This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 34 Episode 3
The Simpsons are back, at least for a week, presenting an episode which ranks with the series’ classics. “Lisa the Boy Scout” achieves greatness through its demerits, and wears it like a badge. The episode opens with what appears to be a now-standard issue pie-in-the-face to the patriarchy, but serves the show up as its own just desserts. The program is hacked, Disney is blackmailed, and whatever viewers who wake up from the Cowboys/Rams game to witness it are treated to the wildest ride in seasons.
“Lisa the Boy Scout” scrabbles more than the couch gag. It is an abstract view of The Simpsons from the point of view of the culture which grew up on it, especially the ones who were disappointed, and pining for past greatness. The regularly scheduled program opens with Bart off to some scout jamboree with a family bugle. This is a clue to the deconstruction. Long-time viewers know it is a flagrant contrivance because Bart would never have the lip for a bugle. Lisa playing the flugelhorn makes sense, and the premise of sibling rivalry between the two has been done so many times, it only proves Homer’s initial assessment: They’re both losers. We are glad for the relief.
It also should be noted the live broadcast intrusion is a similar contrivance, as it would be too hard on animators to create these scenes in real time, regardless of their sweathouse training. The hacker group PseudoAnonymous, in V for Vendetta masks, break into the episode on a mission to save the world from capitalism, Panda Express, and another routine episode phoned in from the longest running series on television. The Simpsons, which used to be the entertainment upstart, is an institution, which must be brought down. It is so much better the revolution is televised from the inside. No one makes fun of The Simpsons like The Simpsons. They take no prisoners, because they’ve already been stuck in Springfield for 34 seasons. Homer at the same job and salary.
The very first revelation feels like the creative team dipped into creepypasta, which has a wonderfully twisted myth about an early episode where Bart dies. Tonight, we learn an alternative truth about Carl, and we will never look at Lenny the same way again. It sets the tone for how far into the shadows The Simpsons is willing to go. Season 34 may come to be known as its darkest season.
The Simpsons routinely mock its own mythology, and the conspiratorial mood serves the comedy with extra tang. What if Homer was never an astronaut? How horrible would it be if the entire series was a coma dream from a traumatic incident in season 2’s “Bart the Daredevil.” For a very brief moment, we actually feel threatened by an entire reboot. That would mean living the whole thing over again, one of many tropes pummeled to pulp in the episode.
The truth about The Simpsons predictions come as no real surprise. We’ve been hearing it since at least 2016 when every reference to Donald Trump-being-president turned Homer into some kind of Nostradamus, with Lisa holding the Fatima secrets. The Simpsons would never stoop to being so sacrosanct. Homer’s grand theft mustache turns the Flanders family Jewish, and Comic Book Guy only gives heaven two stars.
Each of the clips reach comic magnificence, and for entirely different reasons. The “There They Blow” segment tells an entire story between the Sea Captain and Groundskeeper Willie with only two words, “yarr” and “aye.” In less than 20 seconds the two traverse an extremely perilous course, ending in a wave of a cliffhanger. We almost forgive the Welsh Groundskeeper Willie for pretending he was Scottish all these years.
The “21 Chump St.” beat works because the 36-year-old undercover cop passing for the 10-year-old Martin Prince has its own sad side story, and his family is quickly established as fully-rounded characters. The sequence which finds Frink stranded on Mars, on purpose, is a marvel of pseudoscience and the phantasmagorical engineering of short subjects. It is fully realized, and exactly as long as it has to be, as are all of the clips. The timing hasn’t been this impeccable, this consistently, since season 33’s “A Serious Flanders,” which was broken into two parts, and still never skipped a beat.
“The Seduction of Seymour Skinner” sequence is a little creepy in its telling, but feels totally wrong in its O Henry/“If You Like Piña Coladas and getting caught in the rain” twist. That is to its credit. The “Pally” guy who’s got one of those faces takes on an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers vibe when he’s drinking, which is a disappointing overreach.
The PseudoAnonymous subverts the intended episode’s apparently scheduled message of gender equality, and then goes to work on itself, taking on a life and an arc of its own. Anna Faris plays the female hacker, and she is the first to show a crack in the revolutionary armor. The danger comes when The Simpsons bites the hands that feed them. The hackers can break the rule of Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and NatGeo with the mere threat that they can erase enough data that the only Hulk who exists will be Edward Norton. We cheer when they tell us they can make it like Mark Ruffalo never happened. We look forward to the day Baby Yoda will have nothing on the top-secret character baby Jeff Goldblum (Matthew Friend). They gain independent sympathy by threatening the Mouse’s secrets.
We begin to care for the hackers, even as they care for each other. But only until the free trial of their voice-recognition-masking apps run out and we hear and see them as they are. Then we know them enough to wish they’d go back to anonymity and get on with the clips. Disney doesn’t care about Lenny, and the hackers’ perfectly symmetrical faces lose empathy as they gain identity. All their talk of political enablers toppling the political system is almost as incomprehensible as their love affair.
The segment about Lisa only speaking French because of class requirements puts an entirely unique spin on the oldest of jokes. The “Field Goal of Dreams” Canadian football takeoff works like a MAD magazine scribble from Sergio Aragones. Homer’s apology is a mini-masterpiece, even it is conceivably drafted by a giant corporation with frightening lawyers from big firms. The people of Finland will forever be etched in South American consciousness.
The “great titles which went nowhere” is merely a series of classic alternative titles which go by so fast it makes us miss key episodes which were never good enough to be made. From “Snake on a Plane” through “Vest Side Story,” to “Moe Money Mo Problems,” the segment alone can be expanded like the “22 Short Films About Springfield” from season 7. Even a random talking Santa’s Little Helper is only a chew toy to the scenery munching of the irregularly featured players.
Every character gets a chance to be funny. The humor is spread out equally among all of the minor and major players, bringing the force of the entire town of Springfield as top troupe performers. The series should do things like this more often. Going into the episode, we are sure it’s diving into “everybody gets a trophy” backlash backwaters, but the cognitive dissonance of the intrusion is an undertow, and opens a blank canvas. The show’s social commentary is phenomenally lowkey, its political commentary is kept subversive, and the frightening predictions are all too accurate.
The lies stop here. DNA tests prove Milhouse is really a fallout boy, Moleman used to be a stud, and Marge’s family history has a twist as unsettling as the film Chinatown. This leads us back to the safety of the originally planned program, and the ultimate lesson. Bart and Lisa learn they never ever go outdoors again, and just want to stay home and watch TV, and their parents have never been prouder. As would happen in most of these routine episodes, we missed Marge and Homer almost getting divorced over something insignificant, and the routine conclusion of a rushed apology. The formula is better spilled.
This episode more than demands repeated viewings, it will probably be as scrutinized as season 7’s “138th Episode Spectacular.” People still believe the cash register in the opening credits scans Maggie and sets her value as NRA4EVA. The Simpsons pretended to be a right-wing show dashing the hopes of liberal fans, but those dreams have become nightmares, and they can’t be limited to one Treehouse of Horror installment a year to deal with it. This season we will get two, and “Lisa the Boy Scout” is as frightening as either.“
Lisa the Boy Scout” is a classic episode, which satisfies every expectation we have come to demand from The Simpsons. The series is at its best when it is self-aware, even better when it’s unself-conscious, and unmatchable when it is experimental. This installment puts its subversion upfront, pulling the rug out and allowing viewers the chance to see the old series as a new viewing experience. It then throws in relentless jokes, concludes every clip, and holds nothing sacred, especially itself.