s part of the school community but no one seems to take her seriously and the scene really highlights her inner pleas for understanding and kindness.
Martin Short guest stars, in a role that was made for him, as the eccentric ‘impish genius’ Guthrie Frenel who takes Lisa’s story to the theater. The flamboyant Frenel sweeps into the Simpson home (“I think he came in through the window,” says a baffled Homer), wows Lisa and Marge with visions of “a three-person toboggan ride down Mount Collaboranjaro”, and then transforms Sad Girl into a puppet-filled visual extravaganza, complete with the director entering on a flying carpet.
This of course is the final straw that divides her and Marge as Marge willfully accepts his vision as her own. Frenel, obsessed with his giant spectacle, says that Sad Girl’s whole deal will be dispensed with by one line in the opening narration, while Sad Girl herself will be represented by “a voiceless red light projected onto a seat in the balcony.” For Lisa, however, it’s a tragedy mirroring that of her comic, as the world casts her as the inconsequential side character in her own story.
Marge, for her part, recognizes that she’s messed up and makes it up to Lisa. She draws Sad Girl in one of Frenel’s spotlights projecting Lisa back into her own story and rebuilding their relationship once more.
Noticeably absent in this episode are Bart and Homer. However, they do get a few goofball adventures; one where Bart is trained to be a dog at the therapist office and another in an Andy Griffith style fishing scene where the two are beat up for stealing another father son duo poles. Yet, noticeable as their absences are, the episode does well without them.
Other guest stars included Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Roz Chast (New Yorker cartoonist) at the Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con panel. The best bit of this scene was the jumbo tron animation that Bechdel deployed every time someone failed the Bechdel test.
Dan Harmon also guest starred as himself briefly, teaching a class on TV writing and getting shot with paintballs by his students; a callback to one of the most popular Community episodes.
Lisa’s trainee therapist was also quite memorable as her arc went from enthusiastic pupil to jaded worn down mother. I quite liked the little mini-drama running through the episode about the fact that her professor (hiding behind one-way glass when he remembers to turn the light off) is the father of her baby.
For those with attention to detail:
On the bookshelf of the therapist’s office there is a book titled “Did I Die or Not” by Dr. Marvin Monroe. Dr. Monroe was seen regularly in early Simpsons episodes, but later in the series was presumed dead as his name was sometimes seen on headstones. Several years later he spontaneously appeared at Marge’s book signing, buying a copy of her book, The Harpooned Heart. Marge, shocked to see him, exclaimed that she hadn’t seen him in years. Dr. Monroe explained that he had “been very sick”. Will we see him once more? We’ll have to wait and see.
Make sure to tune in every Sunday on Fox for new Simpsons episodes as well as TGON for all your reviews and analysis.