This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 34 Episode 2
The Simpsons are looking pretty good after 34 seasons, some of them stuck in ruts, others doing wheelies over their competition. Sometimes all they need is a little encouragement and a steep incline. The season opener mocked a turtle, episode 2 features a mock jury. “One Angry Lisa” has the feel of the earlier seasons, it is a sillier entry, based on Evergreen Terrace’s perennial theme of missed marital bliss, and throws no judgements. This is a missed opportunity for an installment perfectly named for a legal parody, and the handlebars should have been the sidebar.
The title comes from the classic courtroom drama 12 Angry Men directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda. Its almost-hung-jury premise is a TV trope. Jack Klugman, who played in the original feature film, was stuck on a jury as Oscar Madison against Tony Randall’s Felix Unger in The Odd Couple; The Fonz (Henry Winkler) played a lone holdout juror on Happy Days; Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon skipped the ordeal entirely on 30 Rock by showing up to jury duty wearing a Princess Leia costume, and using the Force. Lisa has no such luck. It’s probably why she’s so angry.
With Jane Kaczmarek returning as an apparently forgetful Judge Harm, how she doesn’t recognize a Simpson in the jury pool boggles belief, and a jury which believes they’re a studio audience, the courtroom comedy subplot should have gotten a continuance. The premise is completely identifiable because everyone feels unseen in the blind halls of justice, and the ridiculousness of an eight-year-old being fast-tracked through the system because she is wearing pearls is apropos of the natural order. The ultimate irony works as the head-banging clincher it is intended to be. Lisa spends more time in contempt than she does on the jury or the episode.
After a beautiful opening, proving crayons can be very scary, the main plot is introduced by a nightmarish TV ad, advising husbands to get their wives “what they think they’ve always wanted.” It is loaded with all the essential features of comedy: frightening possibilities for the abuse of power, a catchy slogan in “A great marriage is like a bike that goes nowhere,” and regular athletic shoelaces which cost more than the deluxe ones. It’s so much to unpack, a punchline which ends with “Congratulations, you’ve opened the box” is a belly-laugh blessing. We are glad Homer will do anything the TV tells him.
The Pedalon exerciser is more than a stationary bicycle with every imaginable upgrade, it’s like having Nelson Mandela pedaling through your living room, if the late freedom fighter was a hunky blonde pedal pusher named Jesse. He leads his class of enthusiastic women, and Waylon Smithers, through virtual exercise sessions with unconditionally positive online interaction, and a way-too personal touch. One gag features a repo man intrusion, another explains how the church was bought by Google and no longer has to adhere to the sanctity of personal information sharing rules. The Pedalon controls when the machine needs backup batteries, and when to forward a jealous husband’s call straight to voicemail.
Troubled marriages, adulterous temptations, and lazy attempts at redemption are as much a staple of the 34-years-and-running series as it is in any relationship with that endurance. But so are classic mini-bits like the tasty “jelly legs” offering. It’s a reminder of why we tune in. We love the Kool-Aid, it’s sweet, and comes at only a moderate mark-up when you order from Pedalon. It probably pickles the onions at Moe’s. Seeing the bartender under the harsh lighting feels like the kind of disconcerting reality-view closeups on SpongeBob SquarePants.
The episode is loaded with self-referential gags, like giving “high fours,” which mocks how the animators cut costs by chopping fingers. Marge’s muscle-memory bike ride through Springfield is a training wheel run through the show’s intro. Jesse’s tumble down his mountain estate is reminiscent of Homer’s fall down the Springfield Gorge in season 2’s “Bart the Daredevil,” made even funnier by the green screen. But the high point of recurring gags is how we once again miss Maggie’s first words.
It is amusing that Lisa is scared to throw away the jury summons because of its sentence of six months in prison. Most of us think of them like mattress tags, but the eight-year-old vegan’s imagination of prison food is enough to keep you up nights, like having the Crazy Cat Lady as jury foreman. However, the subplot’s underuse was a travesty of justice. Just the joke about Fat Tony (Joe Mantegna) serving jury duty while simultaneously serving a prison sentence proves how much could have come out in discovery.
“I’ll die as I live, failing and sweating,” Homer concludes as he puts his weight behind marital bliss. “One Angry Lisa” tips the scales to a calorie-burning laugh quotient, but coasts through the legal system. Marge is insidiously undermined by the comforts of easy stereotypes, which is a subversive counterpunch worthy of The Simpsons’ ambiguous commentary. Written by Jessica Conrad and directed by Matthew Nastuk, the episode appears to have a happy ending, but it’s not as healthy as a bicycle built for two. At least it doesn’t end with Homer getting on a bike for a little much-needed cardio.