Over the last few episodes The Simpsons have begun to make reference to the approaching milestone of overtaking Gunsmoke as the longest running scripted prime time series ever in the US. Next week’s episode will officially mark the passing of the torch. At the beginning of this week we get a surprising flashback to images from The Tracey Ullman Show. It was a nice almost sombre way to open which to me suggested we were going to get a serious episode. What we got was not quite that affecting.
In The Blues Lisa is told by Mr. Largo that she should quit playing the saxophone. It was an odd sequence since no real explanation was given as to why she should quit other than the fact that she’ll most likely not be successful at it. While Mr. Largo has always been the strict teacher of Springfield elementary often taking out his frustrated music career on his pupils, this scene was just cruel. What’s worse is that Principal Skinner chimes in and continues to dash Lisa’s hopes. He does a have a kind of funny bit where he shows a discouragement slideshow to Lisa that contrasts Yo-Yo Ma with all the also-ran “Ma-Ma Yos,” and Olympian Shaun White with “a million white Shauns.”
This affects Lisa so much that she loses the ability to play. She attempts to diagnose herself with the online help of “Hypochondri-App” and concludes that she has the yips, a type of twitch mixed with performance anxiety. Marge tries to comfort Lisa with the sincere objectivity that only a mother can provide. It’s a nice scene and underscores Lisa’s plight and fears. So at this juncture we sort of have the makings of a half decent Lisa episode, despite its rough opening.
The episode then veers in another direction. Marge’s great auntie Eunice Bouvier is celebrating 100 years and they decide to visit her but she lives in Gainesville Florida. Homer is disappointed, along with the airport check-in clerk (apparently its really boring there). Homer and Bart decide to start a riot on the plane and they are forced to land in New Orleans. It’s here that The Blues ditches any intention of recapturing that old Lisa tragicomic in favour of self referential gags and overindulgent tourist rubbernecking.
The episode takes an extended detour through the city’s culinary delights, as Homer lists off and devours dozens of signature New Orleans dishes. Yet while they all look delicious and the fact that the eating tour becomes its own joke it sidelines Lisa for the remainder of the episode.
The episode ends when Bleeding Gums Murphy’s nephew recognizes Lisa at yet another bar and rids her of the yips. This wasn’t a bad idea and it actually kind of makes sense. They should have made this more of a prominent part of the episode rather than Homer stuffing his face. It would have been a nice callback to season 1’s Moaning Lisa, still one of the best Lisa centric episodes ever.
The B story sees Bart get revenge on the school bullies by buying some voodoo dolls in New Orleans. He successfully uses them and his daydream before buying them was actually quite funny. There was though an oddly creepy, rather sad bit where Milhouse asks Bart how Lisa is doing. Bart tells him to forget about her and to wait for Maggie when she gets older. Milhouse then proceeds to fawn over the child and Maggie immediately tells Bart to cut it out. Interestingly, at the end of the episode Maggie has a Milhouse voodoo doll and rips its head off. What fate awaits our resident nerd?
We then get what feels like a post credit scene where Homer implores Bart and Lisa to try the beignets (a type of donut). There are some lines about overtaking Gunsmoke but when they try the pastry each is sent into a tastebud stupor. More proof that this episode really only wanted to showcase New Orleans and not Lisa’s story.
All in all this episode was a missed opportunity. There were some funny bits, the plane riot and the eating montage and some cool visuals of New Orleans but they had nothing to do with the main story of Lisa’s music crisis. I appreciate that writing for Lisa can be difficult since she is like the show’s conscience and like most consciences her role is to be ignored or mocked. But that’s part of her charm that she embodies a kind, lonely intelligence in a world full of the opposite. That she continues to live often unappreciated but with aspirational hopefulness mixed with tinge of childlike humour makes her stand out. This is what makes her a great character that we can laugh with her but also feel her pain. In The Blues, we started to get some of that but it never fully panned out.
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