Crazy Noises: Lisa the Skeptic

Lisa the Skeptic1

“Miss Simpson, how can you maintain your skepticism in spite of the fact that this thing really, really looks like an angel?” – Kent Brockman
“I just think it’s a fantasy.  If you believe in angels, then why not unicorns or sea monsters or leprechauns?” – Lisa Simpson
“Oh, that’s a bunch of baloney, Lisa, everyone knows leprechauns are extinct!” – Kent Brockman

There’s no new Zombie Simpsons until September, so we’re going to spend the summer overthinking Season 9.  Why Season 9?  Because we did Season 8 last summer, and Season 9 was when the show started becoming more Zombie than Simpsons.  Since we’re too lazy to do audio and too ugly to do video, we’ve booked a “chatroom” (ours is right between the one with the sexy seventh graders and the one with the bored federal agents pretending to be sexy seventh graders).  So log on to your dial-up AOL and join us.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “Barnabas”).

Today’s episode is 908 “Lisa the Skeptic”.  Yesterday was 907 “The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons”.

Mad Jon: Sorry

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s okay.

Dave: We were listening to Jeopardy think music during your sprinkler outing.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ironically enough, the question was “What is neighborhood association enforced lawn maintenance?”

Dave: How about that.

Charlie Sweatpants: Shall we proceed with Lisa’s foray into marketing stunts?

Mad Jon: Yes

Dave: I know a thing or two about marketing stunts.

Charlie Sweatpants: I detest many parts of this episode, but for once my complaint is more with the specifics than the underlying story.

I like the idea that marketing sociopaths would exploit people’s beliefs for fun and profit, and I like even more the idea that those who’ve been exploited would forgive them instantly once they see all the wares for sale at low, low prices.

Mad Jon: Those are both funny premises.

  Even Rat Spray.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s the kind of borderline nihilism that did a lot to make the show great.

Dave: But…

Charlie Sweatpants: The problem with it is the execution, there’s a massive overreliance on string music of suspense, Marge and Lovejoy turn into complete assholes, and there was no reason for Stephen Gould to voice himself.

  Also, there’s a great deal of Jerkass Homer.

Mad Jon: There is quite a bit of that.

Dave: Gould’s appearance always confuses me.

  I’m not sure why he’s written as a borderline malicious character.

  Or if that was even the intent.

  Either way, I could do without him.

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t mind that so much, I actually think most of his lines are pretty good, what bothers me is that he was playing himself when could’ve just been some bitter scientist stuck in a dead end job that he thinks is beneath him.

Mad Jon: Every time I see him all I can do is think about punctuated equilibrium, which brings terrible memories of Bio 415.

Dave: So is that all that I’ve been missing then?

  Gould’s supposed to be arrogant?

  Not just careless?

Charlie Sweatpants: There’s no reason for him to be himself.

  He’s just some random scientist guy.

Again, the contrast with “Lisa the Iconoclast” is huge. There, Donald Sutherland plays a great character who’s willing to lie rather than admit his life was a waste.

Here, Gould plays himself, why?

Mad Jon: He is definitely too obscure to parody himself.

Charlie Sweatpants: Gould’s character isn’t half bad, more could’ve been done with it, but it’s not terrible and he’s got some good lines. What bugs me is that they didn’t bother to come up with a character for him to play, they just mindlessly plugged him in as himself.

Mad Jon: It is most half-asserly.

Charlie Sweatpants: But what really throws me here is Marge and Lovejoy and the way they turn this into a rather cliche ridden science vs religion debate, and that Lisa gets caught up in it at the end.

Mad Jon: There is the obvious comparison to “Lisa the Vegetarian” to make here. But I kind of feel that in this one Lisa is a bit more hateful.

Charlie Sweatpants: The last five minutes or so are about Lisa doubting her skepticism, and she does so largely because for once Marge acts like the bad parent. And while Marge is many things, she is not a bad parent.

Mad Jon: How is Marge being a bad parent?

Charlie Sweatpants: When she tells Lisa she feels sorry for her if she can’t make a leap of faith.

  That whole conversation has always sat bad with me. Marge expresses no sympathy for her daughter. And that’s a very un-Marge thing to do.

Mad Jon: Sometimes parents teach children things in different ways.

