The Simpsons are back and this week the family is going to the future, the past and the present?
With the exception of Lisa’s Wedding from season 6, time jump episodes are a veritable mixed bag. Personally, I don’t mind them considering that we’ve only had a handful over the years. However, the last two iterations: season 25’s Days of Future Future and season 27’s Barthood were just not that great. This despite the fact that both episodes tried hard to push the boundaries of this sub genre in inventive ways. Lisa’s Wedding by contrast was an excellent episode which focused on Lisa’s emotional relationship with Homer and served as kind of cautionary tale.
In one sense, Opus could be taken to be a Lisa version of Barthood and thus an attempt to rectify the follies of previous ‘future’ episodes. That’s obviously not the official stance but it certainly appears that way. Unfortunately, Opus misses the mark by being rather confusing.
To illustrate this the episode starts with a flashback, then flashes forward to the future, then retells itself chronologically from the flashback, except for another flashback that breaks that up. Pretty confusing right? For context, the episode is framed around Lisa’s admission letter to Harvard where she reminisces on the past. We ultimately find out that she is accepted. However, the worst part is that the episode deals with four periods of time: Lisa when she was 1, 7, 14 and 17.
In the opening scene, when Lisa is 1, Homer realizes she is a genius, like the guy who put lights on sneakers (he then daydreams about Einstein dancing with said sneakers). In the future, when Lisa is 17, there’s a funny scene Homer is strangling Bart, which leads to Bart admitting he didn’t vote, which leads to Homer chastising him for enabling fascism, which leads to an offscreen “must stop President Kid Rock”. In the past, Marge gives Maggie a pacifier for the first time, which leads to an extended sequence where Marge can’t pull it out. This easily worked better than most of the punchlines of the night. There’s then a scene where Principal Skinner hallucinates about his mother which was done very effectively.
Then the episode does a course correct and opts for emotion, which isn’t a bad thing but the time jumps made it all lack any effectiveness. The jokes are also weaker in the latter 2/3rd’s of the episode. This is especially true of the two callbacks: the first where Bart brings out Leon Kompowski (aka Michael Jackson) and adds intentionally bad extra verses to Lisa’s birthday song and the second a letter from Artie Ziff as Marge’s dissatisfied tempter.
The middle section deals with Marge leaving Homer when Lisa was 14, a storyline that has been done enough times in various ways. Again, due to the nature of the episode the weight of it all is missing as in between we keep jumping around. However, unlike other potential breakup storylines this time Homer takes the initiative to make himself better. What follows is a fast paced sequence where Homer calls on Ned, his standby AA sponsor, to do an intervention. Homer has a good line where he says: “Dear Lord, the Satan in heaven, I order you to fix me,” not what Ned had in mind.
The end part of the episode is better, though still not that funny. The focus moves away from all the time jumping and onto Lisa’s time at Harvard. I like that Harvard’s drone delivering Lisa’s acceptance letter shoots down the drones from competing colleges with laser beams. Two of the sweetest moments come when Bart tells Lisa “If there’s one thing I know, it’s that you belong here,” said to restore her confidence and Toddler Maggie holding up a sign as the Simpsons drive away from Harvard telling her big sister, “You speak for me.”
Then we get a nice moment where Lisa builds instant rapport with one of her roommates. They bond over their smarts, general nerdiness and how much they love jazz, they even talk in old jazzy slang. There’s a slight flirtatious vibe given off by the unnamed character (played by Kat Dennings) but that isn’t explored. Instead they funnily show off their odd SAT score’s of telekinesis and fluency in cat language.
Lastly, the episode ends with yet another redoing of the All in the Family opening and a montage of Lisa throughout the years.
All in all this wasn’t a bad episode, it was just a little frustrating because it had some decent parts within it that would’ve made for good storylines on their own. The problem was the constant time travel. The final part of the episode at Harvard is proof that a future style episode can work if left on its own. Opus unfortunately does little to rectify the sins of previous ‘future’ episodes and going forward these episodes would benefit from sticking to one time zone.
For those with attention to detail:
Lisa’s birthday is May 9th as indicated on her calendar. The episode is also only the second time the phrase Mr. Lisa is used, the first being season three’s Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington.
Make sure to tune into Fox every Sunday for new episodes of The Simpsons and keep it locked on TGON for all your reviews and analysis.