This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 27 Episode 18.
Jazz. It rends generations, divides the nation and tears apart families. Rebopped bebop, it’s all improvisational she-bop, in the Cyndi Lauper sense of the word, to some. To others it represents freedom from conformity, a slap in the face to maudlin melodrama and a chance to dance like no one’s looking, because most people aren’t. In The Simpsons’ “How Lisa Got Her Marge Back,” jazz is the defining stance of prepubescent rebellion for the middle child, Lisa, and unrecognizable cacophony for the ever-self-repressive representational American mom, Marge.
Marge and Lisa have had their differences before, on average about four episodes per season, but this goes to the core of the very personality of each character. Marge wants her daughter to be happy, just like everyone else, and to stay out of trouble and the best way to do that is to put a smile on and clap along with the beat. Lisa feels the downbeat. She identifies with the downtrodden but ultimately she comes to understand that nobody likes jazz that much. Even the guys playing it have to take drugs. Disrespect? Is that a word?
Lisa ultimately learns that she has to listen to the show tunes of the masses, that voice inside her that always proves her wrong. The ultimate nail in the coffin of jazz is Marge taking away the toy horn that Maggie is tooting. Bart saved the baby from becoming a latter day El Barto. Lisa once passed on the knowledge to Marge that music is a fire in your belly that comes out of your mouth, so you better stick an instrument in front of it. That’s what pacifiers are for.
But this is a cartoon and, as Bart has pointed out, cartoons are America’s only native art form. He doesn’t count jazz because it sucks. Bart bids a bittersweet farewell to Archie as well as his tried and true lil bastard gag gifts as he moves on to boyhood with his perpetually toddling sister. Maggie does indeed restore that some of that old mojo to El Barto and in a devilishly irreverent way, albeit briefly.
The best bits were from the bit players, Ralph and Cletus, both too smart to fall for Bart’s pranks but stupid enough to make him think. Wall licorice. And the shuttle bus driver, but nobody cares what the shuttle bus driver has to say. “Arguing with everyone today,” was the best line of the episode.
The Simpsons get in a good shot at Broadway hits while Marge is taking in the theater district: every single song sounds exactly the same for each show. This goes on up to and including the Bad News Bears musical. The lyrics are banal and the music is anal, paint by the numbers stuff that numbs the senses and dulls the edge but promises love, equality and comforting clichés. Something even a backwoods, no-account, in-bred, lead-paint eating, kerosene-huffing, road kill=chomping yokel could love. That’s why they stick these shows so close to the bus station. Even Lisa’s show stopping final number rains on her own parade.
None of this is to say that this was a particularly good episode. It worked on a subliminally subversive level. It showed how the mundane lowest common denominator is the easiest to compute by turning in a lackluster set of gags that looked like Kavner wasn’t the only one to phone in. As Homer says, you might think this is the biggest disappointment, but there are so many more to come. They even throw in scatology, not just when Marge breaks down singing without lyrics but when Bart throws out his whoopee cushion. In case you miss that it’s a sellout episode they throw in a commercial for their own DVD. The segment about Brits counterintuitively enjoying American football is another clue that they might know, or might think they might know, what they’re doing. You have to look at this as a self-referential satire. Kind of like an Old Navy commercial. It’s a mess, but it sells. To someone, not me, but someone.
“How Lisa Got Her Marge Back” was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Bob Anderson. The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson and Nelson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and Chief Wiggum. Harry Shearer is Mr. Burns. Pamela Hayden plays Millhouse and Jimbo Jones. Guest star Andrew Rannells as himself.
Chalkboard: Never lose a bet to Bart Simpson.
But It All Went By So Fast: Punch me in the stomach for $5. Cash only. Krustyland Rollercoaster Still Missing. Genghis Mom said yes. Original Broadway Cast Stinky Boots, The New Musical Based on a true Story. You’re a Good Witch, Broom Hilda. Cheney Get Your Gun. Riddler on the Roof. Jesus Christ Supercar. Rats. Paul Blart Mall Cop, The Musical. Starring American Idol’s Ace Young. G.I. Jane The Musical, Starring American Idol’s Diana DeGarmo. Men In Black The Musical. Starring American Idol’s Sanjaya. Danny Simon Theater Bad News Bears The Musical. Perfect Show for Lisas. Rich Texan’s Quinceanera Store. Bad News Bears Starring Andrew Rannells. Google Him. You’ll Be Impressed. Avenue Q. Ziegfeld Follies 1938. King Long Live from Skull Island. The Penny Loafer: If you stole our giant penny, please return it. Bad News Bears The Musical Closes Tomorrow.