  Especially 8 year olds with the brains of a 32 year old.

  But I do not disagree that that particular conversation is not a pleasant memory

Charlie Sweatpants: That Marge would give some credence to the angle, fine. I’ve got no problem with that. But she’s really harsh towards Lisa, and that’s just something that we’ve never seen before.

Mad Jon: Well, fair enough to your opinion, but I disagree.

What bothers me the most is that neither of us really care for the conversation, but I, for some reason, feel the need to argue with you about parenting skills in a cartoon.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s not just that scene though, because that sets the stage for the grindingly slow ending that’s about as heavy on suspense as the show has ever been.

Mad Jon: I really don’t like most of the last act. To your point it is quite slow and overly suspenseful. But for once I think they wrapped up well for a not so great episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: It shouldn’t have taken that long. All they really did was establish that Lisa’s the voice of reason, and then they beat that into the ground for three minutes.

Mad Jon: Very good analysis. But the last 30 seconds were much better than a lot of season nine endings.

Charlie Sweatpants: Agreed.

Mad Jon: That is always a problem in later episodes, and for once they pulled it out.

Dave: I get it mixed up with many other Season 9 endings.

  I’m not seeing what’s worth celebrating here.

Charlie Sweatpants: I like the complete capitulation of the mob that had previously been so pious.

Mad Jon: Well, there was a pottery barn.

Dave: Both okay reasons, but I’m not sold.

Mad Jon: There isn’t a whole lot to sell. It’s like selling less failure I would suppose.

Dave: It was a “warm fuzzies” ending. No new ground treaded.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m not super keen on it, because they left more on the table by making the resolution about Marge and Lisa instead of about the town’s gullibility.

Dave: Yeah, true.

That’s why I mean. The focus is more or less on Marge and Lisa. The town’s a prop.

Mad Jon: My only point was that for once they wrapped it up with the cards they had, as opposed to Rodney Dangerfield starting a party.

Charlie Sweatpants: Precisely. The idea that you can make a buck by taking advantage of people’s deepest beliefs should’ve been the focus of the episode.

  No more sudden party endings, please.

Dave: Ok, I see your point.

How’s that for capitulating?

Charlie Sweatpants: I think that makes me 2/2 tonight.

Dave: Indeed.

Charlie Sweatpants: And not to belabor the point, but you can tell they didn’t go for it because there’s no resolution with Lovejoy or Flanders.

Their reactions are the ones we want to see, and they just disappear as soon as the hoax is revealed.

Mad Jon: Yeah, that is a swing and a miss now that I think about it.

  I was too wrapped up with all the stores, and twenty percent off too!

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, as you said, it does include rat spray.

Mad Jon: Oh yeah.

Charlie Sweatpants: Much like how they held their fire on arranged marriage, this just feels like show becoming more timid and safer.

Remember, this is the show that once had Lovejoy get rid of Flanders interference with his collection plate by telling him that there was an oil stain in the parking lot that looked like St. Barnabas.

Mad Jon: Good times.

Charlie Sweatpants: Here, Lovejoy and Flanders act like jerks to an eight year old girl, and we don’t even get a chastised joke out of them at the end.

But let’s end on a high note, because there are some good things here.

Mad Jon: Good point, I don’t really have much to say to that. I do like the court room scene, Lisa gets put on trial for a misdemeanor, and the prosecutor talks about how long the trial will take.

Charlie Sweatpants: That it would take months to try such a thing is great.

Dave: I actually like that Homer calls Agnes “peg leg.”

Charlie Sweatpants: Lisa’s calling in her favor with Skinner, and the fact that the field trip is both a reward and a punishment are also good.

Mad Jon: I like when Wiggum tells Ralph to relax and it will come.

Charlie Sweatpants: Oh, that’s good.

Mad Jon: The favor and the reward/punishment is great.

  I can’t help but laugh whenever the shades fall on skinner as he stares out the window.

Charlie Sweatpants: It doesn’t make sense, but I also like Hibbert’s line about ownership of the angel, “and I’d like to suggest that I do.”

Mad Jon: It is unexpected, which is why its kind of funny.

Dave: Even better, it ends with that statement.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, a season or two later that would’ve dragged.

  I always enjoyed Hibbert’s greed.

Mad Jon: If you’re so sure what it ain’t, how about telling us what it am.

Dave: Also good.

Charlie Sweatpants: Anything else? I’m all raged out.

Mad Jon: That’s about it.

  Most of the funny parts were inconsequential.

Dave: Well said.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well spelled.

6 Responses to “Crazy Noises: Lisa the Skeptic”

  1. 4 August 2010 at 12:53 pm

    I think Gould’s appearance in this episode marks (possibly) the first in an increasing series of unnecessary “obscure” celebrity cameos. The weekly A-listers that have become a staple are certainly bad enough, but Gould doesn’t have the same recognition as Stephen Colbert or *shudder* the cast of Glee.

    It seems to me like the appearance of “academic celebrities” — people like Gould, Frank Gehry, Thomas Pynchon, et al. signifies a misguided response from the writing crew. Around the point where these cameos were becoming more common, Simpsons fans like us were criticizing how stupid the show had become. I feel like the writers just started pulling names out of their liberal arts college textbooks as if to say, “Look, we can pander to the smart crowds too!” And it just feels wrong. I love Pynchon’s books, for example, but seeing him in The Simpsons upsets me. Not only is it a joke that will not be funny to the majority audience who don’t know who he is, but it’s not funny to me because it’s not actually a joke. It’s just the writers saying “We are aware that this person exists and here he is in a context that is loosely tied to his persona.”

    Regarding Gould again, I couldn’t agree more. It’s another great example of lazy writing where they don’t bother to actually create a fleshed-out fictional character based on the voice actor; instead, they just pop in the real person and don’t bother to give him a shred of personality within the show, because the audience is just expected to know who he is already. That’s just lazy.

  2. 2 Ben
    4 August 2010 at 2:13 pm

    It’s interesting to me that Charlie would bring up the point of this episode being based on a good idea but having lousy execution; this is actually the point of discussion (more or less) for this month’s cover story in the Harvard Business Review.

    The article (available as a preview at http://bit.ly/as5LYZ or in full on EBSCOHost/Business Source Premier using accession number 51600642), written by Roger Martin and entitled “The Execution Trap,” is a refutation of the notion that “a mediocre strategy [ie, a poor idea] well executed is better than a great strategy poorly executed.” The notion is, of course, ridiculous and the idea that you can only have one or the other is a false dichotomy, but that doesn’t stop a good number of people in the business world from believing it. Ultimately, a combination of poor strategy and good execution vs. a good strategy and poor execution would likely result in a wash, though the article itself is much more oblique and interesting in dealing with the topic.

    What it all comes down to is this: a good idea poorly executed is a bad idea. This is a quote that popped into my head a while back (possibly while reading one of Roger Martin’s books), but I’m certainly not the first to phrase it that way, according to Google. To put it another way, this episode has something to say (idea), but being unable to coherently say it (execution), it ends up babbling. Leaving aside the episodes that are poor ideas poorly executed, there are a number of Zombie-era episodes that have the same problem.

    So, could this have been a good episode? Perhaps. But in the end, good ideas that make for funny premises can still fail if they aren’t properly put into action. For a show like the Simpsons, people don’t laugh at premises; they laugh at jokes, especially when they’re within a well-constructed setting and storyline.

  3. 3 P. Piggly Hogswine
    4 August 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Never liked this episode, it’s one of those episodes I generally change the channel on if it'[s being shown. I did like the bit where Jimbo/Dolph/Kearney are singing whilst doing the digging, and that’s about it. The whole plot of the main story and the way it panned out was pretty average, IMO.

  4. 4 Izzy
    15 September 2010 at 12:47 am

    Isn’t it Lisa that acts like a total bitch in this one, not Marge. “Don’t feel sorry for me mom. I feel sorry for you.” Marge seemed genuinely concerned while Lisa is just mocking Marge’s intelligence. How about her “Quite impossible” which she says with a slight British accent for some reason (probably because she’s in her superiority mode). If there is any fault with the episode it’s that this is the start of Lisa becoming the voice of the writers rather than a complicated fully fledged character.

  5. 5 Anonymous
    14 October 2010 at 12:57 am

    Do you really want to see the resolution with Lovejoy and Flanders? Have you ever proved a devote religious person wrong and enjoyed their reaction? It is sad and scary. Too scary for test audiences.

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